Devil’s Teardrop Box: A Lesson from Before Women Had Wings

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Before Women Had Wings (1997),a novel written by Connie May Fowler, is one I end the year of American Literature with. Avocet, a.k.a. Bird, Jackson’s narrative grips the reader before the end of page one. She’s an innocent girl trying to understand life– what’s fair/ what isn’t. She endures pain, often issued from her parents, sometimes her sister, too, but she loves them and searches for understanding. A spiritual journey provides her with hope, an unlikely friend, and finally salvation. Although her family defines dysfunctional, it begs the reader to understand the flaws in human nature and the power of forgiveness.

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I find this unit, more so than others, is connectable for students. I’m not sure if it’s the arc of the unit. We begin with women’s poetry (Maya Angelou, Marge Piercy, Sharon Olds, Lucille Clifton, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sylvia Plath, Anne Bradstreet, and even Ann Sexton) because I want to create an image of what it means to be a women– HER whole story: the good, the bad, the ugly.  When we read the novel, which I approach more like a book club than instruction, I allow the conversation to become fluid and completely directed by the students in the class. Next, I ask students to interview a  prominent female figure in their lives to reach an understanding of what being a woman has meant to her.

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The students borrow from a part of the book in creating a “Devil’s Teardrop Box,” a keepsake Bird’s father made for her which holds all that she cherishes, for each chosen woman. In it should be 5 objects (or more), authentic or recreated, that help the student tell her story.

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Finally, a reflection is written on the whole process. What I find most endearing is what students say about learning her (often a mom, older sister or aunt) story, something each student appreciates in unanticipated ways. For the girls, it’s often a sense of pride that emerges. Suddenly, this woman who has been more concerned the mundane, because after all she’s often just mom, emerges as a woman, a being that existed before the birth of the interviewer. For the boys, empathy comes through the most; they are the ones most surprised by the outcome. But, overall, all students regardless of gender come away with a newfound knowledge, and, I believe, real understanding. It’s such a positive way to end the year.

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[WHY] Is the LITERARY CANON Important?

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The elusive canon that all of us literary types know exist but is difficult to define. Sure, there are lists of canonical literature while the contents vary dependent upon the source. Some classics, more than others, may find themselves on most lists. In truth, I believe the canon is and should be evolving. If the canon represents the exemplars of literature from a given time, timeless in their nature, it should indeed be a fluid body of work depicting culture and humanity.

Students should have in their back pockets a representative array of canonical literature which they acquire over the spans of their educational careers. I am asked by my students, more so than any other single question, “Why am I reading this?” “It’s old and out-dated,” they often quip. “It’s irrelevant,” some will say.

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My job isn’t to take the easy way out and comply by giving them what they’re interested in as a way of pacifying them, bribing them, as such, to engage. My job is to get them to understand the relevance of these great works, why they are considered great, what makes them relatable, still today, thus, why we are still teaching this “old stuff” anyway.

It wasn’t until college that I understood, as a student, why such works were important. Somehow, it all fell into place with these words stated by a college professor who shared that her summer reading list included canonical works she hadn’t yet read.: “Reading literature from the canon makes one literate.” Further, it struck me that my literature professor, who I would still argue is one of the most brilliant people I know, had yet to finish all the works in the canon. For me, this awakened the realization that we are all lifelong learners and will never get to a place of “all knowing,” but that’s the point, isn’t it, appreciating the journey of learning as we go, knowing a little more every day, every year?

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Reading literature from the canon makes one literate. I have pondered this statement a great deal. For I had been one of those students in high school who questioned why I was reading The Awakening or Macbeth or The Canterbury Tales or The Catcher in the Rye. After all, people don’t even say the word “phony” anymore, I thought then.

Her statement resonated with me; it surfaced on many occasions. Through hindsight, I’d recalled the messages, characters, motifs, symbolism, allusions of such literature I’d read in the past and her words began to fall in place. As I moved through college, I became enlightened by the connections to life and literature and the whole world around me I was making. Classic literature makes us literate. It provides us with a common history, understanding and language.

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I once had a discussion with my son about a SouthPark episode. We watched the same show together, yet laughed at different lines. I questioned him, afterwards, on why he laughed when he did and why he didn’t when I did. I realized some of the jokes were above his head, in that he hadn’t lived through some of the allusions made or hadn’t read widely enough to understand them. While I’d  previously dismissed SouthPark, as a crude show doing no more than poking fun at society, I gained a new-found appreciation for its sophistication.

