Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Designing Rubrics For 21st Century Assignments

After starting to grade the digital essays my student authored (I'd love to share them but...), I realized that it was going to be hard to grade them because the process was so transparent, making it easy to see the challenges each student faced and the ways they negotiated those challenges. Of course, as an English teacher, I've graded piles of essays, according to six-trait rubrics, mode-specific rubrics, holistically, summatively, formatively, insert any assessment tool you like. And in digital essays I'm still trying to accurately assess the effectiveness of communicating ideas and having a voice, but the vehicle drives differently now. So what else could I do but ask the students to help me design a rubric for digital essays, and we're working together on it using a wiki. This activity in addition to the structured reflection I ask them to complete shows me a lot about what they value and what they expect from themselves when it comes to using the digital tools on their iBooks. This could be very valuable for teachers in my school who still aren't sure what they can expect from students with these tools.

The way I started the wiki was to simply list the six-traits of writing, then ask my students what an "A" looks like, what a "B" looks like, and so on for each of the six traits. They've already started to talk about voice, pace, matching pictures to written content, having music in the background to emphasize mood, clearly signposting ideas and using visuals to reinforce. We're not finished yet, but at the end of the week, I'll post the rubric.

The next step will be to compare their rubric to NETS for students and revise accordingly, then consult NETS for teachers and rethink the assignment.
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Friday, October 26, 2007

An iPod Instead Of That Stack Of Essays

I've posted several times about a digital essay project my students have been working on. Well, today it was due. Since it could be either an iMovie or an enhanced podcast, I gave them several options for turning it in (maybe one of them I actually knew how to do; I figured they'd help me figure it out, which they did).

The options:
*stream it to their page on Ning.
*email it to me as a quicktime video.
*burn it to disc.
*export to iTunes, then zap it to my video iPod.

The last is now my favorite. I have a few essays as enhanced podcasts on my iPod. These run for about 4 or 5 minutes. Forget the stack of essays!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Chang-Rae Lee Visits My Freshman English Class

This morning, Chang-Rae Lee visited my freshman English class; he's our scholar-in-residence this year at Punahou. I asked him to talk to my students about writing, specifically, writing about themselves, their home, their parents. The timing couldn't have been better since my students are in the final stages of a digital essay about the idea of home. The process of the digital essay was as follows:

1. Freewrite about places that are 'homes.'
2. Mini lesson on photography.
3. Take pictures of places, items, people that are 'home.'
4. Fine tune the piece of writing, work through 6 trait revision process.
5. Record audio essay using Garageband.
6. Use either Garageband enhanced podcast or iMovie to sync pictures with words.

Before his visit, Chang suggested we read his New Yorker essay "Coming Home Again," and the students should generate questions for discussion. So we read together in class, then spent two days in a Moodle forum fleshing out ideas and questions.

I rue that I didn't podcast or take video or even pictures of Chang's visit. But I can say that there have been 4 times in my life when I've been able to hear a celebrated author/poet read their work then have a question and answer session with them. And each time, I'm enthralled and inspired. I'm glad that this time my students could have that kind of an experience. I did have my little Moleskin, and I jotted down some of the ideas he left with us about writing:

*Stories are catalogs of pictures purposefully chosen to address a particular feeling. A piece of writing doesn't just come out and tell readers what they should feel.

*Be a reader of your own words.

*Anticipate when a reader's curiosity will be piqued.

*Keep coming back to what's dramatic.

*Have a clear sense of purpose or the feeling you want to write about, but allow the writing to go where it needs to go. He analogized planning a piece of writing to planning a road trip. You can map it all out, but you might get somewhere and realize you need to go somewhere different, and you might arrive at the same destination using a different route than first anticipated or planned.

*Endings aren't summaries; they might do that a little bit. They should leave you with a feeling. And a reader shouldn't feel that the story has ended. It should continue to live on.

*Don't try to come up with great words. We all have a great sense of storytelling. Use it. Write it like you would tell it.

*Don't tell a reader what to think, instead, offer purposefully chosen observations. "Just look around in the museum of your life."

