Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Final Minutes of NaNoWriMo 2011

          It is nearly midnight, November 30th, 2011.  I am at home wrapped in a blanket my mother made, huddled at my laptop, circa 2005, and I’m writing a novel. I am almost finished really. Though the room is dark, and my husband and children went to bed hours ago, I am not alone. I am writing in a Google Doc and that doc is shared with my students, many of whom are up way past their bedtimes because they too are finishing their novels. Or, in several cases, they are already finished and they are here to encourage or harass me as I write my last few thousand words.

A few days ago I swallowed hard and shared my novel with them as viewers. They can not edit or even comment on it, but they can read it and if I am working on it at the same time they can join me in a chat window on the right hand side of my screen.
Trisha showed up first, “How’s it going Mrs. Roberts?”
I paused mid-sentence to reply, and then in desperation, I typed to her, “What would you do for revenge if your little brother sent text messages to your boyfriend pretending to be you?”
This was a serious plot question and, as we discussed possible scenarios, Able opened the document. “Mrs. Roberts, you’re still not done? How many words do you have left?”
I told him and he made the chat equivalent of hysterical laughter, “hahahahahahahah”
Something I might remember when I calculate his citizenship grade next week.
Eventually they had to go and I went back to writing.  I had a novel to finish, but I was also desperately concerned about several students who were very close to finishing, but had not opened their documents that evening. Because they are all shared with me in Google Docs I can tell when they work on their novels. I kept checking my Docs list to see if they were editing yet. One by one each of them did arrive. I would chat with them briefly and then let them work, coming back every now and then to check their word count. In another tab I had the NaNoWriMo progress page open and I frequently refreshed to see who had won.
Chance stopped by. He had won several days before. He likewise wanted to know how many words I had left to write. Then, in an effort to be more funny than helpful, he started to tell me exactly how many minutes I had left, “Just two hours and three minutes left. Now two hours and two minutes left.” I ignored him and kept writing.
Julie opened the document, but did not engage in the chat for a while. She was reading. Her first chat message was to tell me how much she liked the first chapter. She was just in time. I was trying to remember if I had ever mentioned my protagonist’s last name. Julie found it in chapter four and let me know.  As she read through the novel from the beginning, I raced to finish the end.
Leo was one who logged on late, but he only had a few hundred words to go. I greeted him and let him work, but a few minutes later he opened my document. “I NEED HELP!” he was desperate enough to use all caps for that.
He was having a small technical problem logging into the NaNoWriMo site. I looked up the username and password he had shared with me in a Google form at the beginning of the month and logged in as him. I had no problem. I pasted his novel into the word count verifier from his Google doc and told him he was 97% done. After I logged out he was able to log in himself again and eventually finished just fine, writing over 8,000 words. As with most students, this was the longest writing he had ever done.
As I was writing the last climactic moment of my novel, Troy opened the document and began reading. “Hi Mrs. Roberts. In the first chapter there is a place where you have a b but it should say be.”
“Thanks Troy. We will work on editing next week.”
“Are you almost done?”
“Yes.”
“Do you want me to leave you alone so you can keep writing?”
“Sure.”
“You sound like you are in a bad mood? Why didn’t you finish yesterday? Did you procrastinate?”
I took a deep breath and suggested that it was late and Troy should get some sleep. Three hundred words later my story was told, all parts accounted for, plot appropriately twisted, characters appropriately dealt with and loopholes casually left open for the sequel. I verified my word count and went to check on students still working.
Noel was still writing at 11:30 pm. She had won several days ago, meeting her lofty 30,000 word goal already, but she was still writing more. I suggested she could go to bed.
I left Donna still writing, less than a hundred words short, and destined to finish in time. She would be the last to finish, but she would finish.
I put myself to bed.
After a month of NaNoWriMo my novel is done. My students novels are done, but there is a new habit I can’t shake and so, I must add, this blog post is 923 words long. And that is really the end.



