The Quickwrite Handbook by Linda Rief

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Image: Henemann

What are quickwrites?  They are quick 3 minute bursts of writing done in response to poem, short text, question, picture or video.  They can be used to get students thinking about a topic, theme, genre or author’s craft.  The writing springs from the pen and the only rule is to keep writing.  The writing could mirror, be inspired by or pick up on a thread of an idea.  What happens when you give students three minutes to write is that students create writing “nuggets” that may be mined later and developed into longer pieces.  They become more confident and fluent writers.  Sometimes, in those three minutes, they create magic.

Here is a poem that emerged from a quickwrite done by my student after listening to George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From.”    We had been studying several notable civil rights heroes and students where asked to imagine where they were from.

Where I’m From…Martin Luther King

By Kristine, Grade 4

I’m from a southern church

With “White Only” signs

That made me feel sad.

I’m from a mother

Who told me,

“You are as good as anyone.”

I’m from a place where

I wanted to play with my white friends

But their mothers said, “No,

Because you are black.”

I am from sadness.

I am from a place where

A white man said to Rosa Parks,


Rosa said, “No!”

I am from a place where

I will make a world where

“…little black boys and girls

will join together

with little white boys and girls.”

Having seen the power of quick writes, I am always on the lookout for new inspirations to add to my collection.  Linda Rief, the patron saint of quickwrites, has published a new book, The Quickwrite Handbook:  100 Mentor Texts to Jumpstart Your Students’ Thinking and Writing.

Each mentor text (short poem, short text or picture) is accompanied by some suggestions to share with your students, such as “write about anything that the piece brings to mind”, “borrow a line and write wherever the line leads” or asking them to respond to the piece’s central theme (“Think of a time you did something you probably should not have done, but did it to impress someone else.(p.84)”

Student writers’ work is featured alongside professional writers and “interludes” show examples of final drafts that emerged from quickwrites.

I am looking forward to exploring these quickwrites during my own morning writing time and then sharing them with my students.


Webinar Review: Fountas and Pinnell: Levels are a Teacher’s Tool, not a Child’s Label

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 9.27.47 PMImage: Fountas and Pinnell Twitter:

Reading levels, to my great dismay, have escaped the bookroom and teachers’ notebooks and found their way into classroom libraries, progress reports and even children’s vocabulary, as in “I’m a Level Q.  What are you?”

Fountas and Pinnell presents a webinar to address this growing problem.

Reading levels, those letters from A-Z in the Fountas and Pinnell Text Level Gradient (or numbers in the DRA System), are a way to communicate the difficulty level of a text based on text characteristics.  Those characteristics include genre, text structure, content, themes, language and literary features, sentence complexity, vocabulary, words, illustrations and book and print features.

Reading levels are a tool that teachers use to match books to readers and to measure achievement and progress.  It was never intended as a labeling system for classroom libraries.

Levels, according to Fountas and Pinnell, were also never meant to be shared on report cards or progress reports.  In the webinar, the emphasis is on communicating with parents/caregivers in a manner that better reflects the range of each student’s literacy learning.

We teach reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, fluency, reading comprehension) throughout the instructional contexts of Read Aloud, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, Book Clubs and Independent Reading.

Leveled Texts should only used in the context of Guided Reading where “teachers select texts that expand thinking within, beyond and about a text” based on individual needs. Leveled texts allow a school community to share a “vision of progress over time.”  Fountas and Pinnell emphasize that “the level is not the most important thing about the book.” The most important thing about a book is that it be a high quality selection.

Book Club books should not be selected by reading level but be “student-selected, age-appropriate, grade-appropriate, complex texts that expand thinking about, within and beyond the text.” Book Club books can be read independently or with audio support.

For Independent Reading, students should receive careful instruction in book selection but always have control over the books that they select from the classroom library.

Sharing progress in reading should be done without sharing levels. Fountas and Pinnell suggest sharing examples of books that students had read in the beginning of the year and then share current books that show the development of more complex understanding. They also suggest sharing as examples of books that students will hopefully be able to read at the end of the year.  It is important to communicate how literacy learning is a part of all instructional contexts.  Teachers can show examples of student written response to texts by sharing Reader’s Notebook entries from Read Aloud, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, Book Clubs and Independent Reading.

