Posts Tagged high school
It’s taken a few years and several relapses into pen-and-paper, but now there’s no going back for me. For every tangible, tactile sensation that is lost, the digital process makes up for it with a practical benefit. And besides, why do we English teachers get so weepy about saying goodbye to grading papers with a pen? It’s grading papers – the bane of our existence. Why do we romanticize the things that drive us crazy?
Anyway, here are some things that went well with this last round of 9th grade essays.
1. Real time support for a larger number of students
Armed with detailed outlines (or at least that was the plan), I brought my students to the computer lab for a full session of typing. Once they were all going, I opened up a few papers at a time to take a look and see if I could give a quick tip to redirect a student who was veering off course. I’ve written about this before, but I’m still amazed by how this lets me help so many students in one class session. Using the chat sidebar feels comfortable for a lot of students, so I find that more of them are willing to ask for help, which is often the biggest hangup for kids when it comes to writing.
Instead of using the chat sidebar, sometimes I’ll just add a few comments. I’ll do this if I want to point the student to a specific sentence – or a part of a sentence. I’ll also use a specific color highlighter so show them where there is a punctuation problem, then give more details on how to fix it in the sidebar if I think they need it.
That first comment in the above screenshot also speaks to the fact that some students think this kind of communication is actually fun. Which could be a second subheading here.
2. It’s kind of fun
Here’s another exchange with that same student.
3. Students adding comments on their own papers
I hadn’t realized the potential here, but it’s interesting. For starters, several of my students added comments to something they had written or revised when they weren’t sure they were doing it right. Like this example below, which she wrote from home. I didn’t see the comment until later when I actually graded it, but it was nice for me to have a sense that she wasn’t confident about that sentence, that she was thinking about it, and that she just didn’t know how to write it any differently.
I feel bad about my harsh (and late) response. But this did get me thinking that I could require some sort of reflective work like this from my students when they turn things in. One of the hardest parts of writing instruction is trying to distinguish ability from effort, and I think this could help.
This student also added a lengthy comment in the margin of her conclusion, explaining why she started talking about Freedom Writers. I think she knows that this is not something I recommend doing in a conclusion to an essay, but she felt strongly about it, so she took the opportunity to explain herself.
That made me think about asking students to annotate their own essays. I could have them identify their strongest sections, their weakest sections, and I could have them explain what they’re thinking by writing without the mental freeze that worrying about “essay writing” often brings.
I couldn’t find screenshots of them because I think they were all in chat windows, but several times in class that day, after helping students get back on track, they’d type something like “ok, thanks – that helps a lot.” Or, “ahhh, that makes sense now – thank you!” I wish I had the proof because I know how unbelievable it sounds that a 9th grader would say that, but it happened. Not only that, I actually had a student come up to me the next day and say to my face: “I saw those comments you wrote on my essay and I wanted to thank you because they really helped me revise it.” I could hardly respond since my jaw was on the floor.
But don’t worry, you sentimental traditionalists. Even if you use GoogleDocs, it’s still grading papers, so you’ll still want to tear your hair out at the end of the day.
I started this school year excited about using Edmodo, but I all but abandoned it around the end of the first quarter. I was getting less than 50% completion on any online homework assignment, and I always had a few students in each class who said they did not have computers or reliable internet access at home. Much like Jennie Magiera writes about in this great article on EdWeek Teacher, though for different reasons, I decided to stop, reflect, and reassess what I was doing.
So as second semester started, I realized something simple: I was getting less than 50% homework on pen & paper assignments, too. Also, all students have at least one 99-minute study period during which they can go to the computer lab if they need to. I realized that I really wanted to bring the online component back into my instruction, and that merely 10 minutes of homework could accomplish this. My novel units were feeling so much duller than I remember them feeling. Part of this is because of how much actual reading I feel like we have to do in class. Remember that homework problem I mentioned? I don’t know if it’s school culture or what, but assigning reading for homework definitely goes nowhere. Still, there were things I was doing on Moodle back in my 1:1 days that added some richness and continuity to a novel unit.
