Friday, 23 December 2011

Guest Student Blogger!

Sorry for the delay...I've been meaning to post this for awhile! I draw names out of a bucket to decide which lucky student will be our guest student blogger. This time  it is EC! This is her short news report on our Skype chat with Luke Navarro. Our focus in this task was to use the data from our skype interview and create a short news report. Students were asked to a) be as specific as possible, b) include all 5W and How, c) use a variety of sentences and d) use transition words, like first, next, then, finally, etc.

Luke Navarro Report by EC

Who is Luke Navarro? Luke Navarro is a game reviewer! 

On Tuesday, November 8, 2011, Luke and Mrs. Johnson's Gr. 7/8 class had an interview on Skype to talk about his job and he answered any questions we had.

First, he told us he doesn't get paid for his job. Then, he told us his hobbies besides gaming and reading are hiking, cooking and gardening. Finally, he told us that his favourite game right now is Skyrim.

It was awesome talking and hanging out with Luke Navarro!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Video Games & Connectivity!

As my students are well aware by now, I am often on Twitter chatting with other teachers around the world about technology and education.

Recently, I was on Twitter, looking for ideas for my up coming game design unit. I have been planning a game design unit as our next media literacy project after the holidays...I have looked at, and Batman Game Creator --but I couldn't quite settle on any one site.

It wasn't until I chanced upon Kevin Hodgson, a Gr. 6 teacher in Massachusetts, that I found the perfect game design site and also some great ideas for its implementation! This post on  his class blog site, makes great connections between design and writing. The site he is using,, also incorporates writing into the game process. If you take a look at the Intro Video, you can see why, as an educator, I like this design site so much! And I really like how the games are  'old school' arcade style!

Chatting with Mr. Hodgson about his game designing, I happened to tell  him about our video game review writing project that we are just completing...he was very interested in that and I sent him our graphic organizer to use as a template. His class has now started writing game reviews...and he also told another teaching friend, Kent Manning (a fellow Ontarian, located in Prince Edward County) about the now the three of us, through the sharing power of Twitter, are similarly designing games and writing game reviews! Through Twitter, we inspired each other & shared resources. This is very cool!

Our game design unti will start in January and our game reviews are almost completed. The reviews that I have seen so far are so amazing, I feel I can't just pick one 'student guest blogger' for this assignment.  In fact,  I hope to put up these reviews on their own distinct page!

I am very much looking forward to January and our game designs! Stayed tuned for more info after the break...!

PS. Mr. Hodgson found this ehow description regarding 'how to write a video game review'. I hadn't seen this before starting our project, but I'm glad to see that our plan was quite similar to the 'real life' version, only missing a few steps!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Thanks Mindconnex/Shakespeare in Bits! Plus 'Determining Importance"...

William Shakespeare
First, a big thank you to Mindconnex in Dublin, Ireland, for skyping with us today. We met Jer, Michael, Fergus and Fiona. They showed us the features of their software program, Shakespeare in Bits, told us a bit about the company, and answered some of our questions.

Many thanks to Mindeconnex for taking time out of their busy day to chat with us! I, too, hope to prove that Shakespeare can be interesting and easy to understand by using your fabulous software! We'll let you know how it goes in a couple of months!

But this morning wasn't just about chatting with people from half way across the was also about using the information from this chat to learn an important skill...DETERMINING IMPORTANCE.

During the skype session, I asked students to take notes, jotting down key words and phrases. Afterwards, we did a 'determining importance' activity.

As I've noticed in student's reading comprehension activities, they are getting better at pulling specific details from texts, but could use some support in determining which details matter more than others. What are the MOST IMPORTANT details!?

To start this off, we did the ol' 'What are 10 items you need to survive on a deserted island for a year' activity! Students worked in groups to determine their Top 10 lists. Then they had to pare it down to 5...then they had to pare it down to 1... Students had to explain their answers.

We then took our jot notes from the skype session. Students were asked to pick their Top 3 important details from our talk with Mindconnex. They then had to narrow it down to the Top #1 most important detail...and explain why...

Every group was able to justify their most important detail...and generally speaking, they were all quite similar. The most important detail regarding today's not the fact that Michael is the CEO, or that they obtained the voice actors from a library of Shakespeare audio recordings, or that it took 6 months for the finished product...though these, of course, are all interesting facts...

...but rather that Shakespeare in Bits makes Shakespeare easy to access/understand by, for example, translating it into modern english at the click of a button!

Students were able to zero in on the essence of the project, and the main point of the Skype session today...and the reason why we are using this we can easily access the amazing, creative, beautiful, funny, clever writings of Shakespeare.

I am very much looking forward to January when we launch this project!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Skyping with Ireland!

This Monday morning (Dec. 12th) we have the good fortune to Skype with a software company in Ireland...Mindconnex! They are the developers of Shakespeare In Bits, the software we are going to be using to study Romeo & Juliet in January!

Here is the agenda for the session, which will last about 30 mins, as mentioned by Fiona in her latest email to me:
  • Introduction to team - Mike (CEO - he cracks the whip and makes sure we do our jobs!!), Fergus (Chief Product Officer - he looks at the product from an educational point of view), Jer (Creative Director who does the animation)
  • Quick overview of the company
  • Demo of Romeo & Juliet - showing animation, original play text, notes, translation, analyses, character maps and biographies
  • Open the floor for comments/questions (we can include questions about our jobs here).
This is a bit different from our other Skype session...first of all, we will not be interviewing them, rather they will be telling us things and we will be taking notes. Secondly, this time there will be more than 1 person on their end of the screen. Finally, we will have a chance to ask them some questions (like about their jobs), but not everyone will get the chance to ask. There will be limited time for questions.

We are the only Gr. 7/8 class in Canada that is doing anything like this!  I think we are also the only Canadian class (of any grade level) that is a  part of their Educator Partnership Program!

I can't wait until we can start using this software after the holidays!

If you'd like to read more, check my previous post on SIB and the Educator Partnership Program!

Before we cross the finish line...

