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Beyond Pockets of Excellence in Blogging

There are many, many pockets of excellence in classroom/student blogging out there. These blogs are driven, coached and nurtured by educators who “get it”. They get how blogging makes a difference in student learning, supports 21st century modern learning skills and literacies and at the same time basic reading and writing skills. These educators understand blogging FOR their students.


[insert a screeching sound of breaks] …then it STOPS!… Why?

The students move on from those teachers classes to the next grade level or school with a teacher who:

  • has never heard of blogs (hence does not use them)
  • sees blogs as an add on and too much work (Who has time to moderate and comment on so much student writing???)
  • uses blog posts as a digital space to collect typed up homework assignments (Instead of a new writing genre, capable of multi-layers, higher order thinking/writing skills and multi-dimensional)

You can visibly see the engagement, ownership and learning curve when you look at pockets of excellence, such as Linda Yollis’ 2nd/3rd grade blog or Kathy Cassidy’s 1st grade classroom and student blogs.  We can assess the learning taking place of a set of students (during one grade level) with a committed-to-quality-blogging teacher.

What we CAN’T do with pockets of excellence is to track and identify LONG TERM gains in blogging as a LEARNING PLATFORM.

I see how the  Yokahama International Middle School  (Grades 6-8), has laid the foundation with their student blogs for a CONTINUOUS effort to document, reflect and assess their students progress ACROSS time. My current school, Martin J Gottlieb Day School also has an opportunity to implement student blogfolios across ALL grade levels (K-8) and build on skills from year to year. George Couros on The Principal of Change blog wrote in a post titled 5 Reasons your Students Should Blog about his school division and effort to developing blogs as portfolios with their students. They are bringing blogs to approximately 10,000 students!

How are they/we:

  • coordinating efforts across grade levels to help teachers and students BUILD ON  skills (ex. hyperlinked writing)
  • continuing to weave a thread that CONNECTS reflections (ex. self-portraits art pieces with a reflective text/audio/video piece attached)
  • giving evidence of learning at one particular moment in time and show growth ACROSS TIME  (ex. presentation skills, math number sense, gross-motor skills, etc.)


In an effort to provide a framework for our teachers from Kindergarten to 8th grade, I attempted to make my own thinking visible in regards to our classroom blogs and student blogfolios.

Each page addresses one grade level. I have divided the page into 2 main sections with the following subsections:

  • classroom blog
    1. teacher responsibilities
    2. student responsibilities (on classroom blog)
  • student blogfolios
    1. skills (new skills introduced at particular grade levels are highlighted in yellow)
    2. categories (trying to standardize categories to be used across grade levels. Ex. writing, reading, presentation, Science, Math, etc.)
    3. Reflection (examples of media that could be used to create a reflection in response to learning artifact)
    4. Examples of learning artifacts (Ex. Science fair presentation, About Me page, Self-portrait art work, visible thinking of solving a Math problem, etc.)

This framework was not created to be written in stone, but as a starting point for teachers to refer to, as they students are building skills of writing in digital spaces, become reflective learners and establish a positive digital footprint. It is meant to allow a progression of learning artifacts coupled with reflection paint a picture of each student’s learning journey throughout our school. The framework is to guide teachers in providing a smooth transition from one grade level to another and ensure a continuation AND growth in skills.

Where are other schools who are creating maps for continues use of the blogging framework for learning, reflecting and sharing? Can we put our heads together, as we are tracking and assessing the continued use of blogs FOR learning? Please connect with this blog or via Twitter.

Download the Blogging Framework as a pdf file.




Out of Eden: Paul Salopek’s Walk from Ethiopia to Patagonia

I am thrilled to share with Langwitches’ readers an amazing learning opportunity. Take a look at the Out of Eden site and let your imagination run wild how you could get your students excited about learning via the resources available the Pulitzer Center.


In early 2013, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Salopek will set out on foot from the birthplace of humanity, the Great Rift Valley in Ethiopia, and walk in the footsteps of the first modern humans who left Africa to settle the unknown world.

This immense narrative journey spans roughly 50,000 years of human history and 22,000 miles of the planet’s surface—from our paleoanthropological “Eden” in East Africa north into the Levant; across the steppes of Central Asia to China; by sea from Siberia to Alaska; and then down the length of the Americas to the continental “Land’s End” of our species in Patagonia. This continuous walk will last seven years.

The goal of the world walk—and the Out of Eden project—is to slow readers down and allow them to reflect on current events as a form of pilgrimage. By using the history of our migration as a backdrop for international news, Salopek will examine the most important global stories of our day from ground level, at three miles an hour—walking into stories as diverse as human conflict and local innovations, mass migration and the Internet revolution, climate change and cultural survival. A worldwide audience is invited to “walk along” via quality Web reportage that includes articles, video, audio and blogs. Salopek is a National Geographic Fellow.

