Sunday, December 13, 2009

Online Safety Lesson Plan

It took some interest in Twitter from reedertweeter, who teaches next door to me, to get me moving on my own plans for Twitter in the classroom to break down classroom walls and further encourage classroom community. However, since my students also like to post inappropriate or off topic talkbacks to polleverywhere when we use it to respond to texts as a class, I thought I'd better talk a little bit about online safety and considering one's audience.

This is a lesson adapted from Stephen's lesson on responsible blogging. I've tried to tweak the lesson for my remedial reading students.

Objectives: The student will be able to:
  • Identify information about themselves they might not want to post online
  • Recall arguments both for and against filtering the internet on computers used by students
  • Compare and contrast the two arguments
  • Evaluate examples of classroom internet use policies
  • Create their own policy for doing work online
Grounding - 15 minutes
First, students should do a Google search for someone (preferable who they know) with a decent web presence (I think this works best if it isn't someone famous so you don't get a bunch of tabloid links). After checking to make sure there were no strange websites out their with my name on them, I asked students to Google me and look for any information about the person that they didn't know before. After 10 minutes, bring the group together to share some of the things they found. Mention that is sounds like you have to be careful what you put online, because anyone could find it.

Independent Reading - 15 minutes
Next, using the table below, ask students to read the following articles and record each sides arguments: the advantages and disadvantages for letting students uncensored access to the internet.

Advantages for students online

Disadvantages for students online

Share - 5 minutes
Bring students together again and ask them to share their results.

Blog Policies - 10 minutes
Finally, ask students to take a look at the student created blog policies from Bud the Teacher's wiki and begin brainstorming policies for our own online policies.

Students seemed to pick up the newspaper article just fine, but I think Bud's appropriate metaphor and Will's vocabulary may have been a bit much to sift through for information. Maybe if I could find a podcast or a video, that might help my students to have it in an additional media.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Kreative Bloggers

I was recently linked to by Stacy for my "heady, intellectual" blogging, a very humbling compliment.  According to the mime, I'm supposed to post seven things that you may not know about me.  While facts about other teachers writing on other blogs might be enlightening, I'm not as fascinating a topic, so in the interests of keeping things heady and intellectual, I'm going to ignore that rule and skip strait to providing links of seven or so bloggers I would recommend.

dy/dan - Dan Meyer, current doctoral student and 6 year high school teacher, makes his lessons immediately relevant and assesses his students in ways astronomically more fair than any of my math teachers ever assessed me.  Most of my vacation time is spent trying to figure out how to adapt what he does for math to my language arts classroom.  If you figure it out, let me know.

Blogessor - The professor who taught my first real education class and all about constructivism also blogs, though at a inconsistent rate comparable to my own.  The teacher-researcher role narrated at it's best.

Kylene Beers - She wrote my personal bible on teaching literacy.  The old testament, at least.  And now the current president of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) writes online as well.

The Line - Dina writes about teaching English at the middle school level.

f(t) - Kate Novak is a fellow reader of dy/dan and does a lot with technology to communicate with her students.  I took her idea of a Facebook fan page for my classes.

Continuities -I don't know why I'm reading so many blogs by math teachers, but Jackie is another good one.
huffenglish is my one-stop-shop for teaching Shakespeare.

For those six bloggers, the rules:
1. Copy the badge/pic above and post it on your blog.
2.Thank the person who gave it to you and link to their blog.
3. Write 7 things about yourself we don't know.
4. Choose 7 other bloggers to pass the award to.
5. Link to those 7 other bloggers.
6. Notify those seven bloggers.

Thanks for reading; I'll try to live up to Stacy's description.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Third Time's a Charm: IEP Assignment

Last year, for the second time I attempted an assignment asking students to create their own individualized education plan (IEP).  My first attempt as a student teacher was poorly designed and even more poorly modeled.  Last year, the design was much more in depth (perhaps too much) and the product was modeled extensively.  But the process was not.  The concept of multiple intelligence theory got a 5 to 10 minute overview in class before I threw them into the computer lab to complete their self assessment.  I asked my students to create goals for the semester, but offered no guidance on how to define short-term goals that lead to their long-term ones.  I asked them to consider accommodations that would help them learn, but I never explained fully enough what an accommodation was.