This webinar has inspired me to rethink how I can better communicate student reading achievement and progress with parents/caregivers.  Information can be shared about a reader’s reading identity, response to reading and book log analysis within a narrative that addresses decoding, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension and written expression. Perhaps stronger connections may be made between the goals of Guided Reading and the other instructional contexts. Sometimes, I send a student off with a sticky note and have them explain their reading strategy/goal to me with a reminder to use the strategy/goal during all reading that they are doing at school and at home.

If parents ask about levels, teachers should explain how that levels are a tool for teachers to guide instruction and used in one context of instruction. Educators should share a fuller representation of child’s literacy learning beyond levels.  Again, the Reader’s Notebook, including book logs, reading responses and artifacts of talking about books, can be a vital tool for showing literacy progress.

Parents are entitled to know if their student is reading below, on or beyond grade-level expectations but that information should be conveyed without sharing instructional levels.  Teachers should make note of a range of information beyond reading proficiency relative to grade level, such as progress, stamina, engagement, risk-taking, time spent reading per day, participation in oral discussions and written response to reading.

If a child asks about levels, the teacher should emphasize that those levels are a teacher tool that helps the teacher choose books for one part of the day. The teacher should emphasize that the child is engaged in many types of reading activities throughout the day, including at home reading.  Teachers should help a student build a reading identity, based on the type of books/genres a student enjoys reading while exposing them to a range of literature. Teachers should understand the importance of choice reading where students get to choose a book that they want to read.

The webinar ends with a focus on the importance of classroom libraries, emphasizing that libraries must reflect the “interests, topics of study and diversity of the world” and be culturally responsive.  Each child should be able to “find themselves in (their classroom library’s) books.”  They reminded us of the need to administer interest inventories and have a balance of fiction and nonfiction, including Science and Social Studies texts.

Fountas and Pinnell ends this webinar by asking us to measure not only what children can read but the extent to which our students love to read.

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 9.31.03 PMImage: Fountas and Pinnell Twitter:

This is a clarion call to all educators to resist the limiting labels of levels and embrace a more robust communication about what it means to be a reader.  Due to the explosion of classroom libraries organized by reading levels and the communication of those levels to students and families, this is truly a timely topic.

Thank you to EdWeek and Fountas and Pinnell for making this thoughtful webinar available, at no cost.

What are your thoughts about the use/abuse of reading levels?


Fountas & Pinnell Webinar: Levels Are a Teacher’s Tool, NOT a Child’s Label”

Watched on September 6, 2018 (4pm-5pm)

Link to on-demand:

Transcript will be available by September 10thby logging into the Resources panel on the video console.

Webinar will be available on

Blog Post

“Guided Reading: The Romance and the Reality.” The Reading Teacher (Volume 66, Issue 4, December 2012/January 2013)

Available Electronically:

A chart from the Riverview School District (Duvall, WA) that serves as a reference for a teacher to communicate progress based on grade level expectations instead of using level letters or numbers:






Book Review: Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

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Smarter Faster Better
, by Charles Duhigg, is a book that will get you excited about productivity! Using powerful anecdotes (worth sharing in your next keynote address) from the worlds of theater, movie-making, poker, aviation, medicine, education and business, insights are gleaned into the factors that impact attention, motivation and productivity.

One of the most immediately useful ideas, drawn from the author’s own experiences, is how to create a more productive to-do list. If you are a busy person that gets a lot done each day but never seems to find the time to work on your “heart’s desire”; that book, painting or trip that never seems to materialize- then this is the book for you. Duhigg walks you through the steps needed to make your “stretch goals” a reality using “s.m.a.r.t. goals.” Duhigg’s updated to-do list is simple to implement and will allow you to complete more creative projects.

As a teacher, I most resonated with the chapters of the book that emphasized the importance of choice and voice in impacting motivation and productivity. Businesses mentioned in the book found greater success as executives gave voice to employees that were closest to problems and allowed them agency to find solutions. These sections served as important reminders to infuse choice and voice for all students in every day’s learning in order to increase student motivation, engagement and achievement.

