Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lost your blog voice?!

One key piece of my own learning this term while blogging for my Web 2.0 course involved my continual search to locate that lost inner blog 'voice'. Did I discover the remedy? If 2 page views on my blog today and the 1 view yesterday are any indication, let's just be kind and say I am "beginning to meet".  But I have been thinking, experimenting and reflecting. And thankfully, with blog views this low, I can only go up from here!

So feeling a little guilty this week after reading Will Richardson's chapter on blogs in his book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (2008), along with the fact that my last blog post here was some time ago, I have decided to write about this very important topic in such a 'voice'ful way that maybe, just maybe, I'll get my Literacy Lady blog noticed.  Okay, realistically, at the very least, maybe it'll help me sort out what I need to do to get my blog read. And I think I am beginning to discover that voice is the one trait that will set your blog apart from all the rest. 

Voice brings personality, energy, and perhaps most importantly individuality to your writing.  Just ponder this: how many books are there on teaching reading? Personally, I have read quite a few. Why is it then that despite often equally great content some of these books put me to sleep instantly while others keep me awake at night with grand inspirations of becoming a better teacher? This summer I fell in love with Donalyn Miller's book, The Book Whisperer (and even blogged about it one day here so it must have been inspiring). I thought hard about what separated Miller's book from all the other books about teaching reading: Why did I love this book? Why did I recommend it to colleagues and write about it in my blog? Voice. Miller's voice was real and authentic. I felt like I knew her, who she was and what she believed in. I loved the way in which she honoured her readers and their backgrounds; she acknowledged that many of her readers were still covering the 'whole class novel' but she didn't judge; instead she gently nudged. Like many of you who may have also read and loved her book, I wanted to teach next door to Mrs. Miller.

Bottom line, Miller understood the importance of establishing her voice through her writing.

According to Culham's scoring guide (2006) for the trait of voice, a strong use of voice can be identified when:

"The writer speaks directly to the reader in a way that is individual, compelling, and engaging  The writer crafts the piece with an awareness of and respect for the audience and the writing purpose.
A. The tone of the writing adds interest to the message and is appropriate for the purpose and audience.
B. The readers feels a strong interaction with the writer, sensing the person behind the words.
C. The writer takes a risk by revealing who he or she is consistently throughout the piece.
D. Expository or persuasive writing reflects a strong commitment to the topic by showing why the reader needs to know this and why he or she should care.
E. Narrative writing is honest, personal, and engaging and makes the reader think about and react to the author's ideas and point of view."  (p. 12)

Writing Fix
In my opinion, Miller is an expert at the trait of voice. Now the big question: How do I find that voice in my own writing?

I think I may have just discovered the remedy. One word. One that would even make Mrs. Miller proud.


As I thought further about 'voice', I went back to how I would teach this to my students. I'd use exemplars.  I'd make them read blog posts until they had all found a half dozen or more blog posts that they loved.

So, I guess I had better do the same. I may be a teacher, but I am still a learner first (remember if I already knew this I would have more than two hits on my blog post, after all!) So, I went off and found several blogs that I loved. For me, this was pretty easy. All I had to do was look at my Google Reader account and ask:  Why are some of those blogs all caught up while others have double-digits in posts waiting to be read?  Yes, time may be a factor, but time alone does not account for it all! Some blogs I just enjoyed reading more than others.

So, using my Google Reader as a stepping point, I decided to create a bank of blogs that are genuine exemplars of quality voice! I asked: What made this a great blog post? Why is this writer a great blogger? What did the writer do to create his/her voice? How did they interact with me (humour, questioning, sarcasm)? Did they spark curiosity or debate?  I listed the attributes. Now, as I write this very post, I will try to include some of those attributes in my own writing. Then, I'll reread, reflect, receive feedback, compare against my criteria and revise as necessary.

