Monday, October 20, 2014

Digital Citizenship: Empowering Students to Make Positive Choices

This week is Digital Citizenship Week! As I sit and reflect upon my own use of online tools and resources, I cannot help but think about my students, who are young and still finding their voices academically and socially. Recently, #engsschat addressed the issue of Digital Citizenship in the English or Social Science classroom. This topic is incredibly important, not only for students within these disciplines, but it is critical for students in all classrooms. Students, teachers, and parents need to understand that our digital footprints are permanent. The choices our young students make could impact them for the rest of their lives.

How do we help our students to make smart and savvy choices?

1. Model positive behavior:

Whether it be through Twitter, blogging, or simply just using credible source material from online websites and news affiliates, we need to model digital citizenship. Sharing how and why we use social media with our students through conversations can also model good behavior online. Being willing to share what we do can show students we are not simply preaching about digital citizenship; we are living it. With each passing moment, it seems like being plugged into social networking and contributing to online websites becomes a requirement for personal and professional interactions, not just a choice that some choose to make.

2. Actively and routinely have open conversations about their online choices:

In addition to practicing what we preach, we need to create a safe and open dialogue with students about online choices. We need to encourage students to be aware of how easy it is to find their social media accounts, what they post, and what others post about them. As such, students should be encouraged to discuss how they use these very powerful and permanent resources, the trends they have noticed, and ways they can become positive contributors.

I always share the fact that the first statement the principal of the school I work at said to me during my interview was, "I Googled you." Had I made poor choices in college and had the documentation on Facebook or any other website to back it up, I would not have gotten the job. This is a very real life situation that is not a novelty that wise employers thought to do even just a few years back. This action is standard now, and students need to be prepared to account for what their Google results say about them.

3. Provide students and parents with resources: 

I am always amazed after having conversations with my seniors about digital citizenship. Even though they have grown up with the internet, they often do not fully grasp the repercussions of what they post. They do not realize how making what they perceive to be a funny comment or an impassioned response to something that is frustrating them can brand them in a negative light. Word choice and tone can imply a great deal about a person. Frequent grammar errors and even selfies can unfortunately depict a person in a negative light. As such, students and their parents need to be aware of what to post, how to protect their privacy, and how to make better choices online.  When I've taught digital citizenship to freshmen, here are a few resources that I have used to find lesson ideas and videos to share:

4. Use technology and online resources for good:

The internet can be used for so much more than playing games, checking Facebook, or watching viral videos on YouTube. The internet (and social media) can be a powerful tool to use when researching, collaborating, and communicating with others. My high school students love Twitter, but few realize its potential. When I share with them how much I personally love Twitter and the opportunities it has provided me to learn and connect with peers across the country, they are in shock. "Twitter can really allow you to do all that?". YES! It is such a useful networking and learning tool, if it is used for that purpose. Showing students how to use online resources in ways they might not have thought to before is empowering and informative. Google Apps for Education, internet databases, and even social media are incredible learning tools that when used for this purpose can be

"With great power, comes great responsibility"

It is important for us to embrace the possibilities that online learning and communication has. While we must be conscientious of our choices, being able to blog, research, and connect with others online have provided us with incredible learning opportunities. The classroom is no longer contained within four cinder-block walls.  Our students have incredible freedoms when it comes to where, when, and even what to learn. This is why it is so important for us to teach them digital citizenship. Making positive contributions to the online world is a way of establishing an online brand that could one day lead our students to future jobs and opportunities. Being savvy in the social media world may provide someone with a scholarship, internship, or even a career. Being aware of and in control of one's digital presence allows students to understand their roles in this online world and encourages them to think before they post. We need to empower our students and prepare them for the realities they will face after they complete their K-12 education. Their choices online do stay with them and can be used to define them. I want my students to be portrayed in the most positive light possible, and teaching them to be good digital citizens is one way to help them shine.

"The internet is not written in pencil; it's written in ink"
-The Social Network"

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Google Forms in the Classroom: Oh the Possibilities!

Another school year is about to start! Summer is such an important part of processing the learning and growth made during a busy school year. One of the greatest learning challenge that I faced last year was working in a 1:1 Chromebook classroom. Having devices in the hands of students on a daily basis certainly made me rethink my teaching and carefully consider how/why I designed lessons in the manner that I did. As the availability of technology continues to increase exponentially, recognizing which tools are most effective and versatile can help save teachers time, organize/manage work flow, and benefit both teachers and students is critical.  

My favorite GAFE tool certainly has to be Google Forms because of the countless ways that it can be utilized. From informal polls and formative assessment to summative evaluations, the possibilities are certainly endless. With creativity and experimentation, teachers can use Google Forms to create meaningful lessons, provide students with feedback, and also collect meaningful data to improve instruction.  

In order to help colleagues who may be newer to using GAFE tools, I created a presentation including hints I learned from using it last year as well as a few of my favorite ways to build Forms into my daily classroom practices. 

