Friday, October 30, 2015

Literacy Friday! #ESL & ELL resources!

Literacy is my passion. And, ESL & ELL students fall right into that category. Check out some of my favorite resources on this Lit Fri!

We’ve all had those learners: reluctant readers. You may even be one of them. Chrome Apps and Extensions include some awesome tools to help both English Language Learners and reluctant readers get started reading. Who doesn’t need an extra boost to get started sometimes?

All of these items are available for FREE in the Chrome Web Store or Add-Ons sections of Google Apps. To add a Chrome App or Extension, go to the Chrome Web Store. Search for the product. Click on “Free” and choose “Add.”

  1. Word Cloud Website Preview
    This handy extension gives generates a Word Cloud from the page you are currently reading. For ELL students and reluctant readers, this provides an overview of the content, a place to gather a general understanding of the article. Try this: ask your students to go to an article and run the Word Cloud Website Preview extension. Ask them to note the words that appear the most and create an anticipation chart. The uses are countless!

  1. Announcify
    I’ll admit it - I used to use another text-to-speech translator. However, this is my favorite by far. It highlights the section it is currently reading and blurs out the rest. One of the struggles my former English students had was focusing on content. This extension takes away that obstacle.

  1. BeeLine Reader
    Like Announcify, this tool will make text clearer. Another obstacle struggling readers have is sorting the “extra stuff” from the actual content. BeeLine Reader strips a Website article of the fluff and leaves just the text. It also color codes the lines for easier reading. And, it also includes a checkbox for Open Dyslexic Font, allowing students with Dyslexia to read in an adjusted font.

  1. TLDR: Too Long Didn’t Read (Currently not working. Try this TL;DR instead)
    Who doesn’t love an extension that immediately summarizes a Website into various lengths? When students click on TLDR, it immediately generates an overview as well as a short and long summary. Students can use this when researching in order to decide if the article is of value. They can also use it when writing by modeling summaries from those TLDR generates.

  1. Awesome Screenshot & Capture (Minus Edition without the Spyware)
    There are many screenshot tools in the Chrome Web Store. Some are better than others, but this one is a favorite among my teachers and students. Students can take a screenshot of the entire page (not just the viewable region), create annotations (label elements in the article) and save to their Google Drive. This is great for students who need to gain understanding of textual elements and voice.

  1. MoveNote
    MoveNote is an awesome Chrome App that enables students to record a video (with audio) of themselves narrating their own presentation. Students in foreign language classes have created Google Slideshows and have used MoveNote to record their accompanying audio and video. This tool is perfect for recording students.

  1. Speech Recognition Add-On for Google Docs
    Okay, so this isn’t a Chrome App or Extension, but it is a Google Docs Add-On. You are probably asking: why hasn’t this tool been around forever? With this add-on, students can talk directly into Google Docs and it will translate it to text. Think about students just learning English who need assistance writing. I think of my students who could verbalize an essay, but who could not write it down. Now, students can speak the essay and edit the text after. Bravo! You can read more about it on the developer’s site.

UPDATE: Under Tools, you will find an option for “Voice Typing.” With this feature turned on, you can now talk to your document and it will transcribe it for you without any additional add-ons!

    Rewordify is a simple site that allows students to copy in a section of text and reword it. The site substitutes certain words for their synonyms and highlights them. Students can click on any word to manually reword it and find the definition. There is a learning section where students can select the words they want to learn. This is a perfect tool for students of all reading and writing abilities.  

  1. Connected Classrooms Workshop
    This Google Plus Community is a spot for educators around the world to connect. In classrooms where there are struggling readers or students just learning a new language, this provides an opportunity to connect with classrooms around the world. Imagine a classroom full of students learning French who are connected via a Hangout to a classroom in France. This platform is great for immersion practices and discovering culture.

  1. Hemmingway Editor
    This is a great writing helper. You can use the editor online or the new desktop version. Either type in text into the editor or copy & paste text into it. Once text has been added into the editor, you can click on the edit button to to get your readability score. You can nowfind sentences that are hard to read, words that could be made simpler, adverbs, and passive tense. It highlights each in a specific color to make easy edits. I actually just pasted this text into the editor and it found some areas that were difficult to read. So, I made the changes. It’s now a grade 5 reading level. Enjoy!

