Learning from Learning: Documentation and Blogging

It sounded like a good idea at the time: The Documentation Project.

The end of August was rolling around and I was starting to think about the school year. What were my goals? What key pieces of instruction did I want to take on? What were going to be important milestones and projects?

In thinking about these questions, Angela Stockman (@AngelaStockman) posted in the Building Better Writers group on Facebook. She was offering a year-long session in documentation of learning, creating, a private group called “The Documentation Project.”

Currents were converging.

The offer of documenting learning would keep me honest about a goal, and perhaps help me to both step up my instruction and really learn from it.

At the end of August, all this sounded like a good idea. Last week, in the middle of a 20-point To-Do list, not so much. Additionally, Angela was pushing us along, asking What we were going to document and how we were going to do. Again, not so much.

However, last week and over the weekend, some stuff kinda gel-d for me. This blog is what I came up with.


I’ve decided to document the learning about writing that goes on in my IB English 11 class. We spent the first 4 days of class creating student run Edublogs, and populating them with several different kinds of posts and pages. Students will blog once a week, writing about either personal interests, mentor-text reading, or in further their thinking about current texts under discussion.

One of the questions that I’m asking about blogs is do blogs and blog writing create better writers.

I see the learning and documentation coming from weekly reflection on what I’m seeing in their blogs, and the lessons that I plan coming from this cycle or process.

For example, in the first round of blogging, I asked students to comment on each other’s blogs. Here, students are in groups of four, commenting on blogs in these groups to keep it manageable.

After the first round of blogs and comments were submitted, I asked students to reflect on what we’ve done so far. Flipgrid was an easy tool for collecting this feedback. The primary feedback I got was that commenting on other student work was the most difficult part of the process.

When I teach giving feedback–whatever kind of feedback that might be–I use the Stanford Design school technique of “I Like, I Wish, I Wonder.” This gives students a way of looking at student work and moving feedback from something personal to something constructive, and that is both positive and critical simultaneously.

Certainly, commenting on the work of others is a challenging task. No one would disagree. It requires us to carefully consider, to understand intention, to think about the effects of writing on our own experience as the consumer of a piece. Then, to articulate those noticings into writing.

Today, we’re going to look at some mentor texts by looking at public comments to the New York Times blogroll to see what we might learn about the moves we need to make as participants in a conversation.

I use that phrase, “participants in a conversation,” intentionally. From looking at blogs and my students reflection on them, my purposes behind blogging with them are clarified. Better writing means, for me, increased engagement in a conversation. I want them to participate with each other in a conversation of ideas and thinking.

Teaching commenting and giving feedback is one way to do this.

The other aspect that’s come clearer for me this weekend, was that blogging, for all its coolness, offers a challenge to today’s high school writer (and perhaps today’s high school English teacher): There is no right way to do it. In a Regents-exam driven classroom, where the answer for how to write the essay is clear and easy to teach, the blog form does not lend itself to “This is how you do it.”

Instead, the blog post is, perhaps, the most complex of rhetorical situations students might have to respond to. Worthy territory for writers, indeed.

What am I doing now?: Professional Development & Personalized Learning

Personalized Learning Conference:

I put final practice on a presentation on making this afternoon on blogging as educators and using blogs with students. You can see a copy of my slides here. I’m going to try to clean up my presentation notes and post them in the next few days.

The other part of my work in the past few days has been around creating a professional development session for the end of the school year. Let me give some details.

Where we started?

I’m planning an end of the year professional development activity. Given the strange timeline of the New York state Regents exams in June, our district has found itself with the unique opportunity to do professional development in the last days of teacher reporting.

While I’m not sure about how other high schools and districts operate, here in Canandaigua, having PD on the last day of school has never happened. Most of the time, the last days of teacher reporting are given to teachers cleaning their rooms, packing away boxes, and when these tasks are done, hallway games of KanJam. The atmosphere, in those last days, silently shouts, “I’m done and checked out until September.”

