Always Room for Improvement

As this semester comes to a close, I do what I normally do which is take time to reflect on how I can make the learning process for my students more engaging and meaningful. Though I like predictability and routine, it doesn’t work so well for me in the classroom since I teach the same thing all day long. So when it comes to a new semester with new students, this is when I like to shake things up a bit.

What I liked from this past semester:

  • Using Flipboard a public platform for sharing student work
  • Using Recap as another means to check for understanding while also helping students to practice speaking skills
  • Finding readable primary source materials for The Crusades and then having students turn those into #booksnaps

What I need to work on or change for next semester:

  • Put together a reading schedule for students to ensure that all of the required readings are covered earlier in the unit
  • Create more opportunities for writing
  • Give students more opportunities for mastery learning

Most of these changes will not require a lot of work, but rather revising or tweaking current instructional practices. Though I believe I offer many opportunities for student-centered learning, I could…I must…I will do better.

#bringiton

Make it Better Moment #30daysofblogging

frogI know there are proponents out there who insist that a due date is a due date…no ifs, ands, or buts. And I understand that because, at the end of a quarter, I have to submit grades. There isn’t a way to push back the due date for final grade submission. But for all of those other times…when I can…I give students a Make it Better Moment.

If it’s not the end of the quarter, I believe that it’s important to give students the opportunity to submit late work and/or to fix their work if it is incomplete. Is it more work for me? Of course. But when it comes to students…children, in my case, I think a little leeway is warranted…and in some cases, welcomed.

Let’s face it. Students today have a busier life than we did. I know for a fact that for my middle schoolers, after school gets out some of them have to pick up little brothers and sisters from elementary school, others have to make dinner for their family, a few more have to babysit siblings until their parents get home…and then there are those who have to do a bit of all three. And that’s on top of perhaps, playing sports, going to tutoring, and finishing up any work that didn’t get done in class. So yeah, their life is busy. So I understand when their assignments don’t always get done on time.

Just so we’re clear, I give time to complete most of these assignments in class. But not all students work at the same speed. Some students are more methodical, others have a difficult time staying focused, and then there are those who just work at a slower pace than what the pacing guide allows. So I try to be flexible…to accommodate for their needs…because my job is not to penalize students. It’s to help them learn…to guide them…to encourage them in this learning journey.

So we have Make it Better Moments.

These Make it Better Moments is what puts the onus of learning back on the students, again. Sure, they were given this task earlier (with the original due date)…but sometimes students just need another shot at showing their best work.

Today is one of those days. And though I have a bit more to grade…I feel much better knowing that I gave my students another shot at showing their learning. I can’t control much in my life, but I can control the learning opportunities that students have in my class (well…fire drills, assemblies, etc. notwithstanding).

Make it Work Moment #30daysofblogging

I am not sure where the time went…but it flew by this week. My students have been crazy busy working towards finishing our unit before the end of the semester. Currently, my students are working on creating an Instagram post from the perspective of a historical figure who lived on a manor during the Middle Ages in Europe. But because our district firewall is like Fort Knox, I have to constantly find workarounds…

But because our district firewall is like Fort Knox, I have to constantly find workarounds…

To get students to practice analysis and writing skills, I created a Life on a Manor Big Idea assignment. This series of tasks has students analyzing documents, using the CER writing formula to put together evidence, and then creating an Instagram post from the historical figure’s perspective. Students used a variety of technology tools: Padlet, GoogleDocs, GoogleSlides, and Flipboard. I created an Instagram template in Google Slides for students to use. Then when they are finished with choosing the perfect picture, developing two hashtags about the thoughts and feelings of that historical figure, and writing their post, they will take a screenshot and upload it our class Flipboard magazine.

The Flipboard magazine will act as our collective “Instagram” feed about life on the manor for the lords, ladies, knights, peasants, and serfs. I’ll share the links to the magazines tomorrow after students have commented on their peers’ work.

The district firewall is not a means to give up on finding creative ways to engage students. I know my students are on Instagram…they know how this site works…so why not figure out a workaround that will give them the sense of using a tool they already know?

