Monday, December 23, 2013

You want me to do what in 45 minutes? (Reading Activities)

I have often been told by observers that I get "a lot accomplished" in a 45-minute class period.  I move quickly, but I tend to establish routines to save time.  Maintaining a fast-paced learning environment keeps students on task, engaged, and makes learning seem a little more fun when they are not watching the clock for the bell.  Within a 1:1 learning environment, keeping a brisk learning pace is even easier.

I organize my learning activities and targets on a daily agenda that is labeled by class day, date, and unit.  Students have access to all agendas from the semester through the current week of class.  Each day when they walk into class and log into Chrome, they can access each agenda (just an example) and begin to prepare for class. Establishing clear routines for logging in saves time.  Students are able to preview learning activities and outcomes, and they are always aware of where we are in the learning process of each unit in our class.  Sometimes, students even log into the agendas before class and come in with the knowledge of what we will be doing that day because they have access to it.  That's always an awesome feeling.

With clear routines, students can accomplish a great deal.  While I do change activities frequently and apply them for a variety of purposes, I have found a few reading strategies with the use of Google Docs can produce great outcomes in a single, 45-minute period.  With clear objectives and familiar practices, students can accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time.

1. Variation on Reading Strategies Handouts:

When asking students to apply reading strategies to a short story, nonfiction article, or part of a larger text, I have traditionally given students a handout to work on independently before we talk about the text.  With Google Drive, that handout (Here's a basic example. So much can be added/changed as needed!) becomes a living document that can be edited by many people.  Now students can authentically work together to share information about a text.  In addition, this information can easily be collected by me via Google Form or directly sharing it with me.  I can enter their documents while they are working and can even project it on the big screen for the class to see.  Students can have chats within the document or they can sit with groups and have conversations while they type together.

Here are a few recommendations to make it easier:

  • Have each collaborator write in a different color. This makes it easy to identify who has contributed what. 
  • Collect via Google Forms.  This is an organized way to keep all of the same pieces of work in one location.  I like to think of a Google Form like a digital stack of papers.  Make sure that students change their share settings so that ANYONE WITH THE LINK CAN EDIT. 
  • Make sure students know the purpose of the activity.  A Google Doc is not a worksheet; it is a "living" document that can be changed, altered, and share with anyone.  
  • Find ways for students to bring in outside resources like news articles or YouTube clips to help make real-world connections.  This will encourage students to research, talk about what makes a reliable source, read more, and even reflect outside of class.
  • Experiment and play with this type of activity.  Find what works best for the nature of the reading, the class, and the teacher.   Google Docs can provide so many new learning experiences that traditional paper could not.  It is important to capitalize on those opportunities!

2. Reading Jigsaw/Graded Discussion:

When reading about a nonfiction topic, such as a female gender issues in my Senior-Level Media class, a digital jigsaw can challenge students to analyze a current, nonfiction reading while being exposed to several other articles related to a central article.

First students are assigned to small groups.  Then, they are given a hard copy or a digital copy of a short article.  I personally prefer to hand students hard copies of the individual article that they are assigned so that they can annotate it thoroughly, but they can also annotate the article online.  Diigo is a great app that students can use to annotate articles online.  Students can also annotate PDFs in Google Drawing, too, but Diigo is easier.  After completing individual readings of articles, students fill out a shared document that will save important information about other articles.  Individual readings will take about 20-25 minutes, leaving about 15 minutes to have a meaningful (graded or not) discussion about the topic at hand.  This exposes students to several articles, which they will have access to in the future, that can be used for research assignments or as references in the future.

During this particular lesson, I also had students complete a survey using Google Forms to preview their feelings about female stereotypes related to the articles that they read, provided time to complete the readings individually and write responses, and saved time for class discussion.  At the end of the period, students even had time to evaluate whether or not they accomplished the daily learning targets and provide feedback for the lesson.  Again, this is a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time, but it is possible when teaching students routines and using Google Apps purposefully.

Variations on this lesson are also very effective.  What I have used it for is to provide students with several gender issues for a major research paper.  This way, they are exposed to credible sources, have read and talked about several articles, and have these resources saved in their group's jigsaw document (that they also shared with me).

3. Reading Strategy Presentations:

This semester, I have played a lot with reading strategies activities especially during the fiction novel unit with my sophomores.  This year I taught Divergent, and the teaching experience was amazing.  Most students read this novel in three days, and many went on to read the second and third book finishing before the unit (which was 3.5 weeks) was completed.  In order to challenge them, I wanted them to apply reading strategies and then be accountable for their work, which would be shared in front of the whole class before the end of the period.

For this lesson, I chose small groups and assigned a short section of the night's reading.  Then I pushed out a Reading Strategies Presentation Template.  They had approximately 27 minutes to complete the document.  After looking at the agenda for this lesson, students went to file, made a copy of the presentation, and renamed it accordingly.  They then changed the share settings to ANYONE WITH THE LINK CAN EDIT.

Note: I almost always have them use this share setting.  This way it is easy for me to collect the link and make comments on their document as needed.  I can also go into revision history and see who contributed what. The routine of file, make a copy, and share with the group is one that I did coach them through a lot in the first few weeks of class, but now they do not even need to think about it.  They are expert collaborators!  A side note for teachers new to Google Drive - having students share their documents with the teacher is always important.  Even though I might not look at a small activity, having the ability to open up their doc on my computer while their working keeps them accountable, on-task, and gives me the option to assess students informally or formally as needed.

Even before they were done, I went around to each group and made sure they shared their presentations with me.  Using Google Form, I collected their group information, who covered what part of the reading, and was able to sort that information in a spreadsheet that I used later in the period.  Throughout the period, I circulated, helping students to coordinate and divide tasks as well as talk about the novel.  After the work time period was up, students went back to their seats and came up group by group to present their work.  Presentations were brief, with only 15 minutes to get through each group, but students had the experience of demonstrating their own knowledge of the text, applying reading strategies, collaborating with a group, and even presenting their material to the class.  Yes, it was a whirlwind of 45 minutes, and it really would have been nicer to have another five minutes to present, but the learning targets were met.  Students were active, engaged, and were using technology purposefully to accomplish the objective.

Student Examples:

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