Sunday, November 20, 2011

Negotiating NCTE 2011

How fast can you learn? How quickly can you adapt? Which sessions did you go to today? How do we cope with a quickly changing world? How will I get all these books home? How can I get more books? Who are you waiting in line to meet? Where does this bus go? This food is how much? Which of these five fabulous sessions should I go to next? Where is that room? Where is the elevator? Should I be changing the way I teach? Will there be a projector in the room where we are presenting? Where can I get your slides? Where did I leave that Hunger Games poster? Which do you use more your sense of humor or your ability to recognize foreshadowing? (Asked by Gordon Korman, twice.) How should we teach grammar? How should we select texts? Should students be writing novels? What was that app again? Can I get from session M to session N in time? One thing I do know for sure, Vegas Baby!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Digital Pedagogy

Next month I'll be presenting at NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) in Chicago with Karen LaBonte and Sarah Fidelibus, (a.k.a @klbz and @verbalcupcake.)  Our presentation, aptly titled by Karen is, Fly me to the moon: Making that giant leap into digital pedagogy. (If you are going to NCTE we are presenting session C.34 in the Hilton Continental Ballroom.)

I proposed the session initially and sought out co-presenters on several social networking sites. Karen, Sarah and I have never met. We collaborated on our presentation in Google Docs.  My post about that.

Recently, while working on a last minute ISTE proposal, it was pointed out to me that 'digital pedagogy' is not a widely used term yet.  A quick Google search turns up a few smallish groups using it within larger nings and a few references to the phrase being used in some university teacher education programs, but that's it. By the numbers of results returned "21st century learning" is roughly 150 times more common on the internet than "digital pedagogy" even though, in context they mean almost the same thing.

Digital pedagogy is the result of the process that is transforming education through the influx of computing resources into our classrooms. With increasing numbers of computers on student desks the methods and expectations of teaching and learning are changing. The rate of change however is highly variable; often dependent on the individual teacher, sometimes in concert with district initiatives.

I find digital pedagogy being implemented in two forms, or perhaps phases might be a better word because the first should lead to the second given time. Digital pedagogy is most often first implemented as a mirror of the existing classroom. In time digital pedagogy, hopefully becomes much more like a window.

The Mirror:
In the first, and most common case, I see digital pedagogy being a very simple mirror of traditional pedagogy.  Teachers who used to give quizzes on paper now ask the same questions using an on-line tool. Readings that were done in a textbook are now delivered digitally as a PDF, Word document, or a publisher's website. In many cases students are still required to print their work to turn it in. The classroom is using less paper, but content and pedagogy are actually very similar to the way they were the year before.

There is nothing wrong with this mirroring. The process of converting what is comfortable for teachers and students to a digital format is a necessary first step. For many teachers it represents a huge, and potentially terrifying, leap. It requires them to learn a variety of new tools, take risks, rely on technology they may not trust, and spend time creating digital versions of material they are used to feeding into a copy machine. (Is it any wonder so many are reluctant to embrace educational technology?)

There are many great benefits to this first push to digitize. Students and teachers are both learning how the technology works. They solve problems together, learn to negotiate on-line spaces, figure out hardware and software issues, and share their successes. They are pioneering their own digital experience. And, to be honest, much of what you would see in my own classroom may be just a mirrored digital version of the classroom next-door.

The Window:
The second phase of digital pedagogy, the window, comes when teachers try something that can not be done effectively or efficiently without having technology in the classroom. These are the truly digital pedagogies. Many of these are just emerging, being used by comparatively very few teachers, and are still considered cutting edge. I'm working toward adding more of this to my own practice.

These transformational digital pedagogies often involve reaching far beyond the classroom. Skyping with an author or another class, building a wiki collaboratively with other students and blogging for a global audience are just a few examples of that. You can also see transformational digital pedagogy in student products that reach real audiences, involve long-term collaboration, and solve real problems. You will also see flipped classrooms, social networking within the classroom, and the creation of digital media by students.