Students, there are two and a half weeks left until the holidays and I just wanted to summarize a few things we have left to do before that end date:

-Video Game Review (due Friday the 16th!)
-Math Frames 4 videos  (due to my Frames 4 file folder by Friday the 9th)
-Math oral presentations (present a graph) (must be completed by Friday the 16th)
-Van Gogh LIne & Colour Art finished (must be completed by Friday the 16th)
-Independent Novel Study #1 (due Friday the 16th)

Please note: these are required for assessment purposes so they must be completed on time!

Also, lets not forget that Mindconnex in  Ireland will be Skyping with us regarding Shakespeare in Bits! Monday Dec. 12th!

Here are some other things I hope we can finish between now and the holiday!

-Just Dance Review (Reading Comprehension Re-do)
-Writing Analysis (how to bump up from a level 1-2-3)
-Goal Setting (based on feedback re: reading & writing)
-PopLit Lyrics started-using lyrics to determine main idea w/supporting proof, mood, point of view (we will carry this into January--it will evolve into an oral presentation and also we'll be looking at those aspects when we start  R&J in January--we will also be looking at character/setting/plot)
-Frames 4 independent projects finished
-CATS book talks

Whew! That is a lot still to lets keep our focus!

Soon I will be posting on what we can look forward to in the new year!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Reading Comprehension...Where's the Beef? Take 2!

Students, take a look at this video! Why am I showing it to you, after today, do you think?

As I mentioned in a previous post a while back, in relation to student writing, there has been a need for more 'beef" other words, more specific details! (At that time, I referenced the Wendy's commercial from 1984.)

Since then, we have, in our reports and review writing, been working dilligently to add MORE other words, more specific details (which are to be well organized with transition words, such as 'first', 'next', 'then', 'also', etc).

However, as we are doing reading comprehension activities (for example, reading a game review and trying to explain the author's opinion by quoting details from the text), I find myself asking the SAME question as I peruse student answers...


A reading comprehension task is, if you think about, a writing task because we usually ask students to WRITE their answer down. The same rules thus apply! All those skills we have been sharpening in our writing tasks work here too! Give me specific details (using those transition words to organize those details)! GIVE ME MORE BEEF!

Also, when reading other people's writing (especially non-fiction writing like this game review...which is, at heart, an essay) you will often find that those writers have themselves CREATED A BEEFY HAMBURGER!

So where should you go, highlighter in hand, to look for the BEST, JUICIEST, MOST SPECIFIC DETAILS?!

In the middle of the text...where THE BEEF is!

Most students at this school are familiar with the 'answer sandwich' when crafting a reading response (aka., the 'answer hamburger').

Students, writers of all types use this approach when crafting THEIR writing!

Their main idea or argument/opinion is the top bun. THE BEEF or MEAT of the sandwhich is their supporting proof/details. The conclusion, which is a re-iteration of their main idea or argument/opinion, is the bottom bun.

When you are looking for the main idea/argument, go to the buns.

When you are looking for good, supportive quotes and details, as we are now...GO TO THE MIDDLE, WHERE THE BEEF IS!

Go to the middle to get the best proof you need!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Game Review Wrap Up! Lego Batman & Just Dance!

This week we completed our critique of  video games in preparation for our next writing assignment: game reviews.

A while back, we played & critiqued New Super Mario Bros Wii...we also read a review of the game written by Luke Navarro.

This past Wednesday, we played & critiqued LEGO Batman for the Wii...and read this review of the game by Hilary Goldstein.

Today, we played & critiqued Just Dance #1 for the Wii...on Monday we will read a corresponding review.

On Monday, students will also begin writing their own game reviews. They can choose either one of the games we looked at in class or one from home. If they choose to review one from home, they need to take home the graphic organizer THIS WEEKEND and bring it back on Monday. All students were informed of this today.

When we critiqued the games in class, we all used a graphic organizer. This organizer will help students write the review. The organizer included providing descriptive words about the game, game play summary, the effectiveness of the controls, sound, graphics and multiplayer features (and justification for whether you thought they were effective or no), personal connections and the final rating.

JUST DANCE was a great way to end this week and this unit! Many students gave this game a 10! By the end of the class, even non-players were up dancing! (Who says learning can't be fun?! In fact, I kept hearing that all morning: 'This is so much fun!' 'Can we do this again sometime? It was so much fun!') This was also a great community builder & some students really got a good work out!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Top 5 Literacy Tasks!

If you were at parent-student-teacher interviews, they you know that I asked students to check mark from a list their favourite literacy tasks so far...these tasks included reading, writing, media & oral language tasks that we have done (or are in process of doing) since September.

I have tallied the results and here are the top 5!

5. Tied between Video Game Reviews & Learning Frames 4 animation software
4. Photo-A-Day Plus Caption
3. One/Zero (by Kathryn Otashi) retell using Frames 4 media
2. Poe's Tell Tale Heart
1. Interviewing guest writers  (such as Chris Simon & Luke Navarro)

Incidentally, #6 is Independent Writing Journals.

Thanks for the feedback everyone!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Anti-Bullying/Anti-Violence Discussions & Media

This past week was anti-bullying week and thus it seemed an appropriate time to address certain aspects of the Gr. 7/8 health curriculum:

Gr. 7-assess the impact of different types of bullying or harassment on themselves & others and identify ways of preventing or resolving such incidents

Gr. 8-demonstrate the ability to assess situations for potential dangers and applying strategies for avoiding dangerous situations

We spent some time discussing these issues by first reviewing various media messages and youtube videos, such as:

Anti Bullying Commercial Words Hurt , Bystanders 'take the pledge'  and The Price of Silence
 The real-life footage of  Casey Haynes Incident in Australia.
Homophobic Bullying Rick Mercer Reports  RMR Rant Bullying #1  RMR Rant #2

We also had a guest speaker: Ms. Smith, our Vice Principal. She spoke to our class about her experiences and the bullying/violence she has seen in her education career.

Our emphasis was on strategies as a bystander & prevention, what options were available in certain scenarios, how to handle violence.