As a writer, I was inspired by the chapters about the creative processes that gave birth to “Frozen”, a Disney movie, and the iconic play, “West Side Story.” The depth of struggle, despair and time that went into each of these projects was very comforting, as well as the torturous path that led to creative breakthroughs. In light of the intimate description of the work behind the genius and artistic vision, I will now look at a blank page or a storyline that isn’t working with different eyes.

As a team member, the sections about the importance of people being heard, respected and allowed to speak freely, as well as the importance of having norms for successful team interactions is not a new message but bears repeating.

Smarter Faster Better was one of those audiobooks that soon made me sorry that I hadn’t bought the hardcover to keep in my bookshelf and pull out for ready reference! However, being able to listen to all those wonderful anecdotes, learning that I could clip and bookmark audio clips for future reference and finding the book’s end notes in the Resources section of Charles Duhigg’s website, eased my pain.

In a world where we all have never been busier while getting less and less done, Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg gives us not only hope and inspiration, but practical solutions to make our lives more productive, and most importantly, more meaningful.

PD Book Review: Language at the Speed of Sight

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I have two strong and conflicting feelings about this book.  The first is a deep sense of admiration for Mark Seidenberg’s depth of knowledge of the process of reading and ability to cogently contrast reading acquisition with speech acquisition.  He emphasizes that everyone acquires speech but not everyone learns to read and gives an extremely detailed account of the processes involved in both reading and speech.

I also admire his analysis of eye movements.  Over the last few years, many parents have asked me about “vision training”, offered by some optometrists to help struggling readers better process text and my research had indicated that it was not an accepted practice.  I deeply appreciated the author’s coherent explanation of eye movements and their role in reading, particularly regressive eye movements, where the reader looks back instead of going forward.  Dr. Seidenberg explains how this is part of the reading process and the solution is to, “Read as much as possible, mostly new stuff.”

This shared understanding of what I have come to see, in my 25 years of experience as a reading specialist, as the crucial factor in reading development; namely the amount of time spent reading and its relationship to academic success.  Those who read for 2 minutes a day are in around the 20%ile while those who read about 9 minutes a day are at the 50%ile, capped off by those who read 33 minutes day approaching the 90%ile.  Edublog created a summary chart of this research:Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 10.18.27 AM

So my second feeling about this book is bafflement.  For the second half of the book, Dr. Seidenberg indicates that the reason that students are not reading and doing well on standardized measures of reading is due to a lack of instruction on how to effectively teach phonics by graduate and undergraduate teacher preparation programs.

If I am following the logic, his thought process seems to go like this: because he knows that phonics knowledge is a crucial part of teaching reading, students who are not reading on grade level must not have been taught phonics.

Some questions emerge:  Is there no teacher preparation school that is teaching phonics that Dr. Seidenberg could have cited as doing a stellar job?  Could  he could have tracked the graduates o noteworthy programs and noted how their phonics preparation resulted in positive student outcomes?

  Is there no class which has an acceptable amount of daily phonics teaching (the amount I know not because he does not go into the specifics of what constitutes good teaching in terms of daily time allotment or curriculum, outside of vaguely mentioning some packaged programs) that could be cited as a successful approach to teaching reading based on standardized outcomes? 

 What about the earlier assertion about “reading more” as a way to read better?  Can’t the blame for poor reading outcomes be as least as much to blame on lack of time spent reading as on poor phonics instruction?

 I was really excited to read this book and my bafflement over his seemingly one-note response to the crisis in reading achievement left me feeling very disappointed.  I do agree that phonics instruction is extremely important and that all teachers should be well-versed in strategies that move students forward.  Each student in every classroom must have the benefit of a responsive and carefully sequenced core curriculum in phonemic awareness, phonics (explicitly teaching students the connection between letters and sounds), blending, and structural analysis (explicitly teaching students the connection between morphemes and meaning).

