Monday, June 18, 2012

Code Name Verity {Read}

Code Name Verity.

By Elizabeth Wein.

2012, 337p.  Hyperion, $16.99 (978-1-4231-5219-4).

Gr. 9-12

Highly Recommended

            Under pain of torture and threat of brutal execution, Verity, a Scottish-British spy, artfully confesses to her Gestapo captors her involvement in the Resistance.  Her confession is penned on scraps of paper—everything from prescription pads to sheet music--belonging to former inhabitants of a country hotel in fictional Ormaie, France.  Through a physically, mentally, and emotionally excruciating written confession, we meet her best friend and civilian air corps pilot, Maddie, who flew her on her last mission.  Although the novel begins in medias res, Verity, in a defiant, sarcastic, and, at times, beaten tone begins with her best friend’s story up until the point she jumps from Maddie’s wounded plane in occupied France.  It is here that Maddie continues the narrative through her pilot’s notes in her simple, honest voice.  Maddie and Verity’s friendship is not one based on boys, clothes, or summer camp; instead, Wein crafts a narrative told in two voices that paints a portrait of genuine friendship in wartime.  A cast of secondary characters on both sides of the war provides depth and contrast to the two friends’ lives.  As historical fiction, some may be bothered by the inventive history and anachronisms, but the author seeks to justify her creative and research processes in the endnotes.  The narrators’ voices are in all essence la verite, truthful.  In the beginning a reader might feel bogged-down by the Scottish brag of Verity’s voice and minute details; however, once immersed in the relationship between the two young women, they will want to prolong the finale and their farewell to these friends. –Audrey Wilson-Youngblood



Friday, June 8, 2012

In Response to "Adventures with Cell Phones"

Audrey Wilson-Youngblood

SLIS 5720

Module 4: Blog Post 2

In Response to "Adventures with Cell Phones"


         Are student cell phones a nuisance or an asset in the classroom?  School boards, administrators, and teachers have gone to great lengths to prevent student use of cell phones from interfering with learning.   Sometimes, however, your greatest nemesis can become your closest ally. 

         The war against electronic devices in schools is a futile and misguided one.  We do not even hold ourselves to the expectation for students to silence, put away, and ignore their personal devices for eight hours.   Faculty meetings are the best example; the greatest perpetrators of cell phone use policies are teachers themselves.  As adults we have embraced and come to rely upon our personal devices to engage in the world.  Are teachers using their devices during meetings to engage in the content?  Usually not, although efforts could be made to incorporate their devices to raise engagement much along the same lines as students.

         In “Adventures with Cell Phones,” Kolb illustrates instructional practices where “a basic cell phone can be the Swiss Army knife of digital learning tools” (2011, p. 41).  Integrating personal devices into instruction 1) increases the time spent on teaching and learning that occurs inside and outside of class and 2) facilitates learning anytime, anywhere at the student’s appropriate pace.  Not only is instruction more effective, but integrating students personal devices into instruction teaches them responsibility through mobile etiquette and the utilization of these skills in future professions. 

         As new technology is developed and marketed to education, district budgets, federal grants, and state funding are decreasing.  A race is on to become a “technology campus,”  but campuses are ill-equipped to supply every student with an iPad.  Student cell phones are free to the district.  Instructional practices that utilize students’ personal devices can be integrated using a basic device that has text-messaging and camera capabilities. 

One practice uses Google Voice as a quizzing tool.  Students call the teacher’s number, listen to a prompt, and then record their response.  The messages are archived and available for MP3 file download.  The teacher can then send a text message back to the student as feedback. 

         Other practices involve taking pictures on the camera phone to Geotag and create maps.  Digital storybooks can also be created using the camera on phones.  Yodio ( allows students to create collaborative storybooks.   Other projects use apps such as Fickr and Photobucket to photo share.

         In addition to photos, students can interact with the curriculum through Classroom Response Systems at no extra charge to the school.  Two sites,,, and allow students to respond to polls, questionnaires, and surveys through text and then see the results live on the screen. 

         Before diving in and asking students to go straight to the cell phones during instruction, it is wise to provide some instruction on cell phone safety.  Kolb provides several specials, sites, videos, and references that help students examine and understand the special issues regarding cell phone activity (2011).   When educating students on cell phone etiquette and safety, the teacher must become the mentor for appropriate use of personal devices in the school community. 

Digital Dossier YouTube Video of “Digital Footprints”

Library Integration

         Libraries as well as classrooms have the potential to expand students’ academic experiences.  Through the use of cell phones, students can tap into a myriad of resources and tools as readers and researchers.  QR Codes or smart tags can be used to allow students immediate access to information. 

