Thursday, November 26, 2015

Crowdsourcing Book Recommendations #CEL15 #NCTE15

I am continuing to decompress from attending the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and Conference on English Leadership (CEL) events in Minneapolis, Minnesota where sessions, keynotes, and roundtables were brimming with resources and book recommendations.  Throughout Penny Kittle's book-loving CEL closing keynote, I live-tweeted many of her recommendations, but I know I was not able to tweet out them all.









Penny Kittle (as well as Jeff Wilhelm, Carol Jago, and all of the keynote speakers) are so inspiring (what an understatement!), and after 6 days of the NCTE and CEL conferences, I am struggling to retain all of what I learned. While I know I can go to Goodreads or Amazon to find books to read, I get overwhelmed with all of the choices and reviews.  In an effort to simplify the process and capitalize on crowdsourcing, I created a Google Form for Book Recommendations.


If you think a book is worth reading, complete the form.  Quick and simple.  Notice this form does not provide a place for 5-star ratings or reviews. As Penny Kittle pointed out when we recommend a specific book, we are imposing our own thoughts on the person to whom we are making the recommendation.



Transferring this same notion to general book recommendations (not just for students to read books in class), the books recommended via this Google Form will serve as our digital stack. The spreadsheet results can be filtered by fiction or nonfiction, alphabetized by author or title, and we can then venture to Amazon or Goodreads to find more information on the text. The form and spreadsheet are intended to serve as a starting point, a quick list of recommendations.


Even if you did not attend NCTE15 or CEL15, fill out the form!  Thank you!




Saturday, November 14, 2015

Flipping ELA-- More than Students Reading Books at Home


I had the wonderful privilege to present at the 2015 NJEA Convention in the Flipped Learning Theater with the pioneering Jon Bergmann and the ever-enthusiastic Marc Seigel. I presented two sessions:  Flipping the English Language Arts Classroom and Technology Tools for Flipped Reading.








My slide decks are below. I'm really proud of my visual design for these slides! Slide Carnival has some excellent templates that can be customized. Be sure to click on the hyperlinks within the slides for access to resources. Lots of goodies!


Speaking with Jon Bergmann at the convention for his BAM radio show, "The Flip Side," the question was broached, "Well, isn't English already flipped?  Read at home and come to class ready to apply?"  My answer is a resounding NO! For some students, reading is the difficult task, and I want to be present with my students for the difficult tasks. I can Flip 101 (aka replace live, direct instruction with video or tech tool) many things in the classroom, including reading, but I need to make sure that students are adept at the skills when we are face to face before I send them home with flipped tasks to complete.  The "face-to-face before do at home" time will vary depending on the content.  For some material, I need 5 minutes to make sure students are adept, but for other skills or content, my students may need multiple class periods to demonstrate that they are proficient independent learners.

I am a big fan of the "in-class" flip:  allow students to practice self-pacing and independent learning in class rather than at home.  Remember, the primary premise of Flipped Learning is to make the best use of face-to-face time with your students. So if this means they need guided, independent learning (I know, such an oxymoron) prior to unsupervised, independent learning (I know, redundant), then that is what I will do.  The flip at home will not be successful, and we will lose precious face-to-face time if I don't scaffold the process and gradually release control to the students.

The Flipping ELA Slide Deck features some activities and resources for how to Flip 101 and Mastery Flip an English Class. I've learned so much from my Flipped ELA peeps that I can not take credit for all the things in the slides. While I use what I share on the slides with my students, the original ideas may have come from one of the phenomenal flipping ELA teachers listed towards the end of the slide deck.



The Tech Tools for Flipping Reading will provide some examples of Flip 101 screencasts for modeling close reading, as well as edtech tools such as Booktrack Classroom and Curriculet for flipped reading instruction.  And make sure you listen to the interview with Jon Bergmann because I share how my students practice close reading using Google Docs as we Explore-Flip-Apply author's purpose and literary devices in texts.





Be sure to reply in the Comments to this post with your strategies for flipping your class or any questions you may have about how to flip!






Saturday, October 10, 2015

#WhyITeach #WhyILearn Reflective Thinking for Teachers, Students and Parents

At NJPAECET2 a photobooth area was set up where participants filled out speech bubbles to thank a teacher and answer the question, "Why do I teach?"  Pictures were taken, tweeted out with the hashtag #WhyITeach or #ThankATeacher, and all the speech bubbles were taped to the windows.






 This is a powerful visual and an easy method for triggering reflection.  Why do we teach?  What teachers am I grateful for?  In the age of assessment, it is easy to lose sight of the purpose of education and the people who matter when we are bogged down with mandates and methods of documenting accountability.  Notice, not anywhere on these speech bubbles does it say, "So, my students can get As on tests" or "Thank you to the teacher who helped me ace that exam."

Why do we teach?  Who are we grateful for?

I teach because I love learning and experiencing the world through a text.  I teach because I want to share my love of learning and cultivate the curiosity of my students. So much of what I do for students can be seen in small gestures -- creating an engaging classroom climate, awakening students' critical thinking skills, guiding the students' towards connected yet independent learning and self-sustainability. All of the small things add up over time to create a solid foundation for students as they journey towards graduation. To use another metaphor, in freshmen year I'm leading them to the path and giving them tools and resources to use, but the students are walking the path when they venture beyond my room. Through professional development opportunities, I'm sharing my strategies, engaging and collaborating with educators --which expands my reach: when I help another teacher, I am helping that teacher's students. Ultimately, I teach so I can help make the world a better place.

