Category Archives: Ideas

Oh, The Questions???

                                                         One of my latest hyperdocs focusing the use of Night.

I began implementing the use of hyperdocs as a way of utilizing our one-to-one computer initiative in a better way. For the most part I have been pleased with the progress my students have made in problem solving, communicating, and working independently but with these successes have come many questions.

  1. This is an ELA class; are the students reading enough?
  2. Despite the fact that I spend a large amount of time creating these resources, am I being left out of the instructional quotient too much?
  3. How can I achieve a balance of the use of hyperdocs and face-to-face explicit instruction?
  4. What about those students who just refuse to do the activities?

Well, here is where my thinking is today (note: It can change!). I have included multiple texts in a variety of genres in the hyperdocs. I have given tools to them that allow the text to be read aloud if necessary. I have created hyperdocs that work with online texts as well as the novels and books we use in class.

I have had students who complain that they don’t understand but I have included screencasts of me explaining material and strategies. I have pulled out small groups to go over areas of concern. I have moved students beside of me so I can quickly guide them to the next step.

The balance question is one that I really struggle with. I have been allowing the subject matter to dictate whether the students would be better served by a hyperdoc or face-to-face explicit instruction.

This has been an unusual year in that I have a high number of students who refuse to do classwork. For the most part I am allowing students to make poor choices. I have contacted and worked with each of their parents but when the parents themselves accept the regular “Fs” and do nothing to encourage students to complete the work, then I am not sure I have any way to counter this with a positive outcome.

I plan to continue to use hyperdocs as I  believe they are great way to implement problem solving and communication as well as creativity. BUT I will also continue to reflect and work to find ways to make instruction more effective.

One of my latest efforts. Elie in Auschwitz-26a7e1h

Have Faith!

The Professional Development Department

After attending NCTE and having the privilege to hear Jason Augustowski (@MisterAMisterA), I was eager to implement some of his ideas. In my Advanced ELA class we created four Class Departments, each taking responsibility for some aspect of our class and curriculum. I set due dates and gave them some time in class to plan.

We then were off of school for over a week due to snow AND unexpectedly required to give a standardized test. This messed up my entire schedule. Several times the dates for completed tasks were moved back.

Finally, the week arrived. All departments were to be ready. I took a peak at their web pages and was disappointed with what I saw. The first group to present was the Communications Department. They did not have their questions ready. Trying to stay calm, I gave them another day. The next day was our first Professional Development. I checked their web page first thing in the morning. Nothing was there. I felt quite down and decided I had misjudged my students’ maturity and ability to be that responsible. I had a Plan B in place but thought it would be best if I waited until speaking to the group first.

The students arrived. I asked the PD group whether they were ready. They replied, yes and went on to deliver a 40 minute lesson. I was absolutely blown away!!! One member explained that they had noticed a need with a text we were working with. The others began passing out “Post-Its” and referring to the standard that accompanied their lesson. They began by asking students something about their own life and then connecting that to the book. The lesson ended with predictions. One member of the group asked “probing questions,” so no one got off with a simple reply.

The Communications Department had their questions ready and went the next day. They worked as a group asking following up questions and text support. I was so proud!

Besides learning more about the texts, I believe the students learned about each other and what they were capable of. I realize that for the websites to be maintained they will need time in class, so I am opening up more it. “Wow! That’s just about all I can say is Wow!” (Borrowed line from Kevin Henke.)

 

An “Ah Moment” With Self-Paced Learning!

When I began using hyperdocs as the source of implementing self-paced learning, my thought process was to have activities that equaled a 100 points for a practice grade and the final product to be a 100 point assessment grade. Our school system has a 70% Assessment/30% Practice split weighting of grades and it is expected that we record at least two a week.

I post the hyperdoc at Google Classroom as an assignment and in the private comment section list each of the activities and what the student earned. If they have not completed the task, a “0” was posted. See example below.

The problem with this system is keeping up with four classes of students and who has submitted what. The grade was recorded as a total of 100 and the students (nor I) at first glance could tell how the grade was generated. This particular group of students has a problem with turning work in on time and so four weeks after the due date, I have children wondering what they need to do to raise their grade and I have to exert some effort to respond to the question.

It suddenly hit me this semester that I should stop thinking in terms of 100 and assess each part individually. So now using the above scenario, the Engage activity is worth 10 practice points, Explore 15 practice points and so forth. Each task is a separate grade. I did this at first to help me and quickly noticed that students were much more aware of what they had done and how well they were doing it. In fact at present I have quite a few students with A’s and B’s, a situation very new to them. One of my learners surprised me this past week. He saw during the school day his grade and feedback for a particular task. During clean up at the end of the day he appeared and asked if he could redo the assignment and of course I said yes. He did and earned full credit. Despite parent teacher conferences and meeting with admin, this student has never felt this accountable for his work. It has been gratifying to see these at risk students suddenly taking responsibility for their learning. It is amazing how sometimes the little things create a big outcome.

Self-paced Learning: Part Two

Hyperdocs are a great way to implement self-paced learning but using the same thing repeatedly become boring. Here are two different ways to integrate a self-paced learning cycle.