My favorite ways to use Forms includes: 
  1. Surveying students (creating anticipation guides, gathering general information/reactions, and asking students to share their opinions)
  2. Gathering formative data (quizzing students, assessing students progress with learning targets, exit slips)
  3. Collecting assignments (papers, daily work, projects, etc.)
  4. Self-reflecting (asking students to provide feedback about their own learning/work after "handing back" a paper or major assignment grade, quarter reflections, goal setting)
  5. Creating rubrics
What is amazing about Google Forms is that these are only a few ways that teachers can use this tool. As I did a little research about how teachers are using Forms (thanks for all the help from my Twitter PLN), I found that the possibilities truly are endless! I am excited to begin this year and to continue to learn more about this tool and countless others that can support student learning in my classroom, make managing work flow easier, and benefit colleagues!

It is going to be an amazing year! I am excited for what is to come, personally, professionally, and with technology. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

June is over. Now What? Last Minute PD Goals for July

Fireworks and 4th of July celebrations have passed.  Finally, I feel like summer has started, but at the same time it is quickly slipping away.  June is always a hectic month, and unfortunately, flies by all too fast.  Now that my head is cleared of last year's busyness and the idea of next school year is beginning to loom over my head,  I feel like I'm ready to fully embrace and explore professional development experiences that will lead to another year of growth and learning. While I want to maximize my time with family, friends, and enjoying the outdoors, I still have a few items on my professional development check list that I want to complete as well.  The "Back-To-School" sales and signs might already be posted, which send many of us into panic mode, but it is important to note we still have JULY!  There is still time to fit in more fun and isn't learning fun?  

1. Attend a Conference

I was fortunate enough to assist a friend, Shawn, in an educational technology conference, teaching Creativity with iPads.  While I was not an official attendee, I was incredibly inspired by his passion, knowledge, and enthusiasm for reaching students.  I was able to take away new knowledge about apps and gained a few new relationships with other dynamic educators who are incorporating amazing strategies into their classrooms using technology as a tool to share student work and collaborate in the classroom and beyond. Connecting with people at conferences, hearing their stories, and realizing what else is possible through the use of creativity and connectivity is empowering!  The company that runs these conferences, EdTechTeacher is incredible and so willing to share resources with teachers.  If you ever have a chance to attend a tech conference, this is the company to consider. 

There are still countless conferences to attend, and even if you cannot attend, following Twitter hashtags can make obtaining resources possible.  If I weren't teaching summer school, I would definitely be attending:
2. Listen to a Podcast

Okay, like many other teachers out there, I am a self-proclaimed nerd, but sometimes I try and conceal my nerddom and have found a great way to do it at the gym.  PODCASTS!  While attempting to build up a sweat on the elliptical this summer, I am definitely listening to podcasts created by Jeff Bradbury and his team at  From discussions on technology and leadership in the school, these discussions range in length and focus on any interest a teacher may have.  The podcasts are informative, entertaining, and created by people who are devoted to improving the quality of education.  

3. Take a Graduate Course or Webinar

Technology has provided us with new ways of learning in which we do not even have to leave our homes.  Online classes from reputable institutions are making learning more convenient and accessible for teachers with children and families, who coach, or who are simply off pursuing other adventures in the summer.  Let's face it, we are all busy all the time, but online courses can make learning available on our terms.  This summer, I have been taking a few graduate courses to finish up a masters and endorsement, so my PD schedule has certainly been full, but there are other ways of gaining knowledge in a particular area, and it is free.  Webinars are becoming increasingly popular and a wide-variety of organizations are beginning to offer them to teachers.  The, and EdTechTeacher are just a few places to look for short and targeted professional development experiences.  When all the final papers are in for these last few classes I am taking, I cannot wait to dive into the world of Webinars!

4. Join a Twitter Chat

While some chats have taken a break for the summer, many educational Twitter chats are still abuzz with educators seeking to connect, collaborate, and learn from one another.  I am a devoted fan of #engchat and co-moderate #engsschat during the school year.  #engsschat tweets on the last Monday of every month from 6-7pm CST.  While I love this community, this summer, I have been trying to participate in a few different chats to expand my PLN especially while I have the time.  I have found myself drawn into #elachat (the first and last Tuesdays of every month at 7pm CST) and #iledchat (Mondays at 9pm CST).  The network of enthusiastic, intelligent, and inspiring teachers on Twitter is encouraging, and there are chats for every discipline/level.  The resources that people share are so incredibly valuable and have reminded me to look beyond just the scope of my classroom and community.  Education is about preparing students for a future that does not exist, and I am reminded of that every time I interact with teachers on Twitter.  #MyPLNRocks

5. Read an Education Related Book

Wow, the number of education books that I want to read is LONG!  Because of graduate courses and wanting to read a list of YA books to talk about with students in the fall, I have narrowed down my book selection to Teaching Argument Writing by George Hillocks, Jr., Falling in Love with Close Reading  by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts, and Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching by Meenoo Rami.  All three focus on different topics and are meant to influence different facets of teaching.  I am excited to dig into these texts and take away new ideas and a fresh perspective for the fall. Again, with so many great books being written by leaders in our field, there are many options for all of us to read this summer.  In addition to education related texts, this summer I am reading my way through the Abe Lincoln Award books.  My students love the books that come from this list, and I love being able to talk texts with them.  When we can have conversations with students about texts, we instill and reinforce love of reading! 