I'm grateful for my parents who are educators, my former teachers, and my colleagues near and far who have inspired me and shaped my teaching practices. I cannot be the teacher I am today without their influence.

With the start of the 2015-16 school year under way and having the largest cohort of freshmen Honors classes ever, the above questions also got me thinking about what would my students say if I asked them, "Why do you learn?"

Thanks to @Teacher2Teacher, who sent me a kit to replicate the #WhyITeach activity in my district, I adapted the directions to fit my students and we used the hashtag, #WhyILearn.  Students filled out their speech bubbles, and I hung them up around the classroom so that they could have a daily reminder of their responses as we get deeper in the course content.

Take a look at some of their responses...






Did you see if any of the responses had to do with testing or grades?  Me neither.

So many of the responses focus on the future and wanting to be successful.  But what is their definition of success? What does success really mean to my students?  How do we quantify success? These are important questions to answer.  The answers are also important to keep in mind as when the stress of school gets too overwhelming:  focus on the big picture; think about how this moment will lead to a better future.

Also at the beginning of the school year is Back to School Night, and the activity with my students got me thinking about what the students' parents would say if I asked them the question, "Why do you want your child to learn?"

Flipping Back to School Night, I recorded a screencast of my class expectations and procedures two weeks prior to the big night.  Students were given the assignment to watch the video WITH their parent and answer the corresponding questions using EDpuzzle before attending Back to School.



Since my parents already knew the procedures and expectations of my class, I didn't need to spend time on Back to School Night repeating the information and could do an activity in the 12 minute class period that would let them get a feel for my teaching style and how their student might feel being a member of the class.

After a quick introduction and recap of most important information, I posed questions to my parents, "Why do you want your child to learn? What is the point? What do you think is the purpose of learning?" They were tasked with writing their answers on yellow blocks of paper before running out the door to their next class.

Thinking of the parents' responses as building blocks, I taped them to the wall of my classroom.  Take a look...





#WhyIwantMyChildToLearn

Do you see any responses that include getting good grades or doing well on standardized assessments?  Me neither.

Besides being part of the decorations in the room, I wonder how else I can bring parents into the classroom so that we all keep our sights focused on the purpose of learning and how we can best meet the needs of the students. When it comes to education, everyone matters, parents, students, and teachers.

So as we venture further into the journey of this school year, continue reflecting on WHY we do what we do and how it fits into the greater scheme of our students' lives, remember the purpose of teaching and learning.


This is a panoramic shot of the walls of my classroom. In the comments here, please share why you teach and learn and how you remind parents, students, and other teachers about the purpose of education.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

#NJPAECET2 I took a GIANT step forward...Barry this is for you.

I have always been a leader, a starter, and a team player.  The oldest of 5 children, drum major, swim team captain, founder of a swim team and high school therapy dog program, #flipclass advocate, edtech edge cutter... I've always been  on the head of the metaphoric spear, but never the only point person, but something shifted the weekend of NJPAECET2 x 2.

I took a giant step forward in terms of leadership on September 19th and 20th, 2015 at the 2nd convening of the NJ-PA Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers.  Being part of a 20+ person steering committee crowdsourced by the legendary Barry Saide, it can be a bit of dance to know who is doing what and when and to understand all the moving cogs and wheels of the organizational machinery.  At the conclusion of the 1st convening of NJPAECET2 last year, we started planning for the second iteration: soliciting for sponsors, creating forms for proposal submissions, generating a list of invitees, and more. Not working a full-time job this summer afforded me time to be available to take on greater responsibility behind the scenes-- working with Barry, Liz, Steve, Scott, Gio, and Josh, I had a hand in session acceptances and scheduling, the itinerary of the convening, setting up the Edmodo group, countless pages of color-coded spreadsheets of participants, presenters, sponsors... I learned so much about spreadsheet design and management this summer... when something needed to be done, I was on it.

I'm the type of person who needs to know what my role is and where I fit in the scheme of things--tell me what to do, and I will do it. When I know my role, I will act accordingly. I'm also the type of person who if I see something that needs to be done, will speak up, but I will speak up with the expectation that whoever is "in charge" will make decisions and delegate. Seeing Barry as our "leader,"  I assumed that he make the final call on all things: Things not running on schedule, Barry will decide what to do. Something is missing, Barry will get it.  But at NJPAECET2 x 2 that was not the case. On September 19th and 20th, I cast aside those expectations and stepped into the role of decision-maker and delegator.

"Step up, then step back" was one of the mottos heard during Colleague Circles at NJPAECET2-- speak up, be a leader, but then step back and allow someone else to come forward and lead.  Barry, you stepped back so that I could step up.

When the first keynote ran over time and the schedule needed to be adjusted, I emailed Barry, sitting 2 tables away, about what to do.  Then I quickly realized, I didn't need Barry's permission to adjust the schedule.  As the timing of events continued to need adjustment, I did it. Popping into sessions to check on presenters, snapping pictures, making announcements, alerting participants it was time to move to the next session, constantly thinking about "how can we tweak this to make it better?"and calling a steering committee "brain dump" session at the conclusion of the weekend-- I was on hyper speed not just as a participant, but as an engineer who kept the train on its track and schedule.

