Talking before writing: An interview with Goldilocks

Revised Question

How can I use technology to make grade level writing tasks accessible to English language learners and students on IEPs?

 

Our first project in grade 3

Jen Ostayan (SPED inclusion teacher)  and I ( ESL inclusion teacher) set out to help our students write narratives that changed the point of view of the narrator.  We started with the traditional tale of Goldilocks.

What makes the task hard for our students?

Students would have to tell the story from the point of view of Goldilocks.  This meant students would have to use “I” any time they referred, and the correct verb form to go with it.  They would also have to be creative in order to think about what Goldilocks might have been thinking and feeling, and then add that into their writing.

What would we have kids to in order to use speaking to practice before writing?

Students did interviews of Goldilocks.  We paired high and lower students with the high student doing the interview, and the low student playing the role of Goldilocks.  Interviewers asked questions like, “What were you thinking when you saw the house?”  and “Why did you taste the porridge?” The higher student would have the challenge of asking probing questions, the lower student would have the chance to practice what they were about to write using “I” and the proper verb.

What technology would help us and how would we use it?

Our school has Chromebook carts for grades 1-5, but the kindergarten teachers share an ipad cart.  After evaluating the technology, we decided to borrow the ipads from kindergarten because it would be the least cumbersome technology.  We used  the  ___ app.

What did we notice kids were doing while recording their interviews?

Students with quiet voices realized they had to speak up to be recorded.

Students normally hesitant to speak in front of the whole class were very engaged and spoke a lot.

Many groups, even though we didn’t tell them to, rehearsed before recording, or re-recorded to “get it write”.

They made suggestions to each other.  “Why don’t you ask me___” or “Try that again but add _____”    Some of those suggestions included adding difficult vocabulary words.

What happened when it came to write?

Students were highly motivated to write.

Students were able to use “I” without too much effort to tell the story.

One SPED student that we had been previously been unable to engage in writing was so dramatic in her recorded story telling that we put her on speech to text software and she loved the assignment.  It was a real break through for her feeling like she could be a “writer”.

What did we do next?

We had students draw pictures to go with their recordings and they shared the work with their families at open house.

Flippin’ Out

Happy December, everyone!

I wanted to write a quick blog post about something I’ve been doing in my classroom to help my students move at their own pace and get me away from the front of the classroom: making videos.

This is something I wanted to do last year, but as with any kind of mastery, it is a slow and tedious process.  Much like this quote by Ira Glass about creativity, I’ve now been teaching long enough to know how far I am from getting really good at my craft. Ah, the burden of knowledge.

Anyway, this year I started making videos to explain concepts in my class.  I use Quicktime Player on my computer to record my screen and voice while I click through a powerpoint, or record myself writing on a paper using my document camera.  I knew if I was going to start doing this, the process would have to be easy, so I did not use programs where I had to do editing or mess with an audio track.

I initially wanted to do this as a way for students to revisit instructions or catch up with the class if they were absent, but I’ve started experimenting with assigning these videos for homework.  So far, the students seem receptive to the idea of learning from a video, and I’m hoping that this will free me up to do more activities with the students, if I’ve already laid the groundwork of a concept through a video.  

Anyway, here’s an example of one of my low-fi and quickly created videos.  You can see why I asked for a USB microphone for the holidays.

Have a good one!

Alex

In the future, when we all live in underground bubble houses.
In the future, when we all live in underground bubble houses.

Touchcast: A New Look for the Screencast

For this month’s experiment in technological integration, I attempted to use a fairly new app called Touchcast. I chose to employ this application after learning about it in a course I took last summer. I liked the functionality and uses of the app. So, over the past few weeks, my students and I have been experimenting with this new app in an effort to “semi flip” my classroom.

Touchcast is new take on screencasting. For those of you that have used Explain Everything, you will be familiar with the idea of screencasting. Simply put, screencasting is when a user records their actions on their computer screen, creating a step by step video. Touchcast takes this idea to a different level. Instead of recording one’s computer screen, Touchcast allows its user to record their iPad screen. Moreover, Touchcast allows users to video record themselves or video record other individuals. While recording, or after recording is finished, the user can overlay images, more video, text, maps, and pretty much any other web based visual representation.

