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.

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Technology Think Tank: Turn It In Makes Grading EASY & Offers Much MORE!

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With school reform coming from every direction, teachers feel overwhelmed; there is simply never enough time! So when I find something that helps ease the burden, I pass on it. Turn It In, a database purchased by the school, cuts down on the time it takes to grade student writing without compromising the amount or kinds of comments students deserve. In addition to the grading feature, which is the one I use most, Turn It In also provides an originality report, grade book, library of assignments, peer review, Common Core rubrics, customizable comment palettes, a blog feature, and user-friendly training for students and teachers. Just released this year is a Turn It In APP for the IPad which makes it EASY and PORTABLE.

Since I was part of the original team to pilot Turn It In and one who, along with our school librarian, provided faculty workshops about its many uses, I have seen so many improvements over the past eight years.

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Teachers set up classes which students log into to upload essays, peer reviews and reflection assignments, in addition to receiving feedback once their work has been assessed and critiqued.

TII Quickstart guide

These are matched to an originality feature (which can be turned off/on depending on the assignment and your preference). This allows the teacher (and student, if selected) to see with one click what sources match the student’s sources. If you give the same essay assignment year after year, it checks the paper against other sources on the internet and within the database, so you don’t have to worry about students plagiarizing or Turn It In makes it easy to detect if they do.

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The feature I use most often is Grademark. I set up an assignment to be turned in by a specific class, selecting the parameters (point value, due date, share date, etc…). Students upload their work. I grade it using the grading/comments inherent in the database and I have also customized my own comment palette. You know, those comments you seem to write again and again! This way I drag the comment to the paper, placing it where it belongs. Comments not only include an error or suggestion but also a teachable explanation. Moreover, the ETS feature flags all editing and proofreading errors for me, so I don’t have to waste time with the minutia. End comment features include voice and/or written comment features. Lastly, TII includes Common Core Rubrics you can link to your assignment; you can choose to check the standards that apply and/ or use the grade generated by the Common Core rubrics or designate your own grade.

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If you are like me, I don’t write comments for the sake of writing them; I write comments that are meant as instruction. I can even see the students who have viewed the comments I’ve written vs. those who have not.

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One of the chief drawbacks to Grademark WAS that I needed to be in front of my computer to grade. Paperless was a great idea, but it wasn’t very portable. Not until the APP was released last year. Now I have all of Grademark’s features and the flexibility of grading where I want and when I want. Grading made easy!

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Automatically, student grades transfer to the Grade Book feature, so I can just print them out or import them to the grading program the school uses. Moreover, I can see the students’ progress, class averages and other helpful statistics for their essay writing.

I have used other features as well including the peer review feature where students upload a draft and the teacher can decide to randomly or prescriptively assign essays to students to review while selecting criteria to rate or comment on from the system or devising criteria specific to the assignment.

I’ve also used the Discussion feature as a blog-like forum to post questions to the whole class and allow them to discuss. They can respond to a comment posted by another student or begin a new thread.

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Turn It In has been immensely helpful as a teaching tool. And, now with the APP feature, it just got portable. I would recommend you try it (I believe there is a free 30 day trial period) because it’s really a time saver for grading and provides me with peace of mind that students are submitting original work for every assignment.

Feel free to comment if you have used Turn It In or pose questions. If I can answer them, you know I will!

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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.

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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

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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

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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Log on to https://todaysmeet.com/

You’ll see this screen:

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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:

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Technology Overload

When is technology too much??

Technology is empowering and restrictive at the same time. I’ve always been a proponent of advancing technology in the classroom because I believe teachers should be always, at the very least, one step ahead of the students.

I have always been the pilotER of new technology at my school, being one of the very first develop a website for my classes, using databases such as Turn- It- In and providing professional development on the uses of it, applying to have a Smart Board in my classroom and integrating it into my teaching…. the list goes on. Eventually, a technology team was put in place comprising of a teacher from each discipline; I represented my department.

Technology has a way of making collaboration an easier task. A colleague and I decided to pilot a collaboratively taught course with his AP Euro class and my British literature class– using technology as the primary tool of communication between our students. Google Docs was adopted school-wide, and we were among the first users paving the way for our students to use G Docs as the platform for their work.

Students set about designing websites depicting different eras of British history from a variety of approaches (including literary, history, psychology, autobiography/biography and language). It became a model for technology that was showcased later in the year before the Board of Education as an exemplar of technology use in the classroom.

When the IPad II became available, I jumped on board, with the hopes of creating a completely paperless classroom, discarding of my bound paper planner and gradebook. The IPad is an easy portable way to organize my information in one place.

I thought!

In ONE PLACE being the operative phrase.

With the rapid advancement of technology, I’m learning it’s difficult to keep up. Every time I turn around, there’s a new APP or a better APP. There are so many things I want to do, but OH SO MANY limitations.

First, my students don’t all own the same Smart Devices, and my school can’t afford to make sets of any one device available to teachers. SO, I have a mish mosh of students– who has an IPhone? who has a Droid? who has a tablet? who has a laptop? and what kind of laptop do you have? Are these questions important? Yes, they most certainly are!

The smaller devices are ideal for looking up information, but no so much for creating word documents. Throw in the fact that the school’s web is Web sensed… that throws another barrier in the mix, altogether.

While Google Docs is an excellent platform for sharing and collaborating for the students, it doesn’t have all the ability to gauge the authenticity of student work the way Turn-It-In does, which is absolutely necessary in this world of common this and common that. Kids are kids; they take the easy way out sometimes, and it’s my job to make sure I’m grading their own work. So, do I ask them to create their docs on Google Docs, then upload to Turn-It-In? It seems tedious, but necessary.

While my website has always been my HUB for all of my students, it’s quickly becoming a mish mosh of links, which, admittedly looks confusing to them. I provide a scavenger hunt at the beginning of the school year to ensure they can access all I need them to in order to continue moving down this paperless path. But I end up with students who forgot their passwords from last year, so I ask for them to be reset, but the students still have difficulty accessing what I need them to. I offer tutorials after school; I have even offered them in class. Sometimes I feel more like a technology teacher than an English teacher.

Trying to keep my APPS and links straight is becoming an organizational debacle that I’m not sure how to straighten out. It’s really giving me a headache!

How much is too much? I’m trying to find the line. Any suggestions are welcome!