I wished I loved Evernote as much as I love the idea of Evernote. The idea is awesome, right? Multiple notebooks, being able to type and clip and organize, all at my fingertips . . .having my students use multiple notebooks, being able to type and clip and organizer, all at their fingertips, and being able to share everything with me . . .
In theory, it sounded incredible.
In reality, it left a lot to be desired, although I will chalk that up to two factors: a) it was early in the year and eighth graders have a hard time transitioning to eighth grade and b) I wasn't as consistent with using the app as I should have been.
What Didn't Work
Overall, using Evernote in my classroom was a B-/C+ experience. Have you used Evernote with your students? If so, please share your experiences in the comments!
Over the past few months, a central initiative in our school has been improving writing, with a special focus on helping students learn to develop their ideas. We’ve discussed countless strategies, from teaching them to incorporate specific material, such as a statistic, to examining model paragraphs. Here are a few strategies that have helped my students:
Practice, Practice, and More Practice
Often, I find that students don’t develop ideas in their writing because they lack fluency of ideas. What does that mean? Just as we want students to become fluent readers, we want them to be able to adeptly formulate ideas and get them into written form. And just as reading fluency takes daily practice, building writing fluency requires frequent practice. Students need to write about their learning and their ideas, in some way, every day. This does not have to be fancy, difficult, or hard to grade. Three sentences on a concept. A short paragraph on a reading. A directed prompt – What is the central idea of this text? How do you know? It’s all practice, and it all builds fluency.
Formula, Formula, Formula
As an English teacher, I’ve read my share of poorly written, formulaic writings. So why suggest teaching kids a formula for writing? The same reason I give when a student finds a fragment in a novel and asks why he can’t use them. Because in order to break the rules as a writer, you have to understand the rules so you can break them effectively. Plus, using a formula to teach development presents my expectations for their writing up front. If I want students to state an idea, follow it up with evidence, explain that evidence, and perhaps elaborate on the explanation . . . I need to tell them that. I need to teach them that formula – Idea, Evidence, Explain, Elaborate – then provide them with plenty of opportunities to practice. Once they’ve mastered the basic formula, we can begin to explore creative ways to combine those elements in well-developed, well-written pieces.
Remember that one of the strategies we tossed around as a faculty was modeling well-developed paragraphs. Color-coding takes that idea one step further. With a model paragraph, the class assigns colors to the different pieces of the paragraph – topic, idea, evidence, explanation, elaboration, conclusion. This allows them to see the construction of the development. Then, they color-code their own writing. I can check this formatively to see who understands the parts, and the students can easily see where their paragraphs lack development as well as what type of development is needed – evidence, explanation, etc. As one of my eighth graders said, “Color-coding helped me to see what I was doing wrong.”
As a result of these strategies, I can see my students growing as writers, and their writing is more developed than back in August.
What strategies do you use to teach writing development?
This 8th grade ELA teacher is in love with Document Based Questions, formerly the territory of AP History and AP Language teachers. (Okay, I’m a recovering high school teacher who is certified to teach AP Language, so maybe it’s not a total surprise that I love the DBQ). I do know, however, that using the DBQ in a middle school classroom can be fraught with challenges and intimidating for teachers unfamiliar with the process, so here are my suggestions for taming the DBQ.
Do the Process Before Your Students Do
I actually begin the planning process for the DBQ weeks before my kids ever see it, whether I’m writing a new DBQ or using a pre-written one. I complete a close reading of all documents and annotate them. Then I use these annotations to create center cards to guide my students in their own close reading and document analysis. Following this step, I take the center cards and go through the documents again, following the student directions. This lets me see where students may bog down, where I may not have been totally clear in my instructions, etc.
My students and I are in the midst of our third DBQ this year. The first was an absolute nightmare, and we didn’t even make it to the essay. The second was better, with most students completing the essay portion. This time around, I am discovering that my students do not need the level of support I expected, so I have been able to turn them loose a little sooner. All three scenarios require flexibility on my part. I could have pushed them through the essay on the first DBQ, but why? They weren’t ready. On the second, I tried an electronic thrash-out of the essay, which did not go well. I quickly switched us back to the tried-and-true verbal thrash out. On this go-round, I could have insisted the kids follow my plan, which would have caused major student frustration. Have a plan, but be ready to deviate as needed.
Realize There’s More than One Way
All teachers who use the DBQ will develop their own habits and routines. Trial and error will lead you to the set of routines that work best for you and your students. Talk with other teachers about how they are implementing the DBQ, then incorporate the ideas that fit your teaching and your student needs.
Are you using the DBQ in your classroom? What are your thoughts on the process?
I am in love with Today’s Meet, and even better, my students love it as well. Our Instructional Support Specialist suggested it to me when I was looking for a way to introduce technology into the traditional Socratic Seminar.
If you’re not familiar with Today’s Meet, it’s very similar to Twitter or Tumblr, except it’s set up in “rooms.” I open a room, post a link to Edmodo, my kids join the room. I post a question or prompt, and they respond in up to 140 characters. The conversation updates in real time, and for a BYOT room where not every kid has a device, it works well because kids love to pair up and formulate answers together. We can gather evidence, brainstorm outlines, discuss what we read . . . the possibilities are endless.
Usually, I give students a few moments to post, then we discuss the conversation whole-group and curate the answers, deleting repetitive or irrelevant items. Once we’ve done that, I can save the transcript as a PDF and make it available via Edmodo.
