Sunday, April 28, 2013

Talking Squirrels & Ninjas: Silly Technology Use

While browsing through the Language Arts community on Edmodo, I came across a post by Kalina Noelle, who shared a simple and easy newspaper clipping generator, and Mrs. Osborne who replied with another site with even more newspaper templatesCool!

While the newspaper clipping tool is very useful for creating story starters or fake articles about content studied in class, I also came across something even cooler on the site and generator blog:

Talking Squirrels. Really?!

Create your own Animation

Who doesn't love talking, googly-eyed squirrels, owlstomatoes, cats or flowers!? Not me!

And it gets even better! Shut up!  

How about some ninjas and wizards writing messages?! No way!

Use them for eye-catching quick reminders for class or just plain ol' silliness to jazz up boring content on a class webpage. Awesome!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Voice Comments on Google Docs!

Check out this video, fellow teacher Carolyn P. and I made introducing Voice Comments as a cool tool for the 21st Century. Primarily used for the teacher to record voice comments on a student's Google doc, I anticipate that the capabilities will expand to include use for peer editing with classmates, and, as you will hear, use for classes that require audio.  Major props to Sam Patterson for sharing this tool with me! Just search the Chrome Web Store for Voice Comments, connect the app to your Drive, and begin using.

I am very excited to use this tool for providing students feedback on their writing.  The process is much quicker than red penning or creating screencasts of each doc, and I like that comments are linked directly to the document instead of using an MP3 voice recorder app to email a voice message to a student.

This tool is ridiculously easy to use and set up, and as an English teacher who has lots of writing to grade and critique, I'm ecstatic to use it.... wait, did I just say I'm ecstatic to grade?! This must be a cool tool!


Saturday, April 20, 2013

#OdysseyExperts & Showcasing Student Work

In my last post, I discussed that academic writing needs to be put on display and showcased to motivate students to write well. Writing is meant to be read, not to be locked up in a folder in a file cabinet or later tossed in the trash after the grade received.  Students think that when they turn in the assignment and meet the teacher's due date, the writing is good & done.  My other posts address my frustrations with grading the "got it done" academic writing:

But what if teachers steered students in another direction and away from the impending due date? By telling students that their work will be published, instead of graded, they will (hopefully, fingers crossed) write a better final product than the "good enough, got it done" essay, and then once the essay has been written, peer edited, and then published, the teacher can go through the work and assess if the objectives of the assignment were met. While I'm not a fan of putting grades on student writing, I get it: teachers need to follow the rules or expectations of school districts and have grades in their grade book.  With the red-pen system students only see the negative and the grade, but by using a showcase approach, teachers can arrive at the same destination but in a more positive manner.  In a way, it is tricking the students to write better the first time than waiting for the grade on the paper.

Student Showcase: #OdysseyExperts

The Design

One of the Topic Pages with Links to Student Essays
Teaming up with Sam Patterson and using Google Sites, I created a place for my students to showcase their Odyssey essays and receive feedback from Sam's classes and anyone else who visits the site.  The process was fairly easy:

  1. Create the site.
  2. Organize the essays by topic.
  3. Embed each essays on subpages to the topic page.
  4. Create a Google Form for comments and embed the form on each essay page.
  5. Embed the spreadsheet on the comment page.
  6. Create a page for comments from Sam's classes and embed a shared folder.
  7. Share, share, share with my PLN.

The Feedback Display

Sam's classes had two options for submitting their feedback:

  • complete the form on a chosen essay page or 
  • save their comments document in a shared folder.  

Public Comments Spreadsheet
Only owners and collaborators on a Google Site may comment on the pages, so as a work around, I embedded the same form on each student subpage and created a public comment page where all the comments will appear.  I was initially going to do a comment form and spreadsheet for each student, but that meant 65 separate forms for each essay on the site, and the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to have a public comments page where the students would have to read through the comments to
find their own. The point of this project was to make student writing and feedback visible, so I want all students to see all essays and all comments.

Shared Folder of Collection of Comments
While the shared folder doesn't allow for complete visibility of feedback because my students will have to open each document in the shared folder to see all comments, students would still be able to see 1 or 2 other comments for other students because each of Sam's students wrote comments for more than 1 student on the document. In addition, some of Sam's students made videos and screencasts of commentary for my students. #EduAwesome!

After 14 years of teaching, I'm just tired of student writing being hidden and dying a death in a dusty folder in a locked file cabinet, and students thinking that the only relevant audience for their work is the teacher. I want the writing to breathe and live. By putting academic writing on display and allowing for interaction, students will see their work and the work of others and gain a better understanding of their potential and abilities for writing.