So I’m having another go at it. I think the online component of the course will only work the way I want it to work if students get in the habit of checking it regularly, and for that to happen I have to be consistent with it. Here are some ways I’ve been using it this week.
1. Exit tickets to find best questions
I’m excited about this idea. I want my students to have some sort of threaded discussion online, but I’ve always had two major problems with it: bad discussions questions and late discussion questions (when students would rotate roles as discussion leader).
After reading a chapter in class together (but without having time to discuss it), I had all students write down their best discussion question on an index card as an exit ticket. I told them I’d pick the three best questions and post them on Edmodo. If I chose your question, your homework is already done and you earn full credit. Everyone else has to respond to one of them. I was able to scan the questions and post the three best ones in less than 10 minutes right after the bell rang.
2. Image searching homework
The opening scene of Of Mice and Men is filled with Steinbeck’s rich and vivid descriptions of the clearing by the Salinas river that proves so pivotal to the story’s ending. I want my students to really picture it (before we see the movie). In this assignment, I asked them to search for an image inspired by a specific phrase from the opening pages. Unfortunately, you can’t embed the actual image in an Edmodo post, but I was able to click on all of these during class and show them what their classmates had found – beautiful images of rivers that are “deep and green” and “sycamores with mottled, white, recumbent limbs.”
3. Getting kids to be more themselves, while also looking closely at the text
That was my intention with this assignment for seniors reading Their Eyes Were Watching God. Trust me that the students who wrote these first few comments do not speak this openly (or do not speak at all) in class.
4. Quick Polls
5. Checking in
My hope is that if I stay consistent in using it and keep varying the tasks like this, I’ll start getting more than 50% completion. Updates to come.
More on how I used GoogleDocs last week:
I’m afraid that what I’m about to share sounds like the worst idea ever, but I actually think it worked pretty well for some students.
They were all working on laptops in my classroom (I had reserved a mobile lab for the day), and they were finishing their research papers. Some were putting on finishing touches, some were still drafting, some, somehow, were still researching.
Here’s what I did: I opened three or four student papers on my own computer (they had all shared them with me). I announced to the class whose papers I had open at any given time so that they could chat me in the sidebar that GoogleDocs has.
Those students would then chat me a few questions, asking me to look at their conclusion or a specific quote they used, asking for help on how to start a particular sentence or if their formatting was right. I could answer them in the chat sidebar or type directly into their document in a different color if that seemed like an easier way to explain something.
Sometimes, when I’d type some complicated feedback, I’d see a kid reading it, struggling to make sense of it. Then I’d call out from my desk, “Hey Katie, does that make sense?” And they’d assure me that they did, or, after a few minutes, they’d chat me a follow-up question. Or they’d make some edits, then ask me – via chat – to take a look at it again and see if it’s better.
On one level, this sounds absurd to me. It’s like the stories you hear of parents texting their kids to come down to dinner (apparently, this happens a lot). I definitely value face-to-face interaction. If a student wants me to show me an early draft of a paper, I always insist they come sit down with me so we could talk about it.
But there were a few things that made this experiment seem worthwhile to me.
1. I could help more students.
I think I was able to look at more papers this way than if I had been sitting down at various students’ desks with them. When I do that, I think I tend to spend too much time at that one desk. I get drawn into reading the whole paper, and I end up ignoring much of the rest of the class. Most importantly, I usually end up only bouncing around the desks of the students who ask for help. In my experiment, I systematically opened a few documents at a time, working my way “around” the entire classroom. And we all know that the kids who don’t ask for help are often the ones who need the most.
2. I was less intimdating.
I don’t consider myself an intimidating person. Most of my freshmen are taller than me. But still, I’m a teacher, so plenty of kids will freeze up and not ask the questions on their minds when I’m crouched down at their desk or reading over their shoulders. Through chat, I think a lot of kids are more comfortable. They might be more willing to admit what they don’t understand. They even seemed more willing to say things like “thank you.” Which was nice.
