Curriculum and Instruction

How to Set Up a Blog With Blogger: Free Download!

Hey Everyone! I created a little handout guide for students to use when I have them set up their blogs via Blogger (Google). I use Blogger because it’s linked to Google and it makes the setup because my school is a Google Apps school.

I have some pointers as a result of trial and error in my classroom for students using blogs. I had them start blogs because I wanted to try it out, so check out these tips so you don’t make the same mistakes I did!

Tips For Having Students Start Their Own Blogs

1. Be very specific with how you want the blogs to be titled. I made the mistake of letting them choose their own title, and you can bet I ended up with some winners. And by winners, I don’t mean winners.

2. Show students examples of some blogs you think will help them get the idea (duh). For some reason I didn’t do this and was faced with blank faces that were begging to be told what a blog even is…

3. Have students watch you do some of the steps (and go over the handout), THEN give them the computers. Don’t try to explain verbally, show them, and make them do it all at the same time. It is super frustrating for everyone (including you).

4. Encourage students to help each other while setting up their blogs. I found that there was a large range in knowledge about terminology and proficiency with using computers in my classroom. Some students don’t even know what a browser is. You will definitely be tasked with helping one-on-one too, so if you have some more tech savvy students pitching in, you’ll be grateful for their help. What could take the whole class period could take about 20 minutes from start to finish. It really isn’t difficult if they know what’s expected of them.

Download the free “How to Set Up a Blog on Blogger” handout on Teachers Pay Teachers!

Do any of you have experience using blogging in the classroom? I am just getting started and would love to hear your thoughts!

Happy Blogging,

-S

 

How to Structure Your Lessons For Introverts Without Compromising Collaboration

Stop! Before you do anything, refer to this post to read my background of learning my introverted tendencies and how they affect my outlook on teaching. It is the beginning of my journey into making introverted teachers like myself feel more at home in the education world.

Disclaimer: This is not a post about learning styles. I believe in best practices that utilize multiple modalities to balance needs of all learners. Everyone learns through a combination of discussion, writing, and reading. Dewey said to get to know your students to provide student-centered learning. So, let’s start thinking about who they are–inside their brains.

Let me start with saying that working in groups, for myself, can be amazing. I value the ideas of others and don’t think working in silos produces the best work. Working with my English department buds is some of the most rewarding PD I’ve ever had. It doesn’t hurt that they are all brilliant, wonderful people. With that, I also understand that it can be too much sometimes. My first boss taught me that the key to everything in education (and life, really) is balance. We cannot satisfy everyone. Depending on the learning outcome, students will have to work individually and together. Students will have to bend to what we ask them at times. Students need to know how to collaborate. Understanding personalities of introverts and extroverts and how to balance those with the task at hand has improved my relationships with my students. They tend to bend when I ask them because they know that I have their best interests at the forefront of it all.

 

How to Structure Your Lessons For Introverts Without Compromising Collaboration

1: Know your introverts! Do a class survey to figure out who is an introvert and who isn’t. This will help you when thinking about what’s best for which lesson. It’s also just good practice in general to know more about your students. I have used Truity Typefinder, which has a free test and a job-like focus where it tells students what careers may interest them based on their Meyer’s Briggs type. Please handle this with a grain of salt. Many times students haven’t even reflected on these ideas and may choose a ‘middle of the road’ answer when going through the survey, but I have found the Extroverted/Introverted typing is fairly accurate. Mainly, I just have them focus on that part. You may have them do a little reflective writing about how accurate they think the MBTI is for themselves. You may also want to do a more overarching survey, and this resource looks amazing! So many Google Surveys. I love the internet. Here is one I found that I think would be a good template for a personality type survey. For some reason it won’t let me actually import the file, but it could be used as a guide if you want to create your own Google Forms survey.

