30 December 2013

Pop-Up Punctuation Mini Project

Punctuation seems to cause a lot of problems for learners. I am not sure why, but many learners have failed to grasp even basic rules, such as capitalisation. Others though, are ready to learn the more sophisticated marks such as semi-colons.
Creating a Punctuation Mark Pop-Up
Correcting their writing and asking them to read constantly to see effective use of punctuation is one way to tackle these issues. However, I wanted to address this area in a more direct way - but experience means I know that 'teaching' grammar explicitly, does not work. Being a fan of inquiry-based learning, I wanted to find a way that put the onus on them to learn, not me to teach.
Creating the pop-up

To address the differing needs of my learners, and to approach the learning from a constructivist route, I designed a mini project around punctuation marks that required learners to research different marks and teach each other about them.

I created and shared a Google Doc outlining the project, as follows:-

Creating the pop-up

Each learner had to sign up to research and create a punctuation mark pop-up from the list in the task sheet - so that all punctuation marks were covered. I provided an example of the finished pop-up (seen in the photo in the task sheet above), and a template (from the great 3-D Graphic Organiser book listed below). Learners were free to adapt the template - as long as they included the information outlined in the box on the task sheet.

Using digital and analogue tools for research
I provided a selection of books on punctuation and learners were free to talk to each other and use the Internet to search for the information they needed.

Once their pop-ups were created, they checked them against the rubric before sharing them with each other.

They were given time to teach each other about their punctuation marks using their pop-ups as a visual aid.
Asterisk Pop-Up
Next, I asked learners to think about two questions they could ask to check their classmates understood their punctuation mark.
Slash Pop-Up
Learners emailed their two questions to me, and I used them to create a quiz on Edmodo.
Comma Pop-Up
Learners completed the quiz, using the pop-ups to support them, as needed. They enjoyed the project and seemed to have a better grasp of what the punctuation marks mean, and how to use them - because they'd found out for themselves AND taught each other. This active learning is far more effective than passive teaching and completion of worksheets or exercises.

Areas such as punctuation do need constant revision. We will leave the pop-ups on display in the classroom as reference for their continuing progression and understanding of the importance in the use of punctuation for clarity of their writing and expression.
Pop-up Punctuation
Barnekow, D 3-D Graphic Organizers: 20 Innovative, Easy-to-Make Learning Tools That Reinforce Key Concepts and Motivate All Students!

29 December 2013

Tweet Tweet: Spreading The Positive

As part of my the Information and Media Literacy unit I just completed for my M.Ed in Integrating Technology, I had to explore personal learning networks.

My post PLN: A brief review outlines the new one I tried - The Educator's PLN (edupln.ning.com) - in comparison with my trusted favourite, Twitter (Twitter.com). Twitter, of course,  came out tops.

I have been using Twitter for over a year now and I find it invaluable as a resource for ideas, support and news. I recently spoke at the Google Summit KL, and in the scripting session I attended by Evan Scherr*, he finished by asking how many of us in the room were on Twitter? I was shocked at the poor response, but glad he then evanglised about how educators must be on Twitter. I agree with him whole-heartedly, it is an essential tool in being conected with a global network of like-minded educators - and if you are not connected, you are missing out. 

This morning I read a great post about the power of Twitter and how we, as educators, can fight against the negative portrayal of today's educational climate in the media. In the post, '3 Reasons Why the School Principal Needs to Tweet' (Mark W. Guay, 2013), Guay advocates the use of principals taking control of what is in the media by creating their own media channel. He states that:
Great schools (online, blended, and traditional) act as nurturing centers that foster creative development and high-quality art, math, and science skills; and school is the medium to advance human development and better society. The internet took our society into hyper speed and successful schools will quickly follow.
By default then, can we assume that those who aren't successful, won't'? Is it won't or can't - if there is something worth Tweeting about, do it. Why not? What is there to lose?

