Friday, June 27, 2014

From Literature Circle to Student-Created Movie in 10 Steps

I'm continuing my summer book study of When Writing with Technology Matters by Carol Bedard and Charles Fuhrken, and I was blown away by Part 1 of this book.

Part 1 describes a project of reading and writing to launch moviemaking. It is a great example of incorporating authentic reading and writing tasks in the classroom, and it is definitely the type of project that is enhanced through technology integration. I've broken down the contents of this section into 10 steps for you to use in your own classroom projects.

Step 1: Choose books for reading groups

This project functionally starts with literature circles. Students are offered 4-6 book titles to choose from that reflect a variety of genres and themes. Bedard and Fuhrken point out a few considerations that are particularly insightful:
- Fantasy promotes more creativity in the movie making
- Realistic fiction will be more relatable
- Historical fiction facilitates research skills
- Protagonists should be similar in age to students
- Open-ended texts can be adapted into sequels while interesting main characters support prequels 

Action step:
(  ) Create a WebQuest that includes author websites and book review sites about each of the candidate books. This will allow students to make a good decision about which book is the best fit. 

Step 2: Set up Student Blogs for facilitating book discussions

Blogs allow students to engage in deeper discussions about their books and practice writing about texts. As a teacher, you can facilitate this by offering open-ended questions to guide student responses. Later, as students become more comfortable with the platform, you can model appropriate blogging behavior by leaving comments on students’ posts. Eventually, as students become more versed with the logistics of blogging, you can take more of a hands-off approach with limited interventions so the students can discuss the books independently.

Action step: 
(  ) Choose a blogging platform to use with students. One I recommend is KidBlog, which I’ve written about in the past

Step 3: Adapt the book into a screenplay.

Once students have finished reading the book, they should consider ways to adapt the book into a screenplay. In order to make sure the writing engages the students creatively, they should modify the story in some way. This would be an example of the types of creative reading often associated with fan-fiction. A downloadable poster of possibilities is below.

At this stage, students are working independently on their writing, taking the stories down different avenues according to their interests. It’s not necessary to complete the writing cycle at this stage—they merely need a workable rough draft.

Action step:
(   )  Give students time to write their story ideas for a screenplay. At this stage, it can remain a narrative and doesn’t need to be formatted into a script.

Step 4: Develop the pitch.

Screenwriters pitch their story ideas to studios all the time, making this an authentic part of the moviemaking process. Rather than simply reading their screenplay to the class, the authors describe 3 key components of a good pitch: 
* It grabs the audience’s attention through a hook or a teaser.
* It summarizes the story and identifies the genre without giving away everything.
* It’s delivered with high energy and excitement.  
A complete mini-lesson on giving a pitch is featured in the appendices of the book. 

Once students have developed and practiced their pitches, they’ll want to deliver them to their classmates to determine which movies will be made. You could have the class vote on a pitch for each book that was read, or you could invite an impartial panel to come in and watch the pitches.

Action steps:
(   ) Teach students how to develop and deliver a pitch.
(   ) Determine which story idea(s) will advance into the movie-making process. The number of winning pitches determines the number of movies your students will be making so consider what you can manage.

Step 5: Collaboratively revise the story from the winning pitch

Students can work together in their book club small groups to help revise the story from the winning pitch for their text. As they discuss, they may find that details from the other students’ stories could enhance the winning story in some way. The revised story becomes the property of the group, and it will benefit from opportunities for conferring just as any other writing would.

Action step:
(   ) Consider using outsiders for conferences to give a new sounding board to the young writers as they develop their ideas for their audience.

Step 6: Storyboarding

Students essentially take their stories and turn them into comic strips. This forces them to think about scenes, key events, and dialogue. Interestingly, the authors advise against using technology for this stage because the students can get too caught up in playing around with features, perfecting their storyboards, etc. 

Here’s a great Prezi I found for introducing and explaining the purpose of storyboards:

Action step:
(   ) Create story board templates for students and support them as they develop their complete storyboards.