  1. Telescopic Text
    I use this site to help student elaborate when writing. This is often a hard concept to teach. This site allows students to click on a word or phrase and expand it into a more elaborate word or phrase. the Telescopic Write lets students type in their sentence or paragraph and expand their own words and phrases. I use the text version first so students can see how to expand words and phrases. Then, I have students try a sentence or two in the write version to expand their own text.

  1. Read & Write for Google
    Though this extension has premium features, there are many elements of the free version that are useful. You can hear words, passages, or whole documents read aloud with easy-to-follow dual color highlighting. Within Google Docs, students can have words and passages read aloud to them. The other “readers,” do not integrate into Google Docs like this.

  1. Fluency Tutor for Google
    The Teacher Dashboard is a premium feature. However, the student edition is completely free to use.  With Fluency Tutor, students can open reading passages via Google Drive. It also gives support tools to assist students when listening to and practicing reading passages. And, it allows students to record passages and listen to themselves reading aloud. This is a Chrome App, but it’s only usable on tablets.

  1. Snagit App & Extension
    Students can record their screens with annotations and save them as MP4s or GIFs. This is a great way for students to practice speaking in another language. For example: allow them to provide a quick tutorial and make a screencast of it. You will need both the App and the Extension to create the screen recording. The product can be downloaded or saved into your Google Drive.

  1. Learn English- the free way
    In Duolingo, Students can learn up to six different languages for free. There are corresponding vocabulary and grammar lessons. Like other gamified sites, students earn points along the way to unlock “secrets.” This is great for students needing an extra boost in learning English. It is also great for parents and community members who want to learn English and cannot afford other programs. In LiveMocha, can learn up to 35 languages for free. It is similar to Duolingo, but offers the chance to connect with native speakers. Check out Johnny’s list for other online language learning tools. Many are based in social networks so they may not be accessible in schools. Sample out a few & pick the ones that work for you.

There are many more tools available through the Chrome Web Store. Be sure to share out the tools you find that others can help other students. Tools students also love (that are not listed) include: WeVideo and SpeakIt.

  1. Making Text Clearer
In addition to the ones listed here, several other Chrome Apps & Extensions can make reading text simpler and clearer.

Clearly: Being part of Evernote makes this tool even more viable. With one click, all distractions in the text disappear. With the Evernote connection, you can clip articles to your Evernote Journals. This makes it easy for students to read and to to collect notes.

Readability: This extension works nicely with Kindles. Choose to read now and disable all non-text features, read later and save it to your Readability list, or send to Kindle and read it on your Kindle. If you tag your texts, you can also build up an extensive, searchable reading list.

Text-mode: With the click of an extension button, you can declutter pages by stripping them of audio, visual, color, and ads. As a result, it is easier to scan text and to load pages. Try this when reading for content without the use of visual aids.

  1. Notetaker
    This handy tool by ReadWriteThink helps students compose outlines. Students can choose from bullet, letter, and Roman Numeral outline formats. They add the main ideas and the sub points and it guides them through the process. They can also add in notes.

This is perfect for students new or learning formal writing. The easy-to-use outline creator takes some of the pressure off of developing an outline. A great tool not only for younger to middle students, but for those learning the language.

  1. Newsela
    This product is a Chrome App that has both free and paid versions. For many, they opt to do the paid version, but you can do the trial version first or you can opt for the free version. This Chrome App contains news articles for reading levels grades 3-12. The best part?! You can choose to assign a particular reading level to students. They will not know the level. As they read and take reading comprehension quizzes afterward, it will move them to the most appropriate reading level, gradually moving students up the lexile scale.

This is a great way to read age-appropriate material at appropriate reading levels.

  1. Mind Mapping
    Mind mapping is a great way to show mastery over material, plan writing, and organize thoughts during reading. It can be a critical step in helping ESL and ELLs show mastery in English.
MindMeister is a personal favorite for grades before ninth grade. It allows for multiple editors so you, as the teacher, can start the mind maps or students can create them with other editors. Students can even insert multi media. Think audio and images!