Schools need to take control and advertise the great stuff they are doing using Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, and successful schools will "promote the positive-learning center school leaders know their school to be". This means not only are schools getting free publicity, they are also acting as positive role models about how to act responsibly, safely, ethically and positively in online interactions, an important literacy that needs to be promoted (see my posts Global Digital Citizenship, and Teaching Information Literacy).

Guay suggests some easy ways to self-promote, to which I would add a few more ideas:

1) Blogging: have a school blog page that acts as a constant ticker tape of the great stuff that is going on; assign leaders and departments to write weekly and share achievements and successes; get learners' blogs linked to it to showcase the writing they are doing and sharing with the world; get a homeroom class to make a weekly contribute on a rotational basis; get he sports department to share successes and comments; get CAS students to share reflections on their work - just create a community who shares in the positives.

2) Twitter: creating a handle is not enough. You have to use it. Guay suggests sending out "3-5 daily tweets that stay on the positive" or "include interesting facts to feed the students' minds", or perhaps even "crack a joke here and there and be human". The power can be seen but only through use. Recently, we held a special end of semester event that saw Middle School learners working vertically to solve a murder mystery; they had to write Twitter summaries, create photofits, find clues in a customised MincraftEdu space, attend press conferences, listen to news reports and work together to find out, 'whodunnit'. It was a great day and generated a huge buzz. It also finally hit the power of Twitter home. At the start of the day, it was stated that Mrs Holly's mission was to get our hashtag, #daysofnexus, trending. The learners got on board, the teachers got on board and, eventually, by the end of the day - we did it! We trended in Singapore. The organisers of the day were chuffed. Through contacts, we had some of my followers from Australia to America commenting. At last, the power was seen. We put our school on the map.

3) PinterestGuay suggests handing over control to a student who can "upload pictures of student photos, paintings". It is free and gets amazing work out thereSee also Instagram.

4) Facebook: a much touted free tool to easily share events, photos and messages. However, use with a word of caution - a recent article in the Guardian suggests that it may in fact be "dead and buried" to teens.

Overall, Guay advocates that schools must utilise this free publicity which will only work through constant and committed use:
It takes time to develop the benefits from having an online presence. However, through time, the community and your students will start seeing how to use social media wisely and will have more reason to believe in the school system. (Guay, 2013)
Personally, I am new to social media as a promotional tool. I have only been Tweeting and Blogging for just over a year, but I have reaped many benefits; not only have a forged links and connections with amazing educators around the globe, I have been asked to present at conferences, and write articles. I have shared student work and conducted research. I have found a supportive personal learning network that has taught me so much. It does require sustained use, but it truly is worth it. I have learned so much about myself and others; I have been supported through dark times and praised through good times. I do believe the time is worth it and that all educators must cultivate an online presence to model positive Internet use.


*(Check out Evan's great blog www.scherrology.com, follow him on Twitter @EvanScherr, and Google+ +Evan Scherr)



More Than Ink

Creating and sharing books using iPads
Literacy today is more than reading and writing.

Reading today is more than print.

Writing today is more than ink.

To engage my second language learners, I developed a blended learning unit on picture books that utilised both traditional and new literacies, and both analogue and digital tools. The whole unit was delivered via Edmodo and Google Sites.

I booked out a selection of picture books from the library, including classics such as ‘The Giving Tree’ and ‘Green Eggs and Ham’. We began with traditional literacy in the form of analytical skills, such as examining sentence structure, and identifying language patterns such as rhythm, rhyme, repetition, and onomatopoeia. We explored characterisation, and developed visual literacy by analysing how the images enhanced and helped the text. We also looked at the cover, the style of illustration, the page turners, the main conflict and the theme. Throughout the unit, learners learned new vocabulary through Quizlet, where I added new terms as the unit progressed.

Themes Chart
Learner's added the themes and conflicts of the picture books to a flip chart anchor board, and we discussed their relevance to young children's hopes and fears. Following this discussion, they wrote a journal about a childhood memory that resonated with them, and focused on writing using first person narrative and past tense.