When I work with students as a reading specialist, I use information gathered during guided reading with students to provide a window into student needs.  For example, if a student is consistently miscueing on word endings ( reading hike for hiking; spider for spiders), I will make a note to spend 5-10 minutes every lesson teaching this student about morphemes, which are units of meaning, and structural analysis so that the student will come to understand how important it is to look all through the word because although hike and hiking/ spider and spiders may look alike, they have different meanings.  As Word Detectives, we as readers must be alert to morphemes because we want to be able to understand the text as the author intended.

It has been my experience that a lack of phonics knowledge is only one piece of the puzzle that needs to be addressed to move striving readers forward.  Other pieces include, in order of importance: visual and auditory proficiency, listening comprehension, reading rateaccess to books that the reader finds interesting, access to technology to make books the reader wants to read but are above their current reading level accessible, ability of the teacher to differentiate reading instruction, attitudes toward reading, time spent reading, time spent writing and attention span, to name just a few.

 One more quibble…I was really confused when Dr. Seidenberg “called out” the practice, anchored in Marie Clay’s work, of querying students who miscue if the said miscue.”looks right, sounds right and makes sense” as this is simply cueing readers to make use of visual, syntactic and semantic information.  The students have made an error in reading.  Their only hope to self-correct those errors lies in being able to ask themselves those questions, as an experienced reader does, and fix-up the cueing system that was neglected and resulted in the miscue.  This is an essential metacognitive strategy for students whether they possess weak or strong phonics knowledge.  Upon further reflection, though, I realize that Dr. Seidenberg wants all students to receive the high quality phonics instruction that ensures that students can decode words and don’t need to guess.

Dr. Seidenberg is spurious of the recent trend to refer to the study of reading as “literacy” because it dilutes the emphasis on the teaching of reading.  He has high standards for reading teachers and wants those who teach reading to have the appropriate core knowledge of the field.  On this, I wholeheartedly agree.  I hope that Dr. Seidenberg writes another book about specific classroom best-practices that result in positive student outcomes.  Highly recommended reading for any literacy (umm, reading) professional.

How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World By Marjorie Priceman

Screen Shot 2016-12-09 at 11.41.44 AM.pngHow to Make an Apple Pie and See the World By Marjorie Priceman is a whimsical take on how to locate ingredients when your local market is closed.  You catch a steamship to Italy for semolina wheat or stow away on a banana boat to gather sugar in Jamaica, for starters!  This is a wonderful book to read for fun but it also fits in nicely with a Geography, Transportation or Sequencing unit.  There are also some great vocabulary phrases to act out  or demonstrate with children, such as “grind the kurundu bark into cinnamon” or “evaporate the seawater from the salt.”  Be sure to read this book aloud with a map or globe or flip back to the endpapers so students can chart their own course through the locales referenced in the book.

What to do after reading and discussing this delightful book?  Make an apple pie, of course!  You can use the recipe in the back of the book with children or this more complicated recipe from Melissa Clark of The New York Times Food section, if you are baking the pie in advance.

One thing you might want to try if you are baking with children is, instead of baking one pie, scooping the apple mixture into individual ramekins and then cutting out a top crust with the round edge of a drinking glass, scoring and baking until the crust browns.  (See the ramekin to the left of the pie in the middle photograph, below.)img_1317img_1319img_1321Here are some photos from an apple pie that I made recently for my family.  There may be more satisfying pleasures in life than rolling out a crust, the aroma of a baking pie or the taste of a flaky crust laden with apples and ice cream but right now I can’t think of any!

Are there any other books that feature apple pies?  Let’s start a list!  Happy reading and baking!

National Museum of Mathematics (NYC)

Screen Shot 2016-12-08 at 3.50.18 PM.pngWhat does Eugenia Cheng’s favorite piano piece, juggling and a Brandenberg cake have to do with mathematics?  Quite a lot, surprisingly, as this Scientist in Residence from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago made clear during her December 7th presentation at the National Museum of Mathematics.