This year was different.

First, I'm broke up the design more.  The first assignment sheet could put anyone in cardiac arrest, particularly a freshmen who just started high school and isn't very pleased that they get to take reading workshop again.  So a toned down some of the reflection questions and broke the thing into parts instead of the menu1.  Turned out this assignment sheet was also confusing, so next year maybe I'll just scrap it, or give students a checklist of all the items they need to turn in when all is done.

Day One - What's an IEP?

I had some terrific help from my special education department where a special education assistant came to the room and gave a little introduction to the federal IEP and some examples of the accommodations students receive.  This was generally well received, though I had a few students this year who thought I was saying they were stupid because they can't read.  Could be because I'm teaching reading workshop this year, or could be because of the longer presentation from special education and the lack of respect some students have for their classmates served by sped.

Days Two through Four - Multiple Intelligence Theory

Multiple intelligences were taught over three days, the first giving an overview of each intelligence and then students experienced a lesson teaching a language arts skill exclusively using one of the intelligences.  This packet was supposed to be their guide as they rotated in groups to the different areas.  In the end though, we went through each exercise together as a class. Putting together the packet turned out to be easier than I expected, as I was able to pull pieces from lessons I've used previously.

Musical Intelligence

For this section I used a lesson on avoiding sentence fragments using the Schoolhouse Rock song "The Tale of Mr. Morton."  I prefer the Skee-Lo version found on the album Schoolhouse Rock Rocks!2  Students listen to the song and then are asked to identify the subjects and predicates of some sample sentences.  In the original lesson some subordinate conjunctions are thrown in and students eventually are asked to fix a couple sentence fragments as well.  For the purposes of the packet, however, I just wanted to give them a taste.

Naturalistic Intelligence

Here I asked students to group like words together, same as you would with the natural world - kingdoms and phylums and everything else.  I'm not satisfied that this is the closest language arts can get to naturalistic intelligence; it seems like Thoreau or Emerson should be involved somehow.

Interpersonal/Intrapersonal Intelligence

Sometimes I ask students to do what I call a multiple intelligence explication on some text that they've read.  They can choose to come up with a soundtrack, a mind map, or write a letter to the character, which is what this activity consists of.  For many of the exercises, we read "Waiting," a piece of microfiction by Peggy McNally from the anthology Micro Fiction edited by Jerome Stern.3  Students were then to write a letter either to the speaker in the story or to the speaker's boyfriend who she wants to see but can't.

Visual/Spatial Intelligence

This mind map activity I stole from Carrie McCallum, another language arts teacher at my school.  Students respond to a text by drawing some of the things that might be going through a character's mind.  We did the same for "Waiting."

Logical/Mathematical Intelligence

For the person who reads this who has discovered how to bring logical/mathematical intelligence into the language arts classroom, you need to comment on this post or e-mail me.  My failed attempt involves translating a formulaic transition statement for essays into some sort of algebraic equation.

Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence

I have a bunch of pieces of green construction paper with random words on them like "hope," "rain," "love," "clouds," and "bagel."  They're cut out in the shape of lily pads, and students hop across the pads writing a poem.

After trying out each of the multiple intelligences, students wrote a short reflection on the activities and which intelligences they thought were strong in them.  Then they took a questionnaire, just as they did last year, to determine which were strong or weak.

Day Five & Six - Reflection Questions

In an effort to prompt more thoughtfulness when deciding on goals and accommodations, I remodeled the reflection questions from last year and came up with these five.

