Let’s Keep it Together, Shall We?

“Containing the Chaos” painting by Michael Lang

Containing the chaos…isn’t that what we all want to do? I love this painting by Michael Lang because it is such a great visual of what this last year has felt like! Wait, that sounds very negative; however, it is so true.  There is so much that we needed to reign in. So when I considering ISTE Standard 7 for educators – entitled Analysist – and especially 7a which focuses on educators providing “alternative ways for students to demonstrated competency and reflect on their learning using technology,” I realize that this standard affords me a great avenue to allow not only my students but me a way to see how technology can streamline all the data we are presented throughout the year. When I look back at this year, I think of all the ways I could have helped my students retain and maintain a handle on all the virtual handouts, short stories, assignments, writing reflections, etc. and I know that I have fallen short.  While it is difficult to find an organizational system for high school students to use when they are given everything in hard copy, keeping track of everything that comes across their screen virtually must be exponentially harder.  Because of this, I am going to try, once again, for the 2021-2022 school year to use an ePortfolio system that will help students keep track of not only their work, but my feedback, and what they are “handed” in class.

There are many platforms that offer ePortfolios for students which look really promising but I will focus on Microsoft OneNote as our district provides Office 365 to its staff and students.  I appreciate Yang’s 2015 article, “The role of e-portfolios in supporting productive learning” because she perfectly encapsulates the desire that I have in using portfolios for student writing.  The beginning of her abstract states, “e‐Portfolios are a form of authentic assessment with formative functions that include showcasing and sharing learning artifacts, documenting reflective learning processes, connecting learning across various stages and enabling frequent feedback for improvements” (Yang et al.). What is most significant is the word “authentic.”  For teenagers, it is too easy for them to look at the shiny new tech as gimmicks and using them to produce something feels like busywork.  Beginning the year with a strong understanding of the portfolio’s purpose will help curtail the negativity and hopefully, with time, create a sense of relevance for the students as well.

From Davis’ 2017 blog, “11 Essentials for Excellent Digital Portfolios” she reminds the reader that the educator and student need to know the purpose before undertaking anything.  The purpose for my students’ portfolios will be a constructivist approach – for learning (Barrett, 2005).  Also, because I will use the portfolio throughout the year, formative assessment will be involved; yet, including student self- reflection and assessment creates student ownership of this process (Davis). It is exciting to visualize students’ buy-in of this type of learning because it allows for more freedom on the part of both the educator and student.  If I have learned anything over the past fourteen months of distance and concurrent learning, it is that student choice is imperative for engagement.

Creating a space for expression, while also meeting standards, is my goal.  I love reading students’ comments in their reflections that mention that they didn’t think they would have fun writing, but because they had a choice who to write about or how to express their understanding, they enjoyed the process.  In Herman’s and Winters’ 1994 article, “Portfolio Research: A Slim Collection,” they too see the benefit of choice when they state, “Well-designed portfolios represent important, contextualized learning that requires complex thinking and expressive skills” (Educational Leadership, 1994, pp. 48-55).

In my limited research this week, I did not find many voices that were against using portfolios as a tool for student learning.  Most articles and websites were very precise about what is necessary to create successful products, how students have access to their work at any time for re-submissions, self-reflection, learning, and communication with their instructors.  My one concern will be the students who usually do not turn in work on time; how do I know when late work is submitted without re-checking each section of the portfolio or expecting an email from the student?  This summer I will do more research on how to maintain my creativity and sanity while implementing this useful tool for my students.

References:

Davis, Vicki. “11 Essentials for Excellent Digital Portfolios.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 17 Nov. 2017, www.edutopia.org/blog/11-essentials-for-excellent-eportfolios-vicki-davis.

Herman, Joan L., and Winters, Lynn. “Portfolio Research: A Slim Collection.” Educational Leadership, vol 52, no. 2, 1994, pp. 48-55., IISN: ISSN-0013-1784.

Hertz, Mary B. “Tools for Creating Digital Student Portfolios.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 6 Jan. 2020, http://www.edutopia.org/article/tools-creating-digital-student-portfolios.

Yang, Min, et al. “The Role of e-Portfolios in Supporting Productive Learning.” British Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 47, no. 6, 2015, pp. 1276–1286., doi:10.1111/bjet.12316.

