Schoology Saves the Day

I dreaded this moment for more than a week. An angry parent wanted to meet about her teenage son’s grade on a project. On the one hand, I felt confident that I had sufficiently laid out expectations and parts of the assignment on our course in Schoology. On the other hand, this was an angry parent, and they don’t always listen to reason. I had insisted that the son be present for our meeting, so that we all could sit down and be on the same page.

If you haven’t read earlier posts of mine, I teach College Prep and General English to Sophomores. I have been experimenting this year on flipping my classroom, which is where you put any direct instruction online for students to complete at home and use class time to work one-on-one to apply any direct instruction. Flipping has allowed me to add a whole new dimension to my teaching. For example, earlier in the year I assigned my CP students a variety of tasks and let them decide which they wanted to work on. I had them create goal sheets to decide what task, if any, they wanted to work on during the class. Then they self analyzed to determine if they were successful in their goals.

For the next few weeks and up into exams, we are reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Rather than allow for lots of student choice in activity, I am asking them to read and annotate the book, write some higher order thinking questions about the chapters they’ve read, and discuss with others in the class. But this was not what the parent was angry about.

As a precursor to reading the book, we learned a little bit about trial procedures and had a fairytale trial. I had posted on our schoology course some deadlines and expectations for the project. We had our trial. Everything seemed ducky. But one student did not fully complete the individual portion of the assignment and turned in one part of the group assignment late. This was the assignment she wanted to discuss.

I started the conference with asking the son to get out the papers he had gotten back from his project. As he was going to his locker to get his folder, I showed the parents our schoology site. I explained how they could find the assignments that were currently due, as well as the assignments that were due in the past. The parents could plainly see that we had myriad assignments throughout this month, all with clear deadlines.

I explained that it is my policy to allow students time in class to work on projects like this and that I always circulate around the room, asking students if they need help and working one on one with them. He has rarely asked me for help, so I rarely help him. The clearly delineated project expectations and deadlines, along with the student’s assertion that yes, I really did go around and help others, ended the parent’s argument that her son didn’t understand what he was supposed to do. Although he might not have understood, neither did he ask for help. They left happy that I was preparing their son for the online forums of colleges and universities, in some small part.

Now the ball is in his court. He knows he can ask questions and get help. Will he? Only time will tell.

Submerging Into The 5th Wave, Riptides Optional

Today marks our third day of reading Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave. We have been exclusively chatting on Schoology, since my classes are used to that platform, and I now have a rubric that I can use to grade their interactions. I only had to revoke internet privileges for two students, and only have three students out of 11 on IEPs that need scaffolded comprehension question to replace our chat.

At first, our chats were very superficial, as we waded into the surf.  See below:

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After the first two periods, I realized that they could not see each others’ comments before they posted, so they repeated the same comments or variations of the same comments. Also, you might notice that some of the comments were immature.

The second day, I explained what I was looking for again, and made sure that they could see each other’s posts before entering their own.  That day, we were up to our necks. I started to identify who was being pulled out to sea by the riptide, and who was ready to take off the life preservers.

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Note that they are beginning to answer their own questions and to think a little more for themselves.

Today represents the third day of our read.

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Note that is a different class. I have left first names visible, because I want to demonstrate how the interactions between the students share vital oxygen. They are beginning to make connections to their own lives, to the world, and to dive in below the surface of the novel.

I’m excited to see their progress. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring.

The Elephant in the Room

This year, for the first time in my 15 years of teaching, I am a mentor for a first year teacher. I remember my first year. Some days, I’m sure that everything went swimmingly, with students all doing exactly what I had planned for them. But those are not the days I remember. I remember collapsing in her room, head in hand, and sobbing my frustration into her sympathetic ears. There are many reasons to become a mentor, but Kathy is my reason. I felt the need to give back.

We had planned for her to come watch my worst class, which has students who are motivated to learn mixed with those who resent teacher authority and work to derail the others. She and I share the sophomore class, and some of my problem children cause her trouble as well.  But the week we had planned, she got the stomach flu. Then we had an inservice day, and everyone scrambled to grade their “pre-assessment” tests that no one thought we were really going to use. Then we had nine weeks grades due. So the deadline stretched out into the future.

This past Friday, she suggests Monday as a possible day that I could come see her class. Great, I think, except that it’s the second to the last period of the day, and there is no way I can find someone to cover my class  on Monday in that small amount of time. So I email my principal and vice principal, asking them if they can come watch my class.

And here’s the dilemma: my students are reading a novel, The 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey.  In this novel, the narrator swears. Since I’ve asked my administrators to hit play on the audio file, they’re going to hear my voice, reading the swear words.  The students are chatting their textual analysis into an online chatroom, something that we’ve practiced twice before.  We ask our students to keep the profanity out of the classroom, with the idea that private speech and public speech are separate.

So now I wonder: how will my principal react to hearing profanity? Let’s hope it goes well.

Chatting Our Way into Deeper Waters

Yesterday, my students and I waded into the ocean of online chatting.  We started slow, rolling up our pant legs and dipping our toes in with Neil Gaiman’s short story “Don’t Ask Jack.” As we listened to the story which I had recorded ahead of time, students jotted down three things: what they noticed, what they thought was interesting, and what they thought was important.  Then we listened to the story a second time, and they waded in to their ankles, chatting what they observed in an online discussion on schoology.

Some classes got so excited about chatting that they instantly started texting in their comments, hardly waiting till the audio caught up with what they were chatting about.  Others were confused. They barely made any connections to the text, except to note one after the other that “the jack in the box was scary.” I can only hope that as we work on this skill, they will start to clue in on what is important in a text.

Today, we actually started our novel, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey. I have been teasing them all week with book trailers from the author. This time, we tried chatting while listening to the story only once. Some students did an amazing job. I saw textual connections to The Host, comments about the symbolism of owls, all kinds of comments. Afterwards I asked, “What frustrated you? What can we do to make this better?” The main complaint–that we only read the prologue today and that refreshing the chat in schoology was annoying.

Admittedly, one class struggled with the fact that I had moved their seats, took extremely long to login to schoology, and basically dragged their feet. Other students elected to write their observations on paper, so they missed what the other students had to say about the text. In my last class, I even had to remove a student who would not stop complaining at the top of his lungs about how unfair I was in chaging the seating chart, moving his seat to different places in the room, and disrupting the rest of us.

And where did this awesome method of reading a book come from? From my PLN on twitter, of course. Much thanks to Cheryl Morris and Andrew Thomasson for the original concept. If you’re interested in flipping your classroom, you should follow them on twitter @guster4lovers and @thomasson_engl.

Next week, hopefully we won’t all be carried away by riptides as we dive into the book.