As an aside, I'd like to add that Clay Burell (Chang's former student in Oregon) and I used an excerpt from Chang's novel Native Speaker last year as an example for students working on the 1001 Flat World Tales Project.

Mahalo Chang

Friday, October 19, 2007

Essential Functionality: Desktop Sharing

A couple weeks ago, I sat down with two other teachers to play with Yugma. Clay Burell realized the potential of desktop sharing a long time ago, but it's taken me awhile to figure out how to enhance existing curriculum with this particular functionality. Today, I set up my students on Yugma so they'd be able to collaborate and peer edit a multimedia essay they're publishing with iMovie. In the name of efficiency, I had one student start a sharing session early, invite me, then we projected on a screen for the rest of the class to see. Ten minutes later, everybody was signed in with a free account. The whole class was humming with excitement over the possibilities, and I overheard a lot of great ideas for how this tool could be used in my class and others. I can't wait to see the collaboration that happens over the weekend and the resulting products. Next week, I'll post student reflections and ideas.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

1:1 Learning Management: SchoolVue

One of the initial challenges of transitioning to a 1:1 high school has been classroom management. Conversations about managing the online learning environments, both in classrooms and on the web, are happening in many areas of the school. There are so many variables to consider: planning using 1:1 tools, seating arrangements, modes of learning, teaching laptop behavior, honesty and integrity. The conversations will continue...
In the meantime, I ran across CrossTec School Vue on Wes Fryer's blog, software that integrates all computers in a classroom. In addition to making laptop class usage more transparent for teachers, School Vue offers some interesting collaborative features. Here are some screenshots from CrossTec's website. They might be too small, but they show a teacher screen monitoring all student desktops and a list of applications and sites visited by students.

"A Vision Of Students Today"

This video came to me in an email from one of our IT programmers. While watching, I was reminded of the Web 2.0...The Machine Is Us video, reinforcing the power of technology and web2.0 in classrooms and education. Then, I scrolled down to read some of the comments, which I've pasted below. Not sure what to make of them.

these college students struck me as direction-less in life. maybe thats why they feel like they're wasting so much time?
what was the point of this video again? no more technology in the classroom?

It's not ironic but sad that instead of doing your homework *YOU* choose to come on to youtube and waste your time.

Interesting video, but I spent the whole time wanting to yell at the students holding up the 'averaged' responses. I would say its an accurate representation of most of the college students in the three different universities I went to over the last 8 years. The sad part is that so few students care/try. It would be better if they didn't bother. They don't learn anything and they slow the whole academic process down.

I like this video,it basically says(to me) that college is just another perk to put on your resume.You don't even learn much about things in real life anymore,just bookwork and research papers.I've learned more things by doing my own research than what I've learned in school. I've often thought about whether college is a waste of my time or not.

Public Education - where information is transferred from the teacher to the student without passing through the minds of either.

And private education is where they tell students what to think and what to believe, all based on ancient mythology and pseudo science. Curricula of public education are based on reason, logic, and real science.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Maps Of War: Interactive Maps That Lead To Inquiry

I believe that the power of a lesson or unit is established within the first five minutes of its introduction. So, everyday I employ an opening set, bell-ringer, warm-up, whatever you want to call the activity that sets the tone for the class or unit, gets the students engaged, and stokes the questions that will lead to inquiry, exploration and learning. This year, I've been using YouTube videos (Homer Simpson on the River Styx), New Yorker comics, Ning forums, amongst other things. Today in my Reader, I came across Maps of War on Open Thinking & Digital Pedagogy. The post linked to a 90 second interactive map of the expansion of world religions. From there, I watched Leadership and War (embedded below) and explored several other maps. These, I think, even though I haven't taught a history course in a few years, make for great opening sets.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

I Hate Reading Quizzes, But They Seem Unavoidable; Here's A Collaborative Workaround

