Reflections of Blending English and Technology in the Classroom

Posts Tagged ‘Writing

#Iowaish – Connecting Iowa and Sweden

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What began as an off -the- cuff request on twitter has snowballed into a collaborative project connecting BCLUW AP Literature students with students from The International School of Helsingborg in Sweden. Each year I teach Albert Camus’s “The Stranger” and struggle through the lecture, questions, and discussions over Existentialism. At the beginning of the school year I met John Noonan a philosophy teacher in Sweden. I approached him for help and a possible guest lecture spot, but after many discussions we decided to connect our students for a collaborative lesson.

Starting in early October, students have connected through twitter(using the hashtag #iowaish), blogs, and Skype.  October 12, will be the first face to face meeting between the two schools. Throughout the next couple of weeks, students will identify characteristics of Existentialism, participate in a Skype video lecture on Existentialism given by Mr. Noonan, and apply their understanding of the philosophy to discussions, readings, and blogs. In November, students will be placed in small groups with members from both the BCLUW AP Literature class and ISH Philosophy class. Collaboratively, they will defend an argument based off of a question posed by myself and Mr. Noonan. A debate will conclude the project.

The 2009 -2010 school year was the first year of the BCLUW 1:1 laptop initiative. The ISH is also a 1:1 laptop school, making the collaboration and connection accessible outside of the walls of the school and hours of the typical school day. Having an opportunity to collaborate with students other than their normal peers, plus with a diverse group such as the one found in Mr. Noonan’s International School, cultivates an understanding of different countries, cultures and opinions. The collaboration increases the writing, speaking and debate skills of the students by constructing an audience other than the typical teacher they interact with daily. The project has already exceeded expectations and the students are looking forward to future connections and the final project.
I will update this blog periodically with our progress!

Written by sfarnsworth

October 12, 2010 at 3:26 am

Connecting Students through Video Project

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Every year I teach “The Lady or the Tiger” by Stockton. I use this piece as part of my short story unit; the ending leaves the final decision up to the reader. This ambiguity provides the perfect opportunity to teach narrator and voice. I have the students write their own endings blending their imagination with elevated vocabulary and a consistent voice that parallels the piece. Last year I took this lesson a step further with the new laptops our students now used in all classrooms. After the endings were written, they broke into small groups and selected one to create as a silent video. They could only use music, sound effects, and text. Their actions and minimal words had to convey the intent to the audience.

This year we did the same reading and project but with a slight twist. We partnered with a Van Meter freshman class who was also reading the same story. I still had the kids write their endings, form small groups and select one, but instead of creating a video from their own writing they exchanged with their counter group in Van Meter. They students were excited about the collaboration and it showed in their stellar projects. Finally, a Voice Thread was created to share final projects between the two schools. Voice Thread allows the students to leave comments in various forms and it was quite simple to upload multiple videos.

Students this year were more conscious about their writing knowing that it was going to be read by and performed by people outside of their own school. They also enjoyed the ideas that emerged from the other students, had fun collaborating and creating a final projects, and were anxious to see how the other students interpreted their writing.

Although it took a little extra time for Shawn Hyer and I to develop this lesson, the benefits were great, the students were excited and engaged, and this story will forever be something they remember because of the interaction they had with the piece.

Written by sfarnsworth

September 23, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Blogging Community

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This summer I started my own blog with the intent on having my senior Creative Writing class blog throughout the semester on a topic of their choice. What started off as a collaboration with one teacher and school, Shawn Hyer from Van Meter, has grown to include 2 other schools and interest from a couple more. Currently Erin Olson from Sioux Centeral,  Mike Richman from MNW, Shawn and I  have embarked on connecting our students to create an interest in writing. Providing a real audience containing more members than the teacher and modeling effective response has helped create a community of young writers. Although purpose and grading may differ amongst the 4 teachers, engaging students, inspiring writers, and connecting kids through writing are the emerging benefits witnessed so far.

What we did:

1. Established a purpose and shared vision for a blogging community,

2. Created a Google Doc that was shared with all students. Students linked their blogs, and wrote a phrase describing their focus. This allows all students access to all the blogs 24/7.