3. They had more time to process
When working one-on-one with a student, I often find myself talking a lot, giving tons of writing advice to a silently nodding person. I ask for reassurance that they understand, which is often greeted with a hesitant “…yeah, I think I get it…” When those students go home to revise their work, they might forget what I had said or realize that they really didn’t get it. During these chat sessions, since I was leaving each document open for 5-10 minutes while looking at the other two or three, that first student then had time to look over my comments, process them, think about what they didn’t understand, and ask a question to help cement their own understanding. This seemed valuable, and it seemed like something that couldn’t happen in a face-to-face interaction, especially with a student who processes information at a slower speed.
My students will sometimes complain about it, and so will my colleagues. Sometimes GoogleDocs just works really slowly at school, and no one likes the wait-a-minute-to-see-what-letter-you-just-typed game. Some students have told me that they can’t type on GoogleDocs from their home computers. I’m not really sure what’s going on there.
I “collected” final drafts from my seniors yesterday, and I loved not having to deal with all the printing sob stories. A couple of students who have listening problems (not hearing problems, mind you) brought their printed papers. When they confusedly handed them to me, noticing that no one else was doing the same, they said things like, “Wait, did we not have to print it out? When we ‘shared’ it with you, was that turning it in?” They then went on to tell me the printing sob story anyway, to ensure I knew how hard it was for them to print it out. I can’t win, sometimes.
So here are two things:
1. Super-commenting on a draft
I was doing some evening edtech reading, like I do, and I came across an Audrey Waters piece on the issue of banning cell phones. (She linked to it in the text messaging installment of her “top ed-tech trends of 2011 series” on Hack Education.)
Anyway, I have a freshman doing his research paper on that issue, and I know he’s been struggling to find good articles in the library databases. So I pulled up his draft in GoogleDocs and typed a note to him at the top of his paper, with the link. (Don’t worry, I changed his name in the picture below).
When he decides to work on his draft later tonight (ha! sorry, too cynical?), he’ll see that note, click the link, then delete that from his paper, hopefully.
2. Public In-Class Editing Session
I’ve done this a few times, and students have told me it was very helpful for them. I make a speech kind of like this.
Okay, I’d like to make a proposition to you all and ask for a volunteer. I want to pull up one of your drafts right now on my computer, project it in front of all of you, and edit it. I’m going to tear it apart, so you have to be okay with that. I’ll point out what’s good, but I’ll also point out everything you need to revise, and I’ll write comments in the margins explaining all this. I want to do this to show you how closely I’m going to read your papers. I want you to see the things I’m going to be looking for when I’m reading them. If I end up using your essay, you’re basically getting a free one-on-one editing session without having to come in on your own time, after school or during lunch.
That’s usually when a couple of hands shoot up, if they haven’t already. If I have a few volunteers, I pick one whose essay I can guess will be slightly above average. A superstar’s draft won’t give me enough to comment on in terms of revisions, and part of the goal here is to jolt them awake to how much work they have left to do. In other words, I want to scare them. And a below-average paper just isn’t a model I want to show them, plus it could be too embarrassing for the author.
When we have a volunteer, I ask for a round of applause. I then do just what I promised – pick it apart, write tons of comments in the margins (using the “add comment” feature, whose keyboard shortcut, ctrl-alt-M, is a must-learn), both positive and constructive. I highlight all the typos and spelling mistakes in bright green or blue, which usually does a good job of helping them visualize how crappy a non-proofread essay will read.
While I’m doing this, I ask students to take notes on the kinds of things I’m writing down in the comments. I tell them not to write down everything I say, of course, but to watch and listen for some comment that they know I might end up making on their draft. Basically, make notes to yourself on what you need to fix. I think this kind of task makes students feel respected in that they’re not being asked to merely copy down everything I say even if it doesn’t apply to them.
They’ve also told me that the “behind-the-scenes” view of how their paper is going to get graded is especially helpful. I do give them rubrics, but, you know, they don’t all look at them. I think the public viewing of something that is normally very private and hidden is part of what makes this work.
This survey came out a few weeks ago, but I’m still thinking about it.
The survey, conducted by the American Association of University Women, looks at sexual harassment in grades 7-12. Sadly, I can’t imagine that the results are very surprising to any teacher, or to anyone who remembers what school was like. (I wonder how constant this has been. It’s too bad no one asked these questions generations ago.)
