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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Have your students introduce YOU to the class

So many teachers right now are asking about
that first day of school. I thought I'd make a quick blog post with a fantastic no-prep, no tech option.

I can only do this one in the summer with incoming freshmen as during the school year I have too many students who already know me (because I taught them during the summer).

Many teachers do this with a fancy handout or PowerPoint. Since I never know the status of my classroom the first day (e.g. How many students? Will I have technology?) I keep this no-prep and easy.
  1. I warmly welcome students to my class and ask them what kinds of things teachers usually share about themselves the first day. As they give me answers I write them on the board
    • Home city, If they have kids, Professional background, etc.
      • If students don't guess right away you can nudge them, but I usually get a pretty good list.
  2. We sort the list into three different categories
    • Usually we get something like:
      1. How does she teach?Teacher Type
        • We tie this into rules and expectations too.
      2. What has she done? Background
        • Professional, Personal
      3. What does she like and dislike? Personality
        • I have LOTS of "me" around the class, if you don't you may not want to include this.
  3. I pass out scratch pieces of paper and tell them to walk around the classroom and find any evidence they can that shows them who I am as a teacher. 
    1. Depending on how involved they are, I usually give about five minutes.
      • If they're just sitting or staring at one spot. End it sooner. But they're usually into it.
    2. You may need to set more guidelines depending on your privacy. I let them open any drawer that is unlocked and have even had a (rather brave) student ask if he could look in my purse. I allow it! 
  4. Stop the class and have them see what evidence someone else collected. Sharing is caring!
  5. Tell them now they are going to take the evidence and explain how it tells them who I am. I usually give an example
    1. Ms. Peck has almonds on her desk. This tells me she is trying to eat healthy.
    2. I also model using different evidence to support the same conclusion: Ms. Peck has almonds on her desk and bike pedals under it. This tells us she wants to be healthy.
    3. As I say this I also write it on the board. Then I erase my specific terms and the students are left with a sentence frame: Ms. Peck has _______ This tells me ______.
  6. As this is a little more intense, they'll be in groups (I like my groups of 3-4 students so divide appropriately) I also assign each group a category: personality, teaching, background
  7. Give them some more time (2-5 minutes) to gather more evidence now that they have a category and goal.
  8. Encourage students to focus on the evidence they have to create a mini-presentation on what type of teacher Ms. Peck is.
  9. Students present!
    1. As students present I praise them for their conclusions even if they are wrong..
      • Example: I had a student infer I was Native American because of my complexion and the dreamcatcher in my class. I shared I was Mexican and the dream catcher was for a different reason. Then as a class I tried to get them to guess (I taught American literature)
    2. Other times they are right but their evidence doesn't support it.
      • Example: I had a student infer I loved to travel because of my travel signs in the classroom (that pointed to Rome, London, etc.) I explained those were because I teach World Literature and asked if anyone saw any evidence that I love to travel other that those? (My diploma from Spain, the picture of me riding an elephant)
  10. You're done! Congratulations you had a first day where students got to:
    • Work in teams
    • Find evidence
    • Though critically
    • Make inferences based on evidence
    • Learned about you
    • Moved around
    • I feel awkward calling this student centered, as it's all ABOUT the teacher, but the students do all the heavy lifting.
    • And had fun! 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ten tips to flawless writing

Four years ago I wrote a guest blog post for learnemy. They are no longer around, so I thought I'd share the original post here:


As an English teacher it is easy for me to correct students' work. It is harder to teach them to correct their own work. Throughout the years I've picked up tips and tricks that help them avoid mistakes, and catch / correct them once written.

Proofreading isn't as easy as you may think. Tihs shwos your mnid is asoewme. Have you seen that before? It suggests that with only the first and last letter in the right place your brain will find the context and fix it for you. It is always harder to proofread your own work than someone else’s, but sometimes it must be done! How on earth can you proofread your own work?

Below I cover the best way to write a document. Understandably you can’t always follow these steps from start to finish, but ideally you would be able to do so.


