scrabble pieces spell "fake news"

Pushing a rock up a hill of fake news…

A shark swimming in the floodwaters after a hurricane.  Planes drenched in water up to their wings.  A child abuse ring run by some of America’s most influential politicians out of a Washington, D.C pizza parlor.  Viral pictures, ‘fake news’, alternative facts…where does a student go to find the truth?  As a high school teacher in the age of social media, I am told weekly, even daily, about ‘facts’ that were found ‘because it was on Twitter’ or ‘my parents told me this’ or ‘well, I did see it in a photo.’  Telling real from fake news has become a daily chore for the brightest of minds, those who do consider themselves well versed in contemporary events.  How does a teenager who is learning how to critically think and analyze, and let’s face it, could most likely care less about the current news stories, supposed to separate fact from fiction, the truth from the half truths?  

In recent years, America (and the world) has finally realized that fake news is an issue that must be addressed.  With the development of the 24 hour news cycle and the creation of news channels that cater exclusively to a particular ideology, facts got lost behind rhetoric and sensationalism.  With the proliferation of the internet and social media, fake news exploded and became a tool not only for the powerful but for the powerless.  As people realized they could make money or gain followers from adhering to a particular point of view, being outlandish or shocking, or simply lying, news feeds became clogged with fake news and scams spread by midwestern grandmothers, rural NRA members and urban college students.

As a teacher, I want to ensure that my students leave with the skills necessary to tell fact from fiction, the real from the fake.  And let me tell you, it gets harder and more difficult every year.  I encourage my students to find and solely utilize non-biased resources in their research and my hope is those skills will translate to their private research as well.  However, students use whatever is most readily available to them and those are not sources like the New York Times or Washington Post.  Students today believe they need to be constantly entertained and will tune in when when something is salacious or viral. They can name all the Kardashians more readily than the judges on The Supreme Court.

This year I have made it my goal to explore these concerns more in depth and to include multiple opportunities for students to evaluate and analyze bias and point of view in messages across media platforms.  It is evident that people are turning away from traditional types of news sources, such as newspapers and magazines, and relying more heavily on online content for news. It is essential that students understand where to find truthful, factual, unbiased media content.  From personal research, I know I am far from the only teacher struggling with this, as evidenced by numerous articles (from reputable sources!) such as the Washington Post.  I hope to engage my students in discussion and research that will allow them to critically consume appropriate information and analyze the impact of values and points of view that are presented in media messages.  Beginning next week, I will be introducing them to locating reliable sources.  Simply by looking at and analyzing photographs of contemporary news stories from credible sites, I hope to provide them the initial framework to explore independently.  Fortunately, many teachers and news sites have discovered this crisis and responded accordingly. Lessons from NPR, Education World and Annenberg Classroom are a few of the lessons and sites I will be sharing with my students over the coming school year.

I am aware that like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill, I took on a task that will involve the potential for tremendous failure but also tremendous growth.   My hope is that the failure will lead to growth and that in the long term my students will benefit from those early failures.

Technology: A Key Component to a Multi-Sensory Approach to Learning

Last year, as I was navigating through the uncharted waters, also known as my first year of teaching, I couldn’t help but notice how limited my knowledge and abilities were on the use of technology in my classroom. About halfway through my first year, I began to use a projector, but pathetically my use of technology ended there. As I went on peer visits in my school, to observe other teachers in my building, I was in awe of the use of technology in some of the classrooms I visited. Students in the middle schools have this amazing resource at the touch of their fingertips, an IPad, and I had no clue how to use it.

At the beginning of this school year, I reviewed different units and lessons from my first year, and I noticed something missing across the board: the use of technology, specifically IPads. This was not okay. I knew I needed to take advantage of the technology available to teachers and students in our district. As I started to think about how I wanted to incorporate technology into my classroom, I knew I wanted to connect the use of technology to the individual styles of learning and instruction present in a special education classroom. As a special educator, I know how beneficial a multi-sensory approach to learning is for students with disabilities. So how can I use technology a means of incorporating a multi-sensory approach to learning in my classroom?


The students I teach in my program are auditory, visual, and/or tactile learners. Some of my students benefit from all three approaches, and some students identify only with one learning style. As I get to know my students, I am able to identify how each student learns best, and can then adjust my practice accordingly to fit each student’s needs. However, as a middle school teacher, I know this is not only the time to teach academics and social skills, it is also the time to teach independence. A goal for most of my students is for them to become more responsible in their learning experience. With the technology accessible to students today, it is important for all students, especially those with difficulties in their reading, written expression, organization, etc., to know how to use technology to their advantage.