There is a degree of righteousness in this belief. After all, the school year is a marathon endurance test from which hard-working teachers often limp across the finish line desperately in need of some water and a rest.

In my mind, this feels like a kind of defeat. Can’t we have an end of the year, where we do something to either celebrate what we’ve accomplished, or to think towards the following year and how we’ll build on and trump best practices. For many of our committees and in terms of our district goals, there’s still lots to work. We just finished our first year of a 1:1 Chromebook implementation, a use of Schoology enterprise, and a number of other digital tools. Plus we have wellness initiatives, character education and a movement around engaging students. There’s still plenty of work to do.

In planning this PD, I took in the following considerations:

Goals:

  • Continue to Build capacity for using Schoology.
  • Align to district/DTC/building goals around using Schoology
  • Raise awareness of the Digital Skills Map.
  • End-of-School Year Digital Clean-up.
  • Digital Citizenship?

Considerations:

  • Moral and spiritual support from administration and CALTs: These people have too many responsibilities in the last days of school to be responsible for this event, but at the same time, such a new event needed a top-down approach. 
  • Capped at 2 hour time frame: Again, because this was a new event in our culture, a short, 2 hour time frame was an opportunity to start to build success. 
  • Equitable to other buildings: All of our district buildings are involved in PD for roughly the same amount of time. 
  • Scaled and differentiated to range of skills and talents of our teachers.
  • Anything created in Schoology would need to be replicated in August/September. Will Ts see value in creating in the last 2 days of the school year?
  • Provide CTLE credit
  • Structure of session: Starting point together in auditorium; closure in auditorium; sharing?
  • Who? Teachers? 

Where I’m at with this?

Last Friday, I had my breakthrough.

We’re going to play a game. While this game currently doesn’t have a name, theme, brand or prizes, it does have structure.

Teachers will be placed into teams who will compete for points based on completing different tasks. Inspired by choice boards and the BINGO choice board I learned about at Kasey Bell’s Shakeuplearning.com, I created the following:

 

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Schoology

Help desk hours & location:
Room 121 from 8:30 to 9:30

Post your course syllabus to each of your courses in Schoology or show that you have done this to your current courses.
(Schoology/CA Braves Scavenger Hunt)
Create a series of folders for a Schoology course to get organized or show how you have organized your courses. Create a Schoology page on a topic you are teaching next year. The page must include a hyperlink, a video, and an embedded Google Doc. Learn about a new feature in Schoology like Completion Rules, Conferences or Gradebook. Create something that shows this new knowledge. Access the End of School Year Digital Clean-up resources and complete 3 of  the activities.

Presentations from x at y; z at r; a at b.

Digital Literacy & the

Digital Skills Map

Help desk hours and location:

Dan Bowman & Tracy Lindsay

Access a copy of the District Digital Skills Map (Click here). Highlight skills that you think your students have; underline skills that you work to develop with your students.   Work with others who have shared students (either by department or grade level) to come up with ideas on how you might promote skills in the digital map through lessons or projects next year. Access the Common Sense Media digital resources for teachers (Click here); find lessons or materials that you could use with your students and that have connections to your content area. Put these materials into some form of assignment in Schoology. Check out the following educational bloggers or resources. Find something that you might use in the fall: Shake-Up Learning; Ditch that Textbook; Put the materials into Schoology. Find a group of 5 teachers, read this article and have a short discussion about it.
Assessment

Help Desk:

