Monday, July 24, 2017

Book Review: Hello Ruby-Adventures in Coding

Book Review: Hello Ruby-Adventures in Coding
Linda Liukas
New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2015

Can be used with printable and playable features of
The author and publisher are pushing this as an early childhood, family 21st century coding book, but it truly is also extremely infusible into any k-3 literacy program enabling STEM learning and the ABC’s of programming.

Why I, a literacy educator, chose it:  The cover,  with its fierce looking Ruby and computer icon, dares the reader to accompany her on her adventures in coding.  Most literacy educators and family storytellers are ever so familiar with the key elements of the adventure quest.  These books offer the reader a hero, perhaps more than one, plus a challenge.  The hero makes a plan to surmount the challenge in order to complete a quest and achieve a goal or get a treasure.  Along the way the hero often has to come up with new strategies, overcome unexpected obstacles, and learn new skills or information. 

In this book, all of these storytelling components are expertly tapped by programmer, illustrator, and author, Linda Liukas, in service of engaging young learners, their families,  and (this reviewer hopes) early childhood educators. To that end she offers immediately engaging, childhood relevant, games, paper dolls, secret language experiences, and more that render real key programming and coding terms for young learners.

The author believes play is at the core of learning. . . and that the fundamentals of computational thinking  include: break[ing] big problems into small ones, look[ing] for patterns, creat[ing] step by step plans and being creative.  That sounds like a tall STEM and programming order for a child age 4-8. But the intrepid Ruby befriends penguins, robots, foxes, a snow leopard and Django with his pet python, as part of her quest to find five gems.  Her adventure translates real life and whimsical child adventures into real 21st century child-oriented activities. These include constructing game boards, creating patterns, developing a programming keyboard, paper doll clothes, and tools on the site that can be used interactively.

This work can function as a standalone captivating storybook that makes key coding terms such as strings, numbers, booleons, and algorithms come alive. Additionally, It offers much as an interactive, early childhood website with printable, customized to child, products.  It uses the adventure plot and child heroes to translate complex coding terms into relatable aspects of the everyday lives of children and the adults who teach them.  After the story of Ruby’s adventure to identify the sources of various gems, the second part of this book includes activities that dip into the everyday lives of young readers as they authenticate abstract coding glossary STEM  vocabulary. 

For example, the young audience for this story of peer adventurers in coding, can: sequence everyday play or school activities, deconstruct a drawing or picture created or chosen by the audience, can print out Ruby paper dolls from the site in appropriate dress for a special event using pattern recognition, can string print and design a personal keyboard using the site, can draw a map of the route from home to school or to a favorite place using algorithms and sequence, or best of all for many in its audience, use data structures to create a secret code language. 

Beyond the activities, the plot and the optimistic “I can do it” characters of Ruby and Django empathize resilience in terms of finding and trying multiple plans or constructs to overcome obstacles that prevent them from immediately attaining their goals.  Ruby knows that solving big problems like finding gems requires mapping carefully, reading instructions, and breaking down big problems into tiny problems stuck together.

Plan making is a part of Ruby’s and Django’s approach to life and Django eagerly helps Ruby when her first plan does not work .  Ruby realizes that learning the penguins’ language will help her find her gems. Ruby knows how to loop a ladder by building one step and going over it five times.  Ruby learns how to give clear instructions to the foxes so they can get their planting done.  Of course, beyond these aptitudes and coding language for success competencies, these coding precepts can also serve as literacy and life lessons for success in a variety of relationship, community, family and collaboration successes.

How this work can be used:  The beautifully illustrated maps and games grounded in Ruby and Django’s adventures can be copied from the book with the accessible, early childhood traditional materials clearly listed. The hints icons on the activity pages invite the child audience and family, teachers and others to find the coding realities of their own lives, home environments, and schools.  Algorithms, functions and abstractions about baking, coloring, dress, music, and climbing suddenly translate into child-centered reality.  The work is laid out in chapters with engaging and recognizable, child friendly characters embodying the glossary words for the teacher, parent, or others in the back of the print work.  Unlike many child-centered, informational books that teach coding on an appropriate level, but using precise templates, both this book and web resource encourage the audience to use blank templates and develop their own game boards or models for this very open project.

