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.
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.
On Thursday, October 20th, Liz Homan and I attended the MassCUE/M.A.S.S. Technology Conference at Gillette stadium. This was my first time attending the annual techie conference, and I must say, it did not disappoint. Liz and I presented about our work with the Waltham Integration Network (WIN Project) during one of the break out sessions and took advantage of attending other break out sessions led by teachers and technology specialists as well.
I had an amazing time at the conference. I figured I would share a little bit about what I experienced there as well as what Liz and I spoke about about during our presentation.
Here is a running diary of my MassCUE day:
7:35 AM: Arrive at Gillette Stadium, I am way too early. There are like five cars in the parking lot. I decide to play around on my phone and act like I am doing something important until more people arrive and I deem it suitable to enter the conference. Also, this is the closest I have ever parked to Gillette Stadium in my life.
7:45 AM: Time to check-in to the conference. They have a high tech system that scans a QR code on your phone and then prints out your name tag. I was wowed, but then again, my school was built in 1967. It doesn’t take all that much to impress me. After a long escalator ride, I end up on the main floor where they have the technology exhibitions.
7:50 AM: I wander around looking at all the technology offerings. Right away, it becomes apparent to me that education has become a serious market for technology companies. Everyone from Apple to Google has a table or leads a breakout session at MassCue.
8:15 AM: I realize that the conference is spread out throughout the entirety of Gillette Stadium. A quick analysis of the schedule tells me that Liz and I will be presenting in a luxury box… I quickly realize this will be the only way I ever set foot in a luxury box…
8:30 AM: It is time for the keynote speakers. There are a bunch of people lined up to talk about the importance of technology integration. The highlight is a speech given by a ten year old child prodigy, Collin Keegan. He talks about the gamification of education, teaching students at their level, and engaging students with fun activities. Collin has an interactive slide show where he displays his many passion projects: building a treehouse, starring in a “kid science” web series, building science projects, and flying a plane! Yes, I said flying a plane. Beyond making me feel quite inadequate (what have you done today?), he made many good points about the need for education to be entertaining and engaging. That being said, if I had a little more space here, I would push back on Collin’s line of thought for many reasons. I don’t think that learning should always be fun, because life isn’t always fun. However, I can leave that discussion for another day. Collin still kicked butt!
9:15 AM: I peel away from the larger group in search of a breakout session. I must say that I wasn’t overly impressed with the selection designed for teachers. In many ways, I think this conference is geared more toward administrators that want to buy new toys to their districts (more power to them). Like many conferences I have attended, I think this conference suffered from some less informative presenters. The first breakout session I attend is about using technology in a history classroom. The presenter simply lists websites they have used with their district. I leave halfway through this particular presentation, because I felt like I am not learning anything new. Upon exiting the room, I realize there are no other sessions that I want to attend, so I go back in with my tail between my legs.
10:45 AM: I attend a breakout session about maximizing productivity by using all the tools within Google Suite. I think this one will be right up my alley, because I frequently use Google Suite with my classes. This presenter is must better than the first, but much of what they talk about has little relevance to my classroom. First of all, the presenter starts with the premise that teachers/administrators receive hundreds of emails a day. I don’t know about other teachers out there, but I don’t receive that many daily emails to which I have to respond. Also, I am extremely Type A when it comes to my inbox, so I try to clear out emails after I complete them. This presenter does offer a good idea, however, about creating draft emails that you can reuse to send parents updates about their students. It seems so obvious in hindsight, but having a few stock emails would definitely speed up the process.
12:00 PM: At this point, Liz and I meet up in our luxury box to run through our presentation, and connect her computer to the AV system. The MassCue technology specialists are incredibly helpful by providing us with the appropriate adapters. As we set up, a few spectators arrive for our presentation. Almost immediately, we realize that Liz has connections with one of the people in the audience, Nicole Hart. Nicole is the Instructional Technology Specialist at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. Making connections is one of the best things about MassCue, and a key to teaching and integrating technology. After our presentation, Nicole followed me on Twitter, and now we share lesson ideas and have Twitter conversations about technology integration.
12:20 PM: We begin our presentation a little late, because we end up having fewer people in our audience than we would have liked. This was quite unfortunate, because Liz did a great job putting together an excellent talk. Oddly enough, however, I end up knowing two people in our audience. One attendee is a former assistant superintendent for Waltham Public Schools (Alec Wyeth), and the other is a principal from Dedham (Jim Forrest). I found it funny that three people connected to WHS serendipitously ended up attending our presentation.