None of this would have happened if I wasn't given the opportunity to grow and didn't have fantastic, amazing educators to work with. Thank you, Barry, for creating the opportunity to step up.  While I know it would never be an easy job, I now know that I have the skills and ability to be "The Leader." Where will I go from here?  I don't know quite yet (I have some ideas...), but I know I have taken a very important first step.

Thank you to all who attended, presented, sponsored, and organized NJPAECET2. You all have elevated me, and I continue to bask in the glow of the celebration of our profession. I can't wait to see what else we will accomplish together.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Creating Curriculets with Students

Cheryl Morris asked me if students can create their own curriculets, embedding questions and quizzes inside a text. Her plan: have students work in groups or as individuals to create their own curriculets and share them with other students to read and answer the questions/quizzes-- like a suped-up literature circle! What a great idea to promote higher level thinking!

Screenshot of the opening of A Tale of Two Cities in Curriculet
However, student accounts and teacher accounts function differently in Curriculet, so while students can embed their own annotations in a text, they cannot add a layer of their own questions and quizzes.  But Cheryl's question got me thinking, and I have a workaround solution: set-up a couple of fake-teacher accounts where students can take turns creating curriculets.

Initially, I thought setting up one account for all students to access would work, but the security features will not allow multiple, simultaneous logins on the same account. Each fake-teacher account will need to have its own email address (running out of addresses to use, check out GMail's plus feature). I do NOT recommend each student creating his/her own fake-teacher account for managerial reasons. It would be too difficult to monitor 30 or 130 individual teacher accounts. The teacher should set up the fake-teacher account(s) prior to giving access to the students so that students can focus on creating/editing the curriculets and not be delayed or confused by set-up procedures.

Why wouldn't I want to give my students access to my teacher account on Curriculet?  Wouldn't that be easier?  My teacher account includes performance data from current and previous years.  I do not want students accessing the teacher dashboard.  The fake-teacher accounts are created so that they can access the curriculet-editor feature. The fake-teacher account will not have any active classes tied to it. As I outline in the steps below, students will share with the teacher the created curriculets and the teacher will assign the reading of the created-curriculets through his/her real teacher account that has groups and classes already set-up.


The Steps for Students-Created Curriculets:

  1. The teacher creates the fake-teacher class accounts for students to use.
  2. In the fake-teacher accounts, go to Curriculet's STORE and select the titles for which you want students to create curriculets, or in the LIBRARY upload a Google Doc or Word Document students will use to create the curriculet. Name each curriculet appropriately.
  3. State the ground rules and objectives for usage and give students the username and password for the fake-teacher class accounts.
  4. Students log in to Curriculet on the fake-teacher accounts and select the text(s) from the LIBRARY. I envision students creating curriculets for short stories, poetry, or excerpts of lengthy texts.  Multiple curriculets can be created for the same text.
  5. Students embed their annotations, questions, and quizzes in the text.
  6. When finished, the students SHARE the created-curriculet with the teacher by emailing the link (or to keep a record of the created-curriculets in the teacher's files, have students copy/paste the link to a Google Form/ Spreadsheet or LMS assignment). 
  7. The teacher (in his/her real teacher account) adds the created-curriculets to his/her LIBRARY and assigns them to the class to read.
  8. The teacher (in his/her real teacher account) monitors the students' reading of the created curiculets, checking for accuracy and (if he/she so chooses) shares with the creators the readers' performance data.

Want to see this process in action?  Watch the screencast below...




Thinking this through from a lesson-planning and implementation point of view, the teacher could provide the students with the specific guidelines for how many questions, annotations, and quizzes to embed. Or the teacher could let the students run free and have a reflective discussion after the curriculets are created where students analyze and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their creations. I like giving minimal directions so that I do not stifle student creativity and have an opportunity for metacognitive analysis, but the teacher can make that call. Users can make many versions of a curriculet layer for one text, so students could be creating curriculets for the same text at the same time. I suggest following a specific naming convention so that each curriculet version can be differentiated: Year Pd Group Name.  Example: 2015 Pd2 GroupA.

Keep in mind that many texts in the Curriculet Store come with the layer of questions, quizzes, and annotations already created, and tech-savvy students will be able to find them. So, I would make sure to have a clear purpose and objective for the student-created curriculets that goes beyond the assessment of comprehension. 

Thinking about time constraints, I do not recommend having students create their own curriculet for a lengthy novel unless the teacher is dividing the class up with each group focused on a specific section of the novel.  Again, each student or group should make his/her/its own curriculet layer starting at the assigned section (the teacher creates the curriculets for each section ahead of time). Do not try having all students working in the same curriculet at the same time. It won't work.

In order for this process to work, I recommend that the teacher monitors all accounts and does the set-up work ahead of time.  If students are focused on the task of creating the curriculets, there should be little room for shenanigans.







Thursday, July 30, 2015

They NAILED it!

Making the rounds on the interwebs this week is Key & Peele's Comedy Central skit, Teaching Center, where they pose the question, "What if Teachers Were Treated Like Pro Athletes?"

Key & Peele totally NAILED it.