This is the same sophistication, though often subconsciously so, people experience when they are well-read. Life becomes richer when we’re privy to the experiences that come before us; we see things with widened eyes. We make connections innately from our prior knowledge.

That’s what my professor meant about the classics making us literate. Not in a literal sense of the word. Sure, I can read. I’m a strong reader, in fact, but armed with host of classical literature, I can read into life more effectively, efficiently and insightfully. I can reach an understanding that I couldn’t have without experiences which have lead to my own literacy.

LC books 2So, what do I tell my students who ask me that question? I tell them about the canon: what it is, why it is. I promise them that works like Harry Potter will end up in the canon which I firmly believe. Moreover, it’s important for them to know that their culture will be represented in the canon one day. But more importantly than telling my students anything, I find ways to show them how the classic literature we read in class is relevant. I model for them and provide them with opportunities to see the connections from one work to another or from same piece to a contemporary novel they might have read, or a movie they’ve seen or a personal experience. I don’t expect them to fully “get it” in high school, in much the same way I didn’t. In time, they will understand the importance of reading this “old stuff” and I hope to make their engagement with the classics, now, as dynamic as possible so they do.

Life is about making connections, thinking critically about our world, finding our place in it. I believe literary classics are a vehicle to learning such lessons. So, yes, the literary canon matters.

 

Graphic Images :

http://annieneugebauer.com/2013/01/29/what-non-writers-picture-when-writers-say/untitled3/

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2008/10/mccain-obama-tv.html%5B/embed%5D

 

 

Messy Learning Inherent to Great Teaching

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Teaching is a challenging profession, no matter what the political pundits would have you believe. It takes a great deal of time (education, preparation, planning, assessing, reflecting, adjusting…), energy and experience to embody all of the characteristics of a great teacher. And, lets face it, there are a lot of great teachers out there.

Two sources have encapsulated for me the definition of great teaching.

A TVO Parents Presents video: What Makes a Great Teacher?

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And an Edutopia article: “Embracing Messy Learning” 

In watching the video, a few quotes stood out to me as part of my definition.

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Great teachers are not born. While, true, I do believe teaching does and should come naturally. There needs to be an innate sense of loving working with others, compassion and kindness, in addition to having a passion about the discipline one is teaching; moreover, good teachers continue to hone their craft over time. This comes with the desire to motivate others, a strong work ethic to do one’s best, always, whether the task is building curriculum or finding ways to implement it that is meaningful and relevant for the students. It’s not only about doing the work, it’s also about reflecting on what worked and didn’t and why. It’s about being open and flexible to change which means looking within, observing, collaborating and never giving up the desire to learn and grow as a professional.

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Audience is important. In fact, it may be at the top-of-the-list important. Essential to good teaching is knowing one’s audience. Taking the time to get to know students as individuals, both as people and as learners, is the key to successful teaching. If students don’t buy in to what a teacher implements, learning is not possible. Gauging the audience as a whole is also important. No two classes are alike, each has a pulse all their own; picking up on that and responding to that are among some of the fine attributes of good teaching. Also, of paramount importance, allowing students a voice — being confident enough to hand over the reigns to them, to listen and respond, helps them build confidence and adds dimension to lessons.

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“Embracing Messy Learning” gives project based, authentic learning an interesting name. Learning is messy work. When students learn a new concept, they are so focused on what’s in front of them, that other skills previously learned fall by the wayside, but that’s a good thing. It means they are focusing on new learning and how it should interact with their prior knowledge. Flexibility is the key to this kind of teaching/learning. Teachers giving up the rights and the wrongs in order to instill creativity, critical thinking, exploration and discovery. I’m of the “Less is More” school of thought. The less instruction I give them, the greater their struggle, the more learning happens. True teaching, in this kind of learning, is to be their guide through the process. To probe and prod them to find their own solutions. Some of my best teaching has come out of such projects which allows them choice and personalization, in allowing students to make meaning through their own methods and process. Inevitably, the feedback is “Wow, that was the hardest project I’ve done, but I’ve learned so much!” The challenge for teachers with project-based learning is to raise the bar enough so that it is doable with enough parameters to guide students but not too much to prevent their own original thought. Teachers need to ‘buy into’ implicit teaching/learning approach for this to work. Teachers also need to get students to ‘buy into’ failure being an inherent part of the process. Success doesn’t happen without some degree of failure.

