Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pop Quiz for Teachers

My students know that I love the "pop" quiz, which isn't always very much of a surprise :)
Here's one for me from Jenny at Lucacept:

Am I “network literate”? I strive to be.

Am I “Googled well”? Yes. This gets better every year, and I love finding myself on other people's blogs and presentation wikis.

Am I learning with others “out there”? Canada, Australia, and all over the US - YES

Am I a “mobile learner”? No, I don't own a cell phone (maybe that will change soon)

Am I reading and writing differently? As an English teacher, I think NO. Although I try to skim online, it's very difficult for me. I go to catch up on my reader and get stuck on the first two posts I come across. There is SO much great info out there; I just can't skip over it. I'm fascinated by it all.

Am I collaborating, co-constructing and collectively acting with others? My collaborations have improved this year, but I want to do much more with this whole area.

Am I a learner first, teacher second? I don't know that I can put it in this kind of hierarchy. I feel that learning in a continual process running over everything that I do, and teaching is a framework underneath that - the structure and prior knowledge that I need to progress and help my students progress more efficiently.

So, final grade? I'm definitely a work in progress.

Words, words, words

They matter. My students are studying diction these days, and whether it's "rain" or "bad" in A Farewell to Arms or colors and a rich vocabulary in The Great Gatsby, words matter. We think a lot about how writers use words to create particular effects, but we don't often think about the effect of some of the words that we throw around has on others.

I am particularly sensitive to some words because of my experiences in life. And, while we won't be able to predict everyone's personal sensitivity, some sensitivities are shared by so many that we cannot continue to ignore those effects. When used in a derogatory way, the meaning of a word changes. The poison spreads and then, there is no good, positive context in which the word can ever be used.

So listen to the people whom this harms the most. Stop the R-word, in any context, around any person. It is a poisoned word and should be allowed to die. I will never say it again.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Blogging Works - We Proved It

I've used blogs with my classes, especially juniors, for three years now. I have told them each year that it was a good idea. I have modeled blogging with my own blog here, but they have never bought in and really experienced the various advantages until now.

I started my new unit on Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms with a new mission: extend discussion beyond the classroom to the blogs. Every year I am frustrated by not enough time to really discuss all of the great topics and writing developed in this novel. I am also really stepping back this year and have developed a class environment in which students direct and choose topics, not just me all the time. While I have skills to review and concepts to cover, I don't need to be the one who picks the direction of the discussion every day. My students have great ideas, passion, and interest in their reading, so I'm the last one who wants to get in the way of that.

I began a previous unit with a new blogging concept. Instead of writing a traditional reading log (reflect on the pages that you just finished before we have class tomorrow), I asked students to choose one or two quotations from the reading to comment on. This, I think, made the assignment more personal and interesting for the students. Reading each others' ideas also became more relevant. While some students had benefited from reading blogs written by more skilled readers, many students didn't comment on each others' work. Writing about a particular reading passage also lead to ideas which would quickly become outdated and irrelevant. Why look back at any earlier blog when we'd progressed in our class discussions?

For A Farewell to Arms, we started with a lottery. Everyone chose a name of a junior and selected a second junior to follow. Besides choosing a quote to reflect on, students also read and commented on two classmates' blogs. The first effect: students talked about blogs during class, their own and their classmates'.

When it was all said and done, I asked them to grade themselves with these directions:

I structured the blog assigned for A Farewell to Arms in a different way, so I would like to structure the grading of that differently as well.
The purpose of the blogs was to:
  • help you further your understanding of the main ideas of the novel,
  • give you practice in composing effective written communications,
  • give you more opportunity to share your ideas beyond class time, and
  • give you more immediate feedback to help you refine your ideas about each reading assignment.
Wow! That’s a lot. So, how did you do? Here’s where you respond to the following questions to help me assess how well you accomplished the above goals through blogging. (If your answer is not 100% yes, then please explain)
  • Did you write a blog post for each reading assignment?
  • Did you write each one quickly or thoughtfully?
  • Did you comment on your assigned classmates’ blogs faithfully?
  • Did you discover or clarify ideas through writing blogs yourself, reading others’ blogs, and commenting?
  • Who were the classmates who commented most often on your blog?
  • Who was the classmate whose comments helped you to develop your own ideas about the novel?
  • Did you ever bring up a blog post during class, yours or a classmates?
  • Did Robin ever comment on your blog and what did you think about that? *
  • What was most valuable to you about blogging with this novel?
  • What grade did you earn on this assignment? (review the 4 goals at the top)
* One of Dean Shareski's students who volunteered to comment on my student blogs as part of her college course.

The final result. Great learning and the majority of students took this opportunity to share and discover new things about the novel that they were interested in for themselves.