LucidChart is a personal favorite for upper middle school and high school. It has more advanced formatting features and a slightly more polished look. Otherwise, it has most of the same features as MindMeister.

  1. Notegraphy
    Notegraphy is an app and a Website that allows users to write beautiful published notes. Imagine students using this for daily journaling. Or, imagine having them write notes in the form of a character and stylize them according to that character. The design aspect is also a great motivator.

It also will post/share on social media if you desire as well.

  1. More info soon to come
    check back here

for more!

You can always find more extensions and apps available in the Chrome Web Store in Let’s Get Chromified. Check out for a complete list of literacy resources.

Christy Fennewald is a former high school English and creative writing teacher, a former technology coordinator for a K-12 school district and GAFE administrator, and a current technology integration coordinator. She is a Google Certified Trainer and Google Certified Innovator, Edmodo Certified Trainer, flipped certified teacher, an avid blogger, and an instructional technology geek--always on the lookout for new tools to improve education, enhance digital literacy and digital citizenship curricula, and change the educational framework. She is also co-founder of the RRISD Ninja Academy, co-organizer of EdTech Women-Austin, and the leader of Google Educator Group Central Texas (GEG CENTX). She is a learner, a maker, an outdoors enthusiast.

#YourEduStory - Scary Friday: #discipline in school

Since there was no designated topic this week for the #YourEduStory blogging series, I decided to dedicate this week's topic to discipline in school in light of this week's national news.

The news story: This week a school resource office was fired after videos emerged of him "throwing" a student out of her desk. There are a lot of other details and points of view in this story, but I will refrain from getting political. In the political nature of this story, the one thing I have not seen is a focus on school discipline procedures. School climate. The reasons why a situation could get to this point. That is what I want to focus on.

My first five years of teaching were spent in a rural school in Missouri. Though not of the urban landscape, I found a lot of similarities in the discipline issues. I can recall numerous times where I asked a student to do something and there was not only disobedience, but plain refusal to do so. I had to choice to continue to press the issue or to let off of the issue and "give victory to the student" in the eyes of the class.

Why "victory"? You see - at that point, there was a culture shift in the class; in the school. It was teachers against the students. There was not a system in place that teachers felt comfortable with nor was there one that empowered students in a good way. Rather, it was a cultural issue. It was the school climate at fault.

In the most recent situation, it seems more of a tragedy. In my years in the classroom, I can count numerous occasions where I had outright refusal from students - even over simple things like changing seats (just as the issue on national news seems simple). However, that situation can quickly escalate when there is a school climate issue. On one occasion, I had a student disrupt class and drop several curse words. When I asked the student to move seats so I could talk to them, they refused. I asked the student to move outside so I could talk to them. They refused. I wrote the student up and asked them to take it to the office. They refused. So, I called our counselor down the hall. Luckily, the situation ended there.

But, what I remember is the look on the other students' faces in the classroom. There was plenty who were rooting for the disruption. And, these were kids I had no problem with - they were good kids. There were some who were fearful and there were some who wanted to help. And, in the end, what I got was several students trying to step in and tell the student to calm down and others egging on the situation.

I was not in the classroom on the news, but I imagine the situation went something like this. So, what do we do when we are facing outright disobedience? In my case, it seemed silly to kick a student out of class because they did not want to move seats. That's what it looks like on paper, but in the class, it was so much more. It was the climate of the room. It was hostile and not a safe environment for students or for me. That is what goes unsaid.

So, the question is - what can or should we do to help the climate of schools like this? We need better preparation for teachers and for students. I read books on classroom management and I did student teaching and internships, but it wasn't until I created my own management system and I was in the room ALONE did I discover real management.

Perhaps we should put in place the phoning a friend practice? Part of the reason we survive student teaching is because we have another adult in the room. There are a lot of perhapses. There are a lot of things we can try.

Before we look at the end result (the national news), we need to look at the journey and the beginning. We need to start the discussion around discipline and management. Do we build schools around relationships or do we build them around access to best? Can we do both?