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There is no greater challenge than building a student’s confidence. Often, teachers have no idea what their previous experiences with education have been or what their personal situations are. Yet, the job of a teacher is to develop growth within each student and the icing on the cake is that each leave a classroom with a ‘CAN DO’ attitude. Confidence is the single most empowering motivator. This circles back to teachers knowing students. Working individually with students is the best way this can be achieved. Moreover, asking students to journal about the process of learning, so they can read back and actually see their growth unfold before them is powerful. It’s something they’ll take beyond this class into the future. And as teachers, isn’t that what we want? For students to grow, feel good about their growth which will empower them to seek growth in the future.

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GT Messy quote

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My ‘sort of’ mission statement for my teaching is something that has not changed since I’ve begun teaching nor is it something I foresee changing, in that I believe it with my whole heart.

Teaching English, for me, isn’t as much about reading and writing as it as about discovering oneself through the process. Do I want students to walk away from my course with an appreciation of the subject matter I’m teaching? Absolutely, it’s what teachers hope for. Do I want them to walk away more skilled than when they first entered my classroom? Of course, and I believe each and every one of them will. But more importantly, I want them to know themselves a little better than they did when first walking through my classroom door. I want them to learn to think critically about their world and their place in it, to decipher meaning from discourse (written, visual, media, humanity…) and to communicate what they think and feel effectively in a variety of ways. I want them to see themselves as doers, thinkers, collaborators, community contributors, entrepreneurs.

 

 

Student X and Why We CANNOT #evaluatethat

In response to an email I received from a student just two days ago and a conversation I had with a former student in the Spring of last year, I am compelled to add my two cents worth to an invitation from BATs (Badass Teacher Association) to flood Twitter with reasons teachers should not and CANNOT be evaluated by the standards set by SEED or Common Core. #evaluatethat 

StudX twitter 2I’ll begin with the conversation last Spring. I’ll call it The Nevin R Factor.

This young man, who had graduated from high school five years earlier, came back to visit some of his old teachers. He approached me by name. While he looked familiar, I couldn’t place him (as one could well imagine after years of teaching thousands of kids).

He fumbled, “You probably don’t remember me.” After saying his name, I did remember him– a funny, nudgy  type who didn’t want to do much and was capable of so much more. Nevin continued, “I really just wanted to say thank you. I was in your creative writing class. You failed me. I deserved it. Writing is my thing and I should have passed that class easily. In fact, my job is as a writer today. I wanted to say thank you because you being hard on me and failing me was the best thing that could have happened to motivate me to do well in college. Not only did you motivate me, but that class inspired me to become a writer.”

Next story of a similar nature. One I pass on to seniors every year. They are awestruck when they hear the audacity and result of it and I’m hopeful I reach some, if not all.

The Nick S Factor:

Nick was a student I’d had as a student in three English classes: American Literature, Reading Literature/Film, and British Literature. A student who liked English, was good at it, respectful, eager to please and had a mature, dry sense of humor, I was fond of him; so when he asked me to write his college letter of recommendation, I agreed without reservation.

Fast forward to almost Spring of that year when most students had decided upon their colleges. A colleague who had Nick in a Speech class approached me out of concern; Nick had just delivered a speech entitled “How to lie to get into college.” At first, I told her I thought it was a joke, something he’d contrived to get a laugh and win some street cred from his peers. When I spoke to Nick about it, he seemed very coy in admitting it wasn’t a lie. He had, in fact, lied on his resume and to the admissions officer in an interview to get into college. Guidance got involved and his parents; it was decided that we would do nothing, although I had revealed I was considering rescinding my letter of recommendation. Nick was able to loosely verify a minimal involvement in said activities he’d bolstered his participation in. I was uncomfortable about the decision and let Nick, his parents and guidance know.

Not two weeks later, he completely– I mean completely– plagiarized an essay for my class. As I read it, I recognized that it was not written in his voice and there were ideas in it that we’d never touched upon in class. This lead me to the computer where I found he’d lifted the whole thing.

My concern mounted on several levels:

#1 How/why was this seemingly nice kid doing everything in his power to reel out of control at the end of his senior year?

#2 How could I not rescind his letter of recommendation, something I’d never before or since been forced to do? Wasn’t it in his best interest to nip his arrogance in the bud to teach him that taking the easy way out is not okay?

