Friday, June 25, 2010

Visual Information

I just watched a video of Karl Gude of Michigan State presenting at TEDX Lansing in May 2010. What an excellent presentation on visual design.

Basically, Gude points out that we are on information overload. It’s like a fire hose pouring out into a teacup.
Data comes at us from every direction and we are trying to absorb everything. So how can we make our information relevant and readily available to our audience?

Instead of presenting in print-rich format, you can get more information out more quickly by using graphics and visuals. A reader can skim a graphic and get an overview much more quickly than one can read a pamphlet. Get the information out by SHOWING it to your audience. Then, your reader can scan the information.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “I can’t draw.” Well, me either. There are tons of free programs out there that can create charts and graphs for you. Or stick figures drawn on a napkin work well too. Or use photos. Either way, it’s making me think I need to reevaluate how I present information to teachers, students and clients.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Increase in kids' time spent using entertainment media

A recent research report by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that the time young people (8-18 years old) spend using entertainment media has risen dramatically. These kids average seven hours 38 minutes per day. Read the full report here:

I am glad to see that although digital usage is on the rise, time spent reading books has remained pretty steady. However, I don’t think twelve minutes per day is enough, I wonder if the study took into consideration the amount of reading young people do in digital formats.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Home Libraries Critial to Child's Education

"The difference between being raised in a bookless home compared to being raised in a home with a 500-book library has as great an effect on the level of education a child will attain as having parents who are barely literate compared to having parents who have a university education.  The library or university factor can propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average, according to a 20-year study led by Mariah Evans of the University of Nevada.  The study appears in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility."

All the more reason to surround yourself and your family with book, magazines and journals.  What an easy way to improve your child's success in school.  Providing a print-rich environment and modeling various reading behaviors for your children can have a huge impact.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Countdown to the end!

Happy June 1!  We have three more weeks of school which is causing me to reflect on my work this year.  I have been in many classrooms ranging from seventh grade science to social studies to English language arts to French 4 at the high school level.  Much of my work has been centered around Readers'/Writers' Workshop - set-up, management, conferring.  But another big topic this year has been word study/vocabulary development.  I've especially enjoyed working with our world language teachers as they have many insights into vocabulary development.

Here's some of the word  work with ninth grade English language arts.  They used words from Romeo and Juliet and put them on a continuum from negative to positive.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Writing is...

I was playing around with Wordle and thinking about what it means to write.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Here we are, at the end of Dan Pink’s six senses, or essential aptitudes, for success: design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning. As I have explored each, I’ve not only thought about how to include them in my own life – to strengthen my own skills – but how can we include these in the classroom?

Meaning: Meaning is the key to happiness. One should see one’s work as a calling. Drive/ambition is the pursuit of meaning (and the topic of Pink’s current book, I presume).

Some strategies to try in order to improve this aptitude in your life:

  • Keep a gratitude journal (p.235) – Oprah would approve! Writing a thank you letter would be a great Writers’ Notebook entry.
  • But out (p.238) – Look at the obstacles in your life and replace “but” with “and.” For example, “I’d like to travel, but and I don’t have time.”
  • Take a Sabbath (p.239) – Spend a day resting, relaxing, reflecting, praying.
  • Check your time (p.243) – Make a list of what’s important to you. Next, look at your calendar; does your list align with how you spend your time? This one is resonating with me as I recently read an article about “tolerations” (things we tolerate in life). What do we really want to do and what do we just tolerate?
A few months ago, I wrote about my passion for teaching others. I have always seen my work as a calling – something I was meant to do. I enjoy my work and my colleagues. I like working with students and helping them to see new things in their lives. My life has meaning because of this. What brings meaning to your life?

Monday, May 17, 2010


Next up in Pink’s six senses/aptitudes for success is play.

Play: Problem solving, self-expression, self-exploration and humor.

Now, anyone who knows me knows this is not my area of strength. My family jokes that I came out of the womb a mature thirty-year-old. So, games, humor and not taking myself seriously don’t come easily to me. Pink give a few suggestions for how to strengthen this aptitude.

  • Look at cartoons and try to create the caption (p.210). This would work well as a Writers’ Notebook entry.
  • Play video games (p. 212). I don’t think we’d have to tell most kids more than once to work on this one!
  • Think of writing prompts to promote self-expression and self-exploration. You could certainly bring in some poetry here too!
  • Play ‘A Day in the Life’: Have each participant write his or her name on a large piece of paper and then make two columns with the headings: My Frustrations, My Rewards. Next, post all of the sheets on the walls and ask everyone to walk around the room and write what they think the answers are for their co-workers. Then, each person reclaims his/her own sheet and everyone takes a turn responding to their classmates' guesses while explaining what their day is really like. This would also work well with characters from a novel.
That last one might have been from the empathy chapter, but felt like it could fit here too. My apologies to Mr. Pink if I put it in the wrong place.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Daniel Pink’s six senses, or essential aptitudes, for success: design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning.

