Monday, August 30, 2010

Scribing about scribing

As Plato did for Socrates, as my students hope to do for our class, we are embarking on a well worn venture of scribing. Each year, I ask my senior class to scribe our class periods together in hopes of making a living history of their senior year of high school. I always tell them at their 20 year high school reunion for them to be able to look back and see all they did and discussed as seniors. This year, I am not teaching seniors (see previous upset blog re: Spelling Vocab) and wanted to still continue with the valuable practice of scribing.

I have had my second semester Honors class scribe before, but with their every seeming tendency to out do the previous year by talking to authors, I have lost the practice. There is only so much time! Or is there?

As I discussed scribing with my all boys class, and two Honors classes, they all seemed to value the idea of a scribe. They realized what a benefit it would be to their learning since it could contain the homework, discussions and notes from class, links to valuable resources, and maybe, just maybe, a little humor from class that day. As we talked about what each post should contain, we came up with an oral list of expectations regarding a scribe post. (Note to self: next time record this and write them down)

Scribe Expectations- from Smith’s recall
· Should contain the date
· Should contain the homework
· Should contain what happened in class: detailed enough but not boring
· Should contain notes and discussion information
· Should contain links to anything that was referenced
· Should have a “feel” of the class and classroom
· Humorous
· Well written and proofread
After signing up the kids with posting privileges, deciding the scribe schedule, debriefing after the first few scribes have been posted, reviewing expectations, learning how to scribe, post, hyperlink, embed, etc…, I am still not seeing what I hope to see in the scribes.

For example, here is a post from my all boys’ class:
Today we went over the correct prompt for a blog on PLN’s: Author, Title, What matters? Why? Link Summarize, Conections (self world) Conclusion. Example Topic: “A vision of Students today” by Dr Michael Wesch, Technology Rules people’s lives because technology is entertaining.PLN1. We then got time to Blog if some people forgot. We need to do PLN2 “what matters” on your CLASS blog for homework due Monday/Tuesday. Put any pictures for “what matters” in a folder/on a jump drive. Create collage. Post on Blog.

Notice how there aren’t any links, it is one giant ramble, and no additional information is provided. What this post tells me is that my class is boring, it is jumbled together, there is no explanation of the homework or what we did in class, and my class is boring.

I am not trying to be degrading to myself through this post, but I remember Alan November saying this summer at ISTE, that scribes are a great source of feedback for the teacher. It can tell you exactly what your students are taking away. I have never thought of scribes like that, but more as a tool for my students to help each other out. I guess I need to rethink what my boys are taking away each day. And, why are their posts so limited in content and depth? Why aren’t they helping each other learn?

My Honors kids haven’t completed any outstanding scribes either. Take a look at these two examples:
Today in English 9 honors we came into class, worked for 5 minutes to finish up our projects and then started to present. The first group to go was the group on King James. They made a movie about a guy needing help on a Macbeth research project. He seeks help from a king he found in Burger King who retells his life story. The next group to go was witch craft. They made a power point and showed a video clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They brought up volunteers to be accused of being a witch and tried them for being witches. Most of them died. I counted two survivors out of ten. After them came husbands and wives. They too had volunteers come up and act out different types of skits. The group after them was tragic heros who also had people come up and act out a skit. We did not get through all of the of the groups so we will finish up on Monday. Over the weekend we need to read and annotate the first 3 chapters of Lord of the Flies. Also we need to blog about those chapters on the Class Blog.

First matter of the day, each student was handed an SAT vocabulary book and was told to write their names in the front cover. You are going to be required to memorize 15 words a week. Flip books to page 16. Complete lesson 1 until page 24 but do not do the writing portion. Make responses legible and neat. They are due Friday but do not take more than 15 minutes to complete. Wednesday is word day where you are quizzed on the words you learn and Fridays are the word tests. LOF annotation and blog also due Friday. All students are required to watch a video on Shakespeare as shown below the presentation notes. Take the Elizabethan presentation quiz on the computer and print it out. Sheet was passed around to sign the SAT books out. Globe Theater group came up first and presented their Prezi with small quizzes for the audience. They also asked class members to come up and give summaries of the facts they presented. Very creative presentation. Feudal System group went up and assigned every student a social position (i.e. serf, night, king). Members of the groups explained portions of their role of the social class they were assigned.