A QR Code could be placed on a display of summer reading titles that links students to a review of one or more titles.   All the student needs to do to access the information is to scan the code using a free app such as Microsoft Tag.  New releases can be accompanied with a tag that takes students to the book trailer or author’s website.  Immediate access allows students to engage in reading as a lifelong habit.  One librarian goes so far as to post codes in the bathrooms, strategically pulling students, who may not step foot into the library, into an exciting story with one quick scan.  

goodrads.png         Another use of cell phones in a library includes using social media apps for readers such as Goodreads (  The Goodreads mobile app has a feature that allows readers to scan a book’s barcode and automatically add it to a shelf.  During one ten minute trip to the library, a student could virtually stock his or her “to be read” shelf for months or add books they have read to their shelf for friends to peruse.  Goodreads also provides a place to explore lists, write and read reviews, and connect with authors. 


evernote.png         Phones can also be used as personal storage devices with apps like Evernote.  As students research, they can take pictures of text, write notes, and email themselves documents to be collected in a “notebook.”  They can even share notebooks with collaborators.  Evernote is also accessible through the website ( where students can download content to evaluate, synthesize, and publish their findings. 

         We seem to always be on the search for the next engaging tool or practice.  Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel and spend an enormous amount of time engaging students in classroom instruction, let’s use what students bring to the table—their digital lives—to create a dynamic, collaborative, and creative learning environment. 


For more ideas to engage students in reading visit the Nerdy Book Club blog post “Passive Aggressive Book Promotion.”



Kolb, L (2011). Adventures with Cell Phones.  Educational Leadership, 68 (5), 39-43. 


Thursday, June 7, 2012

In Response to "Gender, Technology, and Libraries"

In Response to “Gender, Technology, and Libraries”

Personal Response

As the fields continue to diversify and become more complex, it will be crucial that a balance of men and women professionals comprise the library sciences and informational technology professions.  However traditional they may have been,  IT and library departments will benefit greatly from an integrated workforce rather than perpetuating the gender disparity (Lamont, 2009). 

Lamont’s assertion that the lack of women in IT positions can be attributed to nature and perception accentuates the socio-cultural influence on women when determining a career path, often one that they place there themselves.  Societal “assumptions that family and home responsibilities will cause women to be less able to contribute” may be a driving force, but women in these roles perpetuate such a perspective and their presumptiveness becomes their greatest obstacle (Lamont, 2009, p.140). 

            Qualities of professionals in IT and library sciences may appear to be masculine and feminine:  hard work, commanding, driven, and competitive vs. instinctive, intuitive, innate, and nurturing (Lamont, 2009).  Perhaps these qualities can be pinpointed to specific male and female traits.  What cannot be undermined is the value all of these qualities contribute to every profession.  Therefore, it is a balance of personal traits, qualities, talents, and work ethic that should be considered when seeking to balance these professions, not necessarily X and Y-chromosomes.  

Until the culture is changed from within, traditional roles will be perpetuated.  Reevaluating, redefining, and rethinking these roles as technology continues to evolve will lead to a blending of these skills.  “If managed properly, the best of classic library theory will combine with IT into a dynamic and diverse workforce as well as a thriving and innovative organization”  (Lamont, 2009, p.141).

Technology Strengths and Weaknesses Analysis

As an educator, my greatest strength has been my ability and determination to continue my own learning journey.  When integrating new technology or exploring digital tools, I utilize technology as a resource to self-teach.  Tools such as YouTube, Google Videos, and subscription sites such as Atmoic Learning enable me to investigate, adopt, and implement a myriad of Web 2.0 tools and hardware.  I utilize colleagues and specialists in my district and networks to support my goals to integrate technology.

            In addition to my commitment to life-long learning, I’ve been fortunate to serve in a leadership role providing professional development to teachers, much of which was instructional technology.  My background, although in depth in many areas such as Mac hardware and applications, Promethean, and a few web-based tools, is not necessarily as broad as it could be.  A lack of breadth of knowledge might lead me to miss supporting teachers’ and students’ needs.  In order to improve upon this weakness, I hope to gain insight into resources that will diversify my technology knowledge base in hardware, software, and web-based tools.  My initiative and drive to keep learning will allow me to improve upon my weaknesses. 

