Innovation in Writing Conferences

As part of my quest to improve my teaching and stretch my horizons, I am taking part in a Voxer book discussion. This blog post represents my reflection on Chapter 1 of George Couros’s Innovator’s Mindset.

First, a little background. Although I am in my seventeenth year of teaching, this is the first year I have taught College Composition. For those of you that are not Ohio teachers, there is a push for high school students to get college credit for the classes they take. Teachers must be certified to teach these classes, are observed by the college, and must submit college aligned course syllabi in order for students to receive credit.

As a first time Composition teacher, I knew that one of the best ways to improve as a writer is for students to not only write frequently but also to receive quality, individual feedback. The traditional way is through a face to face conference, but with 60 students in my composition classes, I found this difficult. I tried group conferences, peer revising, and other more traditional methods, but I was unhappy with the quality of student writing. So I tried something new: using TechSmith’s SnagIt Chrome Extension to screencast my comments about their papers.

Here’s an example of two screencasts, recredited in WeVideo to protect student anonymity:

https://www.wevideo.com/view/590661484

Using the rubric I provided them, I explained WHY their organization was lacking. Because they had submitted their assignments via Google Classroom, I could highlight one of their sentences and make suggestions to help them improve. While the screencast lacked the “back and forth” that a traditional conference provides, my students found these videos transformational. Their writing improved by leaps and bounds. When offered the option of having me write on their printed papers in place of a video, only three of 60 students opted for the traditional way. When they reflected on their success for the year, many students shared that my videos helped them know how to improve.

I have since heard that many of my fellow high school composition teachers are not commenting on student papers. Instead, they are asking students to peer revise & edit each other’s work, and requiring students to meet face to face in order to resubmit a paper. This, they assure me, saves them time and energy.

Let’s be honest, here. It took my entire Thanksgiving break, my entire Spring break, and untold afternoons and weekends in order to screencast. I had to read students’ papers multiple times. Was it worth it? Well, my students improved amazingly.

Now I have to decide: do I continue to innovate and screencast, or do I require students to work together and abandon my innovation?

 

The Rocky Shores of BYOD

Like many districts, we have little money for individual technology. I have tried many different methods of having students bring in their own devices, but no solution is perfect. This week, we’ll examine what you think about students and their own technology use in your room. Feel free to see “Cell Phone” as encompassing any mobile device, such as Kindles, laptops, Chromebooks, iPads, whatever.

If you’re deadset against students using their own devices, consider reading the attached article to see what’s happened in New York, now that they allow cell phones in class.

http://thelamp.org/results-are-in-your-thoughts-on-how-lifting-the-ban-on-cell-phones-is-changing-nyc-schools/

SlowchatEd questions this week:

Q1: What is your current stance on cell phone usage in your classroom?

Q2: What tasks best lend themselves to all students having their own devices?

Q3: How will you address students who do not have their own devices?

Q4: Do you believe banning cell phones will help keep students on task?

Q5: What is your biggest obstacle to student’s using their own devices?

Q6: What’s your biggest takeaway?

Of Ambassadors and Blogs

This spring break I reached out to the world from the comfort of my own living room. How, you ask? Well, it’s thanks to my two favorite technology companies: Touchcast and Curriculet.

Touchcast

I’ve had some amazing opportunities with Touchcast. In 2013-14, my Advanced English class and I participated in an educational pilot with the company. I created a Common Core aligned lesson plan with Dr. Segal, Head of Education at Touchcast. In return, the company trained my students via Skype on using the app. They also gave us a green screen, microphone, lights, and costumes. It was a fun project, one my students will always remember.

Act 1, Scene 1, Julius Caesar

http://www.touchcast.com/e/41279

Well, in 2015 they contacted me again, this time offering me the chance to be an Ambassador. I see it as my chance to share this great platform with a wider audience. What’s so great about Touchcast? Well, first of all, it’s really intuitive to use. In 2013 during the first few weeks of school, I handed the iPad to a group of students and asked them to make a video demonstrating their mastery of literary devices from summer reading from their summer reading, to teach that device to a wider audience. They promptly put together screenshots, the whiteboard, and audio to create some great work.