As a culminating task, students created a '3 word' message (similar to this great '3 word' project --though ours has an anti-bullying/violence focus). I took photos/video of their '3 words' and will be creating a media piece to display it. I have included a few examples here.

PS. The video has since been created and uploaded to our youtube page! 

Spelling Started!

In a previous post, I mentioned how we were going to be including proper spelling (of common words) as a requirement in our upcoming writing pieces...this past week we finally put that into motion, cooperatively building a class spelling words wall (the first 31 words! The rest will be added gradually).

Students also have the full list (200 of the most commonly misspelled words) in their writing folders as a resource.

I am also putting our word lists on for at home and in-class spelling practice. This site provides audio-visual & contextual supports for spelling practice (ie: the word is said in a sentence). It also provides the opportunity to take on line spelling tests, as well as play spelling games.

The link to this excellent site is on the side bar. I will be adding to this site over time.

To prepare for spelling, I also had students read over my blog about the necessity of spelling and answers reading comprehension questions about it. They had to quote from my text 2 reasons for proper spelling (ie: it's a matter of personal pride & so you don't irritate your reader), explain whether they agreed with me and why and then also explain why I used WORDS IN CAPITAL LETTERS in my formatting (ie: to give those words extra emphasis, to show high emotion).

Please let me know if you have any questions about spelling.

Thank You!

On behalf of Mrs. Bell & myself, I would like to thank all the parents, guardians & students for coming to interviews this week! Please let us know if you have any questions, concerns, comments!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Reading About & Meeting Luke Navarro! THANKS LUKE!

Today two interesting things happened in our gaming & literacy unit...first, students read this review by Luke Navarro about the game we just played (New Super Mario Bros Wii). Students had to explain why Luke gave the game the rating he did, quoting details from the text. They also had to explain if they agreed with him and why.

Reviews are all about opinions...and you can have any opinion you want but your opinion WEIGHS MORE if you can back it up with substantial reasoning. So what was Luke's reasoning?

After reading and answering questions about the review, students got to meet the author! Through the magic of Skype, Luke spoke with our classroom from his home in California. Students had paired up and prepared questions for him. One student got to come to the microphone at a time & ask the question, while the other wrote down the answer. The written responses will form the basis of our upcoming news report.

In addition to writing gaming reviews, Luke also reviews movies and books (check out for his weekly book podcasts).  However, our focus today was exclusively on gaming!

Many boys were interested in hearing Luke's opinion about COD, which was very exciting. COD enthusiasts seem to have their own language...and I personally think it was cool for the boys in our class to meet an adult that could speak that language (I personally do not speak COD)...not to mention that he writes about such things (and guess what guys? He likes books too!). This is one of the reasons I think Luke is a great role model. He demonstrates that it is possible to enjoy video games AND books and that one can think critically and intelligently about both.

I'm convinced that if COD were a part of the curriculum, we have student experts who would not only ace that class, they would be able to teach it! Part of my motivation in having Luke as a speaker is to validate that interest and to draw that interest into literacy.

Luke made the statement today that video games are 'art'--a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. Not every one in the class did, however, and I would love to continue the discussion on whether video games are indeed a 'low' form of entertainment compared to books...or not.

One of my goals as an educator interested in games based learning is to prove that there are more things similar than different between books and games. We may have Luke back again as a speaker to explore this concept further!

Again, thanks Luke! We appreciate you taking the time on your Tuesday morning to discuss your reviews & gaming!

Thank You Luke Navarro!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Gaming in Literacy

Those of you who know me, or have read my bio page, understand my interest in games based learning.

Please check out my MISA funded research Mario Kart project from last year, and also  my resource page, which shows how other educators are using video games in the classroom.

I was also interviewed CBC radio (and other radio stations) and also by various newspapers.  You might also like to read my blog Using Video Games At Home For Learning Over The Summer.

I'm very excited to bring gaming to our literacy program. Today, we played and critiqued the Wii game New Super Mario Brothers Wii.

Pulling names randomly, students were invited to the front of the room to play the game. Each game session lasted about a minute or so. After each session, we filled out a section on our brainstorming sheet as we prepare for review writing.

We were looking at: finding 5 descriptive words about the game, explaining & summarizing the game play, determining the effectiveness of the controls, the sounds (music, effects, voice), the graphics, and the multi-player function (and justifying those opinions). We also looked at personal connections to the game and then every one gave the game their individual, overall rating.

These points will make up the criteria of our review writing.

Students got quite impassioned in their opinions. Some thought the game too childish (for which they had to JUSTIFY their positon--for example, the graphics are too much like a cartoon, the game play is too easy) while some thought the game one of the best, ever (for which they had to JUSTIFY their position--for example, the music is happy & well suited to the sense of the fun that the game provides).

One thing we have been emphasizing in our reading & writing program is the need for SPECIFIC DETAILS (see previous article 'where's the beef?'). Whether writing reports or answering comprehension questions about Poe's The Tell Tale Heart, students have been encouraged to put in specific details and to justify  their responses with details from the text...or in this case, the video game.

Int his unit, we will be reading game reviews and studying the way writers write reviews (one of these writers is our guest speaker, Luke Navarro). And of course we will continue to play games and critique them! The final assignment will be a review of a game of student choice, either one covered in class or one from home.

Later in the year, we will apply these same strategies to the more traditional movie & book review process.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Student Guest Blogger: JS

Chris Simon by J.S.
What does Chris Simon do?

Chris Simon is a reporter. He writes for the Scope of Innisfil. He came to Goodfellow PS in Innisifl Ontario, Room 142. He came on Wednesday, September 28, 2011, to talk to us students of Mrs. Johnson's room about his job, how he started at Innsifil Scope. Also, he shared writing techniques to inspire us and to show how writing can happen outside of school.

When Chris Simon came into our school he gave an interview so we asked questions. Here are some questions and answers that we asked him. The first question was: what other occupations have you had? Answer: Chris Simon worked at Wal-Mart and Pet-smart before he was a writer. Here is another question we asked: what is the best thing about your job? Answer: the best thing about his job is talking to famous people and talking to people with interesting stories.

