Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Staying Organized using Google Apps for Ed. in the classroom


(Scroll to the bottom to skip to the video)

I was recently asked (twice in the same week) to share how I organize student work shared with me via Google Apps for Education. At nErDcamp Northern New England I attended a session on using Google Apps to give feedback to students (See the session notes here) and shared how I organize all the documents that students share with me.

-A side note: As an 8th grade teacher in Maine, each of my students has a MacBook Air to use. We are also a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) District which has allowed me to be a mostly paperless classroom.

When I began using GAFE in the classroom the document list was much easier to navigate, but when the format changed I knew that I had to as well.

I always have students make two folders – an “LA” folder and a “LA Pass in” folder, they share the “LA pass in” folder with me and put it in folder inside the LA folder. This serves a couple of purposes: 1. It provides students with some structure for their own files (I actually lead them through this process for each of their classes). 2. It provides an easy way to share and see what is shared with me – after the folder is shared with me, EVERYTHING they put in there becomes shared with me.

–Another side note: I have strict naming protocols, EVERY DOCUMENT (and folder) must follow this format: [Last name, First initial NAME OF ASSIGNMENT]. I don’t look at anything named “untitled document”.

When an assignment is ready to be passed in they fill out a form I create using GAFE. It asks for their Name (a separate question for last and first), class section, and a link to their shared document. Now, I often will include other items – a question that forces them to go through a formatting checklist, a reminder to put the assignment into their “LA Pass in” folder. I have recently began including a grid question that recreates the rubric so they can self evaluate on the assignment and I also include questions that make them reflect on the process of the assignment.

The student accounts (and so the account I use to interact with them) are managed and I am unable to share the exact forms I use with students but here is a link to a PDF of the form students used to submit the final draft of their poetry essay.

The brilliance of using a form to collect student work like this is that I then end up with a spreadsheet with a link to the assignment that I can sort by last name, class section, or by how they scored themselves.

Watch the video below to see the form, the spreadsheet it creates, and how I use it.

Managing Student Work in Google Docs


It is no secret that I’m a big fan of Google Docs. Managing student work can be a nightmare though. Collections help but you still end up with multiple open tabs (or windows if that’s your style). The Free Technology for Teachers Blog (written by a Maine educator and something you really need to check out) had a post that provided a link to yet another blog that gives some step by step directions on how collect assignments via gdocs and click through them all in the same window. I’ve set up the form on my site here. I’m going to try it out just for Lord of the Flies assignments as a test run. 

The post can be found here and it includes a link to make a copy of the form (you don’t even have to create it, just add the list of your assignments (or you could have the student fill that out and remove that piece of work. 

What is the “backchannel”?


The term “backchannel” refers to what teachers would call the side-conversations that happen during class. Now we know that not all of these conversations are off topic, sometimes students are getting clarification of directions, brainstorming, getting feedback, or engaging with the topic/material in some other way. Tapping into this backchannel brings all that to the attention of the group. It brings questions and answers, feedback, and other chatter that has the potential of creating a whole new level of engagement to your class. You don’t have to acknowledge everything that is posted and obviously some direction and modeling and practice using it will have to happen. You can archive these conversations and make them available for students to access later.

Todaysmeet is a free resource that allows you to create rooms that expire. (A different room for each unit? class block?) There is no signing up for you or students to use this site. Students enter a name to use and start typing. The downside is that students could put whatever name they want and you would have a hard time monitoring who is saying what (if you wanted to do that), easily dealt with by having clear expectations. The benefit of this site is that only people who have the link can join the room.

Twitter is also geared perfectly for this. The use of hashtags (#) keeps everyone together and allows for a more complicated organization to happen (if desired). This does need a (free) account for all who want to participate. The downside is the need of an account (it is free and easy to set up), and that it is public to anyone (they would have to be following a user or search for the hashtag which would limit the number of outside audience members). The benefit of this is that you could track who is saying what easier, it would be easy to access later, the conversation could continue after class ends.

Class Seventeen – Students thinking about Text/Image Relationship


Today we began again with writing and adding detail. We wrote and then passed our work around so that we could read each others and ask questions. This worked well. Each person (myself included) got their work returned with questions from two people. Then we went back and answered the questions. I think that both Franklin and Adam realized that they were leaving things out that their reader wanted to know. Tomorrow, I’ll ask them to ask questions of their own writing and try to answer them. My goal is to show them, while getting feedback from someone is good, how they can work on adding details to their writing to make it more interesting.

