Adventures in Grading…and Procrastinating

posted in: Blogging | 1

Adventures in Grading...and Procrastinating

Well, here we are, Sunday morning, the day before grades are due, and I have a lot of catching up to do. So, naturally, I have take a picture of the overwhelmingly large stack of papers in front of me and post it as a way to postpone the inevitable just a little bit longer.

I heard somewhere that if you do not assess and act on formative assessment data within two days, then it’s really a summative assessment.

Oops.

I better get started.

A Trip to the Principal’s Office: Turning Negative Experiences into Positive Outcomes

posted in: Instructional Strategies | 0
Image from: http://goo.gl/QcyD0y
Image from: http://goo.gl/QcyD0y

A couple of weeks ago the principal unexpectedly called me into her office. As I sat down at her desk, she pushed a data sheet towards me and said in an accusatory tone, “Can you explain this to me?”

Well, crap.

I felt my face grow hot as I looked down at the sheet, praying it wasn’t bright red. I had never seen this data report before in my life, so I nervously said, “Um, I don’t know what I’m looking at. Can you explain this to me?” As it turns out, it was a simple report that gave a side-by-side comparison of the amount of seventh grade students with scores in each proficiency level on our first and second benchmark assessments. Apparently, we had more kids score in the beginning steps and nearing proficiency levels on the second test than we had on the first test, which is, as I like to say, bad-new-bears.

My principal wanted to know why the students weren’t showing growth. Well, that’s valid. I was asking myself the same question.

Now, I won’t go into detail describing my explanation to the principal. That’s boring and unimportant, particularly because I just pulled something out of my ass in an attempt to defend the scores.

The reason I’m writing about this interaction is because I believe it epitomizes exactly the wrong attitude about how to address and analyze data from standardized tests. As I drove home after the meeting, I came to several conclusions, which I’ve listed below:

Conclusion #1

My administrator had some valid concerns, but the way she aired those concerns was confrontational and immediately put me on the defensive, which was not at all productive. What she should have said was this:

“Harriet, I was looking at the department’s most recent data reports for the benchmark assessment, and I have some concerns. Here’s the report. Take some time to dive into the data, talk to the teachers in your department, and let’s schedule a meeting to discuss it in a few days.”

Conclusion #2

We’ve adopted a completely new benchmark assessment this year, so we don’t know what to expect in terms of student achievement trends. To put a teacher on the spot like that is unfair and unprofessional. Furthermore, this is just one way of looking at the data from the two assessments. There are dozens of different types of reports on this data. To make assumptions based on one report is equal parts ignorance and laziness.

Conclusion #3

I’m tired. My instruction has suffered because I have too much on my plate. I just want to eliminate the other responsibilities and focus on my teaching.

So, why am I writing about this? What’s the big deal?

I need to focus on my teaching.

I spent two days this past week at a Common Core Mentor Training put on by Solution Tree.  I was sent to this training as the language arts department head, but instead of looking for things to bring back to my department, I mostly focused on how the training could inform my teaching. Luckily, I came across two awesome-possum strategies that I plan on using in my classroom as a way to spice up my instructional repertoire.

Strategy #1: Sock Toss

The workshop facilitator used this strategy as both an ice-breaker and as a demonstration on the importance of collaboration and creative problem solving.

Setup: Before you start, you will three clean socks for each group. The goofier the socks, the better.

Step 1: Project a word or short writing prompt on the board to get the students thinking about the target concept. The students will write a response in their notebooks, or discuss the word or prompt with an elbow partner. Our facilitator projected the word “Efficacy” on the board and had us discuss what that word means to us as educational leaders.

Step 2: Regroup students into circles of 8-10 (if being used as a way to learn each other’s names, do this as a whole class). Give only one student in each group a clean, balled up sock.

Step 3: Have the students introduce themselves. They will then create a “toss pattern” by saying the name of a person across the table and tossing the sock to them. They may only toss the sock to a person who has not already received it. While each group creates their toss pattern, the teacher should be loudly counting off the seconds. Once the sock is tossed back to the original person, the group will write down how long in seconds it took them to complete the pattern.

Step 4: Have the groups do it again, using the same pattern, but this time they will repeat the pattern twice. Once again, they will record their time in seconds when they complete the pattern.

Step 5: Tell the students to do it again (twice again), but this time they will try to beat their previous time.

Step 6: Give the students another sock. Tell them they are to repeat the pattern again, but they are still expected to beat their previous score.

Step 7: Continue with this process until the students start thinking outside the box and breaking the rules. At some point, give the students a third sock.

Step 8: Finally, have the students reflect on the process within their group. The focus of the discussion should be about how the groups adapted, what they learned, and what the experience suggests about collaboration. Finally, discuss how it might relate to learning.