Globe Theater
• Globe theater built in 1599 with help of William Shakespeare
• Burned downed once
• No costumes and used bags of pig blood for death scenes
• Actors died/ injured in stunts
• Plays held in “Inn Yards” before theaters
• Many special effects and grand entrances
• Plays took place in afternoon and lasted around two hours
• Theaters used for many weird purposes and flags represented types of plays

The Feudal System
• King and queen pass out fifes to all nobles.
• King passed down to first born son in every generation
• Nobles gave land to nights and peasants.
• Laws restricted the wearing of certain clothes
• Clergy almost equal to nobles
• Clergy were spiritual leaders and were bonded to a church and they were much like priests.
• Knights were part of army and wore large portions of armor
• Hired by nobles for protections of land
• Serfs make up 90% of the population and were poor.
• Serfs lived poorly and farmed land for their higher ranking nobles
Discovery Video

Once again, my basic take away is BORING. So, what needs to change? I think I need to revisit the expectations and see what the kids think about the scribing. I know one student asked a follow up question about a piece of software I used in class because it wasn’t on the post- that is progress. I also had another student create his own duct tape picture version of Shakespeare to post with his entry. I know there are good parts of what we are doing, it just isn’t yet where I want them to be. How can I help them get there?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Funny Story

Today was my youngest’s, Max (formerly known as Will- but that is another whole story)- first day to ride the bus home. Max had his special name tag all filled out indicating what bus he should take home, what special animal is on that bus, and his two older siblings looking out for him. Unfortunately, none of that worked for him today. I put the wrong number bus on his nametag-apparently it was last year’s number- someone hadn’t updated the website! His brother and sister noticed his absence but only after his wrong bus had already left with him on it. Wonderful siblings that they are, they ran off their bus, found three teachers, a couple of secretaries, and an administrator who all found him. After a whirlwind adventure with the bus driver, he safely navigated his way back to his school, where I proceeded to pick him and his caring older siblings up. Although Max had an adventure, he was so scared- it was so hard to see him fighting back the tears so he wouldn’t cry in front of everyone. I can’t thank enough the people who watch over him keeping him safe: his sister and brother were ROCK STARS, his teacher was the knight in shining armor- even though she is a girl, and the secretaries were hailing the cavalry all to bring him back home safely. What would we do without you?

SV: Not another Law and Order Class

This summer I found out I was going to be teaching another section of Spelling Vocabulary, a class we offer at AHS. Rather than teaching another section of ninth grade or a section of English World Literature, I was asked to teach another section of a class that I think is pointless. It is basically a drill and kill type class that meets only on Tuesdays and Thursday for kids to “learn” SAT vocab words. We also have incorporated many of the commonly misspelled and confused words on essays (i.e. effect/affect, it’s/its).

Each set of three class periods, the students are assigned 10 SAT words, and 10 spelling words. From the list, they are to know the definition, spelling, synonyms, antonyms, and be able to use it in a sentence. After the first class of introducing the words, the kids are in-charge of the second class period. They pick groups at the beginning of the semester, and each group is assigned one set of SAT words. On their assigned review day, they create games/activities to review the words. The students created a rubric to assess their organization and teaching of the review day. To prepare the kids to teach a full class period, we spend time talking about what good teaching looks like. On the final day of the set of words, the kids review, then take the test, and then we grade them together. Each test contains multiple parts: spelling words, matching word to definition, synonym and antonym matching, fill in the blank, and finally short essay. The essay is really creative (and my favorite part) because we have them use the vocabulary words, but writing about crazy things (videos, movie posters, slideshows, songs, cartoons, etc…)

The challenging point of teaching a class like this is that many of the words are out of context. Although I like the book we use for practice, I still can’t seem to separate the feeling that the kids regurgitate these words for one test, only to be forgotten when the next week’s words roll out. How do I teach this class in a relevant and meaningful way that keeps these words ingrained in their memories?

