Monday, November 30, 2015

How "Real" Is Your Classroom?

"But how will I ever use this in the 'real world'?" I remember questioning my teachers as a student. I didn't always think what they were teaching me was important or useful. However, I was the type of student who wanted to succeed, who trusted my teachers despite those seeds of skepticism and doubt. For me, the assurance that things would be covered on the test or that they would be required to move on to the next stage or course in my education was enough. But I was probably the exception to most students in the late 1990s, and I would certainly be an anomaly today. In the age of Google search, Youtube, and global connections, "because I said so" doesn't cut it.

As a teacher now myself, I want to make sure my students never have to ask me when they'll use what I'm teaching them; I strive to make the relevance of the topic and the connections to their own lives crystal clear. If it's not important to them, then they won't give me the effort (and hopefully the enthusiasm!) I'm seeking. If I can't make Shakespeare, Dickens, and argumentative writing applicable to my 21st learners, then I should find something else to teach. Instead, I use Romeo and Juliet as a catalyst for conversations about teenagers, love, brain development, and decision-making; Great Expectations gets us discussing what character traits are truly important and how much we should be willing to change ourselves for someone else; and argumentative writing helps us defend our favorite athletes, musicians, and movies. Check out my "trailer" for my class below!

School should be the "real world," but our students don't often see it that way. Our students see us create an artificial environment of rules and regulations that have been in place for as long as we can remember, yet they are nothing like the "real world" they experience every day outside our school's walls. If we truly want our students to be successful, happy, life-long learners, here are a few things we can do to help them.

Stop Pretending Cell Phones Don't Exist

Devices exist in the "real world"
I'll admit it; I was guilty of this one my first couple years in the classroom. Our school had a policy against cell phones, and I would confiscate them if I saw them (as the rule stated), even when they weren't in use. Despite my feelings of guilt, I followed along. But if we want to be "real" we need to acknowledge that our students have their cell phones everywhere else. Instead of putting phones on lockdown, we need to teach our students how to handle the distraction they can be and to harness their power for the forces of good. My students and I discuss when appropriate times are for using phones in class--we even role-play some scenarios! We also share times a cell phone could help us with learning or sharing our learning. I have my phone out to snap quick pictures of what we're doing and to share on social media. We share new apps we like and whether or not we can find an equivalent web-based program to use on our Chromebooks. Sure, students sometimes get distracted by their phones or try to use them at inappropriate times, but when they do we talk about it. They are allowed to learn, grow, and make mistakes here like anywhere else, and they can do it with my guidance. Allowing students the freedom to have their phones or other devices out shows them that the classroom doesn't have to be an artificial environment where we have to pretend personal devices don't exist.

Allow For Choice

Teachers, you don't always have to tell students every detail of how to do things. I used to be guilty of this. I had a vision for the content, the process, and the product, and I would clearly outline each step for my students. It's not that I didn't ask for feedback or change up the projects, or even that I didn't sometimes offer what I though of as choice (you can choose option A or option B!) to students. I just never truly allowed for student choice that wasn't initially my choice. It is comfortable that way, both for teachers and for students. But a few years back I taught the same class six times each day for the first time, and I was bored. One of the changes I made was to deliberately allow for student choice. I let them choose books to read or how to make a visual representation of their thoughts with any tool they could access. I let them generate ideas for projects and allowed them to teach each other new web tools. Because in the "real world" they get to make some decisions for themselves. Their interests and strengths matter, and our classrooms should reflect the influence of our students. It can be scary for us; teachers like to be in control. It can also be scary for students who have never been offered the opportunity to choose for their own learning and don't know where to start!

Stop Raising Hands

This has been a tough one for my students, but I asked them to stop raising their hands and simply to discuss with one another. When I inquired if they had to raise their hands anywhere else or if they could recall their parents ever raising their hands, they couldn't come up with any examples from the "real world." So with a few ground rules (only one person talking at a time, respectful conversation, and no one student dominating the discussion) we have tried to eliminate raising our hands and to simply talk to one another. We are about one-third of the way through the school year, and I still often have students begin a discussion with raising their hands. I wave the "come on" signal, though, and the students relax and the conversation flows much more smoothly than any contrived or disjointed discussion of hand raising! Students feel more relaxed and are more willing to participate when they know we're truly having a conversation!

