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Book Review: Already Ready

As you know, I’ve been reading Already Ready: Nurturing Writers in Preschool and Kindergarten by Katie Wood Ray and Matt Glover. Already Ready addresses the question: Are pre-K kiddos ready for writing. Their answer lies in the title, yes, they are already ready at 3 years old.

Ray and Glover worked together to develop and implement a writing program into a pre-k and kindergarten program. They found that 3 year olds carry stories with them just like the rest of us. And that, even without the mechanics of writing, they have the writer’s mind within them. In essence: treat them like writers and writers they will be.

What I loved about the book was how elegantly it cracked open my preconceptions about age and the order of learning. I found that we can teach writing before we teach children the alphabet. Pretty creative, if you ask me. I was also reminded that children can do anything with the adequate supports and strategies. As a special education teacher, this is ever a welcome reminder.

Wood and Glover’s strategy points out the value of instructing and assessing one modality or skill at a time. Traditionally children are taught the alphabet, then how to spell words, then how to construct sentences, paragraphs and so on. By the time they learn to write they must excel at all the other skills they have been taught. But what is writing, anyway, if not a vehicle for expressing ourselves? Wood and Glover reduced writing to its core and their young students shined.

I recommend the book to anyone who’s looking for inspiration and a reminder of the importance of flipping tradition on its head every once in a while.

What are you reading?  What is a book you regularly recommend to educators?  I’d love to know.

Happy Friday!
– AK

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Ed Apps

I’m all for innovation in the classroom.  I love how technology has catapulted differentiation to a higher level.  Instead of incorporating a few learning styles, technology has truly allowed teachers to reach a spectrum of learners.  It’s exciting!

I participated in a #LDchat/#ATchat hosted by The National Center for Learning Disabilities on twitter last night where education apps were the main focus.  As I rapidly scribbled down the recommendations, it was clear that this list had to be shared.

Here’s the roundup the group came up with.

  1. Dragon Dictation:
    Speech-to-text for a variety of mobile applications (think: messaging, emailing, blog writing)
  2. ModMath: Designed for individuals with dyslexia and dysgraphia for whom the mechanics of writing math problems causes a barrier.  ModMath takes care of the construction of, for example, the long division problem.  After that, solving that problem is up to you.
  1. VoiceDream: Text-to-speech to aid in reading.  This app also allows for screen, font and text size customization and highlighting.  It has a built-in dictionary and works with text from lots of sources (PDF, ebooks, email).  If you’ve looked into text-to-speech apps, you’ll agree that the power of VoiceDream does sound dreamy in comparison.
  2. Notability: Takes “handwritten” notes on documents to allow for adding sketches to PDF or graphics or editing student work (!!).  Notability also has an audio recording feature for auditory learners, photo capability and it coordinates with sharing platforms like Google Drive and Dropbox.  This will be my next download.
  3. StoryVisualizer: Creates storybooks for students using their words and images.  From Lego Education.
  4. UsTyme: Allows two people to remotely read a story together by coupling FaceTime-like software with reading.  Would be great for traveling parents or faraway relatives.  I’m thinking about using this as a formative assessment to check-in with students who are using iPads for reading either in the classroom or for homework.
  5. DyslexiaQuest: A series of games designed to “assess working memory, phonological awareness, processing speed, visual memory, auditory memory and sequencing skills.”  Gamers are encouraged to keep practicing to master skills.
  6. Read2Go (iOS) or Go Read (Android): Makes books accessible to people with print disabilities.  Developed by Bookshare.
  7. Co:Writer: Word prediction software aids writing in real-time or later when editing.  Text-to-speech feature reads letters, words, sentences, documents, which is great because not many have this thorough level of read-aloud.  Produced by Don Johnston and features the “Grammar-smart word prediction” that his company is famous for.  Opt for the SOLO Suite and get: Co:Writer; Read:Outloud; Write:Outloud and Draft:Builder

General productivity apps:

  1. Corkulous: For everything you’d tack on a corkboard or jot on a sticky note (phone numbers, reminders, dates, etc.).  Sounds like a more practical Pinterest.
  2. Voxer: Voice messaging somewhere between walkie-talkie and phone conversation.  Allows users to skip the ringing and the voice mail message and cut straight to leaving a message/”vox”.  Quick & practical.
  3. Little Memory: If Twitter had a journal feature, it’d be Little Memory.  Write short memories or accounts of your day.  I’m thinking this could digitize the exit ticket to save trees & time.
  4. HaikuDeck: Prettier, more powerful slide presentations.  At a glance, it seems like a Prezi contender. (Prezi is awesome!)