  1. When was the last time you struggled in school or received a grade lower than usual? What do you think made it difficult? Consider all the players: you, teacher, parents, classmates, class subject, outside factors (illness, death in family, divorce). Of the things you or the other players could control, what would you do differently if you could do it all over again?
  2. Describe your favorite lesson you've ever been taught in school and what you learned from it. What about it or the teacher do you think made it so memorable and/or effective?
  3. Who was / is your favorite teacher / role model / mentor? Describe them. What are some of the things they did that made you appreciate them? What did you learn from them and how? If you were going to be a teacher / role model / mentor to someone, what lesson would you take from them on how to do it well?
  4. What specific things help you to study or stay focused in class? Are there techniques you use when learning like mnemonics (like Never Eat Soggy Waffles for remembering the points on a compass), jingles, or rhymes (“i” before “e” except after “c”)? Give a few examples.
  5. Now that you've taken the multiple intelligences and modality strengths self-tests, what are some specific examples of lessons that have helped you in the past that relate to your strong intelligence areas and your modality strengths?
Judging from the responses I received, questions 1 and 2 are the most essential.  Question 3 is definitely out and while some students have good answers for 4 and 5, others haven't done the kind of meta-thinking required to answer those questions.

Day Seven & Eight - Model IEP Summary4

Last, the students received this sheet, which I modeled filling out using my own answers to the questions.  This was an improvement over last year's cover sheet which didn't include the ladders for small steps leading to the ultimate goal.

That first day, students had a lot of difficulty filling out the sheet.  For a brief period of about a day, I was almost convinced that this unit was awash, that I was trying to teach months of material from an IB theory of knowledge course in a couple of weeks and that I was asking too much.  Of course, my students rose to the occasion and expectations and proved me wrong.

After modeling the cover sheet a second time the next day (I didn't change how I modeled it, so I don't know what the difference was; maybe it was that the assignment was worth 100 points pass/fail and one had to turn in all the pieces for credit; maybe they just needed to see it twice), my fears proved to be mostly unfounded.  Last year, out of my 75 students, I received two really good IEPs.  This year, I got almost 30 initially, and I'm hoping the number will grow now that we've had conferences and I've been able to give the assignment to parents as well.  Over the next few weeks I can start to set up my students with the accommodations they've asked for:
  • Spelling instruction
  • Longer time on tests
  • Reminder when work is due
  • Short breaks
  • Preferential seating (away from others)
  • Extra warnings
  • Listen to iPod (to avoid other distractions)
  • Read in the hall
  • Reminder when work is due
  • Organization
  • Additional bathroom passes
  • Preferential seating (Right to Read Anywhere)
  • Read in the hall
  • Don't call when hand isn't raised
  • Grade reports every 2 weeks
  • Time to study before a test
  • Read in library twice/week
  • Extra time to complete assignments
  • Patience and some slack on reflection sheets (the negative end of our positive behavior managment program)
  • Allowed to eat food in class

1. The menu just confused students.  Probably because it was a dumb way to set up an assignment that wasn't really differentiated; I was just trying to make it look that way.  (back)

2.  If you haven't heard Pavement's version of "No More Kings," you have not truly lived.  (back)

3. Stern, J. (Ed.). (1996)  Micro Fiction.  New York, W.W. Norton & Co.  "Waiting" is about a substitute teacher, a story better suited for a room full of teachers.  But there's a lack of young adult microfiction, so I figured that was a pretty relatable piece; we've all had substitute teachers.  (back)

4.  I should point out that for my reading and literature workshop classes, we also took the Scholastic Reading Inventory to get a lexile score and a diagnostic assessment from the 9th grade Holt Literature teacher's suppliment.  (back)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Conversation Calendars

While planning with the district literacy coach this summer, I was introduced to a method of recording participation points and building rapport with students proposed by Cris Tovani in her book Do I Really Have to Teach Reading (106-110).  I can honestly say, without risking hyperbole, that it has completely changed the relationship I have with my students.

At the beginning of each week, students receive a weekly calendar with a space for them to write comments and give themselves a score, and a space for me to write comments and record a score.  Sometimes students are asked to write something specific in the space, like "ask one good question or make one good comment about the short story we read today."  More frequently though, they write whatever they want.  Sometimes it's comments about the class or what they did that period, other times it's about the volleyball game they have after school, or about the book they're reading and how's it going.  Sometimes it's pictures or doodles or random graffiti.  Sometimes they don't write anything.  After class, I respond in the space below.  Sometimes a response isn't necessary.  Sometimes a few quick words are enough.  Sometimes the student and I get to carry on a one-on-one conversation throughout the week that we wouldn't have had otherwise.