Second of all, they have wonderful customer service. One time, I was struggling with the publication of a student video. We’d done everything right, but it just wouldn’t publish. No sooner had I sent an email then Touchcast got back to me, offering to help. In less than a day, my students’ hard work was online. They’ve always been responsive: I didn’t reach out to them to do a pilot, they saw me using their product and reached out to me.

Now they’ve featured me on their Ambassador channel.
http://www.touchcast.com/e/91984


Curriculet

This interactive eReading platform helps teachers keep track of Common Core standards while motivating students to read. I started working for them in May 2014, writing “curriculets,” which include summative and formative assessments as well as annotations for literary and informational text. I also use Curriculet in my classroom. A lot. This spring break, Curriculet blogged about how I used the platform to create an awesome poetry unit for my current 2014-15 regular 10th grade students.

What’s so great about Curriculet? Well, I love the possibility of tracking time on task and progress with Common Core standards. I love that so much of their content is free, and I can import my own material to the site. And Curriculet has book rentals of popular titles, something I plan to use at the end of this school year.

 

 

Swimming in a Sea of #GAFE

Two years ago, I dove into Google’s ocean without the support of a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) lifeboat. I asked all my students to create a Google account, and off we went. We struggled with all kinds of hazards. Did you know that Google will randomly ask for validation with a cell phone number to text, and if you put your phone number in too many times, Google will reject it? Did you know there are what feels like a thousand ways to mess up sharing files? We waded through those hazardous waters. As the school year ended, I breathed a sigh of relief when my school decided to join Google’s fleet and go GAFE.

Using Google’s tools opens up all kinds of doors for students. No longer did I have the problem of students bringing in versions of documents that could not be opened at school. Or students who nervously told me that the paper I had in my hand was not the most recent version of the paper they wanted to turn in. I stopped having “no ink/no paper” excuses. Students could more easily share with one another, and I could comment in real time on student papers.

But all those things were true when students were using their own Google accounts, so why was I so happy we went GAFE? For one thing, student email became uniform. I knew instantly who commented on who’s paper, who “accidentally” deleted all the work of their group (for this alone, I love Google: revision history!), and how to contact students. Before, even though I had asked for a uniform nomenclature for student emails,  some students used the email they’d had since they were eight. It could be quite difficult to tell which student was which. With a district admin of Google accounts, it was much easier to ask for a student password to be reset.

The best part of becoming a GAFE school started this fall, with Google Classroom. Although it’s not a complete Learning Management System, it helped tons with clarifying assignments. Students had a learning curve, as we figured out together how to create assignments, make copies of templates, and turn things in. Google Classroom made it possible for me to help my chronically absent students keep on top of what we were doing. We learned how to screenshot on a variety of devices, how to save images from the web, how to comment on each others work: it was transformative.

It must be said that I have a high tolerance for technology frustration. I can roll with the fact that Android insists on Internet Explorer, which won’t play nice with Curriculet (can’t wait for that browser to die), or that different devices screenshot differently. I can roll with the fact that some students will never click “turn in” and make it easy for me to see their work is done. When the internet inexplicably fails one period, I can find my paper copies and keep moving on.

To help with the tech headaches, I have tried this year to foster a culture of support among the students. The student who figures out how to insert a video into her Google Presentation or add a soundtrack to his WeVideo can teach two more students, who in turn can teach the others. There’s only one of me, so I want to spread the tech support around as much as possible.

To really use our GAFE status, most teachers will need at least a little support. They’ll want to know the power of the Google toolbox, from Google Classroom to Chrome extensions. They’ll want to know to look out for Google chat on documents, which can be helpful or can derail the most diligent of students. Some day, my school will offer GAFE training. Maybe it’ll even be me, teaching teachers what I’ve learned.