So I began this year talking with my best buddy Kristin Leclaire about how to change my feelings about the class- she luckily, also gets to teach one section. We decided that the more creative approaches we used with the words (drawing, movement, songs, stories, etc…) the better these kids would actually know the words.

This past week, we did an exercise called Vocabulary Frames. The kids were to take each word and write it on a notecard. After the word was written down, they were to break it down. Then in the top right corner, they were to define the word. The top left corner contained the antonym of the word, and then they crossed it out. In the bottom right, they were to draw a simple picture of the word and in the bottom left, use the word in a sentence that conveys the meaning of the word. We talked in class about how useful these cards would be in reviewing for their test. They could cover up each section to review, slowly revealing each answer they need.

We have some other great ideas in store, but I am hoping to hear some more from you. What has worked well for you in your class? What are creative approaches you have to learning vocabulary? Any links you can provide would be helpful. More than anything, I can see that the more enthusiastic I am about the words the more the kids will hopefully be. If I can find a way to match my passion of technology with learning these words, the kids will be all the better for it!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Writing and Boys- The Challenge

Each year, we are asked to submit a professional growth plan that sets forth a growth objective and goal for us as individual teachers as well as identifying a way to support PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) at our school. We can select from six different areas for our goal (Instructional Planning, Instructional Delivery, Assessment of Student Learning, Management of the Learning Environment, Professional Growth, Professional Responsibility). After selecting the area, we need to state our goal, decide on the instructional strategies that will help us achieve the goal, determine how will we know if the goal has been achieved, and what assistance do we need to achieve our goal. In regards to PLCs, we need to indicate how we will directly support PLCs and what assistance do we need in that support.

After listening to our former administrator now turned classroom teacher and CSAP expert go over our CSAP scores for our 09-10 9th graders, I decided to focus my instruction this next year on boys and writing. No easy task. Our boys are significantly behind our girls and most especially in the areas of extended writing. With most boys, it seems as though as much as they dislike reading, they HATE writing. If I am going to help boys improve their writing skills, I must first change their perceptions of writing.

One way I am focusing on doing this is through writing in various forms. I have found incredible success in past years with using PLNs with my 9th graders. PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) are a way to get kids to read articles, view videos and respond to items of interest rather than the required textbook. Next week my 9th graders are setting up their PLNs for the first time. I ask the kids to read from the blogs, newspapers, and magazines we subscribe to through our Google Reader rather than doing the typical outside reading novel. After they are finished reading/ viewing their choice, they answer the question “What Matters?” In a paragraph format, they must state clearly the author, title and point of what matters from what they read. Then, they write a summary of what they read, connect their response to themselves, to their education, and to the world around them. Finally, they end the paragraph with a concluding sentence summing up their argument or point. Last year, my all boys’ class really loved these PLNs- they didn’t care for the number of them I asked them to write, but they did enjoy reading and responding to what they were digesting. They loved hearing from one another on Fridays what the presenters had read. One area I want to do a better job on is to give more detailed feedback to their PLNs to help them improve their writing rather than just assigning a grade. With more students this year, this will be a challenge. I also want to find a way to help my boys become better peer editors. I think this will aide in improving their own writing as well as the writing of their peers. On a side note, this will help me with the grading/ assessing/ feedback overload I tend to feel.

Another way I am going to focus on writing is through using blogs to share topic sentences. When each student is asked to post his/her topic sentence for the world to see, students seem to take that responsibility into account. Also, I am going to have the boys use Google Earth to share their interactions with Chris McCandless from Into the Wild and Odysseus from The Odyssey. Using the graphic of Google Earth to give a picture to their words helps the boys put down their thoughts.

