Engnology

Reflections of Blending English and Technology in the Classroom

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Classroom Discussion Strategies

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Classroom Discussions play an important role in student learning. It engages students, allows them to practice important life skills and is also a form of assessment. I rely on these interactions to help me gauge student understanding of topics we are studying. The following are a few of my favorite, and more unique, discussion strategies. Many of these ideas have been borrowed and modified for my own classroom.

First Things First – 

Establish classroom guidelines for discussions. Ask students for input; they always have great ideas. Limit guidelines  to 5 or fewer and use accessible language for all students. Here are my guidelines, along with brief explanations:

1. No Hands – when discussing, students must negotiate their own time and not speak over each other. They are speaking to EVERYONE in the classroom, not just to me.

2. Stay on Topic – although I love when discussions grow organically, if Ophelia’s death quickly turns to school gossip I step in and refocus the group if a student hasn’t already.

3. Disagree with the Comment, DO NOT attack the person – Differing opinions makes life interesting and classroom discussions fruitful.. One of the most difficult things for students to understand is another student’s TRUTH is just as right and as strong as their own TRUTH.

4. No yelling, swearing, throwing chairs, etc. – I teach AP Literature. Our discussions often lead to religion, politics, gender, etc. and can get heated. These rules are necessary for the safety and climate of the classroom.

5. Ends at the Bell – nothing excites me more than when students are still talking about the class as they walk out the door, toppling  into lunchroom conversations or is brought up at home with parents; but, students are not to use anything that was said in the discussion in a negative way, wether in a different class or on the athletic field.  We all agree to disagree.

Strategies 

1. Fishbowl Tap-out   

*4 chairs placed in the middle of the room, while all students form an outside circle around the center group, thus forming a “fishbowl” effect.

*The 4 students sitting in the middle are the only ones allowed to speak. They are having a discussion with each other about topics at hand or what they read.

*If an outside circle student wishes to speak they must “tap-out” (on the shoulder) one of the 4 people. That person must stand and move to the outside circle. There is no refusing to leave once tapped-out.

*Students on the outside can be listening, backchanneling on a TodaysMeet, or taking notes on paper.

TIPS – Students should try to be in the “hot seat” at least once during the discussion, allow students 2 min. minimum before being tapped out, teacher may have to ask a question if discussion is stalling (otherwise they are a silent observer as well)

2. Body Voting   

*Provide students with a list of statements. Have them silently go through each one marking if they “Agree” or “Disagree”.

*Designate opposite areas in the classroom as “Agree” and “Disagree” zones

*Teacher reads the statement and students move to the area that represents their response.

*Discussion can ensue in a team-like fashion.

TIPS – This strategy takes up a lot of time, have students mark on their paper the top 3 or 4 statements they would like to discuss. Give students one minute to organize thoughts and points as a group before starting discussion. Make students choose a side, there is no neutral.

3. SSC (Small Silent Collaboration)

*Divide students into small groups – no more than 4 per group works best.

*Have one student create a gdoc or typewithme and share with the group members AND the teacher.

*Students silently type important topics from their reading, questions they had, surprises from the passage, etc.

*Teacher monitors all group writing noting important discussion topics found in each.

*After a designated time, students discuss as a large group. The teacher has all the student- driven discussion topics in hand.

TIPS – Typewithme allows students to join under any name, be careful in large groups. This strategy allows every student to have a “voice” which is unique for the teacher to see.

These strategies are a few of the more “unique” ones I use in my classroom. They are also the most effective in engaging students and encouraging participation!

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Written by sfarnsworth

August 29, 2012 at 8:03 pm

15 Teacher Tips to Help Students Finish the Year Strong

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Last week I was contacted by Laura McMullen, a reporter for the U.S. News and  World Report , who wanted to interview me the following day about tips I had for teachers to finish the year strong. She explained that she had searched for “high school teachers” on Twitter and my account popped up. She checked out my tweets and blog (a teachable moments for my students) and decided I would be perfect for the article she was writing.