Stop Assigning Mountains of Homework

My first few years in the classroom, I taught French ful time, and I never "assigned" homework. I did ask my students to spend 5-10 minutes a night looking over their words and conjugations, but I never assigned writing compositions or worksheets. My philosophy was that French was new to everyone and that students would do more harm than good to themselves making mistakes that I couldn't help them correct in a timely fashion. I also knew the amount of work other classes were assigning, and I knew they simply didn't have time for it all. But that changed when I started teaching English full time. I felt pressure that first year to assign homework each night; English is a core class, a tested area, after all! But I was miserable, and so were my students. I had more work to do to keep up with their assignments, and I was disappointed when they either didn't do them or didn't do them well. So I changed. I make sure never to assign work over the weekend or a break, and I always give multiple days to complete any assignments that may need to be wrapped up outside of class. Students are happier, and so am I. Test scores didn't sink, and my students could still demonstarte their learning and growth. This is the "real world." How many adults do you know (besides teachers) who worry about their work away from work or take their work home with them?

Don't Make Learning a Secret; Make Students Responsible for It

This has been a game-changer for me. I read Paul Solarz's Learn Like A Pirate this summer, and he shares how he gives students responsibility for ensuring the class is on task by sharing a daily schedule. With the schedule projected on the monitor, students know exactly what should be accomplished during the class, in which order (if necessary), and they hold each other accountable for making sure the schedule is followed. What the class is doing is not a secret that only the teacher is responsible for following, but becomes a collective responsibility. What is more "real world" than that?!

These are just of few of the measures I have taken to make my classroom a more authentic, relevant place for my students, but I'm always looking to adapt, grow and improve! I'd love to hear some amazing ways you've been able to add more "real world" to your class in the comments!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Ideas for Anyone Teaching Vocabulary (so every teacher ever!)

My school set reading comprehension as our academic focus areas this year, and I was tasked with introducing some reading comprehension strategies to my colleagues they might use with their students. I immediately thought of Marzano's vocabulary process as a painless introductory strategy. Nothing is more frustrating than a student's lack of comprehension or success because he or she doesn't understand the question or the prompt. As a former French teacher, I had already amassed an arsenal of fun vocabulary activities, so sharing was easy! Here's the introduction I offered my colleagues, with plenty of digital resources for our 1:1 Chromebooks!

Marzano’s Six-Step Vocabulary Process 

(note--it’s important to do ALL SIX steps!)

1. Provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term.

  • Looking up words in dictionaries is not the most useful way to learn vocab
  • Provide a context for the term
  • Introduce direct experiences that provide examples of the term
  • Tell a story that integrates the term
  • Use video to aid in processing and internalizing meaning
  • Describe your own mental picture of the term
  • Find or create pictures that explain the term

2. Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.

  • Monitor and correct misunderstandings
  • Important that STUDENTS create this understanding rather than copying teacher or book models

3. Ask students to construct a picture, symbol, or graphic representing the word.

  • Model, model, model--even if you're not the best artist!
  • Provide examples of student’s drawings (and your own) that aren't perfect--maybe even attempt to improve upon them!
  • Play “Pictionary”
  • Make a comic, by hand or online with a tool like Pixton or makebeliefscomix
  • We like to do steps 2+3 on our dry erase painted desks! We use our Chromebooks to snap quick pictures of them and compile them on Google Slides presentations.

4. Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms.

  • Highlight prefixes, suffixes, root words to aid in decoding and memory
  • Identify synonyms and antonyms for the term
  • List related/unrelated words 
  • Translate the term into another language for second language students
  • Write incomplete analogies for students to complete
  • Allow students to write (or draw) their own analogies (Connect Two Example)
  • Sort or classify words

5. Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another.Think-Pair-Share

  • Yes-No-Why (Example)
  • Compare their descriptions of the term
  • Describe their pictures to one another
  • Students share their own connections or mnemonic devices 
  • Explain to each other any new information they have learned (Aha Moments)
  • Identify areas of disagreement or confusion and seek clarification
  • Allow students to revise their own work
My students love to play Kahoot!