So, here's my favourites list. What's yours?
  • Doug Johnson's Blue Skunk Blog.
    • Attributes: humour, sarcasm, word choice i.e. "It is spam if... Replace your written e-mail address on webpages with something that looks like gullible(at)" from Email to staff on spam
  • Will Richardson's Weblogg-ed.
    • Attributes: honesty, opinionated (that's a compliment, Mr. Richardson), thought-provoking, love his parent voice i.e. " I want so badly for my kids to be learners, not knowers first." from Better Learning or Better Learners
  • Buffy Hamilton's The Unquiet Librarian
    • Attributes: No nonsense talk, gets to the point, thoughtful, tries to engage librarians and others in conversation... although I think all my favourites do this i.e. "Needless to say, I’m still dumbfounded this evening.  While I appreciate the laws of supply and demand, I don’t understand (and maybe I’m naive here) why Amazon is not being more accommodating in helping educational institutions continue to order the Kindles in bulk." from Our Kindle e-Reader order is Snuffed Out by Amazon
  • Dr. Scott McLeod's Dangerously Irrelevant blog
    • Attributes: always poses questions (You know he loves to question. By the way, did you notice how I titled my blog, too?), his frankness, a little attitude (another good thing), i.e. "The best dissertation is a done dissertation; you're not going to save the world with your dissertation" from Struggling with your dissertation?
      •  By the way, Dr. McLeod, I will remember your suggestions next term as I write my major paper for my M.Ed in Teacher-librarianship! Thank you for your very sensible advice.
I tried a little attitude, some humour (it's the best I can do, sorry), honesty and opinion. How did I do? Now, I'll put these skills to work on my course blog: 

For further reading about creating blog voice, check out:

For teaching strategies, lessons and links to further resources:

Finally, for a great teaching resource:
Culham, R. (2003). 6+1 traits of writing: The complete guide grades 3 and up. Portland, OR: Scholastic.
Culham, R. (2006).  100 trait-specific comments: A quick guide for giving constructive feedback on student writing.  Portland, OR: Scholastic.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Authentic Questions in English Language Arts

Photo by 姒儿喵喵
 Yesterday, I read Doug Johnson's post entitled "What is an authentic question?" and was feeling once again inspired to write.  In just a few short words, Johnson gets to the root of the reason that so many 'research' projects fail... there is no authentic question to investigate!  If there is already a list of predetermined outcomes and right or wrong answers, why bother inquiring?  If you have never listened to Jeff Wilhelm talk about inquiry in the Scholastic Professional series, take a few minutes to do so.  Then, think about the big questions, authentic ones, that will get real inquiry rolling, and more importantly, your students engaged in thinking.

Here are just a few of my personal favourite examples:
  • What enables some people to endure/survive horrible circumstances? (Holocaust, War/Peace, Survival units...)
  • Why do we always want/need a happy ending? (fairy tale unit)
  • What is worth fighting for? (Personal Best, Life Challenges units...)
  • Is conflict necessary?
  • What makes a good relationship? (Wilhelm's big question for Romeo and Juliet)
For great examples, check out Wilhelm's book, Engaging Readers and Writers with Inquiry (p. 54-55)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Make What You Teach Matter...

Do you want to get your students engaged? Then make what you teach matter to your students.

I can't begin to tell you how much the work of author Jeff Willhelm has changed the way I think about student learning, good teaching and student engagement.  If you want to begin to understand how, just watch this 4 minute clip and listen to Wilhelm get to the heart of what matters in good teaching.

Inquiry-Based Instruction: Jeff shares how to use inquiry in any subject you teach.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Book Whisperer

How many books do your students read in a year? Ten? Twenty? Forty?! I recently completed The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller (2009) and I am feeling very inspired.  Miller sets the bar high by having her students read 40 books in her grade 6 classroom! 

Why so many? The research is clear. The more you read, the better reader you will become!