#3 I write many recommendations every year to this college. My testimonial to a student’s character carries weight for all the future students I will write letters of recommendation to this college for.

I decided to rescind my letter. When the Dean of Admissions, with whom he’d had his interview, called me, I told him what I believe to be true. This is a good kid making some bad decisions whether out of fear for the future, laziness (seniorities, which is something most seniors feel a sense of entitlement about, today), or sheer arrogance that he’d get away with it.

I explained to Nick that I was acting in his best interest. The failing grade for the essay turned into a failing grade for the quarter, but not for the course. The letter I rescinded resulted in Nick having to go before a panel at the college, not to lose his admittance into the school, but to learn he’d begin college on probation. It was the hardest decision I’d made as a teacher. It effected me emotionally and personally, but in not taking the path of least resistance, I did what I wholly believed was in Nick’s best interest. The remainder of the year was uncomfortable; I don’t think he made eye contact with me once.

The following summer, I received a manila envelope in the mail, a letter from Nick, apologizing for his arrogance and his mistake. He said that he, now, respected my decision, stating that something I said would forever remain with him “It’s not about making mistakes. It’s a teenagers job to make mistakes. What defines your character is the what you do as a result of making mistakes. It’s all about what you learn from the experience.”

In addition, Nick wrote the essay he’d earlier plagiarized– his own words and original thought–  because he “respected” me “a lot” and he didn’t want my last memory of him to be of the “student who took the easy way out.”

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While these stories have measurable indicators attached to them, they speak more to the far greater lesson these students learned which can’t be measured: lessons about motivation, hard/authentic work and character. In both situations, if the only the numbers were considered, I would have failed. 

These next three stories can’t be measured by numbers or grades; they simply speak to a teacher affecting human beings. StudX twitter 1

Using The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, as an anchor text, I teach a unit I call Words Matter (written about in an earlier blog). The essence of the unit centers around how we use language. In reading Huck Finn and other selections of non-fiction centered around the use of the “N” word, we talk about censorship, hurtful words/terms, racism, oppression, bullying, cultural diversity, audience. Finally, we deconstruct the use of the “N” word as a model for students deconstructing words/terms of a personal nature that have had an effect on their own lives.

Words Matter: A Lesson from Mark Twain

https://mirrormuses.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/words-matter-a-lesson-from-mark-twain/

Consequently, the timing of this unit inevitably falls around the time of our B-1 day (also blogged about earlier) where our students come together to celebrate diversity within our school. It is a day when we abandon our classes and routines to attend events completely organized and implemented by the students for the students (an annual event that takes place founded upon reaction to the events of Columbine High School Massacre some 15 years ago).

Be One World

https://mirrormuses.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/be-one-world/

Student 1:

Steve B is a student I had in class two years in a row. First, sophomore year, he was a bit of a scooch who liked to seek attention whether it be positive or negative. I’d learned, as a young boy, he lost his mom which explained so much of his behavior. After the Words Matter unit, the second year he was in my class, and at the B-1 day open mic event, Steve approached the microphone to declare to the whole student body that he’d learned a lot about words recently and how they affect people. He said while he never meant to hurt anyone’s feelings, and he singled out a boy who he was sure he had, Steve apologized. Later, in class, when I commended him on this act, he shared with the class why he used sarcasm and humor as a defense mechanism and attributed this realization to what he’d learned in my class.

Student 2:

Izzy G, post Words Matter, a tough-around-the-edges kind of girl who tried not to show others her weaknesses, sent me an email apologizing for not being in class. She went onto explain how a close friend had just committed suicide and she couldn’t help but think that if she’d been part of our Words Matter classes that she might not have. Izzy went on to say that she learned that what we say to others could have a deep impact and life altering results. She asked that I read her email aloud to the class and begged them to go out of their way to say something nice to someone on that day.

Student 3:

This year, I’ve just begun the unit a week ago and received this email from a student who already feels impacted enough to make this connection to the Ellen Page video she found on Tumblr.

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The truth is teachers impact students like this every day. Some, we are lucky enough to know the impact we’ve had on them and some we never will. THIS is why I teach. Because I affect peoples’ lives. This CANNOT nor will it ever have the ability to be measured, attributed a standard, or aptly documented. What we teach is far greater than the sum of any indicators or any amount of data. And as I said to Student 3, “While we cannot change the world, if we can alter the thinking of some, we are moving the world to a better place.” I challenge those behind SEED and COMMON CORE and data-driven instruction to #EVALUATETHAT.