I can’t wait to see their final projects tomorrow…

 

Jumping Right In #booksnaps

Screen Shot 2017-01-14 at 12.48.31 PM.pngEarlier this week, I decided that this would be the week to figure out how Snapchat worked. I started off by clicking around (it’s a tried and true method for exploration, trust me), but alas, it wasn’t as intuitive as other apps I’ve used. In fact, I watched two tutorials on Snapchat (thank you YouTube) to get the gist of how Snapchat worked. My hesitation with Snapchat has always been…where are my pictures and videos going?!?! I’m still not quite sure…right now I have a couple in My Story section, but I don’t think I’ve actually sent anything out. Of course, it could be because I only have four connections on Snapchat at this time.

But I persevered because I really wanted to try creating a #booksnaps. As an avid reader, I’m always coming across things that I highlight, mark-up, or make note of…so I thought, “Why not do this digitally?” This past summer, I was lucky enough to vacation on a lake for five weeks…plenty of time to read and sketchnote. It was pure bliss. But now I’m back to reality…and the craziness I call my life. Sketchnoting will always be my preferred method for a creative outlet, but now that I’ve tried creating a #booksnaps, I’m hooked.

Having seen the awesomeness of #booksnaps, I decided to try it with my GATE/PreAP kiddoes. This activity was perfect because I wanted students to examine primary and secondary sources about the Crusades…and I thought, “Booksnaps? Why not? Why NOT?!?!”

On to Thursday Period 6.

I introduced #booksnaps to my students. I showed them an example from @TaraMartinEDU. They joined our Seesaw class so they could use the emojis, text, and the drawing tool. And then they were off…highlighters, documents, and iPad in hand. My students aren’t new to document analysis, annotating, or the use of emojis to demonstrate understanding…at this point in the semester, they are old hands at this type of task.

My students have been posting their #booksnaps in our class Flipboard  magazine and I have to admit that I’m super stoked! If you get a chance, check out their first attempt at #booksnaps and feel free to leave a comment. They will be so tickled!

#30daysblogging Jumping in With Both Feet

I love it when a plan comes together. I recently discovered Recap (@RecapThat) and by recent I meant just this past Monday…when I was poking around on a friend’s blog (http://comeongetappy.com). Thanks Jody (@peerlessgreen)!

My first inclination was…What the heck?!?! How did I miss this? And the reasonable answer is…it’s easy. There are so many awesome tech tools that appear on a regular basis that it’s hard to keep up. But that’s why it’s so important to develop a Professional Learning Network (PLN). But that’s a topic for another time.

Back to Recap.

We all know the importance…the imperativeness (is that even a word?)…of using formative assessments to check for understanding. We also know that some students need individualized help.  Recap does just that. Teachers can create a short video or text-based question and push it out to the whole class or certain students. Students then record a clip of their answer.

Teachers can choose the maximum level for the clips (e.g., 15s, 30s, 60s, or two minutes). This is helpful for students who like to talk because it forces them to be concise. It’s also comforting for the shy students to know that they don’t have to talk for too long. The videos are private (between teacher and student), students can rerecord their video if they’d like, and leave comments if they want.

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-6-13-36-pm

The videos are slowly coming in. Some students are choosing to record at home because they don’t want an audience. Others jumped right in today. Some used a cardboard barrier so that their peers couldn’t see their faces. My quiet classes asked for background noise so I softly played music in the background. And then there were the students who showed no fear…they clicked the chat button and recorded right in front of their peers and were done in no time. It was a sight to behold. I would have taken pictures but I sensed a heightened level of tension and anxiety after students found out that they were recording a video instead of typing or writing their answers. So I cut them some slack. For now.

I was so excited about this whole thing that in-between 2nd and 3rd period, I walked over to my colleague who teaches our ELD content vocabulary classes. These classes are for EL learners who are newly arrived to America. I couldn’t help but share my excitement about this app because I saw HUGE potential in helping his EL learners with their speaking skills.

We have about 76% EL learners at my school…so Recap is going to most definitely support speaking skills. And it’s doing it in a way that is different and though I don’t have much experience with this app (yet), I’m a fan. A HUGE fan.

This is why I love technology. There’s no need to subscribe to the status quo when there are so many cool tools and strategies that can make learning fun for students and teachers.

Typorama Rocks!

So today my students had a chance to explore Typorama (@typoramaapp). Before Winter Break, they read, watched, and analyzed various primary and secondary sources about the samurai, their traditions, and the impact of the Bushido Code. Their task was to demonstrate their understanding of a samurai’s life through the use of poetry.

Seeing that this was a unit about Japan, students were given the task of composing both a Haiku and a Tanka. Using their annotated readings and various graphic organizers, students pulled phrases that they could mix and match to create these particular formatted poems.

