Featured Post

Why blog?

Blogging is one way to reflect on our practice as teachers with the purpose of making things better for the future and sharing ideas with ...

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment