The Imitation Game

Imitation. We ALL do it. Whether we realize it or not, we subconsciously follow the examples set before us, making our Professional Learning Environments (PLEs) so important. We seek out inspiration from others in our fields, and though an identical outcome is not feasible, we learn from the experience and are better for it. Emerson noted that imitation is a form of flattery, and as an educator, I constantly seek out fresh approaches to teach English Language Arts while utilizing technology from the best source out there: other teachers.

In curating projects from others for teaching ELA, I noted a common theme running through other literary classrooms and their social media use, and it involved a form of imitation. Classes all over were using Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as a means of character analysis. Whether it was from mythology, drama, novels, or short stories, students were learning about characterization  by assuming the identities of the characters they had read about in class. Some teachers had even asked students to keep their character identity a secret, making it a classroom guessing game of Who’s Who through carefully crafted tweets or posts. Another unique perspective was asking students to imitate a character’s personality and visually represent it through pictures on Instagram. Students are curating boards on Pinterest while imitating a character and blogging in character on a regular basis, and it’s working.

Now, to the unassuming or critical eye, it may not seem like much, a frivolous use of class time, but it is so much more. These teachers are providing students with authentic learning experiences. Social media is a growing part of teen communication, and by combining classroom content with these platforms, students are given an opportunity to showcase their creativity and critical thinking skills through a real-world communication medium. Students are doing far more analysis in trying to represent another identity than basic worksheet questions, and I dare say that these activities will help the knowledge stick far longer than the school term.

This exploration into social media use in ELA is far from in-depth, and there are thousands of other ideas and resources available for anyone willing to take the plunge and experiment. These examples are proof that this approach is working, and while some might question an idea, we should at least be willing to try something new. Context differences are a given, but worst case scenario: we try it and move on or try it, adjust it, and try it again. Our students deserve the best we can offer them, and in evolving 21st-century classrooms, we must provide authentic learning opportunities. We must dare to imitate classroom strategies that will produce growth for our students as well as our professional craft.

Social Media Policies

In an ever-growing world full of bureaucracy, sometimes we tend to question if all the rules, guidelines, and policies are really necessary. However, when we take a second to think about WHY they are in place, a great deal of clarity and understanding emerges, and hopefully, this appears before we do anything to harm ourselves or, in this case, our digital selves.

In examining how to create a set of guidelines for educational social media use, I have created the set of online parameters given below to use within secondary classrooms.

 

Due to the vastness and availability of the Internet and social media tools, students can reach a broader audience, which entails responsibility from all users. Students in the classroom should adhere to the following guidelines:

  1. Students participating in the district’s 1:1 Initiative are responsible for their online behavior and must comply with the Student Handbook, Code of Conduct, and the Internet Acceptable Use Policy.
  2. Be respectful and responsible when online. Please follow appropriate netiquette guidelines.
  3. Present your best social media presence by posting thoughtfully. Be positive nd avoid posting disparaging, discriminatory, or confrontational remarks/behaviors.
  4. Adopt and maintain careful privacy settings for all your social media accounts. Be sure to review and adjust accordingly on a regular basis.
  5. Respect classroom instruction time and do not access social media for personal reasons during school hours unless directed otherwise.
  6. Practice online safety. Do not share your personal information or passwords with others through social media posts or messaging.
  7. Follow copyright rules. Verify that images and content are designated as permissible for your purposes, and please be sure that any images or content you choose to use are properly attributed to avoid plagiarism.
  8. Avoid content on social media that promotes profane, obscene, illegal, violent, or dangerous activity. If you mistakenly access inappropriate material, immediately report it to your teacher.
  9. Think before posting on social networks. Digital footprints last, so be mindful of your online habits.
  10. Remember that you are representing yourself, the school, and the district. Present yourself as capable, resourceful, and supportive through all social media channels used for educational purposes.

 

Remember that access to technology resources in the classroom are a privilege, not a right, and they may revoked if abused.