Please visit the #OdysseyExperts site, read, comment, and share. The students need to see that their writing is alive. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Writing about Grading Writing (Again)

I'm constantly writing about the dilemmas of student writing and how to grade student academic writing in an efficient and effective manner. This is probably borderline obsessive... but, I am the type of learner who when faced with an issue/problem/question, obsesses until ... ...  ....

Options for Grading Writing:

  1. Traditional: teacher does all the grading and marking up of students' writing. 
  2. Progressive:  students peer edit and self assess using guided structure provided by teacher
  3. Techie Traditional: teacher uses Google forms with the Autocrat, Doctopus, and  Goobric scripts, as well as other online rubric tools to assess student work.
  4. Techie Progressive:  teacher designs the rubric and assessment process on a Google form using the Autocrat script and the students peer edit each other.
  5. Ungraded: the teacher does not grade the writing.

Options #1-3 require time and effort in class and by the teacher.  I have happily peer edited on paper with my students, but there was just too much paper and it took up time in class.

Option #4 can be completed in and out of class, but it takes time to set up the forms, feedback docs, and scripts. BIG HUGE THANKS to Cheryl, Karl, Troy & all the Twitter peeps (Again & AGAIN) for walking me through creating this process, and the creator of the Autocrat script, Andrew Stillman, for answering my gazillion questions. I'm working on ways to better streamline the process (and not split my infinitives), but trust me, it is well worth the effort to guide students through troubleshooting their writing.

But, Option #5 I'm stealing (again) from Cheryl Morris. :-)

Un-grading Student Writing

In our #ElaFlip Hangout talking about assessing writing, Cheryl stated that she tries to detach grades from student writing. I forgot to ask if she was talking about creative writing or academic writing, but should it matter? 

Art & Academic Writing

Picture from J. Kronenber'g's Blog Post "I Can't Explain  It"
I completely agree with not scoring creative writing. I have never been comfortable putting a grade on creativity and therefore have never sought out teaching a creative writing course-- it is art and art is subjective: one critic might give Ellsworth Kelly's Blue Panel an A+ and another might give it an F. The simplest question in assessing the art is, "Does it hold meaning for me as the viewer?" The same subjective scoring can be used on student creative pieces.

I know, I know, some will say, rubrics make the scoring objective, but really? Rubrics turn writing into objects that sit on shelves. Rubrics are limiting!   Students only strive to hit the points on the rubric and not beyond.  They become complacent when they get the grade, and whose grade is it when the teacher designed the rubric?

I know, I know, I could get my ninth grade students to design the rubric with me, but they are just learning how to write, so do they know what to even put on the rubric? And me leading them for what to put on the rubric is still me, the teacher, controlling the rubric. I could use my O-S-U rubric (again) or use standards based grading and score for mastery, but does the grade on the paper push the student to continue writing? No! As Cheryl and the other ELA flippers (Andrew, Katie, Dave, & many more) will agree, as soon as a student receives the grade, he/she thinks the process is done. The point should be about keeping students writing until ...  ... ...

I fondly remember the yearly high school trip to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, and every time we flew through the exhibits just to sit in front of that blue panel and "critique" it.  My naive teenage friends and I would mimic high brow folks and comment in horrendously fake British accents on the composition, scale, and other fancy art terms, nicknaming it, "The Blue Rhombus of Life". Granted, our obsession with this painting was seemingly in a joking manner, but the fact remains that painting is still hanging in Gallery 915.

"I have worked to free shape from its ground, and then to work the shape so that it has a definite relationship to the space around it; so that it has a clarity and a measure within itself of its parts (angles, curves, edges and mass); and so that, with color and tonality, the shape finds its own space and always demands its freedom and separateness."- Ellsworth Kelly

But, this got me thinking: is this why I've had so much trouble scoring student academic writing? Every method I have used, revolves around my expectations: how well did the student follow my directions, display the knowledge I taught, and use the conventions the students have been taught throughout their academic career? I can lead the students through trouble shooting and revising their essays. I can score them on participation  meeting checkpoints, and being held accountable for the process, but do I, the teacher, really have to put a final grade on the essay?

During the #ELAFlip hangout, Katie Reagan explained that her students peer edit with other classes and students not at her school.  Getting students out of their comfort zone certainly motivated them to perform. What about an even greater audience on the web?  What about publishing their work for a bigger audience than my two hazel eyes to see? Wouldn't that "grade" the piece? It is so simple:  Is the writing ready for publication and to be "hung in a gallery"? And wouldn't that prospect motivate the student to perform well? Isn't that better than any grade I could put on the page or in my gradebook?