Step 7: Write the script

Scriptwriting is a great way to teach students how to show, not tell, how characters are feeling because they can’t rely on a narrator to describe feelings - actions and dialogue have to do the heavy lifting. Such a process will help students revise and tighten even more as they modify their stories to meet the conventions of an actual screenplay.

Here is a workbook that I previously downloaded for free from the Young Writers Program Script Frenzy website, but it seems that Script Frenzy has since died, and they no longer offer this resource on their website (only stuff for NaNoWriMo).

Action step: 
(  ) Consider downloading scriptwriting software (e.g., to ease the process.

Step 8: Learn about the jobs in a movie-making process

Students will need to decide on roles such as actors, set designers, directors, and camera operators. The authors offer some mini-lessons for this in the appendix, and they recommend having the students apply for jobs. Given the size of some groups, it will likely be necessary for students to assume multiple roles or participate as actors in multiple films. 

Action step:
(   ) Use your blogging platform to have students apply for jobs. They should explain what skills they possess that make them best suited for that particular role.

Step 9: Film the Movies

Much like a Hollywood movie, students should be given a timeline for completing the filming process. They’ll need to plan locations, props, costuming, and any other special effects that need to be considered prior to the day of filming. They’ll also want to rehearse their lines and block scenes to enable the filming process to run smoothly. Given a tight schedule and limited resources for their no-budget films, they’ll realize the importance of collaborating to make the process work. 

Action step: 
(   ) Develop a timeline for filming. Communicate expectations for filming days so that students can plan in advance.

Step 10: Edit the Final Films

The authors discuss Windows Movie-Maker, but you could also use iMovie for this process. At this stage, students will work together to piece their scenes together and add special effects like slow motion, music, voice overs, green screen backgrounds, closing credits, etc. Some groups may also opt to include bloopers and outtakes in their final versions. This will be the culminating product of their weeks of hard work.

Action steps:
(   ) Determine the editing software students will use to edit their final films.
(   ) Plan a film festival/viewing party to create a deadline for project completion. Consider inviting parents and/or other classes to diversify the audience.

I really enjoyed reading this chapter, and I’m definitely looking forward to trying a project like this in my own classroom. If you haven’t already picked up a copy of the book When Writing with Technology Matters, I highly recommend it. They have student examples, handouts, and mini-lessons that enhance these steps even more. 

What are some good books that you use in your classroom reading groups that you can envision as a screenplay? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!

I'm heading to ISTE here in Atlanta for the next few days, but I'll be back next week with lots of ideas from all that I'll learn at the conference! Be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram @eberopolis if you want a sneak peek of all that I'm seeing and learning!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Reading in the Wild - Chapter 1

I absolutely loved Donalyn Miller's book The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, so I was very excited to see that she released a new book - Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits AND that Catherine over at The Brown Bag Teacher has organized a summer book study of it.

Chapter 1 - Wild Readers Dedicate Time to Read

Already, this book has lots of ideas that I can integrate into my classroom. In fact, I suspect that I will re-read each chapter just to make sure I'm recording all of the ideas so I remember them in August. (And I may go back and re-read The Book Whisperer, too!) But one thing that I really want to emphasize this year is building a community of readers. I like the idea of students sharing the books they're reading and making recommendations to each other. Personally, I use GoodReads to track that information for myself (I've blogged about that before here). I've also had my students blog about their reading (see here). But what I'd really like is something more like GoodReads - a social networking site - but appropriate for fourth graders. 

I recently stumbled across the site Reading Rewards through a Twitter Chat, and this might be the answer I'm looking for. 

This site allows you to set up your class into a reading community where they can create libraries of the books they've read, write book reviews, get and make recommendations, and make a wishlist of books they want to read. There is also a reading log component and a reward system that allows you and parents to create rewards based on achieving individualized reading goals. I haven't had a chance to try this out with students yet, but based on my exploration of the site, it looks very promising.

Do you have any experience with the Reading Rewards website? Have you come across any other sites you'd recommend for building a community of readers? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Georgia Bloggers Blog Hop

It's time to teach the country about yes ma'am and ya'll.
Down here in Georgia, we talk with a drawl.
We're bringing you some freebies as sweet as our tea.
Enter our contest, you might get some things free!