Smart phone applications, in particular, are an area where I see tremendous potential for supporting digital students; however, I feel intimated by the sheer number that are out there let alone how best to determine their quality and usefulness.  Learning to utilize personal devices and piloting initiatives such ad BYOD days (bring your own device), will support students’ information fluency.  Information bombards students at astounding rates through their own personal devices they carry with them.  If we can help students to harness the device as a tool rather than a perpetual information conduit and critically evaluate information, this will positively impact their problem solving and digital citizenship skills (Smaldino et al., 2012).

            In addition to personal devices, I hope to continue to gain experience designing and maintaining engaging, interactive sites, blogs, and spaces. I envision creating a virtual space as diverse and extensive as the physical library for students and teachers that integrates traditional learning methods with 21st century literacies and skills.  In order to create such a space, I will continue to experiment with and become efficient in using platforms such as Google, Posterous, Wordpress, collaboration sites, etc.

A transition from the classroom or even professional development department into library and media specialist is a challenging process.  Fortunately, I feel that my drive and motivation to continually learn will allow me to meet these goals as I diversify and integrate my own skill sets and qualities.



Lamont, M. (2009). Gender, Technology, and Libraries. Information Technology & Libraries, 28(3), 137-142.

Smaldino, S.E., Lowther, D.L., Russell, J.D. (2012).  Instructional Technology and Media for Learning.  10th ed.  Boston, MA:  Pearson. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Independent Reading Myth #5--I have to cover all this literature {Teach}

Myth #5--I don't have the time.  We have all this literature we have to "cover."

I have too much to cover.   This perception of English Language Arts in the high school classroom makes me shudder-- only because I can hear my own voice echoing its sentiment.  In the course of the year I need to get my students through the Federalist Papers, The Scarlet Letter, The Crucible, Huckleberry Finn, Great Gatsby, AND a full research paper!

I feel your pain!  There is little we can do to remedy the sheer amount of literature we are expected to teach in the upper-level courses (except maybe volunteer for the curriculum writing committee).  But, I am a firm believer of teaching narrow and teaching deep.  

There are creative and intuitive ways around and through the length and density of some literature, allowing time for students to truly develop as life-long readers.  I have sacrified Hawthorne to make room for Conrad, Collins, and Draper.  And I have even found ways to bring them all together.  Balancing the canon and young adult literature can be done, it is a lot of fun, and your students will be the better for it!

There are a few practices I've adopted and adapted over the years that have helped me achieve an acceptable balance;  two such practices saved me from a most regrettable pattern:  killing the story.  

To begin with, we (the literature lover in all of us) need to let go of teaching everything in a novel.  I, personally, loved my literature classes where we came in and the professor engaged us in a discussion about the week's reading, uncovering all of the hidden elements, characterization, theme, and symbols.  It goes back to the question, "Why do we teach literature?"  When was the last time you asked yourself why you use a particular title in your class and whether or not that time could be spent on building a community of readers?  In my English heart, I teach literature for the enduring story.  

It was a tough decision at first, determining which element to focus on.  I tried to choose no more than three elements that we could really dig into over the course of the novel study.  By narrowing my focus and teaching in depth, my students were able to focus on the enjoyment of the story.  All craftmanship and literary expertise aside, it's the story that makes great literature great. During The Crucible we focused solely on character analysis, which of course ended up in a terrific examination of theme.  Students chose which character they would "dissect" early in the play.  There were no surprises or "gotchas."  The expectations were clear and reading and writing support was in place so that students could read without fear of a looming test or on-demand essay. 

I learend to let go of my highlighter and annotations, and then I learned to shape my students' reading experience as a filmmaker.  Think of a cinematographer in a film.  He must decide, with the director's input, where to zoom-in tightly to focus on a detail in the scene or actor's reaction and when to zoom-out to provide the audience with a broader understanding of the scene, context, or event unfolding.  This is how I approach my longer texts and novels.  With the author's guidance, I consider the story line first.  One of my most regrettable teaching sins is having spent six weeks teaching my students To Kill a Mockingbird (this went on for longer than I care to share).  My chapter-by-chapter reading guides were excellent!  Vocabulary was carefully aligned with the current chapters, and all of my reading quizzes were exact.

I couldn't understand why after such an extensive and intensive examination of my favorite text, they didn't connect to it at all and breathed heavy sighs of relief as soon as the last sentence was read.  By teaching every literary element, analyzing characters to death, and continually asking them to ponder theme after theme, I had killed the story.  Ever heard of how in baking there's such a thing as kneading the bread too much?  My student's gluten strands had snapped back in chapter 13 and there inner readers were a goopy mess.  