During the school year, we often lack the time to read books that do not relate to education or our content areas.  We often forgo reading for pleasure in order to read and provide important feedback to our students' written assignments and projects.  While this is valuable time spent, it often leaves us drained and wanting to devour a long list of books that we continue to put off until the summer months are here.  Well, the summer months are here!  

While the list of professional development experiences that I still want to pursue this summer is long, it is important to take this time to relax, catch up with loved ones, and take a step away from school, too! Recharging the batteries is equally important as learning and growing as an educator. In fact, the act of relaxing allows us to continue to passionately and enthusiastically tackle the challenges that the 2015-2016 school year will inevitably bring. Alright, July... I'm ready.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Quiet Classroom? Get Students Active and Engaged

A typical day in my classroom is rarely quiet, with the exception of writing and reading days (which certainly have their place!). When planning lessons, I strive to keep students active by planning learning activities that promote cooperative learning, collaboration, and conversations. If students are active and engaged, they are interacting with the context and utilizing key literacy skills. In my summer school reading class, I have noticed that students are quiet. They are attentive, want to learn, but they are quiet. We have only been together for a week, and students will attend four different high schools. While independent work, journal writing, reading, and self-reflection are critical, if students work in isolation all the time, they will miss out on opportunities to speak, write about and listen to ideas that differ from theirs, and even read texts that they might hear about from friends.

This weekend, I made it a point to carefully consider what I could do to get them active and ultimately, excited about reading. When students are excited about coming to class and reading, they are more likely to retain the strategies that we are learning and more importantly, develop a love of learning.

1. Super-Six Strategies Poster

Today, I wanted students to review the strategies that we explicitly learned last week, but instead of applying them independently, I wanted students to get out of their seats and talk about the strategies with their peers. During the first period of each day, I have been asking students to journal about a high-interest question from a great list provided by the New York Times Learning Network entitled "184 Questions to Write About" and follow up their entries with nonfiction reading based on the selected topic. Instead of simply having them write about the text and focus on applying one strategy in their seats, I had them use butcher-block paper to apply all six strategies in a visual chart. Asking students to collaborate, create a visual that we can reference multiple times, and become a little more kinesthetic opened up the classroom and forced kids to share what they thought of the topic. The classroom was abuzz with conversation and now we have created visual references that we can continue to talk about for days.

2. Think-Pair-Share (with someone new!)

Think-Pair-Share is a strategy often used in a classroom. It allows students to reflect on a topic independently, collaborate with one person, and then share out what they have learned with the class. When given the choice of who to engage with during this activity, however, students will always choose someone they are comfortable with and more often than not, they always choose the same person.

This week I have created a few parameters for Think-Pair-Share that challenges students to get outside of their comfort zone. For example, students have been told to Think-Pair-Share with someone who is not going to the same high school, same height, similar shoes, and who has a different color hair as he or she is. Asking students to mix-it-up and interact with others allows them to gain perspective, fosters classroom relationships, and allows them to learn about each other. In addition to sharing an answer to a prompt, students have to share a favorite childhood story, talk about their favorite movies, show a unique talent, or simply talk about what they are most excited for about the upcoming school year. Encouraging these conversations in addition to completing tasks has created more conversation in class and also encouraged new relationships among students. Getting creative with grouping can lead to great interactions among classmates.

3. Anticipation Guides

I love asking students questions that are tough to answer. Creating a sense of dissonance in their minds about a topic we are reading about can make students excited about learning more about a particular topic. It can also force them to think! By asking one, five, or more questions that students must agree or disagree with, they can begin to use critical thinking skills and apply evidence to prove a conclusion. After spending a little time grappling with a particular question alone, I have students get out of their seats, move to different sides of the room, and then take turns in the hot seat. In the hot seat, they are allowed to share their opinions and may be probed with more questions from their peers or me. Creating a class debate and challenge us all to think deeply about a topic, of which we will then read and learn more about. Again, this is certainly a strategy used by many in a variety of ways, but it works at getting students out of their seats and excited about course content!