6. Involve students periodically in games to play with, recycle, and review terms.

  • That’s Sketchy (Pictionary)
  • Puzzles
  • Vocabulary Baseball (Teacher predetermines single, double, triple, and home run words, bonus if students actually "run" the bases!)
  • Memory (time students, beat themselves or each other)
  • Jeopardy (vocab words are on the board, players make up a question to define)
  • Charades
  • Vocabulary Battleship
  • Name the Category ($100,000 Pyramid)
  • Password
  • Catch Phrase
  • Bingo (teacher gives definition, students mark the words)
  • Create a skit (assign groups of 3-4 kids 3 vocab words include in a skit)
  • Flyswatter Game (show images representing the words or the words themselves all on 1 image, kids on 2 teams compete to find words first when teacher reads the definition and swat with fly-swatter)
  • Arcade style games
  • Pac Man Game 
  • Kahoot
  • Socrative Space Race
What would you add to the list? I'd love to hear your fun vocabulary games and activities that have proven successful with students! 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Linking Our Book Reviews to QR Codes to Share with a Wider Audience

In the last three years, two factors led to a major decline in the number of books being checked out from our school's media center: Changing from a block schedule to a traditional, seven-period day schedule and putting a Chromebook in the hands of each student through our 1:1 technology initiative. Honestly, I fully support each of these changes. Teaching on the block schedule held some advantages, but I struggled with forging strong relationships with students when they knew they'd spend just a semester with me. I hated the feeling that they left me, never to return, when I had finally figured out how to best help each of them. I welcomed the traditional schedule for these reasons, and my relationships are stronger and my students are growing more. I also love technology; our Chromebooks have allowed experiences and creations we would never have been able to do without them, like Epic Rap Battles and Digital Text Annotation.

But the traditional, seven-period day made so many of my colleagues feel the need to rush. Even though they had the time, the shortened periods made them feel like they had less time. The first things they cut were projects that required even more time by leaving their classrooms and going to the media center. The media center also used to be a popular place for students during study hall before a Chromebook was available to them 24/7. I would write passes each day for students who wanted to access technology in the media center during their study hall time, for the media center housed the majority of tech in our building. Our Chromebooks enabled them to have even better access without making the extra trip.
Creative Commons photo via Flickr

As a language teacher and lover of books, hearing my colleagues in the media center lament the drastic decline in circulation made me sad. I have so many amazing memories of book talks with my school librarian, participating in summer reading programs and book clubs, and those few teachers who would set aside time in class for us to read books that we had chosen for ourselves. And so I decided to take action rather than remain sad.

If I want my students to read and visit the media center, then reading and going to the media center need to be priorities. I need to take time for class visits and time in class to read our choice books. Even more importantly, I need to talk to students about their books, help them find the right books for their interests and abilities, and help them share their opinions with each other, our school, and the world.

To share with each other and the school, I decided to have students record book reviews, link them to QR codes, and received permission from our media specialist to place the QR codes on the books in the library. This way anyone with a Chromebook (which is everyone in our school) or a smart phone could easily listen to the reviews and get advice about choosing that particular book! Here's the assignment I gave my students!
Creative Commons photo via Flickr

As for sharing with the world, I have asked all of my students to seek parent permission to set up "professional" Twitter accounts using their school email addresses. Through these accounts, I have encouraged them to share photos of their books using #shelfieWednesday and even promoted the Sunday night #Read4fun chat where people (mostly educators) share reviews and recommendations. While not all of my students are there yet, they're slowly getting on board with my love of reading and they love any excuse to use social media!

Our media specialist has already noticed a sharp increase in circulation, as well as a decrease in overdue books. Since I paln to do the same or a similar project each quarter of the school year, we should be able to provide many reviews as we reshape our media center's identity!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ten Reasons Google Drawings Should Be on Your Classroom Radar

Since learning more about Google Drawings at last year's EdTechTeam Indiana Summit featuring Google Apps for Education, I can't stop using them! Google Drawings are a fantastic, highly underutilized tool for classroom use. As I've experimented with them and found even more uses, here are my top ten reasons you should give Google Drawings a try!