Yeah it is Comedy Central, so of course it will be funny, but what makes this video stand out is in the nuances and details.  I know very little about Key & Peele, other than they are a TV show, but I can tell they know teachers and the teaching profession.  While it would be nice to be treated like professional athletes who garner special attention and million dollar salaries, how Key & Peele chose to satirize Sports Center highlights the fact that teachers are not in the teaching profession for the notoriety or riches.

Rather than typing out my play-by-play of Key & Peele's Teaching Center, I recorded a quick video analysis.  I recorded this in one take using Camtasia's record feature.  Forgive my lack of fancy graphics and enhancements.





Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Social Media & Collaborative Relationships #EdTechBridge

This week #EdTechBridge via a #slowchat on Twitter is discussing...

What role does social media have in developing collaborative relationships?

My first answer is that social media provides the venue for people to get connected.  Twitter without a doubt is my number one tool for finding people to talk to about educational topics.  While the 140 characters is limiting, Twitter is where we start to talk and the conversations are later expanded via email or in Voxer groups.  I don't know how I collaborated before Twitter and Voxer. Being a connected educator to the ever-flowing stream keeps me energized and constantly thinking, "What if...?" because I know there is someone out there on Twitter and Voxer who will help me answer that question.  

Thinking about other social media tools, Facebook is primarily where I connect with family and local educators, but little collaboration takes place. But Facebook is a good place to share, share, share! Although, Kate Messner & company's Teachers Write online summer camp through a closed Facebook group is sparking creative writing for teachers. And while I haven't used Instagram much for educational purposes, it too is primarily for documenting and sharing. YouTube, like Instagram, is an area to showcase collaboration, but not necessarily kindle it.  And while Pinterest will keep me occupied for hours pinning things, I wonder how it could be better suited for collaboration instead of mere archiving.

Follow Kate B.'s board Teaching on Pinterest.


So to get the collaborative connections going and see how Pinterest can foster collaboration, I have a task for you! Pick something from my Teaching Board and in the comments to this post reply with an idea of how we can make the item better.



Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Another solution: Tracking Formative Standards-Based Student Performance

In discussions with Lindsay Stephenson, another ELA teacher who is implementing standards-based learning with her students, we've been trying to figure out methods for efficiently tracking student progress and alignment with the standards. Neither one of us is keen on the look of spreadsheets. Neither one of us wants to use another learning management system. Also, we don't have to create the standards-based tasks if we can use tools that generate and score tasks for us. We love Google Forms, so why not stick with what we know and love?

To track formative student learning and alignment with the standards, I created this Google Form:






My students will be completing practice (aka formative) standards-based learning tasks in Curriculet and Edmodo. Every Curriculet text has questions tagged with a Common Core ELA Standard and each Curriculet-USA Today news article is tagged with one specific standard.  With the Curriculet-USA Today subscription, my students can select the articles to read and enter in their scores on the above Google Form.  With Edmodo Snapshot, I can select specific standards and a number of questions for students to answers. Students can then enter in their scores on the Google Form shown above. While I can see the students' performance in the teacher dashboard for both Curriculet and Edmodo Snapshot, I want my students to take responsibility for their learning. So, by having the students enter in their scores and reflect on the assignment, they are learning accountability and practicing metacognitive thinking. The formative learning scores will not go into my district gradebook.  I want the students to realize that the process of learning is important whether or not a score is factored into their marking period grade. The summative data will be entered on a separate Google Form and I will figure out a way to translate that data for my district gradebook.

To recap, here is my workflow for tracking standards-based learning with my freshmen:
  1. Students complete formative learning tasks in Curriculet and Edmodo.
  2. Students enter in their scores on the formative tracking form.
  3. I analyze the data and assign retakes as needed.
  4. Students retake formative learning tasks.
  5. Students enter new scores on the formative tracking form.
  6. To document mastery of specific standards, students complete the summative tracking form and submit links to artifacts that demonstrate mastery of the standards. 
  7. I analyze the data and assign additional standards-based tasks throughout the rest of the course.
  8. I can use a mail merge add-on to generate reports of student performance for parents and administrators.
What do you think?  Think this will work? 

One Solution for Tracking Standards Based Learning

I wrote yesterday about my experience with standards-based learning/grading and solicited my readers to submit their templates and tools for tracking student progress.  My edubuddy Tom Driscoll, master of mastery learning, shared some resources with me via Twitter.




I took a look at Jumprope and Mastery Connect, but I'm concerned about making more work for myself by using other platforms (as well as the cost!).  I want to work smarter, not harder, and not be like Alice falling down the rabbit hole learning a new and managing a new-to-me assessment platform. I already use Edmodo, Google Classroom, Curriculet, and my district's gradebook program Genesis. I don't want another platform.  And I took a look at Tom's spreadsheets: WOW!  Prior to Google Classroom, Tom would have each of his students create a copy and share it back with him.  I could adapt Tom's spreadsheets and have Google Classroom create an editable copy for each student to fill out throughout the marking period.  More on this to come....

This got me thinking:  what if I devise a way that students self-evaluate themselves and provide evidence of meeting the standards? My students are trained to peer and self-evaluate using Google Forms, so why can't I adapt that process so that students will make a standards-based portfolio that documents how they have met the Common Core ELA Standards?