4. Soul Reading

This one is new to me this year. I have used the popcorn reading strategy before, but this takes choral reading to a new level. While I hesitate to use choral reading in a class where students are apprehensive about reading, this makes it fun and provides students with a little more flexibility. Soul Reading involves one person beginning the reading while other students listen. Then, as another student feels moved to do so, another person jumps in. At first, students did not want to participate, but as some of their peers struggled with words or a funny name appeared in the text, they began to jump right in. They proved that they were following along and that they could find humor in reading aloud. Students were also able to practice an important fluency skill, as they felt comfortable. They were not put on the spot and told to read by a peer; instead, it became an opportunity for them to participate in a reading experience with their peers.
5. Why I Read Walk

When working with reluctant readers, it is crucial to get them talking about the different purposes of reading and encourage them to realize that they read much more than they think. And they love it! Reading text messages, social media posts, and articles that they come across while surfing the web is a constant occurrence for them. While this type of reading might not always been the rich texts we hope they spend hours of sustained time reading, it is still exposure to text! When they realize that they are reading and like reading for this purpose, they begin to open up about what else they read, when they read, and why it is important. By providing students with sentence starts and a pack of post-it notes, students can walk around the room, consider what and why they read, and even leave comments for their peers.

This semester, I used the prompts:
  • I read ______ to learn because... 
  • I read ______ for fun because... 
  • I read to gain information when... 
  • I read ______ to understanding... 

Students had to answer each prompt, which was posted around the room, on a post-it. Then they had to respond to three classmates prompts after walking around and reading responses. This activity was then followed up by a reading interest inventory, self-reflection, and class discussion about why we read, what we like to read, why reading might be difficult, and what we can do to become better readers. There are also great responses that can be found on Twitter. If my students had computer access this summer, I would definitely consider having them use this hashtag, if they had Twitter accounts.

6. Zoom: Team Building Activity

Team building activities are awesome! I love having students complete team activities every occasionally to keep them active, connected, and thinking critically. The media specialist at my school shared this new activity with me. He used the children's book Zoom by Istvan Banyai to encourage his soccer players to learn how to work as a team. First, he photocopied each page and mixed up the pages. He distributed the pages at random to students who were then tasked with putting the pages in a logical order. This book is a picture book and while it may seem easy to determine the correct order, it was quite challenging. I am hoping to use this strategy with my students to discuss not only how to collaborate as a team, but also how to determine and ultimately analyze plot. While there are no printed words in this text, it still tells a story. Discussing plot, while keeping them on their feet, makes the direct instruction about plot meaningful and memorable.

These are just a few strategies I hope to incorporate this week to keep my readers engaged, connected, and communicating about what they are reading and what they are learning as a result. Varying activities and applying learning strategies meaningful helps not only make learning a more positive experience for students, but it also keeps them excited about what they are doing in the classroom. Hopefully, that excitement will foster a greater appreciation and love of learning.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Ideas to Differentiate Instruction in a 1:1 Classroom

After one year of 1:1 instruction with Chromebooks, I have seen a great deal of opportunities to differentiate instruction for students that are not as easy to accomplish in a traditional classroom model.  Being able to utilize Google Apps for Education, a plethora of online resources, and a few key web tools can open up a world of possibilities when it comes to meeting the need of every type of learner.  In a traditional classroom of 28 students whose interests, attention spans, and abilities range greatly, the introduction of devices in the classroom has allowed me to shift how I instruct slightly to make sure that students have the support they need, access to resources, and can use class time productively and at their own pace.  I still have quite a ways to go in terms of redesigning my classroom to maximize class time and encourage students to master the curriculum while using their time wisely, but with experience and reflection comes growth!

1. Screencast-o-Matic

Using this web tool is easy and has allowed me to create think aloud videos for writing prompts, demonstrate how to use a specific web tool, or provide feedback for students.  I have found that students do utilize the think aloud videos, which are used to supplement and re-teach skills that I review in class.  I'd like to do more with this in terms of grammar, thesis statement creation, and perhaps even close reading of non-fiction articles next year.  When a video has been created, students who struggle with specific skills have the option to review that skill as many times as necessary at home or even in-class while other students draft or work on another activity. 

2. Google Apps for Education (Specifically Docs): 

My school district just finished year two of utilizing Google Apps.  Students are certainly becoming more proficient and learning how to maximize the benefits that these tools provide in terms of collaboration and cloud computation. One approach I have taken with some students this year is "meeting" on their docs to help with specific writing or formatting issues.  Especially when using Google Docs, the chat feature allows me to provide direct instruction and answer questions more effectively when we cannot meet face-to-face.  Next year, I hope to try and hold "office hours" during major writing units to make myself available as well as continue to capitalize on the benefits of using these web tools.  I am eager to see how Google Classroom will work and how this might allow teachers and students to interact and engage with one another, anywhere and at any time.  


