Part of my job as Year Head involves dolling out consequences for misbehavior. In this work, I’ve quickly learned that a phone call saves time. When I speak to parents directly, they can hear my tone of voice, ask questions, and express their concerns. We typically end the talk with a mutual understanding: we are in it together, both working toward the betterment of the student. When a phone call is not possible and I have to email, misunderstandings often crop up because tone is often misconstrued. None of this is a revelation; it is just common sense. I am a gobsmacked then (thank you, Brits, for that lovely expression) that until recently, I had not applied this same common sense to my feedback on student writing. I have written before about using macros to increase the precision, consistency, and detail of my written feedback, and I have shared other feedback time saving techniques. Of course, I always give students oral feedback in the formative stages of their writing. Yet, until this recent round of essays, I had never tried recording my formal feedback. Many of my colleagues have been using audio feedback to great success, so I thought I would give it a try, too. Research tells us that in order to be truly effective, students must perceive feedback as credible, accurate, supportive, and timely. A student, like a parent, needs to feel the teacher is on her side, working toward the same common goal. Giving summative feedback orally can help ensure that students feel this way, which can make all those hours and hours and hours and hours and hours we spend creating such feedback more effective.
- As I read the essay in Google Docs, I used the comment feature to leave brief reminders of what I wanted to say. I gave each reminder a number.
Go to any grocery store parking lot in Germany, and you will never…and I mean never…see any stray shopping carts rattling along in the wind or parked in the hedges. Every carriage is always tucked back in the rack, sometimes in color coded rows. In the United States I always put my cart back where it belonged, and I secretly enjoyed rounding up any strays I came across. Imposing order on this chaotic world, even in small doses, soothes my fastidious soul. My fellow countrymen, however, do not share my O.C.D. Most people leave carts wherever they damn well please.
Yet, the difference in national shopping cart parking habits does not reveal some great divide between American and German gentility. Germans do not return their carts out of an altruistic urge to avoid scratching their neighbors’ Audis. Instead, grocery stores in Germany simply engineer order into their systems. To get a cart, you have to unlock it from the rack with a coin. When you’re done, you can’t get your money back until you return the cart and secure it to its mates. It’s a simple system that works beautifully.
The Student Scribe system works in much the same way; it’s a simple system, that once implemented, works with minimal effort on the teacher’s part. I first learned about the idea from Darren Kuropatwa, and I found his blog posts on student scribes very useful when setting up my scribe system for the first time.
On most days, one student takes communal notes and then posts these to a class wiki. Each post ends with the current student choosing the next scribe. Here are the directions I give my students regarding scribe posts:
This week I spent my writing time updating videos I lost when my YouTube account was deactivated. I still have more videos to remake (and new ones to create), but it feels good to begin piecing this collection back together. I planned to do this work over summer vacation, but I was really still too depressed about losing everything in the first place to begin again. Also, I knew what a slow process it would be. Yet, nothing ever gets done until I put my butt in the chair and do the work…so this week’s butt-in-the-chair-writing-time was spent on video re-making. Luckily, I kept some of the videos on my computer, so replacing this lost work went relatively quickly. Here are links to past posts that now have restored video clips:
I grew up in the Midwest of the United States, so many people (not from the Midwest) assume I grew up on a farm. Far from it. We Neals are not the handiest or hardiest of folks. We didn’t fare well in the fields and quickly found white-collar work. I grew up around farmers, though, and I understand, though admittedly secondhand, the combination of intelligence, dedication, creativity, sacrifice, and hard work required of those in agriculture. I know I would be utter rubbish at it. Yet, the metaphor of a farm has helped me change the way I am teaching some of my English classes. My students and I have been using a digital farm concept to structure our study.
I first heard of the digital farm idea from Alan November. Quick plug: if you ever get the chance to attend November Learning’s Building Learning Communities Conference held each summer in Boston, go. My BLC experiences have been some of the most practical, rewarding, and provocative professional development I have ever had.
In my experiments with a digital farm, every student is given a chore (or two). Over the course of a predetermined time period (I find students need about two weeks to try out ideas and make multiple attempts), each student must make a meaningful contribution to everyone’s learning in his or her assigned role. Students may contribute in any way and at any time, too. If they are, for instance, designated a Feedback Provider they could still make a contribution as a Big Thinker. Also, depending on the size and personality of the class, I assign multiple students the same role. Students may work with partners or alone to fulfill their task. Students must also communicate with me in a timely fashion so that I can plan our lessons around their contributions.
At the end of each chore cycle, students complete a journal reflection and their work. I give one-to-one feedback, and then assign new chores for the next cycle.