I find the true value of digital pedagogy in the use of digital tools to promote communication and collaboration both within and beyond the classroom.  We can use it to push our students to produce authentic products and push those products to real audiences. Our world has become digital and our pedagogy must as well.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Writing Mentors

So the title of this blog is only partly correct.  I do teach English and I do teach great kids, but I also teach future teachers and I teach a lot of educational technology to current teachers. Some days it really feels like everybody wants a piece of me, including myself.  I'm responding to the demands on my time in one of three ways: Do it, Delay it (schedule for later) or Delegate it.   I have not been very good at that last part. (My husband might disagree.)  Then I spoke with a friend.

"You should have your university students become writing mentors for your freshmen English students." She was very proud of this idea, and she is the department chair for the course I am teaching at the local university.

Still that just seemed wrong. Using my pre-service teachers as mentors to my own students somehow seemed like a conflict of interest, like cheating, like getting them to do my work for me?

"I would be using them." I decried.

"Go ahead, use them." These were her exact words and, well, she is technically my boss, and the person in charge of their teaching program.

Comments on a student paper
So this week I asked my freshmen students to request writing mentors through a Google form. Only fourteen of them did that first day.  That night I asked my pre-service teachers to volunteer to become writing mentors. Ten (out of 22) signed up.  I matched them up, sharing the freshmen student writing that was already in Google Docs with a volunteer mentor.

The early results are fascinating.  The mentors have the time to leave thoughtful and detailed comments on the student writing. The students love the feedback. Fifteen more students have asked for writing mentors. Even though several of the mentors have willingly taken on more than one student, I still have a waiting list of students who want writing mentors.

I am learning more about the pre-service teachers in my class by being able to read their comments to my freshmen students.  I have seen that some really understand how to push a student's writing and others are more focused on minor issues.  It has made me realize that commenting is a skill I must actively teach to the future teachers.

My attempt at delegation has lead me round full circle. Now when I open a Google Doc to view my freshmen student's work I find I am also analyzing the commenting skills of one of my university students.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Going to Google - GTA Seattle July 2011

 There is a lot of chalk on the raw concrete walls of the Google Seattle offices. Messages are scrawled, pictures drawn, arrows point to give directions (in case you weren't sure that those stairs went up.) An internet company whose products exist entirely in the digital world has chalk all over it's walls.

The GTA Banner
There is so much whimsy and child like energy there, that it can't be contained within offices and work spaces; it spills out on to the walls. Not surprisingly, the people are young, amazingly bright, very talented and did I mention, very young. After meeting the product manager for Google Docs, Jeff Harris, (via video conference) the question we all wanted answered (even if we didn't say it) was "How old is he?" (I would have guessed about 20, actual answer closer to 27.)


As expected, the Google Teacher Academy was a mind blowing experience. Its been about three weeks, but most of it is still vividly with me. Okay some of it. Wondering what we did? The agenda is not a secret.You can see the materials, but what you can't see is the energy to Lead Learners brought to every moment. You can't see Ken Shelton training us to oooh and ahhh when he demonstrated voice search. You can't see Molly Schroeder passing out the super hero masks or Corey Pavicich geeking out over ninja G-mail skills. I learned as much about bringing energy and enthusiasm to the topic as I did about the Google tools.

Our lunch break on day two.
Nobody goes to the GTA as a Google novice. I suspect I was probably in the bottom third as far as knowledge of Google tools, though I've been using Docs, and Blogger for four years. We all knew our stuff, but the lead learners just took everything to the next level. Like using forms for assessment? Try adding this script for grading. Already using Google calendar? Try setting up appointment slots and, oh yeah, give people a QR code to book them. Already familiar with youtube? Are you making playlists? Here's why you should. Do you like searching on Google? Nah, you really like finding. Here's a dozen ways to find it faster and easier. Oh and by the way, the average time span of a learning experience was something under ten minutes. Some went as long as 25, many were much shorter.

Besides the massive information hose about all things Google, there was a second stream pouring in as I tried  to get to know more of the participants. Forty seven amazing other educators present and I didn't get a chance to really talk seriously to more than five or six.