I really appreciated Chris Simon coming to our school! I learned a lot about his job.

Interview with Luke Navarro!

Next Tuesday we are very lucky to get to interview Luke Navarro via Skype!

Luke participated last year in my J/I Boy's Literacy Event. He is an avid reader, co-creating the site with Kevin McGill where they both discuss and review books via podcast. (Here is the J/I event from their perspective.)

Luke also created his site where the name 'geek' is proudly worn as he watched (and reviewed) 52 movies, read 52 books and played 52 video games in one year.

Here is the list of games Luke reviewed. 

Our class will soon be writing a report about Luke (based on this interview) and a game review (based on games we are playing in class and/or a game of student choice).

Later in the year, we will also write a movie review and a book review--following in Luke's footsteps!

Thank you, Luke, for volunteering some time to be with us on Tuesday!

Here is a bit more info about Luke from the guyscanread site.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Sponge Bob's The Tell Tale Heart & Halloween

Tomorrow we will be celebrating Halloween with a come in a costume if you like! And if you are bringing treats, please make sure they are nut free!

Also note...we will be doing some work in the first half of the morning (party is in the second half). This 'work' we are doing involves using your best Mr. Krabbs, Squidward, and Spongebob we will be reading the script to Sponge Bob Squarepant's version of The Tell Tale Heart.

This means that the writers of Sponge Bob, like you, have read Poe's story...and were so inspired by it, they adapted it to an episode!

Here is the script we will be reading...and comparing to the orignal.

If we have time, we will also watch the show. If not, that will take place on Tuesday.

See you tomorrow!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Tell Tale Heart Videos

These are the youtube Tell Tale Heart videos we will watch & compare to the original text.

Modern Adaptation


In Less than 2 Minutes

Highschool Student's Production

I love the creativity the creators of these videos have brought to their retelling of this classic tale!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Poe's Tell Tale Heart HOMEWORK!

Students, we will be spending a few days before and possible after Halloween looking at Edgar Allen Poe's brilliant, classic, suspenseful and creepy short story:

The Tell Tale Heart.

In anticipation of beginning this project on Wednesday (barring no unforeseen interruptions!), please read this short story. Here is it ONLINE. For those that require a paper copy, you must let me know tomorrow (Tuesday).


If by chance you find the language too difficult (which most of you should not), you can copy & paste text a few lines at a time using and have it read to you.

Also, if you prefer, you can read along to the RADIO PLAY (audio only) on youtube. Here is part 2 of the radio play.

Please DO NOT look up video interpretations on you tube! We will be looking at these separate from the text.

We will also be comparing the story to Sponge Bob episode 'Squeaky Boots' (again, do not look this up if you haven't seen it! Save it for when we look at it in class!)

Writing Feedback via Email

Gradually over the new two weeks leading up to progress reports all parents on email will receive digital photographs of before and after student writing as well as an explanation of the tasks and links to the Ministry of Education's Writing Exemplars (expected level being level 3).

Every term I hope to send home, via email, descriptive feedback regarding the literacy program.

Students are provided with email at school and a copy will also be sent to them.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Julie Johnson

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Coming Soon....Spelling

Spelling is one of those things students (and adults like me) find boring and tedious...but it MUST BE DONE! 

First: as a MATTER OF PRIDE. Your ideas are important and deserve the respect of being properly presented.

Secondly: because you don't want to IRRITATE YOUR READER. If you spell words wrong (especially common words) your reader will notice the errors and it will irritate them--especially if it is so poorly spelled, they get confused as to your meaning.

As we have been talking about, writers want to entice readers to keep reading their writing. They don't want to annoy or frustrate them so they toss the writing aside and yell in aggravation: "I'M NOT READING THIS! THE SPELLING IS SO TERRIBLE I CAN’T UNDERSTAND IT! I GIVE UP!"

In this class we will be looking at the 200 most commonly mis-spelled words in the English Language (starting with the top 31). I myself am guilty of mis-spelling these words on occasion (though I am a novelist in my spare time, and I love writing, spelling is not my strong suit. I must work hard at this like most other people do).

These are the words that we use again and again and that readers will notice when we get them wrong.

So let's get them right! Together, we are going to ace these words!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Novel Study & General Reading Update

This week, our class started their Independent Reading Novel Study. Students have chosen a novel and every morning they read for 10 mins. Then they are completing 3R Reflection & Picture journals. These questions (retell, relate, reflect) and the picture section address these curriculum points:

Gr. 7
1. 3 identify a variety of reading comprehension strategies (such as visualization)
1.4 demonstrate understanding of increasingly complex texts by summarizing important ideas 

1.5 develop and explain interpretations of  texts using stated and implied ideas from the texts to support their interpretations 

1.6 extend understanding of texts, by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them  

1.3 identify a variety of reading comprehension strategies 
1.4 demonstrate understanding of increasingly complex and difficult texts by summarizing important ideas

1.5 develop and explain interpretations of texts using stated and implied ideas from the texts to support their interpretations 

1.6 extend understanding of texts, by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other texts, and to the world around them 

The benefit of making this task independent is that students get to select their own reading material. Reading preferences are intensely personal and students should be allowed to read what honestly interests them rather than always 'assigned' texts.

The other areas of reading in class currently are: Nikolas & Company whole class read aloud with Visual Doodles (which models reading strategies, connections to text, the making of predictions, summaries, character/setting etc), music lyrics for connections to text (see my poplit lyrics website) and short video 'stories' on my to explore summaries/retells, character/setting/plot.

Also, we have read one of Chris Simon's news report in the Innisfil Scope as a way to explore report writing.

Coming up soon! Poe's Tell Tale Heart, the use of lyrics/poems to determine 'main idea', and, once I have finished my individual reading assessments (I am meeting individually and reading with each student to confirm reading levels), guided reading practice!

Please let me know if you have any questions!

Report Writing

Our first main piece of writing is almost completed and will be sent home shortly (for most people, via email). I will also be sending home the initial baseline writing sample so you can compare the two and note the progress.

This first piece of writing is our reports on Chris Simon's visit to our class at the end of September.