Video Notes is my new favorite web tool that allows students to take notes while watching videos that could be created by an individual teacher or simply a video found online.  The web tool syncs with Google Drive, it is user friendly, and it allows students to take notes and track the time in which they make comments.  If a person is using the flipped classroom model, this is an excellent tool.  Once a student take notes, the notes sync with a folder in Google Drive and from there, can be shared with the teacher.  While I did not discover this tool until EdCamp Chicago a few weeks prior, I definitely want to use this next year and have been sharing it with anyone who wants to experiment with the flipped classroom model in any capacity.  

4. TEDEd Videos

TED has compiled a series of videos and resources for educators and students that are absolutely fantastic.  Focusing on countless topics across many different disciplines, these quality lessons/videos are informative, engaging, and easily adaptable for teachers. In addition to great videos, TEDEd has compiled quizzes, additional resources for each video, and a place to discuss the content of the video.  Teachers can even create and share lessons with other teachers on the TEDEd website.  This is another resource that I have not explored much, but I am excited to see how I might use this to continue to approach differentiated instruction in the classroom.  

5. Google Calendar: 

 did not use Google Calendar this year with students.  Instead, I created a shared folder and made daily agendas, which the students had access to all semester.  I would like to and plan on using Google Calendar to link the agendas and also map out due dates for students.  Organization is key to keeping students on track.  The more files that are accessible, the easier students will be able to find key course documents, manage their own workflow, and engage with the course.  

I am excited to see how this will work and if it will improve the student experience.  At the same time, the Google LMS (Google Classroom) might do all of this automatically.  Technology is constantly evolving, as are the ways in which students learn.  The exciting part about next school year is that there will be more to learn, resources to experiment with, and new students to teach!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

It's Never Too Early to Plan for Next School Year

As the final bell rings on the last day of school, it is tempting to run out the door with as much exuberance as our students do.  While shutting the computer down from time to time is both incredibly valuable, necessary, and even freeing, before we complete say goodbye completely to the 2014-2015 school year, it is important to take time to pause, reflect, and even start considering what next year will bring.  In these last days of finals, with this year fresh in my mind, I want to take time to look forward to the excitement and learning that will fill the 2015-2016 school year.  Here's my finals week action plan:

1. Go through old lesson plans.  Really go through them!  

I've taken to an agenda system that involves daily Google Docs that I push out to students in a common share folder, as suggested by my great friend and colleague, Heather (She's an awesome follow on Twitter and a great source of knowledge about all topics related to teaching and ed tech).  On each agenda, I include daily learning targets, learning activities (which include: docs, handouts, presentations, videos, etc.), homework, and additional resources to look at if students have additional time.  As I plan for next year, I want to use the resources built throughout the school year to reflect on my pacing, effectiveness of individual lessons, and ways in which I can make lessons more engaging, meaningful, and memorable for students.  However we lesson plan or whatever system we may follow, this is an excellent resource that indicates how we have taught and how we can improve the quality of our courses.  While it is tempting to just scan through these plans quickly, taking the time to reread and reflect on daily work and units as a whole makes planning and preparation for the upcoming school year more thorough.

2. Look at the calendar for next year.

This one has taken me a few years to discover.  Looking at where/when holidays fall, the placement of major breaks, sports/activity schedules, semester schedules and how that could potentially line up with curriculum is critical.  Students attention spans and motivation to learn on a Monday than they are on a Wednesday or a Friday.  In addition, once certain check points hit in the year, that motivation and quality of work does alter.  For example, once prom hits for seniors in the spring, lessons need to be tight, directly applicable to their lives, and involve less formal researching in comparison to February when it is freezing outside and few school activities are occurring (besides IHSA State series).  To ensure the best work from students, timing is essential.

3. Assess technology usage.

Technology is constantly evolving!  Every day a new app or web tool is created that could potentially help improve the execution of a lesson or student learning in some capacity.  The amount of web tools available is overwhelming, but reflecting on what worked in the classroom this year establishes a strong foundation of what will continue to work the subsequent year.  Considering the stumbling blocks or limitations from the current year is also a great way to begin the initial search for new tools as well.  For example, I am hoping to do more screencasting on Chromebooks with students, find better methods for students to create videos with the technology we have available, and also hoping to access more literacy tools for struggling readers.  Now that I have established those goals and have specific purposes for the use of technology in mind, I can narrow my focus with the web tools that I explore.  Planning to use technology with specific purposes in mind makes exploring less overwhelming and more meaningful.

4. Reexamine qualitative information, student work, and feedback. 

Looking at the grade book and various polls taken throughout the year can allow us to reflect on our classrooms from the student perspective.  Their performance on unit tests and grades as a whole can also show me what I should spend more time on and what went well this year.  I love using Google Forms to get student feedback after grading major papers or when students have completed major projects/speeches.  It challenges students to reflect on their work ethic, progress made, and efforts.  In addition, it starts a conversation between students and me about what worked in the classroom and what can be tweaked to enhance the student experience.  Any type of feedback in this regard improves the learning experience for our future students as we learn, grow, and reflect ourselves!

