As the school year winds to a close, I’ve asked my students to evaluate my class as their final assignment. It is part of my reflection process. I realize not every student will love every aspect of this English course, but it is valuable to find out from their perspective what is working and what isn’t.
Ultimately, I want my students to pursue life long learning, but I have to model a desire to continue learning as well. I try to demonstrate through my own daily actions that I want to continue growing and improving my practice as a teacher. Evaluations are a great way to collect information.
My students are creating digital portfolios to celebrate and share the work they have produced in our class this year. They have to build a website to share their digital writing, multimedia projects and blog posts.
I encouraged my students to use Google sites since all of the work we have done with Google apps and YouTube work seamlessly with Google sites. That said, Google sites have a slightly steeper learning curve than other website creators like Weebly or Wix.
Here are the basics of creating a Google site.
First, log into your Gmail and click “More” at the top of your screen.
Click “Even more,” which takes you to all of the fun stuff on the back end of your Google account. Scroll down until you see the word “Sites” about half way down under “Home & Office” on your right.
After you click “Sites,” it will take you to your sites page where you can click “Create” to build a new website.
After you click “Create,” you need to find a site name that is not already taken. This may require some creativity because the most common site names are already taken. I told my students to start with our school acronym, WHS, then add the phrase “digital portfolio” and the year.
Once you enter the code, you have your new site! There are some important buttons at the top right of your site. Click the pencil icon to edit the page you are currently on. Click on the paper with a plus sign to add another page.
When adding a new page to your site, it’s important to select the right type of page.
The most important button of all is the “More” button which lets you into the back end of your site.
The “Manage site” is your go to button for changing your site name, theme and color/font.
Once you have changed your site name and selected a theme, you can begin adding content (images, documents, and vidos) to your site.
These basics should help beginners get started with Google sites. Just remember to click “Save” after every change, so you don’t lose anything.
Please post questions or additional tips for other educators!
My students are constructing digital portfolios as a culminating celebration of their work that will be published and shared with a wider audience than the traditional paper portfolios constructed in the past.
One element of their digital portfolios is a digital story. I was inspired while listening to interviews on Story Corps. I was gripped by the power of the stories shared in these interviews. They were raw, honest and captivating. I remember thinking, “I wish my students knew how to tell stories like this.”
I played several interviews for students and asked them what they liked about the stories. I wanted them to identify the elements of storytelling that were powerful or made the stories more interesting. They identified things like: dialogue, details, emotions, and story structure.
Once they had heard several interviews, I told them they would be interviewing a family member and creating a digital story based on their conversations.
Begin with an Interview
Similar to Story Corps, I wanted my students to begin by interviewing a person in their family and recording the conversation. I directed them to the incredible collection of questions available on the Story Corps website. The questions cover topics ranging from raising children to love and relationships to war. Click here to view questions.
The act of interviewing another person required that students practice speaking and listening skills as they “prepared for” and “participated in” these conversations. For many students, guiding an interview, being an active listener, asking follow up questions or building on ideas share are challenging tasks.
Capturing the Conversation
I had students capture an audio or video recording of the interview, so they could listen to the conversation again as they wrote their narratives. Details can be hard to remember when reflecting on an interview. A recording made it possible for them to pull direct quotes and weave dialogue into their stories. Students had access to the speaker’s intonations and emotions, which I knew would add to the quality of the narratives.
For those conducting online interviews with family members living far away, I suggested using Skype or Google + Hangout interview and screen capture the interview using Quicktime (on a Mac) or ScreenCast-O-Matic on a PC.
For those conducing in person interviews, I encouraged them to use Voice Memo on an iPhone or Easy Voice Recorder (a free app for android).
Writing the Narrative
I explained that I did not want students to tell this person’s life story since digital narratives tend to be short (3-5 minutes). Instead, focus on a moment, event, influential person, favorite memory, special relationship, family home, etc. to keep the scope of the story small and manageable.
Once I had all of the feedback in a Google spreadsheet, I installed the Form Emailer script (check out a tutorial here) and sent them each an individual email with their specific peer feedback.
Now that they have received feedback and revised their stories, students are embarking on their visual component. I wanted them to have autonomy over their technology choices, but I provided exposure to some of my favorite tools.
Favorite Tech Tools for Creating Digital Stories
GoAnimate is a “do-it-yourself animated video website” that is super user-friendly. Students can use backgrounds and create colorful characters to tell their stories.
Animotois perfect for pairing pictures and/or video with music or audio to tell a story. Go mobile: It’s also available in the app store for iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads.