I argue that we focus on the relationships. When we do this, the other elements will fall in place. The more we focus on relationships, the more we can impact school climate and culture.

Let's start the discussion on school climate. Let's look at the journey - not the destination.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Let's Get #Chromified! New updates!

Who doesn't love some Chrome fun? For October, I added two new Chrome apps and extensions that are both fun and utilitarian.

You can view an extensive list on my Let's Get Chromified presentation on You can also check out the Awesome Table directory for searchable Chrome apps and extensions. Read my previous post on how to create Awesome Tables in Google Sites if you like what you see!


  • Books that Grow - Leveled book collection with over 100 titles and growing
  • Millennials - Pure fun - it replaces the word "millennial" with "pesky-whipper-snapper" 

Friday, October 23, 2015

#Youredustory: the needs-based approach

Teaching upper dog vs. lower dog

This week, I have no topic for #YourEduStory, so I've decided to blog about a phenomenon I like to call the "I must teach the downtrodden" philosophy.

I started my teaching career in rural Missouri where the majority of my students had no desire to go to a four-year university. Many lived in extreme poverty and classroom life was rough, to say it mildly. Though it is not the urban environment shared in moves like "Dangerous Minds," the students are just as needy. And, that is the phenomenon I've noticed - the "needy" student attraction.

Recently, a fellow educator said that she will always be teaching her "poor" students in way that implied that teaching "wealthy" students was somehow less worthy. And, while many will jump to say that is not the case, it isn't always the reality. In the teaching profession, we glamorize those of who who teach in "rough" environments. We put these on a pedestal.

Now, you can easily argue that, at the same time, others want to teach "wealthy" because those students can achieve more.

These are equally offensive, but the former is my current observation.

Recently, I left public school after ten years. I felt like a traitor. Why? I felt like I was selling out to the wealthy gods. And, I was not alone in that thought. In fact, I contemplated for a while whether to take the jump. Eventually, I did.

Then, I realized that whether students are "poor" or "rich" is not what makes one teacher better than the other. We are not innately better than others because we teach low income or high income. That is the phenomenon I see - this glamorization of teaching low-income schools. Yes, we need teachers in those places. We need them everywhere. However, we need teachers in the places where they feel most passionate - whether that is rural, urban, private, etc. We need to not place prestige on one location of teaching over another.

The students I work with now have the means and the resources to change the world - but so do my former students. Their means and resources are just different. Their physical obstacles are different, but their inherent teenage issues are not that unique.

I work with students that have the knowledge, money, and skills to make global changes. But, they lack the self-confidence, maturity, and ethics to do so. As a teacher, my lessons are different but my need is just as great. I worked with a student last year in public school who had the leadership skills to change the world. In fact, I wait for her to make significant changes in the area of women's rights. Her teachers helped her fine-tune those skills to make those changes.

In my first years of teaching at a rural school, my students did not have school knowledge, money, or classroom skills to understand the changes they could make. That's the difference. This population needs to be taught to understand they can make changes while the other population needs to know how.

As I wrap up my first few months, I still feel somewhat foreign. Most of my students come from two-parent families. Their parents are involved, but not overly involved. They are involved in the arts and in athletics. They are polite and respectful. They are wonderful. They are...teenagers. They lack self-confidence. They do not know how to advocate for themselves. They don't know how to contribute in a meaningful way. These are their challenges. I remind myself each day that they are more than a stereotype. They need just as great of teachers as other students.

This phenomenon only hinders students. If we viewed all elements of teaching with prestige and honor and all students as needy, what would our system look like? We are full of stereotypes of what is meaningful and what is not. Let's remove those stereotypes and look at education by the needs of our students - not what they are on paper. I like to call it the needs-based approach.

What phenomenons do you see that you would like to change?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Digital Citizenship Week - a reflection #digcit #havethetalk

This year, I started a new position at a new school. Since the position never existed before, I was excited to try out some programs I deemed very important - one of those being digital citizenship. So, I started a focus group of interested teachers.