Some self-reflection... as I thought back to my past teaching practice, I know that I never gave my students enough time to actually read, and I never supported their reading selection in a powerful way as Miller demonstrates.  Miller offers a wealth of tips and alternatives to whole class novel practice that we know is not successful practice in our classrooms.  Miller will certainly challenge your beliefs about these practices by providing solid evidence and strong alternatives.  Of course, what it all comes down to: Know your readers and be a reader yourself! This is a must read, in my opinion, for every teacher of reading.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Engaging readers through book trailers in the classroom and library

Have you ever considered that difficulty finding books to read is one of the greatest reasons children may not be reading. Even for some of our avid readers, choosing books is hard.  Hey, it is for me sometimes, too! So, it just makes sense that for some of these readers, teachers and teacher-librarians should actively promote books and hear students say "Hey, I want to read that!"

Book trailers are one way to help our students access books.  Here is one trailer that my fellow student, Crystal, and I created for our summer course, EDES 501, through U of A. 

A few tips... think about the big ideas or themes when selecting images.  Find music (creative commons license, of course) that works with that theme.  Then...don't forget that  you don't want to give away the ending! This trailer was created on Movie Maker but I think next time, I'll be trying out

FYI, all photos were courtesy of Flickr and the music, Akili by Peppa Ska, was courtesy of

Finally, don't forget students can learn to create their own trailers, too!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Is the "glass" of urban literacy half empty in your school?

As a literacy teacher in an urban inner city school, a recent passage from my course textbook, Children's Literature in Action really got me thinking about some of the ways we view family literacy in low socioeconomic areas.

"It can be helpful to see the many literacy activities that are already occurring in family settings.  Instead of taking a deficit view of family literacy ("why aren't they reading more books?"), we can look to see what kind of literacy activities are already in place.  So often we tend to view the "glass" of urban literacy as "half empty." What kind of activities promote family literacy?  All kinds.  And if we begin where families already are, we can have a greater impact.  More reading and writing that is relevant and meaningful to both parents and children is the key." (p.6)
Vardell, S. (2008) Children's Literature in Action: A Librarian's Guide, Libraries Unlimited: United States of America.

In my lessons, I always try to make learning meaningful and relevant for my students, but I have never stopped to think about relevancy for their families. It seems so obvious now.  However, the big questions is: "What kind of literacy activities would be meaningful and relevant to our parents?"  My first thought... school or classroom newsletters? On second thought though, as a parent who frequently skims over newsletters or files them for reading later, I don't think this is the avenue.  I think we have too much irrelevant content in these letters that have made us disregard their relevance to our child.  I wonder how that came to pass.  Now how about featuring their own child's writing in newsletters?  Or what if the students themselves wrote the news for the class? What could be more meaningful to a parent than seeing their own child's work featured in the letter. Just one thought... I need to keep thinking about this one.  

If you have suggestions, I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Library Thing

If you are on the hunt for a place to organize your reading material, discover new authors and titles, and become part of a community of like-minded book lovers, I would highly recommend LibraryThing. This social networking site makes all of these tasks easy. The website has excellent search engines that allow you to read reviews of books and receive recommendations based on your reading profile. It's free to catalog up to 200 titles.

As a staff developer, I see a lot of potential with this tool for teachers and staff developers alike. With Saskatchewan in the process of renewing all of its curriculum, this would be a fantastic avenue to collaboratively review new curriculum resources at a specific level. For example... imagine if all Grade 5 teachers formed a group and each selected one of the new resources to read/view/share with the larger community! Many hands make light work!

It's easy to sign up for your free account.If you want to locate me, I can be found at ydenomy.

Reconnecting with Technology

I started this blog with good intentions back in 2007. For some reason, I just never followed through. Over the past three years, I have learned so much about teaching, learning and leading in literacy that I can't imagine catching up now. So on with the new...

Now I'll begin a new journey... as a full time grad student in the M Ed in Teacher-Librarianship at U of A. Wish me luck!

My goal this time around is to make the learning that I am doing visible and valuable to others! Sounds great in theory. Let's see if I can do a better job this time!