One might think that this was an easy task…but not for second language learners. Breaking down words into syllables was hard. I gave them the tried and true methods for counting out syllables, such as clapping (but let’s face it, not all kids can clap) and putting their hand under their chin as they pronounced the word. But some of my kiddoes went straight to the Internet. As I walked around the room, I saw students on several sites that counted out the syllables for them. I didn’t tell them to do that, nor did I prohibit it. I mean, after all…if they can find tools to make their work more efficient, I’m not going to stop them.

I loved the looks on their faces when the syllables matched up just right.

Once they had their rough drafts, students opened Typorama…which offered them more options than they knew what to do with. I told the students to not bother to upload their own images but to find something that resonated with them and added to the mood or theme of their poem.

Let me tell you…their projects are turning out really nice!

typorama

The five-lined Tanka is throwing some of them for a loop because some of them want to use a particular font that won’t allow five lines. It was back to the drawing board…because there aren’t enough font styles from which to choose (totally being sarcastic here as there are quite a few really cool freebies). But other than that…this app is great for a quick #funformativeassessment. I would totally use this app again with my students…in fact, I’m thinking that this might come in handy with our next school-wide Character Lesson. Hmmmm (and the wheels are turning)…

If you give students the opportunity to be creative…if you give them choices…if you let them work through the kinks…if you just let them take the lead in learning…they will be all the better for it. Trust me, I know. I see it in my kiddoes…both past and present.

If you want to see more of their work, check out our class Instagram account: @jiishawksrock

 

The Beauty of Doctopus

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-9-12-02-amI’m sure I’ve written about this topic before but it bears repeating because this tool is a game-changer…what am I talking about? Doctopus, of course! One of the best ways to determine what a student is thinking is by having them write it out. Our students have multiple opportunities to share their thoughts:  online discussion forums, collaborative GoogleDocs, F2F discussions (er, debates), and written assignments via GoogleDocs.

Let me be straight. I’m not a fan of grading. I love the creation aspect of teaching, the designing, the planning, the execution of activities and projects…but the assessment part? Not so much. As for grading essays…<sigh>….seriously not my cup of tea.

My department is extremely collaborative. We talk all.of.the.time. It helps that our classrooms are next door to each other and that we’re great friends to boot. During collaboration, we discuss student progress and grades. Needless to say, our grading procedures and process are closely aligned. And then Docuptus happened.

I can’t remember exactly when I first heard about Doctopus, let alone tried it…but once I did, I realized that this was going to revolutionize collaborative writing for students and grading for us. We give students the option to have a writing collaborator for the end of the unit essays because we see value in students working together towards a common goal. It helps that GoogleDocs gives us a sneak peek into their writing process and comments. 😉

To start, my department created several Goobrics (a.k.a. rubrics) for each of the assignments. We have Goobrics for Level 4 short essays, Level 5 essays, and various other projects (e.g., Crusades memes, Open Minds).

Once those assignments are submitted through Google Classroom, we use Doctopus (an Add-On) to ingest the assignment into a ready-made spreadsheet (I usually title it with the unit name+semeter&year+period –> China Unit F16P1). I choose the class and the assignment and then wait for the magic to happen. Doctopus gives you the option to ingest all student projects or just the ones from students who clicked “Turn In” in Google Classroom (I usually choose the latter).

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-9-32-52-am

There are two ways to view the Goobric…this is the default. The other view allows you to scroll through the Goobric instead of clicking on the tabs at the top.

Once the assignments are ingested, all you need to do is choose the appropriate Goobric and then you’re off! All of the assignments are there…tied to a specific rubric…all that’s left is for you to assess student work based on the Goobric. Doctopus+Goobric gives you the option to click right on the Goobric, add comments to the GoogleDoc, as well as leave comments that can be emailed to students (I highly recommend this last option). But the best part?! Doctopus puts the Goobric right on the GoogleDoc with your comments. Students can see where their worked landed within the Goobric. Brilliant!

However, if I could change one thing…it would be the ability to easily notify the writing collaborator/partners that the document is graded. Of course, all students could go back to the original GoogleDoc to see the rubric and comments, but only the owner receives the email with the rubric attached. It’s not a deal-breaker and it’s certainly not something that would make my department stop using this easy way to assess student work.

Having said that, if you’re looking for a new tool to try in 2017 might I suggest giving Doctopus a whirl? You won’t regret it. Trust me. Game-changer.