must reads

Circulating about the web is a list entitled ‘1001 books to read before you die.’ I’m not going to include the link, as there seems to be some concern about the site harboring spyware. It’s a good list of fiction, though despite the large number, there are many worthy exclusions. The site provides a spreadsheet to download, hence the spyware warning, upon which you can notate the books that you’ve read, and the spreadsheet keeps a running percentage. It also calculates how many of the books you would have to read in order to complete the list in your lifetime, given your age and demographics.

I had fun comparing my reading with this list, and I enjoyed finding out my personal percentage. However, my most palpable reaction to the spreadsheet was to fulfill an urge to read more books from the list in order to increase my percentage. It’s the gaming aspect, I suppose, similar to what keeps teenagers glued to their video games: just one more ‘level’ before tackling the homework!

While this particular list of books is perhaps appropriate for our more mature students, I’m beginning to put together a list of ‘must reads,’ with this tentative title: books to read before you leave high school. I require my students to free read for homework, and we have free silent-reading days for a whole class period every few months—-which they love, surprisingly—-so, I’ve amassed quite a list of their favorite books. Of course, I’ll ask for their input, too, in a Google form: List 3 books you would recommend as essential for every high school student to read. These results would be collected into a one-stop spot for me to compile a list.

Education 2.0 is all about providing fun challenges that students will internalize, to encourage them to get their game on, while learning something in the process.

For more about teen reading lists see:

book ’em


dependable RSS

In a recent post, teens who write, I wrote about the benefits of getting your students to start a blog. For one thing, teens who blog are more enthusiastic about writing which encourages them to write more. There is that problem, however, of checking all of the blog entries. It might seem easier to plow your way through dozens of papers once a week or more. It’s not. RSS (Real Simple Syndication) makes reading your students’ blog entries a breeze. You don’t have to go out searching the web for anything. Think of RSS as the loyal and trusty pooch who brings you the morning paper, with all the latest news first thing each morning.

Here is a quick video that explains the process in plainspeak:

The video mentions readers. I use Google Reader and love it, but I have also used Bloglines with great results. Both applications allow you to set up ‘folders’ so that the incoming feeds go to the folders you need. For instance, you might set up folders for the different periods you teach, or grades, or by class number.

The video doesn’t make clear that the most likely place to find the RSS icon is in the URL or location field of your web page. Look up at the top of your page where it says At the end of that input field you’ll find the RSS icon. Click on it once you’ve got your reader set up, and you’ll be subscribing to my blog.

I’d love it if you did that!

teens want more in-class writing

Yesterday, I wrote about the latest Internet report from Pew, which focuses on teens and how they use technology for their writing. First, some interesting facts about internet use, which impacts writing. The Pew survey claims that virtually all teens, 94%!, use the internet on a frequent basis. This high percentage crosses all ethnic and socioeconomic strata, ranging from whites at 96% to Hispanics at 87%. I think we have the enormous popularity amongst teens of social sites such as MySpace and Facebook to thank for that.

Nearly all teens (89%)  access the internet from home, while 77% do from school. Minorities and lower-income students rely more heavily on schools and libraries for their internet use, though over 70% have access from their homes. Nevertheless, your experience may be similar to mine. While the high school library has extended hours for before and afterschool computer use, many minority students used the bus system and were therefore unable to take advantage of those extra hours. This alone is a powerful argument for installing computers in the classroom.

And what do students want to be doing in the classroom? More writing! Nearly 90% of them believe that writing will help them be successful in their lives; over half say that it is essential. Nearly all teens report that they write everyday in class, mostly note-taking, but that their writing comprises only about a paragraph to one page, and they want more so they can improve their writing skills. A high percentage also believe that using computer-based instruction would help them become better writers:

Most teens feel that additional instruction and focus on writing in school would help improve their writing even further. Our survey asked teens whether their writing skills would be improved by two potential changes to their school curricula: teachers having them spend more time writing in class, and teachers using more computer-based tools (such as games, writing help programs or websites, or multimedia) to teach writing. While the options presented in our survey were quite different in nature, teens find the approaches equally appealing. Overall, 82% of teens feel that additional in-class writing time would improve their writing abilities, similar to the 78% who feel the same way about computer-based writing tools. (my emphasis)

Responses to the Pew survey demonstrate that teen writing is purposeful. They write when they have a particular reason to: assignment completion, grades, college acceptance, personal expression. They prefer assignments that are relevant to their lives, and they would really like teachers to comment in detail on their work. They state that technology does not make much difference whether they write or not, but it does make it easier to revise their work, and therefore much more likely that they will.