WeVideo combines great themes with robust video editing features. Upload images and video then edit the movie.
Vimeo allows students to upload videos, add music, edit the look of their videos and share them. Go mobile: It’s also available in the app store for iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads.
iMoviefor Macsor Movie Makerfor PCs are both movie editing software that can be used to edit videos. Students can add music, effects and text. Go mobile: iMovie also available in the app store for iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads. $4.99
iMotion HD is a time lapse and stop motion app that drastically cuts the time needed to create stop motion films.
Lego Movie Makeris a fun, easy-to-use mobile app that is perfect for making stop motion videos to tell a story. Note: If students want to add an audio component, they need to upload their stop motion into a movie editor, like iMovie, then add an audio file. Go mobile: It’s also available in the app store for iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads.
As my students work to create the visual components of their story, I am offering technology trainings during lunch to support them in creating stop motion, editing film and adding audio. It has been an incredible learning experience for me as I attempt to support 170+ students in designing different stories, using a myriad tools, and working with a variety of devices.
As a teacher shifting to the Common Core Standards, I am excited that this project allows me to simultaneously teach narrative writing, speaking and listening skills, editing and revision, strategic use of digital media, and dynamic use of online tools for communication, collaboration and creation!
I welcome comments and suggestions from other educators who have done digital storytelling projects with students. Please share favorite tech tools, resources and/or strategies. I’d love to continue improving my own practice.
I had a “just in time” professional development moment thanks to Jennifer Roberts and her video titled “Docs Voice Comments.” I wanted to share it with other educators as I know many of us are planning end of the year projects, assignments, and written pieces. These culminating assignments are incredibly time consuming to grade. I also wonder how many of my students carefully read the comments I make on these pieces since they get them back just as the school year ends and summer break begins.
Lastly, these end of the year projects are finished products, so covering them with comments or editing directly on them may not be the most effective way to provide feedback.
My students are currently working on a Digital Portfolio Project to share the work they have created in our class. Students are creating a website where they will post revised pieces of writing, digital projects and artwork to reflect their growth as students this year. In the past these portfolios took the form of binders, but this year I want them to have a digital finished product they can share with a larger audience.
I’ve decided to use the voice comments app instead of typing out all of my comments. Not only will I be able to give more detailed feedback, but I have a sneaky suspicion that they will be very curious to “hear” what I have to say as I explore their websites.
Because their projects will take the form of a website, I’ve decided to have students “make a copy” of the assignment description, which I created as a “view only” Google document and “share” it directly with me. Then I will leave my voice comments on that document for students to access.
Follow the steps below to enable the Voice Comments app.
Search for “Voice Comments” and connect app to your Drive account.
Instead of opening the essay as you normally would…
The first time you use Voice Comments you need to give the app permission to access the following:
Record comments for your students as you assess their work. Don’t forget to click “Share with Collaborators” to give them access to your feedback.
It is helpful to mention which parts of the essay or assignment you are commenting on as you record your comments. Let students know if you are scrolling down a page or navigating between pages, since they will not be able to visually see your progress through their document.
Finally, show students how to access your voice comments as they won’t appear unless they click “Comments.”
Click here to view the awesome YouTube video Jennifer Roberts made walking through this process.
I hope this helps other educators to provide meaningful feedback to students while saving time…great combination!
I was facilitating a workshop and one of the participants said Daniel Pink’s Drive was the most powerful and influential book she has read this year. I immediately ordered it on Amazon, and I’m thrilled I did!
Pink explores human motivation and makes the argument that “for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose” (218).
The economy is rapidly changing and jobs are more heuristic - demanding that employees learn, discover, understand, and solve problems on their own. This shift from algorithmic tasks, which follow a predetermined set of directions, to heuristic tasks requires students leave classrooms confident and able to think outside the box, tackle formidable challenges and be creative problem solvers.
As I reflect the current state of education, I wonder if this generation, which is being labeled the “lost generation,” is developing the skills needed to excel in a country that no longer needs factory workers, but rather innovative thinkers.
I wanted to experiment with an idea I had while reading Pink’s book. He talks about open sourcing, which he says is the “most powerful new business model of the twenty-first century” (20). He discusses the success of Wikipedia, which made me wonder if a similar approach could be used to engage students in a classroom to collectively compile, or “crowdsource,” information.
Crowdsourcing Information Instead of Lecturing
In a continual effort to circumvent the traditional lecture model, I decided to try crowdsourcing information about Shakespearean sonnets.