Do we need another collaborating tool?

Once again, while looking into the details of an online tool that educators can use, I am faced with the limitations rather than its possible benefits. I don’t usually try to be cynical about anything; however, with everything on teacher’s lists of things to do, learning a new technology tool may not be on the top of everyone’s priority list. With that said, after spending some time reading up on Favro there can be some interesting information gleaned when comparing this collaboration tool with others that are readily available for educators.

By anchoring this blog in ISTE Standard 4 (Educators dedicate time to collaborate with both colleagues and students to improve practice, discover and share resources and ideas, and solve problems); especially 4a (Educators dedicate planning time to collaborate with colleagues to create authentic learning experiences that leverage technology) we can explore how can educators dedicate time to collaborate with both colleagues and students to improve practice, discover, and share resources and ideas, and solve problems?

My response? With purpose! 😊 Teachers are given a finite amount of time which we try to stretch to its absolute maximum.  When taxed with meeting the scope and sequence mandated by the district and building, finding time to collaborate can be last on the list unfortunately.  I am very thankful for the teaching environment that I work in; collaboration is number one for our discipline as we integrate history and ELA curriculum.  This does not come naturally.  

Our school focuses on collaboration through two different methods: Critical Friend Groups (teachers from different disciplines, administrators, and counselors) which meet at least once a month to go over student work and educator’s dilemmas. Another way we collaborate as a whole school is Learning Walks.  Twice a year (at least during the Pandemic) a group of teachers open their classrooms for a few teachers to observe their classes.  As an observer we look for things we can see – classroom management, teaching strategies, etc.  It is a non-evaluative observation and is used for professional learning.

The online tool I looked into, Favro, appears to be designed mostly for corporate settings; however, there are components that seem to be beneficial for educators, especially when you consider that everyone desires to “integrate various departments and keep everyone on the same page” (Consumer Voice, 2021). The favorable attributes include: 

  • “Connect·the·dots with relations:” what I like about this feature is that you can have active or “live” areas on different aspects of a task.  For instance, if I am collaborating with fellow English teachers and my “assignment” is to create a list of books for the end-of-year book club, this list will be helpful for those who are creating the reading schedule page as well as initial directions page.  I can place my task on both of these pages and edit it “live” in both spaces.
  • Another positive attribute is that one person can have the license for the product and invite other collaborators as guests instead of requiring everyone to have to pay a fee to use this platform.
  • The last positive aspect of this product is the ability to integrate with the many digital tools educators use already such as Slack, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Microsoft Calendar, and Google Drive. 

While educators are definitely attempting “to integrate various departments and keep everyone on the same page” (Consumer Voice, 2021), and it is tempting to be drawn in with the promise that users can learn “how to effectively communicate, [keep] everyone on track and up-to date, and [stay] organized at all times” (Consumer Voice, 2021), there seems to be too much overlap into programs schools and educators already use.

With Microsoft Teams and Google Drive apps readily available, bringing in a tool that was not created with educators in mind, but to allow “organizations do what they excel at – making products and services that change the game. Fast” (Lavi, 2020), the time that it would take to use this tool to is full capacity does not seem worth it.

References:

The agile collaborative planning app for SaaS & games. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2021, from https://www.favro.com/

Favro review. (2021, April). Retrieved April 18, 2021, from https://www.consumervoice.org/favro-review?topic_id=101

Lavi, S. (2020, July 16). Favro vs Asana. Retrieved April 18, 2021, from https://www.itqlick.com/compare/favro/asana

Validating Borrowed Text

Creating validity of online sources tends to be an issue for students and educators alike.  There are so many ways that writers can go astray if we do not take the time to evaluate our sources.  The first exposure I had regarding the process of evaluating sources was through the lens of OPCVL. 

Our librarian has created a form in which students can put their source through this “test” before ascertaining if it is appropriate for use in their writing.  Since utilizing this process to evaluate sources, I have found other ways to find strong reference sources.  There are a lot of lists on how to check the validity of your sources, there are few actual tools to do it for you, which in a way, is wonderful as I want my students to critically think through the process of how to use internet sources correctly.

