Saturday, February 21, 2015

Launching a 21st Century School Newspaper and Fostering School Community for Life, Liberty, and LITERACY

Guest Post by Dr. Rose Reissman, Literacy Coordinator - Ditmas IS 62 (Brooklyn, New York)

This past fall 2014 our Title 1, Brooklyn middle school, Ditmas IS 62, a school that has a state of the art Science and Engineering program plus its own regularly produced television news show, decided to launch a classic school publishing entity: a school newspaper. 

Initially, as I sat with the head teacher advisor for this new effort, we both wondered how such a classic  school activity, one closely associated with print, a medium truly before our students’ time,  would work. Would our high tech student reporters and their digitally oriented audience take ownership of it?

Would this just be a top down, teacher-pushed, exercise in necessary reportorial and argumentative skills? Would we expectedly just get participation from a handful of compliant students involved in it for their own sense of accomplishment?  In a school with a very strong television newscast program, so popular in fact that participating students are recognized by peers in the hallways for their television news roles, would a print newspaper have any school wide impact?

As we sat with an initial team of 8 students, kids who identified themselves as writers and came forward to work on the project, we had them talk about things in the school which concerned them and on which they wanted to report. Energies and enthusiasm among the team began to build.  One of them stated “running” the discussion and announced she would be willing to serve as the editor in chief.  She started taking notes of the discussion and collecting team contacts.  She had each member of the swiftly coalescing team begin to visualize the look and features of “their” school newspaper. 

The head advisor and I simply set out copies of the NY Times, NY Daily News , and NY Post as anchor newspaper texts.  By the end of the first session, many of the students sitting around the table had come up with their own “beats” and initial story ideas.  We ended with a challenge about the “flag” or the title of our newsletter.

By the second meeting the students were basically “running” their news team on their own with the head advisor and I  simply facilitating and keeping the excited students focused.  They discussed a flag for their newspaper and went around the table to take a vote as a team on its selection.  Their selected flag was not one we advisors would have suggested. But that was fine, they “owned “ their paper, after all. 

Led by a newly formed team of a seventh and an eighth grade co-editors, the team solidified their “beats,” committed to potential stories to report on, and several departed from the room in search of interviews or leads.  Others sat down by laptops to research issues before writing their reactions to events.  Using the style and format of the local print adult newspapers as an anchor, they identified a potential lead story for our school – the visit of the author, Veronica Chambers - a former student at the school in the 1980’s. Our young newspaper staff hoped she would share her success as a writer and communicate her positive memories of Ditmas as a nurturing environment for her authorial talents. Two of our reporters “covered” the visit and brainstormed their own interview questions. Other team members reported on a partnership with a  Bear Creek, Pennsylvania Charter School.  They used their notes from a trip to visit and selected photos for the story. 

As do reporters at an actual newspaper, the students identified ongoing student happenings and issues within the school as points of interest.  Among these were: Student Council, vending machine snacks, classroom campaigns to raise awareness of the need to adopt rescue dogs, specialized high school tests, and the controversial weight of standardized test scores.  One of the reporters who is also a talented songwriter and driven vocal performer (at the elderly age of 12) decided that the newspaper’s launch should be promoted on the school’s DNN Ditmas News Network Television show.   Students identified beloved and key school staff such as Rudy Lewis, Head of the school safety team and Gerard Sargent, the head of the Flatbush Development Corporation. He recorded a jingle backed by two of the students who editors and dancers as community figures to report on.  The students who had passionate interest in dance, art, and international life (some were Bangali or Pakistani) wrote special features reflecting their expertise. The paper launched with a joyous team celebration luncheon at a nearby restaurant.

By  the second issue, the student news team, coordinated by its two student editors, was off and running, with its advisors stepping back.  The self-designated gossip columnist (calls herself “Pheme”) started turning in gossip columns focusing on wardrobes and school rumors.  A restaurant critic wrote up the restaurant where the launch celebration had been held as well as the Food court the team visited when they were invited to tour the news studios of WCBS 880 and WINS 1010, two important, big-time NYC stations. 

Students who were from International Backgrounds (13%) of the school, and those native born in Brooklyn, reacted to international events such as the Ebola crisis, the bombing of a Pakistani school, the initial suppression of The Interview film, Malala’s winning the Nobel Prize, and Je Suis Charlie as citizens of the United States and citizens born into the religious/ethnic backgrounds of these international news happenings.  Students on their own sought out adult teacher and adult local political leader responses to these issues.  One of the students, a gifted graphic artist who ironically was headed to become a science major, started creating editorial cartoon commentary for the issue focusing graphically on: censorship of the Interview film, Eric Garner police controversy case, the Pakistani School Attack, and Je Suis Charlie. 