There are lots of great tech tools for formative assessment: Kahoot, Quizlet, Quizizz, or Schoology. Learn about a new one. Create a 10 question quiz using a new formative assessment tool like Kahoot, Quizlet, or Schoology. Read this article about formative assessement with 5 people and then have a short discussion about it. Share your takeaways on this Flipgrid. Do something you need to do for 10 minutes: make a phone call, schedule an appointment, enter grades, clean-up your room, finish something on the check-out list.   Find someone in a different department, discuss a  formative assessment they use. Share and collaborate on a creating a new format. Create a BINGO Board, like this one or a Tic-Tac-Toe board,  for your students to do next year in one topic or unit. Click here to learn more about choice boards.
Nearpod
Help Desk Location:
Steve Holmes
Access the Nearpod store and find a lesson you can use in September of next year. Add it to your library. Turn a PowerPoint or Slide Deck you use in the fall into an Interactive Nearpod with 5 activities. Create a Nearpod that you can use with parents during Open House next year. Click here to learn more about Nearpod for Parents. Work with others to create. Find someone who has never done a Nearpod, and help them make their first one with at lesat 5 slides and/or activities (both people get points). Look at the collection of Digital Citizenship Nearpod Library. Find one that you can do in the fall with your students. Add it to your library and make edits to work for your class.  
Social Media
Help Desk:
Katie McFarland in Atrium
Set up an educational Twitter account. Follow 5 educators who Tweet in Canandaigua and 5 people outside of Canandaigua. Follow 5 new teachers/educational Twitter users. Tweet about doing the each of the activities you do in this game. Use the hashtag #Canandaiguaproud Create a Twitter activity or assignment that your students could do in your class next year. Click here for ideas about using Twitter with students. Teach someone who doesn’t know about Twitter to set up an account and start Tweeting. Help them tweet about this game using the hashtag #canandaiguaproud and get 5 followers.
Well-being–Connecting & Culture Come up with a new “Get to Know You” activity that you can use in the first few days of school. Share your idea with a teammate. Click here for an article about connecting with students for some ideas. Read this article about mental health first aid with 5 people and then have a short discusison about it. Each group member must share a takeaway on this Flipgrid. There are lots of cool opportunities for professional development over the summer. Click these links to learn about them: Go to the libary, browse the collection and sign out a book to read this summer. See John LaFave’s presentation on mental health first aid.

Go to room x at y; z at t; or a at b.

Health & wellness
See activities for individual times and locations.
Get signed up for Healthy Rewards.

Go to room x at y; z at t; or a at b.

Take a tour of the Fitness Center; got to the center at x or y for the tour. What are your some of your wellness or fitness plans for the summer. Click here to share them in a Flipgrid. Take a golf swing lesson.

Go to the fitness center at x, y or z for a tour.

Looking to get started running?

Listen to X’s tips at x in room.

The chart has a series of topics or threads, which were determined by building and district goals. Activities are ordered left to right, and teachers earn more points for more complicated activities that require collaboration and creation. Once the entire board and its activities are set, we’ll house the board in a page or assignment in Schoology. The entire PD activity will be structured in a folder in our faculty Schoology course. The current iteration of this looks like the following:

Screenshot 2018-05-16 at 8.24.36 AM

In addition to the choice board, teams will have rules to follow, ways to gain bonus points, and chances to block and attack other teams.

I’m finalizing the board, working with others to get a theme, additional bonuses and blockers, and set short presentations.

With this format and structure, I think we have a good chance at success and using time, which is hard to come by, to get our teachers to continue to develop their skills.

Combining Launch Cycle with the Writing Process

The writing process has always been one of the core elements of my classroom instruction. Whether teaching Regents-level classes or International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement or other college-level courses, using the ideas of Peter Elbow, Lucy Calkins and the writers the the Bard Institute of Writing and Thinking.

In the past year I’ve read A.J. Juliani’s Launch and Empower. Both books have pushed me to consider the connections between the design-thinking cycle and the writing process.

Both have much in common. They each begin in generating ideas, then developing drafts or prototypes, and moving through revision, before ultimately sharing that work with the public.

As contemporary composition research suggests that we should spend more time with students working with real-world audiences, the design thinking process puts an important focus into its process. It asks us to consider what problems we’ll attempt to solve, who we’re solving them for, and how what is being created will address the needs of that group. It’s for this reason that looking at ways we can bring this into the writing process can ultimately benefit students.

