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Friday, June 16, 2017

A TECH ODYSSEY by Tracey Ryan

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2016-2017 school year.  I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

My tech journey this year has taken a variety of paths - not all of them planned, not all of them repeatable.  My focus was (and remains) narrowing the achievement gap between the regular and honors students.  I see technology as the last great hope to engage reluctant learners and help them produce final products that at least resemble their peers. While the differences between the honors and non-honors students are myriad - my focus this year has been on helping students find their voice in writing.  And while that goal is lofty enough - I also hope to allay their fears of writing - reducing their angst when faced with a blank page.

I dreamed that technology would make me superfluous -- that programs and apps would seamlessly teach my students to be better readers and writers. (I even dreamed that grading programs would provide feedback making my job significantly easier.) However, the truth is that technology is just a delivery system. I still had to design the lessons, engage the students and grade the assignments. The biggest impact was in organizing writing lessons; Google Classroom provided a place where students could actually see each step in the writing process. They also had access to models and samples from their peers. Technology didn't make the process easier, but having access to technology and a learning coach allowed me to keep scaffolding the writing process until all of my students showed significant gains.

In order to increase student writing proficiency and help them navigate this complex process, I began the year by providing models to help students recognize their responsibility as a writer. When a reader reads - he/she has certain expectations that the writer needs to meet.  I teach my students in writing a response to literature that they first must provide context for the quote, then quote the relevant portions, before providing close text analysis and finally provide the significance or what I call the so what.  Follow the link below to see the EdPuzzle video that I produced to help students understand the terminology that I use and my model commentary.

Click here for link

Once they can identify the various elements that go into commentary - we work on building that analysis. When they had master the rudiments, with (lots of) help from my tech coach - I set up a multi-day Verso activity in which I supplied the quotes and students responded to them.  Students then provided feedback to their peers before they together wrote the "perfect" close text analysis.
Models and directions for the initial assignment (posted on Google Classroom):

Quote from A Tale of Two Cities:  “The wine was red wine, and had stained the ground of the narrow street in the suburb of Saint Antoine, in Paris, where it was spilled.  It had stained many hands, too, and many faces, and many naked feet, and many wooden shoes.  The hands of the man who sawed the wood left red marks on the billets; and the forehead of the woman who nursed her baby, was stained with the stain of the old rag she wound about her head again. Those who had been greedy with the staves of the cask, had acquired a tigerish smear about the mouth; and one tall joker so besmirched, his head more out of a long squalid bag of a night-cap than in it, scrawled upon a wall with his finger dipped in muddy wine-lees – BLOOD” (32).

Teacher Written Model of Close Text Analysis (CTA):
Dickens uses anaphora and visual imagery to describe the symbolism of the spilled wine and foreshadow the violence of the coming Revolution.  Dickens introduces the passageways of Saint Antoine, home to working-class Parisians, where a cask of wine has spilled outside the Defarge’s wine shop, flooding the streets and staining, “many faces and many naked feet, and many wooden shoes” (32).  Here, Dickens uses anaphora through the repetition of “many” at the beginning of each consecutive phrase, emphasizing the prevalence of the red wine that drenches “the ground of the narrow street” and soaks “hands,” “faces” and “naked feet” of the people.  Dickens’s choice of “many” hints that the future will include not just a few dissatisfied peasants, but instead an entire class of revolutionaries – the end result is a bloodbath.  In addition, Dickens employs visual imagery to describe “those who had been greedy” and have “acquired a tigerish smear” of wine “about the mouth” to heighten the tense atmosphere and portray the peasant’s feral thirst for the very thing “scrawled upon the wall” by the “finger dipped in muddy wine” – aristocratic blood”(32).  The chaotic suburb of Saint Antoine that Dickens creates in this passage foreshadows the inevitable Revolution in which the streets and peasants will no longer be stained with wine, but will instead be drenched with the blood of those who have been massacred.

Initial Assignment
Directions:  For your assigned quote, provide context, analysis and significance.  Significance can be to develop character, support theme, establish setting, create tone, or cultivate atmosphere.  Use the present tense when writing/talking about literature.  For this assignment focus on breaking down the lengthy quotes.
  • Include an assertion that includes the topic to be discussed.
  • Provide context(what is happening at the time) and the speaker
  • Embed a concrete detail – you don’t have to use the entire quote provided but make sure you include enough to prove the validity of your analysis.
  • Provide the analysis/commentary  

Student Written Example

After students write their responses - I asked them to evaluate their peers' responses.   