When participating in this exercise during the workshop, my group decided to “bend” the rules first by reorganizing ourselves in the circle, so that the person I first tossed the sock to was standing right next to me. That way, we just had to pass the sock around the circle instead of tossing it around the circle. When a third sock was introduced, we tightened our circle so that we were standing shoulder to shoulder, and (after the facilitator said that every person needed to “touch” the socks) stuffed all of the socks in a cup so that they were all sticking out top. I held the cup in the center of the circle, and then each person just had to briefly tap their hand on top of the cup (thus quickly touching all three socks).

During the reflective discussion at the end of the activity, our group emphasized the point that efficacy is best obtained through collaboration and creative risk-taking.

This lesson could easily be adapted to target learning standards centered around cause and effect, or perhaps as a timeline or sequencing activity. For example: I might use it in my classroom as a review for plot structure by separating the students into groups of six, and then giving one student from each group a necklace sign (a piece of paper attached to a string so that a student can wear it around his neck). Each sign would have one of the terms from the plot structure diagram on it, and the students would then have to toss the sock to each other in the correct plot structure diagram order.

Strategy #2: World Café Conversations

Our facilitator used this activity to encourage discussion about Common Core instruction and assessment. What makes it effective is that for every discussion “round,” the students have to rearrange themselves into different groups at different tables. The image below is a visual representation of the World Café Conversations process. I’ve explained the process below as well.

Image from: http://goo.gl/ejnCCK
Image from: http://goo.gl/ejnCCK

Setup: Before you start, you will need to have the desks arranged into several groups of four. Eight groups of four would be ideal for a class of 32 students, because it’ll give the students plenty of opportunities to interact with new people during each round. Each group should have a sheet of large, sticky chart paper and plenty of colorful markers.

Step 1: Project the following image onto the board. Explain to the students that they can do any or all of the things in the image while participating in the discussion, but they should pick one specific thing to focus on during the discussion. I decided to focus on the play, draw, doodle option. Who doesn’t love doodling?

Image from: http://goo.gl/oOuvnG
Image from: http://goo.gl/oOuvnG

Step 2: Project the discussion questions for Round 1 onto the board. Give the students 10-15 minutes (or a different time limit appropriate to topic and grade level) to discuss the questions. Throughout the discussion, the students should be jotting down or doodling their key ideas, words, or phrases onto the chart paper.

Our facilitator used the questions below for round one of our discussion.

Round 1: Connect ideas and images with words and lines

  1. How does instruction and assessment change with our Common Core implementation?
  2. Describe what’s happening in the classroom with deep implementation.
  3. How would you describe the current state of your instruction and assessment work?

Step 3: When the time is up, tell the students to move to a different table with different people for the second round. They will leave their chart paper and markers at the table. Encourage students to avoid staying with the same group from the first table. The point is to interact with as many different people as possible.

Step 4: Project the questions for the second round onto the board. The students will discuss the new questions, and they will continue to write or doodle their ideas onto the chart paper. Repeat this process at least four times.

Step 5: Have the students return to their original group. Then, project the directions for Round 5 onto the board:

Round 5 is for Reflection

  1. Review the notes and drawings on your table.
  2. As a group, write two sentences to sum it up.
  3. What insights might inform your next steps?

Step 6: Once the students have finished writing their two sentences onto the chart paper (you may need to give them sticky notes if there is no more room to write on the chart paper), one representative from the group will bring their paper up to the front of the room to share their two sentences with the class.

harvestsusanKelly
Image From: goo.gl/6OApyk
WorldCafe
Image from: http://goo.gl/8GJ69x
320px-Zeichnung_world_cafe
Image from: http://goo.gl/FjH2R2

I plan on using this lesson to facilitate discussion about a short story or novel we read in class. For example, one round could be on how the author uses characterization, another round could be on how the author uses theme, another round could be on the author’s use of language, and a fourth round might require the students to analyze significant quotes.

*Edit 3/2/14: At the end of the activity, have the students reflect on what they learned as a blog post. Not only will this document their learning and exercise metacognitive skills, but it will also give absent students a chance to catch up on what they missed by reading their peers’ blog posts. For more ideas on how to blog with students, check out this awesome post.

Turning Negative Experiences into Positive Outcomes

This post started with a negative experience in my principal’s office, but I’ve realized that sometimes negative experiences are necessary. Over the past few months, I’ve felt drained and disillusioned. I’ve been spending so much of my time and energy thinking about the big goals for the school, that I lost focus of why I decided to become a teacher in the first place.

Being called into the principal’s office to speak on behalf of the department served as a wake-up call. While I am not solely responsible for those scores, I am responsible for the department. How can I expect the department to amp up their instructional practices if I do not do it myself?

Since that interaction with my principal, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the professional development opportunities provided by our district. It’s true that our district offers many more seminars and workshops than other, larger districts in the state; but the focus of these workshops is on creating effective assessments and on analyzing data from those assessments. That’s fine and dandy, but teachers need to know what to do when the data demands that we reteach a standard. This brings me to…

…Conclusion #4

Data-driven instruction cannot be effective without strong instruction, and strong instruction cannot exist without opportunities for teachers to discover and adopt new strategies.

