Friday, December 3, 2010

How to Teach with Google and a PLN in Bliss

On Wednesday, I had wonderful opportunity to visit my Alma Mater (The College of New Jersey) and share my passions with aspiring English teachers.  My secondary English teaching professor, Dr. Emily Meixner, does a wonderful job of keeping in touch with alumni so that they can come back and share their experiences in the field with ENGT students at different events and “How to Teach” seminars.  As an undergraduate, I always enjoyed these workshops because I was able to see many practical applications of the English teaching methods we learned about.  It was very rewarding to return and share what has made a significant impact on my teaching. 

Over the past couple of years, I’ve truly embraced technology as a secondary English teacher.  Though I admit that I can sometimes be overly zealous about using technology, I began the seminar by noting that I promote using technology not merely for the sake of using technology, but for meaningful educational purposes.  I showed a short clip from Rutgers English Department’s  Richard E. Miller’s “This is how we dream” video because I think it presents the most compelling argument I know for English teachers to value digital literacy and new media. Richard E. Miller’s presentation illuminates how influential digital proficiencies will be in students’ professional lives.  Although Miller has published books and articles, he recognizes that the information he delivers in this video on YouTube is somewhat more effective because it reaches wider audiences faster than if he had written it in text and published the information.  In fact, Miller first delivered this video presentation to the Modern Language Association in 2008 and notes that it acquired 9,000 views in the first three months and “changed his travel plans virtually every week.”

I also showed undergrad and graduate students ( how Google Apps for Education is spreading across the world in higher education.  I shared technological tools  (Google Apps and Jing, which are both free) I’ve used to foster active reading, collaborative writing, and improved feedback.  I shared some resources for developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN, but afterwards, I really wished that I emphasized how developing a PLN on Twitter has provided invaluable networking tools. Reading various blogs and participating in Twitter discussions (like #edchat or #engchat) awaken me to so many interesting things that teachers, principals, and librarians do.  For current students seeking teaching jobs next year, I can’t think of a better way to familiarize themselves with educators across the globe and make connections with teachers and principals that share the same values (I’ve actually seen many tweets about teaching openings).  I’m fortunate to work in a school that inspires me every day in different ways, but I’m also thankful that my connections on Twitter, Ning, and Blogger keep me in touch with the ways other educators make a positive impact on the schools in which they work.  

From only a few months of student teaching, people who attended the workshop shared great resources and examples of student work.  Their students have used texting in the classroom (as a type of back channelling) and I saw amazing book trailers and got a lot of new ideas from talking with them.   I thank them for sharing and inspiring me to try new things and follow new blogs like this one:  

Some final thoughts and suggestions:
                       - My best regards to The College of New Jersey and thank you to all of you who attended. 
      -  Take any classes you can with Dr. Meixner and Professor Sowder; they always inspire me to be better.
      - Start small.  Use Google forms for simple surveys (only you need a gmail account and students just need a link to the form).
     - Develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN) online (via Twitter, Ning or whatever works best for you) that will foster your learning and move you to collaborate with people outside of your typical teaching/learning community.
       - Model good digital citizenship for your students.  Show them how to be 21st century learners and positive contributors to online writing communities. 
       - Please keep in touch so that we can continue to learn together and collaborate in the future (Email: or Twitter: @michelleleandra).

Friday, October 8, 2010

Questioning Wikipedia: Enhancing Research Skills with Google Apps

In prior years while teaching The Crucible, I found that students became so involved in the play that they’d often forget that the characters are representative of the true historical figures.  I constantly would point students to the historical note Miller includes at the very beginning.  I suppose I should feel fortunate that students were getting into the drama, but I wanted the history to be more at the forefront of their thinking.  

Consequently, I wanted students to find out more of the background information about the real lives of the people Miller dramatizes.  All seventy-five students had to add a fact to the spreadsheet above about the people Miller writes about from the Salem Witch Trials or facts on Arthur Miller and McCarthyism.  The reason why a Google Spreadsheet is an essential tool is because students had to review all other students’ responses in order to research and contribute a new fact.  Even though it was a fairly short assignment, all of my American literature classes collaboratively completed in-depth research because they built their research on many other students’ work.  