12:30 PM: Liz begins our presentation and talks about the importance of making technology integration accessible to all teachers in a school. Through her doctoral studies, Liz discovered that teachers often feel disconnected from technology integration or from teachers that are especially good at integrating technology. The WIN Project was the genesis of Liz’s research. Her goal is to demystify technology integration by creating cohorts of teachers that research and blog about technology. This will create a network of core teachers that can share discoveries, vent, and model technology integration. Liz’s goal is for the core network to grow within a school until it becomes the new normal. That being said, I think Liz hopes that our network can grow beyond Waltham, to other districts in neighboring towns.
12:50 PM: I share my part of the project with the audience. I talk about my research goal (see previous posts), and my successes and struggles throughout the process. I talked about what I’ve learned, and the importance of the project for me. The main point I make is that being involved in the WIN Project held me accountable. I had to come up with ideas for integrating technology because I had to blog and create videos. This lit a fire underneath me to come up with new ways to integrate technology. I need that kind of motivation.
1:20 PM: Liz and I finish our presentation, and we head to lunch with our new friend Nicole Hart. As we walk to lunch, we hear blaring hip hop music. Nicole explains to us that this type of loud music was playing the day before as well. It turns out that the Patriots are practicing on their practice field and simulating crowd noise by playing loud music. Without thinking, I pull out my cell phone to get a picture of my favorite football team. It never occurs to me that this is a bad idea…. Until I am yelled at by Patriot personnel. They explain to me that what I am doing is prohibited. After I delete the image, I have to prove to said Patriot personnel that my phone is void of images or video. The Patriots are protective of their practices and of keeping their playbook secret. I assume they didn’t want me to tape anything that could be intercepted by rival teams. I would never do this, but I guess the Patriots feel like they have to be extra careful. After all, they would know…. 😉
1:35 PM: Liz, Nicole, and I eat lunch from a picked over MassCUE buffet (It just so happens that our breakout session was in the middle of lunch… thanks scheduling folks), and chat about technology integration. I meet a few people from universities that offer technology courses and degrees. Maybe there is one in my future?
2:00 PM: The day ends for Liz and I so we go our separate ways. Time to sit in the famous traffic that plagues Gillette Stadium’s surrounding highways.
In the end, I had a great experience at MassCue. Although the presentations I attended were not as informative as I had hoped, I enjoyed presenting and making connections with technology specialists. I think it is important for teachers to get out and see what other schools are doing, and this was a step in that direction for me. I hope to attend this conference again in the future. Maybe next time Liz and I can present to a larger audience, because I think we had a lot of valuable things to say about technology integration.
Hi, I’m Jennifer Ostayan, I am a special education teacher at the Whittemore School, and this year I will be working with students in three fantastic 2nd and 3rd grade inclusion classrooms. Previously, I taught inclusion kindergarten for 9 years. I am equal parts excited and nervous about the WINproject this year, as I feel that tech is really my thing, but not so much the blogging/sharing my work in a public way.
I am always looking for and experimenting with meaningful ways to enhance my students learning by integrating technology. I have found over the past few years that technology has been a way for all of my students to participate in a way that meets their individual needs. My own use of technology use in the classroom has evolved quite a bit over the years. I often refer to the SAMR Model to frame technology use in my classroom, and a lot of my early work was in the sphere of augmentation, or using technology to improve the functionality of a task that my students could really do without technology at all. For example, using a drawing program on an iPad to illustrate during writing). Over time the purpose of technology in my classroom has changed, and I have found that my students are getting the most from the higher level tasks in the spheres of modification and redefinition, and are really using the technology to do something that was not possible before. An example of this is using the app Book Creator to upload pages of their writing, record their voices reading their words, and then publishing the video of their books being read aloud.
This year, in my new grade levels and role in the classroom, I am starting with a very broad research question: How can I leverage technology in the classroom to allow my students to access grade level content? My goal is to make sure my students are included the meaningful and complex work that is being done in their classrooms, in a way that makes sense and is accessible to their individual needs. For the first few weeks of school I plan to get to know my students, deeply understand their needs, learning styles, and what supports need to be in place to help them be successful. From there I will have a better idea of action steps to take this year, and to refine my research question. In the meantime, I have included a concept map that broadly looks at the factors that will influence my practice this year.
After reflecting on my research topic and question this year, I think that focusing on primary sources has helped to increase both student understanding and engagement in my social studies class. I believe that students had a deeper understanding of the content being taught in class, which therefore helped to improve student engagement and class discussions. Students learned the process and importance of analyzing primary sources with the support of technology. This analysis helped create lessons that required students to critically think and synthesize information.