We have been approaching this as both a modeled and shared writing task. In other words, we are building it sentence by sentence with direct guidance and input from me and with student suggestions.

One of main priorities in this task is to 'add more beef to the hamburger' by including as much specific details as possible about the who/when/where/what/why and how. We are also 'spicing' up the hamburger by including a variety of sentences (question, statement, exclamation). Our organization should also be greatly improved through the use of specific transition words to organize the paragraphs.

There is, of course, still autonomy to the task: students are choosing what type of question to use as their opening, how they want to write the when/where/who/why/how, which transition words, which questions/answers from the interview and interesting facts to put in the 'what' section, where they want to put their exclamation points.

I am merely breaking it down into specific, smaller tasks, and providing examples and resources (such as transition word lists and spelling lists).

I am expecting through this task that the writing they produce should be significantly improved than their initial baseline piece. My expectations will increase (and increase more for the Gr. 8's vs. the Gr. 7's).

The next report (on Luke Navarro's interview in November) will be more independent, a chance for me to see if they can apply these skills on their own.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

COMING UP NEXT! Writing game reviews, a report on our interview with Luke Navarro...and then main idea paragraphs which will turn into essays in the Winter time as we study Romeo & Juliette!

Also coming up very soon...spelling the top most mis-spelled words!

Independent Writing Journals

Having now seen samples of student writing, I can see that there are common areas of need. Previously, in a post about 'where's the beef?' I spoke of the need for more substance: in other words, adding specific detail and vividness to your writing.

The other area of need is Writer's Voice.

What is Writer's Voice? It is the spark of personality in a person's writing. It is the enthusiasm or mood. It is the emotional connection the writer brings to the writing so that the reader feels it too. To many students, I am advising: 'make the moment come alive for your reader'! Not just through providing basic details but through providing details related to feeling and atmosphere.

Here is another interpretation of 'where's the beef?'. The writing is not only missing detail as 'the beef' but also EMOTION. All I'm being served is a white fluffy bun...blah, how boring! Give me a big, juicy hamburger with all the fixings! A dash of hot sauce! Basil! Fancy gorgonzola cheese! Give me so many onions on top I can't help but cry!

Spice it up! Make the moment come alive for your reader.

I get the sense for many students that writing has become rote. Yes, there are formulas to certain writing forms.  Yes, you need a title, a main idea, supporting details, headings, etc. But you can still, within that framework, add some jazz and some spice and some of your personality to the mix.

To encourage a sense of expression, I have introduced Independent Writing Journals. These are free writing journals. Students are given a topic or prompt (see the new Writing Prompt page for examples), or they can choose their own topic. The objective is to explore it freely through writing, vering off topic as the energy of one's interest shifts. You write for 10 minutes straight, just getting it down, not worrying about anything but connecting to your ideas via the pencil and page. (I also allow picture/caption and comics/graphic stories as a part of this process).

We need to flex our expression muscles and feel our connections to topics so that we can bring it to bear on our more formal writing pieces.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Guest Speaker on Monday

Just to let everyone know, we will be having a guest speaker on Monday morning. A nurse will be coming in to talk about cancer on behalf of one of the students in our class.

Julie Johnson

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Kevin McGill puts us on his blog!

Kevin McGill also wrote about our collaborative initiative (which I wrote about in the previous post) on his blog:

You may also wish to scroll down to see his new BOOK COVER! His book will soon be coming in paper form! (The old fashion way!)

Currently, I read his book as an e-book with my e-reader (kindle).

We have been talking in class about CATS (Cover, Author, Title, Skim or Summary) as a way to discuss and approach books.

Check out Kevin's book cover to see what impressions you get about the book! Can you make any predictions about the book? What do you think about the cover art?

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Nikolas & Co: Achievement "Unlocked"!

    Kevin McGill, the writer of Nikolas & Co, wrote our class a letter after seeing your visual doodles about his book!

    To Mrs. Johnson's grade 7/8 students,

    • Your teacher, Mrs. Johnson, just showed me your pictures of Nikolas and Company and all I can say is, awesome! 

    • I am so impressed by your drawings and desire to read that I've decided to make it worth your while. 

    • There are so many things about Nikolas and Company that you don't know yet. 

    • Like the power of jynn'us - every person has a power hidden inside all of them, and when they breathe the air of Mon, it will be unlocked. 

    • Some have the power to call weapons out of thin air, others can destroy an entire airship with the blink of an eye. 

    • Then, there's all the various kinds of fantastic creatures: creachlings, elflings, fairlings, humlings, unlings, biglings, midglings, and plantlings. Each kind has their own set of creatures and monsters.

    • For example, under the plantling kind, there is a terrible monster that is part tree and part spider. (A hint: Don't be fooled by one of its juicy looking fruits.) 

    • Would you like to be the first to know more about the thousands of different creatures and inner-powers? Well, you will. 

    • For every week that you listen to and draw along with Nikolas and Company, I will unlock another Mon mystery on my website just for you. 

    • Simply visit and click on "Mon Mysteries."

    • Read on! 

    • Sincerely, 


    Thanks Kevin! I will be sure to let you know by the end of each week if we've got doodles! And if we do I will post them on my new page on this blog dedicated to the Visual Doodles

    What an exciting way to explore the creative universe of Nikolas & Company. We look forward to 'unlocking' this special content as we read and think our way through your book!

    Sunday, 9 October 2011

    Reading is Thinking: Visual Doodles

    Recently, we started reading Nikolas & Co, a YA fantasy adventure novel by Kevin McGill (who will be one of our guest speakers. He is a writing friend of mine via Twitter who lives in Dallas, Texas. He spoke last year at my J/I Boy's Literacy Event).

    As I read the story aloud, students are creating Visual Doodles to represent the images they see in their mind's eye ('Reading is Thinking'). They will also be writing about the story as well (focusing on summaries, opinions, connections and story features like character/setting/plot, figurative language, etc). Here are a few of the first doodles. These doodles document the events in the first chapter. They are in pencil and a bit hard to see but check them out! You should be able to make out: mountains, digging for the artifact, crazy project leader, a hover truck, gold dust shimmering in the air, etc.