If students are doing the data entry, I can save myself time and ensure that they are part of the process.  Here is my thought:  What if I create a Google Form for students to select the standard and provide a link to the artifact that meets that standard?  My high school is a Google Apps for Education school, so my students are completing their tasks predominately in Google Drive.  As long as their learning outcomes live on the web, they can provide a link to the item.  The Google Form will be used for the entire school year and all entries will be located on one spreadsheet that I can sort.

So here is the form I created to track students' summative outcomes in meeting the Common Core ELA Standards:





On the spreadsheet of responses, I could use "Summary of Responses" to see the auto-generated pie charts and graphs of data or I can color the spreadsheet to analyze the data. Other subject area teachers could use this same method to track summative student performance.  What do you think?  

Monday, July 27, 2015

Standards Based Grading & Learning

After connecting at #flipcon15 with Hassan and Amanda, I was invited to join the SBL Mini PLN Voxer group to discuss all things related to standards-based learning/grading as I contemplate making the shift from traditional grades to the SGB model. Why, might you ask? Because I am dissatisfied with the 100-point scale and ABCDF grading systems.  I do not feel as if the traditional model of grading provides an accurate depiction of student performance.  Grades should not be the focus of learning. Grades are a symbol of student performance.

There, I said it.  I have slandered the traditional grading system.

Listening to educators like Rick Wormeli discuss how a zero on a student's assignment destroys the student's average on the 100-point scale when the 100-point scale is so heavily weighted on the bottom confirms my discontent with the system. My district uses the following grading scale for marking period grades and assignment percentages in addition to a points-based grading method:

A = 100-92
B = 91-83
C = 82-74
D = 73-70
F = 69-0

Students earn points for completing assignments and their marking period grade is calculated by dividing the number of points earned by the total points possible and then converting the decimal to a percentage on the 100-point scale. Some teachers will also weigh specific assignment types which complicate the grade calculation.

How is completing 70% of something almost failing? When does someone do zero work? And what really is the difference between 98% and 97%  or 82% and 83% overall?  How can educators accurately assess and symbolize student performance?

The SBL Mini PLN Voxer group discussed some of these issues in a Google Hangout today....



All of this has me thinking about HOW to manage and assess via a standards-based model.  My experience with tracking SBL/SBG is limited.  I've written up specific lessons, benchmark assessments, and culminating assessments that are tagged with Common Core ELA Standards, and I've created a 12-week SBL curriculum unit for my most recent graduate class. When my students read via Curriculet, questions are tagged with specific Common Core ELA Standards. I also have students complete Edmodo Snapshots that target specific ELA Common Core Standards.

This is a 12-week standards based unit plan I created based on the theme of leadership and legacy.


From a lesson and unit planning standpoint, I'm good, but I lack a method for tracking student progress via the standards throughout the marking period and school year.  I use Edmodo's Progress area to track assignments turn in via Edmodo as a working-gradebook with some of the assignment scores transferred to my district gradebook.  While the Edmodo Progress area is sufficient for managing online assignments, I don't have one spot where I can collate alignment with the standards. I want to create some sort of Google Form and Spreadsheet to track the standards assessed because I don't want to put the formative data in my district gradebook. I'd like the standards-based data to guide me in lesson planning and authentically assessing students' skills.  The spreadsheet should provide me with a big picture view of student performance and assignments.

I also wonder about using a specific rubric for standards-based assignments. Hassan, Amanda, and others assess using a 4-point rubric:

4 = Exemplary
3 = Proficient
2 = Approaches the Standard
1 = Does not meet standard

This scaled rubric is similar to my OSU rubric:

O = Outstanding 100%
S =  Satisfactory 87%
U = Unsatisfactory 74%

I do not give half scores: students are outstanding or they are not. I will not enable students with a false sense of accomplishment by protecting their egos with a S+.

When the 4 point rubric is used for a culminating PASS/FAIL grade for the marking period, it is easy to use this rubric for each standards-based assignment, but when I try to fit this into a numeric-points-grading system that my district uses, I'm stumped. I could use the 4 point or OSU rubrics to track formative learning. Formative assessment shouldn't be put in the summative gradebook, but I do need a way to track student progress and monitor their performance overall. I'm also thinking about how I can modify my peer evaluation rubrics for standards-based grading. I want a way to see the big picture of standards based learning in one spot.

If you have any ideas on how to manage the collection of data for standards-based learning or have a template you wouldn't mind sharing, please share in the comments!



Saturday, July 25, 2015

Have You Done Your Summer Reading?

Whenever I run into students during the summer months, I always ask them, "Have you done your summer reading yet?"  As an English teacher, it is an obligatory question.  But summer reading doesn't have to be a chore or a snore.

Summertime is my opportunity to catch up on my reading.  As much as I like to read for entertainment, I can't squeeze it in during the school year. I've become a binge reader: devouring 100s of pages in a single sitting during holidays, breaks, and summer.  Two Christmases ago, I finished the first Game of Thrones book in 24 hours because I could not put it down.  This summer I'm binging on the escapism of historical fiction and sci-fi/fantasy.

So far this summer I've read...


On my list of texts to read...

When it comes to reading professional texts, on my list are...

If I keep up my current pace of finishing a book ever 2-3 days, I should be able to cross off the titles on my list during the last month of my summer break.  When I shared the titles I've read this summer via Facebook, my husband (who is not a reader) jokingly asked if I read, The Housekeeper.  I have not!  Nor have I read the other books in the series: The Laundress and Dishwasher Diaries. There isn't any time to clean when I have so many books to read! 