Empathy: The ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position and intuit what that person is feeling (p. 159).

I agree with Pink and I also recognize that this is hard to do with adolescents since they are so egocentric. However, I think it’s worth pointing out to teens and modeling it for them to build their self-awareness. Shortly after I finished Pink’s book, I ran across this article about what students should learn in school, but aren’t. The author listed Global Empathy as something kids should learn.

[Education technology consultant Alan] November said he was talking with a senior executive at a global investment bank recently, and he asked the executive: What is the most important skill for today’s students to learn so they are prepared to succeed in the new global economy?

“Empathy,” the executive replied—the ability to understand and respect different points of view.

Most of today’s companies do business with customers all over the world, and several also have branches in multiple countries. Chances are good that when students enter the workforce, they’ll be working with—or doing business with—someone from another nation, with its own culture and its own unique perspective, at some point in their career.

It’s not hard to find people who are smart, the executive said. What is hard to find are employees who have to ability to empathize with, and be sensitive to the needs of, people from other countries

The response this executive gives really stood out to me especially in light of the new Common Core Standards for college and career readiness. What are we doing to prepare our students for the global workforce?!

Monday, May 10, 2010


Next up on Daniel Pink’s six senses, or essential aptitudes for success, is symphony.

Symphony: Left-directed thinking analyzes; right-directed thinking synthesizes. This synthesis is  looking at all the components and using them to create a symphony.

A major component of symphony is the ability to see relationships between relationships. One must synthesize rather than analyze in order to imagine how pieces fit together. Sometimes this is called seeing the big picture.

Some suggestions for improving one’s symphony aptitude:
  • Listen to great symphonies (Mozart, Hayden).
  • Draw – consider taking a drawing class.
  • Use metaphors to explain relationships. Keep a log of metaphors you encounter.
  • Read magazines you’ve never read before and look for connections to your own life.
  • Create an inspiration board – would be a nice use of visual literacies.
Students can consider how to integrate the various pieces into a whole instead of breaking the whole into various pieces. Some of the above bulleted items would make great Writers’ Notebook entries.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


The second of Daniel Pink’s six senses, or essential aptitudes for success is story. As a former high school English teacher, and current Literacy Coach, this was a HUGE one for me.

Story: Anyone can argue a point, but in order to effectively persuade and communicate, you need to develop a compelling narrative.

Pink says story is integral to human experience. (p.101) It’s how our minds work – how we remember. If we are able to place facts in context and deliver with emotional impact, then we have a good story. (p.103)

Some things to try:

  • Visit, the largest oral history project of its kind, and listen to or post your own story. I could see this turning into a great memoir assignment for students.
  • Riff on opening lines from a novel (p.124) – Write compelling first lines on index cards and have students use them as story starters or a springboard for their own story. 
  • Photo finish (p.104) – Choose a picture as a story starter. Students can create the back story that may not appear in the picture. I’ve done this before by collecting interesting pictures from magazines. 
  • Incorporate 21st Literacies by creating a digital story. I have a colleague who is a master at this.

These of course fit nicely with Writers’ Workshop, but are great stretches of our creativity too.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


This is my first post exploring Daniel Pink’s six senses, or essential aptitudes for success: design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning. I’ll just go in order for ease of my memory!

Design: Not just creating a product, but creating something that is aesthetically pleasing.

Pink says, design is utility enhanced by significance. (p.70) We must master design for personal fulfillment and professional success. Design principles are crucial for differentiation in business. Good design, (well, even bad design) can change the world.

Pink suggests a few things to work on in this realm. First, pay attention to the things around you. How are things designed? What works well? What colors, shapes, materials are used?

  • Is there an item that you think needs to be improved? Draw a sketch of how you could improve the item.
  • Take a drawing/art class. Why is it that beyond about third grade, the drawing stops? In school, we could definitely encourage more students to represent their thoughts visually/graphically.
  • Instead of a typical outline, how about allowing – even encouraging – a storyboard? There are some great samples of these online that could jumpstart a writing workshop.

I think that in this global society we all must make ourselves more marketable. It never hurts to look for areas for improvement. From an educator standpoint, these six aptitudes are simple things we can incorporate into our classrooms.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Whole New Mind

I recently read Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind which explores six senses which are necessary for success.  Pink examines America’s growth from the agricultural age to the conceptual age.  While at one time, it was necessary to be left-brain dominate for success, those are also the skills and jobs which are currently being outsourced.  Pink’s assertion is that Americans need to explore their right-brain aptitudes in order to compete in this global market and develop a whole new mind (hence Pink’s title).