5. Consider current events, news items, and pop cultural shifts in the last year.

I teach a class called Rhetorical Analysis of Media that focuses on developing media literacy in high school students.  Discussing advertising, popular culture, film, and the Internet, certainly challenges me every year to reflect  on what is occurring in the world.  Every year, my curriculum has to change to align with the times, but even if I didn't teach this specific course, taking the time to reflect upon the changes in the world can enhance the curriculum of any course.  Pop culture and current events are the best topics to incorporate when trying to make lessons meaningful and applicable to students.  When learning connects to their lives, students are more invested in the content and actually begin to make connections themselves.  The use of what is occurring in our world adds a little bit of fun to class conversations, themes, and units!

6. Consider how you've changed and what you've learned. 

This year marks the end of my 6th year of teaching.  Wow, the time and the years go quickly.  A lot has changed in my life since graduating college, I have taken way too many graduate courses, and I certainly have gained a great deal of perspective from the experiences that I have encountered.  I'm sure we can all echo similar sentiments that as the seasons in our lives change, so do our approaches to teaching.  This last step really does take the summer to reflect upon, but it is never too early to start.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ending the Year "Write": Using Written and Spoken Reflections to Wrap Up a School Year

This past week, I watched my seniors enjoy their last week of high school.  Their excitement and energy has filled the classroom since prom at the beginning of May, but this week, they were officially faced with the reality that their high school careers have come to an end.  In order to allow seniors to fully appreciate what they have learned, it is important to provide time to reflect.  Metacongitive processing is beneficial at any age, and this year, with such a high-spirited group, I have really enjoyed taking the time to reflect with them.   Here are a few activities that I have tried to work into my end of the year schedule with my seniors and sophomores.  Ranging from typical to a little more unique, I saw a great deal of benefit from these activities and received useful feedback from my students.  As hard as saying goodbye can be, embracing their excitement has been rewarding and rejuvenating, and reflection is an incredibly valuable part of that process.

1. Traditional Written Reflection: At the end of the year, asking a few questions such as "What was the most memorable activity in this class?" or "What can the teacher do to improve student learning?" can provide teachers with valuable comments that can be reflected upon over the summer as a means of preparing for next year.  Every year is an opportunity for improvement and adjustments that can improve student learning.  Writing this information on a note card or a half sheet of paper is a quick, easy way for students to provide comments that I've found valuable.  Often times, I find that students write kind words as well... or draw very goofy pictures that certainly have made me laugh.

2. Google Survey Reflection:  At the end of each quarter, I have students complete a Google Survey that asks them to reflect upon their current grade, identify their strengths and weaknesses, highlight class learning activities that have been both valuable and less valuable, and asked to provide me with any other feedback that would help me improve the course.  What I like about administering the same survey reflection multiple times throughout the year is that it has allowed me to collect qualitative data that I have used to improve student work.  I always post the results (without names) as a means of opening up communication with students about the class and have identified how I am planning on making adjustments to improve their classroom experience.  Often times, kids who are excelling simply post positive comments, and students who are not turning in work or using class time wisely will admit it.  Its a great way to dialogue with the group and individuals about progress and how we can work together to increase learning!

3. Name Web: At the beginning of the semester in my sophomore classes, I have students play the name game using a ball of yarn to show how interconnected we all are.  In addition to sharing their names, students have to share the origins and history of their names.  At the end of the semester, we get into the same web and share one way their identity has changed as a result of this course.  While everyone knows each others' names, they still make the web to show how we all belong to a community that we have built together throughout the course of the semester.

4. Letters to Future Students: Writing a reflection with the understanding that a future student who is taking the same course next year will read it is a great way to encourage students to think deeply about what they learned and how it affected them.  Writing for a real audience also increases their efforts, writing level, and thought that they place into the assignment.  In these letters, outline the course, give advice, and share what they learned from the experiences that they had.  These are great tools to use at the beginning of the semester, and future students have enjoyed reading what their predecessors had to share.

5. Impromptu Eulogies: In my senior speech class, I've tried to think a little outside of the box in terms of reflections.  Instead of writing out a formal essay during the Special Occasion Speech Unit (the last two weeks of school), this year I had students complete impromptu eulogies on a classmate.  Since their high school days are over, I frame the eulogies as a way to acknowledge their commencement and recognize the new lives they are about to experience.  Each student starts by writing his/her name on a sheet of paper and then selects another student at random.  Then, they all have five minutes to write a one to two minute speech honoring their peer.  In  speech class, they have shared so much about their passions, interests, and personal lives that no matter how closely they know each other outside of class, they have enough to say about their peers.  While some students have fun with the eulogy and develop clever ways in which the student they are speaking on has met an untimely end, all speeches were good-natured, fun, and even touching.  After everyone has spoken, students are asked to write a thank you note to the student who spoke about him or her as a way of practicing effective communication and showing thanks for the kind (and in many cases, humorous) words. This certainly was the least conventional but perhaps the most fun reflection activity.