  1. Deck.Toys: This website allows you to create a path of interactive activities. Similar to hyperdocs, each step is plotted on a grid rather than a linear flow chart, which allows for differentiation. One aspect I like is that you may put a lock on the activity. This allows students to answer a clue question to unlock the task. I use the feature to make sure students have really completed the previous activity. The site comes with ways to embed formative questions with the tasks. I found that it was fairly intuitive. Deck.Toys is free allowing the teacher two classrooms up to 35 students with three decks. The PRO version is about $8.00 a month coming with unlimited classrooms and decks. Students can log in with Google so the class links can be posted at Google Classroom. Here is a sample of one of my decks. A video that shares even more!
  2. ClassCraft Quests: Classcraft is free but the quests only come with its Premium version which costs $8.00 a month. Students are part of a Role Playing Game, earning points for grades and positive behavior. The quests are a way to earn more points as well as integrate a self-placed lesson. You choose a setting and then create paths that lead to various places embedding tasks alongs the way. The quest can include a storyline to make it more interesting and can include different branches for differentiation. The part that I particularly like is that the teacher can control when the student moves on by checking to see if the task has been completed. The drawback is class time is spent monitoring students rather than small group work etc.  I have one class that requires this kind of monitoring and use it more with them. Recently Classcraft updated to enabled “self -paced progress.” This program also syncs with Google Classroom, making it easy to create classes.

A Classcraft Quest on Writing in Active Voice

I have enjoyed implementing self-paced instruction into the curriculum and am now spending time reflecting as to when and how it is most effective for student learning.

Self-Paced Learning: Part One

My school system decided to go one-to-one this year and with middle school that means that each student receives a Lenova laptop computer. They are housed in the student’s homeroom and are used only at school.

With the availability of technology on a daily basis came a sense of responsibility to use it for a purpose. Before Fall Break this took the form of Nearpod presentations. I enjoyed the ability to get instant feedback from the entire class in the many forms that Nearpod offers – short answer, multiple-choice, drawing, finding an image, collaborative discussions, surveys, etc. A drawback was that students with poor keyboarding skills often needed more time and some checks for understandings might have been better executed with class discussion. By the end of the nine weeks, I was a bit burnt out and am sure my students were more burned out by the pattern of sameness even if I had different tasks for each lesson, so I searched for something else.

I found Blended Learning in Action by Caitlyn R. Tucker and The HyperDoc Handbook: Digital Lesson Design Using Google Apps by LIsa Highfill, Kelly Hilton, and Sarah Landis. With these resources I considered the idea of implementing hyperdocs, a phrase coined by Highfill, Hilton, and Landis. A hyperdoc is a self-paced lesson that includes opportunities for students to work through a variety of resources to master strategies and skills. Here is a link to one that I created soon after discovering this idea.

Teacher Karly Moura created a wonderful graphic that helps to understand the difference between a hyperdoc and a document with hyperlinks.

After helping students work through their first ones, I became more concerned about the format and did not believe that my walking around while students worked was the best use of my time. Upon reflection, I realized that this lesson format offered wonderful opportunities for meeting with small groups.

  • I use feedback from the hyperdoc tasks to pull in students who need more help.
  • I pull heterogenous groups together to introduce ideas like how to blog or writing techniques, for example, “show don’t tell” which are better presented in this way.

With my hyperdoc lessons I began to incorporate the 5 E’s – Engagement, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This seems to best correspond to the EDI model used by the school system. Here is my latest hyperdoc. I have also let up on things like deadlines trying to emphasize the “self-paced” aspect. The year is early but things seem to be looking up!

*** Here is a link to a repository for hyperdocs. ***

I am Thankful…..

This is my 27th year of teaching, so it was with great surprise to find myself working with a class filled with students who make instruction a challenge on a daily basis.

At first I tried to use the tools I have gathered over the many years of working with the hundreds of students who have been a part of my teaching journey. I have reflected, revised, talked to admin and mentors and occasionally resorted to assuming the fetal position under covers where I feel like an absolute failure.

Hyperbole aside, I am thankful because these students have forced me to really think about teaching and how I can best help the needs of my students. And for most part while many of the things I have implemented or revised have not been as successful as I would have liked with these students, they have definitely had a positive impact on my other classes.

So, I continue to read other’s blogs, find books with best practices, dialogue with peers, and be pragmatic. While I may never find the way to help this particular group of children, I have grown as an educator. Most of my classes are benefiting by this growth and for that I am thankful.

What is a “BE”?

“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.”

Yesterday, my grandson came over for dinner with his mother. With a few minutes to spare before eating, they decided to complete his Kindergarten homework for the night. Yes, that’s right, he had homework!!!! Despite his claim that he “didn’t like homework,” his mom persevered and it was completed – two sheets of handwriting practice (He had trouble with “baby m’s”) and several pages of sight words, to which I heard over and over the refrain, “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.” I wondered what was being done so that he would now them?????