After one meeting, we had a plan. Amazing! Being an Episcopal School, we decided to host chapel for a day to introduce the concept of self-respect in the context of being online. And, we let the students lead it. We said ZERO words. And, the chapel was awesome.

We followed that up by sending out an email to all parents about digital citizenship week (this week) and steps they can take to ensure their child's well-being.

Yesterday, we featured a 15 minute activity for all advisors to complete with their advisees. For 6-8 students, we had a different activity than for 9-12 students. Though we wanted to do more days, we could not since this week is full of shortened schedules, parents observations and more.

Now, we will meet again to bring in students to the focus group. We have a unique schedule in that we have an 8 day rotation. So, each day is assigned its own unique letter. On D-days (happen every 8 days), we will ask advisors to choose an activity from our digital citizenship Website to complete with their advisees.

We also have several speakers lined up. Our goal is to avoid talking about the negatives and, instead, talk about building a positive reputation. We want to talk about topics that target what it means to be human - kindness, empathy...basic citizenship topics.

Stay tuned for future updates as we progress through the year.

You can check out our Website with all of resources. All lessons are available to the public. However, please consult me, Christy Fennewald, before using any of the Website design or images. Below is a presentation with several activities that you may use as well. All resources are also available on

What are you doing to help students, teacher, and yourself become effective citizens?

Monday, October 19, 2015

#BeYouEdu - Finding Your Purpose

If you haven't joined in +Dr. Will Deyamport, III 's #beyouedu movement, you should. It's a great chance to reflect each month in a meaningful way. October's topic is finding your purpose.

This is one that I find a lot of students and peers struggle with. I look back at my own educational experiences and remember how uncertain I was. I was told to make decisions on my career path early on when I wasn't even for sure what my purpose was. As a result, it seemed methodical and less passionate. I am not alone in this.

One of my biggest complaints to students was a lack of passion or devotion to the work. It seemed they were just going through the motions. And, after reading comments about my own students from other teachers (all students who are polite, make the grade, are are generally likable), I know I am one of many teachers with the same comments.

But, how can we ask students to show that passion when they have not had a chance to really explore their interests. As adults, we are in the same place. We need to take a deep breath and reflect (a bonus of this blogging series).

Finding your purpose is very similar to finding your swagger and finding your happiness. When you find what makes you swagger and what makes you happy, you also find your purpose. Your purpose is to do what you are passionate about. The world needs more passionate people. Hence, our purpose is to be passionate. Our purpose is to live.

That sounds simple enough, right? It's not, though. We get caught up in doing what we think we need to be doing. Or, we are afraid to take the risk and follow what makes us passionate. We may have a family to support and the risk seems to great. And, all of those are great reasons why we may not pursue that ultimate passion. That does not mean, however, that we cannot find passion in what we do or that we cannot make room for being passionate in what we do.

For example, I find passion in creating. When I create, I feel alive. And, since our purpose is to be fully alive and present, I know my purpose is to create and inspire. But, I'm also a very type A person. I can get very stressed and, being stressed, does not lend itself well to creating. So, I have started to reclaim my time. Meaning - I save at least one hour to myself on Sunday evenings to do whatever art or creation makes me happy. I also discovered makerspaces so that, even while at work, I am creating and inspiring others to create. Just making those two small changes have given me greater purpose this year than ever before. I feel I am fulfilling a greater purpose than simply going to work each day (even though that is pretty important).

So, the key is finding what makes you smile. What makes you feel the most alive. What do you wish you were doing at this moment? If that activity is skiing, perhaps, you can generalize it and say you enjoy the mountains, alone time, cold air, outdoors. Make time in everything you do for those. If you live in flat area, find others with your interests. When you connect with others with your interest, you are making a new purpose.

You are important. You are enough. Your purpose already exists. It's just a matter of finding what makes you tick each day.

So, what's your purpose?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

#YourEduStory: Connectivity

Sadly, there was no topic for this week's #YourEduStory, so, in honor of connected educator's month, I am doing one on what it means to be connected.