Step 1: Challenge Students to Generate Information in Collaborative Groups
I explained that we would be exploring Shakespeare’s sonnets and gave each group “Sonnet 116.” I told them all sonnets share the same structure and similar characteristics. I asked them to discuss the sonnet they were given and make a list of inferences about sonnets in general from examining, analyzing and discussing “Sonnet 116.”
After 5 minutes of discussion, I invited students to go to the board and begin collectively compiling the information they had generated in their groups.
Step 2: Encourage Students to Research Using Their Devices
As the traffic to the board slowed, I invited students to take out their mobile devices to “fill in the blanks” with research. I want students to feel confident finding answers to their questions. For example, who were the sonnets written for? What themes were common in Shakespeare’s sonnets?
I want them to become proficient at finding and evaluating information from a variety of resources. In their groups, they researched, discussed and added more information to the board.
It was incredible to watch students who had not gone to the board previously become empowered and excited to contribute when they were able to search for information on their mobile devices.
Step 3: Collectively Review the Crowdsourced Information
I was amazed by the sheer volume of information generated in a 15 minute window by my students. Learning is definitely a messy process and my board was a reflection of that. It was visually overwhelming, but the quality of information was excellent.
The energy in the room reminded me of Pink’s statement that “human beings…have an ‘inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capacities, to explore and to learn’ ” (8). How often are we challenging students to drive learning in the classroom? Are we presenting them with “novel” situations to pique their interest? Are they able to demonstrate mastery?
This activity was simple, yet it dramatically changed the flow of ideas in our classroom. Instead of listening to a lecture and taking notes, students had to analyze, discuss, draw conclusions, research and share their ideas. It was an easy way to present them with a more heuristic task.
As our economy becomes increasingly complex, it requires more innovative thinkers to tackle heuristic tasks. Cultivating students who are up to this challenge requires a dramatic shift from the traditional teaching paradigm. It also requires that educators think about how we can effectively tap into our students’ motivation, inherent desire to learn, while capitalizing on their creativity.
In my previous post “Common Core: What is a ‘complex text’ anyway?” I wrote about the three aspects of a text that the Common Core measures to determine its “complexity,” which include: 1) quantitative, 2) qualitative, 3) reader and task.
Hopefully, that post helped to clarify how we as educators can evaluate the complexity of a text we are using with our students. This blog will focus on ways we can support students in reading, understanding and analyzing those texts. The individual standards for each grade level vary and the standards themselves act like a staircase. Although the strategies I discuss are used at the high school level, I hope they will serve to spark ideas for teachers in elementary and middle school.
* Reading Literature Standards.
Each year, I have students enter my room who claim to hate reading. They say it is a waste of time because they never remember what they read. At first this surprised me. After ten years in the classroom, I understand why they don’t enjoy or remember what they read. Most students are not really thinking about what they are reading. Few students have been asked to slow down and process a text.
Annotations are not a new strategy, but few, if any, of my incoming 9th grade students have ever been taught how to annotate. In college, annotations were the only reason I survived as an English major!
To be effective, students need concrete strategies to ensure that annotations do not add exponentially to their work load. Providing students with tips for how to highlight and annotate can make a big difference in the success of this practice.
Names of people
Key research, statistics & facts
Themes & main ideas
? = question or unsure of meaning
* = important
[ ] = quotable
# = info, statistic or research
___= new vocabulary
Making notes in the margin:
Translate ideas into your own words
Make connections…other books, classes, life experiences
Capture emotional reactions
Comment on ideas
Predict what will happen
As more teachers begin to supplement and replace traditional texts with digital texts, it is important that students learn how to organize, process and share online resources as well.
Diigois a fabulous tool for highlighting, annotating, bookmarking and sharing digital texts.
Collaborative Annotations Using Google Docs
Teachers can create a Google doc with two columns – one for text and the other for annotations. This doc can be copied and shared with a small group of students who can read, annotate, and discuss the text using the instant message feature.
The beauty of using Google is that it can be done asynchronously (occurring at different times) for homework if you are working with older students or students with access at home. It can be done synchronously (at the same time) with students who are younger, need practice, or do not have reliable access to internet outside of the classroom.
Students can ask each other questions, use the “define” tool to look up words they don’t know or the “research” tool to find out more about a concept. Google docs makes it easy to connect students with each other and with a variety of tools to enhance their understanding of a complex text.
Pair a Piece of Reading with a Google Form
I love collecting information using Google forms. All of the information is stored neatly in a spreadsheet I can access any time and/or share with others. Instead of making a stack of handouts with questions, why not have students submit responses via a Google form? This way you can grab examples of strong responses to share with the class so everyone can benefit.