One of the “guides” I found is provided by “who is hosting this.”  This 60-second guide to evaluating sources gives steps to take to ensure someone is considering many aspects of their resource before relying on it for their use in an essay or research paper.  I think this skill, like all disciplines, are unfavorable for those of us who are tasked with the burden of doing it (Hebrews 12:11).  This tool will be a great resource for my students as they begin their 2nd Semester Research Paper.

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Other websites offer creative and clever acronyms in which to hook someone to use their ideas.  For example, Kelly Walsh’s 2015 article entitled “Good Tools for Teaching Students How to Evaluate Web Content Credibility” begins with “The CRAAP Test.”  Alright, now that you have finished laughing at the clever title, the meaning is incredibly relevant; the author asks the readers to consider Currency, Relevancy, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose (2015).  The purpose of Walsh’s tools is to help her audience pause and consider click bate, social media, video, and other popular and entertaining sites that can pose a problem when considering credibility (2015).

In Greer’s 2009 article, she worked with a sample population on testing online information by using two cues, “source and advertising” (2009). Even though she was dealing with websites, and students who are conducting research use more academic sources, it is still important to take time and filter searches by considering anything that may draw the viewer’s attention away from solid and evidence-based information.  I notice that students tend to go for the “low hanging” fruit; meaning they look at the first sites at the top of their search. By taking the time to investigate the actual source and what type of advertising either endorsing the site or is using the site as a platform.

Building upon looking at two cues, Jaramy Conner’s site lists many ways a researcher can validate the credibility of online information.  Included is his step-by-step guide that encourages the searcher to check the URL, look at the author, consider the timeliness, plus others so that once the researcher has chosen the information there can be a sense of authority on its trustworthiness (2020).

While there is no magical tool in which to state the validity of an internet source, there are many guides for students to follow.  The process is laborious and necessary. There is no shortcut. This is definitely not good news for students who are spending more time than they wish, yet it is an incredibly important part of writing well-supported assignments.

References:

Connors, J. (2020, February 27). What is a credible source? How to evaluate web resources. Retrieved March 28, 2021, from https://www.whoishostingthis.com/resources/credible-sources/

Greer, J. D. (2003). Evaluating the credibility of online information: A test of source and advertising influence [Abstract]. Mass Communication and Society, 6(1), 11-28. doi:10.1207/s15327825mcs0601_3

Walsh, K. (2015, September 29). Good Tools for Teaching Students How to Evaluate Web Content Credibility. Retrieved March 28, 2021, from https://www.emergingedtech.com/2015/09/favorite-tools-for-evaluating-web-site-credibility/

Reflection.

https://secondaryenglishcoffeeshop.blogspot.com/2017/04/how-to-include-reflection-in-learning.html

There are so many connotations of this word; including, but not limited to, an effect produced by an influence; a thought, idea, or opinion formed, or a remark made because of meditation; and consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose.  When educators ask students to reflect on their learning, they become better writers, critical thinkers, and owners of their learning.

Creating purposeful reflective activities is a way that educators can begin the process of teaching students the importance of writing with intent and feeling.  In Suzie Boss’ article “High Tech Reflection Strategies Make Learning Stick,” she references Charner-Laird describing reflection as “‘the mind’s strongest glue’ for making the connections essential to understanding, regardless of the subject matter” (2009).  Making connections, especially in high school, is so important because students work best when they see relevance of what they are doing.  Boss discusses the “variety of media – from blogs to audio interviews – to encourage and capture reflection” (2009). I know that the process of writing blogs has been a very helpful tool for me in my Masters, and now my Doctorate programs.  The ability to look back and see either the progress of ideas, themes in the writing, or important connections between topics, etc.  Previous blogs are helpful tools in supporting present ideas.  It also shows a progression of understanding in a line of study. 