Flipping the classroom, learners were asked to watch some tutorials on story structure via a playlist created on Sophia.org for homework (read about Playlists in my blog post, Personalised Learning Playlists). In the next lesson, learners used this knowledge to deconstruct the animated film of the picture book, 'The Gruffalo'. Using a storyboard template, learners made visual notes on the characters and setting, the conflicts faced by little brown mouse, the complications and the resolution, embedding an understanding of the concept of the ‘story mountain’. 

The Story Mountain
Using this structure, learners asked to develop their journal writing into a plot outline for a picture book suitable for Year 3/4.

Practicing persuasive devices, they pitched their plot ideas to peers, who provided feedback, advice and ideas about suitability. They then amended, revised and developed their storyboard.

Using Book Creator on iPads, the learners created their picture books in digital form. The finished books were peer-assessed and revised again. We used AirServer to share pages from their books with the whole class for comment and advice, before making final revisions and finally sharing with a Year 3 primary class in a school in Malaysia.
Peer Reviewing
Books were uploaded to Google Drive and then added to a Google Docs file that was shared with the Year 3 class (how to is here). From this shared file, the Year 3s were able to download and open the picture books in iBooks.

The Year 3s read the books and then completed a book review on a Google Form that provided feedback to the Year 10 authors.

We then conducted a Skype interview, where Year 3 learners asked questions to particular authors about their books they had read.

They asked about where they got their inspiration from and how they went about writing and publishing. It was really exciting to meet our reviewers and talk to them face to face.
Skype interviews with Year 3 in Malaysia
Finally, learners wrote a detailed reflection about their learning during this unit, in the form of an essay. This final part of the unit will allow learners to review and embed the need for clarity in their writing, through devices such as topic sentences, connectives and transitions, as well as develop a coherent overall structure.

My learners are all intermediate English learners, and this unit helped address many important terms and skills required for them to pass their IGCSE Second Language exams. It also went way beyond
Peer Reviewing
that and gave them essential digital and media literacy skills; it engaged them through writing stories based on their own life and allowed them the change to create through technology. The use of technology meant we also were afforded an authentic audience to easily share with and receive real feedback from. 
Peer Reviewing

Reading is more than print.
Writing is more than ink.

Mrs Holly's Second Language English Year 10 Class in Singapore would like to thank Mr Gascoigne's Year 3 class in Malaysia for helping us with our books.

12 December 2013

Spilling Christmas Ink...Wish List

At the start of the year, I began a writing initiative based on both my experience of teaching free writing, and following my reading of the book Spilling Ink.

My post in August, Spilling Ink: Writing Journal Agreements outlines this in more detail.

I try to make each prompt visible on a single slide, and we work on the same prompt for the week.

We have written about all sorts of things, from shapeshifters to thunderstorms, garlic gum to invisibility potion.

Learners are always given the option to choose the prompt, or write about something they need to write about. They can fold over any writing that they wish to keep private.

They are also encouraged to go back and rework previous writing, revising to make it better, or making into something new. I ask them to focus particularly on areas we have looked at in lessons, such as narrative perspective, sentence clarity, adjectives or noun phrases etc.

Sometimes I will give specific targets to learners as they need it, such as working on tenses, subject-verb agreement - or simply aiming to write more. Perhaps I will ask prolific writers to slow down and consider each word more carefully, and focus on quality over quantity.

I have been amazed by the work that has been produced and am SURE that I have at least one potential best-seller among my fantastic writers.

I have been astounded by the insights I have into the learners from their writing; their thinking, hopes and beliefs; their unboundless imagination and limitless creativity. It is also quite moving in terms of some of the things that have been shared with me; some learners will reach out to me in their writing, opening a doorway for me to find them help and support.
Learners share their work with peers each session and are encouraged to share with the class any interesting or great writing they have read. They are also asked to choose their best piece each two weeks, and publish it on their blog.

Some learners have written in their journals about how much they enjoy the freedom to express themselves and play with words. They say that they appreciate being able to choose what to write and to not be tied down by assessments or deadlines.

