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Tag: Language Arts (page 1 of 2)

Shiver Me G21 Timbers

How do you know your students really understand what they have read? Of course, you ask ten multiple choice questions and award kids points on some expensive system, right?

Not in Ms. Thomas’s class.

Ms. Thomas and her students read Treasure Island as part of their G21 project. They looked at all different aspects of the book: Geography, weather, technology, social structure of the crew, historical context of the events in the book… The students created costumes, models, posters, a new site, and other interesting artifacts based on what they read and discussed in class.

Ms. Thomas has been compiling much of what the students did in a website. It is still a work in progress, but you can visit and explore Treasure Island.

Words and Stories

Back in December I blogged about a TEDed video explaining why the word “doubt” has a silent B in it. I wanted to create something similar with students. Now I have a teacher who is willing to take the challenge.

I will be working with Ms. Wales and her students to create short animations about vocabulary words. I have not finalized any plans, but I think we’ll be using the iPads and iMovie, Keynote, ShowMe, ComicLife, Adobe Ideas, Doodle Buddy… Whatever the students choose to make their visuals will work. It is an experiment of sorts. We want a product. We will leave the creative process up to the students.


Poetic Devices Adoption Agency

A few weeks ago I blogged about Ms. Talley and Ms. Thomas and their poetry project. The students were to create a pitch for a poetic device or poem to convince poets to adopt them into their work. I had a really fun time working with the students and with the teachers. It was a challenging project due to logistics, technology adoption, and the nature of the project itself.

On the logistics front, we shared a single iPad cart that was also being used for other projects. I’m really glad I did not run over anyone as I raced down the hall with the iPad cart between blocks. Even if it is a challenge, this is a good problem to have. High demand of whatever technology we have available is better than having piles of tools in closets and storage rooms.

Many of the students who worked on this project had not used iMovie on the iPads. They all know their way around iMovie on the Mac, and it took a bit of getting used the pared down iOS version. The universal complaint, which I take up wholeheartedly is the automatic, unstoppable Ken Burns effect. I love Ken Burns and his documentaries, I love Ken Burns effects on the Mac, but this is a bit much. Please, Apple, shut it off.

As far as the project went, well, many of the students were pushed out of their comfort zones. This is good. Making things just hard enough to make students think beyond what they are used to is a good exercise. If we had asked the students simply to write about their assigned poetic device, they could have just paraphrased whatever they found in their textbook or online. By asking them to illustrate and narrate, we made the students think about their writing as more than something to turn in to their teachers. They had to get creative both in the writing and the illustrations.

Of course, there was one more dimension to this project. The adoption best of the adoption pitches have been posted to YouTube. Expanding the audience beyond the teacher and the students in the room gives students the added incentive to make their work worth sharing.

Here is one of my favorites.


Next week I’ll be collaborating with Ms. Thomas, our Language Arts student teacher on a fun project she shared with me. The students will be running a poetic device adoption agency. They will select a device and try to talk poets into adopting that device into their work. They will have to present the device as if it were an adorable puppy or kitten to be brought home and loved.

This project is a great way for students to tackle a topic that could be boring if all students had to do was learn definitions and give examples. Instead, the students get to be creative in how they approach and present each poetic device. They also get to find examples they really like and think their peers will like. And, most importantly, in presenting their information, they will be teaching the rest of the class.

I know student teachers are only here for a few weeks, and are not expected to plan and execute a G21 project. I’d like to say thank you to Ms. Thomas for doing it anyway. She is giving her students the opportunity to engage with poetry, something so many students dread, in a fun and memorable way.

Parts of Speech Campaign

Students in Mrs. Abbott’s class (blog) have been making some really funny videos on their iPads. They are running political campaigns for parts of speech. So far, Action Verbs has my vote.

This is their first attempt at making videos on the iPads, and they were given a tight deadline, so many of the videos have little or no editing. I’m glad to see the students being creative and humorous, and getting their point across about parts of speech.

I have never had so much fun learning about action verbs. Check out Mrs. Abbott’s YouTube channel later in the week to catch the full collection of campaign videos.


Romeo, Juliet, and the Apology

Last week I spoke to Mrs. Abbott and Mrs. Whisler who have been reading Romeo and Juliet with their students. To evaluate the students’ understanding of the play, they have assigned some letter writing. Students have to create a letter written by Friar Lawrence explaining his role in the whole affair to the Prince, and apologize for the way things turned out. This is a great idea.

First, the students are not being asked to summarize the play, or to answer simple questions. Students are being asked to think through the events in the play assign guilt to all involved. This requires that each student evaluate and interpret the actions and thoughts of each character. There is no correct answer, and there is no way to Google an answer. Second, students can be creative in writing the letter and make the explanations as simple or as complex as they wish. This provides for instant differentiation.

Of course, there is also tech involved, which makes me so happy. Students are using Google Docs, sharing their letters with a partner, and working on peer editing and critiquing. And, there will be no printing.Yay!

