/  By  / comments Add your insight!

This just in…

Go ahead, follow me on Twitter! Or contribute to the Kindle Classroom Project! favicon

 /  By  / comments Add your insight!

DSW (Saratoga, CA) donates $2,000 to the Kindle Classroom Project. There is joy!

joyfavicon I woke up this morning to find an extremely large Amazon gift card in my email inbox, thanks to DSW (Saratoga, CA). Thank you, DSW!

DSW — not the shoe store! — is the Kindle Classroom Project‘s most generous and dedicated supporter. They have been following the program since the beginning and have been instrumental in its growth.

Really, let’s be real here: If it weren’t for DSW, the KCP would not be as strong and as successful as it is today. I am extremely appreciative.

DSW’s donation will guarantee that students will be able to request new books they want to read. It’s one of my promises to the students: If you want to read a book, I’ll buy it. Students fill out an online form, I receive it, I buy the book, and then I deliver the book directly to the student’s Kindle. Students have told me it feels like magic. What’s even better is that the book automatically becomes available to all 200 students participating in the KCP.

As we move into 2015, Kindles are streaming in (sometimes more than one a day), and I’m working to build relationships with new teachers in order to expand the program. That’s why DSW’s donation is so crucial. After all, I have tons of Kindles (thanks, donors!), and I have tons of interested teachers. Now I am certain that I’ll continue to have the books.

Thank you again, DSW! favicon

 /  By  / comments Add your insight!

The Kindle Classroom Project is in Edutopia!

favicon The Kindle Classroom Project has enjoyed great press this year. Back in April, Phi Delta Kappan published an article about the program.

And now, because of my kind and gracious colleagues, Bob Lenz and Monica Alatorre, the KCP is in Edutopia, a leading education website published by the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

edutopia logoBob, the co-founder and Chief of Innovation of Envision Education, interviewed me about a number of topics, including my background in education, my passion for reading, Iserotope, TEACHER VOICES, and the Kindle Classroom Project. (Bob also donated a Kindle a few months ago.)

Monica, the Communications Manager at Envision Education, was instrumental in the process and is a wonderful collaborator. She’s a committed advocate of the KCP and works hard to build our schools’ reading cultures.

I’m lucky to work with both of them!

Here’s the interview, “Why Reading Matters: An Interview with a School Leader.” (There’s even a small picture of me, trying to be all professional.)

My hope is that readers get a quick sense of how the KCP has grown over the past few years. It’s crazy to think that just 2+ years ago, there were just 8 Kindles. Now they’re streaming in every day, multiples at a time!

Please enjoy the piece and let me know what you think. favicon

 /  By  / comments Add your insight!

TEACHER VOICES: Heidi Guibord, #1

Building Community Through Snacks, Art, and Conversation

Heidi GuibordEd. note: Heidi Guibord teaches Art at Island High School in Alameda. This is her first post for TEACHER VOICES. Heidi has practiced the visual arts for more than 30 years. Please check out Heidi’s website, which includes galleries of her art works. Indeed, Heidi understands art, teaching, and young people.

favicon The common denominator for young people who attend continuation schools is that they have been unable to navigate their power successfully in other schools. The more specific reasons are complex, layered, and unique to each student.  Most do not want to attend and would rather be back at their old school.  They have had difficult relationships with teachers and administrators, and as I have learned, are reluctant to trust adults.

My first month teaching was rough: new location, new art teacher, new students, new system for me to learn. Former colleague Jessica Gammell once told me that in order for students to respect teachers, there must be trust. In order to build that trust, teachers need to hold high standards and be as consistent as possible. Although I was trying to get basic classroom routines set while trying to figure out school behavioral and academic norms, I needed to build better classroom culture. I also needed to get to know students better, and 55-minute periods don’t always serve that.

At the beginning of October, I started an after-school class that meets 1-2 times a week. Initially designed to serve as an option for credit recovery, the after-school art class has also served to be the place where community has blossomed. I bring in snacks, since students are hungry at the end of the school day. We work on class projects or try new materials.

Just as important, we have conversations. I have listened while my students have shared why they are at a continuation school, what they are frustrated with, and what their plans are after high school. We have discussed whether ouija boards really work, if Lil Wayne is, indeed, attractive, and what the best breakfast cereal is. We’ve also created paintings that will be shown in a holiday presentation through a local business.Those who attend come to my regular class a little more bought into the idea that I care about their education.

