Differentiating Using Curriculet

Curriculet is an eBook company that provides Common Core aligned questions, quizzes, and annotations for popular and classic texts. I know, because I not only use the website all the time in class, I also work part time creating the eContent.

Why do I use Curriculet in my classes? It allows me to differentiate for students. Students that read faster than others can speed ahead, but those who need to take it slower can do so. If they already know how to find themes, they can breeze past the annotations, but if they struggle, the annotations are there to guide them through.

And it’s not just pre-created content; Curriculet lets me import my own texts. When I do my unit on “music as poetry,” I can tailor the content to fit my students’ needs. With the data reports, I can tell which content standards need addressing as well.

As a content creator, I am assigned a variety of texts (currently I’m working on Fig by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz), from current novels to classics like 1001 Arabian Nights. I find crafting Common Core aligned assessments really rewarding, because I have a better grasp of what the standards are asking than most of my fellow teachers.

Try out Curriculet: some content is free, and other content is inexpensively rentable, making for some awesome literature circle opportunities.


An outstretched hand

I’m not from around here. I grew up in NE Ohio, in a very diverse and liberal college town. Needless to say, I struggle to understand the animosity between our two high schools. You see, although our district serves around 3500 students, we have two high schools. If that doesn’t give you a clear picture, my school has around 700 students, and the other high school serves around 400. And the two schools don’t get along.

It’s not super clear to an outsider that the two high schools see each other as rivals unless you go to a sporting event where the two high schools play each other.  All of sudden, it’s a sea of gold and brown (our lovely school colors) versus red and blue (theirs.) To hear the students talk, my school is a hotbed of loose morals and wild behavior, since we’re “in the city,” and the other school is full of farmers with mud and cow manure on their cowboy boots.

Anyway, when I started teaching American Literature this fall, I knew I wanted to read The Crucible by Arthur Miller after we finished discussing The Scarlet Letter, their summer reading assignment. But when I asked the librarian if I could borrow the classroom set of plays, she informed me that a teacher in the other building had already requested it. Later, I found out we had the play in our textbook, so we read it anyway.  But in the meantime, I emailed the other teacher, to say that I had some play materials and see if she wanted to collaborate. To my pleasure, the other teacher, who is new to district, was excited to Google Hangout with me after school one day. We happily exchanged ideas and assignments, and talked about the idea of our students getting together and maybe performing the play.

After LOTS of wrangling between the two principals, we have our play coming up. The students will perform the play for each other, with volunteer actors. I’m a little nervous. Will they be polite to each other? Will it go well, or will it be a disaster? The kids are excited, though.

What do you think will happen this Friday?

Photo attributed to https://www.flickr.com/photos/gtmcknight/ (note: this photo represents “school spirit”)

Brief Bio

I love technology, but my day job of teaching composition leaves me very little room to indulge my passions. Because I am always on the lookout for new ideas, I joined the International Standards for Technology Education’s (ISTE) Project ReimaginED group last spring. ISTE pushes me to address best practices in my teaching, which is very helpful.

Well, I have been invited to participate in a ReimaginED webinar as a speaker, and they want me to write a brief bio. Since I’m a couple blogs behind, I thought it’d be a good idea to kill two birds with one stone, as it were.

I graduated from Kent State University with a dual concentration in English and Spanish in 1998 and began teaching almost immediately. My first nine years I taught primarily Spanish, with a little English on the side. Along the way, I earned my Masters of Education in Instructional Technology, also from Kent State (what can I say? I lived in Kent.)

After taking a year away from the classroom as a Technology Integration Support Specialist in Athens, Georgia, I returned to teaching in Ohio, this time, mostly English. I also teach New Media classes for Clark State, a local community college.

Because I teach in a tiny district in Southwest Ohio, I find my professional learning network (PLN) on Twitter and often reach out to others on WordPress. I work part time for Curriculet, an online e-book company for which I create Common Core aligned questions, quizzes, and annotations. I am also a Touchcast Ambassador, because I love to incorporate video wherever I can into the classroom. I hope I never stop learning.

Internet Leadership

If Parks spoke through her actions, and if Moses spoke through his brother Aaron, today another type of introverted leaders speaks using the Internet.–Susain Cain

How can we engage the introvert in our classrooms? We need to provide avenues of leadership beyond who speaks the most in class. By allowing our students to think and write for themselves online, we encourage them to demonstrate their knowledge to an audience beyond the classroom.

Are you an introvert? Do you find solace and leadership opportunities online? Reply in the comments.

Image attributed to http://www.lantabus.com/2014/02/07/rosa-parks-remembered/

The Yin Yang of Self Reflection

It’s 4:00 a.m., and I’m awake. Thinking to myself that I might as well get up, I head upstairs to start my day. It’s a Saturday, so I should be able to sleep in, but anxiety about the week ahead prevents me from falling back asleep.

Why be anxious about next week, you ask?  Well, next week represents some high stakes visitations, as both my principal and a college professor are coming to observe me. I’m not a baby teacher; this is my 17 year, and you’d think this stuff would be water under the bridge. And before our observation model changed, it would have been. Heck, normally I wouldn’t care if my principal or this college professor (who’s certifying I’m good enough to teach community college English to my high school kids), came in and watched. But it’s this self reflection that’s keeping me awake.