This inviting museum is tucked away at 11 East 26th Street (between 5th and Madison) in Manhattan.  Eugenia Cheng’s 7pm presentation, How to Bake Pi: Making Abstract Palatable, was free but advance reservations were required.  This talk was part of the monthly Math Encounters series offered on the first Wednesday of every month.  It is just one of the many exciting events and opportunities offered by MOMATH which includes book clubs for adults and tweens, Family Fridays, Math Song and Math Master contests, as well as a partnership with the Wall Street Journal to present Varsity Math, twice-weekly  math challenges published in the newspaper.  The museum also offers after-school gifted classes, school visits and traveling math exhibits.

Refreshments were offered before the presentation, which included delicious gingered chicken teriyaki skewers, spinach-bacon tartlets and hummus with pita.  Wander into the gift shop overflowing with so many interesting math books, games and models that you will vow a return trip to explore.

At 5 minutes before 7pm, we were led to an attractive downstairs event space.  It was quite heartening to see every chair in the venue filled, with participants ranging in age from 3 to 83.

Bedtime Math founder and author, Lauren Overdeck, gracefully introduced the evening.  She stressed how children will acquire math confidence if given sufficient time to explore mathematically in a playful way. Her website, highly  recommended to parents of children struggling with math knowledge or anxiety, as well as accomplished math students, includes math stories that can be explored nightly, as well as descriptions of her books, math resources and information about packaged after-school clubs.

Eugenia Cheng then spoke about how her college students have overcome a lack of interest, confidence and knowledge of mathematics through hands-on activities like cooking.  She emphasized that deep math knowledge does not come from memorization but through exploration and understanding of the ideas underpinning the theory.  Eugenia showed how trying to make sense of her favorite, but difficult, piano piece led her to try and visually represent the piece.  The visual that she created, which looked like a 4-string braid, led her to ponder the connection to mathematical braids as well as to eventually realizing that this braid is also a visual representation of how balls travel when you juggle.

Two things struck me.  First, Eugenia is a wonderful role model for children and adults of how someone can undertake an independent exploration of ideas and embark on a voyage of thinking, although difficult at times, that leads to new connections and learning.  Second, how her determination and ability to show ideas in a tangible and relatable form made the whole room hum with greater understanding.  What a wonderful reminder to make sure that we are, as educators, connecting learning and ideas to hands-on real-world activities in all disciplines, as well as embarking on our own learning voyages.

Next, Eugenie turned the idea of the factors of 30 (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 10, 15, 30) into a three-dimensional paper shape and invited the audience to fold flat paper into shapes by matching the factors of 30 numbers. screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-3-54-01-pm  Afterwards, she showed how a Battenberg cake img_1359can be used to represent multiple abstract patterns.  Lastly, she showed how a tree diagram could represent the different permutations involved in combining ingredients to create a cake.   Through it all, the children and parents were mesmerized as her love for all things mathematical just emanated from every pore of her being.

If Math is your thing, or even if you think it’s not, attend one of the upcoming Math Encounters at the National Museum of Mathematics.  It may wake up a part of your brain, as it did for me, that hasn’t been used in a while.  Maybe, after a visit, you’ll sign up for another event or join one of the upcoming reading tween and adult book club books.  Hope to see you there!

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BOOK AND COOK CORNER: Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon


For Grades K-3


                                                            We’ll singe ‘em, fry ‘em,

                                                             Boil ‘em in a pot.

                                                             Stew ‘em, steam ‘em.

                                                              The whole juicy lot!

                                                                                      -From Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon

Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon by Jules Bass is a charming story about learning to accept those that are different from you.  The story opens with a whimsical picture of Meathook, the leader of the dragons, and his dragon friends carrying away the knights and princesses of the kingdom of Nogard.  Make sure to allow children the fun of acting out the dragons “pounding on the earthen floor” while they sing the song above.   This is in sharp contrast to Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon, who is peacefully tending his garden of peas, turnips and peppers.

When reading this with children, discuss the meaning of “vegetarian.”  Also, many were not familiar with some of the vegetable in Herb’s garden so take some time to talk about the vegetables mentioned in the book (turnips, leeks, parsnips, parsley) and match them with the vegetables in the illustration of Herb’s garden.