2: Arrange your desks into groups. You may be thinking this isn’t a good idea because introverts hate groups. However, the point is not to avoid other people—although sometimes we want to—but to foster collaboration effectively. I had my desks in a big circle for a long time and it put me in a rut of silo-work for my kids. It was ok for whole-class discussion, because students were all facing each other. Grouped desks can be easily used for collaborative learning and individual learning. When students are squirrelly and need to be silently reading, then I’ll have them go sit somewhere else—the floor, on an exercise ball, etc. Be as flexible as you can for seating, and you can keep your desks in groups for home base.

3: Figure out what your group structure will be. Whether you let them choose their groups or not is up to you. I tend to mix up groups once they have been established, and introverts usually pick to sit next to those they’re comfortable with. Depending on your class’s maturity level and ability levels, it’s up to you. I have used Fisher and Frey’s Productive Group Work as a guide to understand how to create groups and keep every student accountable. If you want to learn how to teach with groups, then read this book. It is a quick but effective read and it demystified grouping for me.

4: Play a game or two to get students working together for something. Don’t throw introverts into a high-stakes academic situation right away, especially if they don’t know anyone in their group. Games that aren’t the painful ‘icebreaker’ types usually help them get more comfortable. I offer an extra point or a snack to the group that wins so they have incentive to play. These games are low-key and require little large-class interaction right off the bat, which is great for introverts.

My favorite game: Blanket the table

Why do students love this game? They get to write on their desks. Well, maybe not if you don’t have a bunch of dry erase markers lying around. For some reason writing on tables is so exciting, so I let them write on their desks (which were made for writing on anyway) but you may have them write on anything. Scraps of paper, portable whiteboards, etc. The premise of the game is simple: I give them a words, then they, as a group, come up with as many synonyms as possible in one minute. The group who has the most gets a point, then we do as many rounds as time allows and I give them some little reward for winning. Why is it great for introverts? They have to contribute in writing and not speaking. I let the extroverts share out the words as we go around the room 🙂 

5: Think about your unit plan–does it offer some individual and reflective activities? It is tempting to throw students into groups and make them present all the time. Especially in STEM. After all, that’s what the working world is, right? Not so much. Plenty of jobs require people to independently think and write. Why wouldn’t we require them to do that during a unit of instruction? Individual activities like writing reflections, writing blog posts, etc. will allow introverts time away from the group to recharge in a productive way.

6: Begin almost everything with a quick write or quick draw. Do not underestimate the power of “write before you speak.” It will help introverts get their ideas on paper before scary talk time comes. I also love Google Classroom’s Question option. Students can respond to each other and it fosters digital citizenship because they have to interact with each other face-to-face and online. This post has a lot of good ways to use class comments on Google Classroom.

7: During a lesson, know when to collaborate and when to not. This is less based on personality type and more on the side of good instruction.  The type of work being done–like writing big pieces or nose-to-the grindstone work like research or reflecting on very personal topics doesn’t always lend itself to collaborative groups. What does lend itself to collaboration? Problem-solving and creating.

8: Ease them into whole-classroom sharing. Introverts can talk in front of big groups. In fact, they should be expected to because it can increase their confidence and get them world-ready. But know that they will probably not want to yell out ideas or possible answers in a whole-class note-taking environment, and may shrivel if you call on them at first (for the record, Extroverts can shrivel too. Especially if the environment isn’t emotionally safe). Your students do not always need to be sharing out in groups or as a whole class. (Also, that gets really old and irks me when we have to do it after every activity in PD as it eats up time and we’re all tired and have talked our heads off). I’ve seen my introverted kids start to volunteer their answers. Build on that willingness because you’re creating a welcoming, risk-taking environment. How to do this? Sentence starters are my favorite. I throw them up on the board all the time. A frame for their thinking will get them confident and will take the anxiety out of “what do I say?” Check out this page for some good academic sentence starters for high school.

9: Let them give you feedback. Introverts are skilled at noticing social situations and can be very intuitive. Use that to your advantage with asking for their feedback on what’s working and what’s not in class. Obviously this should be with all students, but don’t forget about getting feedback! I do sometimes because everything is rushed and I forget. I also probably don’t want to hear the hard truth from them sometimes (although they rarely hold back the hard truths—gotta love ’em ;))

Here are three questions you can ask students for feedback, focusing on how it’s going:

Explain what does/does not make you feel like you can take academic risks in a group. 