1.   Hand write the first copy
a.  What? Who writes anything anymore? I know this seems antiquated but when you write with a pen or pencil silly typos are less likely to occur. Most people also type faster than they write, so by writing you are forcing your brain to slow down and form more accurate sentences. 

2.  Know what you are looking for
a. Different documents have different things you need to keep in mind. A formal essay should avoid first person, contractions and slang whereas an e-mail could include all of those (depending on your company). Be sure you know the style rules you should be following and keep these in mind for the next steps.

3. Type it up and use a spelling and grammar check
a.  Most computers come with a grammar check. Make sure yours is set up in the right language and use it! Do NOT just click, “OK” to everything. Read the options, the explanation and ONLY if you agree change it. Sometimes you may agree that it is wrong, but not in their corrections. That’s OK; rephrase it however you like. If you aren’t sure consider re-writing the sentence a different way regardless.

4.       Get some distance
a. Re-reading something five minutes after you wrote it will rarely yield amazing results. Coming back to it the next day (or longer) is better, but if you absolutely must send it off that same day take a break before you re-read it. Stand up and leave your computer / desk. Get a cup of coffee. Talk to a friend. Get your mind off the document. 

5.       Print it out in sections
a.  I love trees as much as the next person but most people will find more mistakes on paper than on a screen. Use recycled paper if it makes you feel better.

b. If you are proofreading a longer document try to check it in chunks. If you aren’t used to proofreading and you attempt to do it all at once you will likely get tired halfway through and stop noticing as much. It is better if you can divide it into smaller parts.

c. Another option is to read it all at once but only focus on one thing each time. For example: This time I am only looking for run on sentences. Note: This is harder to do!

6.       Read it out loud like you did when you were a child
a. Do you remember when you were little and you read with your finger on the words? This is called tracking. It is helpful to track when you grade your own work because your brain has to register every word. You can’t skip a word or phrase. This is especially useful with unneeded words you will hear as wrong (but only if you manage to say them!).

b. We often hear mistakes before we see them. Did you run out of breath before the sentence ended? It’s probably a run on sentence. Does something just sound awkward? It probably is!

7.       Make it bleed

a. Did you know that many teachers nowadays are being told not to use red pens. Some studies suggest that teachers are too negative when they use a red pen compared to other colors. Embrace this! You want to spot all the mistakes you can so use a red pen and get that edge.

8.       Read your document backwards
a. Backwards document your read? No, not like that. When you read from the top to the bottom your brain starts auto-correcting what it knows you meant to say. By reading the last sentence, then the second to last, then the third to last etc. your brain won’t anticipate the next step and you’re likely to find more mistakes. This is hard the first few times, but it does get easier.

9.       Embrace technology!
a. If you notice that you are frequently using the wrong word (e.g. there instead of their) jump on your computer. Find (Ctrl+F) all uses of your incorrect word and check them all at one time. Also take advantage of tech tools to check your writing.

10.   Rest and Repeat
a. A good job is never done, as stated before it is really best if you let your text rest in between readings. Even if you think you are done take the longest break you can, check it one more time, and then send.

There we are! Ten easy ways to proofread your own document. Whenever possible I suggest you find a trusted friend, colleague, old teacher, or relative who will look over your work. An extra pair of eyes always helps. However, if you are unable to do so, following these steps should make sure that your document gets as close to perfect as you can get it.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Using tech to help students review their writing


One of my big focuses as a teacher is giving students tools they can use without me. I've given many students checklists and models that they have later thanked me for as they used them throughout many later classes.

Besides those paper tools, I also give my students some electronic tools for reviewing their papers, e-mails, articles and really any written work. None of these are a replacement for a second set of eyes, but it is nice to have technology help out.

Most of these are Freemium meaning they offer services for free, but offer more or better services (without advertisements, less wait, etc.)

Below I'll give links and brief descriptions to four sites I give my students. Try them out with your own writing and share them with your students! I bet one or two of them will thank you.