I moved to the Atlanta area eight years ago when my husband decided to go to law school at Emory. It didn't take long for us to decide that we'd say goodbye to the cold Michigan winters and make Georgia our permanent home. 

We eventually settled in Decatur, a quaint suburb of Atlanta, and we love our little town. Decatur has more festivals than any town I know, and we have a thriving downtown with local shops, concerts, and amazing restaurants. We're minutes from downtown Atlanta, but we've somehow captured a small town feel, and I love it. 

Image of Concerts on the Square in Decatur via

This weekend, we've paused from our peach picking to give you a taste of Georgia. Twenty-five teachers invite you to take a road trip through our southern state. Hop through our blogs to get freebies.

This weekend only, I'm giving away my Standards for Mathematical Practice posters from TpT for FREE! You can pick up mine just by clicking here

My entire TpT store will also be 20% off this weekend only -- June 20-22, so check it out! 

We'd also like to give you a chance to win a bushel basket full of our products. To enter from my page, you just need to follow my blog on Bloglovin'. Already do that? I'd also love for you to follow by email in the link at the top! You can enter once from each person's blog.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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So what are you waiting for?! Time's a wastin'. Go get more free stuff and sign up to win!

Monday, June 9, 2014

10 Must-Have Tools for the Busy Teacher

This year was uniquely challenging for me. I had my biggest class ever (28 students) , and I was co-teaching all day with teachers and paras from the special ed department--also a first. Meanwhile, I started working on my PhD, and my toddler constantly kept me busy. My plate has never been so full!

If you're a teacher who often feels pulled in every direction, then this list is for you. These are my top 10 tools for juggling it all. Hopefully you'll find some to use as well!

1. Nozbe

Nozbe is the ultimate task list manager. You can organize by projects -- school, work, home, etc., create recurring tasks, and so much more. I can access it from any device, add attachments, and email stuff to my to-do list. I started out with the free version, and I quickly upgraded to the paid version. At $96/year, the paid version has a hefty price tag, but this app was SO much better than any other task manager I'd tried, and it's been worth every penny. If you're someone who has lots of projects going at once, this app is worth exploring.

2. Evernote

This is my brain online. All of my coursework and notes are in Evernote, and all of my anecdotal records and student work samples are in here as well. I was able to use the free version for many years, and then once my husband and I decided to go digital with all of our financial documents, etc., I upgraded to the premium version. At $35/year, it's pretty affordable.

3. Dropbox

 I don't think I could function without Dropbox. I switch between so many devices between work, home, and school each day, but Dropbox allows me to keep track of everything. All of my lesson plans, TpT purchases, readings for class, and more are in my Dropbox account. I'm still living off of the free space, but I'm getting the daily reminders that my Dropbox is nearly full. Might need to upgrade that soon, too. Premium accounts offer 100 GB of storage for $99/year.

4. GoodReader

 I've used this app a lot with my students, but I'm finding it to be totally clutch for my grad school stuff, too. I'm doing tons of research for my courses and scoping out dissertation ideas, and GoodReader allows me to annotate all of the PDF's I'm amassing. I've created a folder on Dropbox for all of the articles I've gathered, and I can sync that folder to GoodReader so I can read it all on my iPad. I can also send it back to Evernote when I finish. One of my dear friends told me that I'd have laundry baskets full of research cluttering my house while I worked on my PhD, but not so...It's all electronic!

5. GoogleCalendar

I have a variety of calendars on Google -- class schedules, deadlines, school events, etc. Some of these I share with my husband so we can both be aware of each other's events. Other calendars I share with my students and their parents so they can be aware of upcoming events and tests. I like that all of my calendars are color-coded so I know which calendar I'm looking at, and I can select/de-select different calendars to narrow my focus if I'm looking for something in particular.

