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Monday, April 24, 2017

The Thumbs Up and Down of My Tech Experiences: Pear Deck

GUEST POST by Tala Pirouzian, HS English Student Teacher

As I reflect on my student teaching experience thus far, I have not only enjoyed experimenting with the different technology to support and engage my students in their learning but also have learned from them. While I will be sharing some of my most memorable and successful lessons, I would also like to share ones that have been more challenging than I imagined. The one that first comes to mind is Pear Deck. This is a multidimensional tech tool with a unique system set up, but it can also be quite overwhelming the first time a teacher, especially a new teacher, uses it.

Pear Deck

First, let me provide some context for the lesson before explaining the benefits and challenges of using Pear Deck. I used this tech tool during a lesson that also featured a competitive game element in that students worked in teams of four to six to justify their analysis of the text.

Each question posed to students had two parts to it:
First students would type in a quick response (thumbs up/down to indicate agree or disagree, or one word response), which served to check understanding and offer clarification on the topic
Next, we would review the answer and then students would work in their team to find textual evidence that best supports the assertion/topic.
For example:
LOTF Ch. 7 Modified.pptx (33).jpg
LOTF Ch. 7 Modified.pptx (31).jpg
LOTF Ch. 7 Modified.pptx (32).jpg
Some of the questions had several correct textual evidences; thus, I had to switch between different slides in order to double check that the textual evidence students selected corresponded with the ones on the “survey says” list. A part of this has to do with experience and familiarity with the text too in that for this lesson it was a balance of comfort with the tech and proficiency with each significant passage within the novel. Thus, I do believe that as one gets more familiar with teaching a certain novel, this allows for more risks and novelty with tech activities.
Furthermore, as students read their textual evidence I was listening to see if they were reading the passage that contained the specific literary device. For example, in some instances students would read textual evidences that were close or part of the page but did not contain the actual language or literary device. The pressure of time also contributed to the challenging aspect of the lesson and tech.
One of the most challenging management aspects of Pear Deck for me was the display format in that there is a projector and a dashboard setup. The desktop computer is on projector setting so that the electronic whiteboard displays what the students will see on their screens, yet on my laptop I have a dashboard display setup so that I can check their short response data, read their incoming responses, lock/unlock the response page, highlight student answers, and reveal the answers.

The different features of this tech tool are useful and valuable because it keeps students engaged and allows the teacher to assess students responses in real time. For example, during the lesson, I was able use the tech tool to display student responses as models or to use the visual data of the “thumbs up/thumbs down” as an assessment of any remaining misunderstandings, confusions, or understandings  about a topic, character, or literary device. There are so many options and features embedded in PearDeck, such as designing slides with clips, images, questions, and text, selecting from different types of student responses (multiple choice, short response, agree/disagree), and managing the responses by highlighting certain student answers, making the student work anonymous, etc.  
After reflecting on this particular lesson, I believe that there was a discrepancy between how I envisioned and practiced the tech tool to work, beforehand with my mentor, and how it actually worked out during the lesson because there were many moving parts. However, students were engaged in the content learning and given the opportunity to practice their close-reading, literary analysis, justification, vocabulary, listening, and speaking skills with this interactive tool. Next time I use PearDeck, I will have had experience with the tech formatting and will make appropriate adjustments to the task. Although this was one the most challenging lessons and tech tools that I have used thus far, I would definitely use it again and do recommend it to others because with practice comes competence and development.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Gradual Release of Responsibility: Common Core Style

  POST by Erin Thomas, HS English Teacher

The final quarter of the school year is always my favorite, and not just because summer vacation is finally in view. My students and I spend much of the year in a metaphoric handhold, as I guide, lead, and model them through the content, until suddenly, they seem ready to let go.

But let's face it: letting go can be hard. Can we trust them to maintain a high level of discussion, if we aren’t the one playing the facilitator? Will they stay focused and on task? How will I know what they get out of the discussion, if I am not listening to every word spoken throughout a discussion? The reality is that all the hand-holding we do the first half of the year, is exactly why we should trust them to do all of these things. Whether the class is CP or Honors level, they can be trusted, as long as we have taught them how to use the tools they will need.