The survey (of almost 2,000 students) found that 56% of girls and 40% of boys experienced some sexual harassment during the past year. Honestly, that number sounds like it could be a little low. The survey designers defined sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual behavior that takes place in person or electronically.” I just think there are probably kids who don’t even realize that what they’re hearing is “unwelcome” or necessarily sexual.
The most common form of harassment, as the survey broke it down, was “sexual comments, gestures, or jokes.” 46% of girls reported dealing with that. Again, this couldn’t be surprising to a teacher. We hear it all day long, and there’s plenty of places we can look for the root causes. But I don’t think that’s really our job. Our job – one more part of it, one more often overlooked and and under-appreciated part of it, one more part of it for which we are usually untrained – is to address it when we hear it and to treat it seriously.
The survey found that 87% of those who experienced some sexual harassment reported negative effects “such as absenteeism, poor sleep and stomachaches,” according to the New York Times article. All three of those side-effects make school almost impossible.
When it comes to “being called gay or lesbian in a negative way,” 18% of girls and 18% of boys answered yes. But, again, I think every teacher would bet, based on only anecdotal evidence, that such language is more ubiquitous than that suggests. That survey question reflects direct language (i.e., “you’re so gay”, and not indirect language (“this story is gay”) which we hear all the time, and which has to be almost as harmful).
I’m not sure what we do here. I suppose, like so much else, it comes down to every teacher being on the same page and being consistent about how we run our classrooms. I make a big deal about the negative gay language, and I’ve had a few students actually tell me (after class, of course) how much they appreciate the stand I take. They tell me that most teachers just pretend not to hear it.
The “sexual comments, gestures, or jokes” might actually be a little more complicated to address. They’re getting the message that those jokes are acceptable from a lot of different places. Heck, I push them to find the sexual jokes in the text when we read Shakespeare (“Why, then, is my pump well flowered?”).
When I try to teach feminist literary theory to seniors, I get a ton of push-back from both the boys and the girls. “You’re just reading too much into every little thing,” or “People could just be overly sensitive about anything.” These are the kinds of things I hear when I point out misogynistic language or themes in texts or in the media.
So it’s understandable, on one level, why teachers will turn the other ear, so to speak. We have to choose our battles, and we can’t always put aside ten minutes of class time (or more) to address a side comment we heard muttered in the back corner. We’ve probably got a test coming up we have to prepare them for.
But that’s just it. We do have a test coming up: are they going to be good people? But I don’t even think that’s one of the Common Core State Standards.
This is a pretty simple point, but sometimes I’m surprised by how helpful CTRL+F (or Command+F on a Mac) can be when you’ve just got one computer and one projector in a classroom. My friend Joelle showed me this article, via EdTechSandyK, that says 90% of people don’t know about it.
I find it especially useful when discussing a short story, or any text that’s available online (like Shakespeare). When leading an activity that requires students to find textual support, it’s great to be able to instantly project that line on the screen so all the students can see it and copy it into their notes. I also enjoy showing off my mastery of a text when, within seconds, I can find the exact line a student is trying to paraphrase.
(Yes, I realize I just admitted feeling proud about something that most people would consider freakishly nerdy, but that’s okay.)
I was doing this the other day with Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” I love how many short stories are available online, by the way. And while I’m mentioning the lottery, I’d like to recommend the following (no tech) activity for anyone who might teach it.
[Don’t read this if you haven’t read the short story yet. And go read it! It’s so good.]
It happened spontaneously last year when a student asked, “Can we act out our own lottery?” They were joking, of course, but I thought about a “safe” version, using crumpled up paper as stones, and we went ahead and did it. This year, I was prepared for it, with tiny slips of paper all counted out and ready to go. I sat at a table at the front of the class, calling students up by their last names, just like in the story. They become wonderfully anxious during this, making nervous jokes, again, just as in the story. At the end, we all unfold our papers to see whose has the little black dot. That person stands in the center of the room and withstands a barrage of paper “stones.” Then I guide the students through a written reflection on the experience and how it may have generated a new understanding of Jackson’s purpose.