Sample response:

Once students had written their own commentary and responded to their peers’ commentary, the group used their experiences to write the “perfect” analysis. After their collaboration - students analyzed their quotes in front of the class before they presented their written commentary. Their classmates took notes, and each student wrote a second analytical chunk on the quote of their choosing.

Flow Chart (via Crystal Kirch)

REFLECTION: Using technology - students were able to practice their writing skills in multiple ways. What I appreciated most about this Verso assignment was that students got immediate feedback on their own writing. They had an opportunity to share their analytical knowledge and work collaboratively. Too often writing happens solo without an audience and with delayed feedback. Using Verso allowed (forced an immediacy)that afforded students an opportunity to ask questions, to respond to writing, to showcase their writing prowess (or get help to reach some semblance of writing prowess). Yes, this all could have been done without technology, but what made the lesson most effective was that students had to share and had to talk about writing. The more we as teachers can engineer these kinds of conversations the more we can help students internalize the process. The hard part for me was allowing sufficient class time for students to complete the assignment. Part of the reason that writing is such a solitary experience is that it's typically assigned and students can efficiently complete it at home - freeing class time for other activities. However, if I was serious about improving student writing - I needed to skip some of the other activities and devote sufficient class time to helping students master the writing process.

While the Verso activity provided an opportunity for students to practice their writing and receive valuable and immediate feedback - it hadn't really addressed my goal of reducing the achievement gap. With my non-honors students I continued to provide models and frames and practice. Lots and lots of practice. And still, the difference remained stark. As we approached the last response to literature essay before the summative assessment, I again pulled quotes and my students participated in a Commentary Clash. As with the Verso Activity - students were grouped to write collaboratively, but this time they wrote on the same quote with their analysis available for all to see. After all the analysis was completed, the class selected the commentary that best analyzed the specifics of the quote. The competition engendered some adrenaline but the real learning came with the discussion of why some commentary worked better than others. The quotes I selected were all appropriate textual evidence for the essay prompt to be assigned the following week.

Commentary Clash Directions:
  1. Quote is displayed on screen.
  2. One member selected as leader
  3. Group collaborates to write an analytical chunk (Context, CTA, Purpose)
  4. Leader copies and pastes chunk on Padlet wall (Period 1, Period 2, Period 3, Period 4, Period 5)
  5. Read other groups’ chunk, pick the one that provides the best adheres to the analytical conventions. You may not select your own analysis.
  6. Process continues.

Round 1:

Round 2:

Round 3:

Note that I included the link to the Padlet walls for all of my classes. Students, in my non-honors classes, had access to the analysis of their peers. All students had written commentary for the same quotes and now had examples available for them to read, discuss, and imitate.

Sample Response to Commentary Clash

While the hope was that by second semester all students would be writing proficient essays - I still had reluctant writers who couldn't/wouldn't produce any writing. Working collaboratively allowed for even the most intentional non-learner to produce something, and when they sat to write their essay the following week - they had pre-written commentary ready to go. The ability to use technology afforded my students the best opportunity for them to complete a proficient essay. Unfortunately, technology is only a tool, and so not all students completed the essay but those who did showed significant improvement.


This year as a tech fellow, I often felt like Sisyphus pushing that large boulder up the hill. And every time I felt like I reached a plateau - some kind of tech breakthrough - there came another hill. My learning curve was long and slow and sometimes painful, but my coach kept encouraging me and asking questions and helping to make connections. I gained a modicum of courage and self-sufficiency. Instead of running through the lesson endlessly and making my TAs log in to help me address any unforeseen problems - I started just to experiment with lessons, to steal ideas from peers and apply them into my own lessons. Nothing bad happened which strengthened my confidence, With this new-found confidence, I hope to continue helping students find their voices and reach some level of writing proficiency. However, writing alone does not make a writer; there's a reading - writing connection. Next year, I plan on adding a focus on reading using Actively Learn, EdPuzzle, and Kami to help students read more analytically.