The three right hand columns in yellow were not apart of the original assignment.  I spoke with my high school’s media specialist, LaDawna Harrington, about helping students begin to evaluate their sources and she suggested the three tasks listed below.  Students had to “do a background check” of the writers of their original sources and then compare their research results to the same topic searches on Wikipedia.  This was a short assignment, but I reinforced the importance of summarizing research in their own words and evaluating the credibility of the sources.  For the reflection part of the assignment, I emphasized that it was okay if they did not find the most credible sources, but it is something to recognize and learn from.  

Many students reflected on how most of the information they found was comparable on Wikipedia, but how one source is never enough to validate information.  One student wrote, “Because the information in the original article and the Wikipedia article were very similar, it’s implied that this information is probably accurate. However, it certainly stands questionable when referencing Wikipedia whether the information is correct or not, and that will be kept in mind.”
Another wonderful aspect of the spreadsheet is that I was able to share it with some of my students' history teachers as well as our school librarian. Sharing our resources will help us make cross-curriculum connections and I value their imput on the students' research.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In Praise of the New Jersey Council of the Humanities

I spent this past week at Stockton University learning about Adolescent and Young Adult Literature with teachers accross the state of New Jersey.  Nearing the end of the summer, I couldn’t think of a better way to refresh and prepare for the school year than to spend this week with librarians, reading specialists, and fellow English teachers who are passionate about their work. 
The reading list was incredible and varied.  I was able to reread books that I love, like Pam Munoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak.  The reading list also exposed me to new books and helped me sympathize with reluctant readers when I struggled through my reading of Watchmen.  One quote that stayed with me was, "Everyone's a struggling reader when given the right text."
During one of our early discussions about Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, we compared her book to the movie version.  We agreed that we preferred the book mainly because the book’s language entailed more humor and sarcasm.  We had concerns about the movie’s representation of “IT” (Melinda’s rapist in the novel) because the movie seemed to humanize him more than the book did.  The best part was that I was able to ask Laurie Halse Anderson what she thought of Andy Evan’s representation.
@halseanderson We talked about the rep. of Andy Evans in the movie vs. "IT" in the book...What did you think of the movie's version?
@michelleleandra I think the movie nailed him; an avg. entitled guy who knows what he did is wrong but doesn't want to believe it.
It was great to have the author’s take on our discussion and we appreciated Laurie Halse Anderson’s willingness to respond to our questions.  Later in the day, Carol Plum-Ucci spoke to our seminar about her book Streams of Babel.  I enjoyed our discussion and decided to write my follow-up paper for graduate credit on her book and the way she empowers her young characters in their fight against bioterrorism.
Jennifer Rowsell visited our seminar later in the week and encouraged us to think about the different types of learners we have in our classes and how we can incorporate multi-modal texts.  Her presentation made me consider ways that I could incorporate students’ interest in video games to build problem-solving and collaborative skills.  Her idea was to take a movie like The Princess Bride, watch it in class with students and have discussions about setting and characters.  The challenge for students would require them to switch genres and make the movie into a video game by developing avatars and obstacles to move up levels.  Her presentation made most of us rethink what texts and how students’ reading abilities are limited if we confine reading to the traditional word.
Yesterday was our last full day of the seminar and we visited the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia.  It was great to see dime novels and first edition copies of works by Cooper, Melville, and Dickinson.  I was particularly interested in the display of Maurice Sendak’s work.  Sendak based a lot of his work on Grimm fairy tales, and believes that children love the stories because there’s truth behind them even if they’re grim or dark.  
The learning opportunities the seminar afforded were incredible.  Although I recognize it sounds corny, I acquired the best resources by talking and collaborating with other participants.  I had great discussions with other teachers about books and professional development experiences they’ve had.  The seminar’s participants shared many resources on a Google Site and with Google Groups and I look forward to collaborating with new colleagues throughout the year. This year was certainly a difficult year for many NJ teachers and national education budgets; I am so appreciative that the New Jersey Council for the Humanities was still able to support this invaluable program. I encourage NJ residents to support NJCH and teachers should consider applying to an institute next summer.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Googlevated: My District Expands Collaboration with Google Apps for Education