Last week I asked my students to complete a Google Form to get feedback from my students about primary sources. When asked how students felt analyzing primary sources at the beginning of the school year on a scale of 1-5, 66.3% of my students responded a score of 3. When asked how students felt about analyzing primary sources now 100% of students responded with a score of either a 4 or 5. I was encouraged to see that my students now felt more comfortable reading and analyzing primary sources. I also received feedback that my student’s favorite primary source we looked at this year was Hammurabi’s Code. I agree with my students as these laws provide a shock value when learning what the laws were in ancient Babylon. This was an example of a primary source encouraging student engagement and interest in the content we are learning about.
Nearpod has been my main use of technology to help roll out the analysis of primary sources. This application allowed students to zoom in on images and it allowed me to focus on key points of a primary source. Nearpod allows you to share student work with the rest of the class. One student commented on the primary source survey “I like when you share my answer with the class.” In addition, I have really enjoyed sharing the Nearpod field trip with my students this year. This new feature on Nearpod allows students to virtually travel to the areas we are learning about in class. My students loved this feature! When teaching about the Parthenon, what could be better than taking a virtual field trip to the Parthenon itself? Here is a picture of a student enjoying the field trip. One student wrote “the field trips are awesome because it feels like you are really at the spot we are learning about and you can see all around it.” Below is a picture of my students on a field trip to the Parthenon.
Next year, I would like to explore the use of Google Maps and Google Tours in my classroom. I am most interested in exploring Google Tours because this application will allow students to be the tour guides of the ancient cities we are learning about in class. Google Tours provides both visuals and an area for students to add a description. I plan to create a project using this application next year. Stay tuned to receive your own personal tour of ancient history!
In the middle of the year, I embarked on a (short) journey, with students, to determine what methods of learning vocabulary were most effective. I wanted to reinvigorate my understanding of tech as a tool for engagement and learning in the way that @edtechteacher21 and the T21 Program had talked about. (Tech as tool- Tool List – One of my favorite resources.) We started with all of the technology I could possibly integrate, and whittled our way down to old school flash cards, no iPads allowed. (Disclaimer: This is NOT some peer-reviewed longitudinal study, but I do think it’s interesting…and for a teacher as researcher study, I don’t think it’s half bad.)
Every week for three weeks, students learned five new words focused on their usage within the context of The Call of The Wild. I wanted to minimize the variables with the words, I figured limiting the number of words the students were expected to learn might help that.
Each week students worked with the words and technology in different ways.
So, first of all, the students struggled with the vocabulary. I’m not necessarily proud of that fact, but that’s just the way things are at times, particularly in 7th grade. (Despite having only 5 words a week we still couldn’t beat 70% average on the summative quiz.)
All students took a self-paced 8 question multiple-choice Socrative quiz on three consecutive Fridays. There were 72, 67, and 70 students involved in the Socrative quiz respectively and the results are shown in the most simplistic bar graph imaginable to the left. (I still needed help from multiple roommates, in particular, @ZavaskiMD ). The descending numbers show how student scores decreased as I removed technology from the equation.
I have a lot of thoughts, on this preliminary data, and I probably should have continued this study longer, with fewer variables, so that I could have more conclusive evidence. I do think that the data does help to show that when students engage more fully (read: authentically) with words (or really anything academic) they are more likely to retain the information. In this case, it is hard to tell if the group work or the actual technological actions of filling out a graphic organizer with web images was more useful. I like to think that it was a combination. The students were able to talk out their understanding of the word using the graphic organizer in notability as well as insert photographs they found on the internet (or in the example above that they drew) that represent the definition. This personalization of the vocabulary words through notability was the crucial piece, and the Quizlet was a nice addition for students to continue studying.
The conclusion that I came to here, is not that technology use increases student scores, but that authentically integrated technology that increases student discussion and engagement with the material is effective. Technology is not the beginning or the end; it’s a tool to help drive student engagement, and therefore learning.
As we enter into the “home stretch” of the school year, I thought I would share a few reflections on the research I have done this year.
A quick reminder for readers: I am a U.S. History teacher at Waltham High School and my research this year has been a qualitative analysis of technology integration in a classroom with no direct 1:1 technology. I have attempted to analyze the struggles, realities, and triumphs of embracing 21st century skills in a classroom with 20th century technology.
As mentioned above, I have attempted to integrate as much technology as possible into a classroom that has inconsistent access to 1:1 technology. The technology-based projects, assignments, and lessons that I created have primarily taken place in the four labs (three computer, and one iPad) in my school.
For the most part, I have been able integrate technology into my classes at least once each month. However, I have found it difficult to maintain an integrated classroom throughout the school year. Although applications have allowed me to sprinkle in technology, I am far from a place that is a truly integrated or “flipped” classroom.