Funny postscript: I was observed by an administrator during this lesson, and I asked him if he wanted to participate when counting the slips of paper for the mock lottery. He agreed. Guess who pulled the “winning” ticket?
(It was the administrator.)
Six or seven years ago, when I was a brand new teacher, I had the idea to make my students design Facebook profiles for characters from the novel we were reading. I believe it was one of those last minute ideas, and I didn’t even have them do it on paper; they did it on the blackboard. I assigned each group a rectangular section of the board, and they had 10 minutes to draw a mock-up of a Facebook profile, filling it in with as much information about the character as they could cram in there.
They had fun with it, if I recall correctly, and I thought it was a neat way for me to assess their familiarity with the characters. I think it also allowed the students to relate to the characters and to consider them as fully fleshed-out personalities.
A couple of years later, when my school was on a 1:1 laptop model, I had 9th graders create Myspace profiles for characters from Romeo & Juliet. I assessed them on the appropriateness of the theme they chose, given the character’s tastes, and the comments they would write to their “friends” throughout the reading of the play. This was fun for the students who did use Myspace at that time (most, not all), although it was a logistical nightmare for me. And I don’t think Myspace liked it when people made fake profiles.
So it was with great interest, and a sense of my own gradual aging process, that I saw Fakebook today, via Larry Ferlazzo’s post on the best web 2.0 tools. Fakebook basically lets you do the same thing: make a profile for a literary or historical character, complete with all the fun trimmings – photos, videos, status updates, having certain friends, etc.
This gave me a strange sense of the passage of time. And once I was done feeling old and prescient, I started thinking more seriously about having my students use this tool. But I’m wary about it here, mostly due to my increasing reluctance to assign much homework, let alone homework that requires internet access. I have a few students in each of my classes for whom internet access is not constant. I also get very poor returns on homework in general. If my school had a 1:1 laptop model, I think I’d be all over this. But without it, I’m starting to consider revisiting my old “profile on the board” idea. It’s got the buy-in that comes from tapping into knowledge of Facebook, but it lends itself to collaboration with actual peers much more easily.
And while I think it’s great that someone built a tool that looks just like Facebook to let kids tap into all the multimedia options the web provides, I also think there might be something sort of fun and novel about creating a Facebook profile on the board. But maybe I’m just being sentimental.
I saw this little piece in Good about CliffsNotes new enterprise: six-minute animated videos on Shakespeare’s plays.
I watched their Romeo & Juliet, and, over the course of those six minutes, I found myself on a roller coaster of reactions, from excitement to hesitation to dread to…acceptance? Not sure, let’s see where this goes.
Ok. First, the good.
It’s pretty entertaining, so it could be engaging to a lot of kids. And I think many English teachers share the goal, when they approach Shakespeare, to get the kids to actually enjoy the story. And that bit about jeggings at the end made me giggle.
It’s concise and thorough. I guess that’s what CliffsNotes has always done well. They crammed most of the important stuff into that video, which seems pretty hard to do.
It’s accurate. I liked the inclusion of key passages from the actual text. Students may recognize those lines more readily when they come across them in class, or they may feel more equipped to write or talk about them after having seen and heard them being spoken.
It’s visual. We always remind students that Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be seen, not read. So, there we go.
It’s interactive. The way you con hover over a character to get the name and then read their brief overview below the video is pretty ingenious, I think. It can keep a viewer engaged on a whole other level, and those little write-ups aren’t so bad, given how brief they are. They even worked in their little theme write-ups at the end. There’s no way to really read all those while the video is running, but you can pause it if you wanted to and see them all.
So all that seems pretty great. It’s a free and easy resource for kids to use at home that might help them wrap their heads around the plot and/or engage them in the unit they’re doing in class. What’s the problem?
I guess the best way to put it is that it’s a CliffsNotes video for Shakespeare. The danger here is the same as the danger that CliffsNotes has always presented: that students will rely on this instead of reading the actual text. And, of course, that’s what most of them do, no matter how often we might tell them how evil we think that behavior is. It’s easy!