The purpose of the Common Core Mentor Training workshop wasn’t to help teachers discover new instructional strategies; it was to help teachers develop rigorous assessments aligned to the PARCC assessment.

My small act of defiance against the constant state of assessment in education was this: ignore the intended purpose of the workshop, and focus instead on ways to improve the instruction taking place in my classroom prior to the assessment.

I’m such a rebel.

A look back

Passion-and-Leadership
Image from: http://alturl.com/roegg

I don’t know who you are, where you live, or what you do for a living, but I do know that if you’re willing to spend your precious time reading my words, I like you. You, dear reader, will help me to remember and appreciate my craft as an educator. So, thank you.

I teach seventh grade language arts at a Title I school in central New Mexico. If you are unfamiliar with the lingo, Title I basically means that a large percentage of our students come from low-income families. Overall, I love my job and I love my students. Middle school students have a bad reputation for being obnoxious and directionless, but that’s what makes middle schoolers so much fun. They are at a stage in their lives where they are testing the boundaries to figure out who they are as individuals (this is what makes them obnoxious), and they are in this weird transitional period where they want to enjoy both the privileges of grown-ups and the freedoms of childhood (this is why they’re directionless).

But hey, don’t we all want that sometimes?

One of my favorite things about my job is designing and implementing lessons that are both challenging and engaging. It may sound cliché, but I love seeing a student’s face light up when they finally “get it.” My favorite sound is that long, drawn out “ooooohh,” that students make when they finally make the connection. I am addicted to the feeling that teachers get after a successful lesson; to those days that end with the uncontrollable urge to brag about your students to everyone you know, but you just can’t seem to communicate the magic of the situation, no matter how hard you try.

I’m sure that’s what it feels like to be a parent too, but I’m not quite ready to procreate yet.

When I first started teaching, I was that eager-beaver new teacher that couldn’t wait to change the world. I said yes to everything. EVERYTHING. Before I even knew all of my students’ names, I was a member of the Renaissance committee, the AVID site team, and I had taken on the stipend position of Gym Master. Yup. I was Master of the Gym. I felt important. I felt valued. And I had gate keys! I could access the school on the weekends! I was drunk with power.

I would happily arrive at school between 6:30 and 6:45 every morning, and I wouldn’t leave until 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening. I was honored when my principal asked me to go to a Solution Tree conference in Phoenix. I felt so grown-up and mature, going on my very first business trip.

I eagerly experimented with new technology tools and resources our district had just adopted, including My Big Campus, which is kind of like a cross between Facebook and Blackboard, and begged my principal to let me lead an hour-long workshop on how to use the program at our next staff meeting. They agreed. The staff humored me during the workshop, but they didn’t use the program in their own classrooms. I didn’t understand their resistance. I was naive.

At the very beginning of my second year, the Language Arts department head position became available, and nobody else in my department volunteered for the position. Naturally, I took on the position. I couldn’t believe my administrators allowed me, a second year teacher, to become head of the department.

I struggled with my role as leader that first semester. Even though I had learned about the PLC (professional learning community) process in college and at the Solution Tree training the year before, I wasn’t sure how to guide a team of teachers, more experienced than myself, through the process of identifying essential standards, aligning curriculum, giving common formative and summative assessments, comparing data, and sharing best practices, when they were accustomed to using PLC time as a social hour. I didn’t feel comfortable asking a woman who had been teaching fourteen years longer than I had to stay focused and stick to the agenda.

I finally adjusted to my role as department head after attending a leadership training in Phoenix with the social studies department head and my administrators. While there, I shared my feelings of inadequacy with them, and the social studies department head aired similar concerns about herself, even though she had many more years teaching than I had. I returned from that conference feeling refreshed and prepared for the challenges ahead.

The rest of that year and the following summer were very productive. As a department, we identified our essential Common Core State Standards, organized those standards into a new curriculum map, created standards based Z-Objectives for each unit, and created a handful of common formative assessments. We also created a new, standards based grade scale that would both expedite the grading process while also keeping the focus of the assessment to mastery of the standards instead of ability to follow directions or write legibly (while those things are important, they have nothing to do with whether a student is proficient or not).

This is my third year in the classroom. I started the year with positive expectations. Our old principal left to become the superintendent of another district, and our assistant principal was promoted to principal. I sat on the hiring committee for our new assistant principal, and was thrilled with the woman we decided to hire. This is the first year we are teaching to the Common Core State Standards, and in August I was confident that the work the department did over the summer would eliminate the discomfort of change.

I was wrong.

Moral at the school is at an all-time low. The focus of both district and school administrators is on data and test scores rather than on students and learning. With the new teacher-evaluation system, the pressure to show growth on the SBA is overwhelming.

I feel as if teaching has become a secondary responsibility. Between complying with the demands of the new evaluation system, analyzing data, and my department head responsibilities, I don’t have time to plan creative lessons or give meaningful grades.

I feel my passion for teaching crumbling under the pressure more and more every day. I look back on the eager-beaver new teacher I was two years ago, and I miss her.