For me, the close of the third quarter coincided with the end of our All Quiet on the Western Front unit, so I needed this discussion to draw a conclusion to all the work we had been doing. Since our curricular units are all Common Core based, we had been analyzing the novel in connection to essential questions and a number of connected ancillary texts. It was important to me that my students demonstrated that they could apply what I had been modeling for them all year, by writing their own questions and bringing in their own outside sources.


The set-up for this discussion was fairly simple, but somehow ended up infusing all of my favorite things, both tech and content wise, from this year!

Students did not go into this discussion cold. I explained that they would be participating a Six Person Panel Discussion (named so mostly because it sounds fancier than working in group of six), and I provided them with the handout which outline what would be covered.

In addition to reflecting on the ancillary sources I had provided over the course of the unit, students were asked to bring in their own annotated sources.

Getting them Organized and Letting them Go:

On the day of discussion, I had students simply draw a color which determined their group assignment.

I tend to shift back-and-forth with assigning roles during discussions, but for this activity, since I was going to be an observer, I knew I wanted them to have assigned responsibilities.

After assigning roles and discussing expectations, I put the timer on for twenty minutes, and just let them go. It was amazing to watch them navigate this discussion. Every group talked for the entire twenty minutes, and every student, even my quietest ones, participated multiple times throughout the discussion. Watching my sophomores interact with each other, as true academics, was incredibly gratifying.

After a quick, share-out from each of the groups, I had them take one final step. Since I wasn’t able to sit with each group for their entire discussion, I wanted to find a way to still hear from all of them.

Bringing it to a Close:

Let's Recap is tech tool which allows students to quickly create short videos. It's great to use when you want to hear from all of your students, but you just don’t have enough minutes in the class period. For this discussion, I essentially used it as an exit slip. In the last few minutes of class, I had students log in and informally tell me about one ancillary source shared by a peer in their group. If you haven’t used this tech tool before, I highly recommend it. It is user friendly, easily viewed and assessed, and best of all, guarantees that you will hear from every one of your students!

This discussion definitely ended-up being a standout for me for the whole year. Everything that I asked of my students felt meaningful, and best of all, their skills and intelligence were able to shine!

Happy Discussing!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Literary Blocks

GUEST POST by Tracey Ryan, HS English Teacher

Everything in the English classroom is dependent on students reading the assigned texts.  I am always trying to figure out ways to engage students - to make them go back into the text to further their understanding.  Too often - I have them respond to quotes and write a "chunk."  For each chunk, students respond by providing context, close text analysis, and purpose. It's essential for them to understand how authors make meaning, but my selection of the quotes and the formulaic ways they are required to respond puts the onus for understanding and learning on me rather than the students.

After reading read a blog post from Dawn Lam [Mrs. Lam's Musings], I decided to "borrow" her idea of modifying the game "Cards Against Humanity."  I purchased wooden blocks from Amazon and wrote on each side a different literary device.  My class had finished reading the first four chapters of Lord of the Flies. Instead of me dictating what the students would examine in the first four chapters - I let them roll the block to determine what literary aspect of the first four chapters their group would examine.

After rolling for their literary device, the group had to figure out how they would present their analysis.  We've practiced with a few tech tools this year so I gave them free choice as to how they wanted to present their findings.  My suggestions included;  Google Slides, Google Drawings, Adobe Spark, Infographics, Hyperdocs or even just a Google Doc.    Most students played it safe and went with Google Slides but some ventured into Google Drawing, Adobe Spark, and Popplet.  Examples of some of the final products follow:
Imagery - Google Drawings

Characterization of Jack - Adobe Spark 

Analysis of Conflict - Google Slides

Analysis of Symbolism - Popplet

After sharing the assignment with my grade level team we came up with a series of variations on how to grow the assignment.  

  • Roll two blocks - one for the literary device - the other for the purpose.  We came up with two separate lists.  The device list included:  conflict, characterization, syntax, motif, imagery, figurative language (metaphor/simile, symbolism, personification, etc.).  The purpose list included:  theme, character,  setting, tone, mood/atmosphere, and point of view. Some of the devices are interchangeable with the purposes. (Thanks C.Kirch for the suggestion)
  • List the lens of literary criticism on the sides of the block and have students roll to determine through which lens they will examine the text.