Thursday, June 21, 2012


For the first summer in years the Northern Virginia Writing Project's Summer Institute in the Valley is not meeting.  Sad face.

Though it is a long commitment for teachers, the month-long experience is usually described as invigorating.  It has been for me.  Each year teachers lead each other through successful classroom lessons and ultimately learn to lead each other.  We share, read, discuss, write, and share again.  The synergy is amazing.

I'm going to miss it this summer.  Though I direct the work of the teachers, each year the influx of ideas restores my energy and engagement in the classroom work throughout the school year.  The relationships formed between committed teachers is uplifting.  This experience, often cited as the among the best offered in professional development, has proven repeatedly that facilitating discussions among professional teachers is where the real reform in education resides.

But I don't have to miss out on the conversations and insights of my colleagues.  Part of my plan for the summer is to continue learning, from home.

If you haven't taken advantage of the multiplicity of resources that have exploded for teachers who want to learn from and with each other, then you are missing out on opportunities to "steal" from the best.

Here's a list of resources that I'll be accessing on long summer afternoons to refresh my teaching next year and stay connected with teaching professionals.  Some have a minimal cost.  Others are free for the taking.  All are Language Arts related.  If you have great resources you access regularly in your subject area, please share in the comments below.

Low tech:  A pile of books have accumulated.  Two I hope to tackle are Doing Literary Criticism by Tim Gillespie (been eyeing that one since December) and The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks (still working on getting more kids digitally literate.)  Already read, with new Virginia SOLs and Common Core Standards in mind: Teaching Argument Writing, Grades 6-12 by George Hillocks.

If you are into learning from books, both Heineman and Stenhouse (links above) are consistent producers of teacher written and tested professional books. Most are written with busy educators in mind (clean, approachable text), frequently include student stories, and almost always have extremely useful appendices.

For the digital natives Stenhouse is reviving its summer Blogstitute.  Starting on June 25 teachers can log in and start learning from some of their well known authors.  All free.

One of my low tech go-to sources is the Advanced Placement list serve.  Though this dinosaur in the current connectivity world of blogs, twitters, and social networking is about to be upgraded (one course at a time) the daily deluge of emails from AP teachers all across the nation is invaluable.  Of course you'll need a method of organizing this flood.  I learned my organization method from monitoring two other early list serves, both of which connect teachers from all over the nation: The Journalism Education Association and the Teacher Leaders Network.

If you really want to get cutting edge, set up a twitter account and start reading and following the feeds on your mobile phone.  Here's a guide to getting going: Twitter Handbook for Teachers.  And if that's not enough to blow your mind, go back to paper and read Sheryl Nussbaum Beach's new book The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in the Digital Age.  The text takes you one step at a time further into the world of online learning, teaching, and sharing.

Finally, here is the future of PD:  Web 2.0 Discussion Boards.  The best example of a connected community of learners is Jim Burke's English Companion.   If there are other subject-area discussion boards out there, chime in.  This is clearly the way professional discussions are headed.  In the interactive forum, teachers ask questions, find answers, share blogs, learn in book discussion groups-often with authors as part of the group, and even post handouts and other materials.

For those who want to follow policy or education related issues (or anything else of that matter) I highly recommend Zite.  This app acts as an aggregator of the web and - on an iPad - has a clean magazine feel.  You simply select your own sections and the app delivers the latest to your phone or iPad--a quick and easy way to keep track of your favorites.  By indicating whether or not you liked the source, the aggregator adjusts to reflect your interests.  Blogs, news articles, online magazines are all included.  A good way to find out what is happening in cyberspace.

Still, in spite of all the free online forums there is nothing I've found to replace the immediacy and intellectual stimulation of teachers working together around classroom issues in a face-to-face setting.  But in the meantime I'll continue to learn from the best without letting geography get in the way.

Now, if I could only get recertification points for all this new knowledge....