The past weeks have been busy…just not with work on this blog. Writing semester one reports and preparing for the 2015 ELMLE conference in Warsaw consumed most of my time. Then the flu took me down. I’m back at the keyboard now, though, even if the hacking and sniffles aren’t quite over. Thankfully, I did not get sick until the day after I returned from another wonderful ELMLE experience.
This was my third visit to an ELMLE conference, and I always leave bursting with ideas and convinced that the teaching world is brimming with kindred spirits. As in years past, I will dedicate future blog posts to some of the ideas I took away from the conference. I will also probably make separate blog posts out of a session I presented entitled Simple Classroom Hacks.
I enjoy writing this blog, but it can be a lonely pursuit at times. The comments and growing daily hits are encouraging, but being in a roomful of educators who get excited by the ideas we are sharing is more immediately energizing. It was wonderful to make contact with so many of you at ELMLE, and I hope to get the chance to present next year in Barcelona.
For now, here are my presentation slides….stay tuned for more ELMLE-inspired posts in the near future.
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:
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.
Robin working with his students
I love to know when my posts are “landing” or not, so please comment if you find this line of reflection helpful. When I sat down to record my thoughts on how teaching in a 1:1 classroom influenced one school day, I was not prepared for how many thoughts came out. This post is a continuation of A “Typical Day” in a 1:1 Classroom: Part One, so read that first if you have not already done so:
Membean Vocabulary Quiz / Discuss the class novel / Honors lessons / Revise literary analysis mini-essay
I see my classes five hours per week, with an optional sixth hour available for additional one-on-one help. This means three days a week I have a one hour block, one day a week I have a two-hour block, and one day per week I hold optional office hours during an “x-block.” This schedule has had the biggest positive impact on learning of any schedule I have ever encountered in my teaching career.
As in my sophomore classes, I began this class with a vocabulary quiz via Membean (explained in part one post):
Additional advantages of each student having a personal laptop:
- While students take the vocabulary quiz, I run a report of their Membean activity for the week [see below]. I require students to log at least 50 minutes per week and encourage them to complete short sessions (5-10 minutes) every day. Through the report I can tell who has completed the work in a timely manner. I can even tell if students have just left the program open for 50 minutes but not used it continuously during that time. (Unfortunately, I…like you…have some students who cut such corners.) After the quiz I quickly check in with each student, addressing issues of incomplete work.
A weekly Membean report
Of course, a typical day in any classroom does not really exist. Our routines, systems, and practices serve our students, so when dealing with the individuals in our care, each day takes its own unique shape.
Yet, there is some use in examining a “typical” day in my English classrooms. For the past four years I’ve been lucky to work in a 1:1 school. I have found the advantages of having students “wired in” far outweigh the disadvantages.
For those who have not lived in a 1:1 laptop classroom, the very idea of it can seem Orwellian—students jacked-in to ear buds, mesmerized by a glowing blue screen instead of the far more interesting human beings around them. I have found, however, the reality of a 1:1 room is quite different. Every day I am convinced instant access to customizable technology can be a crucial component in making learning more efficient and dynamic.