Explain whether or not your teacher is being fair when she/he calls on students to speak. 

 Explain whether you feel the ‘talking load’ in class is balanced (this means you have a good balance of discussion and writing, and you are not holding back in discussion). 

Check out the first tip to find links of surveys and how to create your own Google Form survey, which can give you a spreadsheet of all of your responses and visual data (charts and graphs, y’all).

 

Teachersphere, give me your ideas! Do you do anything that works that I didn’t mention above? Comment below!

Curling up now and reading a book true to introvert form,

-SB

 

 

It’ll Make Sense When You’re Older

This school year has been so great so far (can’t believe I’m on year #5!). I have left behind blogging  for now to save time to do non-work related things, but I would like to share this moment from my classroom with you all. I am teaching a “Reading Podcasts” class, which is a hit with my students. We have listened to Radiolab and This American Life, and the kids get time to explore podcasts they want to listen to. We are learning a lot and having a great time together. This week they’ll be writing letters to their former selves about what in their lives they’ve learned so far. Here is mine:

Hello former self!

I’m writing this letter because you just listened to “It’ll Make Sense When You’re Older” by This American Life. I’m writing this letter to inform you that it’s okay to ask questions about life, and it’s okay to not know the answers all the time (or get angry when other people don’t give you answers). I know that you like to know things, so I’m going to let you in on some things that you don’t know at the age of 16—ten years from now.

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Guest Post on Cult of Pedagogy

Happy Wednesday! Sunday, “A Day in the Life of an Alternative High School Teacher” went up on Cult of Pedagogy, which is one of my favorite teaching blogs/sites. Eight months ago I contacted Jennifer Gonzalez, asking to post and share about the school where I teach. She was so kind to let me write for the site. It is my first guest post, and I can truly say that it was a great experience! I have already heard questions and comments from various educators/education fans–even a former student. The internet is such an interesting place sometimes.

I’d love for you to check out the post and Cult of Pedagogy!

 

alt-school

 

Letting Students Give Me Writing Feedback

I would have to say my ‘writing roots’ didn’t really get started until college. I got the writing bug in college, alongside some inspiring teachers-turned-professors who were passionate about helping their students inspire their students. In that environment, writing was democratic—anyone could do it, anyone could teach it, and everyone is a writer. Not all educators have that mentality. I’ve spoken to quite a few who would not call themselves writers, even though they have things to say and stories to tell.

As I bounce along the road of teaching, one concept that stays with me is to repetitively tell my students, “You are writers. You’re writing. That makes you a writer.” It is important for them to see themselves in that way, because the mindset that what they have to say isn’t worth the simple act of writing it down is ridiculous. Recently, I’ve decided that instead of me giving them the feedback, that I would let them give me the feedback. I should have developed a pretty thick skin by now, right?  I thought that I was going to hear, “It’s good. I wouldn’t change it.” That is not what I heard (well, from most of them).

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Using Podcasts to Spur-on Argumentative Writing

I have a podcast addiction. I’ve spoken before about my love for narrative non-fiction, and when my husband introduced me to Radiolab on our first 18 hour drive to Colorado, then Freakonomics, I discovered a whole new world of interesting stories. Radiolab in particular crafts its episodes to be suspenseful and intriguing in a way anyone can get into—even high school students. Often, the topics are complex and prompt the audience to question all aspects of the question/issue/topic. Isn’t that what critical thinking is?

The same-old persuasive essay topics are killing my engagement lately. If you’re wondering how to use podcasts in the classroom, wonder no more! I’ve done the work for you.

Here are some specific podcasts that could work in the classroom and intrigue students: 

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The Road to National Board Certification Part 4: “Am I really that bad at assessment?”