Every year, I start my English 101 class with an introductory lesson on the Writing Process. This lesson will get some tweaks by incorporating design-thinking vocabulary that my students and I will use throughout the year.

Below is my preliminary thinking about where the two processes overlap and what writing activities might be part of each part of these processes.

Change is an opportunity to do something amazing, so let’s build a new school.

For the first week of season 2 of Innovator’s Mindset, I get to pour the metaphorical Legos out onto the floor, and build a new school.

Recently, I’ve written here about some of the things I’d like to see in forward thinking classrooms (A New High School Course), about some new models for writing (Trashing the High School English Classroom) and about how I’m working with students using Twitter to build connections to ideas they’re researching (Students, the Twitter-verse and Me).

When the IMMOOC prompts came out, I felt a little stalled, and to work through the block, just made some lists of practices I was trying to embrace as an educator and my reactions to the early pages of Innovator’s Mindset. I wasn’t feeling it, so decided to spend sometime engaging in design thinking and build a new school.

I’ve heard teacher re-frame the focus of education: “I don’t teach X subject, I teach children.” It’s, of course, an important distinction to make. The learners in classrooms need to come first, and before learning things like the quadratic equation, logos-ethos-pathos, the theme of Hamlet, or the parts of a cell.

However, I wonder, if we think of schools just in terms of the children, and that children are the only clients that we serve, we maybe do a disservice to the entire community. After all, teachers are there, and some will spend thirty or more years working in a building, the same can be said of the administrators, counselors, and other members that make up the service that’s done. Schools also function, arguably, to create functioning members of the community. Doesn’t a school serve, beyond its children and faculty, the larger community?

I’ve stopped saying, “I don’t English, I teach children,” to “I’m trying to engage in a practice that honors the humanity of all of those involved.”

By trying to make things better, and to engage in design thinking, I hope to honor the humanity of my students and my self. When I read Launch, last summer, my central take away is that when we are going to create, we have to start by asking questions that force us to consider those we are trying to create for. If we’re going to build better schools–both physically and in terms of the curriculum, we have to empathize with all involved.

Here are some things that I would do in the new school:

First I’d start with some questions. Here are some questions that need to be asked?

  • What kinds of environments do people feel most productive in?
  • What does psychological research reveal about the connections physical space, productivity, and learning?
  • What kinds of spaces exist on the cutting edge in industries such as tech, medical, automotive, business? What do they look like and why?
  • How can schools provide services important to people that move beyond the academic? For example, can we put medical clinics, dentists, legal aid, fruit and vegetable markets, DMVs, county clerks offices in schools for members to have access to?
  • What are the core experiences of our humanity? Community? Language? Cooking? Collaboration? Innovation? Creativity? Making? How can schools promote such experiences?
  • How do we create a school that will still be relevant in 5, 10, 20, 100 years?

Physical:

  • A range of classroom layouts that accommodate for a range of instructional styles: direct, project-based, small-group, rotational.
  • Outside classrooms designed and constructed so that teaching and learning could happen year round. Heated spaced, covered spaces.
  • A large, open communal space designed to be welcoming for all members of the school during the day, and for all community outside of school hours.
  • A movie theater.
  • Individual office space for each teacher. Space large enough for teacher and small group of students.
  • Labs designated for use not tied to classes: maker spaces, computer, media. Spaces where members are allowed to work, play, create.

Curricular:

  • A strong, developed, transparent, and rigorous system of assessment for all students. Assessments are generated or negotiated between teachers, students, parents, community members (hospital, business leaders, for example), allow for multiple approaches to complete, and involve all stakeholders in the evaluation of the assessments.
  • Emphasis on project-based learning, inquiry, research, interdisciplinary study.
  • Expectation that administrators work in classes; expectation that teachers perform administrative tasks.

What would I leave behind?

  • Assumption.
  • “This is how we’ve always done it.”
  • Budgetary restriction.
  • Peddling to the mediocre, average, and fearful.