This journey has been tough, but the rewards were well worth overcoming my own insecurities and tech phobias. I thank and appreciate my coach and my students for their patience. Whenever I got stuck - there were scores of people willing to help. This is not a journey I could have embarked on by myself. Thank you to all who made it possible.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Purposefully Using Technology in a World Languages Classroom (Guest Post)

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2016-2017 school year.  I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

When I decided to become a TUSD Tech Fellow I really did not know what to expect from the program, nor did I fully understand the magnitude of the impact it would have in my class and myself as an educator.  What I did know was that I wanted to implement the use of technology in a purposeful way to take my Spanish classes to another level.  Essentially, I was looking for ways to  make meaningful connections between my students primary language and Spanish to help them increase their development of a second language.  Incorporating technology into my classroom has allowed me to develop an efficient way to cover more content while spending more time practicing the use of target language.

Let’s take a look at some ways in which technology has impacted my classroom.

Adobe Spark- Part of the curriculum that we have at the TUSD Foreign Language Department requires that we read children novels in Spanish to help develop vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension and speaking fluency.  Last year I began to tinker with the idea of incorporating technology to help elevate the level of my students proficiency by using Google Drawings to help my students develop sequence maps to help them review the reading and practice engaging in using the target language as they shared their maps in groups. (See a post about this lesson series from Jose's class here.) This year I took this idea to a different level by having my students use Adobe Spark to create a presentation with images and a voice over recording to show to the entire class.  This was an amazing idea as I was able to not only facilitate student engage in making connections of concepts presented in the novel with their own background knowledge as they created their presentations but it also helped me make sure my students were practicing the use of the target language.  The best part of it all was that I was able to present the sequence maps to the class and have the students listen to each other’s work, reflect,  and give each other feedback. Thus, ensuring that the students not only got feedback from myself but also from each other.
Click here to listen to a student presentation of a summary of one of the novels we read in class
Click here to listen to a narration of sequence of events that take place in a bullfight).

Let’s Recap- If you’ve ever attempted to learn a second language you would agree with me that you need to engage in continuous practice and receive feedback to be able to continue to develop fluency and pronunciation.  Let’s Recap allows my students to do just that in a one on one setting with their webcam which helps reduce the affective filter (barrier that we create that interferes with the reception and processing of comprehensible input).  In the past students were required to present one on one in front of myself, the class, or a partner to practice speaking in the target language.  Let’s Recap allows my students to independently answer prompts that I provide and it allows me to review their work instantly and provide feedback.  I like to draw comparisons of the use of Recap to an athlete watching tape of themselves and going over it with a coach or on their own because it allows my students to hear themselves and see my notes to identify what their areas of improvement are.  Thanks to this tool I have seen my students increase fluency and pronunciation in the target language and it has reduced their affective filter during presentation as the practice makes them feel more comfortable when they are presenting.  In addition to that, the use of Recap has increased participation in the target language in my class as it’s help develop self confidence in my students

Click here to see a screenshot of an image of the responses I receive from students
Click here to see a screenshot of the feedback I provide to my students

Looking Ahead...
Part of my teaching philosophy is that you never become a finished product, hence, I´m always looking for ways to improve my lessons and my approach to teaching.  One of my goals for next year is to continue to explore ways in which I can incorporate technology in an impactful way for my students to increasing reading comprehension.  In order to do that I look forward to incorporating many reading comprehension activities for our novels in different ways including using Actively Learn to ensure all of my students have an opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other.  I believe that working with Actively Learn has a variety of tools that will allow me to spend more time facilitating class discussions to practice the use of the target language, as well  to help me understand my student´s way of thinking when it comes to annotating the reading and answering comprehension questions (click here to see a sample of student work i.e. annotations, student answers, and teacher feedback).  

Another goal that I have for next year is to dedicate some time to screencast (record) grammar lessons so that my students have access them at anytime during and after the unit.  Screencasting lessons will provide another platform for my students to learn and review independently, thus, giving me more time in class to design more activities to practice the application of grammar in written, auditory and oral forms.

Looking Back...

Being part of the TUSD Tech Fellow Program helped me identify ways in which I can incorporate technology tools in a constructive way to challenge and help my students reach their academic goals.  The thing that I liked the most about being in this program was how it challenged me to reflect on teaching in so many different levels.  It was surprising to me to realize how engaging in deliberate reflection has helped me grow in so many aspects of teaching i.e. delivery of content, informal formal assessment, incorporation of technology, and pedagogy.  Essentially what I realized is that sometimes just thinking of ways in which I could incorporate technology in meaningful way as part of lesson led to a thorough reflection session which at times ended up without the incorporation of technology into the lesson; nonetheless, going through the reflection process allowed me to evaluate the lesson and make changes based on the highs and lows from that particular lesson from a year ago or from a previous lesson that I may have taught the week before.  

