Wikis in the Classroom

I am stealing this directly from Chapter 5 of Julie Ramsay’s book (page 87 to be exact), but I think it is just a perfect example of how flexible and versatile technology in the classroom can be:

“Wikis are an extremely versatile tool to implement, regardless of age group or content area, because students can be in the same physical classroom or on the other side of the world working and writing collaboratively. Here are a few other suggested applications for wikis:

  • In a math class, students can create problems and have other students respond with a written solution.
  • Students can collaborate on a class constitution or create project guidelines.
  • Students can maintain a class, schoolwide, or district wiki newsletter.
  • Students can brainstorm ideas to solve social, ecological, or cultural challenges in their communities and debate the advantages or disadvantages of various solutions.
  • Students can submit portfolios of their work, which are open to feedback from their peers.
  • Students can discuss literature, similar to a book chat or literature circle. The prompts can be student driven or teacher driven, depending on the age, content, or ability level of the learners.
  • Students can submit journal entries for a historical figure or time period, which requires them to think from another point of view.
  • Students can submit lab reports, observations, and conclusions based on hands-on experiences and research about a scientific principle.
  • Students can compose a cross-curriculum journal of varied modes of writing based on a central theme, idea, or concept.”

I love this list because it truly provides ways to use technology for differentiated instruction, different interest groups, different age and ability levels, and different ways to creatively address standards. I also feel like these are great ideas for teachers who may not be as strong in a subject area that they are required to teach. For example, they can first use wikis to do more research on a unit topic. Then, they can also use wikis with their class as a means of assessment or discovery. I know that when I have worked with Wikis in the past as a student, they have been effective tools!

Instruct…differently.

Chapter 4 of the Ramsay text highlights how technology can really improve strategies for differentiated instruction. I think this information is EXTREMELY helpful as a future teacher because

1) We must be up-to-date on the latest technology and online resources not only to stand out from other teacher applicants, but to also keep our classrooms fresh and exciting.

2) Differentiated instruction is one of the most important responsibilities of teaching.

In this post, I first want to reflect on differentiated instruction, and then talk about the two different resources that Ramsay used to assist her ELL students, struggling readers, and students with exceptional needs.

The practice of differentiated instruction is so significant to a successful classroom. To briefly address this method, it is the practice of analyzing each individual student’s academic needs and, in accordance with those results, changing their process of reaching a common final product. In differentiated instruction, it is important to note that expectations are not lowered and the assignment is not changed or made any easier; instead, it is just a different way of approaching the learning process to get there. On page 63, Ramsay quotes a well-known educator and author, Rick Wormeli, saying, “The two simple charges of differentiation are: (1) do whatever it takes to maximize students’ learning instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all, whole-class method of instruction and (2) prepare students to handle anything in their current and future lives that is not differentiated, i.e., to become their own learning advocates.” I really like this quote because it summarizes the concept of differentiated instruction, but also stresses the importance of making sure students know that life cannot always be modified to fit their needs. It is so important to be a master of differentiation in the classroom; research highly supports it and I have seen it be successful during my own observations and pre-student teaching experiences. There are so many different learners in any given classroom, and this strategy is the perfect way to accommodate to all of them.

Ramsay highlights two awesome online resources to help with differentiated instruction in this chapter. I can definitely see myself using them in the future!

Jing (pages 65-66):

  • What is it? “Jing is software that enables you to capture anything you create or see on your computer screen and share it with others as an image or as part of a slideshow or movie.”
  • Who does it help? Students who struggle with oral fluency
  • How does it help? Targets oral fluency, writing, communicating, and collaborating skills

VoiceThread (pages 67-71):

  • What is it? “VoiceThread lets you create a slideshow of images and text, including photographs, artwork, videos, documents, and classroom presentations. After uploading the project, participants can have a conversation about the VoiceThread project through voice, text, or doodling.”
  • Who does it help? Students who struggle with oral fluency and writing
  • How does it help? Collaborating skills, Zoom-in options, pursue individual topics, and hear different points of view

I have a story for you to see…

Chapter 3 of the Ramsay text stressed the importance of “students moving away from “about” presentations–those that merely summarize information–and toward higher-level presentations that draw conclusions and make applications with the information they learn.” I think this is a very interesting, yet extremely true point; far too often do students do projects on PowerPoint that just restate certain information. There is no room for creativity or more complex thinking. While the students could reach these goals on their own with any given project, I think teachers should do a better job developing and directing more advanced projects.