Since coding is a key literacy 21st century language, teaching it should not be the province of only educators explicitly trained in coding or STEM for early childhood. Nor should parents and storytellers be excluded from integrating this language and its coding for life success lessons of resiliency, problem solving, and collaboration into their rich interaction with learners.  All early childhood learners and literacy learning adults can join Ruby and Django in these ongoing adventures to infuse coding for life lessons into their flowering, multi-content learning.

Dr. Rose Reissman is the founder of the Writing Institute, now replicated in 145 schools including the Manchester Charter Middle School in Pittsburgh. She is a featured author in New York State Union Teachers Educators Voice 2016 and was filmed discussing ESL student leadership literary strategies developed at Ditmas IS 62, a Brooklyn public intermediate school.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

(Review) Project Based Literacy: Fun Literacy Projects for Powerful Common Core Learning

Project Based Literacy is an approach of high interest to the Literacy PLN. 

“Overall, this book is a fantastic guide for the teacher wanting to engage their students in real-world, authentic learning.”

“Easing the struggle of implementation, Gura and Reissman provide a practical guide for teachers to not only get their feet wet, but also dive into PBL with a specific focus on literacy... Additionally, they make the case that PBL is an essential part of the literacy classroom, as it reaches cross-curricular goals of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).”

“This book makes a meaningful contribution to teacher/practitioner literature. It is organized to first motivate teachers to consider a new approach to standards-based teaching, and the authors provide strong rationale for incorporating viable and authentic projects into the literacy classroom. Twenty easy-to-follow guides assist teachers with starting their journey to PBL activities.”

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record
Date Published: May 22, 2017  /

ID Number: 21986, Date Accessed: 7/10/2017 7:00:15 PM

Project Based Literacy:
Fun Literacy Projects for Powerful Common Core Learning

reviewed by Jason Trumble — May 22, 2017Project Based LITERACY
Title: Project Based Literacy: Fun Literacy Projects for Powerful Common Core Learning
Author(s): Mark Gura, Rose Reissman
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681232928, Pages: 214, Year: 2015
Search for book at
or from its publisher @

As I work with preservice and in-service teachers, I challenge them to consider how their teaching and curriculum engages students in authentic ways while also increasing their digital age competencies. We explore how real world, digital age learning must include communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. Project based learning (PBL) exemplifies these skills and promotes real-world learning for students of all ages, but it is difficult to do, and do well. Easing the struggle of implementation, Gura and Reissman provide a practical guide for teachers to not only get their feet wet, but also dive into PBL with a specific focus on literacy.

Project based literacy: Fun literacy projects for powerful common core learning begins with an explanation and rationale for incorporating PBL with literacy, and then the authors provide practical tips for teachers, followed by twenty detailed projects. Finally, they wrap up the book with tips for incorporating technology into PBL. This logical progress allows the reader to develop a conceptual understanding of the concept and contextualize the pedagogy before putting it into practice.

 Readers get their feet wet in the introduction as the authors propose PBL as a viable alternative to the humdrum test-centric curriculum dominating many schools. Gura and Reissman suggest that moving literacy teaching to well-designed PBL activities allows students to be self-motivated in naturally and authentically achieving essential literacy competencies. Throughout the introduction, they reiterate that during well-designed literacy projects, student motivation increases as students invest in the process of learning through doing. They propose that teachers will enjoy teaching through PBL as well.