6. YouCanBook.Me

This free site allows me to share portions of my calendar with parents so they can schedule parent-teacher conferences. I choose the days they can see, set the times they can schedule, and manage the maximum time blocks they can reserve. They don't get to see any of the events on my calendar, just whether I'm available or not. If they reserve a time slot, it will automatically add it to my calendar and send me an email. It's eliminated the back-and-forth process of conference scheduling and allowed me to manage my time better.


Since I was co-teaching this year, I needed to find a way to share my plans easily from week to week. I tested out Planbook in August, and I loved it. I like that you can extend or bump lessons, attach files, and customize the fields that appear. It's a great resource that's keeping me much more organized. You can get a free trial of it before paying the $12 for an annual subscription.

8. Typinator

This is a tool that's new to me, but Typinator is a text expander tool. There are several pieces of text that I find myself typing or copying/pasting over and over. Typinator allows me to create typing shortcuts for all of those. For example, if I want to type my blog address as a hyperlink when I comment on someone's blog, I can simply type "~bl" and it will place the text there for me. I also use it for standard replies to emails such as when parents email me to say their child will be absent. I can type "~abs" and it will write: "Thanks for letting me know about the absence. I hope your child is feeling better soon! Today's assignments will be posted on our class website, and let me know if there's anything else you need." Four key strokes = all of that. I find typing way faster than using the mouse, so this is a time saver that quickly adds up. It's only available for Macs, and it's priced in Euros (converts to around $36 US), but I use it all the time.

9. GoodReads

Distinct from GoodReader, GoodReads is an online community surrounding books. It allows me to keep track of the books I'm reading and which books I want to read next. As I'm starting my dissertation research, I'm constantly finding book titles that I want to check out. Similarly, there are lots of teaching books and children's books that I want to investigate someday, and GoodReads helps me organize all of that. Best of all, I can use its scanning feature to scan barcodes when I'm browsing in the bookstore.

10. Edmodo

I used Edmodo a lot for collecting student work and grading tests/quizzes this year. It managed all of the submissions and kept the work organized for me so I could be more efficient with tracking these things. It also allowed me to create assignments, give and grade quizzes, communicate with students and parents, and so much more. This is a great free learning management system that was a centerpiece of my classroom this year.

With the exception of Typinator, which is only on my computers, all of these apps are cloud-based or mobile-friendly so I can get to them from any device. When I'm shifting between my iPhone, iPad, laptop, and desktop, that's critical. I may be busy, but I can get to my projects anytime, anywhere, and I'm not hauling around tons of materials everywhere I go. These tools boost efficiency and minimize life clutter.

What are some tools you're using this year to help with productivity? I'd love to hear more recommendations in the comments.

This post contained some affiliate links meaning that if you click on the link and purchase the app, a small part of your subscription cost will go to me instead of entirely to the company. I'm only recommending products that I highly use and pay for myself, however, and I hope you'll find value in these resources as well. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

10 Reasons to Write with Technology

I'm super excited about the two books that I'm studying this summer as part of my summer series.

Today, I'm diving into the first one entitled When Writing with Technology Matters by Carol Bedard and Charles Fuhrken

Rather than giving you a laundry list of all of the ways that you could integrate technology into writing, this book goes in-depth into two specific projects. The first project uses reading and writing to launch moviemaking, and the second project is authoring a visual nonfiction essay. As someone who routinely integrates technology in the classroom, I like this book because it examines lots of angles of these types of projects in great detail. But this book is also good for beginners for that same reason. Rather than offering an overwhelming number of ideas, it breaks down projects into manageable and authentic steps. 

I'll be examining each of those projects in future posts, but today I want to talk about the first chapter - 10 Reasons Why Writing with Technology Matters.

The opening chapter is filled with research about how technology integration contributes to student learning. They break it down into a list of the following 10 items:

Something that I would add to this list that captures many of the items is the notion of "authenticity." When you engage students in project-based learning such as making a movie or designing a visual essay, students feel like they have a real purpose. Their work will be viewed by others, and this really motivates students to push a little bit harder. Giving students the freedom, space, and resources to work on something meaningful is a powerful recipe for empowering learners.