I am also counting on the support of my administrators to help me look over my incoming 9th graders Assess track data to see in what areas of writing my boys most struggle. This past year we implemented a writing lab to assist our struggling writers and many of my freshmen sought out its assistance and feedback. I am hoping and encouraging the kids this year to do the same.

Combining some of the writing strategies that I have found successful in the past, along with the technologies that we use in class everyday, meeting with my students at least twice outside of class to discuss their CSAP and MAP test scores, reviewing Assess track data, writing lab, constant writing feedback and practice should make a change for the better for me as a teacher, and more importantly for my boys with their writing.

Defining Quality Work

For the past three years, I have asked my students to participate in my No D Policy. No student can earn a D in my class- this ultimately means anything at a 69% and below is a failing grade. For a large majority of my classes, this is a tremendous motivating factor to achieve. Many comment that "no one should pass with a D; a D is below average work anyway." Because of the No D policy, the students and I have agreed that they need multiple opportunities to redo their work so that they can achieve to the best of their ability. Here is the perfect example to illustrate the need to redo work:

A few years ago I had a student named Molly, who was never a successful writer in her LA classes. After working with her throughout the school year on redoing her writing assignments time and again until they were A quality work, Molly realized how much she had grown as a writer. Before she used to struggle with writing basically avoiding it until last minute. After seeing writing as a continual process through revision and feedback, she grew to like writing- not sure about loving writing. Every year she continues to improve as I have kept track of her in her other LA classes.

To me this says so much about holding kids accountable to be better than they think they can do. Teaching 9th grade, I see many kids who let themselves off the hook with poor quality work because that is all they think they can do. If we take away the possibility of "crap work" kids have to achieve. And, when we give them time to redo work, and feedback in multiple ways, they will achieve.

Along with all of this, I have the kids define what A, B, and C quality work looks like. We did this in my all boys class today. Here is their list so far:
Period 1 Quality Work Defined

A quality:
· Proofread: error free
· Exceeds expectations
· On time
· Organized
· Proper formatting
· Great effort shown
· Originality and creativity
· Neat
· Quality work
· Thinking shown-deep thoughts
· Voice is used throughout
· Flow- consistent stream of information, thoughts flow easily from one to another
B Quality:
· Above expectations
· Above average work
· Few errors
· A little late is ok
· Few organizational errors
· Mostly original ideas
· Few neatness errors
· Thinking shown in work
· Few flow problems
· Few formatting mistakes
C Quality:
· Average
· Just meets expectations
· Some errors but not enough to be distracting
· A little late
· Some organizational errors
· Some formatting errors
· Some originality
· Some neatness errors
· Some thinking shown
· Some flow problems
Unacceptable work:
Not acceptable, crap work
Last minute or extremely late
Doesn’t meet expectations
Multiple errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, formatting, flow, and neatness- so many they are distracting to reader
No originality, creativity, thinking shown

Tomorrow, we are going to go back over their list seeing if there is anything else they thought of. We will use this as a rubric to grade/assess all their class work. They created it, they know the expectations to achieve.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Literary Analysis in the 21st Century

For almost the past year, I have taught a lovely young woman in Spain named Rachel. The learning environment Rachel and I have is ideal: we meet twice a week-although it is at 4:30 am MST, class is one student to one teacher, whatever questions problems, concerns Rachel has, we can work through without having to get an administrators ok, see a counselor, etc… she simply calls/Skypes/emails and we handle it. There are considerable benefits to having a teacher all to yourself! The feedback and dialogue we are able to exchange remind me of how precious each individual moment we need to make with our students in classes of 30+. But all of that is not the reason for this post, Rachel has done something impressive I want to share with all of you.

Rachel, by her own admission, is not a big fan of writing. Writing is time consuming, often involving struggles with getting it right the first time, word choice, and questioning if this is what the teacher wants. Verbally and creatively, she can express her ideas, but holding true to traditional forms of writing often proves to be a challenge. Our classes together focused on Fiction to Film and then the recently completed Modern Political Struggles in Literature. During the time between the Fiction to Film and the political struggle unit, I wanted Rachel to read Persepolis and watch the movie. Afterwards, she was to write a literary analysis but with a twist- the essay was to be completed in graphic novel form.