 

Guidelines are necessary and seemingly ubiquitous, but often we take for granted the process of creating them. It is an involved process requiring the consideration of an organization’s culture, needs, and future direction coupled with feedback from stakeholders.

This list would serve students for the entirety of their secondary years, but before implementing any new set of rules in a public setting, it would be wise to seek feedback and input from all stakeholders involved. Often one person can consider many angles, but just asking one person is rather shortsighted. Asking others who may be affected is not only an effective strategy, but it can bring issues or aspects to light that had not been previously considered. In this case, I would seek input from faculty, administrators, parents, and a selection of students. It would be very easy to gain input from either a survey tool for easy data analytics, but I would also like to gather a few persons involved in providing this data for a focus group-style meeting to discuss the wording as well as the way to implement them for the new year.

Bibliography:

11 Sample Education BYOT Policies To Help You Create Your Own. (2017, July 6). from http://www.teachthought.com/uncategorized/11-sample-education-byot-policies-to-help-you-create-your-own/

Anderson, S. (n.d.). How to create social media guidelines for your school. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/pdfs/edutopia-anderson-social-media-guidelines.pdf

Athens City Schools. (n.d.). Digital citizenship. Retrieved July 12, 2018, from https://www.acs-k12.org/Page/480

Twitter for Just-in-Time PD Learning

Twitter for PD. It’s not a totally new concept for me. In fact, a doctoral studies cohort member of mine is researching this very area of educational technology, and I know from our many exchanges how valuable are its unique learning opportunities. It’s a place to share and connect, and it’s always available. This week in my Social Networking course I had to follow five new hashtags and share some of my discoveries. I decided to add at least one hashtag from each of my interest areas Secondary Education, English Language Arts, and Educational Technology.

The following hashtags were added to my Tweetdeck: #2ndaryela, #ALedchat,    #edtechbridge, #engagechat, and # googleforedu.

Though I know I will learn far more over time, I’ll share a few here:

#2ndaryela : This is a hashtag dedicated to my teaching content area, and I was delighted to find SEVERAL new books to add to my reading list, both personally and professionally. I also noted some cool ideas and sources other teachers used for summer reading, which I will definitely check out.

#googleforedu: This hashtag is for everything related to the Google for Education suite. While I am a Google Level 2 Certified Educator, there are still new tips and tricks to learn, especially with the apps I do not use as much. Currently, I am in the process of using Google Sites to make some Digital Breakouts/Escape Rooms for my classes. This can be a time consuming concept, but now you can easily duplicate a Google Site with a few clicks. Voila! Editing and creating a new Escape/Breakout will be much easier to edit an existing page as a template.

#engagechat – This hashtag focuses on education and engagement in schools across contents and grade levels. As I was perusing recent tweets, the most striking concept was related to the teaching experience and my participation in this week’s exploration of Twitter.  Essentially, it stressed the importance of collaboration (the foundation of social networking), but educators cannot possibly lead students where they haven’t been themselves, right?! It noted that if teachers don’t collaborate, then how can they expect it in students? It’s true. We need to actively practice the skills we wish to impart in others.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I don’t think I could possibly capture the Twitter learning experience in one entry, but I will end it here with a few final thoughts on Twitter:

  • Connections are important for growth and in forming partnerships.
  • Sharing really is caring, whether it be a really cool tool or a moment from the human experience.
  • Learning is unique and endless.

Putting It All Together: Connectivism, Personalized Learning Networks, & Communities of Practice

As I began exploring the concept of Connectivism, I couldn’t help but liken lifelong learning to building puzzles. Puzzles range in skill and complexity, much like one’s learning, whatever it may be focused upon. “Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, complexity… Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements…Learning is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.” (Siemens, 2004, p.1)

Even as children, many of us can remember putting together our first basic puzzle. It was probably primary in its colors and contained a small set of pieces. At the center of my image, we see a lightbulb representing the concept of learning, with component pieces representing Personalized Learning Networks (PLNs) and Communities of Practice (CoPs), which are different and yet the same in that each tie back to the initial learner (Me) and may/may not be comprised of other similar participants. One thing is certain, these fit together like our childhood play puzzles. We select them based upon our interests whether it be our favorite butterflies, dinosaurs, or technologies.