For one, this increases my contact time with students, something I'm all about.  Students can ask questions they may not have time for or feel comfortable asking in front of the class.  Secondly, I see a different, sometimes truer, side of my students other teachers may not get the chance to see.  I have two particular students who like to start power struggles and make loud outbursts.  One had all sorts of disciplinary interventions last year.  I wasn't sure I could handle it.  Then I introduced the calendars.  Total posers.  They do it to look all bad, but they were honest and almost apologetic in their self assessment the first week and since then they've been slowly working more and more in class - while maintaining their bad image as much as possible.

Another student was having a rough day (I wouldn't let her talk in class even though it was her birthday) and called me an a**hole.  I told her my birthday present to her was not giving her a referral. After class, I flipped through the calendars and saw that she had written "I'm sorry I called you an a**hole."  I thought that was pretty cool, because you don't always get apologies for that sort of thing.

At first, grading 75 calendars a day took about 75 minutes.  Once it became routine, however, my speed increased and I can now get through all three period in 30 minutes.  And those extra 30 minutes a day are definitely worth it for me.

To be fair though, I am only half-time, so maybe for the full-time teacher this exercise could become too time consuming.  Tovani suggests rotating calendars through classes daily or weekly in the team teaching model.  One could also have students do a end of the week self assessment and respond over the weekend.

For those interested, here's a blank calendar. You'll want to download it, Google Drive can't handle all the table-ness involved in the document.

Works Cited

Tovani, Cris.  Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?  Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers, 2004.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pass / Fail Assignments

My wife recently started her masters of social work at Portland State University.  Her first major assignment was a paper connecting her bachelor's level experience and learning with what she has now begun at her master's level internship.  The paper is a pass / fail assignment (as is the class).

The result I see is that she is less stressed during the writing of this paper than she has been with her entrance essay, scholarship essays or any of the other countless pieces of writing she needed to complete to get accepted to the university.  The stakes were so much higher.

Since my wife is a member of the "new" or "knowledge class" (a term from one of her social work readings), she didn't cut corners on her paper.  I'm wondering what balance I would have to strike to get my student's best work and also offer this nerve-liberating form of grading for papers or assignments.  I could always ask students to revise specific pieces of a paper to get it to a passing grade, but at what point do students say "why bother, I'm never going to get it good enough for him to be happy."  And I can think of a few students who would cut every corner they could - some of them did it last year.  But then again, maybe they shouldn't have passed because of it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Library Thing for Unit Planning

I taught American Literature this year for juniors, and in an attempt to give the dry, American literature canon some much needed relevancy, I paired our Great Depression unit with the current economic recession and topical book clubs set during the Great Depression.

Thinking of only Steinbeck novels when trying to come up with texts in Depression-era settings, I turned to Library Thing. Using the search page, I searched for all books with the tag "great depression" and got these results. From there, I added the tag "young adult" and got these results.

I recognized some of these books. Out of the Dust was one I had read before, and Esperanza Rising was another I knew of but hadn't read. From the library I checked out these as well as Nothing to Fear, Bud, Not Buddy, and The Truth About Sparrows and began reading as quickly as I could.

My school librarian was able to find and bring from other schools all the books except for Nothing to Fear and The Truth About Sparrows. These were eliminated from the selection and Of Mice and Men was added.

Library Thing can be an excellent tool for thematic unit planning, or for finding literature of any kind. I also used it this summer to find current young adult literature to read and stay current with.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Explicit Reading Instruction

Out of everything I did last semester, the piece that I'm happiest with and the area with the greatest potential for improvement is my strategy for differentiating reading instruction.

