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:
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.
I prefer Goldilocks-sized conferences—not too big, not too small. I always meet energized, creative teachers and leave with ready-to-use ideas, as well as broader pedagogical questions to ponder. Earlier this year I attended the ELMLE 2014 conference in Berlin. One of the highlights was a session with Joyce Valenza, librarian extraordinaire whose human-centered, practical use of technology was very inspirational. The wiki she created for the session is filled with so many wonderful tools and ideas, I find myself needing to curate her curation in order to focus in on what really matters to me. I’ll write several posts condensing this session, but in this post I want to focus on some sites and tools Joyce shared that can improve the visual aids we use in our teaching and learning. Continue reading
Just a short anecdote from an English 9 class that gives me a boost and reminds me why it is worth our time to make the extra effort to publish online. I have written before about how I use macros and AutoText to save time when giving feedback on writing. In a recent essay, one of my students was making a chronic comma error, one that I dub The Most Common Comma Error in the World. My AutoText comment to her was, “Remember our quick lesson on the most common comma error in the world? You make it time and time again, but it’s easy to fix. Hint: the comma in that last sentence is a clue as to what mistake you’re making.” One problem. I never taught her class anything about this topic. Obviously, I thought I had.
Yet, it was not really a problem. She just Googled the phrase “The Most Common Comma Error in the World” and watched the video I had posted on this same topic years earlier. She viewed the video and made her changes.
It was a microscopic moment of flipped teaching, but it was one that reminds why I take the extra effort to share my work online: Continue reading
I am jealous of my computer; it never feels stress. I do…way too often. And, way too often my stress is related to my inefficiency at providing timely, specific feedback to my students. Don’t get me wrong, I know I give meaningful feedback, but I wish it was all I ever did.
I am excited, then, when technology can help me out. When teachers outsource instantaneous feedback to a computer, the effect can be powerful, especially in areas like vocabulary acquisition. Language teachers understand that vocabulary expansion can be a grand equalizer, helping students rapidly improve other skills. Wide-ranging, free choice reading is my favorite way to help students acquire new vocabulary, but I also use some excellent web tools.
I am currently enamored with Membean (an online vocabulary system.) This post, however, is about an older love: Quizlet.
Both systems are effective ways to let technology offer timely and plentiful feedback. Each system also allows for students to engage in individualized and constructivist learning while freeing the teacher to offer differentiated, data-driven support. Continue reading
Is it just me? Every time I hear WIKIS I think about wookies.
Let’s be honest. Wikis are ugly. At least the wikis I make are not sleek and arresting in a visual sense. Yet, I use wikis in a variety of ways that I find elegant and interesting. Think of them as a ten-year-old Toyota Corolla. They usually won’t turn heads, but they run beautifully and always do what they should.
Wikis as Textbooks
This past fall, I taught a brand spankin’ new public speaking course based on TED talks. I had never taught public speaking, so in preparation, I searched for the perfect textbook. I have never used a textbook in any class, but my own insecurities where sending me looking for some solid backup. Well, I didn’t find the perfect textbook (because they don’t exist). Instead, I decided to have the students create their own textbook using a class wiki:
The experience reinforced my belief in constructivism. While far from perfect, our self-constructed textbook served our purposes perfectly. After giving their first speeches, I asked the students, “O.K. Now that you’ve given one speech, what do you think you need to learn?” Their answers became our chapters.
I have always liked the way Hobbits celebrate their birthdays. Instead of receiving gifts, they give a small gift to their friends and loved ones. In this way, nearly every single day of the year, a hobbit receives a small present. What a wonderful way to go through life.
Today is my birthday, so let me give you this small gift: subscribe to the Crash Course channel on YouTube. One of my star students (and the guy’s last name actually is Starr!) recently showed me John Green‘s analysis of The Great Gatsby, and I just had to pass it along:
(Also, there are a few more gifts in the other links I provided.)
You, like me, have spent a fair amount of time watching on-line videos. Who can blame us? When we need a break from grading, routines, or vacuuming, lovely owls, talking dogs, or five people playing one guitar are irresistible draws. Of course, video can be a powerful teaching tool, too. You surely are amazed by my obvious commentary. No? Well, let me try to impress you, then.
Two free online tools—Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker and TED-ed’s Flipped Interface–can make online videos more interactive. I am still in the early stages of experimentation with both, and my students are using the tools, so my opinions are still very much developing. Yet, at this nascent stage, I am intrigued (and harbor some reservations). In this post I will focus on the TED-ed channel’s “flip” interface.
You have probably already been to TED-ed. If not, stop reading this. Go there now. I’ll see you in a few hours.
TED-ed is a valuable resource for classroom teachers, a nicely edited platform with many visually arresting videos on a variety of topics. The “flipped” videos already have comprehension questions and supplemental resources built in.
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