As I reflect on the past year, I find it difficult to isolate just one or two reasons that I was unable to fully integrate technology into my classroom. I know that one of the reasons is that technology in my school is limited and in high demand. This leads to a race to secure coveted lab reservations. So, the lessons where I am able to fully integrate technology are only those which I am able to foresee weeks in advance and book space accordingly. For instance, I planned ahead to have my classes complete the Touchcast assignment and Paperless Research Papers. However, this advanced planning rules out spontaneity. If three days prior to a classroom lesson, I have a stroke of genius about a great way to integrate technology, I won’t be able to make it happen because the lab will already be booked.
The lack of 1:1 technology also limits my ability to give formative and summative assessments online. I have found this to be restrictive. For instance, if I did have regular access to 1:1 technology for my students, I would have been able to use Socrative, Poll Everything, and other similar applications more efficiently. (Aside: since most students have their own cell phones, I contemplated having students use them to access apps like the aforementioned. However, after some thought, I decided against it.)
Furthermore, it has been difficult to maintain a flow of lessons that embrace technology integration throughout the school year. I have struggled with the conflicting demands placed upon me as a high school teacher. Teachers are required to cover certain content by particular dates, as bookmarked by required student assessments. This demands a certain amount of teacher-centered learning. At the same time, however, teachers are encouraged to “flip” our classrooms and engage in student centered learned.
The assessments mandated by our school and state, remain traditional and primarily factual tests. For instance, this year I have been responsible for administrating four in-class writing assignments, a midterm, and a final. These are six assessments that took away from classroom time or interrupted the flow of a unit I was teaching. I am not saying that these assessments are worthless. But, in my opinion, they do not measure or give students credit for the skills and ideas learned through innovative, technology integrated lessons. Thus is life, but it hinders creativity.
I feel that we can never truly embrace 21st century learning as long as we continue to employ 20th century assessments. I believe this to be a fundamental problem facing education.
Despite these challenges, I do think I had a fair measure of success with integrating technology this school year. Although I felt restricted in my ability to secure lab time, I discovered useful apps like Google Forms, Google Classroom, and Remind. These apps allowed me to push my U.S. History students to use technology outside of school, for homework assignments. (I chronicled my trials with these apps in previous blog posts). Despite the challenge of sustained use, Google Forms and Google Classroom helped to transform a lot of my teaching this year.
Furthermore, at when point when I was able to plan far into the future, my Honor’s Level U.S. History II students completed projects solely using Touchcast. Touchcast allowed my students to participate in a “flipped classroom” while creating projects about a Cold War unit that in previous years, I had taught in traditional ways.
In the end, I have achieved one of my major goals for this assignment: next year, I will have at least two classes of tenth graders that come to my classroom with 1:1 iPads. I am sure there will be structural barriers to navigate, but I am excited to think of new ways to use this technology next year.
Moving forward, I have a few tools in my belt with some of the apps I tried and found success with this year. I have some interesting ideas about how to use iPads for formative assessments. Most importantly, however, I have a new way of thinking about my teaching. I maintain my ultimate goal of achieving a more technologically integrated classroom. I’m not there yet, but I’ll get there one day.
It’s March… which means we have entered the “Heartbreak Hill” section of the teaching marathon. Not only this month mark the longest stretch of uninterrupted teaching all year, it also marks the point where I embark on the yearly task of teaching research papers.
The month of March consists of me teaching students: why we cite sources, how to research with scholarly sources from peer reviewed databases, how to write introductions, why Wikipedia is not an approved source. And of course, how to capitalize letters… Just kidding on the last one.
In all seriousness, writing research papers with high school students can be frustrating because so much of what humanities teachers do during the writing process is antiquated. Students simply don’t understand the purpose of writing research papers. I think most students believe we are simply trying to make them jump through hoops. “Cite that source!” “Double space that paper!” “Size 12 Times New Roman Font!” These are actual quotes from a nightmare I had a few nights ago!
As a history teacher at Waltham High, teaching research papers has always been the Wild West. The only requirement placed on teachers is that we have students write a research paper at some point during the year. The assignment itself depends on the teacher. I usually write a traditional research paper with my students.
This month’s blog post illustrates my attempts to utilize Google Classroom and Google Docs in an effort for students to complete research papers without actual paper. I attempted to rely solely on these online platforms for the writing, submission, and grading of papers. Not a radical idea by any means, but also one I had not yet tried.