Our follow up to GTA is an action plan due at the end of this month. I admit I was stumped. I didn't know what I would do, but then this week as our leadership team planned the all staff meetings for the opening of school I found myself using and suggesting ideas that could become viable action plans. The best is a Google site to help our PLC's track the notes from their meetings in a way that is transparent to other PLC's. So, I'm going with that. Along the way this year I will also try out Google Voice, teach at least a dozen colleagues about Google Docs, (and more about Blogger), present at NCTE about digital pedagogy, demonstrate the effective use of dozens of tools to the pre-service teachers I work with at USD, possibly present at several other conferences and of course, teach my students.
Wearing all the schwag, apron, glasses, hat, earphones, umbrella, and somewhere in there very small, my new GCT pin.




Friday, July 1, 2011

Google Teacher Academy Update

Attribution Some rights reserved by Garrett Johnson
It's now been about four days since we were all emailed the news that we were accepted to the Google Teacher Academy or GTAWA as we call it most of the time.

Flights are booked, hotel rooms are reserved and Gwyneth found us a spot for a happy hour. Our bio page (Thanks Rob) is now up to 30 people.

Wednesday seemed to be the day for press releases. I know of three that went out including my own. One of them said that there were over 4000 applicants. That number didn't jive with my own searches on You-Tube, which turned up 100-400 videos depending on the search terms and filters I used. At the top end I highly doubt there were more than 500 applicants, but that still makes it quite amazing to be selected.

Wednesday was also the day that Google+ reached my radar. In case you've been living under a rock Google+ is a new social networking tool from Google. I'm on it (Thanks Sean), but I haven't played with it enough to really get it.  I like the potential, but it is hard to see how well it will work when the trial is still limited. Invites aren't really available at the moment, but there is a loophole that allows a G+ user to send an update to someone by email. The recipient can click "learn more" in the email and get access to Google+. I've seen those directions posted on several blogs and an official Google blog, so it must be a loophole they've left open for a reason.

I think many of us would have made an effort to get into Google+ early anyway, but GTAWA has definitely given that some extra incentive.

Monday, June 27, 2011

I got in to the Google Teacher Academy!

So this is an interesting experience and I feel really lucky to be having it.  This morning, three days early, I got an email telling me that I was accepted to the GTA. I was in public, checking my son in for a cool summer session about inventions and I had to contain myself so as not to embarrass him. Also I was about 40 minutes late. Our drive to the school and the paperwork process had kept me from checking e-mail sooner. (Confession: I sometimes even go several hours without checking email. That's over.)

By the time I got to twitter I was already 50 minutes behind. I announced my fabulous good fortune with this tweet. (It's important to word these things carefully.)

 I also might have mentioned it on my Facebook page. Congratulations rolled in. There were suddenly all these new fellow soon to be GCT's to follow and talk to on Twitter. And then the organization began. Alice booked a block of hotel rooms and posted a spreadsheet to organize roommates. Robert started a doc for us all to add a bio to. Several of us, Aaron and I that I know of, started Twitter lists of GCT's both current and forth coming.

It makes me wonder if it isn't part of some larger social experiment. Take a bunch of smart people who know their tech and see how fast they can coordinate a trip to Seattle. Could make a good reality TV show. To add challenge perhaps the next GCT should be in a third world country. (Is that PC? Can I still use that idiom?)

But we haven't all found each other yet.  There is no master list of who got in. (Well there is, but we don't have it.) We can only go by those who announce on Twitter or use the #gtawa hash tag (And some of the people using that are not attendees, but current GCT's sending us congratulations.) Only ten people so far have added their bio to the page Robert made. Aaron's GCT Twitter list only has twenty people. There are 30 other prospective GCT's out there.

So, I offer you a scavenger hunt to find them. Check Twitter, search Facebook, look at your Linked In updates (note to self, update linked in profile.) heck, look at MySpace if you're into that. There are Nings, there are Google groups, there are tech forums. Leave NO social network unturned. No one should arrive in Seattle out of the loop. Over and out.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Summer of Ed Tech

My summer plans are a product of my choices and I’m choosing to LEARN. Fortunately there are many opportunities for me to do that. In a way it’s my own self directed masters degree in ed tech. I wish I were an accredited university capable of awarding myself a degree, because I plan to earn it.