The work on “A Circle of Friends” is going well. I printed out the text for each page last night and today the guys cut them out and figured out where on the page they should go. A couple will have to get formatted to fit in a tall narrow spot and three or four got split between two pages or split to go in different spots on the page. They decided that two should involve the font getting bigger to make the image of the words reflect the meaning of the words. It really showed that they were thinking about the text and the relationship it has with the images. I simply made changes to the digital copy, and asked one or two questions; they did the work and the thinking – SCORE!! I was starting to wonder if this project purpose had gotten lost. Today showed me that it wasn’t and in fact it was better than I’d hoped for.

Tomorrow will be the big push to get all the projects done. In addition to the aforementioned project, Adam is creating a fake Facebook wall and Franklin is performing his reading of “Falling Up” that we will record and show. I hope it can all get done!! Time has really flown for these seventeen classes, I can’t believe that after two more it will be over and I’ll have my Masters – SWEET!!

Class Sixteen – Questions


Today was a day of questions.

We did some writing first thing, and will continue doing so Tuesday and Wednesday, and talked about how to write ‘more’. The strategy I focused most on was questions. What questions are your reader going to have for you after reading your piece? Have you answered the who/what/where/when/how questions? I asked them some questions about their writing and they asked me a question about mine and we went to work answering them. It went okay for the first day. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow, I’ll have them switch and ask each other questions about the writing. My hope is that they start to think about these questions as they write.

Then we transitioned into questions about reading, QAR (Question-Answer Relationships). The four levels of questions,

  1. Right There – The answer is right in the text, easy-peasy.
  2. Think and Search – The answer is in the text, but you’re going to have to hunt for it.
  3. Author and You – The answer is not in the story, you have to use what you learned from the text and what you know to answer.
  4. On Your Own – This question is related to the topic of the reading but you do not have to have read it to answer the question.

I gave out an organizer, and a sheet that provided clues within the format of the question that help to determine what type of question it is, thereby knowing what you need to do to answer it. Then we went online and took this four-question quiz that provided a text, a question and answer and asked what type of question it is. Adam zipped ahead through the quiz as I helped Franklin, who thought everything was a “Right There” question. We focused on the question being asked and where it could be found and then looked at the handouts. They both got 2/4 (but so did I when I went through it yesterday to check it out. Let me know how you do.).

Then I had questions for them about their text for “A Circle of Friends”. I asked them to check to see if the story and wording was the way they wanted and if the words matched the images. They made some good changes. Franklin became distracted though and began making up words (and definitions) that he wanted to include in the story. Adam thought they were funny but wasn’t about to let them into the story. I thought that it was funny too and was interested in the form the words were taking, most of them ended in “-ion” and the definitions made them nouns. I don’t think that he could have verbalized his reasoning but it is obvious that he’s internalized that. His definitions also sounded like definitions, there is a level of awareness in this as well.

The final questions came from me. When picking up Franklin, I was told that he wants Franklin to have homework, structure, like the other student he brings has. He said that making up words was silly and it wasn’t what he was paying the program for. I was not ready for this. The program doesn’t really talk about homework other than reading on their own, the other student that he mentioned was working on the summer reading assignment great for that student to have this time to work on it – not an option in my case, but also not required. In writing the case studies for both students (and at the end of each year of teaching) I look back and think “Boy I should have. . . ” “I could have. . . ” “I wish I . . . ” Having this interaction at the end of the day threw me. If this had happened during the school year I would have been in the mindset to handle this and defend Franklin’s progress and lauded his creativity and word sense. Even now, hours later, I am questioning not only how I handled it but the instruction that I’ve given Franklin. I know that I know what I’m doing though, I know that Franklin, in the very brief time we’ve had, has learned, his presentation of “Falling Up” is proof, the decisions that he’s making as a reader on how to present it orally are partially in result of work we’ve done together, I know I shouldn’t doubt myself but it isn’t always easy. The good thing (I think) is that we have parent/teacher conferences the next two days and I will be able to talk about all of Franklin’s strengths at that point.