Here is a partial list of some responses to number 9:
  • Writing about things that we didn’t necessarily cover in depth during class.
  • I enjoyed discussing our blog posts in class and debating over which ideas we thought were the most correct. I thought that it was fun to comment and read other people’s blogs, but what I enjoyed the most was discussing our comments in class.
  • The commenting, because it forced us to see what our other classmates were thinking and then we could receive a different insight
  • The most valuable thing about blogging this book, to me, was seeing everybody’s reactions to the book. I know not everybody would like it, and I enjoyed reading what people who liked the book had to say. It helped me understand it too.
  • The most valuable thing about blogging this book, to me, was seeing everybody’s reactions to the book. I know not everybody would like it, and I enjoyed reading what people who liked the book had to say. It helped me understand it too.
  • I was able to voice my opinions on the book easier.
  • The most valuable thing was probably the studying I can do from it.
Sigh. I love my students and my school for allowing this kind of experimentation.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Changing Face of Literature

What do you think about this?
How does it change how we think about telling stories, writing/composing, and studying literature? Will the novel be rejuvenated by making it more interactive? Can this open a new audience to the classics? Is this the next step after the graphic novel?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sophomore Romanticism Presentations 2009

Eric, Elizabeth, Rachel:

Maya, Jess, Ty, Josh:

Austen, Sofie, Tony, Lindsay:

Prescott, Paige, Cory, Nathan:

Margeaux, Kahlil, Megan:

Colleen, Emily, Tyler, Maddie

Mrs. Clark Evans's sample presentation:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Spicing Up Lessons with Video

My sophomores are finalizing presentations on the British Romantic poets today. After reviewing the standard grading rubric that I will use tomorrow, I reviewed tips for making a powerful and effective PPT presentation by showing this video:

Find more videos like this on TeacherLibrarianNetwork

We particularly noted the reactions of the audience members, and I reiterated that should any of their audience members behave as the first example then they would definitely lose points on the rubric. I thought this was a much more effective way for me to make my point to them.
  • How have you used video to enhance a traditional lesson?
  • When have you been in the audience when video enhanced your learning or understanding of the main point?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Engaging Me

I have really enjoyed reading and thinking about Will Richardson's recent blog post: Personalizing Education for Teachers Too. So far there are about 54 comments on his original post. Since I selected to follow any additional comments, I get a couple new ones in my email every day which have lead me to think about the issue from several different perspectives.

Blogging is such an interesting way to have a conversation. It's great for people like me who need the processing time between comments (I was never one who did well in the college history course in which my grade depended on how many times I spoke during the two hour class discussion). In following this conversation I have found my own thoughts developing from the multiple perspectives of the contributors who have commented, I have read online articles including "What Research Says About...The Continuum of Teacher Learning" from Educational Leadership, and I have contributed my two cents a couple of times.

Today I added:
There seem to be two threads to this conversation 1) how to best engage students and 2) how to best engage teachers. And, the answer seems to be the same-with direct one-on-one interpersonal interactions and guidance. This is an area that I am always trying to improve in my own teaching practices. And this conversation only solidifies for me its importance. Although time is always an issue, building meaningful connections with other people doesn't have to take a long time. It's the little things you do to show interest in the person. When you show that kind of interest more times than not the student reciprocates with giving your subject a more open-minded approach.
The same goes with helping colleagues open up to discovering the many opportunities that web 2.0 has to offer to the learning experience. Reaching out to them where they are, hearing their concerns, and giving them practical help where they need it will make their transition even smoother and hopefully "light the fire" within them which could spread to others. Is this too optimistic? I hope not. I can't see our institutions changing significantly any other way.

As far as taking time to learn the safe and efficient way to use tech, I'm not sure that's necessary or if that's even a luxury that we have at this point. The time to use tech in the classroom is now. The only thing you have to "learn" about using it well is to use it purposefully, not as a gadget or for entertainment value. How do you learn this? Seek out a mentor for yourself, in person or online. The resources for learning are all around you.

We know that students learn best when they are engaged. Engage them and they will be ready for the standardized tests. Engage them by using the resources available to you and to them to light their fire for learning.
I don't often get so involved in a blogging conversation like this one, but I'm glad that I did. Ultimately, I want to be able to help my students create these kinds of conversations in their own blogs. Just haven't figured out how to fit that into my prescribed curriculum yet.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Getting My Head Back in the Game

I like this list of things that teachers should strive to do these days. I'd like to use this list to focus some of my own efforts. I feel that I am pulled in too many directions lately: new teacher mentor, PLP cohort member, writing teacher, literature guide, builder of personal connections, encourager, grader, lit mag advisor, student advisor, service organization club advisor...and of course, mother, wife, friend. How to do it all? How to do it all well?

It's good to sit back, take a breathe and reflect on what is going well. Number 10 on the attached list is one that is most intriguing to me now. How can I encourage and grade creativity and collaboration in my 21st century classroom? The first seems so subjective and the second is sometimes hard to assess because a lot of the work can happen outside of the classroom and my observation. My sophomores are currently working on a project-filming a scene from Macbeth-which encourages both creativity and collaboration. I tried to set it up with an open discussion "what do you need from other group members to make a successful movie?" I want them to feel accountable to each other more than to achieving a particular grade. Also, I told them that we would show their movie to the entire Upper School in hopes of encouraging their creativity-driving them to create an interesting film for a real audience. I'm excited to see what they produce and share it with our school audience.