What can we do so this assignment does not get old in a few years? Come up with variations. Have the Nurse write the letter, resigning her post and explaining the events from her point of view. Write the eulogy one of the relatives would have given at the funeral. Write the newspaper account, with interviews, or the report a CSI character might file after an investigation. There are endless possibilities to help everyone avoid a dry summary that can be copied off any website.

Creative Approaches to Research Papers

Over the past month, students at GHS have been working on research projects for their Language Arts classes. It is an annual ritual, this flurry of notecards and Gale Database articles. The kids don’t enjoy it much, and I wonder if the teachers enjoy reading the end result.

I understand this is a requirement, and a very useful one. I believe there are few things more important in education than teaching students to access and evaluate information. However, if all we require of the students is a recitation of the facts with little or no interpretation, we are letting a great opportunity pass them by.

Thinking about this, I decided to read the SOL relating specifically to research (I picked Grade 10 randomly from the high school levels). The SOL states that students will do the research, organize, cite sources, all the expected stuff, and then they will “present the information in an appropriate format.”

Screen shot 2011-02-28 at 8.52.12 AM

What is an appropriate format? As a teacher, I would interpret this as a written document with well-organized paragraphs made up of coherent, correct sentences. There is no requirement that the end result be a dry recitation of facts.

My idea is to allow students the flexibility to be creative. Instead of a dry report, students could write something more creative. Instead of a biography, write journal entries from critical times in a person’s life. Or maybe write an acceptance speech for an award someone receives for a particular event or invention. Or maybe write a short story about traveling through time and participating in an event, or meeting a person.

This would be much  more fun to write, and to grade. It would involve a great deal more of critical thinking than simple summarizing. And, it would be infinitely harder to cut and paste and turn in.

Words and History

Today I met with Ms. Holloway (blog) to plan an activity for her unit on rhetoric. Both Ms. Holloway and I love words and their history, so we used both of those themes, plus a bit of politics and current events, in formulating the plan.

Students will read selected inaugural speeches from different time periods in American history, then use Wordle to see which words were prevalent for each administration. Then, to put words in historical context, students will use Google Timeline, which shows the popularity of words in books over time.

Students will also use a tool I discovered recently in Google Labs, Ngram Viewer. This tool lets you compare the frequency of word use over time by searching Google Books.

I LOVE this tool. Just try it. Look up, for example, “radar, radio, laser, television”. You’ll get a visual of when these technologies became household names. Search for “casualty” and you’ll be able to tell when the United States was involved in a conflict over the past two centuries. Search for people names, or store names, or city names and think about why these may have been popular in books at one time or another.

Here’s my fun search for today. I’m still trying to figure out why foods such as chocolate, soup, and ice cream are so popular when the US is at war (World War I, World WarII, and since 2001). Do you have any ideas?


Fan Fiction in the Classroom

Last August, while I was at the Scratch Conference at MIT, I got to hear Henry Jenkins (blog) discussing participatory culture as an integral aspect of what makes Scratch so great. He gave a brief history of fan fiction and its transition from “fanzines” to online publishing, and discussed several notable examples. While listening to all this, I realized that people who write fan fiction enjoy writing, and their writing is scaffolded by what is already there: the setting, the existing characters, the known events.

I realized fan fiction could be used in the classroom to help students practice their writing skills. Some people can pull a story from thin air easily. Others, like me, are intimidated by a blank page. Fan fiction fills up some of that page, but still allows writers to exercise the imagination and hone their skills.

To bring this idea to Goochland County, I held an after-school session for teachers yesterday afternoon. We got together and broke up into three teams. Each team wrote a new scene for the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs story, a non-existent scene portraying a dinner party. In less than an hour, each team had a hilarious, complicated story taking full advantage of the known characteristics and shared experiences of the dwarfs and Snow White.

After sharing our stories, we discussed the benefits of utilizing elements of fan fiction in the Language Arts classroom. We agreed that publishing student writing to give kids an authentic audience to critique their work raises the level of performance in the classroom. We also spent a lot of time looking at examples of fan fiction at various websites.

Of course, the issue of copyright versus fair use came up. I showed them where some authors like JK Rowling have expressed their delight that people care enough to write fan fiction. We read about LucasFilm, their tolerance of fan fiction, and their request that any Star Wars fan fiction be clean and family friendly. And, I showed them where some authors are appalled that readers appropriate what is not theirs and do everything in their power to stamp it out. In conclusion, when in doubt, ask before publishing online, but feel free to let students write for in-class enjoyment.

It was one of my most enjoyable after-school sessions so far this year. The teachers were engrossed in writing their shared Google Docs, wrote fantastic stories, and generated lots of very good ideas for using what they learned in their classrooms.

The Landlady

Yesterday afternoon I got to spend an hour with Mr. James’s students (blog) as they tried out VoiceThread for the first time. They were recording their own endings to Roald Dahl’s story The Landlady, which ends in a cliffhanger. The story endings were very entertaining and read with much enthusiasm.

I hope to work with these kids many more times during the year as they share more of their creative writing.

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