In the published journal article entitled, “Using Technology to Foster Reflection in Higher Education,” I agree with the comment “The published studies regard reflection, or critical reflection, as pertinent to creating learning experiences, where meaning is generated from experience by bringing into consideration one’s thoughts, feelings and actions” (Strampel & Oliver 2007).  Although this article addresses higher education, the skills in learning how to be a reflective thinker needs to begin much earlier.  The authors relate that,

Reflection is a way of thinking; it is a form of contemplation that determines how one comes to act on new undertandings. This contemplation involves being stimulated by new information, bringing prior experiences to the forefront of one’s mind and considering how ‘old knowledge’ affects new situations, is the one looking internally to one’s thoughts and externally to the issue at hand. Reflection is a process that leads to conceptual change, knowledge transfer, and action (Strampel & Oliver 2007).

I appreciate this visual as it shows the “what and where fors.”  As an educator, it is nice to see how to instruct in each levels of reflection and how to critically think about the process.

Captured from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ron-Oliver/publication/49277756_Using_technology_to_foster_reflection_in_higher_education/links/0deec517e791c68485000000/Using-technology-to-foster-reflection-in-higher-education.pdf

Another resource that emphasizes the importance of reflection, comments on how “Keeping ‘reflection’ novel, creative and fun will add to engagement and improve the quality of thinking undertaken” (Kornelius 2016).  Technology allows students to engage in the reflection process while also using their strengths in understanding technology.  Cornelius’ “15 Digital tools for student reflection on learning” also gives a list of different ways to use different platforms in reflection such as eBooks, iMovie, Explain Everything, Adobe Spark, Seesaw, and many others (2016). It is helpful to see how each platform works and also having a diverse ways to interact in the process (visual, writing, and audio).

Circling back to the eduTopia article by Boss, before giving more technology to engage in, she states that “the goal of highlighting reflection in the classroom is to encourage students to begin to reflect more frequently and naturally in their day-to-day lives” (2009).  In order to make reflective writing meaningful and something students find value in, repetitive instruction and opportunities are incredibly important. 

References:

Boss, S. (2009, March 05). High tech reflection strategies make learning stick. Retrieved March 28, 2021, from https://www.edutopia.org/student-reflection-blogs-journals-technology

Cornelius, K. (2018, September 29). 15 digital tools for STUDENT reflection on learning. Retrieved March 28, 2021, from https://medium.com/@teachrsolutions/15-digital-tools-for-student-reflection-on-learning-65ef12141fb8

Strampel, K., & Oliver, R. (1-11). Using Technology to Foster Reflection in Higher Education. Research Gate, 2007th ser.

Frost Madness

As I sit in my office on campus for the first time since the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic, it is ironic to re-evaluate my Robert Frost poetry unit and create one that allows students to increase their digital literacy while the halls are metaphorically ringing with the sounds the possibly bring students back on campus soon.

Teaching poetry in high school can be extremely difficult! There are those who love it and would be happy if the class were centered on every famous verse ever written; however, the majority of students hope that they can bypass an English class without their teacher saying that offensive four-word letter – POEM. As I reflected on how my first attempt of a poetry unit went during distance learning, the normal interaction with the text was missing from the students. In order to bring the engagement back to level where I feel students are not only benefiting from understanding Frost’s purpose, but also having some enjoyment in the process, I found many resources that create a NCAA-feel to their poetry unit. With their expertise, I was able to create a Sweet Sixteen body of work from Frost’s poetry (here is the bracket) that students will analyze, create context, debate the strength of writing, and ultimately crown one of his poems Champion of the tournament.

Chronologically, Robert Frost’s poems fall into the era known as American Industrialization.  Among many other diverse voices, his words plead with his audience to consider the simple things in life such as rivers without impediments, neighborly relations, decisions to walk along the well-worn path, etc.

This unit will address ISTE Standard 1: Empowered Learner: Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences; ISTE Standard 3: Knowledge Constructor: Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others; ISTE Standard 4: Innovative Designer: Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identity and solve problems by creating new, useful, or imaginative solutions (especially 4d: Students exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance, and the capacity to work with open-ended problems; and ISTE Standard 6: Creative Communicator: Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats, and digital media appropriate to their goals.

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G – The goal of analyzing poetry to discuss the poet’s writing choices.  This includes the structure of his/her work as well as understanding the literary devices and connotations of the words used.  To do this, I will address the following Common Core Standards for 11-12 grade ELA:

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.4 [(Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)]

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.5 [Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.]

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.6 [Analyze a case in which grasping a point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).]