I’ve started blogging again out of desperation. I need a place to reflect on what I see and experience in my classroom every day. I need to find a way to recharge and revive that fiery passion that energized my lessons my first year.

I will not blog to vent, but rather to reflect, learn, and grow. I may share lessons, theories, and experiences, but no matter how negative the experience, the takeaways will remain positive. I’ll do my best, at least.

Pinterest 101

Only the cool kids are invited…

Like many people, I didn’t really feel the need to jump on the Pinterest bandwagon, but then I had to do a presentation on how to use social networking in the classroom. Pinterest is the third most popular social networking site behind Facebook and Twitter, and so, for the sake of research, I joined Pinterest. But here’s the thing: you can’t just join Pinterest because you want to join Pinterest. You have to be invited. I was slightly annoyed that I had to wait to start pinning stuff, especially because I had to wait only two weeks after requesting an invite. Good grief.

While setting up my Pinterest account I was pleased to see that I could link the account to either my Facebook or Twitter account. One less username and password combination to remember sounded great to me (although I usually use the same ones over and over again. Shh, don’t tell). I decided to go with my Facebook account since I am still getting used to Twitter, but Facebook and Pinterest must be in cahoots with one another because that dang Pinterest tricked me into getting Facebook’s timeline profile. Grumble grumble.

Regardless of the initial inconveniences, Pinterest is my new addiction. Before joining Pinterest I had seen an eCard that mentioned drinking wine while looking at Pinterest all day, so for the sake of research, I decided to pour myself a glass of Pinot Noir before diving into the world of Pinterest. Two hours and three glasses of wine later, I realized I had to stop wasting time on Pinterest and take care of my big girl responsibilities like doing the dishes and feeding the cat.

How it works

Basically, Pinterest gives people the ability to “pin” things they find on the internet to different boards. Think of these Pinterest boards as being digital bulletin boards, and you can have multiple boards to help you to organize your pins. Initially, I didn’t know what the topics of my boards should be, but Pinterest is nice enough to give you some ideas as soon as you sign up.

My Pinterest Boards

I now have a board for classroom stuff, a board for workout ideas, a board for literary references (this is currently my largest board, full of entertaining images referring to Harry Potter, The Hunger Games Trilogy, and The Outlander Series. I also have a few random book covers in there for good measure), and a board that I call “Bumper Stickers”. You may or may not remember when Facebook had a bumper sticker application about three years ago; this is basically the same idea. The great thing about boards is that you can do whatever you want with them. Get creative!

My “Literary References” Board

Stalk me on Pinterest!

Like Twitter you “follow” people on Pinterest instead of “friend” them. I had no clue as to whom l should follow when I signed up, but Pinterest was nice enough to suggest people to follow based on what I marked as my interests. This made my initial pinning experience a bit worldlier since I could see the pins of people I had never met. Soon after, I learned that since my Pinterest account was linked with my Facebook account, I could automatically follow all of my Facebook friends who also had a Pinterest account.

Pinterest Home Screen

If you follow someone on Pinterest, their pins automatically pop up on your home screen, much like posts on a wall on Facebook. You can “like” someone’s pin, or you can leave a comment on someone’s pin, however I’ve noticed that simply repinning a pin is the most common method of recognition.

So…what’s the point?

The purpose of Pinterest is not to share witty thoughts about everyday occurrences, nor is its purpose to share photos and news articles to document the events of an individual’s life. Instead, Pinterest aims to share various types of media such as photos, videos, websites, infographics, and more, with people who have similar interests. And I wonder sometimes if Pinterest aims to take over the world by distracting its users from their personal responsibilities in life…kind of like this Hulu commercial.

Teachers Can Use Pinterest for the Classroom

While I just sold Pinterest as an entertaining way to spend uneventful evenings, it does hold some potential for education. Teachers are using it to find ideas for their classrooms, but students are also using it as an instructional scaffold or as a form of assessment. As a language arts teacher, I am particularly interested in using Pinterest while teaching a novel. I imagine my students creating boards for the protagonist and the antagonist(s) of a novel and a board for the setting. Perhaps we could have a class board for the different books my students are reading independently, or a board for atrocious grammar mistakes the students see around town. The possibilities are only as limited as your creativity. To help inspire some new ideas, I have included this great infographic about how other teachers are using Pinterest.

 

Want to read more about how teachers can use Pinterest professionally? Check out this awesome post by Donna Miller Fry.

Eleven Quotes About Social Networking For Educators

As you may already know, my school district has recently adopted a web-based program called My Big Campus, which is essentially a social networking site for the classroom. You can read more about in my earlier post, Teacher, Meet Technology. Since incorporating the program into my classroom, I’ve began to realize the value of social networking to education. Below are eleven quotes about social networking that I would like to share with fellow educators.