As the struggle to make it until Thanksgiving continues, I have a good problem—I’m satisfyingly tired and excitedly hungry to see what happens in my classroom this year. I can’t say I’ve felt like that (ever).

With the push of National Board, I’m being forced to think and do things I’ve never done before. A lot of this hinges on how I incorporate assessment in my classroom. The questions I had to ask myself were difficult because I knew the answer already: Do I know where every student is academically in my class? Nope. Am I more aware of where they are now? Kind of. It’s a work in progress. Do they always know how they will be assessed? Nope. Am I differentiating? Giving accurate feedback? Getting students to self-direct their learning? No, no, and no. These past couple of weeks have allowed me to dig in and figure out how well I’m meeting the architecture of teaching model (see below) the NB requires all teachers to follow. I have fine-tuned rubrics, instructions, and differentiation resources. I’ve been really analyzing how to give students feedback (thanks Mark Barnes and Starr Sackstein) and seen improvement because of it. They are owning their learning, and that’s good too. Now, I have to see the outcomes in student work for it all to be legitimate. I can’t wait to stick some good stuff on here for you all to see.

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Sharing our fears with our students

I am not a risk-taker in both the physical and not-physical sense. Thinking myself adept in the process of cost-benefit analysis (just not the math kind), I have made sure to make choices that put my planned-upon success before the risky kind of success. I have never broken a bone because I haven’t really ever put my self in a situation where bone-breaking is a thing that is an option—until I found rock climbing.

I have a colleague named Bob Smith (not a fake name, he elected to share his name because he’s just that cool) who climbs rocks for fun and is also a guide. It is his passion and his life. He goes and climbs things far away and has minimal showers and he loves it. He is also a teacher who inspires me. When I initially met him, I thought a couple things: 1. he had a death-wish and 2. he is clinically insane.

A year later, I do not think those things anymore because oh, how the tables have turned. (more…)

Socratic Seminars: Wrapping it up

If you haven’t read Socratic Seminars: How to Prepare or Socratic Seminars: How to Run One, do that before you read this post! They are helpful resources for anyone interested in getting some ideas in how to increase student-driven dialogue in the classroom.

What happens when the talking stops? 

I like to call this “zipping up the backpack.” This could take the form of a formal written reflection, or it could be a class discussion. I definitely collected their graphic organizers to grade for completion in the note-taking area. I give some feedback, almost all positive, because the kids can generally get more critical of themselves with something they are uncomfortable with. Since the seminar was my summative assessment for my class, I wanted to pull from them all that I could in how the seminar affected their content and process knowledge. Like I said before, the decision to make this summative was made on the fly due to a time constraint. I do not have a solid rubric for this reflection yet—if you have any that you’d like to share, I would love to see it!

Questions to spur reflection: 

-What were the most difficult parts about this seminar? Explain.

-What surprised you about this seminar? Explain.

-How did this seminar stretch your thinking?

-Why is appropriate academic language important?

-Would you call this seminar “fun?” Why/why not?

-What are some real-world applications of Socratic Seminars? (i.e., where could you see yourself using the skill of creating questions, claims, counterclaims, and supporting them with evidence?)

-What can your teacher do to make this seminar run more smoothly next time? Explain.

-What can students do to make this seminar run more smoothly next time? Explain.

Without a doubt, my favorite thing to do is read/hear student reflections. It’s why I assign them so much. They are insightful, honest, and most of the time make me see and feel the success of what we have done together. Metacognition at its finest. I definitely encourage reflection after an activity like this because it reinforces that what we just did as a class is important and is worth our attention.

Want more resources for the Socratic Seminar? Try these:

http://www.paideia.org/about-paideia/socratic-seminar/

http://www.literacycookbook.com/page.php?id=31 

https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/bring-socratic-seminars-to-the-classroom

This is a teacher from Englewood High School, part of my school’s district, who has created a video explaining how he specifically uses Avid (specifically the critical reading process) to prep for the seminar:

-Now give me some reflection! Was this helpful to you as a practitioner? Is there anything you would do differently?

-S