    I will be sending this blog link to Kevin. Hey, Kevin, what do you think? Leave a comment below!

    Friday, 7 October 2011

    Making a Hamberger #2: Writers Voice

    Having now seen samples of student writing, I can see that there are common areas of need. Previously, I spoke of the need for more substance, detail, specifics, vividness.

    The other area of need is Writer's Voice.

    What is Writer's Voice? It is the spark of personality in a person's writing. It is enthusiasm or mood. It is the emotional connection the writer brings to the writing so that the reader feels it too. To many students, I am advising: 'make the moment come alive for your reader'! Not just through providing details but through providing feeling.

    Here is another interpretation of 'where's the beef?'. The writing is not only missing detail as 'the beef' but also EMOTION. All I'm being served is a white fluffy bun...blah, how boring! Give me a big, juicy hamburger with all the fixings! A dash of hot sauce! Basil! Fancy gorgonzola cheese! Give me so many onions on top I can't help but cry!

    Make the moment come alive for your reader.

    I get the sense for many students that writing has become rote. Yes, there are formulas to certain writing forms.  Yes, you need a title, a main idea, supporting details, etc. But you can still, within that framework, add some jazz and some spice and some of your personality to the mix.

    To encourage a sense of expression, I have introduced Independent Writing Journals. These are free writing journals. Students are given a topic or prompt, or they can choose their own topic. The objective is to explore it freely through writing, vering off topic as the energy of one's interest shifts. You write for 10 minutes straight, just getting it down, not worrying about anything but connecting to your ideas via the pencil and page.

    We need to flex our expression muscles so that we can bring it to bear on our more formal pieces.

    Tuesday, 4 October 2011

    Shakespeare in Bits: Coming in January!

    Shakespeare in Bits is software created by Mindconnex Learning in Dublin, Ireland. Our class is very fortunate to be part of the Educator Partnership Program--which means that we get to test drive the software and give feedback! Fiona from Mindconnex will be talking to the class via Skype on Dec. 14th!

    Plus, we are the only Canadian participants!


    Recently, Shakespeare in Bits was showcased on a video called 'Dublin's 30 Second Start Ups' (created by Tech Europe of the Wall Street Journal).  They are the first '30 second' clip at about the 44 second mark in the video. I thought I would post it here so students & parents could see a 'face behind the software': Michael Cordner.

    Michael Cordner is also right: every student encounters Shakespeare at some point!

    Shakespeare's appeal is ageless--primary kids can study Shakespeare. Most students typically encounter the original plays in high-school (typically Romeo & Juliet in Grade 9!). As part of preparing for the transition to high school, this class is going to get a 'taste' of Shakespeare through whole class study of the play using this amazing software (via the Smartboard). We are also going to watch 2 movies based on the play (and based on that, we will write our short comparative essays).

    Winter is going to be a very exciting time as we launch this project!

    For more information on Shakespeare in Bits, check out their websete. The link is also on the sidebar.

    Here is the video! Enjoy!

    Sunday, 2 October 2011

    Program Plans

    I thought everyone would like to know the fall agenda in terms of literacy & media for this class. Please note it is a work in progress and may need to be adjusted. Some aspects may carry into the Winter. Here it is:

    I have also set up a wiki that allows for document downloads. This is available in document form HERE.  I will be adding more documents to the download files as the need arises.

    Saturday, 1 October 2011

    Where's the Beef? Explained.

    Parents, today, we reviewed the Where's The Beef? commercial and students rightly guessed that, in terms of their writing, I was looking for more substance. I'm looking for more hamburger in the bun!

    In particular, I am looking for specific details. Writers need to paint pictures in their readers head. Give me, your reader, a clear, specific vision to hold onto! If you add more specific detail to your communication--no matter what writing form (letter, story, report, review, essay, etc), your writing will vastly improve.

    This does not mean just giving more sentences. If those sentences are 'vague', it won't improve the writing. This is one of my writing mantras: longer writing does not equal better writing! You can have pages and pages of bad writing. You can have a tight 5 line paragraph of good writing. I want the good writing!

    I have given students these small booklets I call Idea Books or Response Journals. They do not allow for a lot of writing per page. Some students are a bit confused by them. Don't teachers usually ask you to 'write more'? Aren't we supposed to be writing paragraphs? Aren't we supposed to be writing essays?

    We will. But first I think we need to look at quality. We are going to go line by line, even word by word in some cases.  Instead of just saying 'a student', 'a boy', 'a school', get specific. Give me 'female dance student, age 6', 'Freddy from ICarly', 'Hogwart's School of Witchcraft & Wizardry' . I now have a much more specific idea in mind.

    When you are writing summaries, or providing proof in main idea paragraphs, the same idea holds true. The more specific proof or example you give, the stronger your argument.

    We discussed this quote as well (also on the daily quote page): "When asked 'How do you write?' I invariably answer, 'One word at a time.'" Stephen King, famous author, writer of 49 novels.

    Writing is built word by word. As we start our first writing assignment (news report), we will be breaking it down. What is your first line? What is a good first line? How can you improve that first line? What do you put down next?

    This need for the right amount of detail will be looked at all year long even though the writing forms will change over time (reports, reviews, main idea/persuasive paragraphs (fall), comparative essay on Romeo & Juliet, short story (winter), poems, procedures (spring)).

    Let's go create high quality hamburgers!

    Thursday, 29 September 2011

    Frames 4 Awesomeness!

    I mentioned in an earlier post how we spent a period learning about the software Frames 4. I showed how to use it and we spent some time exploring and just playing around with it. I asked students to create a couple of slides, to prove they knew how to make a simple animation...some students really came up with awesome clips! I can't wait to see what they create as we use Frames 4 for literacy & math communication! (Note: for some reason, blogger cuts off the last few seconds of these videos!)


    For some reason, the O keeps cutting off! This is supposed to spell HELLO!-Mrs. J

    Note: Blogger cut off the last second, there is supposed to be a crayon suddenly stuck up his nose!