At the beginning of the semester, I used Kylene Beers' book When Kids Can't Read to create a checklist to preassess reading skills.  She breaks her book into three basic sections: for students who have poor comprehension skills, students with poor word fluency and decoding skills, and students who have trouble finding books that are interesting.  Adapting the checklist she provided on page 28, I met with each of my students individually to determine whether they were dependent (the term Beers uses for struggling readers) or independent (able to read on their own), and if they are dependent, which single or combination of the three categories they fall into.  In my meeting with each student, I asked them to read a short, 300-word story from the anthology Micro Fiction aloud.  This allowed me to check for fluency and word recognition.  After they had read the selection, I gave them basic, open-ended questions like "what do you think the story is about," "who are the main characters," "what's the moral of the story."  These questions address reading comprehension.  Finally, I asked them some questions about what reading they do, like "what's your favorite book/author," "what genre(s) do you like to read the most." to determine if they have resources to find books that they enjoy.

After I figured out the needs of each student, I divided them into groups depending on their greatest weakness.  While this could be beneficial in instances where the teacher is modeling or given direct instruction, there were many times when a mixed group would have been better.  For example, when these same groups met in more self directed literature circles, the students who struggled with comprehension talked about how the text made no sense, and the group of students who had trouble finding literature they enjoyed talked about the relative "suckiness" of each piece.

When I was able to meet with these groups, it was most often with the comprehension group, where I modeled and guided practice of specific comprehension techniques, most often using a think aloud.  I broke down the internalized process of reading and stated what I was thinking and reading aloud.  There were seven specific processes I focused on with students: visualizing, questioning, clarifying, connecting, agreeing or disagreeing with a character, and predicting.  Each time I met with students, I tried to cover a different set of two or three.

I also met with students during class time in either small groups or individually to practice the think aloud strategy and give them some tips, like reminding them to reread or cue them to make a prediction.  When I couldn't meet with them in class, I asked them to complete double entry journals, creating a written record of their thinking.  In the left column, the student writes the quote and page number that gave them pause, and then on the right they write their response (either a question, clarification, prediction, etc.).  When my students read novels, we did the same thing, but students wrote their responses on sticky notes and stuck them to the page next to the quote.

The strategy was largely unsuccessful, not because of the pedagogy, but because I didn't follow through.  One of the hardest things for me was finding time to work with students and meaningful work for the other students to complete while I met with students.  Because of this, I was only able to do the initial preassessment in two of my classes, and meet only rarely in my third.  I only intermittently examined the half ream of written evidence I had from students.  I didn't fully address the needs of students who had decoding issues or trouble finding texts they could enjoy.  And I didn't find the time to do a post assessment at the end of the year. 

My general thought is that I can set aside either the first half of class or every other class period for sustained silent reading.  While many classes try to fit this in for 10 or 15 minutes, I think if I can keep it going for 30 or 45 minutes, I'd be able to meet with each student about once a week.  After I meet with individuals or groups, I can either send them back to silent reading, or direct them to another individual activity.  For each of my classes, I'll have a binder with a tab for each student.  There I'll keep notes from each of our meetings and I can insert work samples like the double entry journal, or sticky notes stuck to a sheet of notebook paper.  I'll work with the school librarians early in the year to teach students where to find specific genres of books, and create a "good books box" that will contain a rotating collection of good young adult literature pulled from the shelves in multiple genres for students to check out (Beers 293-5).  And I think quarterly I'll reassess students' with the checklist using a different text.

On days I'm not meeting with students and we aren't doing sustained silent reading, I'll read aloud and when we're doing units where each student is reading the same book or books on one topic, we can have large class discussion.

Then, at some point, I'll address writing, grammar, and all the other language arts.

Okay, so maybe the plan isn't fully refined yet.

What encourages me though is last year I had one student who was clearing affected by our two or three individual meetings and the modeling and guided practice we did as a class.  At the beginning of the semester, he struggled with reading comprehension and was a reluctant and often confused reader.  At the end of the semester, he wrote in his self assessment:
[I] really improved myself this semester i actually tired. your class was fun as many thought otherwise, i had to push myself to go hard.  only reason why i didnt get an A was because of the fact i didnt do book club i was gone i got zeros and then i fell behind on sticky notes.  then i read the whole book [Of Mice and Men] which is honestly a majr accomplishment for you not going to lie i have never actually read a whole book. i always never like them. but you made me realize reading is actually fun.  the truth is i actually read now at my house :).
He could have been lying.  I don't think so though.  It would explain why on the second to last day of the semester, to the surprise of his classmates and me, he asked me to model visualizing a poem we were reading.  If he wasn't lying, then I think one out of 70 isn't bad for my first year.  Maybe next year I can break 10% or better.