More specifically, I began to doubt the value of the Romeo & Juliet video when it got silly. In an effort to engage young viewers, Paris becomes a preening dandy and Friar Laurence a bumbling old fool. If those depictions were to color a young reader’s impressions of those characters instead of the subtleties of the text, well, I think many English teachers would shed a few tears.
Then there’s the substitution of silly for pathos. Why does Capulet need to make a joke about losing his deposit on the wedding when he finds what he believes is his dead daughter? That’s a heartbreaking part of the play, but I wouldn’t know it from the video.
My aforementioned dread came from imagining every possible scenario: A student watching the video on his phone in a bathroom stall before a test. On its own, that doesn’t bother me so much. It’s just an updated version of flipping though the paper CliffsNotes or asking a friend how it ended on the way into class to prepare for a reading quiz. Nothing really new. But then I imagined having to read an essay that describes how Romeo was able to kill Paris at the end by surprising him, since Paris “didn’t see that coming.” But, as I think about it more, that isn’t really new either. We see students regurgitate their peers’ wrong answers all the time, and that gives us a clear indicator of how we should assess their understanding (or their effort).
It all comes down to what we do in the classroom. If I taught Romeo & Juliet by assigning all the reading for homework and then giving reading quizzes on plot the next day, my students would have to watch the video. I couldn’t blame them. They’d get some stuff wrong, some stuff right, and, if I weren’t writing this blog post and therefore aware of these videos, I might be none the wiser. Those students who didn’t read the play wouldn’t get out of Shakespeare what I always hope they’ll get out Shakespeare – an appreciation for the language and for the insights into the human condition. And that would be bad.
But there are always students who don’t do the reading. And there are always students who will seek out every shortcut they can find. And when it comes to Shakespeare, there has always been a glut of resources available to students looking for a little help or looking to cheat. That’s why it comes down to what we do in the classroom. I have to come up with activities that require some actual wrestling with the text. I have to help students explore the nuances in Juliet’s character.
But even if I’m doing those things, and working as hard as I can to provide scaffolding for my struggling students, there will still be some who feel lost. And that’s where I think videos like these have real value. We may spend a month engaging with the text in class, poring over speeches, and digging into characters’ motivations. But there will still be a handful of students at the end of that month who will not grasp how the elements of the plot fit together, or who will confuse Mercutio and Benvolio. This video is perfect for them, and I’ll probably point them in this direction when the time comes.
We discussed the Common Core State Standards in a department meeting today, and we looked at the rationale behind the focus on text complexity. Basically, high school graduates are looking seriously underprepared to do the kind of reading they’re required to do after high school, whether in college or in the workplace. So we have to make sure we’re giving them plenty of exposure to complex texts. Some people might think that allowing them to watch videos like these is another example of the coddling that has run rampant in schools, hurting our students by lowering our standards for their achievement.
But Shakespeare obviously wrote some pretty complex texts, and a video like this might provide the necessary scaffolding for some students to be able to actually engage with the text in class in a way that would previously have been out of reach.
You may have heard the rumors, but it’s actually true. Most kids have no idea how to use email.
So do we lament this and try to teach it? Or do we trust that it’ll become outdated before too long anyway?
If I had gotten my students on GoogleDocs, there wouldn’t have been a problem. I’ve had kids use GoogleDocs tons of times in the past, but I foolishly thought they would finish this particular project in the computer lab during one class period and be able to upload it to Edmodo right away. When it became clear that this wouldn’t happen, I had to decide between getting them all onto GoogleDocs for the first time (these were 9th graders) or telling them to email their documents to themselves.
I chose poorly.
The main problems were:
- I don’t have an email account. This is untrue. All students get a district email account, but many never use it.
- I can’t remember my password. This has also been a huge problem with my use of Edmodo. Maybe password creation and retention is a skill we should be teaching?
- I have no idea how to attach a document to an email. The most common problem, by far. But, like I said, maybe an outdated skill in 5 years?
I was reminded of this post from TeachPaperless: 21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020. Email isn’t on the list, but maybe it should be.