Archive for the ‘students’ 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.

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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. 

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 Thirteen – Collaboration&Connections


We’ve reached a point where I’m able to refer back to things we’ve talked about: imagery, exploding the moment, making connections, visualizing, the relationship between words and images, etc – in relation to the work we’re doing now. It is satisfying to watch Adam and Franklin discuss if a page needs text or stands on its own, or if text on one page can cover two images and hear them reasoning it out and justifying it. Today they went through, looked at the notes I made for each of them, and took turns writing down the text for every other page of A Circle of Friends. They started out not really talking about it but as it became clear that they had to know what the other wrote they discussed what they wrote and made small changes as they went along. Tomorrow we’ll lay the text out and see what needs to be changed. I pointed out that they started in 3rd person, but Franklin began writing in 1st person. So, it flipped back and forth between 1st and 3rd. Adam thinks it sounds better in 1st, they’ll make that decision together tomorrow.

We started the day talking about storyboarding. I showed my example (Exploding!!!) that I wrote for EDU 566 and talked about that I didn’t have to storyboard but that it helped me pick a topic and to slow down a moment like we had talked about yesterday (Class Twelve – Progress). Then they tried it. I suggested things they could try based on previous things they wrote or to look back at the map we drew as a prompt. It was a bit of a struggle to get started but Adam chose a story he’d told me this morning about teaching a friend to dive and their subsequent belly flop. Franklin decided to make up a story but it was not as inventive as his usual stories. To do it again I would give him the opportunity to orally rehearse his story before having him represent it graphically. Once we had some pictures drawn we shared them and then I asked them to write based on the pictures, to slow time down and engage the readers’ senses. Adam got stuck on how to describe how the diving board moved and we sketched it out to try to figure out the best way to describe it. Franklin didn’t enjoy this; I suggested picking one of the squares from his storyboard and focusing on that. He tried but this just didn’t work for him. I’m okay with that though, each strategy doesn’t have to be a gem for every student. I’m just giving them tools to put into their tool box, maybe storyboarding will hang out at the bottom of the box and get dusty, but maybe one day he’ll find a need for it. The strategy worked well for Adam, he even went back to it while writing to figure out some details.

There isn’t much time left in the program, four more coaching day, six more days for me. I wasn’t sure what kind of impact I was going to make in such a short time but I do see it, it isn’t ginormous but it is there and with the four days left I know that the mini-lessons we’ve done will find a place in the projects we’re doing and find a solid home in their tool box.

Class Twelve – Progress


The interaction between Franklin and Adam has been an interesting thing to watch evolve. Yesterday Franklin wanted to go to the library, to which I said absolutely and made time for it. He picked out another Shel Silverstein book (Falling Up) and to my surprise Adam picked one out too (A Giraffe and a Half). Today Franklin read two poems aloud, acting out the first one. Adam read part of his book aloud and asked Franklin to read a part as fast as he could. They each tried. Franklin made a copy of the passage to turn into a rap. Franklin’s unabashed interest in reading (and performing) is having a positive impact on Adam, just as I’d hoped. A little conversation with Mom revealed that this “I don’t like to read” attitude is new since middle school. I hope that this summer’s workshop will change that attitude (and it seems to be already) and will carry over, or at least not slip as far back, once school starts.

The discussion on Theme today wasn’t terrific. They understood it but the heat was making it difficult for all of us. I used the Lorax as an example to talk about theme as we’d just read it yesterday. Adam came up with some good themes, Franklin seemed distracted but participated when I asked him directly. Then we tried to talk about When You Reach Me. Trying to pull a theme out of this book while half way through is difficult. I thought it was a good compliment to the Lorax to show them that the theme isn’t always obvious.

We got out of the building and found a cooler spot to spend SSR and Read Aloud time. As they read or I read, I asked them to make a note of a scene that they could picture in their mind and that we’d try to draw that scene after. Franklin had Read Aloud first and stopped me to point out three different scenes that he could picture. Adam chose one from his independent reading book.We trudged upstairs, grabbed materials and sat on the floor at the bottom of a stairwell where it was deliciously cool. They both enjoyed this activity and when I asked them why we try to visualize when we read Adam immediately said that it helps understand the book and Franklin said that it helps get into the book.

I truncated the explode the moment activity because of the heat. I talked about slowing a moment down, read an example that I wrote, showed some videos of slow motion (see them here and here and here) and talked about real-time and being able to slow it down as you write. I’d like to come back to it because I think it is fun and connect back to imagery.
Lastly they worked on their Fake Facebook walls (Adam’s for Hatchet and Franklin‘s for Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life -he hasn’t had as much time as Adam to work on it) and finished reading A Circle of Friends. Once both of the boys had finished going through A Circle of Friends and talking about each page I went through and put each of their sticky notes containing the brief description they’d given me together on each page. This way they can go through and see what the other came up with and collaboratively choose one or edit them together or come up with something else.

