Literature & Art Blended Beautifully

So, of course, I am bit biased where books are concerned, but I had to share my favorite new way to keep literature at the center of my classroom decor: Litographs. 

Litographs is a company out of Boston that takes favorite works of literature and turns the text into art.  They use the text to create and shape beautiful images out of the words. I started out by ordering one poster for my classroom, and now that collection has grown by eight. The students comment on them frequently, and it gets them talking about certain books. Not only does the company create posters, there are also tees, totes, and tattoos (temporary) in an array of colors.

Here are the posters that started it all!

Othello

Romeo & Juliet

Check out my new birthday tees. (Jane Eyre of the left/The Princess Bride on the right) What a wonderful present for the book lover in your life!

Like most teachers, I am busy now prepping my classroom for the new school year, but I just wanted to be sure to share my love for Litographs.

FYI: They do offer a teacher discount if you send them an email and verify your status!

References:

Othello poster. [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved July 31, 2017, from https://www.litographs.com/collections/othello/products/othello

Romeo & Juliet poster. [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved July 31, 2017, from https://www.litographs.com/collections/romeo-and-juliet/products/romeo

Mind the Gap?

Generational traits is a topic of interest given the new technological advancements over the past two decades. Generation X, Milennials, and now, even, Xennials are compared in the ways each learns, but IS there a difference REALLY?

From this week’s readings in 537, it’s clear that Prensky (2001) truly believes in a major “discontinuity” in learners, so much so that brain structures are changing. The processes through which information has been gained has altered the ways in which we learn, so how are educators to reach students of varying groups simultaneously? (insert eye roll) Now, I don’t know about you, but I seriously doubt ANY mode of instructional delivery can restructure the way my brain works. As an “Xennial” myself, I have been taught both in traditional ways as well as in a “21st-century” manner. Sure, I have a preferred delivery method, but this is not a preference I can expect all instructors to accommodate. In the end, I learned both ways. Sure the delivery was different, BUT the content was continuous, which ultimately would result in the dreaded NSD(No Significant Difference) if I were to comparatively study them. Like Clark (1994), I feel that “student achievement [isn’t influenced via technology] any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (p. 22).  It’s all about the pedagogy behind the content. Why is a particular method or tool more effective than another? Or is it? Truly the difference lies within the teacher’s choices AND with the students’ response to instruction.

While McKenzie’s blog piece seemingly confronted Prensky’s work, I found that it just seemed to relabel learners as “immigrants” and “natives” of digital tools.  Much like other situations in life requiring abilities and knowledge, working/learning with technology is an acquired skill. Even Jem and Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird confront this similar tremendous “discontinuity” in thinking over racism, and Scout makes the profound comment that “Everybody’s gotta learn, nobody’s born knowing” (p. 304). Immigrant or “native,” we all start somewhere. Prior to technology, some students in classes were better at math than others or reading, etc. Does this mean they were math, reading or anything otherwise “natives”? I think not, and yet I think there is something to the speed at which we can obtain knowledge via technology.

Reeves’ work most noticeably aligns the digital nativism theory to learning styles, which has still yet to be supported by conclusive research. It all seems to boil down to preferences. Don’t we all have preferences in all areas of life? Sure. So why wouldn’t we also have them in education and learning delivery methods? Like I mentioned previously, I have learned in a variety of manner, but much of this learning depended on my engagement with the material. Engagement depends heavily on the users and not necessarily the product of delivery.

So, to any colleagues who feel the need to cater to digital nativism, I’d simply ask why? That’s the simplest question with which educators begin lesson plans (or at least they should). Technology for technology’s sake will do little to spark learning. In fact, I’d dare ask proponents of digital natives to consider what new fangled technology will counter the new forms they so devoutly believe in. Won’t there always be new generations and new technologies which have become everyday fixtures to said groups? Yes, emphatically yes, but teaching a diverse population of learners with “new” strategies, devices, applications, and tools is not a new struggle. Despite new technologies and generational change (native, immigrants, or otherwise), we still struggle with reaching ALL students. From my short 14 years in education, I feel that the same old concepts have just been “upcycled”. There’s no magic bullet; there’s just good teaching and receptive learners.

References:

Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21–29. doi:10.1007/BF02299088

Lee, Harper. ( 2006). To kill a mockingbird. New York :Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 304.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants – Part II: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6).

McKenzie, J. (2007). Digital nativism: Digital delusions and digital deprivation. From Now On, 17(2).

Reeves, T.C. (2008, January 22-25). Do generational differences matter in instructional design? Online discussion presentation to Instructional Technology Forum.

The Technophilic EdTech Skeptic

This guest blog post is written by Dr. Dave Mulder. Dave is a teacher educator at Dordt College, where he takes his work very seriously, but himself decidedly less so. His professional interests are related to preparing pre-service teachers for technology integration, online teaching and learning, and social presence and community development in online settings.


