Archive for the ‘Random Stuff’ Category

I just finished up summer school classes today. As a part of the class for the last few days, students had to create a choose-your-own-adventure story using Google Forms. At first glance, the project seems pretty big. There are several steps in creating the story, and getting it all to work out in Google Forms takes some patience and attention to detail. However, after having worked on the project with several students, I found that it is a pretty simple project once they get their minds wrapped around how it works.

This is where the problem rears its ugly head!

A good bunch of students do not like to wrap their minds around anything if they think it has to do with learning. It is amazing how many students would rather sit and look at the wall instead of using their allotted learning time wisely. I think that some of this is human nature, but some of it also has to do with the fact that thinking is work, something teens try to avoid like a kiss from aunt Susan.

This is where technology projects come in handy. Notice that I said technology projects, not just technology. Technology by itself is not the key to engaging students. A computer is only good if the task at hand is meaningful or has a purpose. John McCarthy says in his Edutopia article, “Igniting Student Engagement,” that there are three components to successfully egaging students:

  1. Connect skills and  concepts to student interests.
  2. Engage students in professional dialogue with professionals in the field.
  3. Challengs students to solve a problem, design for a need, or explore their own questions.

This makes a lot of sense, and with technology, the possiblility of accomplishing these tasks is very real. Just think of how much easier all three of these suggestions are when using tech in the classroom.

Too many educators, and especially too many adminstrators, think that having a shiny bank of chromebooks in the front of the room take their rooms and schools to the cutting edge of technology. However, those shiny chromebooks are only good when the students use them to think and learn. Sure, wordprocessing and research are good, but put those skills to work in having a student creat a product that can be share with classmates and even the entire world.

The following links will give you a place to start when planning a technology project to use in the classroom:




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One sure fire way for a teacher to burn out is to spend hours and hours pouring over student papers. Grading has to be one of the biggest culprits of killing teachers. Anyone who has spent much time in the classroom as an instructor has done it, and anyone who has lasted long in the classroom has figured out a means of enduring it. But a teacher does not need to put up with all of this tedious grading for hours on end.

Some seem to think that this is the lot of a teacher. I have worked with many teachers in the past, some having worked for decades, who feel this is just the life a teacher has chosen to lead. Somehow, they have figured out how to manage the hours of work.

I’ll be honest, I am still not now what I consider to be seasoned teacher. I still do not have my first ten years down. However, I do know this; if I had to spend several hours a night grading papers, I would not still be teaching at this point. I probably wouldn’t have made it through the first few years.

The Problem

Being an English teacher, there is plenty of grading to do. Papers are the big time eaters. There is nothing more depressing to a first year teacher than a pile of 100 student essay, all written to the lofty 5 page length requirement, laying on a desk next to an extensive rubric that grades for everything from style and voice down to the last poorly place comma. Of course, reading the papers isn’t all that bad. The hard part is making comments and marking the rubric and then rereading the paper to check for grammar errors. This takes time. I have worked with teachers in the past who take up to a 1/2 hour per paper graded. With a 100 papers, this is some serious time, most of which has to be done outside of normal school hours.

I’ve been there. I’ve done it.

But now I have seen the light (I’m trying to see how many cliche’s I can use!).

Read these next few words knowing that I will explain what I mean in the next few paragraphs. Grading papers, especially student writing, is overrated.

Just ask any student: “How many of the comments did you read that I spent hours writing knowing they were words of great wisdom that would make you a better writer?”

The answer for 99 percent of the students I have worked with is, “None. Well I did look at the grade at the top, but after that, none.” Teachers are killing themselves by hours of grading and commenting when the students are not even paying attention.

The Solution

Don’t grade so much. This means something different for every teacher. This is what it means for me.

When grading anything that resembles a test, I use multiple choice bubble sheets. My school does not have a scanner to grade these, so I have improvised by using the Catpin Bubble Sheet Generator. I just make a bubble sheet for the test. Then for the answer key, I use a hole punch and make a master. I then use this to grade the test. I can do a whole class in less than five minutes. No more looking back and forth at a master test or answer page. Just overlay the master, mark those that are wrong with a marker, and count up how many the students missed.

This,  of course doesn’t help with writing projects. Here is how I handle the grading of papers.

