Differentiate using VoiceThread and Inspire Kids Who Need Inspiration

Written on 4:34 PM by Ur English Teacher

Below you'll see an embedded VoiceThread (made by an educator named Michelle) that shows some educational uses of the tool. Look at some of the slides by clicking the arrow on the bottom right. Michell talks on the first one and shows other ways to comment on some of the other pages. (Find out how to get VoiceThread for FREE at the end of this post. No scrolling ahead!)

I'm pretty sure you've been hearing as much as I have about differentiating instruction and evaluation as I have. We should be hearing about it . . . we should have been doing it all along, so it's certainly high time to talk about it. However, what I see is that most evaluation is done the same old way, through fairly (if not completely) typical testing techniques. Many a scantron (or relative thereof) is still used and many a blank filled in. But, if we're as serious about differentiation as we SAY we are, then we've got to do more than just try to teach in ways that reach more students, we've also got to evaluate in ways that allow more students to show us what they've learned. If you wonder if this is important, find most any nearby 7 year old (or 17 year old) and ask them to write a paragraph for you about a topic they've been learning about in school and are at least somewhat interested in. Next, ask them to talk to you about that topic. Be prepared to stay a while. The paragraph will be done in a flash and will likely not inspire you, but what you will hear when they speak will be an entirely different experience. My own 12 year old 7th grader got fired up telling me how barbed wire changed the West the other night until I thought we were going to have to muzzle her. So, the reason VoiceThread could inspire ESPECIALLY kids who need it the most is that kids who are traditionally not the schoolgirl/schoolboy type are usually better (profoundly better) at expressing themselves with their voices than they are at writing. Won't it be great to give them a chance to show what they've learned using their own voice? And anyway, if you're not testing for the purpose of developing traditional test-taking skills (and please PLEASE tell me you're not), wouldn't it be a perfectly fine way to show you've learned to talk about a topic, show pictures about it, and annotate it? Sure! Why not? I challenge you to offer Voice Thread as a product next time you ask your students to display their learning. I guarantee you that 98% of your students will choose Voice Thread over an essay or traditional test, and that you will have a lot more fun hearing about barbed wire than reading essay numbers 1-99. So will you give it a try and let me know how it goes?

VoiceThread is free for anyone, though if you have extra money just lying around, you can pay to get more features (I can't tell why though---the free version is amazing!). If you teach young children or are worried about Internet safety, simply make their threads private. Learn more about VoiceThread here. To register for a VoiceThread account, click this link, then click "Apply" at the bottom of the "Free Educator" column.

Why Wordle Matters, Educationally Speaking

Written on 6:31 PM by Ur English Teacher

Wordle: A Wordle about Wordle
Wordle about Wordle
At first glance, Wordle feels cute. It IS cute and a little game-like, but months ago, Assistant Princiapal Angela Griffith showed me why it is a powerful educational tool. Since then, I've seen so many knowledgeable teachers use it in so many effective ways that I feel the need to share the glories of Wordle.

When you "Wordle" your text, the more times a word is used, the bigger it appears in the final product, so the largest words have the highest frequency. If you want to know what your résumé really says about you, Wordle it. You may
find out you've said you "coordinate" when what you really want is to "lead." If you want your students to see what their writing is really about, have them do the same. Jessica Powell, 7th grade language arts teacher, had her students Wordle their non-fiction essays about the AIDS epidemic in Africa with similarly revealing results.

First grade teacher Jean Curran tells me Wordle leads to "more writing." She says, "My students want to write more words when we use Wordle s
o that they can see them appear." If you haven't done much observing 7 year olds write, this might not seem significant, but ask a teacher of this age group how much it matters, and they'll tell you just getting kids to write is of utmost importance. It's the practice of forming words and making sentences that leads to fluency in writing. By the way, that remains true of any age group.

Today, second grade teacher Peggy Gusler introduced me to yet another use of Wordle. Her students watched a science video and while they viewed the film, they typed the key words into Wordle. The creative spelling of 2nd graders is very cute, but the products also show the kids were paying attention and noticing which words were important; again, an important skill at any age.

Finally, Wordle turns student writing into a sort of
shape poem. I know this is very English-teachery of me, but I can't help waxing a little teary-eyed at this story from my colleage Jessica Powell. She is a huge Moodle fan, and she often has her students embed their Wordles into discussion forums on Moodle. Not long ago right after she lost her grandpa, she was reading along and noticed a Wordle that was posted privately, just for "Coach P.," as her students call her. One of her students had created a Wordle about her mother's recent death. She could see that Coach P. had been grieving, and she wanted to share the feelings of loss she was also experiencing. Jessica said she cried viewing the student's work because it was such a heart-rending poem, unsolicited, unexpected, totally personal, and completely touching.