As I labor through the “pre-observation” forty question extended response pre-assessment, I am forced to explain all the things I do every day. This lesson isn’t “special”-I’m not changing what I do to make the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System happy. I always try to engage my students, to evaluate using multiple methods, to assess what they know and build upon it. This self reflection forces me to write it all out, to justify the wherefores and the whys. And it’s painful.

Dig out your “pre-assessment’ scores. Find the “self-assessment” spreadsheet. Add up the number of students who x….I am not a numbers girl, but I understand the underlining reasoning. We are supposed to be data driven, to show with numbers the reasons for our instructions. It feels tedious, and 2.5 hours later, I’m arriving at the end. My Yin is freezing (as are my toes-the temperature dropped last night.)

And then I reach the moment of Yang: where the fires of heaven start to heat up. The last question asks me to demonstrate my professional responsibility. Why would this heat me up? Well, the truth is that my principal has no idea what I do in my teaching life, outside of how many parents (if any) call him to complain. He doesn’t know about the book chapter I’m writing for Touchcast. He doesn’t know about my ISTE pilot participation. He doesn’t know about the Twitter book club I’m running, or how many Twitter chats I participate in. He doesn’t know about the conferences I attend, or all the millions of things I do as a professional teacher. This one question lets me tell about all the things I do; the things that get other principals to say on Twitter what a great teacher I am. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally be more than a prophet in my own land.

Even if my principal doesn’t care, this self reflection has helped me to see that I am a great teacher. Now let’s hope that these two people who have been out of classroom teaching for a while can see it.

Gaming the System

Ever played Dungeons and Dragons as a kid? How about World of Warcraft as an adult? The danger of the boss round, the tension of grinding out a side quest to level up. Waiting for that sweet set of armor to drop.

Even if you’ve never geeked out to gaming, I’m sure you’ve been in this scenario: the kid who won’t stop talking. The kid who does everything right but the teacher has no time for praise, only scolding the kid who won’t do his work. Up until this year, since I taught mostly general English classes, this was my life. Enter the concept of gamifying your classroom.

I’d read about it a lot on Twitter and on Michael Matera’s blog http://mrmatera.com. Alice Keeler talks about it, too, on http://alicekeeler.com. For those of you who are not teachers but have read this far into the post, gamification has two modes: either using games in your classroom, like Risk, or using the elements of playing games within the structure of the class, like leveling up, badges, side quests, powers, etc. I couldn’t come up with any way to easily apply either technique, so I dropped it. Until I discovered Classcraft.

Classcraft was created by teachers for teachers. Students can choose pets, character types, powers, and armor as they level up. They earn XP for things like being helpful, doing their work, staying on task, and completing side quests. They lose HP for things like disrupting the class and not doing their work. They earn powers, like eating in class or turning in a homework a day late. It’s almost completely customizable by the teacher.

A quick story, to demonstrate how Classcraft has changed the classroom environment. Even though most of my day is now filled with electives and College Credit Plus Composition (more about that in a different post), I still have one class of my bread and butter, General English 10. Picture 17 boys and 3 girls, including some of the most disruptive in the sophomore class. I worked for several weeks to try and get them to work together, be kind to one another, and respect each other, but it is a constant uphill battle. Then we started Classcraft.

Student participation is voluntary, and I had four students who didn’t want to play. I was fine with that, but struggled to make the consequences of those four be equal to the ones playing the game, who just lost HP if they misbehaved. We worked together to create a plan they felt was fair, and eventually, all but one joined the game.

So here I am, with a huge number of boys who “hunt” snacks in my room every day, while still disrupting me and the world around them. I have a couple of mages who take daily “invisibility” bathroom trips, and then don’t pay attention while in the room. I’m a better teacher than this, so I made some changes.

Now students can only use their powers the last 10 minutes of class, if they haven’t lost any HP that day. After the verbal battle of “you can’t change the rules” and “yes I can, didn’t you read the Classcraft contract you signed?”, I explained to them that the point of the game was to reward positive behavior and to give consequences for negative behavior. I explained that their disruptive behavior was disrespectful to me and to their fellow students, and that it seemed crazy to spend upwards of $20 a week on students who turned around and ignored me when I was trying to teach. Because we’ve worked so long on mutual respect, they listened, and the class changed for the better.

Now if only my principal were hip to all things techie and beautiful, and didn’t hate students listening to music, eating in class, and social media?

Pawns or partners?

Now that I’m (mostly) done with teaching Higher Ed, I should have a little more time to write. By next weekend, I’ll start expanding on these posts. 

As part of a Twitter book club (#TBookC, which meets 3 Thursdays of every month at 9 EST), I am currently reading Daniel Pink’s Drive. Part one discussed the idea of intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, and which tasks suffer from extrinsic motivation.

Part 2, the section we’re discussing this week, moves into various theories of workplace management. Specifically, it looks at controlled vs autonomous work environments. It strikes me that the dichotomy of the two environments is very similar to the difference between teacher centered and student centered learning. This post will explore how both environments might work within a school.