We headed back to the room so that Franklin could perform the poem he’d picked. He did a reading of the title poem from Falling Up to which he added some actions. Then he read another. Looking at the book it looked like he had marked a couple of poems. Back inside Adam shared (as I mentioned already) and while Franklin was transcribing the passage Adam looked at A Circle of Friends and a conversation sprung up between them “How did you know it was money? I thought it was a book!” They were discussing the process in which they made meaning of the images! It was brilliant. Then Franklin took the book and went through and narrated a story to it that was very good, his delivery is dramatic and ‘serious’, the vocabulary he chose and the way he crafted the sentences made it sound like there were words in the book he was reading instead of coming up with them right then.

I’m feeling pretty good about the project. I think that the boys will work well together and they will question each other’s choices in a productive way. I’m excited to get started on the next step.

Class Ten – Yay me!


On Professional Development Friday we talked about Best Practices. What are they? How do you recognize them? As we began to discuss these questions Peter (co-director of the program) pointed out that we were all talking about qualities of practices rather than specific practices. Then he laid out some things to think about when planning instruction:

    • Be intentional – know what you are teaching and why you are teaching it and why you are teaching it that way
    • CREATE motivation
    • BE GUIDED by assessment
    • CUSTOMIZE to meet needs
    • INVITE meaningful Applications
      • (context of real world, of their world)
    • ENGAGE in rich (meaningful) text
      • (Broad definition of ‘text’)
    • PROVIDE sufficient time and space

All of these things speak to me, the ones that grab my attention most is “create motivation”, “Invite meaningful Applications”, and “Engage in rich text”. Without motivation, you will get crappy work, or at least work that has been done to the barest minimum and will have NO IMPACT on the students’ LEARNING! Which is the whole point, right? Meaningful Applications with rich texts. This will create Motivation. If kids aren’t aware of how and why what they are doing fits within the real world (or their world, which isn’t always the same as the real world) then they are going to roll their eyes at you and whine “why are we doing this?!” I have made it my mission as a teacher to never hear this question. It is part of my larger mission to be transparent with my students about my teaching methods and motivation.

Providing learning experiences that relate to the real world (though school is real too) is important. As an ETEP student I interned at King Middle School in Portland, Maine. It was amazing. So amazing that as soon as I was hired into a teaching position I started lauding the Expeditionary model to everyone and anyone who would listen (read more about EL). Eventually the admin got on board and sent the 8th grade team and some related arts teachers and the curriculum coordinator to attend a two-day workshop at King, provided paid summer time to plan an expedition and made a five-year plan to bring the school into EL. This past year we pulled off our first Expedition (see the Truth Posters, read the Press coverage). The seventh grade went to the King workshop last year and are planning their first Expedition for the upcoming year. It is very exciting and has led to fantastic learning experiences and demonstrations of learning.

Related to this are the three Influences on Learning:

    • Environment
    • Texts and Materials
    • Instruction

As this list appeared during the PowerPoint, I really focused on Environment, which to me includes a sense of community and the culture of the class and school. Before class I went to the Registrar’s office to get a copy of my English Degree. I want to display it in my classroom as a subtle way of showing that education is valued. I’m proud that I have my BA (my MA Ed will go up too) and believe that education is important. I think that kids will see it, look at it, and ask me about it providing me an opening to talk about their thoughts on education and it’s importance.

The sessions on specific stages of literacy development were good, strategies were shared and I always enjoy that.

Back with Team Awesome we split up and looked at our last lesson plan and talked about planning for Monday and gave each other feedback. I found this very useful. Emily asked me great questions that made me think about the big picture plan – something we’ve both been struggling with. I also found it helpful just to talk about what I’m doing and how it’s going, yes I blab on and on here but a live interactive (ahem you could comment on this post and make it more interactive!) audience is so much better. Hearing what she is doing and how it is going and trying to help her answer the questions she was so invigorating (really? am I that geeky about teaching? . . . um yes I am!). This is kind of professional development that makes me wish time would hurry up so I can get back in the classroom.

Though this discussion I realized something: I have good ideas about helping kids! Go me!

It feels a bit weird to say that, I don’t feel that comfortable patting myself on the back like that. I like to think that I’m a good teacher, but I cringe at the idea of saying it out loud for fear of the reaction it would bring. “I’ve only been teaching for three years, how good could I really be”, but within those three years I’ve watched and learned and listened and experimented and pushed myself and my students and my school to be the best we can, and before those three years everything was leading up to me becoming a teacher; working in a teen group home, the 1:1 behavior specialist work I did, the classes and discussions and choices I made have helped shape the person and teacher I am. So it isn’t just those three years, it is also the path through life that I took to get here. Just like readers bringing all their schema to a text, teachers bring all their life experience to their teaching.

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