Saturday, October 18, 2014

Give Great Feedback (Without Going Crazy)!

I honestly don't know how high school English teachers do it. For years, I have struggled to keep up with the writing output of my fourth graders so that I can give them the high quality feedback they need so they can improve. I must say, however, that once again, technology makes this process SO much easier. Today I'm going to share some high-tech (and low-tech) ways to give great writing feedback without having to give up all of your nights and weekends.



Get your class to use Google Docs

I can't say enough good things about using Google Docs with my students this year. We use it for drafting and publishing, and the students share their docs with me the minute they start working on a new piece of writing. A few reasons why I love it: 

1. I can keep tabs on my students. We all have those kids who look like they're working but really aren't. Or those who just struggle to get ideas down. In the past, when I used notebooks, it might take me a couple of days to realize that a student was struggling. Now, I can leave those students' documents open on my laptop and see in real time what's happening in their writing. It makes them and me more effective during our writing block.

2. It's a great source of data. I was working with a student in RtI, and one of the data points I had to collect was how much writing she was able to accomplish during our writing block. Google Docs allow you to go back through a document's revision history so I could see what the writing looked like each day. I could track word counts and changes, and I could even see if she had worked on it at home (where the big changes seemed to happen). All of that information was very helpful and far more than I could have gathered using a notebook.

3. It makes conferring and feedback easier. I can have students ask me questions about their writing, and I can immediately pull it up and see it. I can also track when I've given feedback and which feedback gets used or ignored. It's a great record of my work with students.

Consider a Feedback Add-On

When I went to ISTE this summer, I learned about Kaizena, a tool that integrates with Google Drive and allows you to give feedback in a variety of ways. For example, you can:

  • Give audio feedback -- make comments about the paper by talking to the student about his or her writing. It will record your comments and embed them to the document. This would be SO much faster than typing things out.
  • Re-use comments -- if you find yourself making the same comment over and over again, you can create the comment once, tag it for easy finding, and use it again later. Talk about a time saver!
  • Embed videos -- sometimes students benefit from short movies or examples that teach a particular skill. It's like a personalized mini-lesson.
The problem? As of this writing, the app doesn't work with the iPads. Kaizena creates a link in the first comment and that link directs students to their platform, but links like that aren't clickable through the comments on Google Docs' iPad app. It would be great for a class with 1:1 laptops, but that's not where I'm at. I've heard that an iPad app is in the works, but until then, I'm having to devise my own alternatives. 

Build Your Own Comment Library

Inspired by the concept of Kaizena, I've started to build my own reusable comment library for those comments that apply over and over again. I'm just using a Google Spreadsheet, and I've divided it into the following columns:

1. Tag - a word or phrase to help me find the comment. Examples:
  • Capitalization - Proper Nouns
  • Run-on sentences
  • Then vs. Than
2. Comment - type out the exact text of what you want the comment to say to address a particular skill or issue. Wherever applicable, include a link to an additional resource students can use for more examples of what you're talking about. I tend to include titles of BrainPop videos or links to Vimeo clips (not blocked by my school's webfilters, unlike YouTube). While my students still can't access the links in comments through their iPads, I can let them use one of our classroom laptops to view the particular video. The fact that it's just one comment vs. all of the comments make this option work for us over Kaizena. Here's an example of a comment I gave a student who was confusing "Then and Than" 
  • You are confusing two words that sound similar to one another: "then" and "than." The first minute of this video may be helpful to you: http://vimeo.com/103071955 (you do not need to watch the whole thing)
3. Related Standard(s) - This is just one additional way for me to search through my comment library. Plus, if I find myself giving the same comment over and over again, I'll know which standard I may need to revisit in an upcoming lesson.

Why a Comment Library is a Huge Time Saver

My comment library allows me to give more thorough feedback in much more depth. Unlike a checklist or a rubric, I'm offering very specific feedback and suggestions targeted toward exactly what I see in a student's writing. When I notice something happening in the writing, I can highlight it, hit the comment button, and copy & paste the relevant suggestion into the comments section. I can do this quickly and still have time to type some individualized suggestions that may be relevant to the student. It's much more thorough than anything I could ever do on paper.