 

 

This is ACTIVE Learning: The Reduced King Lear

King Lear

Shakespeare’s works are OH-SO-TEACHABLE! The trouble is students really have difficulty with the language, so I take a very interactive approach whenever I teach anything Shakespeare.

Before we began reading King Lear, I showed The Reduced Shakespeare: The Complete Works (Abridged).  My rationale is and always has been to make Shakespeare’s works accessible and relevant. This show reminds them of MAD T.V. or SNL. I can see by the looks on their faces and can hear their laughter and know that I’ve reached them!

We then proceed to read and act our way through the play. For each act, students portray a skit focusing on a variety of acting techniques (tone, inflection, blocking, body language, facial expression, scenery & symbolism, sound & visual effects ). To pull this off, they really need to do a close reading of the scene, understand not only the language but also the characters’ goals and motivation. At the conclusion, I believe they’ve not only enjoyed the unit, but I believe my goal in making Shakespeare accessible and relevant has been met.

As a capstone, I ask them to work in small groups, acting troupes, to select pivotal lines throughout the play. They can focus on a motif, character, relationship… it’s their choice. Next, each group took these lines to adapt them into a script, blocked scenes, chose a set, memorized lines, acted, directed, filmed, edited their own renditions of The Reduced King Lear. They’ve given me permission to share their work.

Technology Think Tank: Organize Yourself with Planbook

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Throw away your spiral-bound, paper planners. Get with the 21st century. Use Planbook, both web-based for MAC and windows, and available as an IPad app, to plan your instructional days.

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The problem with the old method is that even the best laid plans change. While you have every intention, even as the most seasoned teacher, to get through a lesson with a given class, things come up to derail your plan. Perhaps students aren’t comprehending what you’re teaching as well as anticipated, and you need to adjust by delving a little deeper having to insert more practice. Or an unexpected fire drill occurs in the middle of class prohibiting your ability to get through the lesson. Or an assembly has been inserted into the schedule forcing your to push your plans forward a day. Or a snow day happens.

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If you are tired of erasing what you’ve planned ahead or moving things around to accommodate the unexpected, Planbook, by Hellmansoft Productivity Software for Educators, is an easy, user-friendly alternative to planning your day.

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I’ve been using Planbook for about five years now, first on the IPad, then I was part of a pilot group through the development and testing of the Windows version. Combined, they are the perfect planning tool. One of the primary benefits is the accessibility of the developer, Jeff Hellman, to field questions and make suggestions to.

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The software allows teachers to create a schedule that uniquely adapts to the kind of schedule your school runs on: rotating, block, or a set schedule. Color-coding enables easy readability. You can set times and course titles, and adjust them as necessary. By a click of a tab, the ability to insert a non-school day (whether it’s for a holiday or an unexpected snow day) makes adjusting your schedule easy allowing for the option of skipping the day altogether or moving it and your lessons forward.

The IPad app allows for easy access. While I plan, typically, two-weeks to a month out, I can add or delete tasks with ease. Oftentimes, at the end of a lesson, I jot down a few words to remind me where I left off with a particular class (especially when teaching several sections of the same course) to eliminate unnecessary repetition.

The share feature enables printing of a lesson or week’s view, emailing, and uploading to Dropbox. Moreover, Planbook Assigner allows you to share lessons with colleagues, students and parents.

Because I link my Planbook to Dropbox, every change I make on either the Windows program or the app syncs up within seconds. Typically, I make my plans on the Windows version well in advance, then use the app exclusively in-class to make adjustments to my schedule as they arise. (One tip… when creating a schedule, I’ve learned to include study halls, prep periods, before and after school contractual time, so I can add in meetings and tasks. In this way, it works as a calendar, as well).

Features within Planbook include the ability to link lessons to Common Core standards, link to assignments or websites, in addition to customization of frames to meet your needs as a teacher (lesson, links, homework, collect, absences…).

Planbook is a tool a teacher could purchase individually, for a very reasonable cost, or a school could obtain a site license for.

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So, throw out your paper planner with cross-outs and erasures galore. In this era of all things becoming more complicated in education, do something to make your organization as a teacher easy. You deserve it! I promise you, it is one of the single technology tools I could not live without.