Q – Essential Questions

There are many questions to explore when studying poetry.  The essential questions that I usually ask involve delving into the structure, speaker, audience/purpose, literary elements, and context.  Some examples will be:

How do the writing choices (figurative language and sensory language) engage the reader?

How does reading shape our writing?

How does Frost’s poetry differ from those studied earlier in the year?

How does the historical context affect the writing choices of Frost?

How do poets create a voice for society?

How does analyzing poetry differ from analyzing prose?

How does one defend the strength of literary choices of a poet?

U – Students will understand that…

…word choice is important.

…structure creates meaning.

…every reader has a different response.

K – Knowledge: Students will know that…

…literary devices are distinguishable and purposeful.

…poets have a voice for social justice, for change, for a purpose.

…context is essential to understanding.

S – Skills: Students will be able to annotate poetry through the lenses of culture and context, in addition to finding meaning through the structure and language.

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When looking at assessment evidence, I used a template what would give me an idea of how each task would bring about student assessment and reflection.

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Whereto: Due to the timing of this unit, I have already set up the expectations in annotating and analyzing poetry.  What makes this unit different, is that the sheer number of poems we will consider as a body of work and the possibility of creating one voice from the speakers of Frost’s poems.

The objectives for this unit include:

  1. After full class literary analysis, students will be able to independently read one of Frost’s poems.
  2. Students will be able to evaluate the strength of Frost’s voices during the time of the Industrial Revolution.
  3. Through collaboration, students will be able to defend their decisions on the strength of Frost’s poetry.

wHereto: As mentioned before, this unit will be set up like the NCAA March Madness Tournament to entice students into interacting with Frost’s poetry as well as each other in order to analyze, evaluate, and ultimately defend what poem is the strongest in this body of work. In working with the Unit Objectives, Common Core Standards, and ISTE Student Standards, here is an outline of Activities to engage in the key ideas of Frost’s poetry.

 whEreto: Because of an earlier unit, students will have the terminology to help their success in writing strong analysis.  In addition, I will also instruct them in:

Distinguishing a speaker’s voice within a poem.

Appreciating the importance of culture and context when looking at poetry.

Literary terminology that is required when explicating poetry (a review).

Creating a strong and persuasive voice through writing and verbal debate techniques.

wheReto: As the “tournament” progresses, students will be able to re-evaluate their annotations to create a strong argument for the final four and champion poem/s. Through this process, students will revise their explications and analytical writing.

whereTo: Through the unit, students will meet with me during the annotating and analytical writing process. These meetings will establish their understanding and allow me to redirect and give feed-forward remarks.

wheretO: This will be a three-week unit.

The beginning will establish the rules (aka bracket) for the tournament.

Throughout the competition, there will be direct instruction as well as small group/individual work time.

During the third week, students will prepare and present their individual or small group defense of the Elite Eight, the Final Four, and ultimately the Champion poem.

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The technology is not specifically linked to any one task or goal because its use will be fluid throughout the unit. My expectations are to use Zoom as a meeting platform for students who are synchronous as well as asynchronous. This allows students who are “roomies” as well as “Zoomies” (coined from one of my union reps :D) to interact with one another in their discussions on the culture and context of Frost’s poem, his language choices, and create paired debate information to defend the winning poems along the way. I will also use Flipgrid to facilitate students’ analysis in a way that helps them gain in their poetry annotation skills as well as verbal communication skills. Using Flipgrid will help me give quick feedback as well as give students the platform to speak about poetry. Students will use approved data bases, virtual “museums,” and academic websites to create context for the poetry before their analysis. Students will keep the record of their small group discussions on either shared MS Office platforms such as PowerPoint, Word, etc. or Google Docs/Slides so that I can monitor the progression of their analysis as well as keep them on task.

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I am excited to pilot this lesson plan for my upcoming juniors in the Fall of 2021. I believe presenting it in a way that is engaging, such as the NCAA March Madness Championship, will help make poetry accessible to even my most reticent poetry people!

Off Campus Visits ~ Virtually

Five days from today (03/12/2021) will mark one year since I have been in a physical classroom with my students. One. Year. It is so hard to believe! During this time of required distance learning, the expectations of students have remained the same: engaging lessons that are relevant to not only skill-building, but to life after high school.  In an English class this can pose obstacles; however, there are many ways in creating an engaging experience for our virtual students by widening our vision to invite experts into the classroom experience.