To start, I plan class activities in such a manner that I will have some time to grade papers while students are working independently and quietly in the classroom. My plan, in most cases, is to have the papers graded, within one class period (we are on the block) before the students leave the room.

The biggest change I had to make in my grading style was to get over making comments on the papers. Anymore, I don’t even write a word on most papers I grade. I read the paper one time through and then go to the rubric. On a sticky note, I record the grades according the rubric. I then tuck these grades into a separate pile, mark the paper as graded with a check, and move on to the next paper. Except for the check, there are no other marks on the paper! Remember, the students are not going to read them.

I can feel the cringing and screaming from all you seasoned teachers. Students need feedback! Well, we’re not done with the papers yet. Let me restate that. The students are not done with their papers yet.

Usually, in one of the next few class periods, I give the students back their papers with a rubric. They grade their own papers by analyzing what they have written in comparison to the rubric. I have many different means of doing this. Sometimes, I also give them some exemplar papers to read before they read theirs, so they know what a top notch paper looks like. When they are finished looking over their own paper, I show them the grade that I gave them. They then compare what I observed when I graded their paper to what they found.

The students give themselves their own feedback. I do not have to tell them a thing. This is students being critical of their own work and becoming better writers. In my experience, students like this means of grading. Students often comment that they like getting a paper grade within a week instead of waiting for a month, which is going to be the case if a teacher spends a 1/2 hour on each paper.

Cutting down on grading does not mean that a teacher is slacking off on the job or that a teacher doesn’t care about student learning. It just makes sense. On top of that, it keeps me sane!




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Handwriting vs. Typing

The Grammarly Facebook page had an interesting question for readers today. The asked whether or not cursive writing should be taught in schools. I was quite surprised to see that most of the comments by readers said “Yes, students should learn to write in cursive.”  This totally blew my mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it is a good skill to be able to write legibly. However, I did learn to use cursive in school, and I don’t think I have used it since. Sure, you might notice some hints of cursive in my handwriting, but I don’t know that I could write a whole sentence in perfect cursive. Maybe I will give it a quick try… I just tried, and, no I cannot do it. I am not sure how to make some of the letters anymore. I think I have them right, but I’m not quite sure.

I think we might be better off, and so would all students, to learn to type efficiently. Right now, I have a bunch of students who can neither write legibly (in any form, let alone cursive), or type efficiently. Many of my high school students still use the one finger method, and many of them complain about how slow they are.

I can see that it would be nice to have a bunch of kids who can write very nicely with a pen, but I am afraid those days are coming to an end. I mean the days of writing on a paper with a pen. I will admit, that I like to write with a pen. When I want to jot down a quick note, I head straight for the sticky note drawer. However, these notes are for me to read and no one else. Therefore, I can write as sloppy as I want to and in any form (and I often do!).

On the other hand, I write on a daily basis for others using a keyboard, and I do this multiple times. Sometimes, I feel like I spend the whole day doing this. This is the skill that is going to help students become successful. This how people communicate now through written word. We don’t write a letter and send it in the mail. We use e-mail. Kids don’t write a note on a piece of paper and slyly pass it across the room. They text.

In light of this, I would venture to say that typing should be taught before handwriting. When a student becomes proficient on the keyboard, then they can learn to write with a  pencil. We’re probably not quite to that point yet, but it’s coming.

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Cool video

I shared this quick video today with my students. It leads to a good discussion of what they want to do in the future and how they are going to get there. Mind you, we were working with grammar today, so I tied the video into that by stressing the opportunities that educations gives a person. The narrator does not say to skip school. Rather, he says that a person should pursue a career that is he or she is interested in and passionate about.

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Taking some advice from a comment braddo made in my post, 5 technology skills every students needs, I put together a class where students practice looking for information using Google and other internet search tools. The unit was based around the life of Emily Dickinson, since she is one of the poets the class is currently studying.

For the activity, I used the Super Teacher Tools Flash Jeopardy game to get some student buy in. This is an easy tool to use. In about the time it takes to type, a Jeopardy game can be set up complete with sound effects and scoreboard. I swear, put a Jeopardy game on the board, and the whole class is attentive, even if it’s about the life of Emily Dickinson. This, however, was not the focus of the lesson, and really, in the end neither was Emily Dickinson.