1. Grammarly

If you sign up here you get to try Premium for a week (full disclosure I get a free week if you sign up with this link). Premium is nice, but I find the free version is definitely great too.

There's a Grammarly browser add-on (for Chrome, Firefox or Safari), a Microsoft Word add-on, and students can go to the site and copy and paste text to check it.

My favorite part though, is the weekly e-mails students get. Grammarly sends an e-mail once a week that lays out spelling and grammar issues they encounter most often.

Students can combine this with NoRedInk and practice any grammar skills they still struggle with on their own.

2. PaperRater

This site does have a lot of ads, but it's a great time to teach some digital citizenship in being careful what you click on. Students copy their text and then go to PaperRater. Once there, they paste their text into PaperRater filling out their specifics (type of text, grade level, etc.). The site looks at several different elements: Spelling, Grammar, Word Choice, Style, Vocabulary and Words. Then it gives a grade.

Obviously, this isn't perfect! For style it looks a lot at transitional phrases. For Word Choice it basically identifies words like "a lot, I don't, big, don't, get, really, many, am, go, most" and reminds students to consider other words or use a thesaurus.

A big thing to go over with students is that the grade is automated and that it definitely isn't a crystal ball that will predict that grade they earn.

3. Hemingway Editor
Reminding students that bigger isn't always better, Hemingway looks at sentence length, adverb usage, passive voice, and just awkward phrases to make writing easier to read.

While PaperRater also looks at sentence structure, most students get focused on the spelling, grammar, and grade. Hemingway focuses exclusively on structure. Spelling and grammar errors are irrelevant.

Hemingway Editor is definitely a site worth introducing to students. There is a time and a place for adverbs, passive voice and complex sentences, but this site's easy color coding can help students see if they have too many of one color populating their essay.

4. The Writer's Diet
Last but not least, there's The Writer's Diet. Based on the book by the same name, the site encourages writers to have "fit" writing rather than "flabby" writing.

After copying and pasting a text, students' are given a bar chart detailing a breakdown of their text and then the text itself.

There you are! Four more digital tools that students can store in their toolbox.

I am always sure to discuss all of these with my students. In fact often when first introducing them I have them run their text through and make changes. Then they give me a little write-up  which site they used, what was helpful, and what was not so helpful. This helps build a critical eye and students get an idea of when to use which site.

These are meant to be helpful tools, but they should be used with a critical eye. These are all automated and none of them perfect!

Do you know of any others I should add to my list? Have any experience you'd like to share? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Background Noise Perfect for ANY Classroom

Working on a project? Giving students time to brainstorm or write? Have one or two students that just can't concentrate with the noise from a neighboring class or that constant flickering light?

It sounds like you're in need of some productive background noise! Here are FOUR easy and scientific options for you to use in your classroom.

1. Birdsong

From what I understand, this is hardwired within us. Birds chirping let us know that everything is OK. Or in survival terms: there are no predators around. The world is safe and we can focus.

So by putting some bird beauties on in the background, you are giving students background (and maybe drowning out the annoying sound your lights make) while letting them subconsciously know that they can focus.

This also helps them connect to nature (albeit superficially) which may be more than many get!

I like the below because it isn't looped, it is real and it's long enough for one class (even if you are on block schedules)


Sources:
BBC - The Surpising Use for Birdsong
Julian Treasure- The Benefits of Birdsong

2. Video Games

Stick with me. What is the purpose of music in video games?
  • To be in the background (i.e. not distract you)
  • To keep you playing (i.e.  not sleeping to your classical music)
More and more people are finding that video games in the background are doing it for them! I've read some suggestions that this is MORE effective if you have played the video game since then your brain connects the music to the feelings you had while playing. So you may want to ask students what games they play and see if you like any. As a game-boy fan of yore, I am putting Mario Brothers below for your perusal.