The story revolves around the meat-eating dragons, the gentle vegetarian, Herb, and the people of the kingdom who are trying to curb the meat-eaters from doing away with their members.  This sounds violent but the colorful cartoon-ish pictures let readers know that this is a fictional tale.

Later, Herb faces a crisis of conscience when Meathook  promises to release Herb from prison if he agrees to stop eating meat.  This is a wonderful place to stop and ask children what they would do in this situation and why.  Remember, there are no “wrong” answers as you are asking children for their opinion!

The story has a satisfying ending and ending illustration.  Can your child identify all the vegetables on the end paper?

A perfect after-book activity is to make a vegetable dip to accompany carrots, celery and slices of red or yellow peppers!  You can use what’s in your fridge or try this Green Genie dip for vegetables or on bread:  (Note, if nut allergies are a concern, substitute a large dill pickle for the walnuts.)

This dip was featured in my local newspaper recently and it is a winner!:

Green Genie Sandwich Spread (Garlic-Artichoke Spread):

By Elizabeth Karmel

Makes about 1 ¼ cups (10 servings)

1 can water-packed artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained

1/3 cup roasted pistachios or other favorite nut

3 cloves of garlic

1 cup packed curly parsley, washed and dried

Zest and juice of a large lemon

1/3 cup best-quality extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt or more to taste

White pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in a blender or a food processer fitted with the “S” blade. Process until smooth and pureed. Depending on your blender, you may need to use a spoon to move the ingredients as you process them.

Place in a non-reactive container until ready to use. Will keep in refrigerator for up to one week.

Happy Reading, Talking and Eating!

Extension Activities:  Compare and Contrast Meathook and Herb; ask children to create or share family vegetarian recipes for a community cookbook;  act out favorite scenes; reread the book and have students make personal lists of powerful vocabulary to use in their personal writing.

The Kitchen: The Original Maker Space!


Genre: Cookbooks and Food-Themed Books (K-12)

Why Should Kids Cook or Bake Using Recipes?

As a reading specialist, I have been immersed over the past year in researching and developing virtual reality lessons for students that would promote literacy and student engagement..  My next step was to design an after-school curriculum.  I was especially interested in the research that showed how these virtual reality experiences could build empathy and knowledge.  As I pondered the best way to go about this, I realized that children may not need any more opportunities to engage with technology after school.  Wherever I go, children as young as a year old are on ipads and/or smartphones.  I started to yearn for not to design a technology-based hands-on experience but just a hands-on experience that would build knowledge, be engaging and build empathy.  As I thought about it, I realized that old standby, connecting students with food-themed books and cookbooks while having  them follow recipes would accomplish that! The kitchen was the original MakerSpace!  Here are just some of the reasons that I think we should focus more attention on cooking and baking with children:

Reading and Following Recipes builds Comprehension!  An important component of reading comprehension is matching your reading speed to the task at hand in order to facilitate understanding.  Following a recipe usually requires skills like scanning, reading over the recipe quickly to get an overview of the steps and materials needed and close reading, reading each part of the recipe slowly in order to complete each step.

Reading and Following Recipes Expands Vocabulary!  Just savor the vocabulary that a child would be exposed to while reading the “Flaky Apple Strudel” recipe from Diane Simone Vezza’s Passport on a Plate: strudel, flaky, whirlpool, granulated, phyllo, thawed, confectioners’, wafers.  Most recipes offer similar opportunities for students to be exposed to new vocabulary in context.

Cooking and Baking Requires Following Written Directions!  Following written directions is an essential skill that each student must master to be successful in the school environment.  This is especially true with written assessments which require students to independently read and carry out sometimes multi-step directions.  Cooking and baking gives children real world experience in following directions, including suffering the consequences of leaving out an ingredient, mismeasuring and/or not following the recipe.

Cooking and Baking Builds Math and Science Sense!  Cooking and baking using recipes exposes children to measurement (teaspoon, tablespoons, cups, quarts, ounces, pounds, etc.) which help builds an understanding of ratios and fractions.  Cooking and baking with children also exposes them to scientific processes such as boiling, freezing/boiling points, dissolving and chemical interactions, such as that which occurs when making yogurt and bread.