Students needs to be explicitly taught, and before I can have the expectation that students will use technology to accommodate their multi-sensory approaches to learning, I need to understand myself how this can be done. Through the course of this year, I will be exploring how technology can be used as a multi-sensory approach to learning, specifically for students with disabilities. The more I learn about this amazing resource, the better I will be able to explicitly teach my students on how to use this tool as a complement to their individual learning styles.

Reflecting on the Multimodal: Classwork 1/5/16

One common practice of ELA teachers in our district (and I assume in many others) is to have students look at various examples of writing and grade that writing in relation to some type of rubric or scale. Generally, it is represented in the form of an Open Response assignment. In these situations a student is provided with a prompt and the student writes a response that makes a claim, stance, or opinion, and supports that assertion using evidence from the text(s) at hand. In 8th grade we do this a lot, and it is usually done by handing out a packet of writing samples and having students score that packet. In turn students use what they learned for scoring the samples to better their own writing, addressing the same prompt as a rewrite of their original work. While I do like the physical process of scoring, I have always struggled how to exactly incorporate tech into this common classroom activity.

I decided to see if I could somehow get students to do their analysis and reflection on some writing samples using Explain Everything via their iPads. Then, I would ask them to create a “smashed” video in iMovie that showed a collection of their responses to the writing samples. My students sit in table groups of 4-5, so I figured that if I gave each student a sample, they could individually reflect on these separate writing samples, and then compile their reflections in a final video that would move through all writing samples. In order to get a better perspective on this process and to see if the tech would help aid their understanding of the texts at hand, I invited Lucy Clerkin to come in to my classroom to help videotape and reflect on the process.

So, the lesson happened on January 5th and students had previously written an Open Response the night before that asked them to explain how language is a barrier to communication in a poem called “Elena” by Pat Mora and the vignette “No Speak English” from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, our primary classroom text at this time. This is what students saw on the board when they walked into the classroom on that day. And this is what they saw on Google Classroom, which is my favorite way to collect assignments and post instructions/classroom materials. Overall, the directions asked students to split up 4-5 responses among themselves, pull in the PDF of the response into Explain Everything, along with the accompanying rubric, then analyze, score, and reflect on the samples. When they were each done, one member of the group would compile the videos, while the rest began to work on their rewrite of the open response.

During the lesson the only whole class instruction that I provided was to read over the rubric and directions very quickly. While I did move around the classroom providing feedback and some clarification, I had put up samples of what their videos should look like and how to properly put PDFs into Explain Everything, so students had very few questions about what they should be doing. Here are some stills from the videos Lucy and I took:

What was great about the lesson was that students seemed immediately engaged. They quickly read the 4-5 samples and began discussing. Then, once they knew which sample was the one that they were responsible for, they split from one another and got busy analyzing their samples in Explain Everything. Watching the videos, most of them just show me walking around saying a few things to students while they primarily “talk to” the texts in front of them. Some students broke from their group and used their headphones to get better audio or asked one another questions about how to get certain features of Explain Everything to work. After my instruction, the majority of the class time for students is spent in relatively deep engagement with the text and rubric. Lucy and I both felt that Explain Everything was effective in getting the students to make meaningful analysis of the samples. Most groups were able to turn in complete videos by the end of the period and get to work on their rewrite. If they were not turned in during the period, due to processing/upload time in Explain Everything or Google Drive, groups made sure to get it done by the end of the day. Every single group turned in one by the end of the day.

It was easy to understand what I thought about the tech in this activity, but I also wanted students to let me know how they thought it went. Therefore, I created a survey for students to complete about the activity, as well as allowing students to be interviewed about this classwork for extra credit points. The survey can be seen here: “2015 – 2016 Student Survey #1 – Google Drive”.

