Giving back: the case study

“I share because the learning I create and the experiences I have help others. I share to push my own thinking and to make an impact on learners, both young and old, all over the world.” from The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity by George Couros

I confess. I struggle to see that my voice matters. All my life, I’ve been told that it’s better to be humble. Be quiet, because speaking up is arrogant, and arrogance is wrong. So every time I publish a post, every time I share an idea, I am pushing back against that narrative. Everybody’s voice matters. In the spirit of sharing, here goes:

Every year, I walk into my room and try something different. Often it is a result of something I’ve read, some experience I’ve had, from going to an EdCamp in West Virginia and seeing their flexible seating, to hearing a keynote at a district PD and seeking to read more about it. Last year, my catalyst was two-fold. First, I heard Dr. Corey Seemiller speak about Generation Z, and I checked out her book, Generation Z Goes to College.  Then I attend Inspire 2017, where I learned about LRNG. That’s when I knew that 2017-18 was going to be different.

Because I teach dual-enrollment courses, I knew I was working within the constraints of my approved college syllabus. That being said, I wanted to make the experience more meaningful to my Gen Z students. This first blog post will describe how I transformed their interview analysis paper into a meaningful case study of a professional. Subsequent posts will detail how I transformed their research papers, persuasive projects, and final exams.

As with every school year, step one required me to do some deep diving into who they were as people.

To get to know the students, and for them to get to know themselves, I asked students to take the Holland Code profile test. I grouped students together, based on their Holland code profile. The Holland code is one way to determine which profession is a best fit, and it is one way to explore life after high school.

In groups based on class period and interest, students determined which profession most interested them to interview. They completed this badge on interviewing professionals and went as a group to interview an expert. This interview became the primary source document for their case study paper. Although each group member had the same audio, the papers were very different, based on the student’s own context. This part was successful.

Here’s what went wrong: some students were badly placed with professionals. Others had trouble getting their professional to follow through.  Some found that they could not get detailed answers from their interviewee. Some found the whole experience not as meaningful as I would like. So here’s how it’s going to go differently, next year.

The first problem was the way students determined their future professional interests.  Instead of asking students to take the ONET Holland Code test, I might have students try the Ohio Means Jobs Career Cluster profile, so they could work towards the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal. In this way, they are not only preparing for the future, they are hopefully getting a more accurate description of what they want to be when they leave high school.

The second problem was the meaningful connection to area professionals. Luckily, one of my colleagues is looking at having a Career Fair in the fall, and she wants students to be able to job shadow a professional for a day. If my students coupled job shadowing with interviews, then they would have much more meaningful case study papers.

If you would like copies of any of my materials, from the question template I provided to the reflection I had students write about the interview process, please contact me in the comments below.

“From the darkness comes a train, cutting through the myst” by Stefan Insam is shared under a CC by SA 2.0 license

Advertisements

Amplifying Student Voice

Three years ago I started teaching College Composition to juniors at my school. The curriculum was designed to mirror a local college’s expectations, which meant that the genre and number of papers were set ahead of time. Don’t get me wrong, I love the papers we write and think they are meaningful and connected to workplace and career after college. The problem is that they limit the voice and choice of my students. Something had to give.

Thanks to my time with the Ohio Writing Project, I knew that voice and choice improves student writing. I also knew that authentic audiences and real world problems help students to see the purpose behind the projects. My solution: blogging.

In this third year of student blogs, I have fine tuned many expectations. Students know how to find and cite Creative Commons licensed works so they don’t plagiarize. They know how to tag and categorize their posts so others can find them. They know how to write meaningful comments so they can interact with other writers. They have followers outside of our school that read and comment on their posts. Some, in fact, even blog when it’s not assigned. By teaching them the ground rules and opening the door to whatever they passionately want to write about, I have solved my conundrum.

If you are interested in teaching your students to blog, below are two playlists I wrote for LRNG, a local nonprofit.