Additionally, they make the case that PBL is an essential part of the literacy classroom, as it reaches cross-curricular goals of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
 Chapters One, Two, and Three define PBL and refine the reader’s understanding of what differentiates a classroom activity from a PBL exercise by identifying core elements of the project based approach. This approach finds its foundation in the English Language Arts mentioned in Chapter One, and is expanded upon in Chapter Three. Four of the language arts are identified in this book: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Although the authors do not include seeing and visual representation, given they are not part of the common core literacy standards, there is an implicit understanding that PBL is effective at engaging all the essential elements of the English Language Arts. The core elements for PBL are derived from the ELA standards, and are supplemented by the eight essential elements listed on This book was published in 2016, and has updated their PBL frameworks to look a little different from what is presented in this work. Much of these changes are semantical, and Gura and Reissman sufficiently explain what must be analyzed for a teacher to successfully implement PBL activities.

The explanations in Chapter Three identify the Common Core literacy standards and discuss how this pedagogical and curricular shift in the classroom meets all four literacy categories with rigor and authenticity. These chapters all discuss how PBL is a natural fit for the Common Core and the literacy classroom.

In Chapters Four and Five, the authors discuss some practical benefits of literacy projects. They discuss how PBL activities create intrinsic motivation, because they focus on the students’ real world. Students can find purpose in learning about and impacting their community beyond the classroom as they engage in the project. This naturally moves into the tools and competencies for digital age learners. These are skills that incorporate technology and collaboration, and prove essential for the 21st century learner. The connections between these skills and PBL experiences are detailed in Chapter Five.

Chapters Six, Seven, and Eight move to support the development of teachers’ pedagogies as they offer practical solutions to general questions for PBL experiences. They address the elephant in the room and the reason many teachers stay away from PBL instruction: classroom management. They discuss four strategies for understanding how to manage the learning environment. The authors then provide strategies for teachers to procure an authentic audience for students’ performances. Then, before delving into the practicality of a proposed project, the authors discuss assessment in relation to Common Core standards and learning goals of literacy projects. The practical strategies in these chapters set the stage for Part Two.

Part Two is where Gura and Reissman provide actual projects that are ready to be implemented in the literacy classroom. Each of the twenty chapters begins with an activity summary followed by specific procedures leading to the student learning project. The authors predict the amount of time a project will take, and then comprehensively align the PBL activity to both common core standards and the ISTE Standards for Students.

Assessment suggestions are outlined and the authors describe possible avenues for authentic sharing of students’ work. Each project chapter ends with technology connections, literacy connections, suggested texts, and project extensions. The logic of instruction for each of the projects allows teachers to quickly read and reference as they implement PBL activities. The final chapter includes tips and tricks for incorporating technology, and serves as a guide for teachers who may be less comfortable with digital technologies.

This book makes a meaningful contribution to teacher/practitioner literature. It is organized to first motivate teachers to consider a new approach to standards-based teaching, and the authors provide strong rationale for incorporating viable and authentic projects into the literacy classroom…

Overall, this book is a fantastic guide for the teacher wanting to engage their students in real-world, authentic learning. For those teachers anxious about change and technology use, Gura and Reissman provide scaffolds and supports for reference. As teachers, we consider how to make learning real and authentic for our students, and while it can be difficult, resources like Project-based literacy: Fun literacy projects for powerful common core learning, help facilitate the exploration of new pedagogies and approaches to teaching in the digital age.

Read the full article at its source:

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Technology-Based Literacy Resources and Practices With Special Promise: NEWSELA / Listenwise / Quizlet / Discovery Education

Join the ISTE Literacy PLN for our annual ISTE Conference Session 

"Technology-Based Literacy Resources and Practices With Special Promise"
Monday, June 26, 11:30 am–12:30 pm  -  301A

What’s new, exciting and inspiring in literacy instruction? Members of the ISTE Literacy PLN and invited guests will present emerging technology-based resources and practices with high potential to improve and transform learning and teaching. Leave this session with ideas, insights and resources ready to impact your classroom and practice.

