That first few days back in the classroom after a two-week break sure are a rust-fest. I feel like a rusty teacher, trying to work with rusty lesson plans. The students are completely encrusted with the rust of two weeks, which for teenagers translates to about three months, more or less.
Blogging feels rusty, too, so I’ll just write about something I do all the time in my classroom. It’s probably the last thing that comes to mind when we think of innovative ed-tech, but it’s everywhere. Word.
No, that’s what I’m writing about: Microsoft Word.
I gave my 9th graders a practice exam and then projected the document to go over the answers. In going over the answers, I manipulated the text of the study guide to show correct answers and added notes.
This really is so much of what I do every day in the classroom. And while it’s not particularly techy, I think it’s the kind of technology usage that really helps me teach. I basically use Word instead of writing on the board. Even if my handwriting didn’t happen to be indecipherable, I’d still think this was a good idea. I can post my notes for the day on Edmodo, and, while it does entail more sitting at my desk than I would like, it keeps me from having to turn my back on the students to write on the board. I think all teachers hate that.
Here are three simple things I do when projecting Word documents that I find easy for me and useful for students.
1. Increase text size: command+shift+> (mac) ctrl+shift+> (pc)
and decrease… command+shift+< ctrl+shift+<
I do this so much I forget that it’s anything until I see someone highlight text maneuver the cursor all the way up the toolbar to change the size of the text. It might seem silly to think these precious seconds being wasted are really so precious, but here’s why I think they are (aside from the obvious reason that every second we have with out students is precious).
When we’re doing something as potentially boring as taking notes, we need to keep our students engaged. And while watching some highlighted text quickly increase in size may not be the most riveting theater, it’s better than watching a teacher try to locate the size menu at the top of the screen and click on a different point sizes until it looks right. I got bored just writing that sentence.
It’s also a really easy way to add emphasis, of course, so it can help students realize what’s most important. If I’m writing a lot on the board, I might end up having to cram something important into a small space.
(I always show my formatting toolbar.)
It’s a pretty obvious ways to add emphasis, but I think it can be really effective if you can do it quickly. Again, it can keep kids engaged and it can make the notes clearer.
I also like how dramatic highlighting the correct answer can be. I’ll ask the question, hear various answers and rationales for each answer from around the room, wait until more students are actually curious to find out if they are right, and then show them. It’s like a magician’s great reveal, just slightly less exciting.
3. Change text color
These antecedent questions require some complicated (and boring) explanations. But I think the concept clicked (or re-clicked) for a lot of kids when I did this, judging simply from their reactions and the questions they were asking (quantitative data to come). I used the formatting tools to illustrate my thinking process when reading a question like this. First I find the pronouns – and make them red – then I determine which one is the singular pronoun (and
strikethrough it). Then I read the sentence again to find what word that pronoun is taking the place of.
I conducted an informal interview with my students on how this went. I asked how other teachers go over handouts. Apparently some teachers never do that.
There are also plenty who project the Word document directly onto the whiteboard and have students come up to the board with a marker to show the class the right answer. I like doing that, too, but with so many examples to go over on this review, I didn’t want to engage in the constant erasing and repositioning that method necessitates. When I asked for feedback on this overall process, though, several students spoke up about preferring to go over handouts that way. It’s not hard to see why – they get to stand up.
Many students spoke about being “visual” people, and needing to see the answers like this to get them. They complained about teachers who simply read the right answers aloud. They said they can’t absorb those, or even really listen.
To be sure, there are much more engaging and flashy ways to do these kinds of things, whether by using interactive whiteboards or some flashier gadget or application. But we don’t all have access to those things in our classrooms. And I assume we’re all pretty comfortable with Word already, which is no small thing.