Finally, Graphite is a site for educators to find and review tech to use in class, including apps, sites and games.  Go there for more.

Did I forget any that were mentioned?  What are your favorite ed apps?





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Define respect.

I heard once that teachers and students are at odds over the same thing.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  Teachers complain most often about a lack of respect.  Likewise, students complain most often about a lack of respect.

It’s funny how something so universally important and desired is so seldom felt.  I believe the issue lies in the diversity of our understanding of respect and not in our willingness to offer respect to one another.  This was confirmed when I polled my students and asked them to define respect.

You guessed it: no two definitions were alike and mine did not match theirs.

My charge to you today is to start this conversation.  Ask your students:

What does respect mean to you?  How do you know if you are being given respect?  What do you do to respect others?

Keeping in mind that the microcosms of classrooms often suffer from a collective feeling that respect is absent, please emphasize the actions behind respect.  Respect is a verb.  How we do respect is just as important as the ways in which we feel respectful.

As part of our larger mission, we want to equip kids with the tools they will need to live happier, more empathetic and resilient lives.

I’m confident that sharing our diversity of opinions about the what and the how of respect will enable our students to better understand one another, to feel more respected and to receive the respect that new people they encounter will offer them into their future.  Because, without an awareness to receive the respectful actions of peers and colleagues, we cannot enter into a respectful relationship with them.

Younger kids can work through this exercise, too.  They will need more supports and models of examples of respect.  This is a great opportunity to reach out to families and incorporate storytelling and tradition sharing.

I hope you’ll share what they come up with!



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Lesson Plan: Does Meditation Make us Happier?

To continue the exploration of the role meditation can play in attaining happier, fuller lives, today I have a lesson plan which puts students in the role of both subject and scientist.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying:

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” 

Today, the students get involved.

This lesson is a randomly controlled experiment which uses qualitative and quantitative data to answer the question: Does meditation make us happier?

Divide the class into three groups:

  • An open meditation group (OM)
  • A focused attention group (FA)
  • A control group (C)

The OM group will practice mindfulness meditation.  Mindfulness is generally understood as focusing on the present moment.  It emphasizes stillness of mind and eliminating concerns about future and past events.  OM students should be coached to focus on breathing and clearing their heads.

The FA group will practice focused meditation.  They will choose an idea, thought or goal and will spend their meditation period emphasizing that one idea in their mind.  FA students should be coached on visualization techniques centered around their chosen thought or goal.

The control group is so important and integral to the value of any experiment.  These students may not feel as though they are doing anything, because they are asked to carry on as they normally would.  In other words, they will deliberately not meditate.  Explain to these guys that without them the study can’t happen!

All groups will collect data.  Students will be given these mood trackers akin to a punch card at a coffee shop.  They should track their mood – happy vs. sad – at integrals predetermined by you (for example: when they wake up and when they go to bed).  These cards represent qualitative data.

Meanwhile, they will collect quantitative data by measuring their blood pressure.  Work with your students to teach them how to take their blood pressure and decide as a class when the most informative time for measurement would be (hint: align this with post-meditation sessions for maximum effect).

This lesson is ripe for teaching the power of comparing different types of data, discussing the importance and necessity of having control subjects, and for practicing techniques for taking longitudinal data.  I recommend a week of data collection.  From there, graphing can be practiced and students can analyze data sets and outliers.

For younger kiddos, the qualitative data cards can serve as an excellent introduction to measuring and can initiate self-exploration of feelings and how they change based on what we are doing.  Additionally, here are suggestions from Edutopia on establishing a routine for quiet time.

Full lesson plan: Does meditation make us happier?

Have fun.  Good luck!


– AK



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