I would love to hear about what your schools have done to be different and any questions you’d add to my list. I’m sure that I’ll be revising this blog. As soon as I post, I know that I’ll have something new to add to one of the lists above.

Now, off to read some great blogs and be inspired.

 

 

 

Students, the Twitter-verse and Me

Here was my vision.

Students would create an informational website with a white paper on their issue. They’d create a series of ads and flyers (using Canva) for both on-line and off-line ads to be distributed via a Twitter feed. They’d use Twitter and the ads to draw audiences to their websites, seek feed back on the concerns of the community, and then ultimately write a problem-solving proposal shaped on the feedback from the community. I’ll be posting later about how I rolled all of this out to students along with the resources I used. I was inspired to this vision after reading about such a sequence in Understanding and Creating Digital Texts: An Activity-Based Approach (Beach, Anson, Breuch & Reynolds 2014) and a parallel sequence of activities from the Michigan State University FYC. [If you would like to see my launch event for the project, you can see it here.] Although this is not the only reading I did. Both Troy Hicks (@hickstro), posts at Movingwriters , and the good folks at KQED Mindshift have pushed my thinking about writing, social media, audience and the use of Twitter. 

Laying the Foundation for Twitter.

So, really, this is the first in a series of posts about using social media, particularly Twitter, as a way to help students think about digital citizenship, to create academic and professional profiles using social media, as a tool for research, connection, and a new resource to bring us to texts to use as mentor texts, analysis and evaluation.

One step I took before building any materials, was to check in with my principal, who also actively tweets (@vtenney3) to make sure I had his support in this endeavor, and in my weekly email blast to parents, I let them know that we were going to use Twitter as part of the course.

Unfortunately, one thing I didn’t do, and I don’t know if it would have made a difference, was to check in the the IT department to make sure that Twitter was unlocked (as it should have been). On the planned roll-out day, my first period students couldn’t access Twitter through their network accounts. I pushed things off for a week to make sure after the filters had been changed, students could access.

Roll-out and Procedure

On the day I rolled out to students, I started with them reading an article, “Why Every Personal Brand Deserves and Early Start,” which had come to my attention through reading George Couros’ (@gcouros) newsletter. Students got links to the articles in a Schoology update and then had to comment on the articles. Here is a snapshot to give you a sense of the tenor of the overall response from students: 

student-responses

Several student responses to the launch article. 

So, I created a Schoology page with ISTE standards and my own learning objectives for why would be using this social media tool. The page provided students with the details I wanted them to use.

schoology-page-twitter

My Schoology resource page for my students. I wanted the use of social media to capture and focus their attention, and I also wanted to make sure I had formal purpose to our work as justification to administration and community.

 

For the first Tweets, I used the weekly KQED Mindshift “Do Now” questions. To help us all connect, I used a hashtag (#kpedz103). Using the hashtag allowed me to discuss the formal purpose of using hashtags as a way of search for conversations appropriate to research, as well as to help them aggregate their own research. 

As you can see, I most of what I did here was synthesized from a number of different sources and resources. Like what I was asking my students to do, I was using Twitter, links to followed Tweeters to aggregate information and put it together. I also had to employ a number of tools and resources to get this all to work.

At this point, students knew how to write a tweet, follow, re-tweet, search hashtags, and use a hashtag to help link tweets around a central idea.

We went on to start to use Twitter as a research tool. Students would need to find organizations that created content, research, writing, blogging about an issue that they were studying. We used a Gale publication and database on their issue, which provided a list of organizations to contact. I instructed them to see if these organizations maintained Twitter feeds and to follow them.

Where I’m headed…

Working from there, we will return to the Twitter feeds in the next day to evaluate the sources and the kinds of information these sources were providing to us through the Twitter links.

The next part of this, about source evaluation and teaching students to think about how Tweets are making arguments will be coming soon.

I started this post describing a vision I was working towards in my English 103 class that would bring in real-world writing, distribution of this writing, and working with audiences to shape writing products. Teaching Twitter as a tool became the first step in making this vision reality for my students.