    Wednesday, 28 September 2011

    PICTURE DAY! Thursday!

    I had noted picture day as Friday of this week, not Thursday but looking at the school calendar I see it is Thursday!

    If this is a problem tomorrow, with many students being unprepared, then I will see if we can get our class photos done for Friday.

    My apologies!

    Mrs. J

    Writing Checklist

    Students, you will be using this to review your own work and the work of your peers. I will also be using it to assess your work.

    CLICK HERE to see the checklist.

    Tuesday, 27 September 2011

    Where's the Beef?

    Students, a while back you wrote two writing pieces for me so I could have a sample of your writing ability: a report of a life event and a review of a game, book or movie. I specified a few criteria for each writing form (report needed who, what, when, where, why, how while the review needed a rating and criteria).

    I left the rest of my expectations purposefully vague as I wanted to see what you would produce on your own, without instruction. This acts as a baseline, so I know which writing traits you naturally and intuitively 'know' and those that you don't.  Then I can provide the direction/guidance you need in order to ascend in your writing levels.

    All of you will receive specific feedback on what your areas of improvement are (and that will continue to happen from this point onward).  (Also note that your parents will also receive this information. Many parents expressed to me at Parent Night that they want this information so they know how you are doing.)

    Remember that everyone is at different levels in their writing, and just like in video games with your individual gamer profile, so you each have your own *individual writing profiles*.

    However, there are commonalities in our writing profiles and so we will be starting with those common areas of need.

    This video is meant to address one such area of need. It is a very popular Wendy's commercial from the 1980's. Can you guess why I am showing it? How does it relate to your writing?

    Monday, 26 September 2011

    Media Literacy: Library Partnership Program

    Tuesday starts our collaborative project with Mrs. Calabretta in the library. We will be using Frames 4  animation software to retell either 'One'  or 'Zero' by Kathryn Otashi. 

    Students, you will also be using a checklist to determine the effectiveness of media/video content & techniques.  In class, we will be reviewing media & explaining how well they use colour, image, pace, and music to convey meaning.

    CLICK HERE for the google doc checklist for media (when Mrs. J tell you to in class!)

    WALT: create media forms and explain how media conventions & techniques (i.e.: use of colour, images, pacing, music) create meaning

    Guest Speaker: First in our 'Real World Writer's' Series!

    We will soon have the pleasure of our first guest speaker in my Real World Writer Series: Chris Simon will be in our class on Wednesday morning. Chris is the editor (and reports for) the Innisfil Scope. I met Chris last year when he interviewed me about a couple of my projects: my Wii math & literacy project and my J/I boy's literacy event.

    These are listed on my media page.

    Since we are studying report writing, it only made sense to go to an expert & find out the scoop!

    Students will be interviewing Chris on Wednesday and then writing a report about the event.

    We will be putting our interview & reporting skills to use all year long as we interview other Real Life Writers.

    WALT: write a news report, using expected criteria
    WALT: speak effectively and listen attentively, evaluating these abilities in self & others

    Sunday, 25 September 2011

    Frames 4 Is Fabulous!

    On Friday, we had the laptops for a period and because we will be doing a large number of media projects this year, I wanted everyone trained on Frames 4.

    Frame 4 is an easy to use animation software program available on all the school computers. (I tried my hand at it just last week! Students rightly noted that my intro slides were TOO FAST. Students, you know intuitively what makes good media! We will be exploring this further, articulating the way media effectively (or ineffectively) communicates meaning--which is part of the Media Literacy curriculum expectation for both 7 & 8).

    Some of the students were more familiar with this program than others. Essentially, I went through all the features, demonstrating how to use the software, then expected a 4 to 5 slide animation from students as they 'test drove' the features. It could be on anything, as long as it showed movement.

    All I can say is...WOW! We have some extremely talented animators in our class. In just this short free play period, they came up with some amazing stuff! I can't wait to transform these into web-ready videos and post them for all to see!

    Wednesday, 21 September 2011


    Thank you to all the parents that came out to meet me tonight! I enjoyed meeting all of you & also loved hearing the feedback about the blog. Please keep reading & checking in!

    And also remember that my door is always open. Please contact me with any questions, concerns, comments, feedback, etc.

    Again, thanks for dropping by!

    PS. the parent sign up sheet for interviews in November is now online. Click HERE to view. You should be able to access and add/change times. It is also on the sidebar.

    Please let me know if there are any difficulties accessing this. Also, if you prefer, we can sign up times the 'old fashioned' way via telephone or email

    Who will you become?

    We received news today. Ms. Scigliano, the other teacher for this class, is leaving us. We are happy for her new & exciting position & adventures in teaching! We are also sad because we will miss her.

    We also  know that this will bring changes and disruption as a new teacher is found for the afternoons and a new routine is created.

    This is a new challenge for our classroom but, as we have been discussing, we can control our response to the challenge.

    Again, I ask you: Who do we want to be? What kind of class environment do we want to experience? We each control our actions and contributions. We add to the atmosphere. We create it.

    It is in our power to experience AWESOMENESS!

    You can part of the solution or part of the problem. You decide!

    Here are two videos from Michael Jordan that relate to the power of choice and the transformative power of endurance and maintaining focus on a goal. It relates to sports. It relates to life. It relates to our class community.


    "I have something more important than courage. I have patience. I will become what I know I am"-Michael Jordan from "Look me in the eye".

    We will be coming back to these brilliant videos at a later date to examine them from the perspective of media literacy.

    Coming Up This Year in our Awesome Literacy Program...

    I have been telling the students about some of the cool things I have planned for our class this year. I thought I would highlight them all here on the blog & tomorrow we will review all of them in more detail:
    • 4 guest speakers (writers). These are real writers writing in the real world. Our first guest is Chris Simon, editor of the Innisfil Scope, who will be speaking in person about report writing & editorials (next Wednesday). The other interviews will take place via Skype as these writers call in from various part of the world. We will be speaking with a novelist, a reviewer (including video game reviews) and a poet.
    • literacy & media collaboration projects with Gr. 9 & 10 students at Nantyr Secondary School
    • Wii project with Nantyr Secondary School
    • class youtube page & website(s) to showcase the wide variety of media/videos we will be creating
    • Educator Partnership Program with This is a software company in Ireland and we will be skyping with Fiona in December. We will be using their software in class in Jan/Feb as we study Romeo & Juliet and providing feedback about their software.
    In addition to that, I will be incorporating all kinds of real world media representations to generate discusion, responses, writing, and to use as comparisons to texts. 