What books are on your list?  Please comment with your suggestions for fiction and nonfiction texts-- keep me reading so I can avoid cleaning!

All non-Honors track students are assigned to read the same book per grade during the summer.  The titles were selected based on budgetary constraints. We have some copies that can be checked out by students and all of the titles can be read online via a free digital text or thru Curriculet's platform. On the first full school day, all students take a test on their assigned title and the score goes in the gradebook. Over years of trying to find the best way to manage a summer reading program, this was the easiest and least painful method.  But, does summer reading have to be painful for students?

As the only 9th grade Honors English teacher in my district, I have complete control over the summer reading assignment and strategically assign texts and activities for completion.  I purposely chose texts that would engage the students and align with concepts taught throughout the upcoming school year (see my Writing Map and Reading Map). My students read J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, Clive Barker's Abarat, and the school-assigned reading of John Steinbeck's The Pearl. Students are given paperback copies of Hobbit and Abarat, but are tasked with accessing a digital version of The Pearl.  Abarat and Hobbit balance each other: both a long epic texts that follow Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey steps, one with a female protagonist and the other feature a male protagonist.  While reading, students are to keep a reader's response chart, noting their observations and connections to the text.  I do not give a set number or length of entries because I want to see what the students will give me.  When we return to school, students will take a quiz on each of the titles to check for understanding and I will award them completion points for the chart.  We use the summer reading titles as a basis for learning about literary analysis and mentor texts for creative writing throughout the first marking period.

In addition to the fiction texts, my Honors students are also taking part in Curriculet's and USA Today's Summer Reading Challenge.  Students are to select at least 10 articles (I assigned them at least 10, but they can read more than that number if they want to win prizes) and answer the questions embedded in the text.  Each article is tagged with one Common Core Curriculum Standard and contains 3-4 questions that check for understanding using the lens of the standard.  Before my students ever set foot in my classroom, I am getting to know them as they show me when, how, what they are reading in Curriculet.  I can track their progress, see what articles they selected, and monitor their performance. I can see who is a procrastinator and who is an overachiever. I can use the data to create lessons that will bolster their weaknesses and meet their interests.  Students are motivated to read can also win prizes: folks who read at least 3 articles in a day are entered into the daily drawing to win a pair of Beats Headphones; those who read 3 articles a day for a number of days during a week are entered in a weekly drawing for an Apple Watch.  And there are district prizes too! One of my incoming freshmen won one of the daily prizes last week:




All of this makes me wonder about the value of summer reading.  Is it for pleasure? Is it for an assignment? Is it to win prizes? I'm curious to know how you or your district handles summer reading. Let us know in the comments!




Friday, July 24, 2015

BattleDeck-- Presentation Game #flipcon15

I learned about Battle Deck at #flipcon15 during a hilarious segment where participants gave an off-the-cuff-presentation on the theme of Flipping the Prom using a never-before-seen-but-preselected-by-the-game-master slide deck. You'll have to view the archives of #flipcon15 to get the jokes (#nooksandcrannies), but seriously this is a really neat activity. Each player has 2 mins to give a presentation on  pre-decided theme using a never before seen slidedeck. Then the class votes on who gave the best presentation.



Battle Deck is also known as PowerPoint Karaoke and similar to PechaKutcha both of which I have no experience in doing. So I wonder how to bring this in to my classroom.  Thanks to Stacy and Ken for resources below.




I envision BattleDeck as a review activity for a unit or as an activity during our mini-unit on speeches.  During our American Dream Unit, my freshmen read Of Mice and Men and  The Declaration of Independence and read/view Obama's 2nd Inaugural Address, Steve Job's 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, and Ashton Kutcher's 2013 acceptance speech at the Teen Choice Awards in Curriculet.  For each text, we discuss how the American Dream is defined and how the characters/speaker achieved the dream.  We also, in the case of the speeches and historical documents, examine the rhetoric and structure of the speech and how the speech/document was tailored to a specific audience.  I could incorporate Battle Deck as a way for my students to practice public speaking. While Battle Deck could devolve into a rip-roaring roll on the floor laughing moment, we could also use it to practice the delivery of a serious speech on a specific theme.

What ideas do you have for including Battle Deck in your class? Comment and let us know!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Puppets, you say?

My edubuddies Sam Patterson and Cheryl Morris were featured in an Edutopia article, "6 Reasons Why Puppets Will Change Your Classroom Forever."  I've known about Sam and Cheryl's puppet proclivity for years and have listened attentively as they shared their experiences with puppets  in the classroom. I recognize the sound pedagogy and rationale for using puppets with elementary and middle school students. As a high school teacher, I'll be honest, I'm a bit skeptical about making and using puppets with my high school kids.  They already think what we do is nuts, so puppets... I don't know... but I am willing to explore the notion.  If it will help my students, I am for it.