The Ripple Effect

As we grow older and become more skilled at piecing concepts and ideas together, the puzzles grow larger and entail more pieces. This is much like our PLNs and CoPs. Gutierrez (2016) notes we should conceptualize PLNs in layers with ourselves as the starting points. The PLNs closest to us may include friends and personal mentors, and this layer expands to another with groups of professionals sharing our interests (CoPs). As the layers from which we learn ripple outward, the people within these layers may not involve much personal interaction, but we may view them as inspiration and learn from them. The concentric rings of networking icons and silhouettes of professionals graphically represent this.

As we grow older, our puzzles are not merely selected from those offered to us; we seek them out based upon our personal interests and skills. Our CoPs are the groups we recognize as professionals who share our interests. We seek guidance from them to help us piece ideas and concepts together; we learn from them and share, another skill obtained in our childhood years. Our childhood skills of solving and sharing evolve much like our CoPs. “The dynamic nature of communities is key to their evolution. As the community grows, new members bring new interests and may pull the focus of the community in different directions” (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002, p.1). As we change through practice, our skills and learning expand, often into other related areas, thus representing the growth of our connected learning in the center of the image to those in the outer circle.

Often, we reflect upon our younger years as times of folly and inexperience, But I’d rather think of those years as full of wonder and excitement that grew from our favorite activities and how we shared them unabashedly. They are, afterall, what helped us piece together our learning then and formed the foundation for making our current connections.

References:

Gutierrez, K. (2016). What are personal learning networks? Retrieved June 8, 2018, from https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/personal-learning-networks

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved June 05, 2018, from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge-seven principles for cultivating communities of practice. Retrieved June 8, 2018, from: https://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/cultivating-communities-of-practice-a-guide-to-managing-knowledge-seven-principles-for-cultivating-communities-of-practice

Audio Poe at its Best

Like so many other English Language Arts teachers, I am always on the hunt for  audio options for books, poems,  and short stories, BUT not just any audio will do. I, as well as many students, like to listen to a well-read narrator with inflection and/or voices. It’s highly entertaining, and it offers up a wonderful model of reading fluency.

We’ve all heard boring monotone audio tracks, but I thought I would share a personal favorite of mine: Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” read by Mr. Matthew Gray Gubler. Some of you may be more familiar with his character on the television show Criminal Minds (Dr. Spencer Reid).

Do yourself a favor, and listen to this suspenseful tale as Gubler incorporates all of the thrill and paranoia of the narrator through his tone. You might even consider having students discuss what makes it a good read in terms of voice, pacing, and background sounds. Take a listen, and let me know what you think.

 

“You have to read what over the summer?!”

Summer reading. Two of the dirtiest words I feel I could say to some students as an English teacher, or at least it feels that way sometimes.

As an ELA teacher, reading is a passion. I have always voraciously devoured  books as long as I can remember. But, sadly for many, this is not the case. Regardless, if it’s part of the course description you choose, then it is what it is. ELA teachers, myself included, take great care in selecting the summer reading options, yet there always seem to be objections to selected works of literature, works meticulously chosen to give our students an opportunity to safely explore complex thematic elements without having to experience them in real life.

Summer reading is required by a multitude of schools across the country, primarily for honors and college prep classes, so why is it still such a hot topic? Is it the content of the books? Is it the assignment paired with the selections? Do we really have such little faith in teachers’ abilities to plan curriculum and execute discussions thoughtfully? What are your thoughts and suggestions?