Representatives from the following groups will join our panel!
 NEWSELA / Listenwise / Quizlet / Discovery Education

ISTE Conference Online Catalog Page:

Teach reading the way you’ve always wanted to.
Newsela is the best way for
students to master nonfiction in
any subject.

Every article, every assignment, at every level.
Each Newsela text is offered at multiple tiers, for every student, no matter their level. That’s huge. Now students can study the same content and learn at their own pace—while teachers save time and headaches. It’s the definition of working smarter.

Listenwise – Listening that sparks learning
The Power of Listening
Listening comprehension advances literacy and learning for
all students. Teach and assess listening using the award-winning Listenwise program. Collections for English. social studies, science, and current events.

Simple tools for learning anything

Search millions of study sets or create your own. Improve your grades by studying with flashcards, games and more.
Discovery Education

Transforming Teaching & Learning
We ignite student curiosity and inspire educators to reimagine learning with award-winning digital content and powerful professional development.

Techbook™ Digital Textbooks

Lead with content. Engage with digital. That’s the hallmark of Discovery Education Techbook. Standards-based with content that is relevant and dynamic, Techbook helps teachers differentiate and improve achievement with easy-to-use tools and resources.

Streaming Plus

With thousands of standards-aligned resources, Discovery Education Streaming Plus provides you with the tools to teach your students to think critically about the content they use, see, and experience in their daily lives and to ask questions about the world around them.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

On the 21st Century Open Road, Technology Supports Literacy-Driven Social Actions...

...OR - How Shane Koyczan’s Book To This Day Joins Whitman’s Poetry as a Platform for Citizenship

by Dr. Rose Reissman

The 19th century poet, Walt Whitman used his powerful voice and his overarching persona to set off on the Open Road - “ Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, . . . The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.” Walt envisioned himself as a social activist; his poetry to alert citizens of various ethnicities, social and economic stations to their commonality and shared civic goals:  “I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go, I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them.”

Whitman managed to disseminate his broad poetry, his tool to foment social action through the available technology platforms of his time.  He published extensively in print and he networked as a speaker and as a community activist.  He cultivated a photographic persona for himself as “the good gray poet.”  But his capacity to reach extensive numbers of Americans and certainly world citizens was limited by their literacy, by available translation sources, and access to.  But,  as evidenced by the Open Road’s ongoing popularity in a 21st century car commercial and Whitman’s position in the canon of American literature today, he did a superlative job in speaking to his own and future audiences given the technology platforms available to him.

Shane Koyczan, a Canadian, born in 1976 shares Walt Whitman’s vision of using writing. As a child he was bullied and got through it the experience by writing down his thoughts.  When he matured into adolescence, he shaped those thoughts into poems that deal with, among other topics, the anguish of being bullied, the dilemma posed for bystanders, and the back stories behind those who are bullies.  Koyczan in the 21st century paralleled Whitman by initially writing down and performing on stage his poem about the experience of bullying.  As a result of his stage performance of this written text, audience members shared with him their own experience of the sadly universal trauma of bullying.

Since, unlike Whitman, Koyczan also had a band (Shane Koyczan and the Short Story Long), he accessed 21st century recording technology to develop a piece for his album titled Remembrance Year: .   Already technology had expanded his ability to share and to through his website and other social networks get immediate reaction and interactive response about bullying. Thus his artistic reaches far beyond the personal audience comments or published reactions that 19th century Walt Whitman could was able to achieve. 

While Walt Whitman, in cultivation of his efforts as the “good gray poet”, did go to hospitals to nurse the Civil War wounded and focus the public’s attention on the poor and socially disadvantaged, Koyczan realized that since his audience’s responses were so moving, he could tap a 21stcentury tools unavailable to Whitman in order to expand his literary reach and alert and sensitize a broader audience to the issue of bullying. 