I have never made a puppet before, so under Cheryl and Andrew's tutelage at #Flipcon15, I embraced my inner child and jumped at the change to make my own.  Here's what I experienced:


  • Making puppets is good for eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills, and spatial understanding as I sewed, cut, and glued the materials. I also thought about safety as I tried not to burn myself repeatedly with the hot glue gun.
  • Making puppets helps with socialization.  Akin to a quilting circle, the group of us at #Flipcon15 chatted away as we sewed and glued.  I had to wait patiently for my turn with the glue gun or the scissors.  When I didn't understand how to attach the mouth to the body, I asked for help and clarification.  
  • Making puppets gets me thinking about character and identity as I selected from the supplies and made purposeful selections concerning color and shape of the parts of the puppet. What will the gender of my puppet be? Will it be humanoid or animalistic? Will it have a happy or grumpy personality?  Is the puppet a representation of me or will it have its own identity?
As you can see from the pictures we had quite a good time making our puppets.







When I came home from Flipcon15, my daughters were immediately enthralled with my puppet named Gertie.  My youngest daughter who is in 2nd grade got Gertie talking right away and they became fast friends. Whereas my oldest daughter who is going into 4th grade is a voracious reader, my youngest daughter who is going into 2nd grade hasn't become a bookworm yet.  I wonder if there is a bit of delay because we didn't realize she needed glasses until she was going into kindergarten--while she is an excellent talker and a smart cookie, reading has been a weakness. I mentioned to my youngest daughter that she could read books with Gertie and even use the Kindle Fire to make videos with Gertie. And with that quick mention, magic started to happen....









Not only did both my daughters start making movies and reading with Gertie, they then asked if they could make their own puppets. So one trip to the local Michael's and a ridiculously hot-stay-indoors-summer day later, we were covering our kitchen island with puppet materials and trying to not run with scissors or burn ourselves with glue.






I was impressed with my oldest daughter's dexterity as she sewed her puppet's body.  My youngest surprised me with her clear design.  We chatted, took breaks, and I tried to not to burn myself with the hot glue gun.  What I learned during the first time I made my puppet was reinforced as my daughters made their puppets. The result was a black with blue spots puppy puppet made by my youngest and a blue bird puppet made by my oldest daughter.

Meet Spot and Gooney Bird




"So, puppets, you say?"  In the elementary and middle school classroom, the puppets can be a vehicle for practicing fine motor skills and, after the puppet has been created, the puppet can be a form of inspiration for storytelling or having a buddy to read with.  In the high school classroom, I'm thinking the puppets can be a vehicle for getting students involved with peer instruction and working with younger grades.What if the high school students made puppets and wrote children's books that were read to an elementary class? What if the high school students taught the elementary students to make their own puppets?  I'm also thinking I could incorporate puppet making into my freshmen classes' Create a Hero Project in the Fall or as part of our study of  the myth and George Bernard Shaw's play, Pygmalion, in the Spring. Pygmalion centers on the themes of identity and control: are we who we are because we were made or molded by someone else? The same question can be applied to the puppets. I wonder how else I can use puppets with my students....

So, puppets, I say!






Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Class Dojo GROUPS!

I'm very excited for Class Dojo's announcement introducing the group feature to the platform!  As a teacher who has struggled with how to assess class participation and continually tweak how to manage group's workflow, now I have my answer!

I am very conscious about purposeful use of technology.  I will not use a tool because it is bright and shiny.  I envision using Class Dojo specifically for days that my students are working in groups, and I want to make sure my freshmen are staying on track and to reward the ones who don't need nudges in the right direction. When we are creating life-size Of Mice and Men characters for our Crime Scene Investigation project and my students are working in the room and hallway, I can use Class Dojo Groups to alert both students and parents to their collaborative work habits.  When we do peer evaluation of writing assignments, I can reward students who demonstrate exemplary evaluation skills.  I love the positive reinforcement focus that Class Dojo provides and the ability to keep both parents and students aware of student behavior while students are working instead of waiting for progress report time or the end of the marking period. So often the focus is on negative behavior as teachers call home or send an email. I greatly enjoy the ability to spotlight the POSITIVE!

Thank you Class Dojo for listening to teachers and continually making improvements!  This reciprocal relationship exemplifies the the importance of teachers and edtech companies working together (reinforces teachers to keep talking because we know that you are listening!).

Take a look at Class Dojo's site for more info on Class Dojo Groups....



Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Collaboration & Community

The word "collaboration" is thrown around so much that it should be the center square on a bingo board.  Not that I am denouncing or mocking collaboration, on the contrary, I believe in the power of collaboration and think we can take systemic approach whether collaborating with folks across the country or the hallway.

What is the impetus for collaboration?  I often think about what motivates people to do things. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is always floating around in my brain. If I'm hungry, my stomach needs to be filled, I am motivated to eat. If I'm confused by something, I'm motivated to ask a question and seek answers.  If I don't know how to do something, I am motivated to find people to teach me. As a swim coach, I constantly think about motivating my swimmers through tough workouts or difficult meets.  As a classroom teacher, I think about fostering intrinsic motivation in my students.  As a colleague part of a large professional network, I see motivated folks abuzz with activity.  I realized the impetus and motivation for anything in life comes down to one simple thing: fulfilling a need. Collaboration won't work if you don't feel the need for it to occur.