He outlines six senses, or essential aptitudes: design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning.

Design: Not just creating a product, but creating something that is aesthetically pleasing.

Story: Anyone can argue a point, but in order to effectively persuade and communicate, you need to develop a compelling narrative.

Symphony: Left-directed thinking analyzes; right-directed thinking synthesizes. This synthesis is looking at all the components and using them to create a symphony.

Empathy: The ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position and intuit what that person is feeling (p. 159).

Play: Problem solving, self-expression, self-exploration and humor.

Meaning: Meaning is the key to happiness. One should see one’s work as a calling. Drive/ambition is the pursuit of meaning (and the topic of Pink’s current book, I presume).

In upcoming posts, I’ll address each of these six and my attempts to cultivate them in my life and work.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Passion for Literacy

I have a passion for all things literacy: reading, writing, texting, speaking, blogging, viewing, podcasting, listening…the list could go on. Merriam-Webster defines passion as “intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.” That last part, conviction, really resonates with me. I have a strong belief that literacy is a foundation for all other skills. I also think literacy is more than reading and writing – we must consider the 21st Century skills that our students will need to succeed.

No longer does composing mean writing an essay. Composing is creating something, whether alone or together. It may be on a computer, on paper or even on a napkin. As educators, we must recognize that students are encountering various literacies and modes of expression and determine how we can equip students to succeed.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Classics anyone?

A few months ago, my book club chose to read a classic novel. We had a conversation that began with, "I can't believe I graduated from college without reading _______." We brought suggestions of our favorite classic(s) and other titles to share with each other. After much discussion, we eventually decided on a classic that none of us had read before. (That’s the point of a book club, right? To read new books, or books you might not choose yourself?) The novel was selected was E.M. Forster's A Room with a View.

While none of us loved the book, it did bring about some great discussion. As a former English teacher, I certainly see the value in reading classics. There is something that comes from this shared understanding of a text that connects you to other people. Everyone remembers the tortuous weeks spent reading Romeo and Juliet in the ninth grade!

Is there a classic text you would like to read, but never got around to reading?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Web 2.0 and you (and your students)

I sit on my school and district’s technology committee and see a clear divide between those who want to regulate (read: clamp down on) technology and those who want to use technology as a teaching and learning tool. As you can guess, I fall into the second camp. I want to empower students to use web 2.0 tools for learning, as a way of expressing themselves, as an outlet for authentic audiences. I believe it is an educator’s responsibility to teach students to use these tools responsibly and appropriately and become good digital citizens.

Have you and your students thought about your digital footprint on the web? What trail are you leaving for others to follow? Do your students have an academic presence online? Are they posting and commenting on blogs of an academic nature? If a college admissions officer Googles your student, what will he find? Speaking of which, have you Googled yourself?!

So in this New Year, I ask you, where do you live on the web and where do you visit? When you look at the answer to that question, does it show your interests, priorities and passions?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Creating Bi-Textual Readers

Recently I have been reading Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide which has me thinking and reflecting on reading, reading instruction and my own development as a reader. When I look back at my school experience, I cannot remember any one teacher who had an impact on me as a reader. Sure, I know my sixth grade teacher read a novel aloud to us and we loved it. My senior AP English teacher had us read Lives of a Cell and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (neither of which I recall much about).

At home, I remember seeing my mother read some, but do not have strong memories of being read to as a child; although, I’m sure I was read to often. No books stand out as childhood favorites. Many my age recall the Anne of Green Gables series, or the Narnia series, neither of which I read growing up. However, today I am a voracious reader - often reading several books at a time.

All this leads me to the readers we teach today. As teachers, are we exposing them to enough text(s)? Are we doing more than the in-class, required reading and the whole-class novel? Are we teaching them enough about reading outside of class? Are we teaching them to read as disciplinarians – in the sciences, social sciences, mathematics?

Gallagher quotes Maryanne Wolf as discussing the need to create “bi-textual readers,” those who read from multiple sources. This is a valuable skill to be taught and I’d say that as digital readers our students have a start in this direction. They may open a website to read about a certain topic and by the end of their online session have clicked well away from the original topic.
However, are we as educators modeling bi-textual reading for students? Do we provide “real-world” writing which supports and enriches our curriculum? Do we look for text(s) of interest to our students which tie to the core curriculum? If not, it would be a relatively easy addition to our curriculum. Keep an eye out for articles from contemporary sources which relate to your content. (I normally keep them in a folder on my computer.) Then, the next time you are in that unit, pull out the article and have students read it. Ask them how it applies to what you are currently studying. Ask them to validate why your current curricular topic is “still” important today. Our students crave real-world connections as proof of why school is relevant to their lives. Let’s do that and build better readers at the same time.