Google Classroom is an application featured through the Google Suite and it is offered strictly to teachers. There is no surprise in the name, it offers an online classroom similar to online platforms like Edmodo. Since Waltham High School (WHS) provides all students with a google account students simply have to log in to their Google Account to access the Classroom application. Students must use their WHS account to access Google Classroom, they would be denied access if they attempted to log in with a home account.
Once students log in, they can join a teacher’s classroom by entering a password that is provided by the teacher. Once inside the
classroom, an email is sent to students whenever a new assignment is created by their teacher or when their teacher has returned or graded one of their assignments.
For the teacher, Google Classroom serves as a place to post assignments. Assignments can be anything from a discussion question that asks students to post a response, to an essay that needs to have a document attached.
Over the course of this year, I have used Google Classroom for small formative assessments. This allowed me to familiarize my students with the application, so that we wouldn’t have logistical problems when we depended on it later in the year. The early use of Google Classroom was building towards my larger goal for the month of March: to use Google Classroom as the sole platform for interacting with students’ work while they wrote traditional research projects.
Throughout the year, I have created many different types of assignments for my students to complete in our Google Classroom. The first week of school my students posted answers to discussion questions, and followed links to surveys about themselves. Later in the year, students completed extra credit readings and attached answers to questions. Students also were able to access links to Google Form quizzes (mentioned in an earlier post).
This year I told students that I was not accepting hard copies of their research paper. I know this may seem like a radical move, but I think going paperless makes complete sense. It cuts out excuses about printers and allows students to turn in assignments from any device. Therefore, students were to type their research papers in Google Docs and submit them through Google Classroom. Throughout the month of March, I posted assignments that asked students to attach segments of their research project as we progressed to the final copy. In the end, each student attached a draft of their paper as well as a final, edited copy.
Unsurprisingly, I have really enjoyed using Google Classroom. For one, it has allowed me to go almost completely paperless. Instead of having students flood me with paper, I have electronic copies that I can edit and grade online through Google Docs. Students can see the changes or suggestions I have made and decide whether to reject or accept them.
More importantly, I find myself grading electronic rough drafts and final copies much faster than paper copies. Therefore, I am saving precious time. Furthermore, I can post students grades as soon as I am done grading and send them an email notification letting them know that I have finished reviewing their paper.
Overall, I think using Google Classroom for project submission and Google Docs for essay writing is a no brainer. I think the only drawback to Google Classroom is that sometimes students are stumped by its interface. I have had a few students unsure of where to post on the Google Classroom, so they simply email me the paper. It is a small frustration, but one I can handle.
In sum, I recommend going paperless and using Google Classroom and Google Docs to write traditional research papers. I think it saves time, cuts out excuses about printer and computer problems, and prevents students from losing papers or forgetting to save their papers. And of course, the trees will thank you!
Between midterms, report cards, meetings, and coaching, my time to blog has, unfortunately, been pushed to the back burner. However, my springtime resolution is that I will be much more consistent. I have been thinking about posting about this particular subject for a while and hope that I do the discontent I feel about this topic justice.
Last year after reading The Call of The Wild I was able to incorporate my first real-deal iPad project. Students worked together on Padlet to create a twitter stream that not only summarized the novel but also worked to show character growth and perspective through word and image choice. Student engagement was high and the projects showed student understanding. You can see student work examples as well as an image I created to help share the project with other teachers below.
New and Improved Year = New and Improved Project?
As we finished up the novel this year I was excited to tweak the project to incorporate more student choice and really use the iPad to its full potential. The students and I collaborated to create a rubric with summarizing expectations as well as synthesis expectations to prove the students understood the character dynamics and could find quotations to support those beliefs. Students had a ton of ideas to prove their understanding of the novel, some wanted to create Snapchat diaries using Explain Everything, others wanted to compile a mix CD that the character might make, and other students wanted to stay with Twitter or Instagram. I thought the project was going to be awesome.
During one of the days the students were working on the project, I had an unannounced observation from a few administrators. I received immediate feedback that the lesson and the project as a whole was too low on Webb’s DOK. While I definitely understood their point and the cumulative project of the book could have been a more direct synthesis or analytical project, I saw and still see, a lot of value in the creativity of the project as I had it. By giving this creative group project students were able to show their abilities and understanding through multiple modes of authentic assessment. I saw student work that amazed me, and students realized a passion for graphic design like in this project where a student created character cards for an NFL video game.
I tweeted this out and it was retweeted by Explain Everything and over 3,000 people viewed this group’s work. That is the power of technology, the power of authentic and creative assessment. There is still rigor in that, despite that it wasn’t synthesizing multiple non-fiction texts in an essay format. I am all for including more complex texts but we cannot lose authentic, creative, and multimodal assessment in the process.
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.