This is extremely useful for the classroom teacher, because once a Touchcast is finished, it can be viewed by members of the class. The reason Touchcast is so appealing is that students not only learn from making the project, but they can then view classmates’ projects and manipulate the images, watch embedded video, play with maps, games and any other vApps. (TouchCast vApps are actually just interactive web pages added on top of video. Usually, videos exist in their own box on web pages). Therefore, a finished Touchcast is more than just a static video; it is an interactive experience. The better the Touchcast is made, the more there is for the viewer to learn and do.

If all this sounds sort of complicated, it’s because it kind of is. The app is certainly a new way of thinking about technology, and there is a steep learning curve for students. Therefore, I knew I would have to give my students ample time to work on their Touchcast projects. I chose major events of the Early Cold War as the topics that my students would be covering. Therefore, my students would be building Touchcasts about the Early Cold War in place of the lessons that I would normally teach on the subject. This is the “semi flipped” classroom I mentioned earlier.

After explaining the uses of Touchcast to my students, and how it is different from a regular documentary, we embarked on a day of experimenting with the app in our school’s iPad lab. As you may recall, I am attempting to integrate technology in a classroom that does not have 1:1 technology. Therefore, lab time is essential. For the first day, students were instructed to play around on the app. A few students made goofy videos about cats and cute babies, etc.

Microsoft Word Version of the Project: Touchcast Project

I thought that the next day would be best spent researching appropriate, scholarly sources and having students write scripts to use when broadcasting their Touchcasts. I think these are important skills for juniors in high school to be able to effectively demonstrate. Accordingly, we spent the next two classes in computer labs, not to be confused iPad labs. Students researched their topics on history databases and began scripting and blocking their Touchcasts.

After these two classes, we returned to the iPad lab. I planned to give students three class periods to complete their Touchcasts, and on the fourth day, we would watch and manipulate the Touchcasts for an entire period.

The first two days of our iPad lab time went well. Students were still researching, finding vApps, and beginning the process of taping their Touchcasts. There were a lot of mistakes made, videos lost, iPads that ran out of battery, and problems that my students and I had to brainstorm how to fix (more on this in the next paragraph). Nevertheless, on the whole, the process was going smoothly.

As I mentioned, there were many unforeseen problems that we had to figure out. One of the biggest challenges was how to save student projects that were created on iPads that they did not own. One of my biggest fears was that students would work on the communal iPads only to have their projects deleted or the iPad they were working on disappear overnight. To avoid this potential issue, I had to find a way for students to upload their Touchcasts to the “cloud.” While my students were taping and scripting, I spent an entire period searching Touchcast for a solution.

I discovered a solution which proves that the fine people at Touchcast had thought about groups like mine that do not have 1:1 technology. Touchcast allows students to create their own Touchcast channels. Each of my student groups created one of these channels with a unique username and password. Each day when students entered the iPad lab, they would log in to their channel. After working on their Touchcasts, students would then upload their updated video to the cloud. After uploading their video, they are given a code by Touchcast that allows the user to pull the video down from the cloud to any iPad. This process allowed us to feel confident that student projects would still be there when we returned to the lab the next day.

Then, external events interrupted the momentum we had created. We had two, back to back snow days during classes where lab time was scheduled. Consequently, my due date was pushed back and we had a serious time crunch, because I wanted to finish the project before winter break. When we returned to school after the snow days, I gave my students two additional class periods to finish their projects. I explained that any additional work beyond those days would have to be done on their own time.

It was at this point that some of the pitfalls of the Touchcast App were exposed. Students began having difficulty uploading images and videos because of our school’s web filter. (I always joke that we are like Communist China). Other students were losing segments of their video or having difficulty understanding how to use the editing tools for Touchcast. That being said, I think many of these problems are ones that you have to expect when you are using new technology.

Shockingly, one student expressed to me that they wished they had simply written a research paper instead. I told the student not to worry, because we will be doing that next month!

After seven lab periods, students were finally finishing their projects. We had a few final hiccups were students had difficulty uploading their completed videos to their channels. However, by the last lab day, I had all of the completed Touchcasts.

In the end, I was satisfied with the final products. I have to give my students credit for creating a project using an application that was completely new to them. My students navigated a big learning curve, largely on their own, where they had to tape, edit, and imbed images and clips into a video. Impressively, they successfully did all of this and with only a few complaints.