Post Author: Jose Miranda
Mi nombre es José Miranda y soy maestro de español en Beckman High School.  I’m in my second year of teaching and have absolutely enjoyed every bit of my it.  I love teaching Spanish because it reminds me of myself at a young age as I was learning English.  It wasn’t something that happened right away nor was it easy, but when I look back I realized that I had lot’s of fun doing it. As a teacher it’s unbelievable to see a student breakdown the barriers of language and fully engulf themselves in having fun with the language as they continue to develop it.  

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Constant Reflection & Improvement (Kristen Hammer)

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2016-2017 school year.  I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

This is my second go around as a fellow, and I think this time I truly understood and benefitted from the process.  Technology has impacted my teaching and my students in a variety of ways.  I think one of the most beneficial ways has been through a what I would call a semi-flipped class.  The ability to have students be prepared through watching a video, and answering questions before coming to class for a lab or lecture has saved us time and we can spend more time on labs and hands-on activities in class.  I haven’t used a total flip, but the implementation of what I have done I can say that the prior knowledge on a topic or lab has gone up.  The class has the ability to be front loaded before coming to class and I have seen a better participation rate in answering questions about the topic.  I have saved time going over procedures that I have had to do in the past during class time.  I know I still want to work on the participation rate, and I think if I start these with guidance in class they will see the benefit of completing outside of class.

I have also used videos when I know I am going to be out of the class with a substitute.  The videos have ensured my students don’t get behind with materials or instructions when I am out.  It’s business as usual, and I don’t feel that I am wasting a day when I am out.  I can give them notes as if I was there, go over homework, and ask them questions.

I believe I have also improved my formative assessments using technology.  I have instituted Quizizzes again this year, but this time I have required the students to meet a minimum % to receive credit for the assignment.  This makes it so they have to keep trying and not give up after one attempt.  I have seen a greater participation rate when I tie it a grade.  They also seem to do better on their tests.  The students also love Quizlet live, so I really like having that available during class for a quick review before a test or quiz.

Looking Ahead...
As I think about my continued goals and next steps, there are several areas that I was able to explore with my coach this year that I want to continue to revamp.

I tried a menu assignment that I really liked this year.  This assignment gave the students choice on what genetics problems to complete.  They had to complete so many in a set, but they got to choose.  I polled the students and they said they liked the choice.  I also have given them choice in doing some assignments digital or paper.   I would like to do more choice assignments in the future.  There is a bigger buy-in with these types of assignments.

I am also looking into digital notebooks, and the idea of Google Sites for the students to keep their science work sounds, and looks really cool.  I need to research this more over the summer to implement this next year.

I made a couple of hyperdocs this year for the students to use and follow through the units.  I would like to continue this.  I see the benefit of having a one stop shop for the students to see where we are going in a topic or unit.

I also need to rethink my digital labs and doing them in Google Docs or Google Forms.  I was really bad about timely feedback when they are digital, so I think if I use the sites idea there could be more timely feedback.  I will continue to revise and revamp my lab write-up process.

I tried implementing Classroom Dojo, and it was helpful, but not exactly what I am looking for in a randomizer.  I will continue to think about this, and find the tool that works for me to make sure students are engaged and all students are participating.  Overall, I think my student engagement has improved, but I still would consider this an area to continue to improve upon.

Obviously, a big thing coming is NGSS implementation, and my curriculum will be changing due to this.  I have a lot of work ahead to make what I have now fit into the new standards and performance expectations.

Reflections on being a Fellow...
The fellowship has been extremely beneficial having someone to bounce ideas for curriculum implementation and revision off of.  Two heads were always better than one.  I believe the fellowship is only as good as what the fellow puts into it.  I was willing to try most things, some failed and some succeeded, but I feel that it pushed me more than I would have normally.  I enjoyed working with my coach, she was the perfect match for me.  She let me vent, but then got me back on track with the work ahead.  I felt if I wasn’t moving forward I was letting her down, and I didn’t want to do that.  If I thought of something, and posed a question to my coach, I always knew I was going to get a response about the idea or question.  I also needed the reminder of why was I doing something, was it going to enhance my teaching and the students learning, or was it just a replacement for the same.  I am better at reflecting on my use of technology and when and where it is best suited.