“Helpful Tools in Google Docs to Assess Writing”

Writing is a skill as necessary as walking, and it’s acquired in much the same way. We see others do it, we try to emulate the process, and we often only master it through constant practice.

Student composition skills emerge through routine writing practice followed up by constructive feedback from the instructor and/or peers. This is all fine and good, and it seems like common sense. However, one major impediment to this practice lies within the time required for reading and providing this feedback to the multitude of students within each class. Thanks to technological advancements in educational tools, ELA teachers can work smarter and not harder in this area.

With all of this in mind, here is a list of five technology tools in Google to expedite the assessment of writing.

  • Google Voice Typing – This dictation tool is available for use within the Google Docs toolbar makes offering thorough writing commentary a speedier process.

I have utilized this tool when grading written essays. I may open a Google Doc and voice my feedback through this tool. Afterwards, I can print this doc and attach to the student paper for more thorough instruction as to how the student performed and may revise without the impediments of limited time and space to do such

  • Kaizena – This Google Add-on allows for readers to convey feedback by highlighting pieces within a Google Doc and leave verbal and/or text comments as well as tagging specific writing, grammar, usage, and mechanics skills that may need attention. Each student’s work and feedback stay within a conversation, allowing progress to be tracked all throughout the term.

This tool was particularly effective with my upperclassmen, who seemed more receptive to conversing about their writing, but it also works well for those open to the writing process in all of the editing and revision glory.

  • WriQ – This Add-on allows teachers to open a piece of writing in Google Docs and quickly assess student writing. WriQ offers a suggested scored based upon metrics it analyzed such as word count, sentence count, and time spent writing.  WriQ checks  grammar, punctuation and spelling errors, which will be highlighted within the document for easy examination and color-coded by error. Next, users can assess the writing using a genre-specific rubric within the Add-on by clicking on the appropriate descriptor to suit the writing. After saving, users are given a summary of all feedback and an opportunity to type more feedback if necessary. After saving, this summary will be attached to the top of the document with all errors still highlighted for student viewing.

This tool is great for ELA and writing courses as it evaluates a variety of writing genres.

  • Orange Slice – This teacher-created Google Add-on allows users to create rubrics, score papers, and then return the marked rubric on the student paper with scores and rubric attributes highlighted. There is also a student version available for peer feedback.

Happy reading and assessing with these available Add-ons!

If you have tried these or have another favorite, feel free to share and comment below.

Here’s to New Beginnings…

 

New beginnings incite mixed feelings for most of us. For some, they entail excitement, spontaneity, and adventure while, for some, anxiety, fear, and stress. In fact, many people detest writing since words do not magically flow onto the page; it is a process, but one well worth the endeavor. As an English Language Arts(ELA) teacher, I feel the pressure of all feelings above. Will these entries be of interest? Will I be under compositional scrutiny just because I teach ELA? Oh, the insecurities that threaten our best efforts! But, regardless of initial feelings, the basic truth is that beginnings bring us opportunity. What we make of said opportunity falls upon our own willingness to try something new, to take the risk, to grow.

This blog begins my venture into sharing my educational experiences (both EdTech and ELA) with a larger audience in hopes of helping others find new ways to learn. Often, I have been met with the questioning brow or skeptical look when technology and English class are combined in the same sentence, as if there is some invisible line drawn between print and digital English classrooms (or any classroom for that matter). Choose a side, they say with taciturn eyes; however, technology is not the opposition. It CAN be blended beautifully into the classroom to improve students’ reading, writing, and analysis skills. You can straddle this imaginary line and learn and grow right along with the students. Scary, I know, but well worth the endeavor.

We must model life-long learning if we expect students to value it as well. So, with all of this in mind, look forward to seeing posts on a wide range of ideas, tools, strategies, and the like as the emphasis is placed on learning with technology and reaching students. Though many examples will be within the realm of ELA, I look forward to reading comments on how you adapt them.