Over the past year, I piloted Google Apps for Education with my school district.  While I worked with students to collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, I constantly wondered how great it would be if more of my colleagues were on board.  This week, I worked with the technology department (Elizabeth Bagish and Lori Princiotto) and Lisa Thumann as lead learners to help teachers from a variety of grade levels and subject areas use Google Apps to promote teaching and learning.  I learned a lot over the past two days and I am inspired by my colleagues’ ideas and interest in collaborating. 

Yesterday, I used this presentation to lead a session on Google Documents, Presentations and File Management.  I never used the new version of Google documents with students, so there were a couple of items that teachers helped me discover.  For example, I was unfamiliar with the new format of the revision history.  Teachers in my session showed me how to access time stamps of individual changes to the document:

During my sessions, I shared some of my experiences using Jing to give feedback on student writing.  With the easy download of jing in the right corner of my desktop, I think that it’s the perfect application to use with Google documents because the screencasts can be shared with students or colleagues by copying and pasting a single link (I used SMART Recorder in the past, but I found that the files were so large that they were difficult to share with people). 
Today, there was more time for project planning and it was great to see how people’s lessons were evolving.  I was excited because I was able to work with Langauge Arts teachers from the Middle School.  They are going to get all sixth and seventh grade students on Google Apps accounts.  I shared my first collaborative writing assignment with students and offered suggestions for a text to text collaborative writing assignment they plan to use to launch Google Apps. 

On the high school level, a history teacher approached me about working collaboratively on a unit with his American history students and my American literature students.  Unlike many middle school settings, the high school does not afford teachers to work in grade level teams and there are more limited opportunities for cross-curricular projects because we will often have different groups of students and different planning times.  We were both excited when we decided to work together on a unit on The Crucible and the Salem Witch Trials.  Even if we do not have common planning time, Google Apps affords us the ability to share resources easily.  Over the summer, as we amass resources for teaching these units, we’ll add links and documents to a shared folder.  I'm glad that working together will help me learn about the resources students encounter in their history classes and it will motivate me to add more research to this unit.  

My work throughout the year convinced me that Google Applications provide collaborative tools that open so many opportunities for teaching and learning with my students.  Working with my colleagues on Google Apps was an amazing experience (I'm Googlevated!).  Their ideas helped me refine and plan new approaches to my lessons and assessments and I’m looking forward to see how our work will impact collaboration in the school community.  

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Above & Beyond "Movie Day"

Last week, my students were excited to see that I had a video set and ready to go for class that day.  I think they initially failed to notice that there was also a cart of laptops in the far corner of the room.

My students were about to begin a thematic unit in American literature on war and remembrance.  A couple of the books we read pertain to the Vietnam War (The Things They Carried and In Country) so I like to provide students with ample background information about the war.  This year, I decided that students would be responsible for researching more of the information.  I openly tell students that the historical background is not my area of expertise and that we must work together to learn about the war.

I borrowed a documentary about the Vietnam War from my school's history department and I gave students the following directions to complete during their viewing of the film by opening a shared Google Apps presentation:

In class today, you will be assigned to one of the topics on the next few slides to build class research on the Vietnam War (from this website  Please work with your partner silently to take information from the film, the packet, and the website to add to the presentation and remember that the main purpose is to increase our background knowledge.   

Include at least 3 key points/facts.
Feel free to include a relevant link/picture that you can find on your topic.  

The website for the National Vietnam War Museum helped me to assign pairs of students to topics and sub-topics on the shared presentation.  Students subsequently needed to view the documentary and the corresponding packet to develop the three points or facts they wanted to present.  They worked with their partners to incorporate any relevant links and images.  