I am proud to say that, I was involved in creating the curriculum guides for grades 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12, complete with big ideas, essential questions, Common Core standards & NETS standards alignment, content, skills & strategies, suggested learning plan and activities.

Take a look, think about the possibilities for connections and collaboration across geographic borders and over time. How can we get students so excited that they will continue following Paul over the next seven years long past the time they will be spending in our own classrooms?


Upgrade & Amplification Exercise and Checklist

The Upgrade and Amplification Exercise slide deck below grew out of the need for companion slides to “21st Century Critical Literacies- Is Traditional Reading and Writing Enough?

Once you know of the NEED and URGENCY of updating your curriculum and instructional repertoire to give the critical literacies of our century justice, take a look at the checklist below to guide you in considerations as you upgrade and amplify.

What does upgrade and amplify even mean?


Raise (something) to a higher standard, in particular improve (equipment or machinery) by adding or replacing components.

improve – better – ameliorate – promote


1.    Increase the volume
2.    Increase the amplitude

expand – enlarge – extend – magnify – aggrandize

Upgrading and amplifying traditionally taught activities, lessons, units or entire classroom learning environments TAKES time and practice. Just as in any sport, if you want to get better at it, you have to put in the time and practice.  Before you become an athlete, who thinks nothing of running a marathon or has the conditioning of swimming 5 hours non stop, one has to have enough attempts of failing and be exhausted by “working out” for only 10 minutes at a time. Only with practice does the couch patatoe become an athlete.

The same holds true with upgrading and amplifying. Most educators are “not in shape”, not conditioned, not in the routine of upgrading their curriculum to embed emerging critical  literacies and amplifying their own and their students’ work. They have to practice, put the time in and “pay their dues” until it becomes easier and second nature.

I am sharing with you my “workout” schedule, my model, my routine and techniques/methods of “getting into shape” to upgrade and amplify.

By upgrading and amplifying, you are not throwing out your instructional goals and objectives. These goals and objectives are just expanded and enlarged. The idea is to align standards with the framework of 21st century learning. The standards, skills and literacies are fused and support each other.

For warm-ups, take good old Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. Make sure you touch on more than one learning AND teaching style to address all kinds of learners.

Continue your warm ups  by going through a cycle of Bloom’s Taxonomy of higher order thinking skills. Be aware of the different stages (levels) and  pay special attention to creating.  Shortcuts do not pay off… creating your own material, will allow you to share and amplify the work easier later on.

Once warmed up, you are ready to take a challenge, you might not have been exposed to before. Alan November’s model of the Digital Learning Farm prescribes six roles to empower learners. Don’t overdue it at the beginning of this workout series. There is no need to go through ALL the exercises at once. It will leave you over exhausted. No need to use every role in every activity, but take care to evenly distribute the roles across the school year.

The next workout is outlined by Ruben Puentedura‘s SAMR model to move from substitution over augmentation and modification to a redefinition of a task. The workout consists in starting out with using technology as a direct tool substitution, but no significant task improvement. It is compared to a direct automation of a previously analog task. The second set of the workout is to use technology in a way that allows for some task improvement. Don’t stop now and work through the aches and pains to reach the transformational stage. You will use technology tools to be able to modify the task by allowing a significant redesign of the task to finish off the workout by being able to redefine the task, create new tasks, previously not thought of or possible. Take a look at a chart of sample tasks, moving from the substution stage to the redefinition stage.

Once you worked through the workouts and routines outlined in the “upgrade workout routine”, become fit and conditioned in upgrading, the next level of your exercise routine takes you to the amplification routine. You can prepare yourself for amplification with simple warm up exercises. Instead of your students handing their work into you, have them present work to their classsmates first, then to a larger audience by inviting another class from the building or their parents in.

The first routine of amplification becomes the task of digitizing analog or physical artifacts of students’ work. This simple modification allows you to be able  to share the work online. With this simple act (uploading digital content), amplification is ready to happen. Parents, friends and family living across the country or the world will be able to connect.

By choosing to produce evidence of learning in a variety of media, we allow our online audience to read, look at, watch, or listen to student work. Amplification happens when we go beyond the traditional media in schools (which traditionally and primarily is text) and give students choices to use different media forms, mix and mash up media and/or create new forms.

Amplification means to extend classroom time beyond the traditional school hours. It also means to amplify the pool of people we learn from. Traditionally the “only” teacher in the room was… the teacher. When the teacher steps aside and allows students to share their knowledge and experiences and to open up classroom walls to bring in peers, experts, eye-witnesses from around the world, we amplify who we consider teachers as well as our geographic boundaries.