I will always have those questions about how I could have done a better job on a lesson, a unit, or a conversation. This is different from doubting, I know that I do the best job that I can – but I want to be better. I think that is what good teachers do; they question everything with the intent to be better for our students. When a teacher decides that what they do is ‘good enough’ then they are no longer teachers. A teacher must continue to strive, to grow, to increase their knowledge – not just of their content but of teaching strategies and educational theory, and, most importantly, of their students – so that they avoid stagnation. Not the most appropriate simile, but teachers are like sharks – when they stop moving they die. Okay that is more dramatic than I was going for but I think it makes the point. Teachers aren’t just teachers, they must be students too.

Class Fifteen – Being a Coach


Today’s class focused on Literacy Leadership. Now I know you might be saying “Wait, weren’t the last Friday’s spent on that?” To which I’d reply “You’ve been reading my blog?!” Then I’d go on to explain that it is a big topic. Today the focus was on not students but colleagues. Being a resource for teachers regardless of title.

To coach is to convey a valued colleague from where he or she is to where he or she wants to be. – Art Costa

I’m not familiar with Costa (you can click his name above to go to his site) but Peter said that he is very careful about the words he chooses. He asked what stood out to us in this quote. To me it is what I emphasized with underline and bold. The goal of the coach isn’t to push or cajole someone to a place of the coaches choosing, it is to be a bridge to help them reach their goal. This bridge metaphor really resonates with me and I use it as an introduction on my resume website.

We discussed a few scenarios in class that made us think about how we would act in a coaching role and were given a prompt to respond to as homework. Here is the scenario to which I am to respond:

Lee has been teaching seventh grade Language Arts for fifteen years and completed his master’s degree in literacy three years ago. He provides reading and writing workshops for her students and differentiates according to their needs. His students are very successful.

Janet has been teaching seventh grade Language Arts for the same amount of time, but her students are not doing as well as others in her department. In fact, her students have made the least gains in seventh grade for several years in a row. She typically teacher with whole class novels.

At the weekly PLC meeting, Janet shares that she is frustrated by her students’ progress. She reaches out to the group for help. Lee is not the school’s literacy specialist, but he knows that his students are successful. He wants to help but is not sure how to go about it.

 

The questions I’m to answer are: What would you do if you were Lee? How would you act as a coach to support your colleague? Have you ever been in a similar situation? What did you do? How did it work out?

I’ll let you think about how you’d answer before sharing my own. . .

Continue reading

Class Fourteen – Strategies and Presentation


It was just Franklin and I today. Adam was sick. On Monday we will have to spend a good chunk of time working on the text for A Circle of Friends.

We started with a strategy that was shared in our small group yesterday. It’s called “Somebody, Wanted, But, So” [Click here to see the organizer] It is a great strategy that can be used for a variety of purposes. We used it for summarizing. You start with a character [somebody] who wants something, but there is something in the way of it so this happens. I modeled it using the Lorax {The Lorax [somebody] wanted the Once-ler to stop cutting down truffela trees, but the Once-ler cut them all down, so the Lorax sent all the animals away and then left as well] and then Franklin did it with his own book. I also slipped in a discussion of conflict. The but points right to the conflict that the character is facing. We also used it for prediction with When you Reach Me, we haven’t finished it yet, which leaves the so as a perfect place for prediction. Franklin asked if he could take a blank graphic organizer home with him.

For the celebration next Thursday we’re going to present a video of Franklin’s dramatic reading of Shel Silverstein‘s Falling Up. We did a couple of practice takes today that went pretty well. Then we headed outside to practice the presentation. On the way down I mentioned the poetry warp activity that we had done on day nine (Day Nine – That goes in the Win column!). We talked about how different parts of the poem might be read differently (slower, louder, etc). Outside Franklin read through the poem in different ways. I pointed out lines that I liked his delivery of where he ignored the lack of punctuation and suggested a line where he might pay closer attention to the lack of punctuation and read through to the next line. He made a choice to say the word “Up”, which is repeated, louder and give it more emphasis. I was really pleased with how this went and am excited to work with him on this. He really seemed happy with how it was going too and said so when I asked him. I think that he understands how his delivery changes the feel of the poem and the poetry warp exercise put the choices he can make on the table for him. His presence as he is speaking the lines and the small movements he’s working into the delivery is really coming together and should make for a very entertaining presentation.

It was good to just have Franklin today, it gave me the opportunity to connect with him better. Adam had that chance earlier in the program and I’m glad that I was able to have that chance with Franklin too. Building personal relationships with students, getting to know them and letting them know you, is really important. If they don’t know that you are a sincere, caring, hilarious, knowledgeable, open, willing to learn from them person then you will add that to the challenges of teaching and learning.

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