There are many nuances from the survey that I’ve not been able to include in a short post, but this is fascinating stuff, and is well worth reading.

teens who write

Pollsters from the Pew Internet & American Life Project have a new report out about teens’ use of technology. In particular, the questions from the poll relate to how much teens write and how they perceive themselves as writers. As we already know, teens spend copious amounts of time text messaging on cell phones and on instant message chats. But they don’t consider that writing—- and neither do we. Nevertheless, technology does play a part in encouraging teens to write more, particularly blogging:

. . . there is a relatively strong association between writing and technology platforms that help teens share their thoughts with the world such as blogs and social networking sites. Teen bloggers in particular engage in a wide range of writing outside of school. Bloggers are significantly more likely than non-bloggers to do short writing, journal writing, creative writing, write music or lyrics and write letters or notes to their friends. In this sense, bloggers are even more prolific than social networking teens when it comes to the types of writing they do. Social networking teens are unusual in their relative proclivity to write short writing, journal writing and music or lyrics. Teen bloggers also write more frequently than social networking teens.

Pew reports that nearly a quarter of teen bloggers write outside of school on a daily basis. This is encouraging, and it may convince more teachers to include blogging in their lessons. When does blogging in the classroom make the most sense? Anytime you require recurrent responses from your students. Blogging’s sequential quality is especially useful for assigning frequent freewrites on reading topics. Or, maybe you’d like your students to keep a summary of daily class notes; this is the place to do it.

Do you dread having to keep track of all those blogs? Don’t. The extremely handy RSS feature makes it easy to collect all of your students’ work in one place. You will be able to easily scroll through their writings, and your feed reader will refresh each time your students make an addition to their blog posts. No paper shuffling. More about RSS feeds in a future post.

Utilizing blogs in the classroom was problematic even as recently as a couple of years ago, due to unwanted spam in the comments. New spam-targeting technology has virtually eliminated that problem, making blogs such as WordPress and Blogger excellent choices. They’re free, too.

The Pew poll contains a wealth of information about teens, technology, and writing, and tomorrow I’ll tell you what they learned motivates teens to write, and what teens think about writing for school.

More about writing and tools for the classroom

context and comprehension

let them remix videos

Fair use–what it really means

collaboration and process

A while back, Google asked teachers to tell them how they were using Google Docs and Spreadsheets. They have now published results of that questionnaire from teachers all over the globe. Two key themes emerge from this survey: collaboration and process. These are enthusiastic endorsements:

In some point of progress, the students invite me to join them and have a look at and give comments on their work. It helps me, as a teacher, to be able to participate in the process, not just see the final product. The students also appreciate that they can work without having to think about different software at home and at school.

This is a great point. As English teachers, we know that successful writing is all about revision, revision, and revise again. And, I can so relate to the last statement. I’ve been asked dozens of times why teachers seem to be slow to adapt to using technology in the classroom, and I just shake my head. There are so many incompatibilities and costs involved, it has seemed impossible to get everyone on the same page. Web utilities such as Google Docs make universal compatibility a reality. In fact, if I had to choose one reason why technology has stalled in the educational arena, I would say incompatibility of software and hardware tops the list, hands-down.

Another teacher incorporated a chat mechanism into her students’ presentations. One student conducted the out loud talk about the slides, while the others added their comments to the chat:

For the first time I can EVER remember as a teacher – 100% of the students were engaged in the presentation and participated in the chat. The students were enthusiastic and offered insightful and appropriate comments. The students liked being able to add their input without interrupting the presentation. I will definitely use Google shared presentations again.

Here’s a teacher from Portugal who appreciates his ability to comment on papers before they are revised into a finished copy:

One of the main features that I found was the ability of following their work (each group gave me access to the document), since the first day, inserting comments along the documents and giving clues to the students. Moreover in the end all of their work was published (with a click) and presented to the student community.

Google has an excellent tutorial for teachers who are considering this very useful tool.

the sound of no paper shuffling

On any given day in the classroom, our time is spent shuffling papers. All of us shuffle: students, teachers, administrators. So much paper, so much shuffling. When our students are in the process of completing projects, we shuffle even more papers, or folders, or notebooks. During projects, we like to see how our students are progressing, and we suggest revisions, and shuffle it all back and forth again and again. When we are dealing with 150+ students, that’s a lot of shuffling. Lots of trees.

I’m becoming an anti-shuffler.