So far, 15 students have attended, with seven students earning credits toward graduation as a result of consistent attendance. This is a good start. In looking at the data, I have realized that six of these students are close to graduation. Starting next year, I plan to reach out more to students who are not as close and figure out what projects would get them to attend.

I need to find organizations to help donate snacks, as that seems to be a crucial component. In terms of the power I have as a teacher, I also want to listen with more intention to students and respond with support and opportunities for them to feel empowered in their high school years — and beyond. favicon

 /  By  / comments Add your insight!

Recommended Reading: “School Segregation, the Continuing Tragedy of Ferguson”

favicon I’m very impressed by the reporting and writing of Nikole Hannah-Jones. In April, she published in ProPublica a major article about the resegregation of Tuscaloosa schools.

Now, following the killing of Michael Brown, Ms. Hannah-Jones is back with another important piece, “School Segregation, the Continuing Tragedy of Ferguson.”

The article is well-researched, well-written, and deeply disturbing.

Students who spend their careers in segregated schools can look forward to a life on the margins, according to a 2014 study on the long-term impacts of school desegregation by University of California, Berkeley economist Rucker Johnson. They are more likely to be poor. They are more likely to go to jail. They are less likely to graduate from high school, to go to college, and to finish if they go. They are more likely to live in segregated neighborhoods as adults.

Source: http://j.mp/1w7KPRG (via Pocket). You can also find this article at Iserotope Extras, a curated list of my favorite articles about teaching, reading, and technology. favicon

 /  By  / comments Add your insight!

Recommended Reading: “The Day I Knew For Sure I Was Burned Out”

favicon Sometimes you read something about teaching and say, “Yep, that’s exactly it.” Ex-teacher Ellie Herman has written such a piece.

In “The Day I Knew For Sure I Was Burned Out,” Ms. Herman perfectly depicts what it feels like to teach in an urban public school.

I really want you to read this article — I wish Ms. Herman were a contributor to TEACHER VOICES — so I’ll share with you a few quotes:

No matter how fast or long I worked, I could not get everything done. I developed a body memory of exactly how much I could accomplish in five minutes, in one minute, in thirty seconds. I was always in a panic because I had limited control over my circumstances. Everything felt like an emergency.


There were literally days when I did not have time to go to the bathroom. What else could I cut out of my day? Breathing?

“The day I definitively and conclusively gave up, it was after six o’clock and I was making 100 copies of 11 different scenes for my Drama class. I’d been at work since before 7 a.m.; it was dark when I arrived at school and dark now. Since our school was mainly windowless, and we were always too busy to leave the building during the day, I had not seen sunlight for three days.”

Source: http://j.mp/1qPPWdt (via Pocket). (Credit to Clare Green at Impact Academy in Hayward for sharing this article with me.) You can also find this article at Iserotope Extras, a curated list of my favorite articles about teaching, reading, and technology. favicon

 /  By  / comments 2 Brilliant Insights. Add yours!

The Kindle Classroom Project promotes reading. That’s great. But what if it promotes the death of the physical book?

favicon I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about whether the Kindle Classroom Project is contributing in a small way to the death of print books and thereby is sabotaging one of the program’s primary objectives: to reduce the gap between the reading haves and have-nots.

It’s best to write about these thoughts, rather than pretend they don’t exist.

The argument goes like this: Though the KCP may solve one huge problem (getting good books in students’ hands), it ultimately discourages independent reading in the long run. This is because the program focuses on Kindles, thereby discrediting and dishonoring the physical book as the primary means of reading over the past 500 years.

So if the program urges students to read on Kindles and does not offer physical books as an alternative, what happens when the Kindles get returned or stop working? What then?

Over the past week or two, whenever I feel like I have an answer, I quickly sidestep and consider an opposing view.

Like this morning, when I learned about Out of Print, a documentary by Vivienne Roumani. Please check out the trailer.

I can’t wait to see this film — and am secretly hoping it’ll come to San Francisco and play at a film festival, or maybe at the Roxie.

My big thought is, I know that Kindles work. Over the past three years, I’ve seen it again and again. Many students reclaim their love of reading with a Kindle. Other students love the Kindle because it’s like having a library in their backpack, with no worries of overdue fines or waiting for books to become available. Still others love to change the font size or look up words using the built-in dictionary. It’s pretty clear that Kindles do offer affordances that the physical book cannot.

But I also think that there has to be a place for physical books in the Kindle Classroom Project. After all, the KCP is a reading program, not a technology program. The point is not to disrupt an antiquated technology system. Instead, it’s mean to disrupt an unjust social system.