ISTE Standard 7 Global Collaborator; especially the first guiding concept of allowing students to use digital tools to connect with learners from a variety of backgrounds and cultures to broaden mutual understanding and learning is the focus of this writing.  I am attempting to answer the question, “How can students use technology to interact with experts in literature to enhance their understanding of the significance of culture and context in a given unit of study?”

My quest took me to many sites that outlined guidelines on how to interact with diverse “stakeholders” in literature; including, but not limited to, authors/poets, museums, community, members, other educators, etc.  The first webpage I visited was Edutopia and their article, “Inspire Students with an Author Visit” by Jorgensen and Jorgensen (2020). The first subheading, “Consider the Possibilities” is what held my attention throughout their ideas.  While pandemic learning has not been ideal for most educators and students, the ingenuity of some people have given me my best ideas.  I appreciate that this article lists out the steps to create a successful visit from a literary expert from sending the request to following up (Jorgensen & Jorgensen). 

Another helpful website was a blog by Jill Pavich entitled Ed Pioneer.  In this entry, “Teaching ELA Remotely: 10 Inspiring Ideas for Digital Instruction” (Pavich 2020) she offers some helpful ways to interact with students within the virtual classroom.  The list has many ideas I have tried and have been successful in creating opportunities for students to do their own web searching on finding significant cultural context information.  The one that has worked best for me is “6| Brainstorming via Google Slides” (Pavich 2020) as it allows students to interact in small groups, input their ideas, and see other’s insights without the barrier of feeling uncomfortable talking on screen.  With the help of the other resources, I hope to try “3|Mystery Meet-ups” which give the students a chance to meet a guest speaker that relates the unit of study (Pavich 2020).

The last of the procedural-type websites that I visited was another blog called “The Open Book Blog.”  This entry is entitled “How to a Host a Successful Virtual Author Visit” by Hannah Ehrlich from June 11, 2020.  Once again, this entry instructs the “green horn” on how to successfully set up a visit from an author so that it is meaningful, well-planned, and beneficial for everyone involved.  I appreciate that this writer includes a section on preparing the students for the visit.  Even though it is designed for younger learners, it is still important to create an atmosphere of anticipation so that the students are excited to interact with the guest (Ehrlich 2020).

Other ways to create experiences that students can learn the context of their literature is to visit places through virtual field trips.  In Moran and Rice’s upcoming work Virtual and Augmented Reality in English Language Arts Education, they promise to look at how to utilize curriculum that will engage learners through Chromebook Apps, virtual environments, etc. (Moran and Rice 2021).  Using their ideas, but without the work’s guidance, I am using virtual museum tours to help both my juniors and seniors create contexts for their current work.  My juniors are about to read excerpts from Monica Sone’s Nisei Daughter and to help them understand the Japanese Interment a bit more, a couple of my jigsaw groups are visiting virtual exhibits from the Northwest Nikkei Museum.  My seniors are reading The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, and even though they had extensive instruction regarding World War II during their sophomore year, I am having them visit the virtual United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to view exhibits that will remind and reinforce the atrocities of the German genocide of Jews.

While I hope that I can arrange virtual author visits for works my students are reading in the Spring; even if I am unable to, I appreciate the ideas that these writers provide.  I believe that the Covid-19 Pandemic has awarded educators the freedom to be as creative as necessary to create engaging learning environments for our students.  With this freedom we are forced to look outside the “canned” Scope and Sequence information to explore what our fellow educators have found useful in their classrooms and field of expertise.

References:

Ehrlich, H. (2020, July 21). How to host a successful virtual author visit. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://blog.leeandlow.com/2020/06/11/how-to-host-a-successful-virtual-author-visit/

Jorgensen, E., & Jorgensen, N. (2020, February 06). Inspire students with an author visit. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/inspire-students-author-visit

Moran, C. M., & Rice, M. (2021). Virtual and augmented reality in English language arts education. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Pavich, J. (2021, February 12). Teaching ELA remotely: 10 inspiring ideas for digital instruction. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://edpioneer.com/10-inspiring-ideas-digital-instruction/

Literary Literacy

Literacy, capacity to communicate using inscribed, printed, or electronic signs or symbols for representing language.