To adapt Kelly's words, writing is also about playing with the "color and tonality" of words so that words take shape and have a "definite relationship" that has "clarity and measure". Creative writing is an obvious form of art, and academic writing should also be considered no less an art, but many teachers and students drown in the red ink and forget the art of academic writing.

So, stop grading and focus on crafting, molding, and painting with words. 

Turn your student writers into artists.

Post Script:  Check out my next post, #OdysseyExperts, because I put into practice my ideas about showcasing writing.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Online Mentoring via Edmodo & Google

In December, Dean Shareski, professor at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada, put a call out on Twitter for teachers who would be willing to pair with his pre-service student teachers for a virtual mentoring project. While I've mentored pre-service teachers in person (and in New Jersey), doing so online was new for me, and I jumped on the opportunity. Using Edmodo for the virtual classroom space, teachers and students connected from 1,972 miles away.

SRHS to University of Regina = 1,972 mi, approximately 30 hrs driving

I've had the privilege and honor to work with Jozette Sherstabitoff the past few months. Joz connected with students on Edmodo and worked with them on collaborative Google Docs. Joz and I communicated via Edmodo, Gmail and Google Hangouts.  I have thoroughly enjoyed working together, but what is more important are her thoughts on the experience....


My mentoring teacher, Kate, asked me to write a guest post for her blog. Check out Kate’s blog @
When I first entered into this mentoring program, I was a little hesitant. First off, I am a middle years person and Kate teaches senior English. I was a little intimated to start, not knowing what I could offer her. However, as the semester progressed, I realized that the difference between our teaching levels did not necessarily matter. I was still able to learn many new things that can be applied to my level of teaching.
Here are some reflections on what we have done and what we have learned.
What have Kate and I been doing this semester?
  • Commenting on assignments in Edmodo
  • Commenting on papers in Google Docs
  • Having a Google Hangout with the students
  • Making a video for students to watch
  • Creating a quiz on Edmodo for students to complete after watching my video
What are the benefits of being mentored?
  • Learning new tools. The biggest thing I took out of mentoring is Edmodo. Edmodo is like an online classroom, where Kate can upload videos, assignments and quizzes. It is a great way to have students collaborate online and outside of the classroom. Edmodo is also great for reducing paper use!
    • I can use Edmodo in the middle years just the same way Kate uses it at the senior level. I could upload videos for students to watch during class and after class. Assessments can be taken online just the same as at the senior level.
  • Learning new teaching styles. I was exposed to the flip classroom idea through Kate. I have heard about the idea before and was able to see some models throughout her class. The exposure will benefit me in the future if it is a style I choose to adopt.
  • Learning new assessment techniques. Kate got me thinking about assessment in general and the styles I use.
    • The assessment she uses can be applied to middle years level. For example, Kate uses a rubric called OSU (outstanding, satisfactory, unsatisfactory) and gives students a mark from it. The rubric can be used to assess at the middle years level.
The main benefit of being mentored is the thinking that happens! Kate always had me thinking about what I would do differently, what I like, and what I do not like about her class and education in general.
What are the benefits of being a mentor?
  • Reflecting on assignments. Kate keeps me updated on the learning that is happening in her classroom. While telling me what is being taught, I believe she is able to reflect upon the significance of their tasks.
  • Getting another opinion. Kate explains what the students are doing and how she is assessing them. When Kate tells me about the assignments and assessments she is able to ask my opinion, what I would do differently, what I like, etc. Kate is able to see a different perspective through my answers, and justify her own reasons by explaining what she does to me.
  • Another set of eyes on her students. Kate asked me what I thought about her student’s online identity. Having another aspiring teacher look over student work is a pure benefit for the students. They have another proof reader to help them be successful.
The main benefit of being a mentor is the reflection that happens. I think Kate is able to reflect on her teaching by showing me what she does.
I would like to thank Kate for the experience she has given me. I enjoyed her, and her students very much. Thank you for taking me in!!! :)

In addition, check out our Google Hangout discussing technology integration in the classroom.

Be sure to follow Jozette Sherstabitoff on Twitter @jshersty and read about her other adventures in teaching on her blog
And as a culminating project for the teachers and students involved in this mentoring experience, Dean Shareski organized a virtual lip dub of Chris Hadfield and the Barenaked Ladies'  song, "Is Somebody Singing." Take a look at the locations of the participants. Pretty darn cool.

Thanks again to Joz & Dean for this opportunity, and Edmodo and Google for making it happen!