Visit our Digital Farm wiki for a complete set of jobs. Some jobs are not assigned but come up in a rotating fashion. Discussion Leaders and Student Scribes work this way, and I will make a future post on the Student Scribes concept I learned from Darren Kuropatwa.
I have one finely honed skill that serves me better in the classroom than all the rest: I know when I should steal a great idea. Well, I am not really stealing an idea if I give credit, and the person who originated the idea is sharing it freely.
No single teacher can always be the perfect creative force who whips up an appropriate and effective solution to every teaching dilemma. We educators work best when we work together…or we at least share. At its core, sharing is what this blog is all about, so here is a great idea for your next parent/teacher conference. I just finished mine.
Thankfully, at my school we really hold parent/teacher/student conferences; the student does most of the talking. In the past, I have always been a bit flummoxed as to how to get every student to talk precisely and honestly about his or her class work. My excelling students spoke articulately about their work, but my struggling students…well…struggled to pinpoint what they needed to do to improve.
This last time around, however, I stole an idea from my colleague that worked perfectly. You should steal it, too. Here is the explanation video he sent to us: Continue reading
Animoto makes you look good…really good. Their simple interface makes creating professional quality slideshows soooooooo easy. If you don’t know about this site, go there now. You can get started making videos of up to 30 seconds in length without paying anything.
Even better, if you’re a teacher, the good folks at Animoto will give you a free, full-access educator’s account that gives you (and your students) six months of full service. When your six months are up, just contact them, and they will keep hooking you up with new codes and more service. Some of the themes and features require a professional account (another paid level), but the choices connected with free educator accounts are vast.
I was recently playing around on my phone and made this video in less than 30 minutes. The mobile app is quite elegant and user friendly. That short video inspired me to offer Animoto to all the grade 10 students at Frankfurt International School.
Sometimes, I am a crazy person walking the street. I have a reactive dog, and recently I’ve been trying something new. When another dog is near us, and Finn is about to turn into a whirling dervish of spastic barking, I recite poetry from memory. This week I’ve memorized the prologue to Romeo & Juliet. Next up is “Ocean” by Mary Oliver.
I am sure my neighbors think I am a nutter (especially the German ones), but the dog seems to like this practice. She’s getting calmer every month, and I am archiving some wonderful verse. Memorizing poetry is an utterly “old school” act, but it has real value. I am asking my grade 7 students to memorize a poem of at least ten lines as one of the closing activities of the year.
I proposed the idea after discussing Nelson Mandela and his recitation of “Invictus” during his darkest hours of imprisonment. I was describing the poem to my students, and then I thought, why don’t I just look for a recitation online? It turns out, Morgan Freeman explains the power of memorized verse much more powerfully than I do:
Missing a week of posting to this blog feels like a missing tooth. During this school year I have found sporadic moments to write, but I could not seem to produce a regular run of posts. Keeping up with life and school work just becomes too much sometimes. Yet, like you, I’m my own worst critic. No other person on this big blue marble gives me one bit of grief for this gaping absence. Oh…right…these missing weeks aren’t really significant failures.
Of course, it’s more important to write meaningful posts than to meet an arbitrary once-a-week-self-imposed deadline. It’s even more important to have a life outside of work. I know this. I know this. I know this.
But, I am still going to try for that once-a-week posting. I have issues.
Thankfully, there’s only one part of my personality that is so hyper critical. There’s a big part of me that revels in having a healthy offline life filled with friends, interests, and plenty of unplugged living.
Completely by accident, I just set fire to four years of work. My classroom YouTube account (NealEnglish) no longer exists. Vanishing with this account are all the tutorials and examples of student work I have collected. My old work email was deleted, and with the removal of that Gmail account, the YouTube account went with it.
This accident was completely my own fault. When switching jobs, I knew I needed to transfer necessary information, and I thought I had taken care of all the necessary steps. Yet, in the chaos and daily grind of a big move, I did not notice that my NealEnglish YouTube channel was linked to my work email…so poof.
I doubt I can do anything to recover this work. I’m exploring all options (so share an idea if you have one), but I am not hopeful. Of course, I am sick about the loss, but I am also trying to take a more enlightened, objective view.
I am happy that I had work to lose in the first place. For many years I have been methodical about carving out time from a busy schedule to write and curate and capture. I have developed work habits that help me share classroom work that really matters, so I now just need to put in the time, little by little, to rebuild.
If you navigate this blog, you are will hit many dead video links (for a while). I apologize. It will take me some time to restore the important videos, but I will. And, as I do this I will try to improve each one (and ensure I safely store them in such a way that I don’t lose such a massive amount of work again). I am going to treat this re-doing of work as a meditation of sorts, and hopefully something more meaningful will rise from the ashes.