I am sure there are many out there who would argue that what I am about to link to is not a literary analysis per se, but it does meet all the requirements of a literary analysis. Rachel still needed to have a strong argumentative thesis/essay, to use the texts (both novel and video) as evidence to support her essay, and even more challenging, she needed to find images to support her thoughts.

Before Rachel wrote anything, I introduced her to using Webspiration to map her graphic novel essay. What was amazing is how visually helpful this was to Rachel’s organization and thought process. After graphing out her essay, Rachel then started collecting images and text that would support her thesis.

After meeting off and on over the course of the semester reagarding this project, Rachel put it all together. Here is her finished work. I know she would love for you to comment on her accompishment.

Think about the graphic novel form in your own classes. I know one thing I am going to ask my students to do is to do graphic novel sticky notes- an idea I learned/ stole from Christian Long. Think about using images to support writing versus just text and quotes. Think about how well this works as a way to change the way we teaching writing. Think about it.

Monday, August 16, 2010


I think back to school for teachers is similar to New Year’s Resolutions for the rest of the world- it is the time to make promises, to get a fresh start, to reexamine your teaching and learning, and plot a course forward.

Each year, I ask Karl Fisch to write some goals for me; these are the ideas meant to inspire me, give me the light at the end of my tunnel, and of course, give me something to constantly think about. Some years the goals are minimal (i.e. Change the World), other years they are vast in numbers and ideas. This year, he went simple but profound:

1. Do less . . . by having your students do more. By that I mean continue to try to turn over more stuff to them.
2. Blog more. Not just because it's good for you (although it is). Not just because it's good for teachers elsewhere that read you (although it is). But because it's good for your students. Not only will it improve your practice, but you'll be modeling for them what a thoughtful, reflective learner looks like. Be the PLN. Just do it.
3. Do one thing. I don't know what it is, but pick one really important thing and focus in on it all semester or year. What's one thing that will really impact your students and your teaching? Find it, and focus.

Number 1-do less. I am all for doing less and shifting (that shifts for you, Karl) the ownership of learning onto my students. One thing I wish I did a better job of last year was helping my all boys class become better peer editors. With increasing class sizes, this will be a good life long skill for them to add to their arsenal but also assist me in providing relevant and immediate feedback to one another. I am going to also blog later about redoing Spelling and Vocab, but I need to find a way for kids to do more with words- to own the words not simply memorize the words.

Number 2-Blog- This is one goal I am not just holding myself to. One of my deskmates, Lauren Lee, has started a new blog and a new focus on us blogging regularly (blogging is much more fun with a partner). And she asked if I would do this with her. I was thinking about blogging regularly with my students. Since I ask them to be part of the network, I think this is something I should commit to as well. I already have three posts in my head I want to get out, and hopefully they will keep coming. I encourage you to follow Lauren as well.

Number 3-Do one thing-this one is easy and NOT, all at the same time. This year, I really want to focus on learning differently with my students. I want to help them develop a mindset that there is not one way to solve the problem, complete the project, write the essay, or take notes. I want there to be a multitude of ways for them to demonstrate their learning and understanding. I also want to focus on writing-A LOT. I want my boys to be better writers, and to realize that writing is a good thing (thanks Martha Stewart). In this life, you need to know how to write, and more importantly, how to write/ communicate effectively. I want to move away from the standardized practice of the 5 paragraph essay, and have them write in a wide variety of forms- movie scripts, cartoons, editorials, memoirs, etc… Any interesting writing ideas that you come across, please pass my way. I plan on meeting with them individually to assess their writing and work on their writing throughout the semester. But Karl- that is my one thing!

So here it is, another school year, another set of goals, but a new chance to start fresh, to change lives, and to change the world.