Beers, Kylene. (2003).  When kids can't read. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Classroom Community Building Reflection

As the semester winds down, I am hoping to make some more posts on some of my thoughts over the last five months.  My goal for next year (once I secure a job, as this was a temporary position) is to post more frequently throughout the school year.

In the run up to the 2008-2009 school year I posted on the importance of classroom community building, how it relates to my philosophy of education, and some suggested lessons for a classroom community building unit.

In January, I took over the instruction for a collection of students who were in slightly large Language Arts 9 classes.  Since these freshmen came from different classrooms, it was a good opportunity to test some of these lessons.  Overall, in my two sections, I had very different results.  Some factors involved are the mix of students and the time of day these students had class.

My morning class had some fairly significant successes.  One particularly shy student who was new to the school was dragged into the classroom grid activity by a girl particularly selective of her friends.  Students who I hadn't seen speaking together in other classes were soon sitting next to each other in class.  The cliques were still visible, but there was less criticism, I believe.

My afternoon class from the start believed I was treating them like they were in elementary school.  When they did the classroom grid activity, they did what I explicitly asked them not to do: ask each other which box they are instead of asking questions about the person to eliminate boxes.  During the Two Truths and a Lie game, I was the individual asking the most questions. 

Some students from this class expalined that they already knew each other since this was a rural community, they had been going to school with the same classmates since elementary school.  That's fair enough, but it didn't explain why the other two classes found it worthwhile enough for their time.  And it did benefit the home schooled student who returned to public school this year as a high school freshman.

So there needs to be a way to establish student buy-in and relevancy (as with everything else in a classroom).  As a general rule, I've noticed the more I actually talk about educational theory with my students, the more willing they are to go along with some things.  Like when I told them that free-writing is actually scientifically proven to make them better writers, it didn't seem so "stupid" any more.

And one can always question how much students are honestly disenchanted as opposed to just being teenagers; how much they really hate what you're doing and how much of it is just to be cool and not like what's going on in class.  On the year-end class evaluation, one of my students wrote this in regards to classroom community building:
I think that you should continue doing the name game and the two truths and a lie game because those games really helped me learn the names of the students in the class.
If that's all it takes for someone to learn the two most important words for any student, that comment is enough evidence for me to do it next year.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Overheard in my class before school today:

Student 1: "You know what's really strange?  When you're in a reading class that's supposed to teach you how to read and the teacher tells you to stop reading!  I don't get that."

Student 2: "Yeah, but it's usually because they want you reading their material."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Let Parents Know About Homework

I've been absent from posting over the last four months because I started teaching half-time at St. Helens High School in St. Helens, OR in addition to substituting at 12 districts in the Portland area.  How I'll continue blogging when I am teaching full-time is a mystery to me, but I'm hoping to make some posts over the next few weeks reflecting on my teaching since January thus far.

One successful strategy I've used is updating parents on student's homework assignments.  I created three blogs for each of my classes, although it's turned out one for each preparation would have been enough.  Sending home a letter at the beginning of the year, I offer to e-mail or text daily homework assignments to parents, keeping them in the loop so they can check up on their kid if they want.  Then I simply sign up parents for feed updates from the blogs using Feedburner for e-mail and Pingie for SMS.  Pingie will only forward the post title to the phone and give a shortened URL to the entire post, but at least parents will know whether their kid has homework or not.  Updating the blogs each day takes about five minutes total.

You may have noticed I also offered to contact parents weekly with grade updates for their students.  That takes significantly longer, and I question whether I will do it next year.  What I need is a grading program that offers automatic e-mailing or texting options, rather than requiring parents to log on to a website to check their child's grades.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Publication and Authentic Writing Assessment

Why this is important:

One of my student's response to my end note question, "what part of this essay are you most happy with or most proud of?"
I'm not really proud of the paper.  It's just an essay.