In addition, my comment library is constantly growing as I find new resources and see different things happen in students' writing. I've only been doing this for about a week, and it's becoming a great tool to help me curate resources and differentiate instruction.

Get Involved

As I mentioned, I've just started building this comment library on Google Drive. If you'd like to see it, you can view it here. If you'd like to get involved as a contributor, you can contact me via email or blog comments and I'll share the document with you so you can edit and add. 

Halloween Fun!

This is off-topic, but I was super excited at the arrival of my Halloween Jamberry nail wraps this week, and I finally tried them out today! 


I love the purple color and the subtle flare of bats flying around. It makes me feel festive without going over the top. I still have some Jamberry samples available to mail out, so if you'd like to try Jamberry nail wraps for yourself, I'd love to share! They're easy and fun, and they come in so many styles that you're sure to find some that you love. You can visit my Jamberry site or email me at eberjams (via gmail) to request a sample. 

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

3 Ways to Pamper Yourself When You're Low on Time

Have you ever heard the expression "There's no tired like teacher-tired?"  I didn't become a coffee drinker until I started teaching, and it seems like every teacher I know juggles way too many responsibilities. We teach, we parent, we study, we meet, we plan, and somewhere in that mix, we're supposed to take care of ourselves and our families as well. Talk about a tall order! I've never been great with the work-life balance, but as I've been increasingly pressed for time this past year, I've learned to prioritize and find shortcuts so that I can still feel pampered despite feeling crunched. Today, I'll share 3 of my favorites.

1. Jamberry Nails

I've seen bazillions of teachers blog about Jamberry before, and I'll admit that I was skeptical. I love getting my nails done, but I lack the time and budget to do that with any regularity. Not to mention, manicures never hold up on my nails. They always smudge or chip within a day. Getting gel manicures has helped, but those take a long time to put on and take off. And usually, I destroy my nails taking them off, too, because I'm impatient. 

In May, I tried Jamberry Nails for the first time, and I'll never go back to anything else. They're super easy to apply (20-30 minutes tops, and I'm slow relative to some people I know), and they last up to 2 weeks even with the heavy activity that comes with being a teacher, wife, and mom. Usually when I change them out, it's because I want a new pattern and not because the wraps are coming off. For example, check out these awesome Halloween wraps (which will be going on my nails next):


They look much more vibrant than any polish I've used, and they're not expensive. A sheet of wraps yields 2-3 manicures + at least 1 pedicure. If you have really short nails, you could probably get more out of them. I always buy them using the buy 3 get 1 free deals, so it's less than $5 for a mani/pedi for significantly less time and effort. 

I like Jamberry so much that I just became a Jamberry Independent Consultant (mostly so I can get the consultant discount on my nail wraps -- I want them all!). If you haven't tried them yet, I'd be happy to tell you more or hook you up with a sample to try for yourself. You can find out more by visiting my Jamberry website and liking my Jamberry page on Facebook. Or just leave me a note in the comments section, and I can arrange for a sample to be sent to you.

2. Gwynnie Bee

As a plus-sized person, I've been super jealous of all of the cute teacher-y clothes that friends have been posting from Stitch Fix. But I finally found an alternative that I love in Gwynnie Bee. Gwynnie Bee is a clothing subscription service that is like the Netflix for clothes. You select a plan (I'm currently on 3-at-a-time), load up your "closet" with clothes you like, and sit back and receive outfits from your virtual closet. If you like it, you can wear it and send it back when you're through with it or buy it at a discount. If you don't like it, you can immediately send it back to exchange for something else from your closet. There's no limit to how many outfits you are sent each month, and you can alert Gwynnie Bee that you're sending something back so they'll send you your next item.

I love my Gwynnie Bee subscription for a variety of reasons:

1. It's convenient - The clothes are delivered to my doorstep, and they have a prepaid plastic envelope so I can send them back. I'm constantly getting new outfits to try.

2. It's a time-saver - I don't shop nearly as much as I used to, and I don't have to do as much laundry or dry cleaning because Gwynnie Bee takes care of it all. 