Why teachers need to embrace social networking in the classroom and why administrators should embrace social networking as a professional development tool

1) “More companies are discovering that an über-connected workplace is not just about implementing a new set of tools – it is also about embracing a cultural shift to create an open environment where employees are encouraged to share, innovate, and collaborate virtually.” – Karie Willyerd & Jeanne C. Meister, Harvardbusiness.org

2) “It’s natural online to go to the place where people are already consuming media. It’s less effort than to ask people to leave an environment they’re already in.” – Cheryl Calverley, U.K.’s Senior Global Manager for Axe Skin

3) “Social media is about sociology and psychology more than technology.” – Brian Solis, Principal of FutureWorks

4) “Innovation needs to be part of your culture. Consumers are transforming faster than we are, and if we don’t catch up, we’re in trouble.” – Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus

5) “To ignore social networking would be like early man ignoring fire.” – Barry Ross

Social networking and professionalism

6) “You can be professional while also ‘keeping it real’ with your customers. By interacting with customers in a less formal way, you’ll build a strong human connection that helps build brand loyalty.” – David Hauser

7) “How can you squander even one more day not taking advantage of the greatest shifts of our generation? How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?” – Seth Godin, Seth’s Blog

How social networking can help you (and your students) succeed

8) “In the long history of humankind, those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin

9) “Twitter represents a collective collaboration that manifests our ability to unconsciously connect kindred voices though the experiences that move us. As such, Twitter is a human seismograph.” – Brian Solis, Principal of FutureWorks

Why social networking isn’t a “quick fix” – you need to know how to use it

10) “Social Media can be an enabler and an accelerator of existing core capabilities, values, attributes, and plans. It can even be a catalyst for change. But it can’t magically create what doesn’t exist.” – Denise Zimmerman, President of NetPlus Marketing

11) “Social media is just a buzzword until you come up with a plan.” – Zach Dunn

 

iTube? No…YouTube!

I love YouTube. I am not the type of person who uses it every day or spends hours watching different videos, but I love how easy it is to find great videos and share them with my friends. Usually, I will get to YouTube videos through Facebook or Google, but once I am there I will watch a few of the recommended videos and post them to my Facebook page. However, I do try to be selective with what I share.

According to Zwiers and Crawford in Academic Conversations, “popular modes of communication, such as video, podcasts, written texts, music, and images are mostly ‘one-way.’” (2011) They argue that these types of videos have a static message that cannot be adjusted after conversations, so to speak, with their viewers. I originally expressed my disagreement with this statement in my blog, which you can read here.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when I read Prensky’s article, which states “Perhaps the thing about You Tube that is least understood by people who do not use it regularly is that it is not just one way, or one-to-many, communication; it is designed to be, and very much is, two-way…Many users post ideas and opinions, looking for feedback, and many get large numbers of responses to their clips.”

Well, well, well! Take that Zwiers and Crawford!

One trendy video topic is Sh*t (Social Groups) Say. I first saw one of these videos, “Sh*t Girls Say”, when visiting a couple of my friends. They could not stop laughing and joking about it, so they showed me the video. I thought it was funny, but I wasn’t as amused by it as they were. I didn’t think about it again until earlier this week when a friend from college posted “Sh*t Burqueños Say” on her Facebook wall. As a “Burqueña” I decided to watch the video.

I watched the video on Tuesday, and I loved it – not only because my students say this stuff all the time, but because I say it too. I linked the video to my Facebook wall, and by the next day the video had over 150,000 hits and forty-eight pages of comments. When I had first watched the video, it had less than one hundred hits. Now, according to my super-secret source, part two is in the works.

I think that one of the fallacies in Zwiers and Crawford’s argument is that they are looking at communication as being between two or more people, with one of the communicators being the original creator of the content. Their argument, simply put, is that the person who created the video, podcast, or blog must be engaged in the subsequent conversations – but this isn’t actually what happens.

Instead, the subsequent conversations occur between completely different people. The content creator (or facilitator) may chime in occasionally by responding to comments or posting a follow-up video, but most of the communication happens between the viewers. In the world of YouTube, the viewer’s respond through published means such as comments, similar videos, Facebook and Twitter shares, blog mentions, and more, but they also respond through unpublished means such as face-to-face conversations with friends, family, and co-workers.

Isn’t this what we want to happen both in and out of the classroom? The students, sparked by the teacher, drive the conversations while the teacher sits back and listens and silently assesses, only intervening when beneficial to the students. The important thing is that the students are talking about and responding to information that is read, heard, and viewed (and yes, that is a direct quote from the New Mexico ELA Content Standards).

Perhaps now I need to make a video titled “Sh*t Teachers Say.”Oh, never-mind, it already exists.

*Disclaimer*

I am not suggesting that we show these particular videos in schools. I am merely thinking about the sociological and educational implications of these videos. That said, it would be interesting to have students create a video of this nature about what characters say in a novel or story as a lesson on characterization.

You can watch some of these videos below (but keep in mind, some of them are stereotypical and offensive).