The culturally focused, internationally born reporters weighed in from their perspectives as either Muslims or international citizens of the world on the controversy over the depiction of the prophet Mohammed in Charlie Hebdo.  Three reporters gave up their lunch period to interview a class of ESL students on the issue. Student reporters brought in their own story ideas based on school-wide initiatives and curriculum themes such as a comparison of the feature film Selma to the actual historical events of the March.  One of the reporters talked with her grandfather and unearthed a photo of a meeting between him and John Lewis, depicted in the film

The initial team which met on designated after school time, gained new recruits and freelance reporters.  Those directly involved with it were celebrated on the television show and some of the writer/camera crew began contributing to the newspaper, as well.  But was this lovely print publication  (a digital e-version is distributed online, as well) important beyond the students immediately producing it and the student audience it addressed directly?  

Yes, teachers began reading it on their own beyond mention of their names and commended the student reporters on their work and art.  Other students whose work was not featured in the newspaper, asked how they could purchase or get a copy of the printed publication.  Staff joyously looked at their candid photos which, like those in local tabloids, decorated the paper.  Students generated their own ideas for issues and insider columns.  The e-issue of the paper prompted students from Major Johnstown High School in Pennsylvania to offer their own commentary on how cultural jokes would affect them from their more homogenous, rural Pennsylvania perspective.  A visiting author, Jacqueline Woodson, was impressed by the level of their commentary.  Teachers and staff members contacted the student editors with story ideas.  Karina Constantino, the Superintendent of District 20, praised the newspaper at the monthly Council of Education meeting. Praise and financial support came in from the Flatbush Development Council.

While the first issue only covered 7 of the school’s 45 classes (the school has 1300 students- including ESL, Special Needs, Principal Classes, Collaborative Team teaching Classes and regular 6-8 students),  by the second issue 40 % of the school’s classes were either represented in articles or had individual student contributors.  Parent leaders were featured as celebrities and the school’s adult volunteer program was covered by a reporter in the eighth grade who also trained the volunteers in differentiated instruction.

Yes, all well and lovely for school spirit, staff and community.  However, in this time of school accountability to meet PARCC Model Frameworks, to prepare students for college and careers, and to align with the Common Core Standards in ELA and History/SS, how can this newspaper project be justified, even though much of it is done afterschool (with support from the Flatbush Development Corporation) and, in truth, the paper is put together by a limited number of students?  Firstly, the students involved became active, authentic apprentices in the field of journalism as they tackle word limits, do editing, focus on stories, interviews, research, and collaborate in teams. 

True, this newspaper program was fortunate to arrange visit to two major NYC broadcast stations, CBS880 and WINS 1010. However, other middle school newspaper teams can also arrange visits to local news offices in order to connect student skills to the real world of work.  Standardized testing and writing Common Core standards are all about argument writing and reading  as well as writing informative details about topics that are informational.  These are essential components of news reporting, as are Common Core History  topic research, use of secondary/primary sources, identification /use of document quotes and placement of graphics with text content.

Dr. Anthony Bryk’s research as part of the University of Chicago’s Consortium on research predicates school success on collaboration and developing a positive nurturing school environment.  Our newspaper, the Ditmas Bulldog Buzz, is the product of a team of teacher advisor collaborators (SS and ELA) plus a growing team of additional school instructional, guidance, administration, safety office, and support staff working together to facilitate the student’s efforts.  School branding can and is achieved through school vehicles and devices run by and produced by students, teachers, and parents.  The Ditmas Bulldog Buzz both reports on the rigorous multi-content Science, Law, ELA and other content area happenings in the school and authenticates it for the reporter researcher team.  The newspaper fosters a supportive and positive environment in which high expectations for the students are realized through their publication and the reporting process. Strong family and community ties are effected as students cover and become part of teaming with the PTA president, the Parent Coordinator, and the adult tutor trainers.  Students present their product and process to the school community and train teachers and students at other schools. Mr. Barry Kevorkian, the Principal of Ditmas and his team of assistant principals: Ms. Santiago, Ms. Smalley, Ms. Esposito, and Ms. Lynch work collaboratively with the students, staff, and parents to make certain the newspaper “covers” the school activities and community involvement mission. Ultimately the newspaper filled with the images of the spirited faces of Ditmas students, staff, community and outreach beyond the walls of the school, concretizes and “images” the trust and affection that bonds “Ditmas”citizens on all levels as a community. An  essential framework for great schools emerges  in one fell swoop with a school newspaper.  The classic vehicle of the school print news team transforms the 21st century PARCC and CCSS aligned school visions, one student newspaper issue at a time.  This speaks “volumes” of the power of the press to inform and to define a community with links to life, literacy and liberty.

