Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Whole New Breed: Teaching Millennials

In my short (seven year) career as an English teacher, I have already seen a huge shift in students' use of technology. When I first started teaching in 2003, most students did not have cell phones, our school did not have much access to laptops, and social networking was not the everyday word it has become. Certainly, students were engaged in gaming and most had myspace accounts, but they were not as connected on a daily basis as they are now.

Rather than complain about these changes, I am extremely interested in looking at ways to observe how students' learning and attitudes change as a result of increase exposure to technology. I tend to think of this technological revolution as akin to other revolutions in culture in the past. These changes are uncomfortable for some and definitely help to divide the generations. Certainly this same sort of divide occurred during the 1920's and the 1960's. The difference, as I see it, is that technology is not separate from education, like the "flapper" movement or anti-war protests. Technology, in all of its forms, is here to stay and cannot be left at the classroom door.

Over the past few years, I taken a realistic inventory of the technologies I use on a regular basis. I want to know what I use so that I can incorporate technology into my teaching. If I need to know how to use a particular technology in my life, students may need it in theirs for a college or work experience. I use email, word processing, blogging, nings, wii, texting, itouch, youtube, RSS feeds, screenshots, and my camera phone every week. When I'm thinking of a lesson plan, I sometimes think about a technology that could be used in a real way to better the educational experience for students. If students are not taught to use technology, they may be left behind in those skills that they will need in college or in the workplace.

Wondering where you fit in the millennial landscape? Take the quiz: How Millennial Are You?

So, what does it mean to be a member of the Millennial Generation? According to the Pew Research Center, it means that you're going to be far more liberal, less religious, more open to change, and more connected than the preceding generations. Also, the researchers at Pew have found that the Millennial Generation is going to be the most educated generation ever. What are the implications of this for teachers who are not of the this same generation? To me, this says that I don't have the right to sit back on my Generation X laurels and allow all of this learning about and application of technology pass me by. Because, just as the latest and greatest technology will be passé in a few months, so could your lesson plans!

Read the Study: The Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Read Across America: March 2, 2010

Every year, the National Educational Association (NEA) celebrates Dr. Suess's birthday with a campaign called Read Across America. For this celebration, the NEA offers many ideas for schools, libraries, and parents to institute fun reading events in local and online communities.

Some of the ideas/ events include:

Send an ecard
Facebook fan page
Send a video to schooltube or youtube
A list of 13 Suess-gestions if you get stuck

I plan to celebrate this activity in my classroom with my students by:

-Reading Dr. Seuss books aloud in class

-Hosting a 50 word children's book challenge (based on the fact that Green Eggs and Ham inculdes only 50 words)

-Having a Seuss quotation as "quote of the week"

-Having a Seuss-original word as "word of the week"

I'm still thinking of other ways to increase awareness about this project, so if you have ideas for me please feel free to send them my way!

Monday, February 22, 2010

1:1 Computing: Not An Automatic Fix

This year, the school where I work was lucky enough to go one-to-one, as in every student has his or her own laptop. I have been wishing and waiting for this to happen ever since I started teaching. In the state of Maine, all middle school students have laptops and then when most students reach high school, their laptops stay behind in the middle school and students use laptops on carts or computers in labs.

To me, it has always seemed imperative that high school students have regular access to technology. After all, they will be entering the work force of the world of post-secondary education where they will need to have a working knowledge of how to use applications and programs effectively. Now, our students will have their own laptop every day, so their knowledge of and ability to adapt technology to their needs will be in place.

But, this is only if teachers use technology in their classrooms. A recent article from eSchool News reminds us that teachers still plan lessons, still manage their students, and still create learning environments that can either encourage or discourage the use of technology. It seems that in the hype of getting a one-to-one program up and running in a school, professional development and data concerning the use of computers can go by the wayside. Obviously, there has been such huge growth in technology over the past twenty or thirty years and not every teacher is comfortable, willing, or able to integrate technology effectively in their teaching. Or, some teachers assume that just because computers are being used means that they are doing what's "right" for students. A computer is just a tool, though. If it's not being used for a purpose, it's just a fancier (and more expensive) version of a pencil or poster paper.

Every time I decide to use technology in my planning, I still go through the motions to think about these basic questions:

-What should students know or know how to do after this lesson?

-What other tools could I use to produce the same learning experience?

-How am I going to know if students are successful in their learning?

-Should I collect feedback about the technology used in this process?

One of the most important questions on this list has been the "what other tools can I use" because there are inevitable glitches in connectivity, power, server maintenance, students forgetting to bring their laptops, sites/ applications not working as planned. In short, there needs to be a back-up plan for any lesson involving computers. Also important has been collecting student feedback about the applications, sites, and methods used. I have offered up two lengthy online surveys to my students this year to better understand where they are in their technological journey. Not all students are experienced and fluent users of technology and not all students love technology. It's important to hear all comments and suggestions to better inform teaching practices.