The first step with any collaboration is to find people to work with (duh!) and the purpose of the collaboration. Serendipitously, I've connected with like-minded folks on Twitter via #flipclass and we've collaborated on numerous projects: research projects, writing groups, and overall curriculum. We discussed community building during last night's #flipclass chat.  The Flipped Learning Community is the most collaborative group of folks I have ever met and this got me thinking about why that was so:



I think the #flipclass folks collaborate so well because we all have recognized a need to change. We weren't satisfied with how we were teaching and felt the need to evolve. I'm greatly over simplifying things in my response above and in this post, but part of the lack of collaboration locally may be due to others not having a need to change or understanding how to change. If there isn't a need, why do it?

About 10 years year ago, I collaborated with two other English teachers in my hall to craft a freshmen curriculum that would lay the groundwork for prepping students for the NJ-HSPA exam taken in 11th grade.  The power of that paper-based collaboration was seen in our exemplary test scores (I know that isn't the only measure of success, but prior to the great digital data era we are in now, those scores were important). We saw a need and fulfilled it with collaboration.  Now that HSPA is gone and PARCC is king (for now), we are recognizing the in-house need to collaborate and prep our students again.  While I do collaborate with individual colleagues on lessons, I wish a standardized test wasn't our primary extrinsic motivation for large-scale collaboration. I want to collaborate so that we can be #BetterTogether-- the sum of all of our parts creating something greater than the whole.

Throughout the 2014-15 school year, I was able to collaborate at home with a new to my district English teacher who also taught senior English next door to one of the classrooms I used this year.  My traveling schedule dictated that we collaborate online via email and Google Drive, creating lessons for the new-to-both-of-us senior English prep.  Having taught senior English only for the first time 2 years ago, I did not feel like an expert in my craft and welcomed her ideas.  We had similar teaching styles and enjoyed working digitally. Our collaboration was born out of a need to strengthen our understanding of the texts we were teaching to better engage our students.  I greatly appreciated our collaboration and hope it will continue when I'm on the other side of the building teaching freshmen full time again.

So as we are moving more and more towards paperless learning, I have been thinking about how to craft a digital curriculum-- house all of those lessons and materials I create with colleagues.  I presented on the technical aspects of collaboration for curriculum design at NCTE's Conference on English Leadership (CEL) in November 2014. While I've evolved many of my classroom activities and resources to a digital format, there has been little digital collaboration on a departmental level--other than emailing Word files back and forth or keeping an inventory of books via Google Sheets--with my colleagues in my building.  The objective of my CEL session was to give other ELA educators easy to use tools and strategies for creating, sharing, and housing an archive of digital resources particular to their curriculum.

After looking through the slides below, I'd love to read about your strategies for collaboration. Heck, we could collaborate about collaboration!

Am I thinking too much out of the box?

Do you have a better way?







Monday, July 20, 2015

Session Formats & The Grade Divide #flipcon15

Lindsay Cole and I led a session at #Flipcon15 on the great divide between grades and learning, entitled "The Grade Divide"  (get the pun?).  When we first wrote up our proposal for this session, we envisioned small group / roundtable discussions where participants shared their opinions and best practices with getting students to focus more on learning and less on the grades.  When we learned that we were a featured session held in the large lecture hall being streamed to the virtual audience, we recognized that our original session format needed to shift.

When my students write, I constantly have them focusing on the Task, Audience, and Purpose (TAP) of the writing: What are you writing? Who are you writing for? Why are you writing this?  The same questions apply to giving presentations.  What are you presenting? Who are you presenting to? Why are you presenting? The answers to the TAP questions will drive the session format.

Lindsay and I knew that we did not want a "sit and get" type session, nor could roundtable discussions work in a lecture hall of static seating with a virtual audience viewing the live action in the room. We decided to try a talkshow style format: pose a question to the group, poll the physical and virtual audience for their general reaction, share our specific stories, and have audience members volunteer to share their stories as well.


The greatest fear for the talkshow style session is that no one will show up and no one will participate.  As you can see from some of the tweets, people showed up AND participated. If you view the archive of our session, you'll see me dashing about with the handheld mic.







In order to engage our audience, we took a different approach with our slidedeck, as well the session format. When thinking about how to design your slide deck, answering the TAP questions will determine the type of format for your session.




Lindsay and I realized that this session couldn't be "death by PowerPoint" with gobs of information on the slides. So to spark participants, each slide had a meme and guiding question.  We were purposeful in our selection of memes--the meme had to work with the guiding question and be school appropriate.  Additionally, to give us something to talk about and engage the audience, we added in polls and discussed the results. So the gist of our format was: poll audience, tell our stories, view the poll results, and have audience members tell their stories. By asking a poll we could have everyone participate and then focus in on specific folks to share their stories. What was the purpose of our session?  Get people talking!  We couldn't get them talking if we were having them read slides full of information.






Reflecting on the session, I think it went very well, although it was a bit rushed at the end.  We could easily have stretched this 60 minute session into 90 minutes without editing the slidedeck. And as evident from the tweet below from flipped learning pioneer and band leader Aaron Sams, the virtual audience was having a very lively discussion.  Our moderator, Dan Spencer, did a great job keeping Lindsay and I informed about the virtual audience, even stating at one point the stream was flowing so fast he could barely keep up. I'd like to figure out a better way--other than on Twitter-- for the virtual attendees to interact with the physical audience in the room. It would be cool to somehow have them share their stories via GHO during the session.




If you were in the audience for this session, what did you think?  Anything Lindsay and I could have done differently/better?

Whether or you were there or not, how do you create conference sessions that engage the audience?