Sources:
Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition  (Doesn't specifically mention video games, but ambient lyric-less songs)
The New Playlist for more Productive Work

3. Brown Noise

What? I thought it was white noise? Well, that's one option. There's also pink noise. I find most of my students prefer the slightly deeper sound of Brown noise, but it's really personal preference.

If it just sounds too much like static to you, this is very similar to teachers who like playing waterfalls or running water (I tend to avoid these my school has strict one-at-a-time bathroom rules that running water make difficult to enforce).

This is a calming noise that's great for getting your higher energy students to settle down and focus on the activity in front of them.

Sources:
Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition  (Doesn't specifically mention video games, but ambient lyric-less songs)
The New Playlist for more Productive Work


4. Student DJ

Give the students' choice! This is a great (and free) prize if they're awesome. Have them make the (school appropriate) playlist.  If you can view YouTube have them send you a link. If not, play from their hone's directly.

The science here has nothing to do with the music they play, but the fact that they feel they have a say in what happens in the classroom.

Involved students are focused students.

There are definitely more options (especially the seasonal ones) but these tend to be my go-tos. What do you like to have playing in the background?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Poetry stations

A snippet from students at different stations
I really hate delving into a unit immediately after break. I have foreign exchange students who usually miss the first week back, students transfer from other classes, and they aren't always back in the educational groove right away.

This year, before getting back into poetry, I spent a day helping students start their year with no regrets and learning about their poetic pasts.

Then we jump into poetic stations. I've done stations before but this time I set them up slightly differently than I normally did. Stations were throughout my classroom more or less in a circular arrangement. Students started at one station with a partner. After about seven minutes, students were able to move on. Before moving on, one student at each station moved to clockwise and the other counter-clockwise. This way they are able to work with different students throughout the day. It also meant for new students, they got a chance to meet everyone in the class (be it only for 5-7 minutes).

My poetic station this year varied a bit from last year because I built off of what they revealed in their poetic journeys.

Students racing with Quizlet!
  1. Students expressed fear over needing to know literary terms. So, another Station was two of my yearbook computers set up with a Quizlet Figurative Language set. Students made note of words they didn't know, and raced their partner for the fastest time. Many students said that they were impressed by how many of these words they already knew. 
    • This was effective because students expressed a fear of needing to remember all of the literary terms. This showed them that they already knew many of them as we'd used them the previous semester. The students that were less sure have access to this Quizlet and can practice on their own in free time or at home.
    • This was hit or miss as far as enjoying it. Some students LOVED it because they races with their partners. If they weren't close with their partners then they enjoyed this station less. 
  2. Several students said that poetry is old and no one talks like that anymore. So, one of the stations was "Hip-Hop or Shakespeare" inspired by Akala's TED Talk. Students looked at lines either from a song or Shakespeare and talked to their partner about which one was which and why. After writing down their guesses, they got to see the answers.  Then they wrote one more response about which one surprised them more and why. This helped students see that we still use vocabulary like this today and poets from the past discuss topics we find just as passionate now. 
    • As I circulated the room I heard some great discussions here!
  3. Another common thread was students said they didn't understand what made a poem good or bad, so at another station they watched a clip from the Dead Poet's Society. They summarized it, said what the teacher felt about poetry and stated if they agreed or disagreed. 
    • This was a close second for their favorite station. Students thought the scene was very funny, and they agreed with the teacher.
    •  
  4. To get a little more non-fiction in, they answered questions from a non-fiction text about science and language arts being mutually exclusive. Not only did they practice SAT-like questions,  but they read more about the information emphasized in their textbook. 
There were a few other stations (based on the textbook and rhyme scheme) but these haven't changed in the past few years. The stations mentioned above were specifically added (or altered) based on students' poetic journeys. This was a great way to ease them into poetry and students could tell that I took time to cater to their needs, and that they appreciated.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Using Prism with Poetry

I teach "The Rubaiyat" to my World Literature class. I LOVE IT. I love introducing students to poetry from so far away and so long ago that still has messages for today.