1. Interactive Posters
With essentially a blank canvas, students and teachers can create posters with text, photos, and hyperlinks to any number of resources. Even better, since Drawings are collaborative like other Google Apps, groups of people can be working on the same drawing! Check out this characterization poster with text evidence a five student group was able to create in about twenty minutes!

2. Text Annotation/Close Reading
Using a photo of the text on the poster or as the background, students can add arrows, shapes, hyperlinks to videos, websites, or other Google Docs to explain the text. Check out my post on annotating text with Google Drawings for more details!

3. Graphic Organizers
Easily create colorful, custom graphic organizers for students. Since we can type right in the Google Drawing, even on top of the shapes, we can go paperless with these organizers without the hassle of trying to edit PDFs. Here's a plus delta chart I created for students to examine Odysseus's leadership in Part 1 of The Odyssey!

4. Manipulatives
With the ability to drag and re-arrange the pieces of the drawing, students could easily be using virtual manipulatives (and you or an aide wouldn't have all that time invested in cutting out and laminating all the pieces!). Matching terms or labeling a diagram becomes a quick, visual activity. I used this vocabulary matching as a formative assessment midway through our unit!

5. Create a Digital Signature
While this is much easier with a touch screen and a stylus, it can be done with a mouse or on a track pad with a little practice. Just choose the "scribble" option to start writing!

6. Mind Maps
Make organizing, connecting, and hypothesizing about ideas visible through Mind Maps. Quick drafts could be made with shapes, arrows, and connectors!

7. Sketchnoting
With a complete source of options for colors, shapes, fonts, lines, and even freehand with the scribble option, students and teachers could create beautiful sketchnotes to visualize information! With the addition of a hyperlink, the sketchnote could provide access to the inspiration for it with just one click!

8. Timelines
A Colleague teaching Junior English American Literature and I brainstormed an awesome project where students would add to a Google Drawings timeline after covering each literary movement, insert links to literature, videos, and images, and then blog about how the ideas and style of that movement are still impacting our culture today. Students can even link their blog posts to the timeline! The beginnings might look something like this.

9. Storyboard
The ability to link images, your own and others, to the Google Drawing and to use connectors, colors, links, and text make this a natural vehicle for Storyboards to recap media, or better yet to plan student media creations!

10. Create custom backgrounds for Google Slides
First download the Google Drawing as an image. Next, open a Google Slides presentation. Choose "background," then "image," and select your file.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sharing Files and Folders Across Google Accounts

My sister-in-law started a new job in a new school system just a few weeks before school started, and for the first time she has access to all that Google Apps For Education has to offer. As she discussed how much easier her job is now that she has the collaboration abilities of GAFE, she had some questions about how to make her unique situation easier to manage.

My sister-in-law actually has two Google Apps for Education accounts to use; she was hired as an employee of the public school system as the intervention specialist for the K-8 parochial school whose students eventually attend the public high school. The parochial school has a separate domain, and she has trouble keeping track of where she has saved the files she needs. I suggested sharing all of her files with both accounts so she has access no matter which account she is signed into at any given moment, and I created this short tutorial to help. This could also be helpful if you use a personal Google account and a GAFE account regularly and would like to share files with both. Happy sharing!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Five Ideas for Using Padlet in the Classroom

Padlet is a web tool that works like a collaborative piece of virtual paper, and each paper is called a Padlet Wall. Users can add text, photos, videos, links, or even documents from their devices if they simply have the link to Padlet Wall. With the addition of an ios app this month, Padlet can be accessed on virtually any device.

By default, Padlet Walls are public, but the owner of a Padlet Wall can restrict access to invited collaborators only, add a password to a wall, or simply make it public yet hidden from public searches. For added security in the classroom, Padlet users can turn on the moderation option to require approval for posts before they are added.

With all of these security features and no login required, Padlet is a wonderful tool for the classroom with so many possibilities! Here are a few ways teachers and students might use it:

1. Exit Ticket or Bell Ringer
If you're trying to gather responses from all students quickly at the beginning or end of the class period and want to go paperless, Padlet can be a great option. Simply post the prompt or exercise to the Padlet Wall, share the link with students, and collect all the responses in one spot! If you don't want students to see all the responses already posted, simply turn on the moderation feature. You then can approve all the posts at once when students are done.

