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

music in the mix

Before there were ipods or CDs, before we played albums and 45s, even before the top 10 blared from pocket-sized transistor radios, people carried their music around with them. Picture a nineteenth century scholar, steeped in the curricula of Greek and Latin, sneaking peeks at a pocketbook of rhythmic poems by Byron behind his professor’s back. Think about that the next time you chastise a student for wearing those omnipresent earplugs to class!

Even before our carry-around music manifested itself in the beats and rhymes of printed poetry in a waistcoat pocket, we had oral narratives in poetic delivery to preserve memory of words, certainly, but also to mimic music where there were no instruments or players around. In every culture, we have always had music, we have always had poetry.

Three timeless themes of poetry as well as music are love, loss, and alienation, themes which are particularly favored by teens. Two Anglo-Saxon poems which exemplify these favored themes are “The Wanderer” and “The Wife’s Lament.”

Brain-based educational theory teaches us that new learning takes place when we connect to what the learner already knows, and our students definitely know music. Two somewhat recent songs which carry the themes of the poems mentioned above are Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and “Evanescence’s “My Immortal.” (These have worked successfully, but I’m on the lookout for more up-to-date songs.) Consider the lyrics of “Boulevard” and compare it to verses from “The Wanderer.”

[Boulevard of Broken Dreams ]
I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes
But it’s home to me and I walk alone

I walk this empty street
On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Where the city sleeps
and I’m the only one and I walk alone

I walk alone
I walk alone

My shadow’s the only one that walks beside me
My shallow heart’s the only thing that’s beating
Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me
‘Til then I walk alone

[The Wanderer]
“Oft when the day broke, oft at the dawning,
Lonely and wretched I wailed my woe.
No man is living, no comrade left.
To whom I dare fully unlock my heart.
I have learned truly the mark of a man
Is keeping his counsel and locking his lips,
Let him think what he will!! . . . a failing spirit
Earneth no help. Men eager for honor
Bury their sorrow deep in the breast.

And, now, these two:

[My Immortal ]
You used to captivate me
By your resonating light
Now I’m bound by the life you left behind
Your face it haunts
My once pleasant dreams
Your voice it chased away
All the sanity in me

These wounds won’t seem to heal
This pain is just too real
There’s just too much that time cannot erase

I’ve tried so hard to tell myself that you’re gone
But though you’re still with me
I’ve been alone all along

[The Wife’s Lament]
The valleys are dark the hills high
the yard overgrown bitter with briars
a joyless dwelling. Full oft the lack of my lord
seizes me cruelly here. Friends there are on earth
living beloved lying in bed
while I at dawn am walking alone
under the oak tree through these earth halls.
There I may sit the summerlong day
there I can weep over my exile
my many hardships. Hence I may not rest
from this care of heart which belongs to me ever

I present the modern songs and discuss the themes of the lyrics, then seat the girls on one side of the class, guys on the other, and have them read the two Anglo-Saxon poems to each other. When we discuss the poems the themes are already very apparent.

You can provide the lyrics to the modern songs, but playing the music is ever more effective, emphasizing the emotional impact of poetry. It will cost you to download from iTunes, but the videos for most songs are available free from YouTube.

teaching with docs

In a previous post I wrote that I love the facility of google docs and use them every day. Google is starting to take notice of how docs are being used in education. Here is one testimonial from a teacher implementing the collaboration feature into a Romeo and Juliet lesson plan.