Discoverer's Day holiday kept us away from class yesterday, so I figured that I needed to keep my students accountable for the readings from The Odyssey that I assigned over the weekend. Typically, we have a reading quiz once a week or so, and I always try to not make them about memorizing arbitrary details from the text. Instead, I have them retrieve quotes and write responses that connect the quotes they've chosen to the themes under discussion.
Pretty effective on a couple levels.
Other times, I'll ask them to list 5 events from the chapter in order and explain why each is significant to the rest of the story.
Still I'm not satisfied with the differentiation of these approaches. In an ideal world, we'd read everything in class, explore all of it together. But I only see my class 4 of 6 days for 50 minutes. Hence, the reading quizzes. Yet, the Ning question from my last post kept nagging me to change up the quiz format. Can a quiz still hold students accountable if it's collaborative? Can a student's comprehension be shown in something other than written paragraphs?
The quiz:
Create a timeline of events in the two books.
Create a piece of artwork representative of characters and/or events from the books.
Identify uses of figurative language, explain its effect.
Design a set of critical questions for further exploration of the ideas in the books.

Everybody has to contribute. Ten minutes to get it done. One minute to present each products. Reflection on contribution.

Reflection With Class:
We discussed the division of labor and how it accorded with learning styles and intelligences. We were also able to discuss ideas from the books that the students found interesting and of value. I also segued to the Ning makeover discussed in my last post.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Moodle Is Great; Ning Is Different: Managing Learning and Creating Learning Managers

More and more of my course content is on my Moodle page, and I'm feeling guilty about neglecting my class Ning, where I saw so much good thinking and learning happening at the beginning of the semester. While in the process of reading a couple of Innovate articles on the subject of social networks as course management systems that a colleague forwarded me, I had some ideas for different kinds of Ning activities, exercises that take advantage of the power and uniqueness of a social network as learning environment. Starting next week, I'm going to assign each of my students a cycle (our version of a week = 4 class meetings) when they will be in charge of running some forums and exercises on our Ning page. They'll meet with me initially to discuss their ideas and go from there. I'm hoping to take advantage of the fact that Ning is owned by all of us, as opposed to Moodle, which is owned by me. Updates to follow.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Ironing Out Wrinkles In Digital Peer Editing

After a little over a month as a 1:1 high school, one of the most popular uses of the laptops in my department (English) has been the ability to peer edit in real time using a variety of forms of feedback. Teachers have made use of several tools, including: Google Docs, Wikispaces, Moodle Wiki, and passing laptops with Word documents open. Surprisingly, the last option of physically passing laptops has been most seamless. While Google Docs and the wiki options seems most geared for the activity, they're not yet real-time and without face to face coordination of editing, material and formatting gets erased and lost. The activity still works, however, if students have two documents open, only one of which is collaborative, and before any edits are made to the latter doc., it's refreshed, and only one student edits at a time with a little 5-10 second buffer before and after. Maybe a bit to manage in a classroom full of freshman.

In search of a more effective tool, I sat down with Bruce and another 1:1 English teacher, Ben, for our first Yugma session. Wow, I'm not sure if we figured anything out, but this tool is impressive. We took turns being what Yugma calls "The Presenter," which means this person's desktop is shared with the other collaborators. Everybody has control of the desktop, but Yugma only allows mouse controls one person at a time. So, instead of a shared document environment, students could be working on the same document in real-time on Word.

But for the "best of all," I need to back up a little and mention my dubious feelings about the peer editing activity in general. Whenever, I set up this activity in class (how can you facilitate an English class without some permutation of the peer edit) I always empathize with what I think we all experience, which is the gamble of peer editing. Maybe you get the best writer in class who's willing to give your essay the thought and feedback it deserves. But your chances are even better to get a "good job." at the bottom of the paper. Looking at it this way, the activity becomes more about teaching feedback than about a writer getting feedback that will improve their final draft. So Yugma's "best of all," only available if you pay, is that the entire editing session can be recorded, filed, and played back. That would make a great class lesson on giving feedback, even allowing a discussion of feedback that addresses different learning styes, i.e. voice comments, attaching visuals, working in a mind map, linking to a web resource, Visual Thesaurus, etc. Not to mention how much easier it would make the assessment of the process.