3. There's no guilt - Shopping for plus-sized clothes gets depressing because selections are always more limited or dowdy, and while catalogs offer better selections, I never know how it will fit me. Now, I can have clothes delivered and not feel bad sending them back if they don't turn out as well as I'd hoped. 

4. You stumble onto great dresses you'd never find otherwise. Check out this fab retro dress that I ended up buying:

The minute I tried that dress on, my husband told me to buy it. Who could argue with that?!

5. It's perfect during transitions between sizes. I gained a bit when I had my daughter, and then I packed on a few more pounds when I started working on my PhD last year. I started Weight Watchers around Labor Day, and I'm already down 10 pounds (woo hoo!). I intend to keep on losing weight, but I don't want to have to buy a whole new work wardrobe at each step along the way. Now I can just go in and adjust the sizes on the clothes in my closet (they have sizes 10-32). 

Gwynnie Bee offers the first month free, and I highly recommend it. You can check it out using this link.

3. Birchbox and Ipsy

I started subscribing to Birchbox and Ipsy about a year ago. I'm not a huge makeup or product person, but I like trying new things, and it's fun to get a package every month. It's a small indulgence that makes me feel extra pampered. For example, this month, I received this amazing rosemary-scented shower gel in my Birchbox, and it's something I never would have found otherwise. In my experience, Birchbox tends to have more high end products while Ipsy has larger midrange samples that come in cute bags. I look forward to receiving both.

Treat Yourself

The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to take care of myself. This is true especially when everything gets busy and chaotic between work and grad school and caring for my family. I don't get to go shopping or go out for mani/pedis anywhere near as much as I used to, but I don't need to. There are so many amazing services and products out there that you can treat yourself even when you're extra busy. 


Finally, while I've been trying to take more time to pamper myself this year, I've had some help in the "feel like royalty" department. I was shocked beyond words when I was named Teacher of the Year at a faculty meeting last week, and my dear friends went out of their way to make me a crown, a tutu, and a sash for the local homecoming parade last week. They even made a matching tutu for my 3-year-old (who loves tutus). I work with some pretty amazing teachers, and they definitely inspire me and push me to be the best teacher I can be. I'll be sharing some of our amazing projects together in some upcoming posts, but I have to thank them for all they do for me each and every day. Loving what you do and where you work is the best kind of pampering of all. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Easiest Way to Implement a Classroom Economy

As my life continues to get crazier, I am constantly looking for ways to simplify and improve the things that I do. This year, for example, I decided to merge Class Dojo with my classroom economy, and so far, it's going very well! Here are some of the tweaks I made to make this merger work.

My Classroom Economy

I've been using a classroom economy since I started teaching, and every year, I make a few tweaks. The basic idea is that every student applies for a class job at the beginning of each term (our terms are 6 weeks long). I've previously posted about my classroom jobs here. I display the jobs in my classroom so that we're constantly reminded who is responsible for what. This year, I've used a pocket chart for my classroom jobs (sorry for the blurry photo).


I used to give students $100/week as their salary, or about $20 per day. They'd have weekly and monthly expenses, and then they could use any remaining money to purchase items in our class store. The complete program is detailed in my Classroom Economy Megapack on TpT.


I love the system, but I felt like I wasn't as consistent as I wanted to be in tracking student behaviors to give fines or bonuses, and there were many Friday afternoons when I was so involved in whatever we were working on that day, that I just didn't leave enough time for them to shop. 

Meanwhile, I was dabbling with Class Dojo, and I wanted to figure out a way to tie that in as well. If you're not already familiar, Class Dojo is an online behavior management system that allows you to give and take away points from students. You can create your own categories for points, and you can access the class info from any device -- laptop, computer, iPad, iPhone, etc. I liked that portability because I always have one of those devices in my hands, and I could give or take away points without really interrupting what I was doing. 

The solution came for me this year when Class Dojo allowed for the creation of weighted point values! Before, you could only give or take away a single point at a time. Now you can create points on a scale of 1-5 and weight particular behaviors accordingly. This is done in the set-up for behaviors. 