Sh*t Brides Say: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ut8kwaKvZc0

Sh*t New Yorkers Say: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRvJylbSg7o

Sh*t People Say on Facebook: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVQeB_LlmRI

Sh*t Burqueños Say: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IucBp1yrr7A&feature=share

Sh*t New Mexicans Don’t Say: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndbjEvN8AtM&feature=related

Sh*t Teachers Say: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLXfwvaBXLc

Teacher, Meet Technology: One Week Later

One week has passed since the first My Big Campus Workshop, and the response from the staff has been encouraging – especially since it opened up new lines of communication. Several staff members have since raised valid questions, misconceptions, and concerns – some of which I was able to address right away, and others required more time.

One of the leading concerns was the absence of computers in other classrooms. My class is only one of two with the Building Blocks Grant. The other teachers only have between three and six computers for the students to use in class. Because of this, many teachers could not see the value of MBC (My Big Campus) to their instruction with limited computer access.

At first I was slightly annoyed by these concerns. I wanted to tell the teachers to be resourceful and get creative, but that probably wouldn’t have been a good sales pitch. Instead, I gave them a couple of ideas, but realized that I needed to find some teachers who were willing to experiment.

I decided to ask the other teachers on my team if they would be willing to help me. Both Ms. Newton and Ms. Galilei (the math teacher and science teacher on my team, respectively) were thrilled to help. The only person who would be difficult to convince was Mr. Lee, the social studies teacher.

Remember Mr. Lee? He was one of the leading characters in my first Teacher, Meet Technology post.

You may be wondering why I am so determined to get Mr. Lee to use My Big Campus. Perhaps it is because I am stubborn and he ticked me off, but I like to think that my determination comes from my passion for teaching and doing what’s best for the kids. Truthfully, I think it is a combination of both. But, before I jump into my story about Mr. Lee, I think you should know that I am naturally a very optimistic, albeit bossy, person. When combined, these two qualities can lead to bouts of passive aggressive manipulation – but this works for me. Sometimes.

The Plan

Mr. Lee’s attitude about My Big Campus was very negative. So, obviously I spent the rest of the week and the following weekend plotting my next move. Since I knew that the other two teachers on my team were sold on MBC, I decided to recruit them in my mission to get Mr. Lee to log on. They readily agreed.

Our plan was to meet as a team on Tuesday to discuss different ways to increase students’ agenda use. After throwing out a couple of ideas not related to technology, I would bring up MBC as a tool for posting our agendas all in one place. In order for this to be effective, we would need to have consistency across the team. Mr. Lee would have to agree…right?

The Meeting

We met informally on Tuesday in Ms. Newton’s room, and Mr. Lee was adamant that the plan to post our weekly agendas on MBC would not work.  Our debate lasted for forty-five minutes, and tempers were hot. Mr. Lee just could not see the point in posting his weekly agenda online when it was already posted in his class.

He was also concerned that he would have to spend hours learning how to use MBC, just to have it taken away by the district in a year or two. Apparently this happens often, and, as a new teacher, it was an issue that had never crossed my mind. While he has a valid point, I doubt the district would take away the program if many teachers use it; especially since MBC doesn’t cost anything.

In the end, Mr. Lee agreed to post his agenda on MBC, but he made it clear that he did not see the point in doing so. I invited him to the second MBC workshop after school the next day, but he couldn’t attend that one. I agreed to work with him individually after school.

One on one with Mr. Lee

We met in his room after school, and I walked him through the program. Initially I planned to only show him how to log on, create groups, and post his weekly schedule, but he kept asking questions about the other features of MBC. Our meeting turned into a crash course on all things My Big Campus.

Working with Mr. Lee was an interesting experience. He argued with me every step of the way, but he also asked new questions. It was almost as if there are two different sides to Mr. Lee: the side that wants to learn more about how to use technology in his classroom, and the fearful side that is afraid to experiment with something new. While I appreciate his efforts, the two hours I spent trying to introduce him to MBC was exhausting.

I was right about Mr. Lee being a digital immigrant – but unlike most digital immigrants, Mr. Lee is fresh off the boat. He constantly second guessed whether or not he should click on something, as if the computer would explode if he clicked on the wrong button.

We played the “what if” game with every new thing that I showed him. Some of his “what ifs” were valid, but others were a bit far-fetched. You can see a few snippets of his what-ifs below:

Snippet Number One:

Me: So you just log in by using the same log in and password as your email.

Mr. Lee: But is that safe?

Me: What do you mean?

Mr. Lee: Once I put in that information, anybody from My Big Campus can see my information.

Me: No they can’t…

Mr. Lee: But they will have my password. I can get in trouble with the district for giving them this information.

Me: Well, the district set up the account for you. I don’t think you will get in trouble for using the account they set up for you.

Mr. Lee: Ok, but if I get in trouble I am telling them that you told me to do it this way.

Me: Of course, just send them my way.

Snippet Number Two:

Mr. Lee: What if I post my schedule on My Big Campus on Monday, but then I have to change it by Wednesday?

Me: Then you can easily log in and change it, like this.

Mr. Lee: But what if a parent sees it on Monday, and then questions why I had to change it on Wednesday?