I also want to comment on teacher-disposition. A lot of people who visit my classroom think that I have all the answers for technology integration, but let me tell you a secret -- I don't. Almost every day, a student or teacher will ask me a question about how to do something, and I won't immediately know the answer.

And that's okay.

Because one of the most important things I can model for my students is the act of troubleshooting and problem solving. If I can't figure out how to do something, I'll hop on the internet and poke around until I can find the answer. I think a lot of teachers avoid technology because they're not confident in their ability to work with it, but you can find a whole lot of information just-in-time as you need it online. Don't let a lack of confidence divert you from trying some of these projects.

Next week, we'll dive into Part 1: Reading and Writing to Launch Moviemaking. If you haven't already picked up a copy of this book, I'd highly recommend it. And it's not too late to join in the book study! In fact, you're only 14 pages behind! :)

If you are reading this book, I'd love to know what you think. Leave me a note in the comment section!

Happy reading (and writing)!

This post contains affiliate links, but I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CRF, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, June 2, 2014

June Currently

Summer vacation is here! Woohoo! Technically, I'm not quite done. I have to finish packing up my classroom, and I still have a few things to finish for mailing out report cards, but the hard part -- managing 27 excited fourth graders before summer break -- is over. I'm on my own schedule now.

And still waking up at 5:30am sans alarm clock every morning... sigh...

Listening - I just sent my final report cards and test scores to the printer. Now I just have to stuff them into envelopes, but oh -- it's good to be done!

Loving - I was supposed to be taking two classes this summer, but the first one (a prerequisite for the second) was cancelled due to low enrollment. I took that as a sign (excuse?) that I'm supposed to take a break this summer, and I'm loving that. I have a huge "to do" list of things I want to accomplish, and it's a huge stress relief to know that I won't have to write any papers or travel to classes throughout the week.

Thinking - Many of my favorite people at work are moving on to new adventures next year, so it will be a very different place when I return at the end of July. I'm going to miss them a ton! Since I'm also moving classrooms, I'll have a very different environment with new neighbors. I like fresh starts and new opportunities, but I'm still sad to say goodbye to my current friends and neighbors who I'll hardly get to see next year. At least there's Facebook to keep in touch!

Wanting - My parents live in Michigan, and I haven't seen them since Christmas. The long distance thing didn't bother me so much before I had my daughter, but now I really want them around more and more. They're coming to visit next week and staying for 10 days. If I had my way, they'd move to Atlanta permanently. I'm so excited that they're visiting!

Needing - My newest obsession is the FX show "The Americans." If you haven't seen it, you really should. It's set in the 1980s, and it's about two KGB agents who are posing as Americans to spy for the Soviet Union. It's a really good drama with very interesting characters, and my husband and I have jammed through all of season 1 and most of season 2. Of course, because my eyes automatically close at 10pm, I fell asleep through an episode last night, and I have to catch up today so we can finish the season together tonight. Summer vacation can be so rough!

Summer Bucket List - I have lots of goals for the summer, but no "must do" tasks. So here are my three:
1. Read fiction - I'm terrible with this throughout the year, especially now that I'm back in grad school, too. I'd really love to read a couple books each week just for the fun of it. I miss doing that!
2. Finish projects - this is broad and includes a lot of areas -- school projects, home projects, knitting projects, organizing projects, etc. I love starting projects, but I'm not always the best at finishing them in a timely manner. I'd like to wrap up a few of those this summer so I'm starting fresh in the fall.
3. Relax! Juggling full-time teaching and part-time PhD work was really intense. I don't think I appreciated how hard I'd been working until the semester ended, and I realized how much more free time I had. Since everything starts up again in the fall, I'd like to just relax and take it easy this summer. No pressure to tackle everything on my possible to do list or anything like that. Less school work and more manicures, I say! That sounds like a great summer plan to me.

Of course, while the summer will be full of relaxation, I'm also planning to blog a lot more. I've had a big pile of posts banked up for a while now, and since I finally have my own schedule, I'll be back here pretty regularly. I hope that you'll stick around and leave me comments! I'm also going to be starting my summer book clubs tomorrow, so stay tuned for the first post about When Writing with Technology Matters!

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