Now that the school year is coming to a close, I am eager and excited to have more time to reflect upon this school year, reexamine my curriculum, and learn more about best practices to use in my classroom this summer.  Reflection is an invaluable part of the learning process for teachers, too!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Providing Students With Video Feedback

Screencasting has to be one of my favorite ways to communicate with students outside the classroom.  Each time I have utilized screencasting tools to provide students with feedback, they have expressed that they enjoy seeing as well as hearing critiques, as opposed to just reading written comments.

When face-to-face interaction isn't possible, being able to provide students with direct feedback that includes tone, pitch, and inflection can prove to be very meaningful and useful. Screencast-O-Matic and Screenr are both very user-friendly and can be shared directly to students.  Both of these screencasting tools create videos that can be uploaded to YouTube, making sharing with students effortless.  I have found screencasting beneficial when evaluating online portfolios and providing large group feedback after major written assignments such as a literary analysis paper after reading a novel.  Seniors especially seem to enjoy online feedback because it feels more tangible, especially for visual and auditory learners.  They can watch how I am assessing their work.   *Note: Screencastify is now a Chrome extension that works on Chromebooks!  While I have yet to create an assignment for students to screencast their peer edits to other students, this is definitely on my must-try lists!*  Here are a few samples of sreencasted feedback:

When working with Google Docs, the app Kaizena can be used to comment directly on a student's writing. Using Kaizena allows an individual to comment directly on a specific word, line, or entire section using both one's voice and written comments.  In addition, the evaluator can insert videos or other forms of media.  The information is available to the student in the comments section of Google Docs. I found this type of feedback useful when grading short paragraphs and informal writing assignments.  In three minutes time, I can grade a paragraph and provide more feedback than spending five minutes writing comments that are less detailed.  If students are going to revise their writing, this also provides a visual guide for students through this process.

In my Senior Speech classes, I have also used video feedback to analyze student projects and presentations. Throughout the semester long course, I require students to watch their speeches and reflect upon their performances.  As such, I record their speeches, upload them to YouTube, and email the URL to students.  When students complete a group debate that involves the entire class, I have edited individual videos together, providing direct feedback on each section of the debate.  This has allowed me to thoroughly address the strengths and weaknesses of individual speakers as well as the group as a whole.  Once this process is completed, I share my "play-by-play" with students and then have them reflect upon their individual and group performances. This feedback is then saved and shared with future students, providing them with a better understanding how to successfully complete the debate assignment by learning from the work of others. Here are a few examples of my "play-by-play":

While finding and familiarizing oneself with web tools and apps that can allow a teacher to provide video feedback can be time consuming at first, I have found that video and voice feedback can be a major time-saver.  In addition to saving time, each time I use this method to assess students, I hear them watching the videos in class constantly!  While people usually do not enjoy the sound of their voices, and I am certainly one of those people, I do enjoy knowing that students are receiving the feedback that I have taken the time to provide.  When they can see, hear, and read feedback, they seem more inclined to process what has been shared and make improvements / revisions to their work, and that is certainly a reason to hit the record button.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Authentic Learning: Making Persuasion Meaningful for 4th Quarter Seniors

I love teaching seniors.  The final year of high school is an exciting time for students who are eagerly awaiting graduation and the opportunity to "start" their lives.  After spring break, the senioritis does start to set in, even for the most focused students.  Committing to a college, determining how to fund school, and getting asked to prom are just a few of the rites of passage my students are experiencing right now.  Each day this week, I have been engaged in countless conversations with my enthusiastic students who are ready to live these last few days of high school to their fullest, all while they attempt to avoid any sort of homework whatsoever.

How does one engage those who want nothing more than to disengage from high school academics?  The answer: authentic learning. Providing students with opportunities to use course content in a real-world situations can encourage even the most resistant students to stay focused on the last few days of high school.

This week, my senior-level speech class has spent a great deal of time talking about the art of persuasion.  From persuading one's parents to let him/her take a road trip this summer, to convincing a potential employer to make a job offer, the ability to utilize ethos, pathos, and logos are essential rhetorical skills that students will need to utilize throughout their lives.  To provide students with a real-world experience that they may face in the next two months, I crafted a new speaking challenge that asks students to prepare to present themselves in front of a college scholarship commitment, seeking an opportunity to receive funds for their post-high school education.   With an important community scholarship (that qualifies them for 20+ scholarships in our local area) due this Friday that involves speaking before  committee, students have been encouraged to prepare a short and strong oral representation of themselves, but also to complete the short scholarship application that could lead to thousands of dollars in scholarship money.