At a minimum I’m scanning twitter and various blogs daily (okay several times daily) for the bits and pieces that flow into my instapaper and make up the bulk of my professional ed tech reading. Then I get cozy with my ipad (loaner from school) and read through those, learning, emailing links to colleagues or students, marking favorites, retweeting the best of the best and sometimes adding the link to my class facebook page.

Then there will be three days on digital literacy with the San Diego Area Writing Project. I hope to learn more about podcasting and other digital student products that are far outside my normal tech comfort zone.

I applied to the Google Teacher Acedemy in Seattle, for the end of July, but I won’t know if I got in until late next week. Please cross your fingers for me and if you have one minute watch my application video that shows just how motivated my students are when I'm not looking even three days before school got out.

I was asked to be the “Digital Teacher Leader” for my school next year. This is a new position (my principal gave me a release period for this) that our Ed Tech department came up with to facilitate tech integration in classrooms. The district has been rolling out 1:1 for the last two years and there needs to be more site based support. I was planning to support my colleagues anyway, but it’s nice to have a title to go with it. The position also comes with four days of training in early August from Intel and ongoing training next year.

During the rest of August I’m teaching five workshops for Ed Tech, assisting with a sixth and attending five more as a participant. I’ll learn more about video editing, one note, edmodo, Kurzweil, Activinspire. I’ll teach about Lan School, blogging, LiveBinders and Golgster, but I learn more about everything I teach, so the teaching counts as learning too.

Then I must make choices. I’m presenting in November at NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) about digital pedagogy with three colleagues I’ve never met. I was planning to show the teachers there how my students use the chat feature in a Google Doc to have a “discussion” about a text while annotating it collaboratively. I think I will still do that, but I think now that even more exciting options will be coming for and from my classroom and my colleagues classrooms.

Lest you think my summer is nothing but educational technology, I will get eight days of curriculum writing with my grade level team. Fortunately I taught them to use dropbox. Then there will be three days of planning the PD for the rest of the staff with the admin team; looking forward to working more ed tech into that as well. Somewhere in there I may find seven free days in a row to get away to the river and soak my toes in the swimming hole where the only Internet is dial-up and therefore not worth mentioning.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Paperless American Lit Final

 Last week I was able to give my first ever entirely paperless final. I’ve had 1:1 laptops in my room for four years, but the batteries were never strong enough to make it through two back to back two hour finals.  With new netbooks this year the paperless final became a possibility.

I was inspired by @TeachPaperless who shared his all digital Human Geography final in January. His approach was to have students complete a number of tasks and create a separate blog post to answer each task. My students haven’t used individual blogs this year, so I had them create a Google Presentation and use each slide as the answer to a different task.

I presented the tasks list to the students through the class blog and they responded by sharing an presentations with me in Google Docs.

This was my first time creating this type of assessment so I wanted to see what students retained from the semester, use a variety of question types, use a variety of technical skills and keep it interesting for all of us. The final product was a presentation of 15 slides covering ten assessed tasks. Sometimes two slides were necessary for the task. I did not count the title slide or the last slide.

Some questions required students to write original responses. Others asked students to find and paste in specific information or images along with citations or the URL. I told students that I would be happy to help them with technical issues, but that I could not answer questions about content.

Final exams tend to reinforce a grade that the student already has and I found that here too most of the time. Well prepared students who had studied and done the course work all along found that much of the content came easily to them and in some cases they were able to paste in answers on the final based on responses they had written earlier in the semester. Students who had struggled with the material struggled with the exam as well. But there was another group. Students who had not done much of the course work but still did quite well on the final.

There were 5-6 per class who did much better than expected. Perhaps they had studied hard in fear for their grade or perhaps the format of the final had something to do with their unexpected success.


The questions are posted on the class blog.
An exemplary product: (Published with student's consent)


The exam turned out to be more rigorous than I expected. Almost all students worked very intently on it for the full two hours. Few finished on time and many asked for extra time. Initially there was anxiety about some technical details.  I learned they need more practice adding images to slides during the year for example. But in the end only 2-4 students per class ended up with incomplete exams.