However,  it is an older poem that takes a bit of work interpreting, and for many of my transfer and exchange students, it serves as their first official poetry lesson. So, before we jump into the world of Persian Poetry, we start with something a bit easier: Bon Jovi's, "It's My Life."

My class experiencing Bon Jovi.
Despite being so old there's a pager in the music video, students really like this song! Plus the message is very similar to The Rubaiyat, and it's filled with figurative language.

We start by watching the music video and talking about what the "plot" is. Then we review literary devices and on their own students find as many of them as they can. Ater five minutes I let them pair up to compare and share. Finally, ONE of them gets out a computer, and they head to Prism and create an account.

Then I share this link where I uploaded the lyrics to the song and picked three different categories. You could make these whatever you wanted. I've done this with connotation (positive, neutral, negative) and literal vs. figurative language.

After a quick demo, where I show students how to highlight, erase, and switch highlighters, they are on their own! I have them go through the poem. With a partner, they decide what color different sentences and phrases need to be highlighted.

In this case, I made it a little tricky. I didn't just mark things metaphors or similes I moved those into different categories (figurative language, clever writing, word choice). This meant with some things (like allusions) they had to figure out where it fit best. Once they finish they click "Save highlights."

In the end, you can show the visual representation of what everyone marked. It highlights the words according to the majority. So you can see in the example that gonna is marked as figurative language by most students. However, some marked it for word choice and some clever writing.

This provides a great visualization and allows us to discuss this as a class, which we did. Students pointed out that gonna was a great example of informal diction making this a very informal.

Overall this is a very easy to use

Now, some teachers consider a flaw of PRISM to be that you can't see what each student did individually. That's true! If you really want to see what each student did you can have them screen shot their page and submit that to you, but I care more about the quality of conversations they have with their partner. So more than needing to see what they highlighted, I walk around and make note of their discussions.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Create Class Culture and Flush Regrets Down the Toilet


To start this activity students entered class with a "to do" list on the board. Each student desk had two markers and two to three squares of toilet paper.

Step 1. The "To Do list" on the board had four steps
  • Sit where there is toilet paper (do NOT, crumple, play, or blow your nose with it)
  • 2016 review
  • Field Trip
  • Start 2017
Students took their seats and I explained that I know a lot of them had an amazing 2016, whereas others may have some regrets.


I showed them my piece of toilet paper which said "Procrastination." I explained that procrastination was a real regret of mine and I felt that if I had managed my time better, then I would have had a better 2016. As a result, this year I vowed to get started on things as soon as they were assigned.

Step 2. 

I gave students some time to write down their own regrets and then they had the option to share. Students were invited to share as much or as little as they wanted. Some students talked for quite a bit, and others shared just a word or two.

As they shared, I'd ask who felt similarly, and what solutions we could offer that would help all students.

This is an important part because we are building a class of empathy and helping. We relate to one another and our struggles and share our experiences to improve everyone's life.


Examples:
  • They regret eating so much junk food
    • Eat more food from home.
    • Bring less money to school
  • They regret not doing their homework
    • Actually writing down assignments in their planners
  • A few of my exchange students regret choosing to study abroad. (sad!)
    • We talked about why they regretted it. They missed their family. Speaking in English all the time was hard. While some students had some advice, I think overall it was a good chance for them to empathize with another student.
  • Less social media
    • I shared a few add-ons that I like (like Dayboard which makes them achieve five things before they can access social media)
Step 3. Field Trip!
We headed to the unisex bathrooms right by my class. Everyone tossed their regrets in the toilet and we literally flushed them away.

Step 4. Returning to class, I asked them to remember this and try to stay focused on making 2017 the best time ever!

I love this activity because it's quick, memorable, students love it, it helped build classroom culture, and it was an easy way to ease students back into the classroom after two weeks off for Christmas break.

I encourage you to give this it try in your class. No need to wait until January 2018 to use this in class. Give it a shot after a rough week, a bad unit, or any other time you just want to help students turn over a new leaf.
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