I also love using anonymous responses to get students critiquing each other’s writing to improve their analysis, grammar, citations, etc.
If you use paper graphic organizers with students and want to take them online to incorporate media and facilitate collaboration, I will be focusing on that in my next blog post about the Common Core Reading Standards.
Last month I attended a training focused on teaching “complex texts” to address the Common Core Standards. Unfortunately, when I left the training I was no closer to understanding what a complex text was or how I could evaluate the complexity of a given text. So, I decided to do some digging into this phrase to better understand what the Common Core ELA Standards were asking English, history and science teachers to do.
The Common Core Standards state that students leaving high school should be able to “read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.“ Although demands for reading in college have stayed the same or risen over the past hundred years, the complexity of the texts students are asked to read in elementary and secondary school have slowly and steadily decreased during that same time period. The result is a higher number of students who are unprepared for collegiate level reading. Many of these students struggle with college work, need remediation or are unable to graduate.
Given this widening gap between what students read in school and what they are expected to read and comprehend in college, the focus on increasing text complexity in K-12 grades sounds like a worthwhile goal. That said, many educators are unsure how to identify a complex text.
There three aspects of a text that the Common Core measures to determine its “complexity” are:
Reader and Task
Qualitative refers to word frequency, sentence length and text cohesion. These are difficult elements for a human reader to evaluate. To evaluate the qualitative measures, a teacher can refer to an electronic resource like the Lexile Framework. The Lexile Framework will score a text based on an evaluation of these elements.
Students who are “college and career ready” should be able to read and comprehend texts that measure 1185-1385 on the Lexile scale. I was curious to compare the Lexile levels of texts students are required to read in high school with this college and career readiness measure.
I was surprised to find that many of the texts taught on my high school campus fall significantly short of the target Lexile level. If you are curious about the qualitative measure of a text, you can enter the text into the Lexile measure to generate a score.
Qualitative measures include structure, language conventionality and clarity, knowledge demands and levels of meaning and purpose. The qualitative measures complement the quantitative measure and are easier for teachers to evaluate without the help of technology.
A group of teachers from a variety of states worked together to design a resource to support teachers in evaluating a text. I have included a screenshot below, but it can be found here.
This evaluation places texts on a continuum, instead of placing texts in a specific stage.
contain more implicit meaning and use unconventional structures. Literary texts make use of flashbacks, flash forwards, and/or multiple points of view. Informational texts may incorporate complex graphics and/or deviate from the traditional conventions and norms for that type of writing.
use figurative language, ambiguity, archaic or unfamiliar language (academic or domain specific).
assume the reader has life experience (cultural, literary and content knowledge) that will contribute to his/her understanding of the information in the text.
have literal meaning that is intentionally at odds with the underlying meaning. The purpose of informational texts may be implicit, hidden or obscure.
Reader and Task Considerations
This final aspect of text complexity is left entirely to the educator. Unlike the previous two elements of text complexity, there is currently no research on reader and task considerations. Instead the Common Core states that “educators will employ professional judgement to match texts to particular tasks or classes of students.”
Each class is different and classes are increasingly made up of more diverse groupings of students with a range of needs and abilities. Some classes are composed of stronger readers or students who are more motivated, which may impact a teacher’s text selection. Teachers have to decide what makes sense for particular groups of students to assess this final piece of the text complexity puzzle.
Stay tuned: I plan to follow this post with another blog dedicated to teaching students how to read and understand “complex texts” using a range of strategies and tech tools.
After attending the YouTube Summit last year, I was inspired by the creativity of the content creators and the quality of videos available. I collaborated with Tina Barseghian, author of KQED’s blog MindShift, on a resource designed to support teachers in using videos effectively. MindShift published my “Teacher’s Guide to Using Videos” today!
In the resource, I specifically cover:
Part I: What’s Out There?
5 Awesome Sites for Instructional Videos
6 Excellent Sites that Supplement Your Lessons
Part II: What’s Good? Curating and Evaluating Video Content
Sites the Curate Educational Videos
What Makes a Good Video?
Part III: Blending Videos Into Your Curriculum
Pique Interest, Create Perplexity, and Inspire Inquiry
Flip Your Classroom: Extend and Engage (& Exercises for Flipped Classrooms)
Demonstrate Labs, Experiments and Abstract Concepts
Create Opportunities for Publishing
Not Sure How to Sign Up for a YouTube Account?
Ten Great Examples of Educational Videos
I encourage other educators using videos to share their favorite channels, videos, curating sites and strategies for blending video content into their curriculum! I’d love to continue learning from the creativity of other educators experimenting with videos both inside and outside of the classroom!