Blogging part 1: media literacy

Blogging part 2: creating your blog

I also highly recommend the Student Blogging Challenge over on Edublogs for some great “how to” challenges to help students learn the skills they need in order to successfully blog.

Shout out to some of my favorite student bloggers:

https://creatorcorner.wordpress.com/

https://krcwriting.wordpress.com/ (this one started blogging in Creative Writing in 9th grade w/me)

A previous year’s blog

https://greenteatuesdays.wordpress.com/

Blog” by airpix is shared under a CC by 2.0 license.

NCTE Reflections

First of all, if you have never been to NCTE, it is overwhelming. An abundance of choices, voices, options, all of which push you to decide where you will spend your time. My first few choices were teacher-led sessions.

Session 1 was Empowering Student Voice, which fits in with my 2017 One Word Resolution.  I love writing workshop-style classes, but I don’t love a focus on grammar and punctuation. I liked some of the ideas, however, and can see incorporating some of their ideas into my Introduction to Literature course that starts in a few days.

Session 2 was Folger’s Macbeth. After some language play, we broke up into acting companies and tried out 15 minute Macbeth.  I can definitely use this strategy with my sophomores this spring. It sounds like a great start to reading the play. I also heard about Forsooth, a member only group that supports teachers. Needless to say, I joined. I’m not sure it’s worth it, yet.

Session 3 was the Global Kindness Project. I loved it. I definitely want to sign my sophomores up for 2018, beginning on January 15 and ending on Feb. 15. It should fit right into our research project. The steps of the project are:

  1. Kindness
  2. Gratitude
  3. Empathy
  4. Action

Session 4 was supposed to be gamification, mixed with #breakoutedu. The ideas were sound, but sound like you’d need professional actors to pull it off.  My big takeaway? To gamify deeply, you must have a storyline, to provide purpose.

Next, we had our presentation: Using Digital Tools to Level Up the 21st Century Writer. I joined three other teachers to talk about digital tools and how we use them to improve student writing. I use Goobric to track data and Screencastify to provide individual explanations as to their Goobric score on rough drafts, rather than “grading” those first drafts. When students wrote their final reflections, my feedback videos were the number 1 thing students mentioned as most helpful to them.

The last session I attended was Kylene Beers, Robert Probst, and Penny Kittle. I loved the rainstorm metaphor Kylene shared to parallel Notice and Note: as readers, we first see the clouds, then we use prior knowledge to determine it will rain, and then we act on that information by getting an umbrella. Notice, note, and so what? Perfect! And Bob’s slide, that explains why we might get pushback from society by teaching students to defend their ideas with evidence, was perfectly timed. I also loved Penny Kittle’s question, “So how are you getting started today?” I think this was the first time I understood what writing conferences are supposed to look like.

The biggest takeaway I have from NCTE 17-the people. Connecting with educators, with authors, with folks excited about teaching, really made my week. Every day, I ate with different people, dug into the teaching profession with others, wandered the vendor hall with more, and networked. I came back refreshed and ready to take on the world.

I highly recommend attending NCTE. I hope I get the chance to go again!

Makerspace as motivation

Just as my juniors are building relationships using a breakout game, my sophomores deserve more than the typical sit and get day one. Last year, I had them create origami boxes. This year, I’m leaning towards just the lids. They are the most challenging part of the box, and challenge, plus six word memoirs, should present them with an opportunity to practice grit and growth mindset.

Here’s a link to how to make the boxes, if you want to try it out yourself.

Instead of me standing up and explaining what to do, students will begin in one of four stations. The stations are:

  1. Origami box lid
  2. Six word memoir
  3. Six word memoir
  4. Origami box lid

Day one is only 28 minutes long, so I want them to have time to finish the lid and the memoir. Each station will have directions and models of what I want them to make. My goal is for them to create a box lid, glue in their memoir, and write their names on the back of the box lid. This way, I get to know them, but they do not have to overshare on day one. I plan to create the word YET on my wall, using the box lids.