1. Go to Edit Class on your class screen and select "Edit students and behaviors."



2. Select "Behaviors" and either click on one of the exiting behaviors, or the plus symbol to customize the behaviors.



3. Change the icon (optional), name or rename the behavior, and then click the box to access a pull down menu of point values to weight that item.



And that's it! You can weight both the positive and negative behaviors according to your needs. Here are the settings I have now for my classroom economy.

I basically divided the $100 weekly salary by 10, and scaled everything else back the same way. Students now get 2 points daily for their salary (10 points per week) and bonuses for different behaviors. The only other positive behavior that I've weighted more currently is helping others because I'm really trying to encourage that in my classroom. I'm also going to add a +4 for a class compliment because I like when they do a good job with other adults in the building.


For negative behaviors, I deduct more points for breaking rules outside of my classroom and for disrespecting people or materials. I also now deduct their taxes and rent through Class Dojo, and when they shop, I deduct their points in here. I price everything in multiples of 2, but then I found that I wanted a -5 shopping once they had enough points for some of the larger ticket items in our class store. I dislike that it shows up in the "Needs Work" tab, but I don't think it's a problem overall. The parents know what is happening from the descriptors, and we just talk about it in class from the stance of making or spending money. It's the easiest way to deduct some points without resetting the points entirely.

Since transitioning to this modified system 7 weeks ago, my classroom economy has become more accurate and effective in a fraction of the instructional time. Class Dojo has replaced the clip chart that I used to use, and it helps with some of the accounting. I'm still using the bulk of the resources from my Classroom Economy Megapack, however.

If you're interested in trying out Class Dojo with the rest of my Classroom Economy Megapack, I'll be offering the product on sale at half price through Tuesday. It is one of my best sellers, and if you're looking to change up your classroom management routines or enhance your existing classroom economy, I don't think you'll be disappointed. I've also discounted the rest of my TpT store 20% to celebrate my return to blogging after a busy start to the school year. Those sale prices will go now through Tuesday, so check them out!

Join the Mailing List! 

Did you know that I have a mailing list so that you'll never have to miss a post? Use the link at the top right of this page (under Never Miss a Post) to subscribe to my mailing list. You'll get my posts delivered to your inbox, and you'll also get access to some extra resources that I'll be offering to my mailing list only. Given that my PhD work has really cut in to my blogging time this past year, the mailing list is the best way to make sure you see my new content. I promise not to spam you or share your contact information ever. 

Have a great week!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Top 10 Gadgets for a Tech-Loving Teacher

I leave tomorrow to go on an overnight faculty retreat with my colleagues, and as I started to pack my bag for the trip, I realized that I love gadgets. What started as a pretty basic love of smartphones, Kindles, and iPads has blossomed into a love of accessories as well. While I won't be packing all of these items for an overnight trip, I thought I'd share my 10 favorite gadgets for the tech-loving teacher.

1. ScanSnap Scanner

This has played a major role in helping me go paperless in my classroom and my personal life. The ScanSnap is a lightweight, portable scanner that can handle 12-15 double-sided pages at a time. It syncs with Dropbox and Evernote (two apps I love) so I can hold onto information without having to keep the piles of paper that come with it. For example, there are a bunch of forms that I'm required to use at school for various things. Rather than keep a file of them all cluttering up my desk, I just scan them with the ScanSnap and print them whenever I need them. I'm far faster at locating items on my computer via the search feature than I am at finding a random piece of paper, so this has been a life-changer for me.



2. Charging Hub

Having a lot of devices can be a problem when it comes to keeping them charged. I hated the clutter of all the chargers and the ugly power strip sitting by my nightstand. I recently solved that problem by purchasing the Anker 40W 5-port USB Charger.


One plug charges up to 5 devices via their USB cables. When there are limited plugs available, this is a great tool to have. It streamlines the clutter and the tangle of cords. I like it so much that I'm planning to get a second one for my classroom.

3. Cocoon Grid It

When you travel with a lot of gadgets -- even just between home and school -- you inevitably have a lot of cords and things that can get lost in your bag. For a while, I tried to assign items to various pockets to try to keep them organized, but that never worked very well. I'd forget what went where and spend way too much time digging around for something. That changed once I got the Cocoon.