The final projects all have issues. Some are not edited together tightly enough, and others lack a coherent story or do not include enough vApps. However, I think each video displays different strengths of the Touchcast app and the student groups that made them. Some Touchcasts use a lot of images and video clips, while others are more like documentary style videos. In the end, students provided solid content and varied videos. I think that they also enjoyed tapping into their creative side to present on the Historical event they had researched. I would definitely use this app again in the future. Furthermore, I can now say that I know how to use it.

Check out the finished videos below!

Truman Doctrine & Marshall Plan

Berlin Blockade & Berlin Airlift

Korean War

NATO & Warsaw Pact

Massive Retaliation & Brinkmanship

Duck & Cover – Civil Defense in the Nuclear Age

U2 Incident

 

Researching Battles

One part of history that I always struggled to get into was war battles, and so that followed me into my teaching. Any unit that is war-themed, which let’s be honest, there are quite a few, always make me a little anxious for how I’m going to try to make a creative and engaging lesson on the actual fighting-the-war part. I think I’ve tried a different approach each time I’ve reached that point in a unit, so again I faced this dilemma with World War I in my freshman class. I decided this would be a good opportunity to try working with a structured research assignment using the iPads in class.

I had small groups assigned to one of four significant battles in the war, and they had to do some research to determine why this battle mattered. I introduced these as some of the bloodiest battles in the war, which definitely hooked some students. And really just sent them off to find out why.  Each group had a “starter set” of information to read through to help focus their research. Something I’ve noticed from previous research assignments is that students often get intimidated by the amount of information out there. I figured that by finding sources to frame the basis of their knowledge of their battle, I could avoid some of that initial intimidation that can keep students from really knowing anything about their topic.

One other strategy I decided to implement in this project was for students to write out more detailed research questions as they read through each new source. After talking with our school librarian a few months ago, she highlighted how often our freshmen struggle crafting research questions in the first place. That is why I gave my students the overarching research question, but had them create their own sub-questions as they continued with the research process. Groups came up with some great ideas like:

  • How did they rebuild their city after the war?
  • How did reinforcements know to come help the French?
  • What is the benefit of the Turks being pushed out of the war?
  • Did the allies go back to fight in the Ottoman Empire ever again?
  • How did this battle affect or change the war overall?
  • How did the weather impact the battle?
  • Why are New Zealand and Australia in this battle?

Overall, there were still many clarification type questions listed, but I was still very excited to see these types of connections questions that groups were asking to inform their research.

Being able to use the iPads as a tool for this assignments was very powerful. Because there are always issues with the iPads ranging from it’s not working, it’s been left at home, or some students just don’t have one, I made sure that this wasn’t an iPad dependent assignment for all students. I made sure each group had at least one, and printed off paper copies of the articles in that “starter set” of information. Beyond that, groups had to use the library databases to find at least one more article on their iPad to answer those sub-questions that still lingered in their minds.

By the end of the assignment, I would say that most students had a pretty solid understanding of the basic idea of their battle and why it mattered in the war. I was pretty happy with this assignment in the end with how it was a good balance of scaffolded research skills and integrating the iPads in the class. I’m sure the assignment could be spiced up a bit in the future, but the basic outline of the assignment is one that I’ll continue working with.

I added a few images below of students working on the project and a newspaper article that one student wrote as part of his final product.

Marika

WIN image 02 WIN image 03 WIN image 01

Remind 101: Remember to Remind

After a frustrating morning with one of my U.S. History II courses, I began to brainstorm ways to increase my students’ achievement. One of the ongoing problems I was having with that particular class was homework completion.

This doesn’t just mean that students weren’t completing worksheets or short-term assignments at home. This encompasses all forms of work that should be done outside of the classroom. Short-term assignments, long-term projects, and studying for tests and quizzes were all lacking. This was reflected on both formative and summative assessments. Although students were coming to class and participating, not much was being done at home and this took a toll on their grades. This posed a significant, but all too well known problem.

I ruminated about the problem for most of the day and brainstormed ways that I could help my students complete work at home. However, I couldn’t come up with any solution short of following students home and haranguing them to do their work. When I was teaching this class the next day, I asked about their lack of homework completion. A few students expressed that they had every intention of doing their work, but would forget about the assignments when they got home. The rest of class was silent or avoided my gaze.