I loved that fact that although my coach wasn’t a science teacher in her past, she always tried to find examples and ideas that suited to science. This has been a worthwhile experience, and I will continue to consider my coach as my DLC (Digital Learning Coach) even if I am not going through the coaching cycle each week with her.

My name is Kristen Hammer.  I have been teaching science for 17 years.  I am currently teaching Biology, and my  science department’s chair.
I received my undergrad from Northern Arizona University in Zoology and my Master’s and teaching credential from National University.

I believe in making curriculum accessible and meaningful for all students.  I feel that each year of teaching should look new and different with the implementation and revision of a teacher’s art; their curriculum.

Monday, June 5, 2017

My Year of Looking Through the Lens of Technology

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2016-2017 school year. I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

As I reflect back over the past ten months, I would have to say that being a part of the TUSD Connect Fellowship has been one of my favorite things about this school year. It isn’t just that technology has reinvigorated my teaching  practice and made the content more engaging for my students, which it has, but rather it is what I have gained through the process of having an instructional coach. In September, when I began this process, my expectations were simple:

I will know the fellowship has been successful if feel more confident about integrating technology and if my students are ready for what’s next because of what they've done this year.

Oh, how far we have come. I have to say “we” because I truly believe that it was having the opportunity to have purposeful, one-on-one coaching that has made this such a transformative process. If someone had asked me last year what tech I consistently used in my classroom, I would have replied “Powerpoint, books, pens, and highlighters. Those are all technically tech, right?” My greatest fear with infusing technology into my curriculum was that it would cause my students to become disconnected from each other and from me. I had horrifying visions of a sea of forty heads all zoned into computer screens searching for answers on Google, rather than thinking aloud and arriving at conclusions with another human being. Perhaps I had been reading too much dystopian literature, but I worried that technology would somehow suck the life out of the content and the process of learning--I couldn’t have been more wrong.

How Technology has Helped my Students Stay Connected

Despite my many fears, this year has taught me that tech can enrich student discussions. Two of the new discussion activities I created this year that I am most proud of are a Four Corners Discussionwhich focuses on how to move online discussions into classroom discussions, and a Six Person Panel Discussion, which focuses on using technology to increase student independence and talk-time. My belief that the increased use of technology in my classroom would cause a decrease in their When I polled my students, both of these discussions were ranked as their favorites for the year.

How Technology has Encouraged my Students to Become Lifelong Learners

I am always searching for ways to encourage my students to “wonder” while learning. As I mentioned earlier, one of my main concerns with technology is that it would students to search for answers online, rather than actually engaging in the critical thinking required to arrive at their own conclusions. My Adobe Spark Blog is about a three-part project using the video slide show technology to encourage students to explore essential questions over a lengthy unit of study.

How Technology has Inspired Creativity in Me and My Students

One of my biggest revelations about technology in the classroom is that it won’t drain humanity out of my curriculum. The projects I have designed this year that make me proudest are the ones which reflect both how technology has inspired my creativity, and my student’s. My Student Podcast Blog on students podcasts is a perfect example of how technology can be used to make a richer learning experience.

Participating in this tech fellowship, and working with an instructional coach, has been the best thing I could have done for my teaching practice. As I look forward to the next school year, my main goal is to build on what I have created this year. While I have specific ideas about new ways to use technology (hello, Google Sites), what I am most focused on as a professional is continuing the cycle of reflection that has been established by my coach this year. I never thought that I would grow as much as I did, and I certainly never thought that I would be as excited about what technology can bring to the classroom as I am.

This year has been a journey for both me and my students. As I have grown, they have grown, and I am looking forward to what is to come next year.

Happy Summer!

Erin Thomas has been teaching English Language Arts in Tustin Unified School District since 2005. She received her B.A. in English, teaching credential, and Master's in Education from Concordia University, Irvine. Erin grew-up in a house filled with books, in fact every room contained its own bookcase, which instilled her a life-long passion for reading and a love language. As a teacher, Erin hopes to foster that same love of literature in her students by giving them opportunities to read deeply and often, and by encouraging them to share their understanding of what literature reveals about the human spirit.