It's about the size of a piece of paper, and it has several woven elastic bands that can hold items in place in many configurations. It's a great resource for keeping your smaller gadgets and their cords neat and tidy in your bag.

4. Portable Charger

One of the biggest challenges for me is keeping everything charged throughout the day -- especially when I go from school to grad classes at night. In some of my college classrooms, there are very few outlets, and it's hard to get a seat near one. That's why I love the Jackery Giant portable charger


Small and portable, I can charge this through my laptop, and then it can charge my other devices when I'm on the go. It came in especially handy while I was at ISTE recently, and I love it for travel. You can charge two devices at once, and it holds enough power to extend your device's battery by 500-600%.

5. Eye-Fi Mobi

I love using my good camera -- not the one on my iPhone, but my actual Sony digital camera. One of the things I hate, however, is taking out the memory card to move pictures from my camera to my computer. Invariably, I leave the card in my computer and don't have it when I go to take pictures, or I leave pictures on my camera forever and miss opportunities to share them in blog posts or with family in a timely manner. Then, I met the Eye-Fi card.

This card works like a typical memory card, but because it has WiFi capability, it can automatically send the pictures to my computer as I take them. It's a huge time-saver for me, and it has encouraged me to use my camera far more than I had been using it.

6. Jawbone UP

I'm on my feet a lot throughout the day, and I'm not the best with making time for exercise or sleep. I've had a Jawbone for over a year now, and I love it. It helps me keep track of my steps and my sleep quantity and quality so I can set goals for myself in both departments. It's comfortable and flexible so it doesn't bother me when I'm typing or sleeping, and it's waterproof so I can even wear it in the shower.
Like many teachers, I struggle with work-life balance, and this helps me gauge when things are really getting out of whack. 

7. Fine Point Stylus

I love using my iPad for note-taking, annotating documents, and making tutorials for my students. However, I hate drawing with my fingers because I feel like I'm less coordinated using my index finger relative to a pen, and most styluses are a little too nubby for me. I finally found one that I love in the Adonit Jot Pro

It has a fine-point with a small plastic disk at the tip, and while it's heavier than most pens I'd use, it is by far the closest thing to a pen-like feel that I've found for the iPad. I've had it since December, and I'm very protective of it. It's a must-have if you want to have more precision in your iPad creations, but be careful -- the small disk has popped off a couple of times in my bag, so you have to be careful about storage so you don't lose that piece. 

8. Canon SELPHY

I take a lot of pictures of activities in my classroom, and I like to be able to integrate those into bulletin boards to showcase student work. In the past, it was kind of a pain to print the pictures because I'd invariably have to get a bunch together, upload them to some website, and then have them printed by a 3rd party in a big cluster. I then received the Canon SELPHY as a gift from a family member, and it has eliminated all of the hassle from the process.

I can print from a memory card or send pictures straight from my iPhone or iPad to the printer, and it will print postcard sized borderless photos. I love that I can print wirelessly and as needed rather than having to put together an order that I eventually have to pick up from the store. It's much more efficient, and therefore more likely to get done.

9. IPEVO Point 2 View USB Camera

I use a document camera a lot in my classroom, but the ones my school has available take up tons of real estate on my desk. I also like to be able to have access to a document camera when I'm giving presentations for professional development sessions that I lead or presentations I give in my grad school classes, but I'm not likely to haul around a huge document camera from place to place. That's why I LOVE my IPEVO Point 2 View USB Camera

It is incredibly lightweight and compact, and it produces great images. I use it all the time, and at $69 on Amazon, I think it's a steal. I also like the fact that it can come off of it's stand, so if you're doing an activity in science where you want to look at something from an unusual angle, you have the flexibility to do so. If you don't have a document camera in your classroom, or you want something smaller, I highly recommend this.

10. Wireless Presenter with Laser Pointer

I find myself presenting a lot these days, both in and out of my classroom, and when I am, I absolutely hate to be tethered to my computer. I'd much rather be circulating among my students and interacting than staying in one place. I did some research on wireless remotes and ended up choosing the Kensington Wireless Presenter with Laser Pointer


It's small and comfortable to use, and with only four buttons, it's hard to mess up. My students love the laser pointer part of it, and I love how reliable it is. I've used it on many different computers -- Macs and PCs -- and I haven't encountered any hiccups yet. I've had my current one for three years, and the only thing I plan to replace are its batteries. 