Visit the Ditmas Bulldog Buzz at: 
Dr. Rose Reissman is a veteran English Language Arts educator who founded the Writing Institute Program currently based in Ditmas IS 62.  Under the leadership of Barry Kevorkian, Principal, 18 educators collaborate with Dr. Reissman to produce literacy projects.  Mr. Downes (Head Advisor), Ms. Xavier (ELA Editor), and Dr. Reissman are faculty advisors for the Ditmas Bulldog Buzz, a student newspaper that reports on local neighborhood, New York State and International News as it affects the students’ lives as citizens of the world.

“Classroom Climate, Rigorous Instruction and Curriculum, and Students ‘Interactions in Urban Middle Schools.”  The Elementary School Journal 108.4 (2008): 293-312. Web.

Newmann, F. M. (University of Wisconsin), B. Smith, E. Allensworth, and A.S. Bryk. “Instructional program Coherence: What it is and why it should guide school improvement policy.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 23.4 (2001): 297-321.

Friday, October 17, 2014

ISTE Literacy PLN / Newsletter - Lit TECH Times: Volume 1, Issue 1 - Octorber, 2014

Lit TECH Times: Volume 1, Issue 1- October 2014The Literacy Professional Learning Network (formerly, the Literacy Special Interest Group) is pleased to kick off the 2014/2015 school year with the following announcements:

#ISTELitChat LAUNCH  Beginning Sunday, 10/19/2014, 8PM/EST the ISTE Literacy PLN will moderate a twitter chat on literacy and technology to promote learning. Join us for the conversation using the hashtag #ISTELitchat. All are welcome. We will hold monthly twitter chats with the hashtag #ISTELitChat
addressing trending topics related to literacy and technology moderated by the ISTE Literacy PLN and other noteworthy guest educators. Are you new to twitter?

Check out:

Educational Technology and Mobile Learning's Twitter for Educators Beginner's Guide


Edudemic's Teacher's Guide to Twitter  

LITERACY JOURNAL SUBMISSIONS REQUESTED The PLN is actively looking for articles to include in its next issue of Literacy Special Interest, its own professional journal. The journal publishes articles by literacy teachers and those who support them that are written in an accessible style and that address important issues in Technology Supported Literacy Instruction. This is a great opportunity to get your ideas and your voice published.

Those interested in submitting articles for inclusion in the journal should first submit a summary to, putting the words "Journal Article Summary" in the subject of the email. On receiving feedback from the journal, prospective submitters may complete and submit a full manuscript. We hope to get the upcoming Issue #3 out before the first of the year.


The PLN Leadership Committee is planning additional professional development activities, like a book study. More on this soon.

Would you like to suggest a book study for the PLN to run? Or perhaps help run it? Would you care to help create a Literacy Instruction Webinar with the PLN?

We’d be very interested in your participation in helping the Leadership Committee produce an event.


You’ll find a podcast, along with some text-based info, on the PLN’s Birds of a Feather session held at the ISTE Conference this past June. For this session the PLN partnered with CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology) to highlight CAST’s new resource UDIO. UDIO promises to be an important resource to promote and improve Middle School Reading and Writing Skills (with applications for lower and higher grades, as well). Follow this link to the PLN’s blog post detailing the session and providing a link to the session’s Podcast >>>

The podcast features an in-depth interview with Graham Gardner, Research Associate at CAST, who describes UDIO and how teachers can become involved in using it.

Please check the PLN blog ( ) for future podcasts and other special items from the PLN.
The PLN has applied to the ISTE Conference Committee to present a special session at the upcoming ISTE Conference in Philadelphia this coming June.

Hopefully, an upcoming issue of this newsletter will carry information about the session, its time and date, and inviting you to attend.

Connect with the Literacy PLN: +

#ISTELitChat   +    


Literacy Professional Learning NETWORK Leadership Committee:

Mark Gura 
Suzanne Buhner
Michele Haiken, Ed.D.
Sharon Kinsey
Ashley Kemper
BJ Neary
Evelyn Wassel, Ed.D.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Special Podcast Episode: UDIO, a New Literacy Resource from CAST

Graham Gardner, Research Associate at CAST
(Center for Applied Special Technology)
This episode features an interview with Graham Gardner of CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology). At the recent planning and visioning meeting of the Literacy Professional Learning Network at the annual ISTE Conference, Graham made a presentation about UDIO, CAST's new Literacy resource directed at Middle School Reading Instruction. Graham and podcast host, Mark Gura, recorded this in-depth discussion about UDIO shortly after the meeting.
Click the arrow above to listen to this Special Episode 
(player may take several seconds to begin)
Direct link:


Links for UDIO and CAST

Want to get involved with UDIO? Email:

Care to share a comment with Graham or the Literacy PLN about UDIO?
Either use the "Comments" feature of this blog or email the podcast at:
National Center on the Use of Emerging Technologies to Improve Literacy Achievement for Students with Disabilities in Middle School
Article:  All Along
Ed. The Magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education



Thursday, June 26, 2014

Joint ISTE's LITERACY Professional Learning Network for a special session at the 2014 ISTE Conference in Atlanta and see a demonstration by CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology - source of Universal Design for Learning) of its new resource UDIO created specifically to improve Literacy Learning.