I have been a professional educator for all of my adult life; I’m beginning my 20th year of teaching this fall. I have always been a “techie” teacher, and I definitely have a love gadgets and learning about the latest tech toys. I was often (and continue to be) an early adopter of various educational technologies on the various faculties I’ve been part of, both when I taught in K-12 schools and also now in higher education.

But…

The longer I’ve taught, and the more technologies I’ve tried out in my own teaching practice, the more skeptical I’ve become of the claims made of the value of many potential educational technologies. I am a technophile, but I’m also an EdTech skeptic. I am simply not convinced by the claims made by many companies touting a particular educational technology that they will have the promised impact on student learning.

I wonder sometimes about the supposed need to become certified in using various EdTech tools. Do I need to become an Apple Distinguished Educator? Should I invest the time in becoming a Google Certified Innovator? If I want to use tools like FlipGrid, or VoiceThread, or Edmodo, or a SMARTBoard, do I need to pass some sort of course first?

Let’s back up for a moment and think about what EdTech tools are supposed to be doing in the classroom.

Actually, let’s back way up, to the 1700s.

What, you thought EdTech began with the advent of the personal computer in the 1970s? I suppose it depends on your definition of “educational technology.” I prefer Neil Postman’s thinking about what makes a “technology” from his 1992 book, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, where Postman suggests that technologies are tools devised by humans to solve particular problems. This broad definition goes far beyond the typical conception of “technology” as something digital.

Postman uses examples as “low-tech” as the practice of assigning letter grades in school: “This procedure seems so natural to most of us that we are hardly aware of its significance. We may even find it difficult to imagine that the number or letter is a tool, or, if you will, a technology; still lets that, when we use such a technology to judge someone’s behavior, we have done something peculiar” (Postman, 1992, pp. 12-13). Postman goes on to elaborate the beginning of the assignment of letter grades to judge the quality of students’ work at the suggestion of a Cambridge University tutor in 1792. This use of a technology–a tool, even if that tool is really just an idea–to evaluate the quality of students’ work is so taken for granted today, it almost sounds a little odd to think about letter grades as an educational technology! But…should we require “Letter Grade Assignment Certification” as a prerequisite for allowing teachers to wield this technology?

Do you see what I’m getting at here? Do teachers need to be certified to use tools in their classroom to ensure that they will result in students’ learning? Should teachers be “textbook certified,” or “chalkboard certified,” or “pencil-and-notebook certified” if we expect them to use these tools?

You might argue, “Well, Dave, digital tools are different! They are more complicated and have more features than these analog tools. So teachers need training and support!”

You’re right about that. I think that the tools are often more complex, and if we really do want teachers to use them to their utmost, the will likely need training and support.

But…

Here’s my real question: is it worth the tradeoff? If teachers need to devote that much time and energy to being able to effectively use a digital tool, is it worth implementing it in the classroom? Is “good enough” technology…good enough?

What do you think? What criteria should we demand for educational technologies we use in the classrooms of today and tomorrow?

Work Cited:

Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. New York: Vantage.

THE LIST

It’s that time of year again: back to school season. It’s a time of mixed emotions. Parents are happy (and a little sad) for the kids to be back in the classroom. Teachers are sad to see summer go, but deep down, they’re ready to help your kiddos learn. But, before any of the learning begins, parents and students find themselves busy purchasing materials from THE SUPPLY LIST. You know, the list of all the required supplies needed for the respective grade of your student, the list that inspired Monica Brown to pen her blog post “Why I won’t buy one extra box of Kleenex for my kid’s school supplies; signed, a frustrated parent.”

Sure, the lists can seem long and sometimes overly specific, but trust that the items are there for a reason, even in the secondary grades.  While Brown addresses the list from a parental perspective (one I applaud), I’d like to clarify a few misconceptions about supplies in high school. (YES, students and classrooms still need supplies!)

No, high schools classrooms do not have a set supply list available, and while I admit that I can see how this might be frustrating, it’s due to the variability of a student’s schedule by grade and course selections. As a parent myself, I, too, want to buy supplies as cheaply as possible and preferably during the tax-free weekend, but without THE LIST, many parents find themselves at a loss and refuse to guess. Result: a classroom full of students with little to no supplies. Most teachers would agree that paper and writing utensils are must haves for the year, so start there.

Yes, high school courses often ask for more expensive items like graphing calculators, bigger binders, and sticky notes, but rest assured, these are tools of the respective trade, and often, the more expensive items will last the rest of high school. And, let’s be honest, those sticky notes make annotating texts helpful when you can’t write in the books.

No, class fees do not go to the respective teacher. Often, they pay for student access to the online materials, books, food/fabric (family and consumer science classes), etc. necessary for the class, which leaves basic supplies like paper, pencils, folders, copy paper to be procured by students at the behest of individual teachers.