Besides, physical books do a couple things better than e-readers and e-books. Namely, they’re good at building reading relationships between a teacher and a student — a crucial step in bringing students back to reading. Also, print books are way better for discovery — to help students find what they’ll read next.

So I’m trying to figure out the best way to incorporate physical books into the Kindle Classroom Project without diluting the major thrust of the program. No decisions yet, but I think I’m getting close. Let me know your thoughts in the comments! favicon

 /  By  / comments 1 Brilliant Insight. Add yours!

TEACHER VOICES: Marni Spitz, #4

Rayonie, reading, and the 1999 Women’s World Cup victory

ms. spitz 4Ed. note: Marni Spitz teaches U.S. History and Reading Lab at City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco. This is her fourth post for TEACHER VOICES. Donate to Marni’s classroom!

favicon Scene 1: Tuesday, August 26, 8:47 am
ME: When you finish your book, you let me know with a huge grin on your face, because you’re so excited you have just read an amazing book, and I smile so big, and we all give you a round of applause and I take your picture to document this incredible moment.


* * *

Scene 2: Tuesday, September 2, 8:31 am
RAYONIE (whispered, monotone): Ms. Spitz, I finished my book.

ME (super loud excited whisper): What?!?!?! You did?!?! Already?!?!? That’s so awesome! Did you like it? How do you feel?!?! (Turns to class) Guys (loud excited non-whisper directed at rest of class), I have a huge announcement. Rayonie finished her book!!! Isn’t that awesome? Let’s all give her a huge round of applause!

READING LAB-ERS: (Silence. Complete, utter, teenage-angsty, SILENCE.)

ME: Guys. I said, Rayonie finished her book!!!! Let’s give her a huge round of applause!!

READING LAB-ERS: (Awkward clapping)

ME: Rayonie hon, come over here so I can get your picture with your book!

RAYONIE: Do I have to take a picture? I don’t want to.

ME: Yes!!! This is so exciting and your old teacher wants to remember this day! Please just smile that incredible smile with your book! I promise you’ll thank me later.

RAYONIE: (whispers) Fine.

Here is the picture of Rayonie on that first “celebration” of her finishing her book.

Rayonie 1

Here is the picture of the gymnast who’s “not impressed” face went viral.


* * *

Scene 3: Monday, November 17, 7:52 am (40 minutes before First Period)
RAYONIE (entering room 210 with biggest smile on her face): Ms. Spitz! Guess what?!?! I finished TWO BOOKS THIS WEEKEND!!!!


RAYONIE: I just stayed in my room this weekend and read.

ME: THAT’S IT! IT’S OFFICIAL!! YOU ARE INCREDIBLE! I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!!! LOOK AT YOU, YOU READER YOU!!! (I’d like to think I said something a little more articulate, but I think I was too excited to do that.)

RAYONIE: Should I take a picture with both of the books?

ME (trying to play it cool and not FREAK OUT that she just initiated the photo herself): Sure!!! That would be fantastic!!!

Here is Rayonie on the 10th book-completion celebration:

 rayonie after

ME:  “Guys, I have a huge announcement. Rayonie finished not one but two books this weekend!! Isn’t that awesome? Let’s all give her a huge round of applause!!

READING LAB-ERS: (Elated cheering, clapping, and Woo hoo-ing!) 

Here is a picture of the 1999 Women’s World Cup Soccer Team the moment they won the World Cup.

 womens world cup

Yeah. favicon

 /  By  / comments Add your insight!

Recommended Reading: “The War of the Words”

favicon This Vanity Fair article, “The War of the Words,” tells the story not only of the recent Amazon vs. Hachette conflict but also of the publishing business, e-books, the Apple collusion case, Goodreads, Kindles, and much more.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the ascension of e-books (27 percent of book sales in 2013) and what that means for physical books and the imminent “death of print.” This article does a good job, I think, in not casting characters as heroes and villains. After all, traditional New York publishers, backed by media conglomerates, may not the bastions of reading freedom.

It’s a long article, but if you’re interested in the book industry, I think it’s worth it.

“Amazon’s war with publishing giant Hachette over e-book pricing has earned it a black eye in the media, with the likes of Philip Roth, James Patterson, and Stephen Colbert demanding that the online mega-store stand down.”

Source: http://j.mp/1whurTh (via Pocket). You can also find this article at Iserotope Extras, a curated list of my favorite articles about teaching, reading, and technology. favicon