While I know discussing prom politics and dreaming about dorm life are far more exciting topics than defining rhetoric terms and conducting research, but today I was encouraged by my students revived fervor for an academic experience.  They were actively working and seeking to understand ways to effectively persuade people to take notice of them while maintaining their likability.  Certainly speaking about oneself can be challenging, but it is essential for them to learn how to convince others of their worth.  Word choice and selecting stories that make these students memorable in a crowd are crucial tactics to develop, and today they were brainstorming, sharing, and reflecting on their accomplishments and how their experiences have shaped them into who they are today.  This level of engagement this late in the high school game is inspiring to witness.

When their parents ask them what they did in speech class today, I truly hope that my students do not simply respond with the cliche, "nothing".  Instead, I hope they share with their parents that they, "Uh, applied for a scholarship. Reflected on the culmination of my high school experience.  You know, no big deal."

Here are a few samples from last year:

I cannot wait to watch their speeches this year and hope that countless scholarship opportunities come their way as a result. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Using Google Sites to Create Digital Portfolios

Before going one-to-one, I have always wanted to create online portfolios with students but did not have the ability to do it because of limited lab time.  Last semester (Pre-Chromebooks), I did have my Drama class create a digital portfolio for a monologue project that we worked on and share with class in Michigan. On a side note, if you have not tried to collaborate with another class in another region, state, or even country, I cannot say enough about how great this experience was for my students!

The Monologue Assignment involved creating a Google Site, providing some background information about themselves, draft and create a monologue, and then perform that monologue.  During this process, students peer-edited with the Michigan class and made comments on their videos afterward.  While we were limited with the amount of class time that we had to work online, my students were very creative with their projects and enjoyed working with an audience outside of our high school.

To evaluate the students' websites, I used Screencast-o-Matic to provide feedback and guide them with making a website that was professional and user-friendly.  For many of my students, this was their first time creating a website.  As a result, we had many conversations about what it means to be professional and how the "real-world" would perceive their work.  In addition to developing students' 21st century skills, sharing their projects encouraged them to provide feedback others through digital means.  The more they read drafts and watched final performances, the more they were able to reflect on their work.  This metacognitive process encouraged students to talk about how they could improve their work in the future. Also, students were able to address how the skills used during this assignment could be used in the "real-world".

This coming semester, I hope to expand the ideas behind this project in my Speech class.  As students are continuously writing speeches, performing, and reflecting, I hope to help them build a portfolio that demonstrates their strengths as communicators, showcases their work, and encourages them to engage in self-disclosure in a very digital world.  In addition, my hope is that creating a digital portfolio in their high school speech class will help them to be better prepared for the college Speech/Communication course that they will inevitably have to take at the collegiate level.

As I reflect upon the reasons to create digital portfolios, I have come to the conclusion that digital portfolios provide a place to...

1. Organize Student Work.

On the first day of class, I plan on taking a class picture and will use ThingLink to create a place to organize student website URLs.   Then I will have students upload their work for each unit onto separate pages.  I will create a template for them to follow, making organization easy for both them and me.  Having one image with links available to everyone will making creating and assessing these portfolios more manageable.  In addition, students will be able to navigate to their peers' pages and learn from their strengths as well.  Organization is crucial when teaching in a one-to-one classroom, and modeling organization to students can help them develop their own organization system as well.

2. Share Work With Real-World Audiences.

When work is online, it is accessible to anyone with the link.  Students will be able to view each others' portfolios throughout the semester and can share their work with others outside of the course.  Especially when parents or mentors are the subject of a speech, these online portfolios will be a great place for students to pass their work on to those who matter.  While I do not have a class lined up to collaborate this semester, I hope to find a class to collaborate with at some point this semester to provide the same experience that my students had last year to this upcoming set of students.

3. Monitor Student Growth/Progress.

When work is organized in one location, it is easier to recognize the improvements made throughout the semester.  In a class that has a strong emphasis on performance, keeping videos of speeches and reflection documents in one place allows students to continuously review and reevaluate their strengths and weaknesses as speakers. It is my hope that students will use these portfolios to monitor their own progress throughout the semester.

4. Practice Using Important 21st Century Skills.

Being able to navigate Google Apps and create a website are important skills that future employers will want students to be able to do.  By practicing creating and sharing their work through digital means will encourage students to refine important skills. In addition, sharing their work online is a part of the new Common Core State Standards, which require that students"use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products" (CCSS).  Creating a portfolio in class not only align with CCSS, but it also provides students a safe place to practice and cultivate technology skills for academic purposes.

5.Practice Creating a Portfolio.

In a recent graduate program, I had to create an extensive online portfolio to demonstrate my knowledge.  Students will most likely need to create some sort of digital portfolio in their post-high school endeavors either as a means of demonstrating proficiency, or they may even create portfolios a way to apply for future careers.  The more practice they have in this process, the more prepared they will be for obtaining careers and other opportunities in the future.

Digital portfolios can be used for a variety of purposes and in a variety of ways.  I am excited for the opportunity to work with students every day on creating one for my senior-level Speech course, and I am hopeful that this will be a meaningful and growing experience for us in 2014!
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