I would give a paperless final again. I think I would be more careful to ramp up the tasks. On this final too much of the difficulty came early on. I think that had to do with the chronological nature of the questions.  I would require more student writing, but also more opportunities for students to pull directly from their earlier work. 


Assessing the finals went more quickly than I expected. Many slides could be assessed with just a quick look. I assigned 1-5 points per slide and then added them up. The trick was communicating the grade to the student.  I ended up using the speaker notes on the first slide to enter a grade, but I had not told my students that I would be doing that. So, they probably don't know where to look. These are things I'll be able to tell them about before hand next time.


One more great example: (Also published with student consent.)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Using ActivEngage With Students

 The folks in our ed tech department made a video of me using ActivEngage with my 4th period students for the first time ever. (I practiced with third period for one day before this.)  There were a lot of extra adults in the room to watch the demonstration.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The future's so bright... Senior Exhibition

Yesterday afternoon the seniors at my school presented their senior exhibitions. This involves a portfolio that the panel reviews ahead of time and then a presentation to the panel about their high school experience, their passion and their future plans.

My panel saw:
  1. a future chemist, currently the captain of the football team who is headed to UC Berkly with a Regents scholarship to study chemical engineering,
  2. the senior class president, former competitive gymnast who is the only cheerleader to be going to college on a cheer scholarship and wants to work in radio.
  3. a student who spends every Saturday feeding the homeless and aspires to run a homeless shelter.
  4. an AVID student whose life has been turned in a new direction by that program and now plans to attend college and potentially medical school as well.
  5. the son of divorced parents inspired by his stepfather to attend college and study aeronautical engineering in hopes of someday working for Virgin Galactic or NASA.
These are the children who will shape the future, and even though I only taught one of them, I am proud of all of them. Yet while they head off to college with clear goals and the ambition to achieve them, I wonder if we prepared them enough. Could we have given them more?

I found myself telling the future rocket scientist that there are astronauts that he could follow on twitter. He didn’t know that.  All of them had to create a resume as part of their portfolio, but do any of them have a linked-in profile? Do they know that their future employers, landlords and blind-dates will check their digital footprints? I’m not sure.

The future looks bright. Everyone of these new graduates will make the world a better place. I just wonder if we could have taught them more about it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Docs for English Teachers

This was part of a technical how-to workshop for English teachers at my school. These slides were accompanied by a live docs demo.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why my students are like really big rocks

The asteroid hurtles through space on a direct collision course with earth. When it hits there will be a fiery explosion, shock-waves, death and destruction. Few will escape and the effects will be cataclysmic. This has happened before and it will sometime happen again. Scientists are searching the heavens for this planet killing asteroid. You see the sooner they find it the better chance they have of altering its course.

You can, theoretically, change the course of an asteroid. But you have to find it early.  There is an inverse relationship between the distance of the rock from earth and the amount of change you need to make in its path to keep it from hitting us. So if they find it years before it comes close to us then it might take only a small impact to throw it off course and send it away from earth. But, if they find it late, say a few months or even weeks before impact then it will take a much larger bombardment to push it enough in a new direction to avoid earth.

There is also in inverse relationship between the time a student has before graduation and the amount of pressure and intervention educators need to apply to push that student toward success and away from cataclysm. The more time you have with a student the more likely you will be able to alter his or her orbit and if you can change that trajectory just a little bit early on, then time will magnify the progress that student can make.

Nine months ago I talked a student into taking the SAT. He didn’t want to. He was heading to the local community college like his friends, maybe. I sent him down to the counseling office to get a fee waiver card. When he came back to get his things he said he would register at home. I checked with his Mother. She agreed I could keep him after school. He spent 45 minutes going through the process to register for the test with a lot of help from me about things he didn’t know: things like GPA, class rank, which courses he took, which majors he might be interested in and which testing location he should choose.