Me: …Then you can explain to that parent why you had to change it.

Mr. Lee: But what if that parent gets angry because I changed it?

Me: Then we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Snippet Number Three:

Mr. Lee: What if a student posts something inappropriate to My Big Campus?

Me: Oh, let me show you the reports button…

Mr. Lee: But what if a student posts something not nice about a teacher?

Me: Well, if it is inappropriate we can see it through the reports, and take action from there.

Mr. Lee: But then other students will see it, and think poorly of that teacher.

Me: Well…they do that anyway by talking to each other, so…

Needless to say, Mr. Lee depleted my patience jar for the week.

It was clear to me after our meeting just how much I take for granted. I have an inherent trust in many of these online programs (don’t worry, I am also cautious). Mr. Lee on the other hand is very nervous around something that he doesn’t understand, especially if his students understand it better than he does.

Regardless, I was very excited by the end of the meeting. Despite his hesitance, Mr. Lee actually posted a video for his students to watch on their own time, and he liked the fact that he could make his videos available to the students outside of class.

I don’t know how much Mr. Lee will actually use MBC, but I do know that he is now familiar with what it can offer – and that is a step in the right direction.

Yes, you DO have to type your final draft.

I completed my student teaching experience at a low-income inner city high school. The school had a bad reputation for having a high gang population and “bad” kids. So, when I first announced my student teaching placement on Facebook, I was not surprised that most of my friends’ comments revolved around the reputation. One friend even joked that I should buy a bullet proof vest.

They were wrong. That school had some of the nicest kids. When I walked down the hall carrying a heavy box of books, a student I didn’t know offered to carry it to class for me. This happened on multiple occasions, with multiple students.

Needless to say, I had a fabulous student teaching year. My CT (cooperating teacher) was excellent, and taught me a lot about the importance of setting high expectations for all students. Most of our kids were English Language Learners (a.k.a. ELL’s) and were of low socioeconomic backgrounds. There have been many studies done on students who grow up in a low-income household, which you can read about here.

We required the students to create a poetry portfolio early in the second semester. I expected the final draft of the portfolio to be typed, so we spent a week in the computer lab. Many of the students did not finish typing their portfolios during the allotted class time, and as a result the final scores for the portfolios were lower than I would have liked.

While reflecting on the unit in one of my seminar classes, one of my peers suggested that by requiring the portfolio to be typed, I set the students up for failure. He pointed out that because most of my students are of a low socioeconomic background, I should not expect them to use the computers at school – especially if they do not have computers at home. After all, how could they finish the assignment without a home computer?

His response reinforced my belief that bringing computers into the classroom is vital to student success. If the students do not have computers at home, then where else will they develop the technological skills they will need as adults?

The middle school I work at now has a very similar population to the high school I just described. While I have had to spend more time teaching basic computer skills (such as how to save files to a USB drive, how to copy and paste, and how to use Google), the students are much more motivated when using the computers.

Besides, the public library provides free internet access after school and on the weekends. Since when has it become inappropriate to expect students to do something or go somewhere educational outside of school?

No Zeros: Recipe for Future Failure?

I just read this article about no zero policies. Isn’t this just focusing on a short-term solution to a long-term problem? We learn best from our failures. If kids don’t experience failure in school when a support system is in place to help them overcome it, how will they succeed in adulthood?

What is your policy on zeros?

Digital Conversations: Pros and Cons (Well, mostly pros)

As an English Language Arts teacher one of the tools I rely on is my students’ ability to discuss writing and literature in an appropriate manner. I teach seventh grade. My students are professionals at inappropriate behavior.

When I try to facilitate class discussions, they usually do one of two things:

1) They clam up and suddenly become fascinated with whatever is under their grubby fingernails, or…

2) They all shout out ideas at once, competing with each other instead of bouncing ideas off of each other.

The first scenario is not as common as the second, which is a good thing. With the second, at least my students are excited and thinking about the topic. The thing is, I often feel like the basket in a game of basketball – but instead of the players working together, every player is trying to grab the ball (my attention and approval) and make a basket by sharing their ideas without any help from their teammates. In basketball this is catastrophic. It has similar results in the classroom.

My solution was to use My Big Campus’ discussion feature as a way to force the students to talk to each other instead of to me. Unfortunately, this did not work out as I had hoped. When planning the lesson I blissfully envisioned a discussion similar to those I have on Facebook with fellow teachers, or those that take place in a college environment. It wasn’t until after implementing the lesson that I realized how naïve my expectations were.

The students had no problems posting their ideas to the discussion. The hitch came when they started commenting on each other’s posts. Instead of questioning each other or adding to each other’s ideas, the students became very complimentary of one another. They also became grammar Nazis.

At first, I found it sweet when a student would post, “good idea” or “you did a good job.” I was ecstatic when I read, “make sure you capitalize your I’s” and “you used the wrong there – it is their not there.” However I soon realized that they weren’t thinking deeply about what the other students were saying. Instead, they were using the compliments as a cop-out to thinking critically about their responses.

