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.