One of my favorite projects for my tenth graders comes at the end of the school year as we are reading Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, called the Discover Family Project. It involves 5 writing efforts completed over several weeks. When each piece of the project is due, the students present that portion to the class. In the past, when students finished their presentation, they handed in what they’d written. I’d suggest revisions, then hand it back so they could revise and compile all the writings into a final copy of the entire project. As you know, a lot of shuffling is required for a project like this. If there is no movement in paper handling, the work sits idle and incomplete in the student’s backpack or on your desk, accomplishing nothing, accumulating only stress.

There is a way to keep everything in one place. Think of this tool as a project manager that takes over the task of distribution, even allows flexibility in the way that materials are distributed.

Set up a spreadsheet on Google Docs such as this one for the Discover Family Project. Before anything is filled in, it is a template. Click the publish button, and place the link on your website. Have your students go to the site, right-click select all, and make a copy for themselves. This eliminates the step where you make 150+ copies of the project timeline and pass them out.

As the students write their papers in Google docs, they will click the publish button to produce a web link, which they add to the column on the spreadsheet. You will click on that link, read their work, and suggest revisions. After they revise, you will review for the final grade.

Distribution flexibility comes in two ways: (1) your students can make their spreadsheets public, and select to have you notified by email when changes are made; (2) your students can email their spreadsheets to you whenever they make a change. You decide which option you are most comfortable with. This eliminates the steps where you collect their papers for each step of the project and hand them back.

Life presents plenty of opportunities for shuffling; Education 2.0 provides ways to diminish it.

More on Google docs and lesson plans:

of Anglo-Saxons and slideshows

visualizing Google docs

teaching with docs

2-for-1 learning

In a previous post I wrote about how visuals improve learning. The theory of multiple intelligences tells us that some of us learn better using differing methods: verbally, hands-on doing, seeing, and so forth. We all learn by repetition, so incorporating more than one modality into a lesson is guaranteed to improve learning. When we include an exercise where students search for visuals to accompany their word definitions, even for words that aren’t things, they get a 2-for-1 learning experience, increasing the chances that they will succeed on a vocabulary test.

In that post I wrote that every single student got 100%, truly a learning experience for me.

The vocabulary words in that assignment came from a magical short story by Ray Bradbury, April Witch. The words were ermine, musky, black kite, crocus, praying mantis, amoeba, rig, wild mustard.

My tenth graders worked in the computer lab, so I was able to immediately see what they were or were not understanding. First, I informally asked them if they already knew the words. Not a single student knew what a crocus was. Or ermine. Or wild mustard. Not even a guess. They thought they knew what a black kite was, and a rig, but they were wrong, even though their guesses about those two terms had nothing to do with the context of the story.

And that’s the point; they were not comprehending what they were reading. It’s not that knowing what a crocus is will change their lives in any meaningful way. It’s that they cannot build upon what they don’t comprehend. When neurons are not connecting, no learning takes place.

They were instructed to look up definitions for the words as well as images (we used Wicktionary and Google images), in any order they wished. Sometimes, the word definition helped, as with the word musky. When they learned that it was ‘the smell of musk,’ they looked up ‘musk’ and found perfumes and soaps to help them associate the definition.

The word ‘kite’ proved a particular challenge. The story mentions a black kite flying at night. They were content to imagine a kite the color of black being flown by someone after dark. When I pointed out the incongruence of that image, they came up with the idea to look up a ‘black kite,’ resulting in this image:

The word ‘rig’ was my favorite for its teaching moment. They were coming up with images like this:

Or, this:

There was absolutely no mention of anything having to do with oil or trucks in the story. One of the sentences using the word read: “A tall man rode up in a rig, holding the reins high with his monstrous arms . . . “. I let them flounder about for a bit, allowing the tension for comprehension to build. Finally, one student entered into the image search box: horse rig, coming up with this:

And, we were off and running!

Be forewarned: As we all know, when our students access the internet they access the world, and some of it is unseemly. Have your administrator set the Google images at ‘strict filtering.’

More about lesson plans and reading:

tale of two learning theories

taking the tough route

book ’em

when the library comes to you

At the beginning of each school year, when I send my college students off to seek information to support their argument position essays, I include an exercise that puts them in the library. I’m always amazed at how many of them not only have not been in the library, but how many don’t even know how to get to it! I suppose I’m biased, as I was was always more interested in the library than the classroom.