On Monday, the article came out – “Three Tips for Teachers to Help Students Finish the Year Strong” – which combines a few of the tips and examples that I gave to her.  During the time I initially received the first email I was collaborating with my friend Tim Hadley, a Social Studies teacher at Pekin High School. He agreed to act as my sounding board as I created a list of tips. Tim also graciously added a few of his own tips to the document. I thought I would share the complete list with all readers…

1.  Make a list of goals/objectives you wish to have students meet before the end of the year, prioritize them, and post in the classroom.
2. Chunk larger assignments into smaller sections; each section having due dates. This helps with procrastination and students waiting until the last minute to finish work.
3. End of the year is a great time to invite in speakers relevant to content studying into your classroom, either physically or virtually.
4. Give students choice. How do they want to demonstrate their learning?
5. Take advantage of the nice weather – reading, writing, geocaching, science experiments. Can your classroom be mobile and outdoors?
6. Provide an audience for your students projects, writing, etc. other than yourself.
7. Remain consistent with the routines and rules established at the beginning of the year.
8. Collaborate – get your class connected with students who are studying the same thing.
9. Reflect on the year and invite students to do the same; collecting responses to what they have learned, skills they have gained, least favorite and most favorite activities.
10.  Spiral review- Connect prior learning from throughout the year with what you are doing currently and have students predict what they will learn about to the end of the year.
11. Don’t fight distractions, feed them. Tie lesson plans into summer plans. Have a student taking a trip? Talk about the places they will go or have them plan the ultimate summer vacation.
12. Get students active. Plan a service project for your community in which students can give back to their community.
13. Talk about the future. Have students give input about the year and the course of study they have been engaged in. Ask them for advice about what and how should be taught to incoming students.
14. Create a classroom survival guide. When students are reflecting on the course, have them create a short survival guide for next year’s students on what they can expect from the course.
15. With the ending of a school year comes new beginnings. Have students create goals and aspirations for what is next in their lives

Please add your list of tips below!

Written by sfarnsworth

April 26, 2012 at 2:17 am

Considerations for Designing an English Curriculum in a 1:1 Setting

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Yesterday I completed (and passed) the oral exam needed to obtain my M.A. in English from UNI (now all I have left is the research paper!). My focus was on the confluence of our school implementing a 1:1 Laptop Program and my studies in graduate school which caused me to redesign current  curriculum.  During the conversation I verbalized important components of an English classroom in a digital age. This list helps to frame my curriculum:

1. Focus on the solid foundations and theory not the tool or application.

2. Students need to be critical thinkers, understanding content/messages in all literacies .

3. Reader is at the center of the text – only when meaning from text can be applied to self does it become important and relevant.

4. Students work within the cannon of the English language not outside of it.

5. Literacy is the heart of education.

6. Reading and writing are dichotic not separate entities.

7. Writing as a form of learning and reflection.

8.  Communicate effectively in written, verbal, or multimedia forms for pleasure, education, and professional reasons.

9. Not all writing is complete or publishable, most is not

10. The art of response, how to respond effectively.

11. Understanding communication in multiple literacies and how to use different mediums to share their voice is essential part of being a productive citizen.

12. How to use technology to access information, connect, collaborate, create, and publish.

When focus is shifted to curriculum design with the aid of technology instead of a focus on tools and applications, student learning is framed within the essential skills of a curricular area not a set of tools that becomes outdated quickly.

References – Rosenblatt, Elbow, Atwell, NWP, Cope and Kalantzis

Written by sfarnsworth

March 26, 2012 at 1:52 am

BCLUW High School Named Apple Distinguished School

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Mid February, staff and students received a surprise in the form of an assembly during the last period of the day. When everyone had taken their seats, it was announced that BCLUW High School was named an Apple Distinguished School. BCLUW is one out of 56 schools across the nation to receive this award.

Tony Gunter, an Apple Executive, presented the award citing all of the evidence that makes BCLUW a worthy choice.

The following is a brief description of the award and qualifications needed to be named:

Schools nominated by Apple for designation as an Apple Distinguished School must demonstrate Apple’s highest vision of a successful 21st century learning environment, a strong relationship with Apple, and a willingness to do outreach activities. The specific manifestations of these qualities include:
  • School demonstrates “best practice” qualities of 21st century learning environment;
  • Visionary leadership;
  • An infrastructure (IT) that supports a blended learning environment;
  • Engaging teaching and learning methods that capitalize on the qualities of today’s students who are mobile, collaborative and creative;
  • One-to-one access to portable computers and/or mobile access devices (iPod or iPad) for all teachers and students;
  • Evidence of ongoing professional development;
  • A systematic approach and ongoing process for evaluation and assessment of results for education improvement and sustainability.