TTT PB schedule copy

Give it a try! And please, provide some feedback if you do. Additionally, I’d like to hear from any of you who have used Planbook (successfully or otherwise) and please share any other planning technology you do or do not recommend. Thanks.

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Technology Think Tank: EDMODO– a Communication Hub for Education

TTT Edmodo logo

Are you looking for a communication hub for your students/classes/teachers? Edmodo, a free website, also available as IPhone/ IPad app and a Google Play app, simulates a Facebook-look for education. Several teachers in my district are using Edmodo to connect with students, other teachers (in our own building to as far as around the globe) and parents (if desired).

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Because the look and concept resembles Facebook, it appears familiar and user friendly almost immediately.

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Unlike FB, it’s as private as you want it to be. You can restrict it to a class or even a group of individuals, so privacy is not a concern.

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Teacher sharing: teachers can pose questions, post ideas, link to other professionals in any discipline from any district (from within the US and overseas).

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Establish classes: with a unique class code, students could sign into a class page where students

  1. Receive notifications on their smart devices as assignments are added or notes/ alerts such as a message you want to get out to one class or several classes
  2. Find linked assignments, complete w/ due dates and directions.
  3. Upload assignments for grading
  4. Confer with friends from their class individually or on a group basis
  5. Engage in a class/group discussion not unlike a blog
  6. Take a quiz
  7. View their grades for Edmodo assignments to track their progress
  8. Take a poll
  9. Receive badges for goals accomplished

TTT ED POSTER Discussion

Create groups within a class: for group assignments, the teacher can set up groups within a class as a hub to store files, send messages or have a dialogue with other group members.

Post student work for reference or to share with other classes or absent students in the form of images or links. 

TTT Ed Student Work

Establish a class calendar for viewing as a planner for teacher & students. 

Maintain a library of assignments added and those saved from other teachers. Organizational capabilities include establishing folders within classes. 

Enable a parent feature, so parents could check their children’s assignments. 

Promote discovery of other lessons, research, applications, and connections with other teachers. 

Grade and track students’ progress. Portability allows me to grade from my IPad! 

Download educational apps, like SUBTEXT(which I will feature in a later blog) for free and purchase.

TTT ED 1 Drawbacks copyNot all of the features on the website are available on the apps. For instance, when I want to add an assignment, I always do so from the website. 

There is a lot to it, so I’ve basically had to teach myself (it’s extremely user friendly), as there isn’t anyone on-site who is an “expert.” Several of us have adopted its use and share findings as we stumble upon them. 

Edmodo-specific apps are unique to the IPad (tablet), so you need a class set of IPads (tablets) to utilize some of them.

Give it a try! And please, provide some feedback if you do. Additionally, I’d like to hear from any of you who have used EDMODO (successfully or otherwise) and please share any other communication hubs you do or do not recommend. Thanks.

Think Tank Poster copy

 If you found this helpful, please LIKE this post. And stay tuned for more Technology Think Tank posts!

Technology Think Tank: Using Todaysmeet for a Socratic Seminar and MORE!

TodaysMeet, a free website, advertises its purpose is to help you “embrace the back channel and connect with your audience in realtime.” I use it as a multi-purpose chat room. I’ve used it for discussion purposes; I’ve also used it to conduct a meeting remotely.

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As far as user-friendly websites, this is among the easiest for both you and your students to use with in a matter of minutes. In fact, I’ve set up chat rooms while my students are literally walking through the door.

TTT HOW TO

Log on to https://todaysmeet.com/

You’ll see this screen:

TTT Todays Meet Home screen

Before you or your students can begin chatting, create a room with a name you can recall easily if you need to call up the chat at a later date. I simply use the initials of my class, period or course number if necessary, and the date. Next, I write it on the board, so my students can log in when they’re ready.

Then, choose a duration that you’d like the chat room accessible to you after the conference. I often choose one week, but longer works to. (I’ll discuss the purposes of keeping a chat open for longer periods).

TTT Todays Meet Demo Skitch

Finally, click the Create Room tab. It’s really that easy!

When your students log in, ask them to log in with their own names. This is extremely important! You’ll see why in a bit. I require that they all say hello or something of that nature, so I know they are logged in properly before the discussion commences.

