Monday, October 19, 2009

This I Believe Goes Global- We Want You!

For the past three years, I have had my classes write their versions of National Public Radio’s “This I Believe” segment. I was introduced to this idea by a colleague and have been always impressed by what my students hold as their personal values and beliefs. Writing these essays has allowed for them to do something they don’t get to do all that often at school - express their heartfelt beliefs. After writing the essays the first year, we submitted them to NPR, but we also decided to podcast them ourselves – no need to wait to see if NPR might choose to broadcast them. The writing was good at expressing their values, but once their voice was added to their written expression, WOW, it simply transformed that personal essay. Instead of the words simply being words, the words conveyed deeply held emotions. Now, this is the standard.Previous class examples:
Period 2 06-07
Period 5 06-07
Period 3 06-07
Period 2 07-08
Period 5 07-08
Period 3 07-08
Wiki 09-10

We are approaching that time of year, when I am going to start the kids on this writing adventure, but this year I wanted to invite you in the blog-o-sphere to join us again. I want “This I Believe” to go global. I want my students to benefit not only from knowing what their peers believe, or what the other AHS classes believe, but to hear and see what the world values. What do kids elsewhere in the U.S. believe in? What do kids elsewhere in the world believe in? What do some of the learned professionals that I know believe in? I want my students to walk away from this experience realizing the power they have as professional writers as well as connecting to other teenagers and adults from around the world. I want to see them exchange ideas, foster relationships, and appreciate the variety of perspectives. Maybe you can challenge your principal, your school board members, your local politicians, heck, maybe your entire school. Maybe we can even get our President to write his own “This I Believe.”

So, how do we accomplish this? Karl Fisch, of course, is willing to be my master facilitator. He has set up a wiki (still a work in progress) that will provide the guidelines for the classes to follow. I am making Maura Moritz’s classes join us again, so there will be four classes (ninth grade, 14 and 15 years old) from AHS writing and podcasting their essays: Moritz 3, Moritz 4, Smith 2, and Smith 5. We are hoping to attract at least three other classes from around the world, one each to pair up with each of our four classes. If we get more than four classes that are interested, then we will try to pair up any additional classes with another class somewhere in the world. If your class(es) are interested, please complete this Google Form with some basic information (your name, your email address, school name, location, grade level(s)/ages, how many classes, number of students in each class, and time frame that you’d like to do this) so we can setup those partnerships. (Our thinking is that pairing one class with one class will keep this from becoming too overwhelming for the students, although of course anyone can read/listen/comment to any of the essays on any of the wiki pages).We will create a wiki page for each set of paired classes and each student will upload their written essay as well as their podcast (the podcast can either be uploaded directly to the wiki, or you can use a variety of other services for that and then link to them). Each pair of classes will be in charge of their own wiki page and we’ll use the discussion tabs on each page to give feedback to the students. If you are an adult interested in writing a piece yourself, simply add them to the “adults” page on the wiki. I am hoping to get some notable edubloggers as well as my superintendent, CIO, and others to participate. It would also be helpful to include a brief bio so the kids can know who they are reading about.Obviously you don’t have to do this with us or on our wiki, you can create your own. But we thought it might be interesting and helpful to have one wiki that aggregated all these essays/podcasts, one place that students (and others) could visit to learn about beliefs all over the world.

Wondering where to start? NPR has a number of education friendly links to help you along the process:
For Educators
For Students
Essay writing tips
How to contribute an essay to NPR

Timeline: For our classes we are going to start writing our essays, November 6th with a final due date of November 13th for their essay. The following week they will begin podcasting their essays. The paired classes don’t have to match this timeline exactly (although that would be great), but we’re hoping they can have theirs completed by Thanksgiving so that the students can start commenting on each other’s essays/podcasts.But for other pairings you can set whatever time frame works best for you – that’s the beauty of the wiki, it’s a living document with no “end” to the assignment (although that’s why we need you to include your time frame when you email us so that we can try to match folks up). We would really appreciate any feedback (now or as this progresses) to make this an experience that is truly relevant and meaningful for these kids.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cellphones in the classroom- POLLEVERYWHERE ROCKS

This past week, I wanted to get the kids thinking about the role of our government, who do they work for, what is the role of mass media, who controls us, are textbooks accurate (ask Gary Stager about this), etc…

We just finished our unit on Macbeth and Lord of the Flies, where we were looking at the question “What does it take to challenge the system?”. We are going to continue pursuing this question now through our study of Fahrenheit 451 and a couple of short stories “The Pedestrian” by Ray Bradbury and “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut. Also, to get the kids thinking about technologies role in their lives in connection with the novel, we watched Dr. Wesch’s A Vision of Students Today and The Machines are Using Us. (Of course, we already have watched the infamous DYK).

In order to get the kids to shift into a new novel, and while continuing to thinki about those questions above, I created a poll via where the kids in pairs, could discuss a question and then text in their answer to our class poll. This created a lively discussion amongst the class! Wow- these kids were on fire. The combination of technology, questions, group work, and a classroom where we operate under the motto “This is NOT education as usual” made this an amazing day. The poll was extremely easy to create and it was fascinating to ask the kids to defend their answer or different answers, change sides, or limit their responses to a few words. The questions I asked were from a study guide that I used to use. I am anxious to keep on implementing this easy tool that is FREE as a quick gauge for understanding or to pose thoughtful questions helping the kids to take sides.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Wondering About Writing Conferences

Over the course of my teaching career, I have discovered the value of individual writing conferences with my students. It is not as though the written feedback I provided for so many years wasn’t valued, but more so that I watched student after student simply turn to their assigned grade and then put the returned paper away never to be seen again- lost to the abyss of the backpack.