Written by sfarnsworth

March 6, 2012 at 7:25 pm

“You Never Know Unless You Ask” – Skype with Poet Taylor Mali

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As a bell ringer during the poetry unit, I share with students one of my favorite poems. This helps to showcase different poets, forms, poetic devices, etc. Tuesday began with Taylor Mali’sWhat Teachers Make” and a few other poems of his. The students fell in love with his boldness and play on words. He was a poet that they immediately connected with; speaking about school, relationships, typos…

Throughout the day I noticed tweets to Mr. Mali  from my students and much to my surprise he responded back to them. One of my students (I have labeled the “Queen of Social Media”) suggested he skype in with our class. We were all shocked and pleased when Mr. Mali agreed, stating to the student, “You never know unless you ask.”

Mr. Mali skyped with the students the following week. He spent time answering questions, inspiring students, and connecting with the kids. At the end, as a surprise, he sent them all a copy of his poem, “How Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog” and recited it for them. A memory that we all reflect upon fondly.

Top Things Students Learned:

1. Poetry is COOL!

2. Twitter and other Social Media connects you with experts/world.

3. You don’t know unless you ask…

The next day the students were abuzz talking about skyping with Mr. Mali weekly, other people they wanted to skype with, understanding the power of technology to connect them to the world! This experience is one they will never forget, and they joke about telling their own children one day how they met Taylor Mali.

One of the highlights of my career!

Written by sfarnsworth

March 2, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Cross-Curricular, Project Based Learning: BCLUW Mock Trial

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For the past five years, on the day before Thanksgiving break, the BCLUW senior class holds a Mock Trial as a culminating project at the end of a cross-curricular unit designed by myself (English) and Josh Ehn (Social Studies). This unit is designed to provide students an understanding of how our legal system works, as well as job prep skills. The government side of the project is taught by Mr. Ehn who also decides the roles each student will play and the court case to be tried. Students interview for positions from judge to jury members highlighting the skills and qualifications they have gained in high school that makes them the best candidate.

In English class, students create resumes based on real information, a necessity for graduating seniors. They also learn the fine art of writing a letter of application in hopes that their words and experience stands out in order to receive an interview. Finally, with the help of teachers and community members, each student is given a time and location for an interview.

This is a fantastic Project Based Learning example that helps blend learning from different departments. Students are challenged to express their skills on the resume, and the interview provides much needed experience with a bit of added pressure. We want to thank the following community members for donating their time to support BCLUW students: Shane Tiernan, Darla Ubben, Doug Benjamin, Denise Hoy, Mike Payne, and Jayne Katzer. It was another successful trial, the students had fun, and the defendant was found GUILTY… Next year we are looking for challengers, any school interested?

Written by sfarnsworth

November 28, 2011 at 2:34 am

Teaching Tether Free: ipad and the Apple tv

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Three weeks ago I was given an ipad to aid in my teaching. Having never touched one before, I was excited to explore the possibilities and advantages that teaching with an ipad would offer to the students. I was also at an advantage having both an HDMI projection system and an apple tv to air stream my ipad through. (I would recommend both of these additions to maximize use) I have found 2 main advantages while teaching with an ipad:

1. No anchors, unlike hooking my laptop up to the dongle and then projecting from my station, with my ipad, I am MOBILE. Because of the wifi capabilities within our building, I am able to essentially be anywhere in the school and stream into my classroom. It is hard for me to sit still or stand in one place while teaching. With the ipad, I am able to move about freely. Mobility means closer proximity to students, easier monitoring options, and through the app Splashtop, I am able to control my laptop wirelessly displaying any document, program, etc. I might need from there.

2. Student Examples, I will list a few of my favorite apps later in the post, but one that I use most frequently is Noteshelf. Through Noteshelf I am able to draw, annotate, and explain in real time using student work. Take for example grammar, as I am walking around the classroom I notice a common mistake in students’ writing concerning commas. I can quickly snap a picture of their essay, annotate it, and use their own work as an example. This provides relevance and engagement; the examples are specific to their own writing. In essence, my ipad becomes a mobile document camera, when combined with noteshelf it allows me the capabilities to manipulate the document without being tethered to one place.

Must Have Apps So Far:

Splashtop

Noteshelf 

Zite 

ShowMe

Tweetdeck

Inkling 

Written by sfarnsworth

November 22, 2011 at 1:44 am