3.  Set our own individual class blogging requirements.

4. Provided examples of blogs to students, links for consideration, guidance.

5. Explored WordPress and Blogger.

6. Modeled Response.

7. Gave them time to write.

Last week a few students and I google video chatted Mr. Richman’s freshmen class to answer questions and create excitement for the project. As I sat and listened to my students speak I beamed with pride. I had the typical ones who loved to write and have found enjoyment creating their blogs and connecting. The most satisfying comments came from my student Zach. He told me with certainty on the first day of class he hated writing and would hate this class – he is now singing a different tune. He has  multiple posts, written more than previous years, and has no problem admitting he was wrong -he enjoys the class. He loves the interaction with others, is constantly posting and responding to blogs and is going to present with me at an upcoming conference. The best part is, he is one of many students that have a similar story.

Blogging alone is a great place for students to write, reflect, and learn; but building a community of student bloggers who interact with each other regularly provides a purpose, audience and a connection that was lacking in my previous years.

Written by sfarnsworth

September 17, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Posted in 1:1 School, Students, Writing

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IWP – Powerful PD for All Educators

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This past July I finished Level II of the IWP (Iowa Writing Project) a branch of the NWP (National Writing Project). I am currently working on my Master of Art in English through UNI and was required to take IWP as part of the graduate requirement. Although some of the courses I have taken in my program will have little impact on my current teaching assignment, I have been forever changed personally and pedagogically by my experience with the IWP.

IWP is a member of the NWP (National Writing Project). The NWP and IWP began in the 1970s to promote writing in all grade levels, across all curriculums to increase student learning. Both also promote the professional development and reflection in teachers through writing.

I have always found creative writing difficult to teach. How does one inspire creativity in students? How do you grade/assess creative writing? I have had no problems teaching Advanced Writing and Research – using MLA as my text and modeling how I tackled research papers, students easily learned the skills necessary to complete assigned papers. Creative writing, on the other hand, was a more difficult subject to teach. Every year, for one semester, I would assign students compare/contrast, persuasive, classification, etc. papers. They would complete them, sometimes share the writing, I would grade them with my trusty rubric, then they would be tossed into the recycle bin.

Last summer I took IWP Level I and was revived with a passion to write personally and teach writing to my students. I started the school year with a toolbox of ideas and enthusiasm to try a new way of writing in my classroom. I threw out my old lessons and began anew, inspiring students with models of stellar writing, poetry, objects, locations, etc. I organized my classroom into a  workshop -style model – “Inspiration” on Monday and Wednesday, writing on Tuesday and Thursday, sharing on Friday. I allowed my students to explore multiple genres of writing, choosing the best fit for each individual topic. I modeled response – a major area that was lacking in previous years. The students wrote, created, shared, laughed, and cried. A community of writers was born, and when our class suffered a tragic loss of a student during the semester, it was their writing, his writing, their responses, and their memories that helped them heal. In fact, they graduated with a meaningful class motto – part of a piece that he had written that year. This past year had been my most successful and satisfying as an educator and I attribute it to my IWP experience. The students also found value in their writing, wrote more, and enjoyed the class. And although my focus was on the Creative Writing class that I taught, the things I learned in the IWP trickled over into all of my classes.

This year BCLUW will focus on Project Based Learning, and writing will fit seamlessly into our goals for student learning. Using the IWP instructors, BCLUW will have professional development days focused on ways to incorporate writing into the classroom. Throughout the next couple years, part of our PD days will be spent filling our toolboxes with writing strategies to help our students learn, write, read, and reflect. Throughout the year I will update this blog on the impact the PD is having on staff and students.

The NWP and IWP offer opportunities for all educators, regardless of subject and grade. My experience included a myriad of educators, from a shop teacher to an elementary teacher, writing and researching how best to incorporate writing into their own classroom. IWP has been the most powerful PD I have ever taken. It has not only changed the way that I teach, it has changed the way my students view writing and themselves as writers!

Written by sfarnsworth

July 27, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Writing

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