What  I really wanted was for the students to do some meaningful research on the computer. Before we started the game, we spent some time talking about good sources and resources on the web. There is a clear distinction between these two. Wikipedia is a resource, a great place to go and find information. It is an excellent resource to find reliable sources. At the bottom of every Wikipedia page, there is a list of sources used to write the page. Many of these have links, and many of these sources have authors. This is one of qualifiers of a good source. An author is not the only one but certainly a good one, and this is what I really wanted to students to be aware of. If they find a source with an author on the web, it is more likely to be reliable than not. There was a good side conversation also about handles like “mrkaiser208” in a forum. Yes, that is an author’s name, but probably not his real name, so it may not be the best source.

To play the game, the students were split into groups of 3 and 4. Students used  the laptops, so each student had a computer. Then we played some serious Jeopardy! When the question was put on the board, they all started looking for the answer. One of the rules was that every students within the group had to be on the same page with the answer highlighted before the answer could be considered correct. This worked really well because everyone in the group would have to go through the search process to get to the website.

I was amazed at how hard it was for the students to find some of the answers. One question would sometimes take 10-15 minutes to answer. Remember, they couldn’t just find the answer on Wikipedia. They had to find a viable source, so it took some time. The room was dead quiet as the student worked with the occasional, “I think I’ve got something. Search with this keyword.” It was a full class of research, something I have only witnessed a few times in my teaching career! Usually, when the computers come out, I spend a good part of my time monitoring improper computer use, but for this activity, the students were dialed in.

It’s great when a lesson far outdoes the expectations a teacher has when the plans are put on paper.





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One of the dilemmas every teacher faces when assigning group work is the fact of whether or not the students are actually going to work within the groups. This is the case whether or not students are assigned to groups or choose their own. When it comes down to it, group work in the classroom can be problematic, even though the benefits are sure to outweigh the downfalls. This is the exact dilemma that has been playing out in my mind this last week. I know that the students are going to do the book trailer projects, but I have been unsure of how they are going to go about putting the projects together.

After spending way too much time thinking about it, I have decided that the students will work individually on this project. Here are my reasons:

1. We just finished up a different group project. The students, for the most part, did a great job and worked well together. However, there was some time wasted, as always seems to happen with group work.

2. I want this project to last no more than one, maybe one and a half class periods. Thus, there can be no “wasting time.”

3. I want to see what each student is capable of, something that is often lost in group work.

4. Though group work shows students how to work together, learning to take one’s own ideas and turn them into a creative work is also an important skill.

5. As a teacher, sometimes I need a break from group work. I don’t know if this is the best reason or the worst, but I had to list it. Though I will be running from computer to computer to help individual students, I won’t have the managerial issues associated with group work.


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Last week, I had an interesting conversation with several classes that I teach. My Juniors wrote an essay on a prompt that basically asked them if it was fair for admission offices at universities and colleges to weigh their applications based on content found in Myspace pages and Facebook profiles. I was surprised by the results.

Overwhelmingly, the majority of students felt that it was inappropriate for colleges to view their profiles or pages. Phrases like “invasion of privacy” and “they have no business” were found in almost every essay that I read. Many students wrote about how the theses pages are private places, only meant for friends and only meant for the eyes of those they want to see. Some students were downright angry that this kind of stuff was happening in schools. There were so many students who wrote along this vane, I was both surprised and a little scared. This was the mindset of the students when they posted information to their profile: whatever they posted was private.

After they wrote the essay, we had a class discussion about the topic. I was hoping to turn this into a positive teaching opportunity. I told students that whether they liked it or not, colleges were going to do this. These places where students spend numerous hours posting, chatting, liking and commenting are not private spaces at all, not even close. Instead, they are very public by nature. Most students didn’t realize that by signing up for a Facebook account and accepting the terms and condition, they pretty much sign over the rights of everything they post, or even say, to Facebook to whatever with however they want.

The most interesting thing about this whole conversation was that the students still felt like the whole thing was wrong. I don’t think they totally bought into what I was telling them. They still argued up and down that it was wrong for schools to use Facebook and Myspace as a determiner for college admittance.

They just don’t get it. This scares me a little. In their minds, whatever they do on the web is their business. The problem with this kind of thinking is that, to use a classic cliche, nothing could be further from the truth.

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