Wrap-Up

So there you have my current top 10 list. With the exception of the ScanSnap and the Jawbone, all of the items are less than $100, and I've included links to each item on Amazon. (Those are affiliate links so Amazon will pay me a small commission if you choose to buy anything, but I'm only linking to items that I LOVE and USE constantly.) What are some gadgets that you love? I'd love to hear more in the comments as I start my back to school wish lists, so be sure to share. :-) And which gadgets do you currently use or would like to have in your own classroom? I'm always curious about the accessories as well.

Have a great week!

Friday, July 4, 2014

How to Outsource Your Running Records

Running records are the bane of my existence.

Ok. Maybe that statement is a little too strong. I really value the information that comes from conducting a running record, but my school requires that I conduct them every 6-12 weeks (depending on the student's reading level), and when I have to test 28 students, that takes a LONG time. Listening, recording, analyzing. Ugh. I can pretty much forget about teaching reading that week, unless I give some feedback after the students read (and then it takes 2 weeks to get through them all).

And then I went to ISTE and heard about Literably.



Literably is a service that audio records students reading Fountas and Pinnell leveled texts (A through Z) and sends you a complete running record within 24 hours. You set up your classroom, assign the level each student reads, and the student just hits "record" when he or she is ready to start. All that's needed is a microphone. Once the student has read for a minute, it automatically sends the recording off for analysis.

The analysis that comes back has all of the miscues, substitutions, and omissions labeled and analyzed for meaning, syntax, and visual errors. It also includes the rate in words per minute and the accuracy percentage. You'll also receive the audio file so you can share it with parents and listen to it yourself.

A free account includes 15 running records each month. If the audio quality is too poor for scoring, it won't count towards your 15. A premium account includes unlimited running records for one class and costs $19/month.

I will definitely be trying out this service. It will give me all of the assessment data I need while freeing me up to work with small groups and confer with students about the books they're reading. Talk about win-win.

Are there any apps or online services you use for reading assessments in your classroom? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July Currently

How did it get to be July already?!?!

I'm still recovering from 3 days of EdTech awesomeness at the ISTE conference and linking up with Farley at Oh' Boy 4th Grade for this month's currently.


Listening - My two-year-old has recently become obsessed with Sofia the First on Disney Jr. It's a cute show, but not my favorite of the toddler choices...not that I've become a connoisseur of toddler TV or anything...

Loving - I started a garden last summer, but it became somewhat overgrown when Georgia had its monsoon season last summer, and it didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped. This year, we're in a new house, and while I don't have the yard space (or HOA permission) for a full garden, I have space on my deck for a container garden. I'm growing bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, herbs, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and carrots, and they're really coming along! My daughter and I check on them every afternoon, so it has become a fun summer project.

Thinking - This was my first year to attend ISTE, and I learned SO much. It was overwhelming, exhausting, and inspiring, and I just need a little time to process it all. I'll start blogging tomorrow about some of the coolest stuff I learned.

Wanting - I'm moving into a new classroom this year, so I had to box up all of my stuff at the end of the school year. I'm hoping (*fingers crossed*) that it all got moved to the new room (in a different building on our campus) so I can begin unpacking soon.

Needing - I'm a little panicked that it's July already. I have a lot of projects that are in various stages of completion, and while I know better than to think I'll get them all done, I'd like to check a few more items off my list before I go back to school in a few weeks.

4th Plans - I'm looking forward to a three day weekend with my husband and daughter. We don't have any big plans, but we may take Sydney to see her first fireworks extravaganza.

On a final note, as I prepare to move into my new classroom, I'm starting to think about decorating. The wall colors are very different in my new room, so my old stuff might not work. Here's a quick pic of the new room from my Instagram account:

I'd love to hear your color schemes/decorating ideas if you have any! The move-in and shopping spree will start next week!

Have a great weekend!

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., www.scripped.com) 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!
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