Branch out, people!

In the text, Ramsay discusses how she used a webinar to learn more about digital storytelling.

As her students grew fond of this idea and began anxiously starting their own project on the American Revolution, it would be very easy for them to fall into the trap of just summarizes the facts they have learned. However, with the guidance of a teacher, they were able to think more critically about the significant moment in history and make connections to the present.

With media access, I think digital storytelling offers an endless amount of possibilities for different ways to tell a story. Kids, especially in middle grades, would love this!

I like how Ramsay tackled this project for many reasons. First, she used what she had to make it work. For example, she used a free online tool for the creation of the digital stories. This proves that teachers do not need to be fancy and top-notch in order to successfully carry out a lesson. Another thing I liked was that the students worked in groups. This supports the idea of how beneficial collaborative learning can be; it also worked for her in the area of time constraints. Although I am still unsure of how I feel regarding student-created rubrics, I loved that she provided them with a checklist. The final rubric also consisted of key points for this particular group project.

I can see myself doing a similar project in my future classroom. I loved how the class had a “screening day” to watch all of the finished products- such a fun way to conclude these projects! My high school Spanish teacher did something similar, and I will always remember it as being fun and effective. We were learning about health and wellness words in class. Our assignment was to get into groups and create a short workout routine and record it. Then, the class spent the day viewing all of the “DVDs” and participating in all of the routines!

I love activities that include cooperative learning, technology, and creativity! 🙂

Critical Voice for Rubrics?

I want to take a second to respond to something Ramsay does in her classroom. I over looked it while reading the text, but after discussing writing workshops in class, I want to comment on her technique of allowing the students self-create rubrics.

I am totally, completely, 100% all for social collaboration and cooperative learning in the classroom. Both research and my own experiences are solid evidence that these methods are effective. However, when it comes to students having a say in rubrics, I can see how it is a form of social collaboration, but I do not know how I feel about it.

The reason I am saying this is because last semester, I had a professor (research writing) who allowed the students to make our class rubric for all papers. While at first I thought it was going to be a good idea, I quickly came to dislike the operation. Barely half of the class took it seriously. Too many students opted for high point values for trivial things like grammar and mechanics, and left the actual content and writing process worth barely anything. Of course, as college students, they knew what they were doing. They wanted to make the rubric as easy as possible so they could get an A.

Now, I’m all about easy A’s…

BUT…it does not matter what the assignment or how many points, I always put 150% effort into my schoolwork. It would be great to have easy and simple rubrics, of course. But it is completely unfair for a hard-working student to put so much time and effort into a paper, and end up with the same grade as a student who wanted to take the easy way out- just because they don’t have any spelling mistakes.

I am surprised the professor let this happen. But I guess that is how it is when you give students critical voice?

In my classroom management class, we are learning a multitude of classroom techniques and etiquette that we can include in our own learning environment. However, the key is that we don’t have to use them ALL. We can pick what we think will work for us, and what we don’t even want to mess with. Like I said before, I strongly believe in social collaboration and cooperative learning- including critical voice. However, I don’t see me using that structure for the creation of rubrics. I don’t want to promise my students critical voice, and then have them take advantage of it. I am not saying this would happen all of the time, but we have all been a middle school student…we know how it is…

“I’m a poet, and I didn’t even know it!”

Poetry…not necessarily the most popular unit in an English class.

In fact, the scene that plays in my mind goes a little bit like this:

Teacher: “Okay class, today we are going to start the poetry unit.”
Class: “UGGGHHHHHH”

At least, that is how I’ve always known it.

It’s not that I don’t like poetry, but I’ve never liked it IN SCHOOL. Year after year, English teachers try to push the poetry unit on their students. Year after year, these teachers fail. After working on poetry in class the past couple of days, reading Love that Dog by Sharon Creech, and Chapter 2 of the Ramsay text, I see where my previous grade school teachers have made mistakes.

First, I think it is important to expose students to a variety of poetry. They should read poems about different subjects, of different styles, and with different meanings. Too often do teachers tend to push one form above others, and not only does this get monotonous, but students are missing out on so much more. Furthermore, in Love that Dog, the Mrs. Stretchberry does not force Jack to write, share, or display his poetry. However, she does show interest and enthusiasm in doing these things, and this gives Jack comfort and a desire to write. Once again, teachers often make assignments that require students to share their writing, or publicly display a piece of poetry. Students may feel uncomfortable about sharing any piece of writing, but with such sensitive and fearful feelings surrounding poetry in particular, they may feel even worse about it. Teachers should not force this.