At one point Jonas remarked that he wanted his letters to be perfect because he did not wish to receive a “BE.” His mom replied, “You want to get an OT, right?” I was thoroughly confused at this point. Well…. upon further examination of system documents, an “OT” is “on target” and a “BE’ is “below expectations.” There is also the chance of receiving an “AE” “approaching expectations.” This is part of standards-based grading that is the format of the primary report card in our school system.

I supposed the idea is that these terms help to clarify the expectations of each objective or as we call them “clear targets.” But despite the fancy new language, the implication is that an “OT” is the goal = “A” and a “BE” means not succeeding = “F.” Do we really need Kindergarteners to experience the stress of success that early????

I teach 8th grade students and an overwhelming concern is student apathy. Could this be a clue? How long does it take to expect students to perform at some human made standard until they tire of it and give up?

Coincidentally a colleague shared concerns over the multiple-choice common assessments required of our ELA students. Specifically how we are asking students to choose the BEST response as decided by central office staff. Their ideas do not always correlate with ours. My peer wondered how this prepares students for the real world when they will have to reason and write out their ideas versus taking a test.

Despite my musings, Jonas will still have to try to get those “baby m’s” and sight words to an “OT” level and I will have to continue to work at getting my students to proficiency (80% or above) on common assessments. Good luck real world problems!!!

Rethinking the Challenges

2016 was a challenging year. Living in a red state with a blue ideology was tough. Several Facebook purges incurred and I was grateful to my Twittersphere for showing me that not all believed as those around me and in fact they were downright scared as I was and am.

While it is discouraged to talk about controversial issues that didn’t stop my students from blogging and voiced their concerns in class discussions. I found that even when I didn’t agree with them, their ideas were carefully thought out and for that I was pleased.

I am in my 26th year of teaching and the stakes have never been higher. I feel like I am being asked to teach with one arm tied behind my back. Whenever I reach a goal, the powers that be throw a wrench into so that I am not sure I actually met the goal or they actually prevented it from being met.

So.. how does one go on to instruct and inspire? At this point I don’t have any other ideas except to take it one step at a time. BUT I vow that when I reflect  – this year I will look for those positive things that do happen and be grateful. I hope by focusing on the little things, the dread of future will lessen a bit.

 

It’s Good To Be Alive!

https://cdn.meme.am/instances/64324151.jpg

https://cdn.meme.am/instances/64324151.jpg

It’s August and I am feeling more like Andy Grammer and less like Twenty-One Pilots, at least for now. Students arrive tomorrow and I like the new – new classroom decorations, new plans, new people to get to know and help develop a passion for reading and writing.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t had my moments. Our school system micromanages more and more each year. This time it is grade books, common assessments, and advisories. BUT I am going to work hard to remember it is what I do that makes the difference and I want my students to learn more about the world through reading and writing. I want them to problem solve, which will help them to be more effective in whatever they choose to do.

So here’s to the final day to sit back and read for pleasure, enjoy a Netflix offering, or just generally relax. Onward to try to make a difference.

Save

Data Driven Instruction = Stress

http://lowres.cartoonstock.com/education-teaching-curriculum-school-schooling-grades-school_reports-aban2301_low.jpg

http://lowres.cartoonstock.com/education-teaching-curriculum-school-schooling-grades-school_reports-aban2301_low.jpg

It is the middle of October and I have not posted one entry to this blog for the present school year. Why? Well that is not a simple answer.

I decided to make the change from full time Computer Literacy and part time ELA teacher to full time ELA. I moved out of a fully staffed computer lab to a classroom that has seen better days.

But I was able with some creative lighting and help from the custodial staff to build a cozy environment. I didn’t realize that I needed to accommodate up to 39 students in this traditional classroom.

I was asked to attend some NMSI training this summer that helped me to finally get a grasp on close reading and how I could dig deeper. In August I was excited and ready to greet my 8th grade ELA students.

While the admin welcomed us back with fanfare, it was soon apparent that things were changing. Poor test scores resulted in our system adopting a data driven approach to instruction. Teachers learned to create better tests to accompany the pre/post assessments that would be administered every three weeks. ELA plans to four modules with three units each. In addition to the multiple-choice tests, students must learn how to do the kind of writing assessed by Tennessee in February. That means writing assessments must be regular as well. In addition to these tests, students have taken the ACT EXPLORE test as well as a universal screener in ELA and Math for RTI placement.

Almost all of our weekly collaborative planning has been spent developing common clear targets, pre-assessments, and post assessments. While one teacher in our department was named facilitator, it is clear that the academic coach, who also attends these meetings, is really in charge.

I receive regular pop-in visits from the three building administrators, the academic coach, and the district middle school director. The feedback from these people has been minimal so I am not sure what they are there to observe.

My students are scoring no better nor worse than my peers and they are making progress but the scores are not high and parents are concerned. I have spent much time defending a practice I am not sure how to defend.

To say I am stressed is putting it mildly. My blood pressure has now reached the point where I refuse to take it. Just looking at the cuff of the machine raises my anxiety.

Despite all this I keep trying. I read anything that seems like it will offer a better way to help students  to read and write critically. I listen to my students, their parents, and my peers in person and online. I  still have hope when most days my twenty plus years of experience seem useless.