I have addressed this topic before, but want to elaborate. I am a social media user. I am connected virtually and physically with educators around the globe. However, does that connectivity make me better? If you check out the Connected Educators' Website, you will find a list of general themes - the themes that represent being a connected educator. But, I see multiple posts on getting educators onto Twitter and other social media. While there is nothing wrong with getting others on social media, there should be reason why - other than just wanting them on social media for social media's sake.

What is going to make an educator better by simply being on social media. This is where we lose some educators. We can't provide them with a why. We say, well, because you need to be connected and social media will get you connected. But...why do we need to be connected. You and I may enjoy that, but what about being connected makes us better? What does connected even mean? Does connected, as some posts are implying, only mean being on social media? What about being connected to others in your district? On your campus? In your classroom?

Yes, technology can increase engagement, but what about being connected to technology makes us better? We need to provide some whys. I look to teachers who I desperately try to use "technology" but then, I look at their students and see success. Would they have that same success or greater if they were connected via social media? Perhaps yes and perhaps no.

As educators, our job is to capture and nurture students' hearts. Until we do this, no amount of being connected is going to provide the education we are after. We also have to define what it means to be connected. Being connected to an educator in China is, in itself, no better than being connected to the educator down the hall. By diversity standards, the one down the hall may be far more diverse.

We need to go back to the principals of what it means to be connected before we say "every teacher should be on Twitter." That, in itself, does not improve education. Rather, it lessens the teachers who are connected, but in less technological ways.

The key is being open to learning. Educators open to learning - whether they are connected the way we think they should be or not - will make the difference.

Being connected, for me, is not about my virtual world solely, but about my physical world as well. Though I am proud of my network, it does not replace the physical network I have. Both are needed. With everything comes moderation.

I have a great quote in my office from the Center for Accelerated Learning that says "learning is creation, not consumption." If being connected technologically means consuming mass amounts of social media, it is not learning. Not only do we need to get students creating, we need to get educators creating. We need educators to create - whether that is on social media or if it is with their physical community.

So, in this month focused on connecting educators (I prefer this phrase over connected which sounds exclusionary), I focus on fostering creativity and connect-ING educators.

What is your focus?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Using Google Classroom 1 year later

Last year, a fellow Round Rock ISD teacher, +Jennifer Rubin and I prepared a presentation on using Google Classroom (reflections after a year) at ISTE. Since then, I have added additional observations to the presentation. Though not a how-to-use Google Classroom presentation, it is full of ideas and uses you may or may not have thought of.

Updates include:

  • Google Calendar integration
  • Google Forms integration
  • Split Screen - Alice Keeler
  • Make a copy of a question - Michael Fricano II
  • Awesome Tables integration

Check out more Googleness on

Monday, October 12, 2015

Give your library a makeover with #makerspaces

A little over a year ago, my interests started to divert to makerspaces. Last year, I started to dabble in them and, this year, I am trying to go full-force ahead.

To help me learn some of the tools, I have allowed members of my Spartan Tech club to become specialists in various tools. For instance, one group of students has taken charge over the Raspberry Pi2 while another has confiscated the LilyPad Arduino. By doing this, I am able to observe the students and how they interact with the tools, provide them with creative space, and use man-power to learn new tools. The latter is for my own selfish needs, but it has proven useful. 

Since starting on my makerspace journey, I've made a few important discoveries:

  • Arduino software and our group policies do not get along - important to test first
  • MakeyMakeys are the bomb-digity 
  • Raspberry Pis have a slight learning curve
  • All starter makerspaces should include: MakeyMakeys, Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, freedom, felt, tape, scissors, cardboard, LEDs, batteries, 3D printer, and conductive thread. You can do so many projects with just those tools
I have also found some resources that spark my creative energy:
  • Follow Instructables on Google + - so many awesome ideas
  • Follow Make on Google +
  • Follow Raspberry Pi on Google +
  • Follow Arduino on Google +
  • Follow MakeyMakey on Google +
  • Follow Maker Faire on Google +
  • Follow Make Forum on Google +
There are others, but these provide me daily inspiration. 

Check out my presentation of resources on libraries and makerspaces and read more at

Happy making!