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.

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#OneWord Focus

To be focused, to converge a wave of light into heat, to have a center of heat or intensity, these would be a major change in how I live my life. I have always been diffuse, spread out like a thin film of water vapor, like a planner with its first commitment in that five year plan somewhere in year 3.

You see, in a typical year, I am planning about tomorrow. No, the day after tomorrow. No, two months from now. There is nothing wrong with planning ahead, nor is there anything wrong with having many avenues to pursue joy. There is a problem, however, in rushing through life, unable to see the delicate bluebell before smashing it under heel on the way to the future. I need to be able to stop, to focus, to feel the earth holding me up, the air filling my lungs. To be in the  moment, this moment, with a purring cat heavy on my lap and my family asleep.

As 2017 moves forward, I will use this focus to remind me to be mindful of the now, to know that it’s okay to say no to that which does not further my purpose. Even as I plan for November’s NCTE conference, so much must I realize that today is a gift, and I cannot waste it.

Focus” by Mark Hunter is free to share or adapt under a CC 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/

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.

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.