I found that having students work in pairs motivated them to stay on task.  Also, I had the shared presentation open during the film and I was able to comment on slides that students were working on to give students more direction and guide them to related links for images and video.  Since it was a shared presentation, students could refer to the presentation throughout their readings this quarter by accessing their Google Apps accounts.  This link will bring you to the initial slides I developed and a sample slide a pair of students created during class.

Thank you for reading.  Please respond to tell me about any innovative ways you've used Google presentations, films, or virtual museums in your classroom!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Next Step: Reaching Authentic Audiences via Digital Writing Portfolios

Students in my creative writing class recently worked on a collaborative whole-class story (see prior blog posts to find out about the planning/writing process via Google Apps).  Sixteen students submitted plot ideas, developed a detailed outline, wrote an 8-page story, and revised and edited their work together.  Written collaboration on such a large scale was not an easy feat and took a good amount of time.  However, most students agreed that they revised more than they would typically revise an individual writing assignment and the final product was better than they expected.

I was inspired to help students get more recognition for their work and I hoped that they could reach authentic audiences by developing digital portfolios.  Will Richardson's "Footprints in a Digital Age" helped me draft letters to parents that encouraged them to teach their children how to begin to build networking skills and academic portfolios via online spaces.  I then sent letters home to parents that commended students' excellent work and asked for their parents' permission to publish a digital portfolios by using Google Apps for Education.  All sixteen students received permission from their parents to publish their websites.

Below is the Twitter post I wrote to help students get readership:
Please Read & Comment: 16 students + 3 computers=Short Story and planning

Initially, I think that some students believed that creating digital portfolios was merely an assignment that I asked them to do because I like technology.  However, at the bottom of the website, I embedded a form for comments on the story and I shared the spreadsheet results with students.

Students' ability to access feedback on their writing from audiences all over the world changed thier perceptions of the online portfolios.  Most students started to post more of the writing pieces on their individual sites and improved the overall appearance of their websites.  They even edited the settings of the feedback form so that they would receive email notifications when someone posted a new comment.  

Throughout the process, I tried to model the ways I work to reach authentic audiences.  I showed students how I posted the comment on Twitter and sent emails to colleagues who I thought would be interested in the work.  Even if creative writing is not their key interest, I distributed copies of Will Richardson's article so that they could imagine ways the process could benefit their personal interests.  

My class is still looking for more ways to expand their readership and to find venues that publish student writing.  If anyone could recommend where my students could submit their story, my class would greatly appreciate it. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Google Apps for Librarians

I've been working to foster an independent reading program with my high school students.  I encouraged students to add book recommendations to this spreadsheet and I was able to share the spreadsheet with librarians at my school.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Five Reasons Why English Teachers Should Use Twitter

1. Networking with other teachers: The technology we have available today enables educators to share lessons, websites, and writing in real time. As English teachers, don’t we want to model our interest in reading the most current information? At a recent staff development session with Lisa Thumann, she encouraged teachers and administrators to consider sharing more of their ideas and resources because the more you contribute to Twitter, the more likely it is that people will engage you in conversation and share their resources with you.

2. 2. Speed: If you are following people who have the same interests as you, you are more than likely to get tweets that link to articles and resources you would normally search for on Google. Because I follow many librarians on my twitter page, I found out about the release of the World Digital Library before my school’s library did. I do not have to wait until the English Journal (which I subscribe to in print) or Library Journal releases an article that calls it to my attention.

3. 3.Links to valuable writing: When I first used twitter, I just browsed what was there and never wrote my own tweets because I didn’t really get it. How can you write anything of value in only 140 characters? Once I started following people who tweet more than, “I ate breakfast and took my dog for a walk,” I found that so many people post links to different articles or their own blogs. I often follow links to blogs of teachers, administrators, and technology experts to see how other schools approach professional development, technology, and writing.

4. . Find authors: It is highly likely that authors that your students read are on twitter. If you and your students become engaged in conversations, it is possible to build relationships and possible Skype opportunities. I’m still working on this, but in a time when funding for school trips will be scarce, the authentic learning opportunities that are available online cannot be overlooked.