Taking the SAT allowed him to apply to colleges he otherwise wouldn’t have. He was accepted to a four year state university in Northern California. He will be leaving home in the fall. He will meet new people, learn in a new environment and establish his own identity. His orbit will change.

It was just one momentary push. One after school hour. One bit of encouragement and this young man has changed the path of his life.  Seeing his direction change made me offer after school SAT registration help to all my students and many have taken me up on that.

In education people talk about the need for early intervention and the early intervention is often an intense structured even overwhelming process.  If it is taking that much effort to move the student in a new direction then it’s not really early intervention; it’s remediation.

There are so many opportunities to change a student’s path in life. Those chances are sometimes so small and insignificant looking at the time that it is easy to miss them. Our slightest push can bring a child crashing down or spin them toward a distant star.  Kids are like really big rocks, if you can alter their course early they are much less likely to crash. Push your students away from cataclysm daily.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Goodreads in the Classroom

*See also my updated post about Goodreads in my classroom after using it for a year with students.

 Last week when I had to take my class to see their counselors in shifts I needed an engaging activity they could do without much help. I asked them to sign up for Goodreads accounts, send me a friend request and rate some books.

The results are fabulous. On my Goodreads home screen I have a list of all their activity. If I click on a particular student I can see a list of all the books he or she has rated and reviewed. I can comment on their ratings and reviews. If I click on a book cover I can see the ratings all my "friends" (students) gave that book. Once a week I even get an e-mail update of all the activity my friends have had on the site.

Today I noticed that two of my students gave five stars to a book I have been meaning to read, but neither reviewed it. I commented back to them and just asked why they liked it. One of them, a very at risk kind of kid, just replied, DURING LUNCH, from her PHONE to tell me more about the book.

Several students are sending each other friend requests and discussing the books they have both rated. Some students who were absent Friday signed up over the weekend and others did it in class today as soon as they heard about it.

Tips:
If you don't have 1:1 laptops it's worth taking your class to a computer lab to get them started on this. Even better if the lab is in the library and they can check out books too.
If you (or your students) have smart phones there is an app for Goodreads.
If you already use Goodreads a lot with your own friends you might consider setting up a separate account to use with students.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A little figurative language

We've been scouting figurative language in poetry for awhile, but that's not as much fun as writing your own.

Today we needed to work offline and so this little paper based activity fit the bill nicely for part of the period.
I asked my students to draw a smallish circle on their paper and write an ordinary common noun in the circle.
THEN I explained that they were going to use that noun in examples of the five types of figurative language we've been working with: metaphor, simile, personification, hyperbole and idiom. I gave them an example of this using "table" as my word.

It was so fun to watch them work out their examples with the word they chose. And, because each of them chose different words, they had to be original.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Finding Like Minds: The triumph of social networking for teachers

I do teach English to great kids and there is some great learning happening there, but there are also some wonderful synergies going on in the adult world that I wanted to post about for a moment.

A few weeks ago I got it into my head that I wanted to put together a session for the annual convention of the National Council of Teacher's of English about the ways the digital world is changing my pedagogy in the classroom. This presented a few challenges. First, there aren't very many people I know locally who have the digital opportunities I have to change their pedagogy. That is coming in quickly, but not here yet. Those who I do know locally were unlikely to be willing or able to travel to Chicago in November for the convention.

Knowing that NCTE vastly favors panel presentations over individuals I set out to find those few teachers who could fit both needs, a. using technology to change pedagogy and b. be willing to travel to Chicago in November.

I posted on the EnglishCompanionNING, Twitter and a Facebook group I belong to for English teachers. It worked. I got a response from each one and put together a group of great teachers who are using technology to change their teaching and they are all willing and eager to attend the convention.

We drafted our proposal collaboratively in Google Docs and I used a Google Form to collect the contact info I need for the participant data form.

I did not know any of these teachers before. Two of us are west coast and two are east coast. We have never met and likely won't until we are all together in Chicago. Without the social networking tools available and widely used by teachers I would never have found these women. Now we will collaborate, present together (hopefully), and likely work together again in the future.