Better Together: Days 1-3

For the last two years, I have taught College Composition, and these last two years have been an unending digital stack of student writing. To provide a clear picture of what those years have been like, when other teachers are sitting down for Thanksgiving pie, I’m in the back bedroom, recording hours of revision feedback. And it is appreciated, as one of my students below emailed me to say:

Screenshot 2017-07-16 at 11.01.35 AM

But it’s time for a change: time to empower my students to be the experts. Time to employ the tenets of one of my summer readings: Peer Feedback in the Classroom by Starr Sackstein. Sackstein believes that teaching students to support each other with revision suggestions provides them with agency. Since empowering students to think and learn for themselves remains my why, I really have to try giving up some control when it comes to writing feedback.

The first move Sackstein suggests is to build strong relationships within the classroom. If students don’t trust each other, and if they don’t trust me, then peer feedback will fail. “Respect can’t be assumed; it must be taught explicityly and modeled continuously” (Sackstein 20). Luckily for me, I had half of my next year’s students as 10th graders, but I will still need to set the stage. In the first three days, as we wait for students to get their very own Chromebooks in a new 1 to 1 initiative, I plan to work on some relationship and respect building.

Day 1: My very own Breakout EDU game, complete with students wearing first name tags, so I can start to get to know who they are and how they think.

Day 2: Open forum backchannel discussion: about such topics as flexible seating, silent reading, technology vs old school paper notes, the use of cell phones, and whatever else I can think of. The theme of the course is community, so we’ll use this discussion to build our ground rules. After a brief intro to the three essential questions of nonfiction from Beers and Probst’s Reading Nonfiction,

  1. What surprised me?
  2. What does the author think I already know?
  3. What challenged, changed, or confirmed what I already know?

We’ll watch one of my favorite TED Talks:

Students will take notes for their first writing assignment, connecting the three Qs of nonfiction to the video. For homework, students will write a reflection. I use this reflection as their first venture into college writing, as part of my measurement of their student growth. I should be able to use it to learn more about who they are as students, too.

Day 3: A short entry ticket: what is a single story and why is it dangerous? After a quiet 5 min quick write, we’ll have a brief, 5 min norming session of what it looks like to pair up to share ideas. What does it look like? Sound like? How will they know it is over? After a pair and a share with the class, we’ll dive into telling our own stories. How will we do this? With a fun round of two truths and a lie. This game should be a fun way to end the week. I will, of course, go first. Want my two truths? I shaved my head in college, and I once caught crickets that we fried up and ate. Yep, I’m a wild child at heart.

How about you, fellow readers? How will you build relationships with your students in the first three days?

“Learning Community Wordle” by Balboa Park Cultural Partnership is shared under a CC by-SA 2.0 license.

How a silent discussion opened the door for my students

I sat with the group, silently observing their small group discussion. Although normally she finds ways around it, on this day,  my student who struggles with stuttering had an almost impossible time getting her ideas out. When she is nervous, the words seem to break apart in her mouth. I know she has amazing things to say, because her blog is thoughtful, sweet, and expresses the thoughts of a deep thinker, but speaking to others while being watched was making that ability to dig deep into a text and pull out the heart of an idea invisible to the others. I knew I had to do something.

Backchannel chat and Twitter to the rescue.

In preparation of a student led, Socratic discussion, students had read almost half of Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup. They had close read passages, analyzed them for ethos and pathos, and written countless short answer responses. I had asked them to come up with open ended questions in anticipation of this discussion, but I didn’t think putting this student on display was fair to her. So I proposed a silent, Twitter style, chat instead.

First, I created a free backchannel chat at http://backchannelchat.com/. Then I created an assignment in Google Classroom with the link to the chatroom. I explained the format of a Twitter chat, with Q1 representing the first question and A1 its answer. I reviewed the norms of a good discussion, with interaction between its members, and let them appoint a student discussion leader. Students typed their favorite open ended question into the public comments on the assignment, and the discussion leader added the appropriate Q1 etc. to the question and pasted it in the chat. She monitored when student comments seemed to die down and added the next Q when it seemed to fit.

The chat was a success. Not only did the student who struggles with stuttering have success, but several of my more introverted students shone as well. In fact, if you look at the exchange they had in the above screenshot, you can just see the connections building. It was epic. I will definitely do this again.

Game on!

Often the biggest barrier to innovation is our own way of thinking. –George Couros

Ever wondered how to implement gamification into your classes beyond kill and drill review games? Me, too. Last year, I tried implementing Classcraft last year, but it didn’t quite fit. The excitement wasn’t there, and the energy to gamify flagged when kids leveled up enough to get their favorite outfits. I was just debating whether or not to try again when my husband stepped in.

He’s my favorite sounding board, because he believes I can do anything I set my mind to achieve. And when I told him about my epic fail to make the energy spike in my room, he jumped in with an awesome idea: create a storyline that is more epic than merely leveling up.

Some wild drawings later, we came up with this: a massive game of RISK, with students trying to dominate the world of the classroom. With his background in geology and our backgrounds in gaming, he painstakingly came up with a world map for my kids to dominate.

Each Classcraft team begins in a city on the map. They move one hexagon for every assignment they turn in on time. Together, the team is more powerful, but each member can go on their own to explore the map. As they conquer each square, they will uncover side quests that align with the unit we’re about to begin. Some quests will be available only for higher level characters. Each team has a resource they must first find and then protect from the other teams, and teams can challenge each other in a Boss Battle to conquer the world, all while deepening their connects to each other and to the content of the course. Students who fail to complete their work cannot move forward in the game and risk weakening their teams. One team will rule supreme, as kings and queens of our kingdom. After dominating, they can move on to conquer the other continents (that represent the other classes I teach.)

Gaming ties right in with my desire to create deeper connections within my classroom, as well as fits right in with the novel we read this summer, Ready Player One.

Let the games begin, and may the odds be ever in your favor!

Photo credit to https://www.flickr.com/photos/94086507@N00/

 

Invoking empathy

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

George Couros says that “to be innovative, . . .focus on having empathy for those we serve.” To truly have empathy for others, we have to learn more than the single story students present to us in the classroom. It is not enough to look at students as they sit in our rooms and think we know who they are. It is not enough to pass out an index card or a link to a Google form. It is not enough to analyze a pre-test or assessment data.

Relationship building is key for reaching students where they are, rather than where we think they are. Without empathy, we teach in the style in which we are most comfortable, not in the style that is best for each learner. Truly working to know our students takes time, effort, and multiple attempts. I need to know my students’ passions. I need to know their background, where they come from, in order to know where they are going. And they need to know that I care, and that I am interested in them as people, not just data in my spreadsheet.

Gamified Motivation

Until things start to slow down, I am participating in #Edblogaday by creating blog stems of posts I’d like to create but don’t have time or energy to finish. 

I am trying Classcraft.com at the end of this year for two reasons: one as a motivator for behavior and two to experiment how classcraft.com works while students work cooperatively to read books in groups.

I am also reading Drive by David Pink. This post would explore how gamifying my classroom participation might help or hurt student learning, due to the external motivation provided by xp. Since behavior is more algorithmic than heuristic, I’m probably okay with an external motivation, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Students are Awesome

divergent

Today, a former student popped into my room, book in hand. I smiled.
“Is this the book you were talking about?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I’ll finish reading the second one, soon, too.”
And did he stop later in the day to see if I’d started reading it yet? Yes, he did.
Seems my former students know me for the book junky I am.

Now to hope for a snow day tomorrow.