Having said that, I’ll admit that the library is not the first place I go for current information, looking for support on the topics of our argument papers. However, merely conducting a Google search is not the answer, as the results are likely to be unfocused at best and overwhelming at worst. And while Wikipedia is great for an introduction to a topic, it’s much too thin for an in-depth investigation, and can’t be used as a reference anyway.

Lately I’ve become entranced with Google Alerts. When handing out your syllabus at the beginning of a semester, require your students to sign up for Google Alerts on each of the writing topics.

For instance, suppose you are writing on the topic of the FISA bill, the president’s desire for warrantless spying to combat terrorism vs. Constitutional rights to privacy. I instructed Google Alerts to inform me whenever there is a news article on the topic. Once a day, the relevant article links are delivered to my email. In a little over a week, I’ve received over 200 relevant links. By simply scrolling through the titles and accompanying excerpts, I can see which will be most useful, and which sources most credible.

Think about this. I’ve made no time-consuming trips to the library, maneuvering through traffic and parking or inclement weather. I haven’t spent endless hours searching through the library’s limited collection of newspapers or magazines. Nor have I invested all the change in my wallet for making copies.

What did I do? I went to bed. And the next morning the research I needed was collected in my email. Or, through text messages. Or, in a gadget on my Google homepage.

I still send my students to the bricks-and-mortar library. But I’m fully cognizant of the fact that oftentimes they have a few things to teach me.

More on essays, research, and tools

input facilitates output

annotating the web

wikis unwrapped

poetry out loud

Shawntay Henry from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands is this year’s winner of Poetry Out Loud, a national competition sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. Shawntay’s recitation of “Frederick Douglass” by Robert E. Hayden is whispery and dramatic, commanding her audience to reflect upon each word.

Even if your students were not among the 200,000 nationwide who participated, you can devise a competition for your own classes. The Poetry Out Loud website has an amazing list of 400 poems, both classical and contemporary, from which to choose. Here’s one of my favorites: mulberry fields, by Lucille Clifton.

In the true spirit of the actual contest, require your students to memorize one poem. They will ‘own’ that poem, and it will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

Begin by creating a Google form so that students can input their choice of poem. Create input fields for each student’s name, the poem’s title, and a link to the particular poem they have chosen. You will then have a list at your disposal to enable you to follow along with the students’ recitations. If possible, project the written poem from the links on your list to a screen for the audience to follow along as the poem is being performed.

What a wonderful way to celebrate our poetic heritage.

More articles on Poetry

tap your iambs

let them remix videos

music in the mix

FORMing rubrics

Prior to my Education 2.0 thinking, I used paper rubrics to assess my students’ essays. I made large numbers of copies of my rubric, and filled each one out upon completion of marking and grading the essay. The rubrics were given to the students when I returned their essays.

I recorded the final grade points from the rubrics, but not the breakdown. I could only hope the students kept the copies of their rubrics, and maybe even compared them to subsequent essay rubrics in order to assess progress in each area. While rubrics make it easier for instructors to provide a more detailed explanation of a final grade for an essay, it is difficult to assess progress from essay to essay beyond the final grades of each. Does grammar continue to cause a particular student problems? Should I spend more class time discussing essay structure?

With my Education 2.0 mindset, I’ve tried to resolve these dilemmas using the various tools at my disposal. Nevertheless, I’m not looking for more work for myself, so the implementation has to also help streamline my workload.

Here’s what I came up with. I created a form through the Google doc’s application as a rubric template for me to fill out, the results of which will be collected in a spreadsheet. Google forms makes it easy to mix-and-match the type of questions, so your forms will accept different types of input. When choosing the type of input for the rubric criteria, select checklist. In order to fill in the points earned, select text. Now, I don’t want to make a separate form for each one of my students, so what I did was to copy the spreadsheet, renaming each one with a different student’s name. For each one, I click the Share tab, and tell it to fill out a form, and it creates a new form for me, automatically. When I’m ready to fill out a rubric for a student, I bring up his or her spreadsheet from my document list and click on ‘go to live form‘ at the top of the sheet.

After I’ve ‘filled in’ a student’s rubric, the output will look like this. Google allows me to send a copy of this page to the student through email. Now both the student and I have a copy of the rubric and, at a glance, we can both see the student’s writing strengths and weaknesses. Each time I assess another of the student’s essays, the rubric breakdown is added to the same spreadsheet, allowing the student and me to assess progress over time. It’s all in one place, and it’s working for both of us.

More articles on Google forms:

Infinite variations on a form

quiz on friday!

input facilitates output

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