Finally, I'd just like to put out there that keeping abreast of technology and all of the new sites and apps and tools and ideas is a lot of work. I spend hours and hours every week, every day checking out leads to enhance my understanding of technology. Of course, I love technology so this is not a painful practice, but it is time consuming. I think that there is a lack of understanding about the time and energy needed to stay tuned-in to the tech world. Teachers and students can easily become overwhelmed and turned-off by the amount of new knowledge there is to be had. I would recommend a lot of reflection about how much tech is manageable for you and your students and what you're willing to try in your classroom. Boundaries are necessary when it comes to tech integration.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Appealing to the Aural: Audiobooks in the English Classroom

In addition to reading texts aloud for and with my students, I also have found that students greatly enjoy hearing audiobook versions of their favorite stories. There are a few books that I teach using audiobooks. I find that, in these select texts, the addition of the audiobook greatly enhances student learning. For example, I've used the following audiobooks in my teaching:

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, read by Gary Sinise
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, downloaded free of charge from Librivox
The Absolutely True Diaries of a Part-Time Indian written and read aloud by Sherman Alexie

I decided to use Of Mice and Men after realizing that the only female voice in the entire story was that of "Curly's Wife", who is never given a proper name. This story needed to have a male voice to express its true grit. So, I previewed the Gary Sinise version and fell in love with it. Sinise is an expert reader and does a whole array of voices to meet the needs of each character's personality. It is a genius recording and it helps to pull students into the story. Plus, Sinise plays the role of George in the movie version of this novel. Every time I use this recording, students are mesmerized by Sinise's interpretation of the characters. Because they are so invested in the story, their comprehension of the text is much greater.

Right before I started teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I had a bit of a nervous breakdown. I knew that I could not possibly due any of the characters justice with my uneven and incorrect pronunciation of the Southern dialect used throughout this novel. I did, though, want to get across the absolute beauty and excitement of Twain's writing. I stumbled through this text in front of my bathroom mirror for a few days before breaking down and looking for an online version that I could practice from. What I found was so awesome that I used it in my classroom. I found it free through Librivox, an awesome site with all kinds of free recordings. Students loved this novel--Laughed at all of the right places, feel head over heels for Jim and Huck, and felt all of the craziness of the trips because of this free recording. (I am still attempting to develop a Southern accent. A work in progress for this New England girl!)

A friend gave me a copy of The Absolutely True Diaries of a Part-Time Indian as a gift. I thought about using it in the classroom, but found that I was able to easily pick up Alexie's cadence and use it in my read-alouds. I did use short portions of the recording in class, but felt comfortable reading the text aloud after listening to Alexie's version. In listening to the recorded text, though, I was able to hear the portions of text that Alexie stressed. I learned more about the characters and the plot by listening to his read aloud than I did by simply reading the book. Which, I guess, is my point in using these recordings with students in the first place.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Using Manipulatives with Poems

This past week, our school decided to hold our annual Winter Carnival festivities and NWEA testing the same week. As I started the week, I had no idea how I was going to make an sort of teaching or learning happen with such huge distractions. So, for our weekly Poetry Friday celebration, I decided to embrace the spirit of Valentine's Day and my love for all things poetry and Shakespeare.

I've played around with the idea that using manipulatives helps students to think through problems and express themselves in a more abstract manner. Inspired in part by magnetic poetry and a beautiful heart-shaped concrete poem by Guillaume Appolinaire, I thought that it would be interesting to see if students could take love-y poems and use them to both create their own concrete poems and to experiment with language. I thought that I could observe their process in playing with words and see what happened. Here are the instructions I gave to my freshmen students:

Step 1: Go to this poetry site and choose a line or two that make sense on their own.
Step 2: Grab some candy hearts and write the words from your line(s) of poetry on them.
Step 3: Arrange your lines of poetry in a shape that's meaningful to you.

Step 4: Snap a picture of your concrete poem creation for your blog.
Step 5: Trade your candy hearts with a peer. Have the other student use your words to make their own poem and a new shape.
Step 6: Take a picture of the new poem(s) and post them on your blog.
Step 7: Write a blog entry with your pictures. Explain what was hard about creating poems using these materials & what was easy.

What I saw was pretty amazing. I saw students work to take the meaning of the original lines of published poetry and try purposely to make a whole new or opposite meaning from the original. I had not anticipated that students would want to think so critically. I also witnessed students who are typically very easily frustrated with poetry having tons of fun with it and not getting upset that I wanted them to use all of the words given to them. Awesome. I used this activity with freshmen.

With seniors, we're transitioning toward reading The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. I did not want to start the play the day before break, because I knew that would lead to confusion when we returned. I did want to hold a Poetry Friday activity, though, because these seniors get upset when we do not hold Poetry Friday. Here are the instructions I gave to my senior students:

-Choose two or three lines from a sonnet that you feel like you understand and/or connect with -Write the words of those lines on candy hearts -Shape your words into one of the letters in S-H-A-K-E-S-P-E-A-R-E (exactly as many students as we have in English 12!) -Take a picture of your poetic lines -Write your understanding/ why you like this poem on the post-its provided to you -Go around to others with your post-its and add to the appreciation

The seniors did an amazing job. I was worried that some would just go for any old couplet to just get this done. What I did not foresee was their want to choose lines that they not only understood but agreed with. Maybe this is related to the fact that they are all in serious relationships or have been in the past. Whatever the reason, I was happy to see them taking this exercise seriously and working to understand all of the lines of poetry offered.