    I hope you find this program as exciting as I do!

    Tuesday, 20 September 2011

    New Vote!

    We did a new vote in the class and are now watching Wipe Out during lunch. We were watching that while the voting for the movies took place and after we voted on the movies, several students thought Wipe Out should have been on the ballot. So we added it and Wipe Out won.

    We shall be watching the TV show on during first lunch break for about 2 to 3 weeks. Then we will check in to see if its time for a change.
    "Life is like photography--we develop from the negatives." --Pitbull, rapper/singer

    Our class has 32 students, 23 of whom are boys. Approximately half are Gr. 7, the other half Gr. 8. We all come to our class with different abilities and talents, histories, interests, preferences, social groups and 'smarts'. 

    Our greatest challenge has been gelling as a community. There are many bodies, many voices.  There are differences in opinion, backgrounds, abilities. We've different preferences of who we'd like to sit with, external elements we wish we could control (bigger room, less people, specific people to talk or not talk to, more girls, less boys, the list goes on for each individual...).

    Today, we learned that we are a community.  We learned that there are some things we cannot control (we are not getting a new room, the student list is not changing). We leanred that there are some things we can control. We can contribute our ideas to the class. We can make known our.

    We each control the tone we bring to the class.  If we want it to be less noisy, then we must each make less noise. If we want a place where we all belong, then we need to nurture a sense of inclusion with others within ourselves.

    We will be changing up the seating on a bi weekly basis. Students . Everyone is expected to work and talk with everyone else.

    I commit to creating a positive classroom community and to being part of the solution

    "Life is like photography--we develop from the negatives." --Pitbull, rapper/singer

    Our class has 32 students, 23 of whom are boys. Approximately half are Gr. 7, the other half Gr. 8. We all come to our class with different abilities and talents, histories, interests, preferences, social groups and 'smarts'. 

    Our greatest challenge has been noise level. There are many bodies, many voices.  There are also differences in opinion, preferences of who we'd like to sit with, external elements we wish we could control (bigger room, less people, specific people to talk or not talk to, more girls, less boys, the list goes on for each individual...).

    Today, we discussed that we are a community. The e I commit to creating a positive classroom community and to being part of the solution. 

    As a group this week, we discussed those concerns. 

    Monday, 19 September 2011

    Poplit Lyrics

    This summer I created a website for junior, intermediate and senior students called Poplit Lyrics. This site uses popular lyrics as texts to discuss main idea (with supporting evidence--this is a precursor to essay writing), connections to text and figurative language like similes and metaphors. Often, I include a media element (like a music video) so we can discuss how media uses the lyrics (and images) to convey meaning.

    Recently, we have been studying Katy Perry's Firework lyrics. This is a very rich text...the lyrics are rife with similes and metaphors. In addition to discussing the main idea (and finding supportive evidence from the text), we located similes and metaphors and then acted out the song, putting gestures to the figurative language.

    The music video we looked at was the Firework flashmob/lipdub created by Magnolia High School in Texas and we discussed the ways the video conveyed inclusion (the character trait for the month).

    To see the video on poplit lyrics click HERE.

    Sunday, 18 September 2011

    The Votes are In!

    The votes are in! (We did it the low tech way, in class with stickees).

    The movie to watch during lunch time is...Men In Black (Scooby Doo came a close second). The boys' book is Dust. The girls book is Heartland. These books have been ordered and should arrive soon.

    Thanks everyone for voting!

    Making Predictions & Reading

    Last year I hosted a J/I Boy's Literacy Event and writer Kevin McGill of Dallas, Texas, was one of our guest speakers via a Skype interview. Part 1 of his long awaited first novel has been published...part 2 is soon to arrive!

    Here is the book trailer to his Young Adult novel 'Nikolas & Co: A Creature Most Foul'. What predictions can you make about the book based on this trailer and the title?

    I will soon begin reading Part 1 in class...


    Last year I hosted a J/I Boy's Literacy Event and Kevin McGill of Dallas, Texas, was one of our guest speakers via a Skype interview. Part 1 of his long awaited first novel has been published...part 2 is soon to arrive!

    Here is the book trailer to his Young Adult novel 'Nikolas & Co: A Creature Most Foul'. What predictions can you make about the book based on this trailer?

    I will be reading Part 1 in class...

    Thursday, 15 September 2011

    Stop Motion Animation & Learning Goals

    This week we read through and sorted our literacy learning goals. Then, to prove how easy it is to make a stop motion animation video, I took the photos from that activity and created one using the program Frames 4.

    We have Frames 4 on our computers at school and soon students will receive training on it so that they, too, can make cool videos of all kinds to showcase their learning!

    PS. Here are the learning goals listed in the video (WALT stands for We Are Learning To...)
    Oral Language:
    WALT: speak effectively and listen attentively, evaluating these abilities in self & others

    WALT: determine the main idea in written (& oral) texts, using key words and inferences
     WALT: define, explain and locate examples of metaphors & similes
    WALT: determine & compare basic story structures in texts & media to explain their differences & similarities
    WALT: determine and rationalize reading preferences
    WALT: make predictions about texts & media using C.A.T.S. and other strategies

    WALT: evaluate and judge the effectiveness of different writing forms based on their specific criteria
    WALT: use specific & descriptive language to improve the clarity of our writing
    WALT: write a short paragraph explaining the main idea, providing evidence to support that explanation
    WALT: write a review (persuasive) and a news report, using expected criteria
    WALT: develop brainstorming abilities through ‘quick write’ activities

    We've also a media literacy goal:

    WALT: ID & interpret media texts, evaluate their effectiveness, explain their elements & create and evaluate our own