Yes, most teachers do receive a small amount of classroom money, but it pales in comparison to the amount teachers spend on extra (much needed) supplies. Plus, this small classroom fund is typically not available until OCTOBER, well beyond the start of school. So, what is a teacher do? Well, simply put, we have to put it in the syllabus and hope and pray students come prepared.

Brown’s blog speaks volumes of the magic happening in classrooms thanks to THE LIST, and it even addresses community supplies such as tissues and cleaning implements. We still need these in high school, but all too often, when students are requested to bring these, they request extra credit points, as if these are items of requested luxury. Sure, we could send students to the bathroom for tissue, but that’s lost instructional time. See, we truly do care about delivering the best instruction we can, and we have to get by with a little help from a LIST. But, what about the classroom monies teachers receive each year you ask? Yeah, those, classroom supply money cannot be used to purchase items like band-aids, sanitizer, wipes, tissues, or anything else that might remotely clean, not even the whiteboard. Oh, and copies? Sure, teachers may have access to the machines, but often, teachers must supply their own copy paper, and yes, while we might have access to electronic copies, students may not always have Internet access. Besides, there’s just something about physically working with colored paper and pens and markers that sparks learning.

I’ve already completed my two daughters’ lists, and I’ve already bought new supplies for my classroom as well. Honestly, I’ve even bought supplies not on the list for the teachers my kids will have because elementary papers are always happier with stickers. As a parent AND secondary teacher,  I realize the cost of supplies adds up, but so does the cost of a daily frappuccino or fast food meal or even adding extra data or lines to your monthly mobile plan. All I ask is that before you question THE LIST (whether elementary or secondary), remind yourself that if it helps your child learn in a clean and comfortable environment, isn’t it worth the extra expense?

Sure, teachers are known for their willingness to go the extra mile to make sure students have what they need to learn, but let’s be honest, should they be responsible for ensuring THE LIST is fulfilled? Pay it forward, buy extra where you can,  and see unadulterated (and uninterrupted) learning happen.

“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.

“Setting Up for the New School Year”

“These days, you’ve gotta milk a dollar out of every dime.”

– Gayle Forman, Where She Went

Though students will be heading back to school in a little over a month, teachers will head back sooner to prep and plan for an yet another awesome school year. This involves stocking classroom supplies, decorating said classroom, and designing lessons, all to engage our new legions of learners. More often than not, teachers will not receive classroom funds until later in the fall (if any), and it takes the mixture of teachers’ creativity, resourcefulness, and ingenuity to turn the new-school-year visions into reality.

Below you will find links to my favorite sites in locating variety of helpful resources for teacher supplies, resources, and tools to make the new academic year awesome despite a limited budget.

NAEIR –  This is the site for the National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources. The organization offers school teachers a FREE membership through its Teacher’s Program. Here you will find a variety of useful and inexpensive school supplies from donors such as 3M, Expo, Post-It, Crayola, Scotch, Sharpie, Avery, Papermate, Bic, and more. Essentially, corporations donate overstock to NAEIR, and NAEIR offers it to members for a nominal handling fee.

Personally, I have ordered repeatedly, and, honestly, it has truly become a supply life-saver. Most recently (last night), I splurged on some must-have goodies. A few examples of savings from my past orders include:

6 Post-It BIG pads for $12 ( HUGE savings)

15 Sharpie pens for $3.50

600 College Sports-Themed Index cards for $4.50

1 12×12 Command Dry-Erase wall Tile for $3

2 Expo Dry Erase sets (cleaner and markers) for $8.25

1 Student Expo Student Whiteboard set (2-sided board, 4 markers, and eraser) for $5

48 Post-it Designer notepads for $3

6 Post-It Weekly To-Do Calendars for $1

1200 Scotch Thermal Laminating Pouches $12

Note, the above prices are the handling fees. The products themselves are FREE. Still not sure? Check out the Teaching Supplies Next-to-Nothing Facebook Group to see pictures of fabulous teacher orders. Seeing is believing, my friends.  To join, be sure to register as soon as possible since membership takes a few days to process.

Participate LearningThe continuous learning section of Participate Learning’s site offers educators a place to find new teaching resources and tools (traditional and technology based), to curate them into easy-to-access collections, and to share them with other educators. Users may also use the Chats feature to track and participate in Twitter chats easily, whether live or reading transcripts of past chats. This is a MUST-SEE if you have ever wondered about Twitter chats for learning. Go ahead, search for something you will teach this year by subject, grade, standard, or tags.

Teachers Give Teachers –  This is the homebase for the HyperDoc Girls, who created the HyperDoc Handbook. This site allows teachers to share HyperDocs (interactive Google Docs for learning) on a variety of subject as well as free templates to create your very own for the new school year. Remember, a hyperdoc is more than just links within a document, it allows for student engagement and collaboration for learning.

As you prepare for the upcoming school year, feel free to share your finds (from these sites or your personal favorites) with me in the comments 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.