Here is the final product from the senior group:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Book Review: Books by Larry McMurtry

If I ever had any desire to buy and sell used and antiquarian books, Larry McMurtry has killed it. Much of his memoir Books is about this exact subject and it does not make for very interesting reading. And, it doesn't seem like fun. I love to read books, get lost in them, pass them on to someone who will love them. I don't get excited about the idea of buying books wholesale buy the floor. Too much.

McMurtry's best writing in this memoir comes with his recollections of what started him reading in the first place. He was raised on a ranch in Texas without a single novel or children's book to be found. His mother owned a Bible, but that was not what propelled McMurtry to his love of literature. A cousin once dropped off a box of nineteen books at McMurtry's home for him to read. McMurtry was about eight or nine years old and couldn't resist the tales of adventure and sleuthing. Scenes of McMurtry as a young child start the memoir, but disappear quickly. After this, the memoir takes a turn for the extremely uninteresting, unless you're fascinated by stories of warehouses and barns full of books which McMurtry and his book-buying friends seek out and buy.

As I read the first part of this memoir, I did find myself thinking about my own childhood and my love of reading. It is important, as educators, to reflect on the reasons and the types of readings that made us so interested in pursuing literacy. I know that I loved books as a child. I definitely used them as a way to escape, but I also genuinely loved words and language. If we are able to identify and remember what first lead us to language and literature, our chances of igniting that same love in the children we teach is that much greater.

I would've loved this book if it had stayed closer to McMurtry's reading and writing and less of the buying and seeking of rare books. This book would be a great match for a rare book collector, which I am not. I am glad that I read this book as it counts toward my participation in the Bibliophilic Book Challenge, which is an awesome and unique reading adventure!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

KWL 2.0

I love to use literacy strategies that allow for both individual and collaborative thought. I've used the KWL strategy to help my sophomore students gather and display information that they've learned about William Shakespeare and life in Elizabethan/ Jacobean England in the past. This was a creative, visually powerful method of showing those who enter our classroom what we've learned, but this year I wanted to be able to show this learning to the world. How? Well, I went through a bunch of ideas before I remembered the pre-made concept sort file that I'd saved last year. I took this basic file (created in pages) and used it for a KWL. I projected the sort on my screen and voila! We had an instant, live, collaborative KWL to use in the classroom. Here is the blank template:

I first asked the entire group of sophomores to think for a silent thirty seconds or so about what they remembered from last year's Shakespeare webquest. As you can see, they didn't retain a whole lot of information. Most students were able to come up with at least one fact about Shakespeare, even if it was simply the title of one of his plays. After this group knowledge collecting/ refresher, students were given another silent thirty seconds or so to think of the questions that they'd like to have answered about Shakespeare. They came up with some awesome questions. Then, students chose partners and worked in pairs to find answers to the questions they'd asked. They also looked for random, interesting facts about Shakespeare's life and Elizabethan/ Jacobean England. I had emailed each student a blank template so that they could fill-in their findings and send it back to me. As I received their emails, I took their information and copied it into the "learned" column. (I decided to type rather than use the tiles because there were so many facts.) Here is the end result of our efforts:

This is now a document that we can add to, reuse, refer back to, and keep for our next Shakespearean experience. As much as I loved using and looking at the huge bull's eye bulletin board of the previous KWL chart, this one is much more functional and it's way easier to read. I plan to use this strategy again!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wallwisher: Interactive Communication

Looking for a way for students to share their thoughts or reflections without having another in-class discussion? I know that it can be hard to create a quiet environment for those students who need peace and quiet to build their thoughts before they share. Similarly, students who blurt out their answers to questions can sometimes benefit from a little quiet and space to develop their thoughts before they share. These same students also sometimes need a restriction on how long they can ramble before getting to their point.

If you're interested in finding a space where students can post their thoughts and ideas and collaborate in a more orderly, peaceful manner, wallwisher might be the platform you need. I've used it twice in two of my classes for completely different purposes and have met with success each time. Here are links to two ways that I've used wallwisher with freshmen and junior students:

Think-Tech-Share with Freshmen (5 Paragraph Essay pre-writing exercise)

Webquest with Juniors (To lead into unit using Arthur Miller's The Crucible)

In both lessons, students used the wallwisher site to post short snippets of thought or their findings about a particular issue. After using this method with students, I found that their feedback and the information they and I received from the activities were beneficial. I love that students can post thoughts and images on this site. I also love that students can see/ read what others in the class have to say. Several of my quiet students have enjoyed not being interrupted in their thoughts, and the more outgoing students have had to condense their opinions to meet the 160 character limit. I have all kinds of ideas about how I'm going to use this site in the future!
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