Another way I’ve used Today’s Meet is to have two discussions going on simultaneously – a traditional Socratic Seminar in the middle of the room, while students outside the circle post to the same questions via Today’s Meet. After a few minutes, the groups swap places. This works well because students who may be reticent to speak in a group discussion often post great insights to Today’s Meet. Again, we can debrief the conversation as a whole and save the transcript.
The only downside I have had is having the occasional student who will join with a false name and post off topic comments, trying to be funny. This can be avoided by having students create a user profile and setting your room so that only registered users can join. In my case, all it took was a stern warning that misusing technology could mean we used less of it and voila! no more off topic funniness.
Overall, I adore Today’s Meet and the opportunities it brings to my classroom. Have you used this website? If so, please share. If you know of a similar site you’d love to share, tell us about that also!
The eighth grade standard involving characterization is pretty specific:
ELACC8RL3: Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or
drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.
When teaching characterization, I always begin by asking how we get to know someone new. If our counselor brought us a new student, how would we figure out what kind of person she was? Students’ answers will always bring us to an author’s characterization tools:
From this quick brainstorming session, we look at a piece of literature together. For example, we might examine the passage from “The Tell-Tale Heart” in which the narrator awakens the old man. We have lots of internal dialogue on the narrator’s part, but we also have a little dialogue as well as actions and reactions on the part of both the old man and narrator. The incident is the old man’s awakening; the narrator reacts by waiting patiently for an entire hour. What does that reveal about the narrator? He’s determined; he’s committed to his plan; he’s evil . . . answers abound, all of which can be supported by the text (ELACC8RL1).
Throughout the year, we return to this concept and these characterization tools repeatedly, with short stories, with novels, with selected passages.
What strategies do you use for teaching characterization analysis?
Like many teachers, I use informal formative assessment daily to gauge student learning. These mini-checks may take the form of exit slips, quick mini-conferences with students, or observations. With an increased emphasis on individual growth, though, one of my goals for this year was to make my use of formative assessments more intentional.
Cue the formative assessment plan.
I’m a huge believer in backward design (my Understanding Backward Design workbook is very dog-eared at this point). My method – start with standards and understandings, plan assessments and end goals, design instruction. As I crafted units with daily plans for this year, I simply incorporated a new step: designating which activities and products would serve as formative assignments and how those pieces would inform the learning activities that took place next.
Here’s an example of how this would work:
One of the standards my eighth graders will return to this nine weeks is ELACC8RL5, which asks them analyze how the structure of two or more pieces of literature contributes to meaning and style. I have two formative pieces planned with two different Civil War poems. In the first, students are guided by a graphic organizer through analyzing the structure, meaning and style of one poem. I can spot check that organizer and know what kids need to practice with the second poem (hello, flexible grouping!). For the second poem, students again analyze structure, meaning and style. Some may have a graphic organizer. Others may be more independent. Some may be a small group with my support. All of those instructional decisions are guided by the first formative activity. After this activity, students receive a new set of poems and are asked to work through the analysis independently (no small groups this time). Again, I can provide the scaffold of a graphic organizer or guided questions as indicated by the second activity. The entire process is intentional and embedded in the daily plan breakdown of my overall unit.
So far, I’ve been very pleased with how this works. My students are growing, and my instruction is very targeted.
How do you plan for formative assessment?
Educators have access to a plethora of technology, applications, platforms and other electronic wonders to make the task of teaching easier. I, for one, admittedly get overwhelmed, especially when I’m exposed to multiple new electronic resources at once. I’m all for jumping in, taking risks, and using various technologies, but I also know that I require time to really know if a resource is the one for me or not.
This is my second year using Edmodo as a classroom teacher. I’ve also been able to use Edmodo in the parent and student roles. Our school had a 60-day plan devoted to utilizing Edmodo schoolwide last year, and I credit this exposure for helping me quickly acclimate to the platform. Also, because we were using the app schoolwide, our students are all familiar with it, which makes incorporating it so much easier.
Having used Edmodo longterm, I can say this app is definitely one for me.
How I Use It and What I Like
I post assignments, reminders, documents, links . . . basically everything . . . to Edmodo. I can post openings and closings, give quizzes (which are graded for me!), place daily reminders on the planner, have students turn work in (want to quickly see who didn’t turn in an assignment? Click the Not Turned In tab. Whoo!), drop all our documents and links into folders . . . it’s more like what can’t I do with Edmodo? I like to think of the app as a gateway into our class, that’s open during class hours and beyond. I check into Edmodo a couple of times each evening as students post questions when working on homework or studying, but I have often found that students answer each other before I answer them. Edmodo boasts that its purpose is to connect people, and as middle schoolers thrive on connection, I find the app really does make these connections, between students and me, between students and students, and between students and their learning.
What I’m Not Crazy About
Edmodo frustrates parents. I cannot tell you how many conversations I’ve had with parents where they tell me they can’t see their child’s assignments or can’t figure out their child’s grade or . . . you get the idea. The parents’ view is limited to protect the privacy of all students in a group. I’ve taken to giving mini-tours of Edmodo during Open House or parent conferences, showing parents how to view the planner. I also make sure if I am sending out an assignment reminder, an important link, an alert or other key post, I include parents. This means if they have the Edmodo app on their personal device, they receive a notification and can see what I’m sending to students. This practice continues to protect students’ privacy, but keeps parents connected at the same time.
Overall, Edmodo has become one of my favorite teacher tools. Do you use Edmodo with your classes? If so, what tips do you have for the rest of us?