Traditionally our students have not had a long “reach” beyond the scope of the families, teachers and schools. By “reach”, I mean the amount of people their work could reach (could be read, watched, be looked at). An essay handed in to the teacher to be graded, has a reach of 1. Amplification happens when a blog post, uploaded, cross posted and linked to by others and the link disseminated via Twitter has a potential reach of thousands.  (Disclaimer: Sometimes the single act of uploading content online is not enough to reach further. There also has to be an ACTIVE EFFORT to build a network to be able to disseminate through).

Through social media, our potential connections, collaboration and dissemination paths can reach exponential levels.

The REACH is about the amount of people our work is capable of touching. The reach of our work would be already considered amplified (in a small way).  if we make it available in a password protected environment (only accessible to colleagues, classmates, community members). A larger ripple effect/amplification happens when our work is open to the world and disseminated across the globe though. We move from an audience of one to a global audience through synchronous and asynchronous tools. A global audience brings in different perspectives, points of view and resources, previously not available from a locally confined audience.

Making a difference in the world is possible through the amplified potential reach of a global audience. Even children as young as four or five years old (with the help of their parents or teachers) can find their voice and be heard! Traditional limitations of age, physical handicaps, financial limitations preventing traveling or a  lack of social network connections in the physical world,  don’t have to limit someone’s voice any longer. An amplification  to be heard can happen for anyone with an Internet connections.  It is a powerful realization that we all have something valuable to share with others.

The last tip to getting in shape to upgrade and amplify is: SIMPLY SHARE! The popular saying “A Candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” holds just as true for our purpose. The simple act of sharing online brings automatically larger degrees of upgrade and amplification with it. In order to share (without infringing on copyright or committing plagiarism) one has to create. By not keeping your creation to yourself, you amplify the potential reach your work can generate.

In the slide deck below, you will find examples from the classroom illustrating upgrades and amplifications to traditionally taught lessons and activities. I hope that the examples and the checklist below will help you in practicing and exercising your “upgrade and amplification muscles”. Please share your examples (or links to examples) in the comment section.  You will automatically upgrade your practice (connect, communicate, collaborate, create) and amplify YOUR work (networking, linking, disseminating), by linking them here. :)

You can also download the Upgrade & Amplify Checklist as a PDF


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Professional Learning Board just released a Self-study iPads in the Classroom course I wrote. It is a self-directed course to take in your own time and at your own speed.


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Guest Posts

Augmented Reality that’s “Real” and Focused on Learning


cross posted with permission from Dr. Silvana Meneghini,’s On The Edge Blog. Silvana, the High School Technology Coordinator at Graded, The American School of São Paulo, shared a How-To post to connect augmented reality to student reflection by adding a layer of learning (not technology for technology sake). I highly …


Upgrading Our Recipes for Learning: Digital Learning Strategies


In an attempt to bring  new additions to your Blog reader, I am starting to feature  guest posts on Langwitches. Be assured that these guest posts are from educational bloggers, I highly value and their voices contribute significantly to my own learning. Today I am sharing a blog post and …

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Is Technology shoving Pedagogy to the center stage? TPACK Reviewed


Guest post by Silvana Meneghini, Academic Technology Coordinator, Graded- American School of São Paulo. Originally posted on her blog On the Edge. Pedagogical ideas like student centered learning, collaboration, and critical thinking have been around for a long time and are slowly making the way into the classroom. When technology …


Professional Development

How to Create a Backchannel Exit Ticket for Class, Presentation or Workshop?


This screencast below will show you how to use Google Docs as a backchannel or exit ticket during a presentation, lesson or workshop. Creating a BackChannel or Exit Ticket on Google Docs from langwitches on Vimeo.

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Redefining My Learning


Silvana Meneghini and I  work as Academic Technology Coordinators at Graded, the American School of São Paulo. ” A flashlight in the fog of technology integration“, initially the title of a conference workshop proposal, quickly developed into the desire of creating a framework to guide and coach teachers based on …

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SAMR Exercise Google Hangout: Mark Your Calendars


Silvana Meneghini and I  have created a template for technology, learning and literacy coaches. In an effort to create a depository of examples and scenarios for lessons and activities and how an upgrade movement through the stages of the SAMR model actually looks like in the classroom, we are shared …



21st Century Learning

Visible Thinking in Math- Part 1


The conversation about visible thinking in Math started with one of our teachers at Graded, The American School of São Paulo, Adam Hancock, wanting to know how he could incorporate having students’ use their blogfolios in Math class. It seemed natural to have students write for Humanities (Language Arts and …


Redefining My Learning


Silvana Meneghini and I  work as Academic Technology Coordinators at Graded, the American School of São Paulo. ” A flashlight in the fog of technology integration“, initially the title of a conference workshop proposal, quickly developed into the desire of creating a framework to guide and coach teachers based on …

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Reflection in the Learning Process, Not As An Add On


Is it personality? Are some people born with it? Can it be learned? I am talking about REFLECTION. At the beginning of the week, I had the opportunity to be part of a workshop during our pre-service ( we just returned from our summer break here in the Southern Hemisphere) …


