Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Non-Fiction Scrolls in the College Classroom

One day, on Pinterest, I saw a pin that showed kids on the floor with long "scrolls" of text. I clicked on it and read about how this elementary school teacher tapped the students' papers together instead of making a packet and had them annotating the texts. I tucked this idea away for awhile.

Finally, this semester I found a way to incorporate it in my class. My students needed to find quotes that they could use to analyze fairytales from the introduction to The Classic Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar. Understanding the entire article was not really the focus of this exercise. The article is rather long so I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to try the scroll activity.

First, I printed out the introduction.  I made sure to print it single sided and made one copy for every 3-4 students in my classes. I then took the time to tape each piece of paper edge to edge. (I found a small piece at the top and at the bottom of each page worked well).  This was a little bit time consuming but it's something you could definitely have a student help with.

Then I rolled them each up and secured with a paper clip.

In class, I showed my students examples of the types of quotes they were looking for.  I told them they'd be working in groups to find and highlight any part of the text that fit the criteria I'd laid out.  I wish I'd been able to tell them ahead of time to bring high lighters- it works best, I think, if each person has a different color.

I made each group leave the classroom and find a quiet area to work.  I wanted them to have to get up and move! (My one class is at 8am!) I told them they could take turns looking at each section or they could each look at 2 pages but that as a group they should be able to find at least 10 examples.

Once we came back into the classroom I had them designate one person as "Master of the Scroll."  I then started asking - what's the first example you found? If I agreed with it I gave it a number and marked it on my scroll too so that we could have a common language.  What was super cool was that a few students found examples that I hadn't even found originally!

After we found the examples I told them to each pick one to use when writing their paper.  Within their groups no one could repeat an example.  (This was purely so I wouldn't get bored reading their papers.) I had told them to copy down the quotes, but a few had the genius idea to just take a picture with their phones! In the future that is what I will instruct them to do in the first place.

This video shows four of the scrolls marked up. 

As I was dismissing class I did a quick thumbs up, thumbs down, thumbs to the side survey and most students had their thumbs up and a few to the side. None put their thumbs down.  And, then, at the end of the semester on my course survey a few students listed this activity as one that I should repeat in the future.

I think I might have them look for rhetorical devices, transitions, etc in the future with other articles, speeches, etc.  What uses can you think of?

Thanks for reading! 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

On The Web: "When Grading Harms Student Learning"

I recently read "When Grading Harms Student Learning" by Andrew Miller on Edutopia.  Since I've been thinking about how to improve my courses and have been discussing how we grade with colleagues this was right up my alley.

Miller breaks his article into 5 different areas and discusses how they each affect student learning.  First up he makes the case against zeros.  His main point here is that a zero for incomplete or not turned in work does not actually show what the student knows. I agree. However, if a student does nothing what should I do? Is it fair to other students who do the work, on time, to let someone else turn it in later? Do I have to keep the graded copies forever so the students who are still working on it don't get the answers/feedback?

His next point is in relation to taking points off for late work.  Like the zeros this makes the grade more about the students behavior versus what they actually know or don't know. I take off points for late work, but I agree with what he is saying. However I have the same issues as I did above. Especially as a college professor I need to prepare my students for the real world. Turning work in on time is a softskill that I think we are teaching. What would happen if we kept turning our grades, ieps, progress reports etc late? Perhaps there is a different way to approach this though.

Miller's third point is that sometimes we are "Grading Instead of Teaching." What he means here is that there are times where we are encouraged by administrators, parents, students etc to have lots of grades in the grade book so there's a constant update as to how a student is doing. What happens though is we spend more time grading/entering grades than we do actually teaching our students and ensuring growth. He advocates for more formative assessment and I strongly agree. I am working towards including much more formative assessment into my class.  In fact I'm presenting a session on it 3 times this spring.

Finally, Miller concludes with the idea of hope. He states it's our job as educators to help our students have hope. When they see a bunch of zeros or failures they start to lose hope.  I think this is a very good point and I'm working on how to structure my class so my students don't give up and keep working towards getting that "A."

Overall, the article gave me a lot to think about. I think many of these issues might be resolved by using game theory in my courses. I'm working on gamifying one of my classes... but maybe I could apply the game theory to my other courses to see how that goes.  Hmmm more to think about.

What are your thoughts on grades?

Thanks for reading! 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Asking For Help: Learning to Love my Instructional Designer

I know it all. Well, sometimes I like to think I do. As a teacher I am used to be the master of my domain, the HBIC if you will. In general, I think we, as teachers, tend to feel that what we're doing is most often right. We often teach the way we were taught or how our student teaching placement showed us and it's hard to break away from strategies that we've grown attached to even if perhaps they could be improved upon.

Teaching college, a lot of professors don't have any coursework in education and pedagogy, so we have at our disposal an instructional designer and a technologist. At first, as an adjunct, I didn't think I had much use for their services. I know how to plan lessons and to figure out how to meet objectives. However, now that I'm full time I've been spending more and more time with our ID and I have to say I'm becoming a better teacher because of it.
I first approached her this semester because my online students were having trouble finding the materials I wanted them to use. I wanted her to look over my blackboard site to tell me if it really was confusing. (Of course I was convinced she was going to tell me that it was perfect and that my students were crazy.) Instead she pointed out the few areas that she didn't understand why I needed. I explained my reasoning, and she got it, but she helped me see that I was thinking too much from the teacher facing side and needed to consider what my students really needed. She discussed how the more clicks to get to something the less likely a student is to ever see it. I made a few changes and had significantly less complaints for the semester about this.

This first experience gave me two takeaways:
1. Just because it makes sense to you doesn't mean it makes sense to everyone.
2. You don't have to wait till midterm or the next semester, quarter etc to make a change. If it will help your students change NOW.

This ID and I have now become work BFFs and are developing a great friendship outside of work too. So now I often go to her to discuss ideas for lessons, how I want to structure my syllabus etc. She's actually younger than me and has taught less years however, in this role, she gets to spend all day thinking about how to help instructors design their courses with their students' success in mind without getting bogged down by the grading etc that we all have to do so she has great insight. We are currently collaborating on a gameified version of one of my courses which is super fun.

She also helped me create a spreadsheet where I can list all my outcomes and objectives and then put down which assignments are activities, formative, and summative assessments for each outcome/objective. This way it'll be easier to keep my students "in the know" about what objective we are working on and I can make sure that I am absolutely teaching the material required of me. 

Now, when I taught 7-12 I didn't have access to an ID. I'm sure many of you don't either. But you do have access to each other and to blogs and to education journals. I challenge you to think about your courses and about the last time you revamped anything. Consider the complaints you keep hearing from your students- are they actually more justified than you thought? Be willing to ask for help and feedback and be willing to act on the advice you're given. The more we grow and change, the better off our students will be.

 Thanks for reading!