2. Virtual Bulletin Board
Even better than a traditional bulletin board, Padlet will allow you to add videos and links to the traditional text and pictures of bulletin boards. You can choose one of Padlet's fun backgrounds or even upload your own background image to make it visually appealing, and you also have options for adding your posts--grid, list, or free form style. For even more fun, you could post the virtual bulletin board to a class website to share with parents too!

3. Content Curation
Whether you're gathering a list of websites and resources for a paper or research project or looking for someplace to house completed student projects, Padlet is a great place to gather information. Teachers could post a list of approved resources for a given project, or students researching the same topic can add links, articles, videos to share with the group, saving time and allowing for true collaboration. Even better, when projects are completed, teachers could create Padlet Walls to showcase the student work, adding links or photos and descriptions of projects that aren't shareable in other ways.

4. Virtual Posterboard
Instead of finding someplace in the classrooms to display posterboards for each student project, combine the advantages of #2 and #3. A Padlet Wall could become the posterboard with great backgrounds and links and videos, plus another Wall could house all of the student projects! With the ability to upload your own background image and add free form posts, the background image could even become interactive and explained through the posts!

5. Seating Chart
This is one of my favorite activities for the first day of school! Our student management system does not allow us to create those fancy seating charts where we can re-arrange the student photos as needed; we're stuck with an alphabetical list of names and faces in pre-set rows. To make one anyway, I ask students to title the post with their names, take a selfie, and add two things about themselves on Day 1. This way I have their current photo with the name (they never look like the pictures from last year!), and the free form option allows me to rearrange the Wall into my crazy seating configuration when they're done!

How have you used Padlet in the classroom? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Make the Metamorphosis Happen!

I woke up this morning with a plan--I was taking my boys to preschool and spending the day working in my classroom. After all, school begins in just one week! I have lesson plans to make, Google classrooms to set up, and a bulletin board I intend to change before my students arrive! As I reached into my jewelry box and pulled out this butterfly necklace, I was overcome with emotion as I recalled the story of my husband giving me this gift!

We had been trying to conceive for over two years, complete with all the frustration, medical testing, and experimenting that goes with that territory. We were trying something new that month, hopeful we would be celebrating in a couple of weeks. I was also wrapping up my fourth year of teaching, and I had an amazing group of French 4 students. These students had grown in their language skills as I had grown as a teacher, and we had all made amazing progress on our journey together! Five years later, I still get Facebook messages and emails from them; we're that close! While my students did not know I was carrying this burden, they did know I had been more stressed than usual and had expressed concern. One student (who had spent ten days in France with us on a school trip) even approached my husband after a school event  to ask if I was ok!

Mother's Day happened to fall in this time frame of waiting, wondering, and stress as well. It would be just a few more days until we knew if this latest trial resulted in a pregnancy, and my husband surprised me with a present that Sunday. As I opened the little box to find this necklace, he explained that a butterfly was the perfect pendant for me. Whether we were pregnant at that moment or not, he continued, he knew I would be a great mom. I had chosen a career where I took on new "kids" each year, nurtured them, helped them, and taught them.  They made me laugh, cry, lose sleep, and feel proud of all they accomplished as they progressed. I was always worried about them and if I could do more to help them learn and grow. If I'm able to take my "caterpillars" and turn them into "butterflies" with just fifty minutes each weekday in a classroom, he finished, he knew I would do wonders for our children. Needless to say, I was a blubbering mess as he helped me fasten the chain around my neck (and I was pregnant!). The perfect necklace as I get back in the routine of school and the mindset of the new academic year!

So, if you're back in the classroom already or still preparing like I am, I challenge you to remember that we are planning, guiding, and aiding in a metamorphosis for each student who walks through our doors this year. They're all at different stages, and some of them are stubborn and would stay caterpillars if we allowed it. Some have more support for the transformation at home than others do. Some will already have their wings, and it's our job to help them fly farther, faster, and longer. As teachers, we have the gift of helping this metamorphosis for not only our own children but also all the "kids" we take on this journey each year. Remember that it IS a process and support it all you can as you watch them build their cocoons and unfurl their wings!