I discovered, slowly, that my first responsibility was to the story.  Thinking in terms of film helped me to consider places in the novel where I could zoom-out to show a bigger picture or provide a context.  Zooming out might mean a shared reading where I read to the students as they followed, with no during-reading activities and very light after-reading.  It might look like assigning a particularly engaging section to students to read independently once I was certain I had supported everything they would need in class to understand and enjoy it at home.  I even employed film adaptation, graphic novel, and artwork to perserve the story but move our exploration along.  

I planned ahead of time where we would slow down, zoom-in, and take a closer look.  Oftentimes, these were key milestones in a character's journey or plot.  If our literary focus was on tone, as it was in The Scarlet Letter, we would use multiple draft reading (Gallagher) to re-examine as discovery.  Zooming in provided the scaffolding for my students to become analytical readers while enjoying reading.  

When I began to carefully craft our exploration of a novel, I found that instructional time opened up for me.  I had time to book talk, read aloud, and even share excerpts from young adult literature that connected with the traditional literature we were studying.  

While reading The Great Gatsby we took some time to enjoy selections from Gordan Korman's retelling, Jake, Reinvented.  As Hester suffered in silence at the hands of the hypocrisy of her town, we listened to the experiences of a high school rape victim, ostracized by her school in Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak.  Oh, the magic that happens for your students when they begin to experience and find the connections themselves!  Had I not learned to edit, zoom-out, fast-forward, and zoom-in, we never would have had the time for those moments.  

My usual response to the colleague who pleads with me, "how can I possibly add one more thing to my plate?"  is "how can you not?"  When the truth is that by adding independent reading to your daily routine not only builds fluency and reading habits, thereby allowing you to let go of practices that might not be as efficient,  but as a regular practice it further develops:

1) vocabulary

2)  critical reading/ thinking

3)  writing

4)  focus and attention

5)  stamina

6)  comprehension

7)  self-worth and efficacy as a reader

8)  sheert enjoyment of reading!

How can you not?  

Friday, June 1, 2012

Independent Reading Myth #4--It'll mean more time for me...{Teach}

Myth #4--It'll mean more time spent on grading poster and book reports or messing with those leveled reading programs.

Oh, the poster project.  The book report.  The book summary followed by the tic-tac-toe assignment and endless CDs of soundtracks all dedicated to Edward Cullen. I've been there and sometimes I feel like it never leaves me.  

And what about those leveled programs we see so neatly packaged by lexile?  First of all, how do you know your students' true lexile scores?  From the state's standardized text score from last year's test?  Second of all, is there a magical button students press where the leveled program takes into account their reading interests as well as their reading ability?  Nope.  That's called a teacher, folks.  

Here's a secret to independent don't have to assign a major grade to it every grading period or rely on a strict program to hold students accountable.  Shocker, I know!

When SSR is integrated as a daily routine and students are encouraged to talk about and write in response to what they read after seeing it modeled by you, they will actually do it!  There’s no magical formula folks.  Allow students time and freedom to read for pleasure + read in front of and with your kids + model how readers think, write, and talk about what they read= students who read independently chosen texts AND talk to other readers about what they read (audible gasp)!

Am I oversimplifying the issue?  Yes, I am.  Unfortunately, most students need more external motivation than the pleasure of talk to other readers in the beginning,  which is why I started to integrated reader responses into my writer's notebook requirements.  If students are responsible for 20 entries for a grading period, 5 of those are expected to be in response to what they are reading.  

I'll even sneak an actual assignment (low-stakes) into the mix such as identifying and exploring the tone, mood, theme, or even characters.  We dabble in creative responses to literature in the form of reader's theatre scripts and found poems.  But, it's always an invitation to play.  I find that my students' responses to the texts they read for pleasure are much more insightful and analytical than those more traditional texts we often assign them to read in the name of rigor. 

There is still a time and place for cumulating projects.  Instead of book reports or soundtracks, my students read, analyze, and craft their own reviews to post to or a book trailer to post to youtube.  Because that's what readers do when moved by a text.  Formative assessments include their reader response entries, which I do read each grading period, and reading conferences, where the meat of their experiences are brought to the surface. 

Is there a time investment at first?  Most definitely.  When I consider practices to adopt or discard, I think of it in terms of investment.  What will the initial cost be versus the ultimate pay-off or return?  When it comes to independent reading, the return is well worth anything you put into it.  Independent reading saves me time.  Rather than creating individual vocabulary, reading, analysis, and writing tasks for my students, I spend that time browsing new books, talking to students about what they are reading, and investing in the reading habits that will continue to develop vocabulary, writing, comprehension, and critical thinking far after they leave my room.  That's more than any grammar workbook or novel reading guide has ever done for me or my students.