5 5. Voice What Matters: Promote educational goals you care about. Sometimes, I’ll retweet (copy someone’s tweet so that my followers can see the post) a link to a news article that I think people should read or that would interest my followers. Also, twibes are very simple things, but function like many other campaigns. If you follow me on twitter, (michelleleandra) you will find a twibe (banner) over my photo that says,“Save Libraries.”

On a side note, find yourself on this twitter life cycle:

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Amy Tan & Sandra Cisneros on the Creative Process

I'm currently teaching a unit on multicultural literature in my American literature classes. I've taught this unit a couple of years ago, and since then, I'm surprised by how many wonderful resources are available online.
1. Amy Tan on Creativity (TED Talks)
Amy Tan is one of my favorite authors and this piece delves into her background and her mother's inspiration. It was helpful to show a few minutes to my students prior to reading "Rules of the Game," "Mother Tongue," and "Fish Cheeks."
Sandra Cisneros discusses her experiences in a poetry seminar in graduate school when she had writer's block. I can relate to the part of the video when she discusses how it's difficult to develop good ideas as a young writer. She was twenty-two when she wrote The House on Mango Street and she cites the typical advise that most writing instructors give, "to write what you know." However, she expands on it by explaining that she got out of her writer's block by writing not only what she knew, but what nobody else knew. I hope this video can help high school students to think deeply about their unique experiences and to develop strong creative writing pieces.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Follow-up on Whole-Class Writing

Students used Google Applications today to plan a whole-class mystery/horror story. They voted on a plot summary that one of their classmates wrote. They broke the story into three parts so that they could work in groups to write the three sections of the story. I simply shared a single document with the whole class and then each group had one member log into the document and take notes for their group as the class discussed the three parts of the story. They decided on character names, conflicts, investigation, and the resolution. I'm excited to see how the final story develops.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

NoodleTools for the Research Paper

Today, I taught my students how to use NoodleTools for the research paper. I think that most students and teachers at my school use NoodleTools exclusively to develop MLA citations. I was more interested in using NoodleTools when I found out that digital annotations and note cards can be shared with a class for the teacher to monitor. Today, students learned about how to access the different databases our school subscribes to and then to share their lists for this research paper with me. The image at the top of the page shows how I was able to make comments on their citations. Even though NoodleTools merely asks for students to input the information about the source, it is sometimes difficult for students to identify the titles of the articles and main sources. I feel like my ability to constantly keep track of students' sources will help me give feedback during the research process and correct many mistakes before they submit their final work.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Google Form to Plan Whole-Class Creative Writing

I really like to teach my elective creative writing class to write collaboratively. Google Apps for Education has provided the perfect platform for collaborative writing. I recently began a genre unit and students have been reading short stories by Poe, Bradbury, and Jackson. At the end of the week, their first main writing assignment will require each student to pitch an idea for a plot the whole class can write together. I started it as a form because I wanted students to submit their original ideas without the influence of their peers. After all students submit, I will share the spreadsheet for all students to view and edit. During class, I plan to put students in groups of 4-5 students with one laptop per group to review and discuss the plot ideas (see below). The class will vote on one plot for the whole class to pursue. I'm hoping that students can plan a more detailed outline on the SMART board and then they'll go back to their groups to write specific parts of the story. I will post afterward to write about the results.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Google Docs and the Research Paper

I began piloting my school district's switch to Google Applications for Education with my American literature and Creative Writing courses in September. I've enjoyed using Google documents, forms, spreadsheets and presentations with students.

Recently, I experimented with templates by creating a template of a spreadsheet for my students to use in order to begin adding quotes and analysis for their two texts they will use for their research papers. I really like that I'm able to color-code the template and ask students to share their work with me. Since they shared the templates with me to edit, I'm able to give them feedback along the way. Next week, I plan to teach them how to use Noodle Tools so that they can share their digital notecards and annotations with me as they begin finding literary criticism.