Another important point of poetry was brought up in the text book. Ramsay discusses her class’s sudden enthusiasm in poetry after receiving a response from their e-pals. Through communication with a group of students in a different region of the country, things they were not previously familiar with became a new topic of interest. With the new desire for discovery, the students incorporated these things into their poetry unit, and then used technology to share it. Of course, they would have to have prior schema regarding the composition of poetry, but now they have something they actually want to write about. Ramsay even included research and inquiry into these lessons. I think this a key point for teachers to remember: students will surpass any expectations when they are following a passion.

I really liked the activity we did in class with the poetry bags. I thought this was a great way to incorporate each student’s individual personal lives into a future original poem. Because each bag would be related to each student’s hobby of choice, they would enjoy writing about it. I can definitely see myself using that in the future!

Poetry Cafe

  • “Shoes” by Hilary Seserko
  • Poetry of two voices
  • Visuals: A tennis shoe and a high heel
Sneakers:                                Heels:
I am a shoe                            I am a shoe
My sole is worn                    My sole is stiff
from pounding                      from stomping
on pavement.                         on pavement.
I smell like sweat,                I smell like perfume,
endurance, and pain.          excitement, and pain.
I give support.                        I give confidence.
I am a challenge.                  I am fancy.
I only hang out with             I only hang out with
sports bras, t-shirts,             dresses, skirts,
and spandex.                          and tights.
I can run,                                 I can work,
train,                                         teach,
cycle,                                         dance,
climb.                                        impress.
I am strong                              I am powerful
only when I join                    only when I join
                           with her foot.

Journeying Through a Journal

The excerpt of Aimee Buckner’s book Notebook Know-How on the Stenhouse Publishers website immediately reminded me of a short book I just read in my ENGL 324 class (Teaching and Evaluating Writing). This book is called Breathing In, Breathing Out: keeping a Writer’s Notebook by Ralph Fletcher. In fact, the online excerpt features a quote from Fletcher, commending Buckner’s book. He says, “Reading this book, I felt my old passions rekindled, and remembered what drew me to this field in the first place. That’s the best kind of teacher renewal I can imagine.”

I cannot comment on Aimee Buckner’s book, but if it is similar to Fletcher’s, then it sounds like an outstanding guide for keeping a writer’s notebook. While Buckner’s book seems to focus more on how a teacher can implement the notebook in his or her classroom, Fletcher’s book delves into the inner-workings of a writer’s notebook, strategies to use it, and the benefits it can bring. He even includes plenty of snippets from his own book to accompany his explanations.

I have never kept a writer’s notebook for myself, but have used similar techniques in many of my English classes in the past. They were definitely effective, but Fletcher brought so many unique ways to bring out emotions, details, experiences, stories, and anything else that finds its way into the notebook. Multiple times while reading his book, I told myself to “remember this, or remember that” for my future classroom.

Because I was so pleased with Ralph Fletcher’s book, I am now very intrigued in Aimee Buckner’s book, because it is geared specifically for the late elementary/middle school classroom. I am curious as to what techniques are similar to Fletcher’s and which are different. I can imagine that a notebook would be great for a student to use to transmit their thoughts onto paper, and then translate those thoughts into pieces of literature. I have been in that place where I claim to have “writer’s block,” so I know how frustrating it can be to blankly sit at a desk, waiting for my pencil to move.

...tick, tock, tick, tock...

Fletcher wrote his book as he was telling his story of his writing notebook. In Buckner’s book, it is clear that the point of view is that of an English teacher. I think because of this, it would be more of a guide as to how to specifically apply certain writer’s notebook techniques to the classroom. I am sure they are both great resources for any English teacher, but now I am very interested in reading Buckner’s book!

Each entry holds a different story!

If students use their notebooks often, writing about their encounters with all feelings, experiences, and ideas, I can only imagine the kind of journey those journals would hold!