Using the web and social networking resources like Facebook and Twitter he was able to crowd source 86 artists’ short animations inspired by his poem, aggregating them to form a single,  fluid video. The resulting “to this day video” ( ) went viral and got 12 million hits internationally in 2013 alone!!  Whitman certainly knew he was recognized in his time period. Koyczan, however, as he started his fourth decade, had the kind numbers of persons worldwide who he and collaborators had reached through performances, recordings, and the video, that Whitman could never have imagined whose only media were print and personal appearance.

Importantly, though, he had reached millions on the Web before he actually decided on putting his poetry out as a print book. This, he accomplished again with a collaborative group of 30 artists who illustrated the poem, plus provided commentary for it.  The book came last not first in his ongoing TO THIS DAY anti bullying social consciousness project.  It was published after the video in 2014.

As Koyczan notes:  “writing became the way I could stand up for myself. . . Self expression . . . makes the world my friend . . .the world will never hear you if you choose to say nothing.”

Koyczan’s use of multiple 21st century  digital media platforms, audio recordings, personal website, twitter account, Ted talk video, and more,  model how today’s Walt Whitman poetry based social activists and literacy educators can tap into the varied digital and multimedia platforms to offer 21st century learners multiple formats to identify their expressive strengths. 
Whether their learning talents and styles lie in speaking and listening , writing, working collaboratively, singing, using visual art to graphically communicate knowledge or a message or in reading and reacting to a print or online presentation; Koyczan models how today’s literate and informed citizen can participate across a span of text options as a social activist global community member.  In doing so, students of course use the full spectrum of literacy skills, including reading , writing, speaking, listing, and knowledge and conventions of language.  Even more important, they can read, see, get online feedback, collaborate globally and quickly draw audiences for their purposeful messages in ways Whitman could not fathom from his 19th century technology base.

In his poem, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, 19th century Walt Whitman seems to look ahead to our century and beyond and tell us: “It avails not, neither time or place-distance avails not; /I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence/ I project myself – I also return- I am with you and know how it is.”

If Whitman was able to look forward to our century and beyond (and this poem is still widely taught and respected) then he is looking at the work of Koyczan and other literacy-driven social justice activists and smiling in delight at the way they tap digital platforms to reach infinite number of citizens worldwide.  The good gray poet of the 19th century open road is comforted by the vision of a future in which technology has enabled infinite numbers of global citizens to walk that road alongside him and engage others in this walk toward a caring collaborative and collegial  world community.

And Walt Whitman, Shane Koyczan has your back and is smiling back at you across the generations past knowing both of you can positively impact generations of citizens to come!!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

CONNECTING ESL Learners through Digital Storytelling

CONNECTING ESL Learners through Digital Storytelling
By Dr. Rose Reissman

ESL, ELA, and SS educators have always faced challenges in engaging students in activities to build first language content and skill expertise,  so that they may transfer that content learning to English Language mandated learning.
Currently, though, Chromebooks, or similar connected devices, are very commonly available for classroom instruction. With these, this difficult challenge may be tackled easily and successfully by offering second language learners, and their native speaker peers, activities that are rich and enjoyable. The key to this is Digital Storytelling and many free and highly effective resources to support it are available on the web.

Many educators rush to purchase special ESL learner specific software and texts, as well as online programs for reading comprehension.  These, of course, are often exclusively used with ESL learners even in a mixed classroom where they study alongside American born peers.  Ironically, even with all the differing levels of English language reading, speaking, listening, and product creating ability in a mixed learner class, one resource set is already available in the school that  can immediately connect ESL and American peers in literacy learning and sharing.  That tool is a Chromebook or laptop or tablet that can connect students to web-based resources guaranteed excite all learners in the guise of stories heard, stories told and stories produced.

Want a look at this dynamic digital story highway? Go to *’Digital Storytelling Site’ for a page of curated ESL Storytelling Resources. 

You'll find a curated list of ESL, ready-to-peruse and select, grade, age, topics, lessons and methods, plus step-by-step project instructions. Much of this can serve as a quick ESL tutorial or differentiation practicum for the educator who is new to ESL students. It can also serve the ESL educator who is eager to infuse peer ESL language learner materials into his or her teaching. 