Overall, students felt that this process of using Explain Everything in order to critique the writing samples was beneficial to helping them understand how to complete the Open Response rewrite. In fact, 83% of students felt that it made them think more deeply about the samples and their own writing. Many students said that they really like rereading in Explain Everything because it helps them “catch” their grammar mistakes and realize when their wording doesn’t necessarily make sense. The amount of positive responses I received was great, especially since I was unsure about what students would think. Here are some samples of the feedback I received from students (click to see full images):

I definitely plan on completing similar activities, video taping, and asking students to give me some feedback on how the tech may or may not help them with a classroom activity. Besides hopefully improving access and increasing the depth of knowledge to the CCSS, I will hopefully better develop my own metacognitive skills about my practices, as well as developing meta skills in my own students. It is clear that my students are willing to reflect on our classroom experiences, and they appreciate that I am asking them their opinions in order to make my own practice better. I have been videoing a lot, and I think they are finally getting warmed up to the idea.

Big thanks to Lucy for helping me with this one.


Multimodal Teaching Strategies

Hey, I’m Brian Campbell, and this is my 3rd full year teaching English at the McDevitt Middle School. Since last year’s complete 1:1 iPad initiative at our school I have used technology to engage my students in disciplinary content by offering a multimodal approach to standard, print-based texts. Tasks have led to the creation of new media artifacts like video collages and multimedia interpretations, created both by individual students and student groups, with all media stemming from analysis and extension of the original text. This approach has allowed my students to access their digital literacies from outside of school and bring them directly into my classroom, seemingly using them to add additional meaning to print-based texts. For example, here is a Digital Interpretation exemplar I made for a vignette from The House on Mango Street:

MANGO – Digital Interpretation – 1080p

While this certainly appeals to the senses of sight and hearing, it is not exactly clear in what ways these multimodal teaching strategies have made students’ access to print-based texts clearer. Even though students are clearly engaged and making meaning from having access to multimodal approaches, it is not particularly clear how students may be accessing the Common Core State Standards through these approaches. What I really want to have is an articulated list or explanation of exactly what these strategies add to students’ meaning. Moreover, the multimodal approach is currently unlike the ways in which student learning will be measured by the state via standardized tests. Although there is room for digital presentations and interpretation in the CCSS – for the most part most standardized assessments are based primarily on print-based literary and informational texts. Therefore, these thoughts got me thinking more about students overall approaches to text and their access to the standards. In what ways are multimodal approaches helping them to access the CCSS? Do students feel that they are getting life-worthy skills from our multimodal exercises? In what ways are students able to process text that may not be just in print? Here is an illustration of my thinking:


So, my final question is In what ways do multimodal teaching strategies aid students in their comprehension and analysis of print-based texts? From this, I hope to gather data that merges the perspectives of my students and my own. I am not sure if this question will remain the same throughout the whole project. However, I do know that I need to start collecting some data.


Tick Tock Tech

Is the time worth it?

My name is Tom Farley, and I am a third year 7th grade English teacher at Kennedy Middle School in Waltham. As I embark upon my second full year with 1:1 iPad integration in my classroom I am constantly trying to improve and streamline my practice. After the first year of full 1:1 iPad integration at Kennedy, I spent the summer pondering how could I better establish routines and set high expectations to engage and push all of my students further. I began modifying and changing lesson plans to better integrate the use of technology, and as I did I came across more and more questions every day. Loads of these questions answered on blogs and through seminars with @edtechteacher21 and the T21 program. However, one question came nearly every day, and despite many Internet searches, I have yet to find an adequate, comprehensive answer.

“Is taking time to create audio/visual projects worth the cost of instructional time?”

My data driven inquiry project will focus on this dilemma and discuss the pros and cons of using technologically integrated audio/visual projects in the classroom. How much time is too much time? When do visually appealing projects trump graphic organizers to prove knowledge of content? Why would my students even spend time trying to find a .png file when they could just have a poorly cropped .jpeg in Explain Everything?  You can see an illustration of my project outline, (with less questions) which I created on Paper53 (one of my favorite drawing apps) below.

WIN Inquiry Project Outline
WIN Inquiry Project Outline

By focusing this study specifically on teaching recurring content and using data driven assessment to continuously modify and adapt my integration practices, I hope to improve student-learning outcomes. In this way, I plan on having comprehensive data to show the importance of integrating authentic audio and visual technology based assignments into today’s classroom.  I hope that this, first of all makes sense; second, would be useful to you and your own instructional practices; third, although this might be a stretch, will be interesting to read. I look forward to posting extended updates here monthly. However, if you are looking for rough draft, 140 character-confined updates please follow my twitter (@hashtagfarley) (also because my follower count is incredibly depressing).