Tag Archives: student_work

Learning From Failure

18 Feb

Many people envision a one-to-one classroom as a sterile nightmare, a room filled with distracted students glued to sickly blue screens, so constantly plugged in that they are completely checked out. The reality is quite different. The more experience I gain in a wired classroom, the more I realize how much easier it is to humanize education when students have immediate access to personalized technology.

I teach a senior elective entitled Local Living Writers. The premise of the course is simple….We study work by writers living in and around Boston and then invite these writers into our classroom. This past term, for whatever reason, brought a group of students that did not identify as readers or writers. These seniors were funny and earnest and curious…but they were not model English students. They struggled to write with the style and control. Some of my typical approaches fell flat. I typically run the elective like a college literature course, and most of my writing prompts require students to develop literary analysis skills. Such prompts, however, were not working this term.

We had just finished William Landay’s The Strangler, a suspenseful and stylish crime thriller about three brothers wrapped up in the investigation of the infamous Boston Strangler. The students thoroughly enjoyed Landay’s cinematic setting—a gritty city on the cusp of a modern future—and they viscerally related to the authentic characters the author spun to life. Yet, I struggled to get them to notice the finer points of Landay’s craft.

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The True Goal of a Wired Classroom?

16 Jan

I’ve been teaching long enough to be comfortable with the fact that I’m often wrong. A lot. All the time. Daily. Yet, I’ve grown to enjoy such moments because they represent chances for me to reflect and grow. Thankfully, using technology in the classroom seems to make such teachable moments more and more frequent.Because I believe—as I’m sure you believe—that teaching effective communication in today’s classrooms means helping students navigate multiple modes of expression, I often create assignments where students must express themselves using a variety of media. The added benefit of this variety is that I gain a more authentic, developed sense of my students’ communication skills. A recent encounter in one of my American Literature 10 classes illustrates the point well.To take the course at the honors level I require students to submit an application essay where, without much guidance from me, they explicate a poem of my choosing. I use their responses to help me gauge whether or not they can handle the more complex work. After reading one boy’s response, I had real doubts. His essay demonstrated original insight but was poorly organized and riddled with language errors. While meeting with him, however, he assured me that writing has always been “tricky,” yet he was confident he could do well. He would work hard to improve his essays, and he knew he was good “with other stuff.” When I first started teaching, there wasn’t much “other stuff” in my classes. This particular student would have been in trouble. I believed writing well was the most important focus of my classes. I still do, actually. Yet, over the years, I have learned that if students are given multiple modes of expression, I gain a more accurate sense of their skills as communicators.

I began this school year with a Modern Slavery Project. I’ve written extensively about this unit at EdSocialMedia and encourage you to visit that post if you’re interested in the details: Modern Slavery Project.

Essentially, students research an aspect of modern slavery and draw connections between this research and Harriet Jacob’s INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL. The students and I develop other aspects of the project as well, and this year the students decided to create video PSAs and write a call to action letter to someone within their own circle of influence.

Here is the video that was produced by the student who—just two weeks prior—I was a bit worried about. Words fail me.

Do you see my point? By only looking at one literary analysis essay, my view was myopic. Yet, by allowing communication skills to be expressed in multiple forms—in this case a video—this student’s stage was widened. In a relatively brief time, I was able to understand, more acutely, what a deeply critical, artistic mind he has. In truth, I was able to understand that depending on the medium, this student is a more skillful communicator than me.Now, this isn’t to say a video replaces an essay. It doesn’t. (By the way, this video is accompanied with a heartfelt letter that shows a sophisticated, organized analysis of slavery and how to combat it…and we’ll spend considerable time this year in traditional essay mode.)

Check out all the Modern Slavery Projects here.

Yet, because my classroom integrates various technology tools, this student’s voice is much, much louder, and my assessment of his ability to communicate with passion and precision can be much more accurate.I’m really interested, then, in your stories. In what ways has technology “widened the stage” for your students…and you? It’s my belief that in sharing moments like these we illustrate the true power of technology in the classroom.