As you can see by this image, literacy is more than our basic three “Rs” of education (reading, writing, & arithmetic). Understanding today’s language requires more than decoding letters on a page. When faced with learning literacy in high school, especially when attempting to integrate technology, educators are faced with many questions ranging from “how much technology integration is too much?” “Can students still see the relevance in learning when ‘all’ the answers are on the internet?” “What will students find engaging in this information age?” While literacy may mean more than reading and writing, these basic skills are still necessary to navigate a society that is relying more and more on technology.

Integrating technology into a high school ELA classroom has subtle implications because much of literary analysis is digging into the text and finding the student’s voice in analysis. With technology, students are tempted to look for other people’s ideas to verify their own before sharing their ideas. Alvermann in her article “Effective Literacy Instruction for Adolescents” (2002) states that “Perceptions of self-efficacy are central to most theories of motivation, and the research bears out the hypothesized connections” (Alvermann). Without believing they can understand, students will rely on “expert” opinion before they rely on their own interpretation of the text. She “argues that adolescent literacy instruction, if it is to be effective, must address issues of self-efficacy and student engagement with a variety of texts (e.g., textbooks, hypermedia texts, digital texts) in diverse settings” (Alvermann, 2002). Luckily, many of the literature choices educators make are online and with tools such as web.hypothes.is, annotating online is achievable. Yet, even with the online texts and tools, students still need to be able to understand and comprehend the text in order to build the skills necessary to move forward in their education.

Thankfully, experts are also looking at how to improve learning in the secondary English classroom such as McWilliams et.al (2011). McWilliams and her group began their study by researching the question, “What kinds of reading and writing assignments will prepare learners to engage with the vast range of knowledge-building and problem-solving communities that increasingly characterize the educational, vocational, and social experiences of many adults?” (McWilliams et.al). The group met and “developed and refined an approach to literacy instruction that embraces an expanded notion of literacy and supports engagement in new media literacy practices while also helping learners to be successful in the English classroom” (McWilliams et.al). In their findings, they discovered that fan fiction and Twitter(r) were platforms to make The Crucible more palatable to 21st Century high school students (McWilliams et. al). This is the challenge met by educators from any discipline, making learning relevant to today’s students.  How do you take what may seems like archaic content and polish to shine as brightly as something students are drawn to on the world wide web?

To address in what are ways in which students can use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful, or imaginative solutions, secondary ELA educators are charged with walking the tight rope of keeping students engaged as well as staying true to the learning standards given by district, state, and federal entities.  In my case, I find it very difficult to fulfil the mandates of district standards (required literature and assessments) within their time sequence.  To keep up with the calendar, I am forced to stay very surface-level with the content and spend most of my time on the skills necessary for success inside and outside the classroom.  To do this, I try to incorporate as much peer collaboration as possible; my students seem to function best when they are paired or grouped.  While analyzing literature, writing essays, and learning rhetorical devices in a shared learning environment creates confidence in most students and I as their teacher cannot instill.  Integrating technology into this type of classroom is not difficult, but it can become routine and unengaging.

Because of this, I appreciate what West explores in her article, “Using new literacies theory as a lens for analyzing technology-mediated literacy classrooms.”  She states that “digital writing has less to do with the medium with which the writer uses to compose and more to do with the ways in which writing is changing in response to new technologies” (West, 2019).  It is the new technologies portion of this statement that causes me the most anxiety.  I know that my students are more literate in technology than I am, yet, as mentioned before, I am charged with integrating different modes of tech into my daily plans to meet their needs as well as keep them engaged.  She gives examples of digital writing which “include, but are not limited to, creating podcasts, creating and modifying wikis, writing and managing blogs, writing fan fiction, writing and digitally illustrating graphic novels, and creating mash-ups of existing audio, video, and texts for novel purposes” (West).  I understand, in theory, what most of this means; it is the necessary skills in which to teach with this knowledge that I am falling short.