Cooking and Baking Can Build Cultural Awareness/Geographical Awareness and Empathy! By taking the time to connect recipes with their country (using a map) of origin and discuss what life in that country is like for childdren their age, children are able to build on their knowledge of the world.  Opening the door to awareness of the world sets the stage for interest, empathy and related action.

Build Positive Attitudes Towards Books!  Reading aloud and discussing an enjoyable food-themed book and then enjoying food based on that book builds positive attitudes towards reading and creates cherished memories.

Build Positive Attitudes Towards Food and Healthy Eating!  Learning how to prepare food is an essential life skill and could forseeably cut down on a child’s future over-reliance on processed food, a noted health risk.  Cooking and baking with students allows for many fpositive ood and health related conversations to emerge during the time spent preparing dishes and dining together.  

Next week, I will be highlighting some food-themed books and cookbooks for children, with related literacy activities.  Let me know some of your favorite cooking or baking memories from your childhood!

360 Experiences that Build Empathy

NickHobogradKiribati.jpgImage by Nick Hobgood (

Hotseating, a reading comprehension strategy where students “step inside” a character has much in common with Virtual Reality where participants “step inside” a virtual world.  

Teachers can now take what was successful about hotseating (Wilhelm, 2002), along with current research on Immersive Virtual Experiences and design First Person 360 Experiences that engage students in learning while building empathy.  Much of the research has shown a positive impact related to societal or environmental issues when participants shifted perspectives and “became” a stigmatized or endangered person or entity

For example, in this 360 Experience: POV Oceans based on my updated Learning Framework and created using Thinglink, students are asked to take on the perspective of the ocean as they interact with carefully curated (please note that one of the videos contain an expletive) and sequenced information.  The lesson is designed to make students aware of the dangers that plastic water bottles pose to our oceans.  After students have interacted with the images and information, students are asked to write a letter, from the point of view of the ocean, to the people of Earth.  This letter is a formative assessment that will show how deeply the student has absorbed the threats that plastics pose to the ocean.

During the next phase of learning, students will be guided towards discussing, implementing and/or expanding upon some of the ideas that arose in the letters they wrote as the ocean.  Perhaps they could track changes in personal or community usage of water bottles or do a fundraiser to benefit ocean research by selling reusable water bottles?  Unleashing the possibilities of new technology through well-crafted lesson design allows students to gain information about important issues, filter information through a shifted perspective and then build on the learning to bring about change.  If the lesson is truly successful, it  allows for a virtual experience that leads into a real world journey of learning and empathy, followed by related action.

Based on my preference for not using Virtual Reality headgear in the classroom until more data can be gathered on potential dangers, I am now calling VR experiences using 360 photos without headgear “360 Experiences.”  I am interested in continuing to design these lessons using a shifted point of view, in keeping with the most recent Virtual Reality research in order to deepen learning and encourage empathy.  

Just as you are able to gain a fuller experience of place through virtual reality and/or 360 experiences which allows you to more fully “step into” a place (by an embodied experience or having to use your fingers for a “hands-on” experience), so, too, you are able to more fully “step in” and experience another person or entity when a lesson has been designed with sufficient information and stage-setting.  

It is exciting to ponder the intersection of research, technology, carefully crafted lessons and learning in the classroom that encourages students to be thoughtful about challenges in the real world.

What do you think?

Look Around! Aurora Borealis VR Lesson



Image: Juan Carlos Casado

Using my VR Framework for Learning, I created a second VR Lesson (see the first one here) using Thinglink and a 360 image posted by Ulla Engestrom.  (Thank you, Juan Carlos Casado for sharing this stunning image!)

Thinglink has a new “remix” feature which allows you to to take an existing 360 image with tags and modify it.  For example, you could take this lesson and edit, delete, or add tags to personalize this  lesson for your students.

This lesson invites students to start by looking at the image with a partner and then tagging the image with their own questions.  Giving students this time for exploration and inquiry is an important tenet of place-based education.  These questions can then be sorted and prioritized by the students and form an authentic starting part for research.

Looking forward to seeing student projects based on these VR lessons!