Literacy learning involves listening skills which are required for all and that develop as they hear native English spoken. This is especially needed for ESL students, Unfortunately, this is something which for many students, including a sizable percent born in the USA, does not happen at home where their native languages are spoken.  The resource, Digital Storytelling Site provides both ESL teachers and teachers who have ESL students in their content classes with an array of free resources that provide good-to-go storytelling lessons on different ESL levels that will help their students get over this hurdle.

Teachers, even those who do not teach ESL students at all, will benefit from the extended body of ready ESL learner samples and the techniques mapped out from multiple respected sources such as those found at TESOL Journal  

Even better, the students – ESL, and those who can benefit from ESL emphasis on vocabulary, which will include many American natives, can immediately explore such resources as their teachers observe, and through the audio, manage learner responses and note individual listening strengths and deficits. 

The connected device, will help ESL, ELA and SS teachers to differentiate use of resources to best support individual learner vocabulary, conversation and comprehension of English, while allowing the teacher to maintain privacy of individual learner progress.  All learners -ESL and American born- become part of the classroom Storyteller circle on the connected device platform.

Instantly available, is audio of ESL stories to listen to, learn from, read along with, and react to. One good source for these is: Fluent U English Education Blog

For teachers, who want to engage students in listening to short timed stories from 1.5 minutes to 4 or 5 minutes there is an array of stories for this purpose complete with music and special effects, plus: detailed descriptions for the teacher to examine, topics relevant to curricula, exercises included to test comprehension, transcripts of printed texts for students to use as they listen (or to use as printed texts for teacher questions after listening), interactive reading (some of these stories can be read interactively by the students) which can be recorded for further fluency practice, and on some stories, there is a translation button which can translate a word into many native student languages.  

This plethora of ready to use items can inspire not only the target ESL learners but everyone in the class or grade to be part of the listening and reacting audience for storytelling. You’ll find some great ideas at sites like ESL Language Learner 

Of course, the end product of all literacy learning and evidence of second language acquisition plus writing skills is the creation, by the student learner, of a product, like a memoir or reflection or narrative story.  For American natives this is a challenging ladder of literacy. But ESL learners often have even more difficulty because they are navigating a second language

In addition, while their print textbooks offer artificially constructed, grammatically correct models, rarely are these contemporary, actual ESL learner digital stories.  However, using connected device resources, ESL learners can listen to peer Spanish or Turkish or other language ESL students sharing real ESL stories in their own voices. These models officiated through the digital platform of the Chromebook  truly inspire and concretize the literacy skills of second language within the context of first language experience and expertise for the ESL students.

With all these actual ESL learner generated and native language spoken content plus translation and music choices available, connected device use also makes literacy skills learning culturally consonant for ESL learners, plus adds cultural depth to the literacy studies of their classroom Chromebook connected American native peers.  Of course, those educators wanting to take additional coursework in ESL methods or buy print and software specifically designed for ESL learners to enrich the resources they offer students can and should do so.  But in the here and now of next period’s literacy class storytelling and story-authoring experiences for ESL learners and American natives to share together, the connected device can all of them onto the universal digital circle of storytellers and listeners. 

Making this competencies connection as one community is the ultimate goal of ESL second language acquisition!!  Why should connected device storytelling collections and activities be limited to ESL students only??  In this instance American born natives can join the circle as well! This use of technology converges cultures while concretizing unique cultural and community experiences through digital storytelling.
*Digital Storytelling Site is a page from Dr. Helen Barrett's Site on Digital Storytelling in ePortfolios

Dr. Rose Reissman is the founder of the Writing Institute, now replicated in 145 schools including the Manchester Charter Middle School in Pittsburgh. She is a featured author in New York State Union Teachers Educators Voice 2016 and was filmed discussing ESL student leadership literary strategies developed at Ditmas IS 62, a Brooklyn public intermediate school.