TTT Possible uses

Let’s start with how I incorporate TodaysMeet into a discussion format. When students have completed an assigned reading, I use this method to get them thinking critically, discussing freely and autonomously (from me), in addition to listening to their peers. Ahead of time, I provide them with a seminar in Socratic questioning. I model what a Socratic seminar discussion looks like by setting up role play and coaching them through it.

Once they’re ready to go, I select about half to a third of the class to sit in a circle at the center of the room (fishbowl method) to orally discuss the previous night’s reading for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, those on the outside are instructed to log into the TodaysMeet channel to hold a parallel discussion to what’s going on in the fishbowl. For example, the outside circle may pose a follow-up question, agree or disagree, cite additional evidence, etc.

After the 20 minutes have passed, I put the back channel discussion up on the Smart Board (or if you don’t have one, you could get those from the fishbowl to log into the channel) for review. At this time, the whole class is invited to discuss as we scroll through the questions and comments. I provide about 20 minutes for this activity, as well. The discussion usually becomes very lively, and it’s very rare that students haven’t managed to cover nearly everything I would have had I been navigating the conversation.

tech todays meet

For the next class’s discussion, I alternate who comes into the fishbowl versus who uses TodaysMeet, so all students have the opportunity to experience both kinds of conversations throughout the unit.

TTT Socratic Seminar

TTT Pitfalls

While it’s ideal to have a Smart Board to display the channel, I’ve found it’s a good idea to turn it off while the initial conversation is taking place. It tends to be a distraction. However, I do keep my IPad beside me, logged in myself, to monitor the conversation in real time.

Also, VERY IMPORTANT: in working out the kinks to this forum, I’ve learned the hard way that students need to use their own names for accountability. I had one student sign in as “Random Kid” who proceeded to protest the novel we were discussing in addition to using inappropriate language to get a rise out of his classmates. Now, I tell them ahead of time that their statement/questions could be controversial, but they need to be stated appropriately and they need to be owned by the speaker.

TTT Additional Uses

Snow days, while fun, can sometimes put a kink in a perfectly organized schedule. This past week, we had a snow day on a day it was imperative for myself and the other adviser of the National Honor Society meet with our officers to discuss the agenda for the next meeting. Solution: hold the meeting via TodaysMeet from home on the snow day. It worked perfectly. We set up a meeting time the day before, I gave them the URL to log into, and we held a very productive meeting for about 45 minutes from the comforts of our own home.

TTT Todays Meet Mtg Skitch

TTT Last Words

TodaysMeet is not only engaging for the students to use, it’s a very practical format to learn moving forward through the 21st century with so many companies working remotely, not to mention the host of online college courses that are available to students.

It’s been extremely easy to use since most students have smart phones. Some still prefer a lap top, tablet or notebook, which our school encourages them to bring to class; we do have these available for borrowing when the need arises.

Give it a try! And please, provide some feedback if you do. Additionally, I’d like to hear from any of you who have used TodaysMeet (successfully or otherwise) as well as any other chat room forums you do or do not recommend. Thanks.

Think Tank Poster copy

Stay tuned for more Technology Think Tank topics!

Technology Think Tank: Apps and Other Tech Tools for the High School Classroom

Think Tank Poster copy

Let’s face it! Technology can be overwhelming. BUT, it’s here to stay, AND it’s useful in the classroom.

I’ve been on the technology team for my school since it’s inception (for about six years, now); we’ve actually just scaled back the frequency of our meetings because we feel our school has finally caught up to 21st century standards regarding the infusion of technology in the classroom.

I don’t know all there is to know about the infinite implementations of technology (apps, websites, devices, etc.), but I do know a great deal. I’ve tried many of them. I’ve quit several others. I’ve become frustrated with the organizational piece and have ironed a technology management protocol that seems to work for me and my students.

Over the next few months, I plan on featuring one technology tool in a series called Technology Think Tank by offering suggestions for implementation, reflecting on my experiences, providing advice, and, finally, by eliciting feedback, suggestions, as well as additional uses from my readers.

I’m all about teacher collaboration because collective knowledge, experience and ideas are empowering tools to propel education forward. And, if we don’t keep up, we’re sure to get lost in the technology time warp.

The following are Apps and/or sites I use on a fairly regular basis, if not daily. You can look forward to learning more about the management of them, in addition to how and for what purposes I use them to not only make my teaching easier but to enrich the learning of my students by engaging them in a variety of ways.

Here’s what’s coming:

TTT IPAD