The Digital Learning Farm in Action

Student Tutorials- MineCraft, How to Ride a Horse, iMovie and more


It is no secret, that I am a big fan of Alan November‘s Digital Learning Farm concept. I especially believe in Teaching is the Highest Form of Understanding and the power of motivation and demonstration of evidence of student learning via the Tutorial Designer role. See a myriad of blog …


3 Need-Scenarios to Engage Students with Authentic Tasks


Alan November’s concept of the Digital Learning Farm, asks schools and teachers to empower students by giving them relevant responsibilities that allow them to contribute in  meaningful ways to their learning community (class/school/etc.). How can we give students the opportunity to CONTRIBUTE versus completing projects that end up in the …


Blogging as the Official Scribe of the Classroom


Alan November elevated the “Official Scribe” as one of the roles that empower student learners. I see the role of the scribe as follows: The official scribe plays an important role in the classroom community. Their work is essential for students who were absent from class or need a review …


Global Education

NASA’s Global Selfie Crowdsourced on Earth Day


Today, April 22, 2014, NASA is crowdsourcing Global Selfies. NASA astronauts brought home the first ever images of the whole planet from space. Now NASA satellites capture new images of Earth every second. For Earth Day we are trying to create an image of Earth from the ground up while …

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Selfies Around the World


  On the heels of The Cultural Phenomena of Selfies and  iPhoneography: Photo Challenges, Ideas & Literacy, students from the American School of São Paulo, Brazil want to know more about Selfies around the world. If you and your students would like to CONTRIBUTE with actual images for an in- school and online exhibition …


Julie Lindsay: Designing Engaging Curriculum for Global Collaboration in the Classroom

Following the post:  Note- Taking Learnflow of a Conference Workshop, here is the second story of my curated tweets from a session with Julie Lindsay. My favorite take away from her well run workshop was her quote “Flat learning is a pedagogy”. Amplifying our classroom, allowing students to reach out …

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Blogging With your Classroom

You Have 1 Second to Hook a Potential Reader


If you are blogging with your students, you have been exposed to them. You have been exposed to hundreds of unimaginative, cloned, generic and uninspiring BLOG TITLES. When opening your RSS reader that contains the latest blog posts of your students,  you are confronted with a list, similar to the …

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Student Led Conferences: Sick and Tired of Blogs & Reflection?


Our students just finished a second round of Student Led Conferences (SLC) this school year (one in Semester 1 and another in Semester 2). SLCs are a formal opportunity for students to present to their parents about the state of their learning. The students’ advisor (a teacher responsible for a …

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Visible Thinking in Math- Part 1


The conversation about visible thinking in Math started with one of our teachers at Graded, The American School of São Paulo, Adam Hancock, wanting to know how he could incorporate having students’ use their blogfolios in Math class. It seemed natural to have students write for Humanities (Language Arts and …



Evaluating iPad Apps


I wanted to take a closer look at the iPad Evaluation I previously blogged about in Evaluating Apps with Transformative Use in Mind. The section of Content and Components deserved a closer look and explanation. You can  download the PDF file of the iPad App Evaluation for the Classroom with …

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Visible Thinking in Math- Part 1


The conversation about visible thinking in Math started with one of our teachers at Graded, The American School of São Paulo, Adam Hancock, wanting to know how he could incorporate having students’ use their blogfolios in Math class. It seemed natural to have students write for Humanities (Language Arts and …


Self- Directed Course: iPads in the Classroom


Professional Learning Board just released a Self-study  iPads in the Classroom course I wrote. It is a  self-directed course to take in your own time and at your own speed. “You have an iPad in your classroom, now what?” The iPad helps us prepare today’s student for today’s world in …


Digital Storytelling

Poetry on Record


Inspired by Poetry, Performance & Taylor Mali and Beyond…, 8th grade Humanities teacher Shannon Hancock coached her students to create their own original “Mali Poem”and record a visual and vocal performance. I joined the class to give a brief overview of presentation design. I used selected slides from my slidedeck below to …

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Workflow & Learnflow of an Animation Story


After teaching a 1:1 Toolkit class for incoming Middle Schoolers tothe 1:1 laptop environment this past quarter, I am currently teaching a Media Basics course for sixth graders. I am using a school blog to document the class (among others), showcase student work, share resources and give written step-by-step directions …

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My StoryTelling App Folder(s)


Matt Gomez shared a post today with a screenshot of his storytelling iPad app folder. I wanted to reciprocate and share mine. Storytelling I Folder StoryBuddy StoryBuilder StoryPagesHD Toontastic Tappy Memories StoryBoards Premium StoryMaker HD StoryPatch In a World … Drama Build a Story PhotoPuppets HD Epic Citadel Sock Puppets …