Two hundred notifications later, I realized that I am still the basketball hoop, my students are still competing, but now they all have their own basketballs to shoot. Duck for cover!

This led me to the realization that I can’t expect my students to lead productive discussions in class or on the computer without first teaching them the appropriate skills. Whether typing or speaking, the students need to know how to bounce ideas off of each other without dominating and how to ask clarifying questions such as “can you elaborate on that” or “can you give me an example?” The skills are the same no matter what medium we use.

Time to hit the books (so to speak).

Expert Advice

I have a book called Academic Conversations by Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford (2011) which identifies five core conversation skills that students must have to be successful conversationalists in an academic setting:

1) Elaborate and clarify

2) Support ideas with examples

3) Build on and/or challenge a partner’s ideas

4) Paraphrase

5) Synthesize conversation points

It hadn’t occurred to me just how much academic conversations rely on the higher order thinking skills from Bloom’s Taxonomy until I read that chapter.

I continued to read, but was disturbed when the Zwiers and Crawford argued that technology was not a good tool for developing academic conversational skills. They argue that because of the lack of face-to-face communication with digital discussions, “exploration of a topic, the building of ideas, and emotional connections are often missing.” They also argue that “popular modes of communication…are mostly ‘one-way’ [and] do not adjust their messages or negotiate meanings with their viewers” (2011).

I stopped reading Academic Conversations. I disagree with their claims that the lack of face-to-face communication does more harm than good and that digital modes of communication have static meanings. Instead of fighting technology integration, the authors should be asking how students can use technology to explore topics and build ideas.

The toxic statements ate away at my brain for a few days until today, when I stumbled upon an article called “The Must Have Guide to Helping Technophobic Teachers” by Dr. Abir Qasem and Tanya Gupta. They argue that “using technology in education is about redesigning pedagogy by taking advantage of available technology, and not just substituting faculty time with technology.”

Qasem and Gupta go on to argue that technology actually facilitates productive conversations instead of hindering it. The reasoning behind this is two-fold:

1) Studies have found that face to face conversations lead people to instinctively mimic the opinions of others instead of fighting for their own

2) People tend to think more creatively and are more productive when working in solitude (read more about this in “The Rise of the New Groupthink”)

*Read these statements with caution*

Do not assume that all group work is bad. Group work is extremely effective when each member has time to individually develop his or her own ideas before coming together as a group.

UNM taught me that group work is a valuable strategy for encouraging all students to participate. Group work can also be a great tool for teaching students to think outside the box and value different perspectives.

But here is the thing: according to the “The Rise of the New Groupthink” by Susan Cain, brainstorming sessions stifle creativity instead of stimulating it. Woah.

Apparently, “when we take a stance [that is] different from the group’s, we activate the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection.” (Cain, 2012)

This makes sense, considering what most of our students want most is to be accepted by their peers (want proof? Click here).

But how does all of this information apply to both spoken and typed class discussions? I am getting there, but first I will condense the information into a list of facts for your sanity and for mine:

  • Students lack academic conversational skills and need explicit instruction in these skills.
  • There are five core conversation skills that students must have to be successful conversationalists in an academic setting: 1) Elaborate and clarify 2) Support ideas with examples 3) Build on and/or challenge a partner’s ideas 4) Paraphrase 5) Synthesize conversation points.
  • Studies have found that face to face conversations lead people to instinctively mimic the opinions of others instead of fighting for their own.
  • People tend to think more creatively and are more productive when working in solitude (read more about this in “The Rise of the New Groupthink”).
  • Group work is extremely effective when each member has time to individually develop their own ideas or part of a project before coming together as a group.
  • When people take a stance that is different from the group’s, we activate the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection.
  • Adolescents are constantly seeking social recognition and acceptance from their peers.

So here is the whammy: Digital discussions enable students to think independently while also being socially rewarded by their peers.

But first, in order for them to be effective, I have to teach my students how to pick each other’s brains effectively…and because they use similar conversational skills as speaking when typing, I will once again pick up Academic Conversations (and ignore the technology bashing sections). Perhaps in doing so, my students will start to discuss as a team, bouncing ideas off of each other before shooting for the basketball hoop. Swoosh!

Wish me luck!

Works Cited

Cain, Susan. “The Rise of the New Groupthink.” The Sunday Review. The New York Times, 13 Jan. 2012. Web. 3 Feb. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-the-new-groupthink.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all>.

Gopnik, Alison. “What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind? – WSJ.com.” The Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal, 28 Jan. 2012. Web. 04 Feb. 2012. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203806504577181351486558984.html?fb_ref=wsj_share_FB>.

Quasem, Abir, and Tanya Gupta. “The Must-Have Guide To Helping Technophobic Teachers | Edudemic.” Edudemic. Edudemic, 3 Feb. 2012. Web. 04 Feb. 2012..

Zwiers, Jeff, and Marie Crawford. Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understandings. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2011. Print.