If you’d like to try six word memoirs, below are some linked suggestions:

After an interlude of essay writing to show what they know from their summer reading assignment, Ready Player One from Ernest Cline on Day 2, we’ll move on to something I’m really excited about: personal motivation posters.

On Day 3, we’re back in makerspace.

After spending some time perusing examples of excellent motivational design, students will photograph each other and create their poster, using a quote that inspires them and their image. I’ll print these and mount them on black cardstock on my very white front wall, right under the word “community.” I can use this activity to get to know their names as well as allow them to get to know each other.

“A logo for MaKey Makey: Alphabet soup” by jayahimsa is shared under a CC by 2.0 license.

Save the forest: the paperless classroom

A paperless English classroom? Yes, please! It’s the unicorn of the English world–how do we empower students to think and learn for themselves without consuming a wildfire’s amount of paper? Well, these are my top tools for not only saving paper but also saving what little free time you have, if you’re an English teacher. In no particular order, my favorite tools.

Tool one: Touchcast

Are you sick of staying after school, pouring over those posters? Or wading through terrible Power Point presentations? Touchcast is a powerful tool for any content area, because it supports interactive video. Imagine: it’s not a printed and poorly glued picture, it’s a graphic that, when clicked, takes you directly to the website from which it came. Students can use their face or their voice in an organized presentation that invites the viewer to interact. Polls, a live Twitter feed, embedded videos, all hosted on not only Touchcast’s website but also on the iPad from which it came. It’s another free tool, on iPhones, iPads, and Apple desktops.

Tool two: Diigo

Have you ever taken your students to the library to print their research articles, because you want them to highlight and annotate the information they plan to use in their paper? Well, not only does Diigo, a Chrome extension, make printing articles a thing of the past, it also allows students to collaborate. They can share their annotated websites and pdfs, not just with you but with the class. Did you students forget to record the author or title of the website they visited? Well, because Diigo links to the information on the web, it’s easy for students to get back and get that vital citation information. And it’s free!

Tool three: Google Classroom

Google Classroom became my go-to tool for turning in papers last year. It is by far the easiest way I’ve found to disseminate and collect student work. I post the assignment, and students have an organized, uniform way to give it back to me. It’s timestamped, so I know if it’s late, and because Classroom does the legwork for keeping student work in one place, it’s easy for both my students and me to find it again. No more am I searching through my email to find student work. Totally free, as long as your school is a Google Apps for Education user. (If they’re not, go beg. It’s worth it!)

Tool four: Snagit

Do you spend hours marking up a student paper, only to have the student in question seemingly resubmit an identical paper, with only the minute grammar mistakes or spelling mistakes you marked changed? Or have you spent an entire week meeting face to face with students, painstakingly workshopping, only to have the student apparently ignore all your well thought out criticisms? Well, it’s not because students don’t care; it’s because they’re overwhelmed and confused. By using Snagit to create a screencast of a student’s paper, you can use your voice and your mouse to point out suggestions to students. Because you can record and because your students can replay those recordings outside of class, you not only save time, you save your sanity, because students will do a better job at revising their work. It’s a Chrome extension. And yes, it’s free.

I have used all of the above tools for several years now, and they have really done an amazing job at transforming my classroom. And now, as a bonus, the new tool I’m implementing this year:

Tool five: Goobric

Last year, the first year I used both Snagit and Google Classroom together, it took me hours to create an individual rubric for each student, which I would share in the Google Classroom comments along with the screencast. Well, Goobric is a major game changer. All I had to do was change my rubric from a Google doc to a Google sheet. Goobric not only created a rubric for each of my students, it recorded the results on a spreadsheet and copied the rubric on each student’s paper.

Have a great start to the year, and good luck in your new, paperless classroom!

Image attributed to https://pixabay.com/en/papers-stack-heap-documents-576385/

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?

 

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.