After some time, I thought, why am I spending all this time writing this great feedback when it seems that students are just tossing it aside and moving on to the next piece? I also came to the realization over the past few years that writing shouldn’t be a one-time only process but that we should continue to teach kids of the process not simple completion. And so entered the 1-1 writing conference.

Since we have a variable schedule here at AHS, we have the ability and convenience to meet with students on our off hours. I usually have kids schedule meetings with me when we have the same unscheduled time, and if that doesn’t work, before or after school. This year, I have met with all my students to go over some piece of writing. With my freshman it was their initial writing piece (we call their writing sample) to see where our students are in their writing instruction. For the most part, I am not sure if I am going to continue this practice. I see the value in having a pretest of their abilities, but many don’t know how to write and so I end up teaching them how to compose a formal essay anyway. I guess I am lost as to the purpose of the prewriting assessment as a real means of learning. I suppose I could have them take their first writing samples and look back at them at the end of the semester to comment and reflect on their growth as writers (that is hoping that they grow J). My seniors use their writing conference time to review their college essays before final submission. I really enjoy this time with them, getting a chance to help polish a piece that speaks loudly of their accolades and experiences. With all writing conferences, the time to instruct one on one, hearing their questions and comments by receiving direct feedback is so valuable. Additionally, by having the students come in to see me, many students come to recognize the connection that teachers are here to help them get better at learning. I think this is definitely one of the most important aspects of my teaching and my classroom.

With both of these writing conferences, I transition to different conferences for the next meetings. There are two methodologies I use and feel are valuable, but I am unsure if one way is necessarily better than the other. One way I conference is before they submit a final piece to be graded. I see real promise in helping kids develop their writing skills before receiving final grades on papers so that this conference can help with preventative measures. The problem with this is it assumes (you know what happens when you assume) that grades are final, there is a due date, and that the writing process has ended on this paper.

The other way I do conferences is post submission, post due date. I like this idea because it gives kids a chance to correct mistakes on their papers with my written feedback, but I often feel as though then I am simply an editor for their paper and they are fixing the little things, not the ideas, arguments, etc… I think there is value to this because it focuses on the process rather than the grade, but the students who simply view me as their professional corrector makes this much more challenging.

I still see relevance in both, but am unsure if there is one method that works better than others. With increasing my student numbers in all my classes, this semester I have had student conferences at every single off hour plus before and after school, so I know that the conferences are meaningful. I am just wondering if I need to focus more on the preconference or post conference. Maybe I should let the kids pick which one works better for them? Also, the conference is something I require because I do feel it is so valuable, but I wonder after the initial writing conferences, if I should see if they come to me if there is no requirement?(a supposed “Build it and they will come”-thank you Kevin Costner).

Just a lot of questions here, no real answers.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Tales of the Document Camera

This year has been exhausting. More students, more preps, more demands of increased test scores on writing and reading. More, more, more with less given back. This equals exhaustion.

As a ninth grade team, one of our essential learnings is for our students to write with a critical and argumentative intent. Our common assessment working towards meeting this essential learning is having our students compose thesis statements that state the title, author, answer the question asked and provide a value as to “why” that is the answer. With every story we read, we write a thesis statement working towards proficiency. By now, my kids have composed at least 7 thesis statements on various short stories from Frank Stockton’s “The Lady or the Tiger” to Richard Connell’s “Most Dangerous Game” to David Brenner’s “Fish Eyes.” All of these stories focus on our essential question of the semester “How do words and actions affect who others become?” We have written out our thesis statements on note cards, posted our thesis statements on our class blog, and shown them to one another using the document camera. Ahh, the document camera…

I can’t tell you how much I love this piece of equipment. After having laptops for four years, I am so used to the instantaneous power of learning and immediacy of information. When I have taught student writing before, we always exchange papers with USBs to edit one another’s work and to showcase writing workshop tips and suggestions. It takes time loading one’s paper, and getting the kids to emulate the strategies I am demonstrating on a student’s papers. But it is worthwhile to see them learn from one another.

This year with the document camera is different though. I am not sure if it is just the tool, or the amount of writing my all boys’ class is doing, but they can’t wait to share their writing with the class using the document camera. On Wednesday, I asked the students “who would like to share their writing so we can learn together from the editing process?” Almost 2/3 of the class had a paper they wanted to share. They all wanted to use their writing as an example so that the rest of the class could give feedback to the paper under the camera. As we talked through the paper, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, the students were making the changes to their own paper that they were seeing on the screen. The kids were visually learning and kinesthetically learning. Kids weren’t just sitting idly by while I was helping one student; through my review of helping one student’s paper, we were all working together learning from one another’s examples and mistakes.

Reflecting, I am not sure if the excitement over editing was from the free editing, the sharebility of ideas, the feedback for writing, or that they are all boys and feel “ok” with sharing their work since there is no female pressure (I remind them all the time that I am a female, but they tell me I don’t count). I am saddened though that I lose my document camera next week. Hopefully, the technology gods can come to my rescue and replace it with one I can keep, because I can see real continued use of this not with just writing, but the reading process as well. Rather than kids just sharing their ideas out loud- which I love but know it doesn’t meet all kid’s learning needs , some kids can share their thoughts through the document camera that are written into their own books. Kids can show their questions, their thinking process, their inferences and connections.