Connected from the Start: A Necessary Read

A good book encourages thought. A great book will change the way you think.

When Lani Ritter Hall, co-author of The Connected Educator, asked me to review Kathy Cassidy’s new e-Book Connected from the Start, I got a little nervous. Who am I to pass judgment on the work of a highly connected educator like Kathy? Even worse, what if I didn’t like it?

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Fortunately, my worries were unfounded. This book is a necessary read for all elementary educators. The only thing she got wrong was which grade levels this book was most appropriate. I can imagine any K-5 teacher could implement the ideas Kathy shares to help their students become more connected online.

Instead of giving you a persuasive essay about why you should buy this book (and you should), I will share two ways Kathy’s work has impacted what I do as an elementary principal and literacy leader.

1. Digital Portfolios

In the beginning of the school year, Dropbox was the tool selected for my teachers to curate student writing. The plan was to share these web-based folders with parents as the year progressed, so everyone could see student growth over time.

One problem was (and still is) that the teachers are doing the work. Although Dropbox is a great tool for online storage of many types of media, we have found it a bit time-consuming for documenting student writing. The teacher has to take a picture, upload it to the student’s file, and organize it chronologically.

After reading Kathy’s book, I realized that a great digital portfolio tool was right in front of me: a blog. She has her students, as young as six years, regularly post online. The students’ content is not only given a broader audience, it solicits comments from other teachers, peers and family members.

This practical application in a primary classroom is powerful. It comes from someone who has been there and done that, and not from an administrator (like myself) or from a technologist that lacks that meaningful and authentic experience.

2. Collaborative Writing

I had been thinking for a while how I might show 4th grade students how to share their writing with an audience beyond our school walls. After reading Kathy’s book, it sparked the idea of using Google apps to make this happen.

We plan to have the students write a narrative based on one of the fourteen scenes from Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Students can use Google Drive to create these stories, and post them on one Google Site. It would be maintained by educators from both schools, even though we are hundreds of miles apart. Teachers would show students how to comment effectively on another student’s writing. The benefits of these practices are a broader audience and a more authentic purpose to their work.

Lani Ritter Hall stated that “there is not another e-book out there like this”. I couldn’t agree more.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 17-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher. After seven years of teaching, he served as a dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt is now an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

9 thoughts on “Connected from the Start: A Necessary Read”

  1. Thanks so much, Matt, for reading my book and for sharing the ways it has resonated with you. I really appreciate it! I like your idea of collaborating on a story in Google Drive. I hope that you will find a way to share these Harris Burdick stories widely. I’d love to read them.

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    1. Thank you, Kathy, for writing this book. I was telling someone that this is exactly what educators need right now: A practical guide for getting connected and why it is important for our students. Kudos also to PLPress for providing a collaborative way for teachers to share what they know to be best practices with peers.

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  2. Thanks for another inspiring post, Matt! I just bought this book and am looking forward to trying some new things with our staff and students. We’re currently using Kidblogs and Little Bird Tales to publish and share student writing. Some classes have also created illustrated podcasts of their realistic fiction pieces, but the images are small. I look forward to discovering some other tools that we can use as well!

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    1. Thanks Heidi. A few of my teachers are also using KidBlog.

      I should note that blogging may not be THE tool for digital portfolios in my school. In my post it might read that this will be the case. I plan to talk with my leadership team about it as we prepare for next year. However, Kathy makes a compelling case for it.

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  3. I look forward to reading this book!
    We use dropbox and are now moving into kidblog, and I teach Kindergarten. I agree, I was overwhelmed with the idea of having to do everything myself, but our grade five buddies have been essential in helping with the technicalities of posting items for my students on their blogs and for transferring items to dropbox. After a few more times, I am sure my kindies will know how to do it themselves!

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    1. Great idea, teaming up with the older kids. Both grade levels are learning at the same time through this process.

      Why did you decide to transition from Dropbox to Kidblog?

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  4. Matt: I’m the director of PL Press and want to thank you, too, for this spot-on review and especially your comment that we are “providing a collaborative way for teachers to share what they know to be best practices with peers.” That’s exactly our goal – to offer a format (~120 pp) and a vehicle (interactive eBook) that can showcase the work of teachers (and some principals, too, we hope!) who are making the shift to inquiry learning and connected classrooms. Kathy was the perfect author to give us our ‘proof of concept.’ It’s a wonderful book.

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    1. I think the concept definitely works. Connected from the Start reads differently than other resources about literacy or technology. Instead of saying, “Here is the research on this best practice”, Kathy states, “Here is what I did, what worked and what didn’t, and the steps I took to make it better.” Because she is doing the work, she is able to answer the reader’s questions every step of the way.

      I look forward to future publications from PLPress.

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