It was at this point that I realized it may be time to put to use an app I learned about in 2014. In an effort to improve the amount of homework completed by one of my U.S. History courses, I turned to using the “Remind” app. Remind allows a teacher to communicate with a class through a third party messenger service. In essence, Remind allows a teacher to send information directly to a student’s mobile phone, tablet, or computer from their own device. The important part about Remind is that it keeps the phone number of both the student and teacher confidential. This allows for safe direct communication without the fear of the student or teacher abusing the knowledge of the other’s mobile phone number.

I then explained the concept of the app to my class. At first, my students lacked enthusiasm, but some of them eventually warmed up to it. Originally, due to a lack of proper explanation, I think my students thought I was going to be texting them to remember assignments. I had to explain to them all the concept of the app and the way it allowed all involved to keep their privacy.

After I got students on board with the concept of the app, I began the sign up process.  First, I had to download the Remind app for my iPad and create my class. There are then a few ways that students can begin using Remind. Students can text a number and message that is provided by the teacher or download the app to their mobile device to enroll in the teacher’s class. Both of these methods allow the student to receive messages from the teacher.

Remind App

Since my students do not have school issued 1:1 technology, only those with mobile phones or personal iPads can participate in the use of the Remind app. This is a downside, but there is not much I can do about it. Back to the process, I also used my desktop pc to print out handouts that explain Remind and how to sign up (see image below). It seemed as though many students signed up right when I handed out the sign up leaflet. I thought we were off and rolling!

Sign Up 1

When class ended that day, I went into the Remind app to check on how many of my students had signed up. To my dismay, only two students had done so! I had spent the last fifteen minutes of class explaining the app and setting it up. My students had seemed on board, and I thought they would be relieved to get reminders about their assignments. I guess I was wrong. At this point, I decided to wait another day to see if my students would sign up over night… I got one more student by the next morning.

Sign Up 2

The next day, I confronted my class about why they had not signed up. I got varying answers, but it seemed like some students were wary about getting reminders, and others simply weren’t interested. I got a few more students to sign up that morning after I explained the concept again. However, I certainly couldn’t force the rest of my students to sign up. It was at this point that I accepted the fact that the app was not very popular with my class and that I wasn’t going to be able to get all of them to embrace it. I contemplated contacting parents for support, but I eventually decided against it. I imagined trying to explain to parents how Remind functioned, and shuddered at the thought of having to explain all of the nuances multiple times. Right or wrong, I ultimately decided against it.

At this point, I decided that since some students wanted to receive reminders, it was worth using the app with them. Over the next few weeks, my small cadre of students and I experimented using Remind.

It didn’t go well.

The reason why is slightly embarrassing, and foolish. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember to send the reminders. I would write a note in my lesson plan book, and set reminders in my mobile phone, but I still couldn’t seem to send the reminders out.

Don’t get me wrong, I was able to send a few. These reminders told students to complete their homework or study for a test.

Reminder 1

However, nine times out of ten, I would completely forget. I know this seems odd, but after a day of teaching, lesson planning, grading, and dealing with other school responsibilities, when I got home, reminding students to do their homework was the last thing on my mind. I would be cooking dinner, catching up with my spouse, watching a favorite TV show, or reading a book.

Reminder 2

Remind typically didn’t enter my mind. Maybe this says something about my ability to separate work and personal life (a healthy ability I think). In full disclosure, this whole blog post has been written with the intent of sharing this message: I DON’T WANT TO USE REMIND! Phew, I feel so much better. I had to get that off my chest. This app, although wonderfully made, well meaning, and valuable, is not for me.

My students will have to use their agenda books, personal reminders, and my reminders in class to remember to do their work at home (GASP!). Furthermore, I’m not sure that it should be my job to remind students in the evening that they must complete work.

I literally can’t go home with my students to make sure they complete work, and maybe that is a good thing. I think two important skills that should be learned in high school are organization and responsibility. Students must learn ways that they can remember to do assignments or tasks. There will come a time in their lives where teachers and parents won’t be there to hold their hands.

Moreover, maybe some of my students don’t want to be reminded or don’t want to complete their assignments. I will do all I can to motivate my students and teach them the skills they need to be a successful in my class. However, I can’t make them do their homework. I’ll cajole them, beg, plead, bribe them with candy, but this experiment taught me that I’m not going to force students to remember to complete their work.

In conclusion, Remind may be a helpful tool for some people and in certain instances. For example my coworker and I use it with a History Club we co-lead, and it is great way to remind students of meetings and events. However, it is not an app I want to employ on a day-to-day basis as a way to remind students to complete their homework.