Sunday, January 12, 2014

Student PLNs

If you are reading this blog, it means you are probably part of my PLN (Personal Learning Network), and for that I thank you.  As educators we should all have people to learn from on a regular basis.  We need a network of like-minded professionals to challenge our thinking and heighten our professional experience.  These can be co-workers and colleagues in our buildings, but I am sure you are reading this via Twitter, which means you are plugged into a broader global community of learners and know the potential of connecting digitally.  Since personal learning networks can include anyone who you trust to support your learning and make you better, shouldn’t we encourage our students to develop their own personal learning networks so they can experience the same benefits?
  I decided to apply this idea to Writer’s Workshop last year.  We were doing daily conferring and pair shares, but students really wanted to meet with me every day.  I explained to them I was only one perspective.  I introduced PLNs and told them about mine, locally and globally. I shared the importance of trust with PLNs.  I gave an example of how I would create a new workshop or blog and I would ask Mrs. Heizman and Mrs. Kasprowicz to critique it.  They are dear friends, but I also have great respect for them as professionals.  Mrs. Kasprowicz is a 5th/6th grade teacher, but also a published author.  Mrs. Heizman is our experienced Technology Administrator.  They are also extremely honest and will tell me what they think.  That is an essential part of the learning process if I expect to learn and grow.  

To help my students decide who was already part of their learning network, we answered the following questions:
Who helps us learn?
Who really knows us?
Who makes us laugh?
Who pushes us?
Who are our cheerleaders?
Who will be honest?
Who listens to us?
Who do we connect with locally and globally?

They went to work creating their PLN on Google Drawing.  I was happy to see they included me, a few classmates, parents, previous teachers, our current buddy classes, and Mrs. Barnes' class, our blogging buddies from Virginia.  Over the next few weeks in Writer’s Workshop, instead of asking writers to find a partner, I encouraged them to find someone from their PLN for feedback until I was able to confer with them.  They loved the term “professional” and took the responsibility seriously.

I found success with 5th Grade student PLNs, but I wondered if this same idea could be applied to younger students.  I consulted another member of my PLN, Ms. Losik, a 1st grade teacher at Merton Primary School.  Our students had done a few collaborative activities already and were comfortable working with each other. I felt my students were confident with their knowledge of PLNs and they were ready to teach their first grade buddies what a PLN is, and help them create their own so they could start using their network in 1st grade for Writer’s Workshop.  Ms. Losik prepared her students for our visit by talking to her students about their own learning experiences and brainstorming together who helps them at home and school. 

When we finally brought our students together for our PLN pair share/teach activity, the excitement was explosive. They were so proud to share the important, special people in their lives who help them learn. First the 5th graders explained what a PLN is, and shared their Google Drawings of their own PLNs.  Next, 5th Graders assisted their 1st grade buddies to brainstorm their PLN members by asking similar key questions we used to develop our own PLNs.  They wrote the names of the people and drew pictures on a graphic organizer similar to our Google Drawings.  After about 15 minutes, each 5th/1st grade pair presented their PLN.  It was interesting to note that even though these students were different ages, they both valued teachers, classmates and parents in their PLN.

This year my students continue to grow their PLN. They are excited that our blogs have reached new classrooms this year and we have made connections with famous children’s authors. Each TCRWP unit of study has a new element of excitement because the audience is no longer limited to our classroom, but reaches an unlimited global community and Personal Learning Network of their choice.  


Monday, January 6, 2014


Whenever you start a new Language Arts initiative with your students, you are always hopeful.  You want THIS program to make the difference.  The materials are purchased, the teachers are trained, the parents are informed.  Then the real work begins. Implementing real change in your own classroom. In order to do this successfully, means looking at literacy differently and creating a writing environment that looks and feels different than what has been done in the past.  Exciting! Year one of Writer’s Workshop was an absolute whirlwind in my 5th Grade classroom at Merton Intermediate School. It was new to everyone, so we learned together.

That was part of the fun.  My class and I loved conferring best.  We simply loved talking and sharing about writing.  It brought us all closer together as writers. We also had a class blog so we could continue our writing and discussions outside of the classroom. Blogging extended our audience to a global community and provided authentic learning opportunities. We loop 5/6th grade, so I was thrilled knowing we could continue what we started the following year.

I attended Teacher’s College Reading & Writing Project in August 2013 and kicked off the new Units of Study this year.  We started with Personal Narratives.  It was exciting to start our unit with experienced writers who were familiar with workshop. We spoke a common language and were living our lives as writers.  I didn’t realize just how much until 6th Grade volunteered to present “Writer’s Workshop: Year Two” at a school board meeting in November.  I started gathering artifacts and recruiting my writers to present at the meeting.  I made some amazing discoveries.

First, I asked my students, “ How are we living life differently as writers this year?”  Over the next two days students posted their responses on a Padlet.

It was exciting to see responses like:

  • “Last year I learned a lot of things that I needed to apply to my writing.  Now that I know all of those skills, it is a lot easier for me to add them to my writing without even having to think about it.”
  • “We are more aware of our surroundings so we can make the moments we have lived into small moment stories.”
  • “I think I have grown as a writer by being unique and brave.”
  • “We are writing blogs which don’t just help me, but inspire others too.  I reach many readers.”

Next, I went back to find a similar activity I did with my students a year earlier.  We were working on building stamina as writers since this was our first exposure to workshop.  My students were not exactly “enjoying” the amount of time we spent writing each day.  We discussed stamina and why it was important to build stamina in all areas of our lives. I had them each contribute to the question, “Why is Stamina Important in Writer’s Workshop?” on a shared Google Doc the same way I did with the Padlet activity.  Some of the responses were:

  • “We can build stamina by putting effort into your work.”
  • “We can build stamina with practice, practice, practice.”
  • “We can build stamina by practicing and writing stories.”
  • “We can build stamina by writing a lot at home or anywhere you go!”
For both of these activities, I posted the question on our class web site and asked my students to share their thoughts.  What a difference a year and the correct writing model can make.  What I noticed the most was the first year responses were all about the work, effort and practice. The second year responses were about the writer, blogger, inspiration, audience, life, and stories.  YES!!
We proudly presented our findings to our school board and ended the presentation with a potpourri voices share. Thanks TCRWP for your amazing resources and instruction this summer.  Most of all, thank you to my Merton 6th Grade writers/bloggers for your dedication and trust in me.  I am so proud of you!  Merton Community School Board Presentation: 11/23/2013