Let’s Get Digital

Even as an active member of the technology generation, I am still amazed at all of the technology this world currently holds. Who would have thought that we would ever use sleek electronic tablets that can act as a book, computer, game, AND camera?! Of course, I’m talking here about the iPad, which can even do so much more than I have just listed. Technology clearly plays a significant role in education as well. The iPad, for example, is being used in numerous school districts across the country to supplement curriculum, giving students of all ages different interactive learning opportunities.

iPad

This is shocking to me because, even as a young adult, I did not have such complex technology in any of my classrooms. I always had textbooks, and a trip to the computer lab in elementary school (which the teacher had to schedule well in advance) was always the best day of the week. Today, some students have the opportunity to have electronic readers in place of textbooks, and some classrooms have their own personal set of laptops for anytime use.

e-Reader

In my educational lifetime, I would say the biggest technological advancement was the SmartBoard. These are interactive whiteboard-projector systems that were designed to increase student involvement and engagement. Although expensive, the possibilities and benefits of SmartBoard can spread across all grade levels and subject areas. While I was there, my high school was fortunate enough to gain a SmartBoard in every classroom. I will definitely attest to the fact that they increased my engagement and helped me better understand certain things (physics, to be specific) by showing me different interactive approaches.

SmartBoard

However, just because every classroom received a SmartBoard, didn’t mean every teacher knew how to use it. This was truly frustrating. The substantial benefits of this specific piece of technology was being diminished by a lack of knowledge.

This same principle applies to the idea of digital writing, another form of new educational technology.

The internet, when first introduced, was a huge step in the technological era. Just like other forms of technology, it has grown leaps and bounds into something that offers endless opportunities. Students of today’s society are doing an incredible amount of digital writing on the internet through email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, wikis, blogging, and discussion boards. Although some of these examples are not the most academic in nature, many can certainly be used to produce educational success. However, teachers have to be familiar with the use of digital writing in order to reach this maximum level of learning. In 2001, Marc Prensky explained this concept by labeling current students, who have grown up with technology, as “digital natives” and adults, who are forced to learn technology as it arises, as “digital immigrants.” He says, “Our “digital native” students access, synthesize, and reply to information in ways that are fundamentally different from what most adults do. Yet we digital immigrants continue to teach “legacy content,” or traditional curricula, rather than teaching “future content” such as “software, hardware, robotics, nanotechnology, genomics, etc.” as well as “the ethics, politics, sociology, languages and other things that go with them.”

Digital native

While many adults and teachers are fully capable of, and very talented at, using technology, there is certainly a divide that can be seen. They must learn to teach with and for this digital generation in this digital landscape; in order to do that, they must be at least familiar with, and at most masters of, digital technology.

In terms of writing, technology can provide outstanding benefits. Things such as search engines, spell check, publishing tools, multimedia access, word processors, blogs, and discussion boards all create different ways to read, write, listen, and collaborate.

Laptop

As mentioned several times above, the key to all of this success is knowledge. Of course teachers must have the knowledge of what they are teaching, but they also need to know how they are going to teach it and why it is important. The “how” and “why” questions can be answered by understanding the digital landscape.

As a future teacher, I want to provide the best education to my students, and I know that technology will play a significant role in achieving this goal. Because of this, I plan on familiarizing myself with educational technology tools and staying up-to-date with any future advancements or inventions. This way, not only will my future students be able to work with these tools, but they will be able to receive the maximum benefits from them. Why? Because I will know HOW to teach the WHAT. 🙂

Writing About Writing

My feelings towards writing are strong and positive, which is probably why I chose the Middle Level Education Language Arts track. I’ve always had good experiences with writing. When I first learned to write in elementary school, teachers praised me on how neat my handwriting appeared. When I started doing more serious and in-depth writing in middle school, teachers praised me on how well I was able to put my thoughts and ideas onto paper. In high school, I explored and experimented with many different types of writing, as I challenged myself in honors English courses. Now, as a college student, I still love it. I admit that at the collegiate level, writing tends to cause a bit more stress than I would prefer, but what doesn’t?

I find that I enjoy the writing process the most when I am writing about things that interest me. My writing assignment could be anything from a 1-page response to a 10-page research paper; but if I am writing about something I care about, it is actually…fun! A common English assignment that begins around the middle school age is the dreaded research paper. I’ve had a few research assignments in the past that have been more structured, but having the flexibility to choose the direction of my paper makes the assignment go much smoother. Some of my grade school teachers must not have known that…

Basically, I like to write. And if I don’t stop now, I’ll keep writing about writing forever!