Want some quick background on all of this? See this short article just published in EdTechDigest:

Every Student Can Learn

Students aren’t defective, materials and resources are.
GUEST COLUMN | by Mark Gura

This past semester I taught a required course for Instructional Technology majors. Trust me, there’s nothing like swapping ideas with 30 early-career technology teachers to give you a good snapshot of the state of thinking in this field. This was a great learning experience for me as well as the students and chief among its many strong points, this was my first opportunity to use the Center for Applied Special Technology, or CAST’s, ‘Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning’ as the keystone text in a graduate level Education course. I, of course, had been familiar with this important work previously, but this was a great opportunity to look at it with fresh eyes — those of my students. And wow! It proved to be not just the good, informational text I had hoped for, but a truly transformational one.
I’ll paraphrase this book’s very wonderful, central idea:
Students who don’t succeed in learning through traditional instruction don’t do so because of some defect or deficit or learning disability on their part, but rather, because the materials and resources they are presented with are inflexible and unsuitable to meet their particular, personal needs as learners.

Read the full article at its source:

Friday, May 30, 2014


 The Journal of ISTE's LITERACY Professional Learning Network Version:
Read or Download as PDF (requires free registration)

Table of Contents
Editor, Mark Gura Page 4

Text Meets Video in the Blogosphere: Complex Informational Content for Today’s Students by Dr. Rose Reissman Page 6

Using Creative Technology to Engage Struggling Readers and Writers as Producers of Literature by Melinda Kolk Page 12

The Future Is In Their Hands: Using Cell Phones for Literacy Learning by Lisa Nielsen and Willyn Webb Page 21

Boosting Oral Language Fluency through Technology Intensive Literature Exploration (TILE), a Learning Centers Approach by Kevin Amboe Page 32

Learning to Teach with Edmodo: Social Networking-based Activities by Kathy D. Shields Page 44

Using Online Discussions to Develop Literacy Skills and Integrate the NETs by Sandra Wozniak Page 54

Student Led Podcast Projects Make Common Core Literacy skills Come Alive by Dr. Rose Reissman Page 64

Using Technology To Enhance Reading Skills For English Language Learners by Kimberly M. Thomas Page 74

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Episode #8: Non-Fiction Books and Literacy Learning

Featuring Host, Mark Gura’s Interview with Young Person’s Author, Vicki Cobb

Click arrow above to listen to the podcast (please be patient, the audio play may take a few seconds to start) - The interview starts at 9:50

This episode features a unique look at non-fiction books for kids from the viewpoint of Vicki Cobb, author of many popular science books that are used widely in classrooms. Vicki offers her fascinating and insightful perspective that reflects her own long term experience writing non-fiction books. She also shares about her recent efforts to transform author school visits using online video conferencing technology.

 Vicki’s  Links

Vicki’s website:

 Ink Think Tank:

Wikis that showcase Vicki’s  work with schools

Articles recommend by Vicki
Authors on Call: Videoconferencing in Class

Good Writing Is Memorable: Scientific Proof

Vicki’s instructional videos  are available at:

Host Mark Gura’s links: + +


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Podcast Episode #7: Robotics and Literacy Learning - STEM and English Language Arts Connected

Featuring Host, Mark Gura’s Interview with Leisha Hoot of LEGO Education

Click arrow above to listen to the podcast -  
The interview starts at 7:28

This episode features a spirited discussion about how LEGO’s WeDo Robotics materials are used effectively to foster Literacy learning in classrooms and beyond.  An overview of easy robotics, appropriate for young students is followed by discussions of how teachers can practically use this approach for a variety of powerful literacy strategies.

Important Links

LEGO Education / WeDo

Leisha's Links
WeDo Common Core and NGSS Correlations – on this page under the Resources tab:

Tufts Activities: and search for WeDo.  One of my favorites is “A Chair for Mr. Bear”

Articles discussed in the podcast:

(Washington Post) The Answer Sheet / How to Integrate Literacy with STEM
(Charlotte Observer) Fourth-graders turn Legos into robots 
YouTube videos of WeDO Robotics:

(This one’s a very good)  Overview Video of WeDo robotics

Another Worthwhile Overview

The videos below clearly demonstrate the connection between Robotics (and communications technologies) and Speaking and Listening, key literacy skills.

WeDo Curriculum Links

Click on book cover for information on Getting Started with LEGO Robotics.

Anyone who works with kids can do LEGO Robotics, a rich and highly motivating platform for important STEM Learning! (surprisingly affordable, too) This books explains it all!