By looking at my curriculum through the lenses of the ISTE Standards for Students, specifically 1c “Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways” and number 4 which states that “Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful, or imaginative solutions” an educator can breathe a bit easier because what should take place is student centered.  But this does not let the teacher off the hook, for students to be able to execute either of these goals, we must instill in them the assurance that they are capable of learning. Circling back to Alvermann, she reiterates that “Adolescents’ perceptions of how competent they are as readers and writers, generally speaking, will affect how motivated they are to learn in their subject area classes (e.g., the sciences, social studies, mathematics, and literature)” (2002).  No matter how technology is addressed in the classroom, encouraging our students that they are competent is still most important.

References:

Alvermann, D. E. (2002). Effective literacy instruction for adolescents. Journal of Literacy Research, 34(2), 189-208. doi:10.1207/s15548430jlr3402_4

McWilliams, J., Hickey, D. T., Hines, M., Conner, J. M., Bishop, S. C. (2011). Using collaborative writing tools for literary analysis: Twitter, fan fiction and The Crucible in the secondary English classroom. The National Association for Media Literacy Education’s Journal of Media Literacy Education 2(3), 238-245. https://digitalcommons.uri.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=http://scholar.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1046&context=jmle

West, J. A. (2019). Using new literacies theory as a lens for analyzing technology-mediated literacy classrooms. E-Learning and Digital Media, 16(2), 151-173. doi:10.1177/2042753019828355

Accepting Acceptable Instead of Exceptional

At the beginning of my Masters in Teaching Leadership – many moons ago – I was focused on idea of self-perfectionism and its impact on students.  Now I am once again faced with students who are expecting too much from themselves; they cannot accept work or attitudes that are not in line with the type of students they were before the pandemic began. When we look at how to best equip our students educationally, we are also facing how to help them accept themselves in an environment that is not only unknown to them, but to us as well.  It has been said, that “Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and start being positive about what could go right.”  While this is very true, how can it be instilled into students attempting to adjust to the normalcy of online learning while grieving what is lost from not congregating with their friends and educators on campus.

ISTE Standard 7b encourages educational leaders to “partner with educators, leaders, students, and families to foster a culture of respectful online interactions and a healthy balance in their use of technology.”  I believe the balance in using technology opens the door to focus on students who have no option than to use technology for their learning. 

In an article entitled “Best Practices for Implementing Remote Learning during a Pandemic”, Hani Morgan (2020) explains when discussing the response to emotion toil, “checking on feelings of worry or anxiety can have a profound effect on success” (Morgan). Not only are educators asked to create lessons rich in content, but also implored to connect with their students emotionally.  In another study, “Do Teachers Matter? Students’ Perceptions of Classroom Interactions and Student Engagement” by Havik (2020), she found that “students who perceived high-quality classroom interactions were more engaged in school, and teachers’ emotional support showed the strongest association with engagement at both levels” (Havik).  Both studies indicate that students’ successes are due to their educators’ interaction with them and with the barrier of online learning, this is very difficult.  We must be purposeful in how we create supports for students now more than ever.

Focusing on students who are in accelerated classes, I found an unexpected resource in the Harvard Business Review.  The author states, that “The Covid-19 crisis and its fallout…have presented many of us with challenges that we’ve not encountered before. The high-stakes and unfamiliar nature of these situations have left many people feeling fearful of missteps” (Boyes, 2020).  Fearful of missteps, this is exactly what I am encountering with my students.  Where the student may have found success and “normalcy” in challenging and rigorous curricula before February 2020, that comfort level has been erased with all the uncertainty that Covid-19 has presented. 

References:

Boyes, Alice. How to Overcome Your Fear of Making Mistakes. 29 June 2020, hbr.org/2020/06/how-to-overcome-your-fear-of-making-mistakes.

Havik, Trude, and Elsa Westergård. “Do Teachers Matter? Students’ Perceptions of Classroom Interactions and Student Engagement.” Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, vol. 64, no. 4, 2019, pp. 488–507., doi:10.1080/00313831.2019.1577754.

Morgan, Hani. “Best Practices for Implementing Remote Learning during a Pandemic.” The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, vol. 93, no. 3, 2020, pp. 135–141., doi:10.1080/00098655.2020.1751480.