Symbolics: Making Abstract Thinking Concrete…the How To

10 Jan

Watch the video for further explanation.

If you are reading this post, you have most likely read its companion that explains what a Symbolic is. If you have not, I encourage you to do so before reading on.

In this post I want to give a “meat and potatoes” explanation of how I introduce Symbolics and help students complete each step of the process. I use two fifty-minute class periods to complete these steps, with some of the work completed as homework. I also teach in a one-to-one school, so the transitions from large group discussions to individual work time are instantaneous. You may need to adapt the timing depending on your access to technology.

#1: Begin With a List of Big Questions
At the end of a unit or term, I create “Big Questions” about key concepts and skills we have covered. My examples obviously pertain to an English class, but these questions could easily be adapted to your specific subject. The idea, however, is to ask questions that require open-ended responses, answers that allow for flexibility but also require mastery of course material. Also, I always allow students to create their own questions, with my approval.

#2: Pass out the Symbolic Handout
This is the assignment explanation I give students. Please feel free to adapt it as needed. I emphasize that the process of creating a Symbolic is not a linear one. I’ve laid out the steps in a clear, chronological order, but students need not complete these steps in this exact order. I do, however, walk them through the first three steps as a whole class.

#3: Have Students Answer One Big Question
Either in class or as homework, I ask students to choose one “Big Question” and answer it as completely as possible in fifteen minutes. They might write their answers in complete sentences or bullet points. The key is to get all of their ideas down. I then ask them to identify the three to five parts of their answers. It is important to force the students to use only three to five major “parts” in their answer. You might have to help them combine or divide parts of their answers. Also, students will most likely edit these answers as they create their Symbolic. Of course, this revision process is natural and encouraged.

#4: Show Examples of Symbolics
After the students have determined their answers and categorized the “parts,” I show them what a Symbolic actually is. Regardless of the unit, I typically begin by using the mythology examples I have shared in the companion post to this piece. Of course, you are welcome to use the student examples available at our Flickr group, too. I find that using examples not associated with the unit topic actually helps students think about the process and relationship of the ideas.

#5: Discuss Different Types of Processes and Create Examples
This step might be the most confusing for you, so I have included a video explanation. I begin by drawing the following graphics on a white board. I then lead a discussion with my students, explaining that they need to give me examples of things from their world that operate in these ways. I also ask them to give me other processes not listed on the board.

Explanation of PROCESS I give my students

After a general discussion of the processes, I go back to a few of the example Symbolics and ask the class to identify the type of process at work. I then have them consider their answers to the Big Question and determine which process best demonstrates how the ideas relate.

#6: Let the Students Loose
After determining the way their ideas relate, I typically turn the students loose to work at their own pace. They will complete steps 4-9 on the Assignment Explanation Sheet on their own…in a way. I usually let students work for 10-15 minutes and float around answering individual questions. Based on the questions they have, I will pause individual work time and, using a data projector, deliver three to five minute mini-lectures, explaining how to complete various steps of the process or warning students about something that is confusing to a majority of people. The class runs, then, in blocks of 10-15 minutes of individual work time divided by three to five minute mini-lectures. I also use student examples—at various levels of the creation process—to offer formative feedback to the entire group.

#7: The Feedback Loop
After the Symbolics have been uploaded to the Flickr group, I use a jigsaw discussion format where students present their work to one another. I float from group to group and sometimes share particularly interesting examples with the entire class. After students share their examples in class, I usually make a homework assignment where, over the course of a week, students must view other examples and leave comments for their peers. As this assignment is actually in process, when viewing the examples on Flickr you may not see many student comments, depending on when you visit.

Please let me know if you have more questions by leaving a comment below. I’m happy to respond.

Symbolics: Making Abstract Thinking Concrete (part I)

10 Jan

A Symbolic is a concrete representation of abstract thinking, a picture that demonstrates how ideas interact and work. I use Symbolics as an alternative evaluation tool, and I have found a way to use Flickr to make the entire process much more effective. I explain how later in this post. These videos explain the concept using actual examples.

A Symbolic Explained:

Symbolics Explained Part I

Symbolics Explained Part II

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