Wordle Options to Try:

-Change the maximum words of longer pieces to, say 25, and see what is REALLY important. Only the top 25 most important words will show. (Layout>Maximum Words)
-Turn off the default option under "Language" to ignore the most common words (the, and, a, etc.) and see if you've used the word "their," for example, more than any other.
-Choose a custom color palette that reflects the theme of your topic. Students can show that they understand how the mood of their work can be reflected by color choices.
-Keep words or names together by inserting this ch
aracter instead of a space: ~ , for example Google~Docs, Thomas~Jefferson. Thanks for the tip Ms. Goodney! Though I can't believe you kept it from me all this time! Check it:
- Instead of pasting in or typing your own words, paste the URL of a web site (with a feed, like this one) about the topic of study. This box is right below the "Create" area here. Create the Wordle, then see if it summarizes the topic accurately. If not, were your perceptions off about the topic or is the site not that great?
-Use the option under "Language" to show word counts and see just how many times you really did use each of those words.

If you've found more ways to use Wordle educationally (and I know you have!), please post a comment below and tell us!

Wordle: Wordle about Wordle with Common Words
Wordle about Wordle Without Common Words Removed

Never Kill Another Poster Board Tree: Glogster.com ROCKS

Written on 7:43 PM by Ur English Teacher

UPDATE: A Real Glog made by a REAL CISD student is embedded below. The features are really amazing.

Glogster allows your students to create free, protected digital posters.

This tool blows my mind! I know, I know, I always say that, but I've looked for a Web 2.0 desktop publishing tool since I knew what Web 2.0 was, and this one ROCKS. It's extremely easy to use, and also very versatile.
Check out this sample (a Glog embedded in a Wiki). Click the play button in the top right. Hover over the Gloster.com link in the top right and View Full Size. WOW!

Thanks Kelly McNamee, The Woodlands High School for this find.

Check out a real Glog below . . . . Right click here to get the full effect and see the video play.

How much is a trillion?

Written on 1:15 PM by Ur English Teacher

In Defense of Technology for the Sake of Education not AS Education

Written on 8:55 AM by Ur English Teacher

Many well-meaning educators have a long-held belief that we must "teach technology" (learn to use Excel by following this 9 week course outline) as opposed to integrating technology (work with your team to create a Wiki about the causes of the Civil War). To understand the difference, let us unearth an old argument with our beloved high-school English teachers. . . .

Mrs. Grammar says, "Students, you must be able to identify the parts of speech and diagram sentences before you can understand the English language and write an essay! We will concentrate on these skills, and eventually, you will be able to write a good and correct essay." Imagine Mrs. Grammar's students are in 11th grade, the TAKS* test is looming, they wonder,

"If I stick with my diagramming in Mrs. Grammar's class, will I be able to make a 2 on the essay, pass the test, and graduate from high school?" Mrs. Grammar is insistent. Diagram! Noun, adjective, verb!

Nine grueling weeks later, students are minimally competent at identifying basic parts of speech and diagramming very simple sentences. Her administrative evaluator suggests, kindly, that perhaps she should have the students try to actually write an essay. She acquiesces and has them write. It's terrible. She sees "he don't like . . .," "her and me are . . ," and even the dreaded preposition ending a sentence error is in nearly every example. Did the students learn nothing?

Actually, the answer is "yes," they learned nothing . . . about writing an essay because the two activities (parts of speech and diagramming & essay composition) do not relate to each other. Mounds of research prove this, but Mrs. Grammar will probably never be convinced, even if 30 years of experience should have proved it 30 times. After all, she believes, this is how SHE learned it. Whether you agree with her or with me, as a practical-minded and open-minded educator yourself, you probably know that what makes essays better is writing lots of essays of all kinds and reading other people's essays, and then writing more essays yourself.

Along the same line of thought, well-meaning educators everywhere insist that discrete, program-related technology skills must be taught if students are to gain competence. "Students must know how to use Excel," the voices insist. How can they function in a business world that uses Excel without experience using Excel?

The answer is similar to the one we offer Mrs. Grammar. If 17 year old 11th grade students cannot identify a noun, yet they speak their native language (English) and write in a way all can understand (though perhaps incorrectly), the practical-minded teacher realizes she, at this juncture, must work with what she's got. Students who can write essays have just got to get writing right away.

When we meet students who use their skills as digital natives and operate computers in ways their teachers perhaps cannot understand, we must not hold them back from doing the equivalent of diving in to write that proverbial essay. Our students are not just essayists in the realm of technology, we have 8 year old Tolstoys . . . full-fledged novelists of the digital world. If they are not already, given the merest opportunity, they will soon be. To ask our tiny Tolstoy tots, our digital natives, to learn to click the mouse this way then that "all together now!" or learn to use this specific program or that, is even more tragic and less useful than asking our 17 year old essayists to spend their junior year in English learning to identify nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

Please help your fellow educators understand that . . .

We must not keep students from reaching their potential as digital natives because we do not speak their language.

What's a "Digital Native"? Find out here.

*Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, Texas's state standardized test

Why do adults and kids have such different ideas about learning?

Written on 3:11 PM by Ur English Teacher

From Apple's Digital Kids site.