For our final week of the semester, I am going to provide them with the chance to create a wish list. It is to be in the form of a letter poem and must use as much alliteration as possible.

I look forward to reading what their wishes are for the coming year, and even more - in continuing with encouraging a community of writers.

Mazer, A. and Potter, E. Spilling ink: A young writer's handbook, 2012, Macmillan. Print.

09 December 2013

Split Screen: Easy Note-Taking for Digital Immigrants

Split Screen Extension, Chrome Store
I am fairly comfortable with technology and have been using it for as long as I have been working, though it did not pay a big role in my education. My father did recommend my taking a GCSE in Information Technology, one of the first ones that came out, as he said that computers were the future. I wanted to do art, but I did as my pops suggested.

During the time I was studying for my degree, the Internet made its debut appearance. I do remember a boyfriend at the time excitedly showing me a page on an American punk band we were into, but it took about ten minutes for the page to load and I just didn't see the appeal. My degree essays were researched from actual physical books and journals and my essays, in the main, were handwritten, though I did invest in a word processor in my final years. Being able to see four faint lines of my 4000 word essays was progress... I think.

My first job out of University was as an Office Manager for a small architect firm in Manchester; they had a very old PC that had no mouse and operated purely by command keys. I quickly got them to invest in a new PC and began exploring spreadsheets and Zip files.
Apple Macintosh

I moved on to a job back at my old university after this, and my first position came with a very old Apple Macintosh that slowly would grind through my daily tasks. When I was promoted to faculty level, I gained a new PC. My second promotion led me to work directly for the Pro-Vice Chancellor, where I got not only a desktop, but my first laptop and a palmtop, to allow my secretary to synch my meetings. The laptop weighed a ton and took about ten minutes to boot-up; the palmtop was great though and synched with my PC calendar - my first glimpse at how tech. could make things easier!

Working at the university meant lots and lots of free courses on offer plus the time given to do them. Not only did I complete a Post Graduate Diploma in Management whilst I was there, but I also took as many courses as I could in Word, Excel, Access, FrontPage - and in 1999, I made my first webpage and began getting my head around HTML (though I still haven't managed this well).

A year or so later, I returned to my hometown university to complete my teacher training certification - where my courses came in handy as the government required all trainees to take and pass an ICT literacy test. Yes, even at the start of this new millennium, teachers were required to have some competency in the use of ICT. I passed, thank goodness, and twelve years later, I teach using technology everyday, I build websites as par for the course and my lessons are all online, I am even completing a Masters in Education and Integrating Technology. I am not a digital native however, as I am still awed by technology and whilst I feel more and more comfortable with it, I am not always at home with it.
Split Screen Chrome Extension

For example, I am completing my M.Ed via distance and online learning - an amazing positive of the power of technology. I am able to talk to my classmates who are scattered around the globe AND access the UMUC databases to find the journals I need for my research. No more all-nighters at the library under a pile of dusty periodicals. However, despite having been using technology for a great many years, I still struggle to read and take notes on screen. I struggle equally with effectively marking on-screen, and still find it much easier to print out work and use a pen to make suggestions. Hence - I am truly still a digital immigrant.

I recently found something that might help with these issues that I know are common, and will certainly be a useful tool for natives and immigrants alike.

Split Screen is a free extension from the Google Chrome Store. Once installed - for free - it allows users to easily split their browser screen into two. One side can be something you are reading (simply type in the URL), while the other side is a note-making tool, see below. Alternatively, you can have two URLS open side by side for direct comparison.
Split Screen - one side for notes, one side for reading

Change the orientation
of the split
If you prefere to change the layout, users can click on the blue arrows in the top right (see image right) and change the orientation of the screen so it is split horizontally rather than vertically.

For those of us making the transition to reading and making notes online, or even for those of us who find flicking between a document and a website disorienting, frustrating and time-consuming, I think Split Screen might be worth a try.

Split Screen - horizontal split

08 December 2013

Supporting Struggling Writers with Read&Write for Google

In today's learning environments, we teach a huge range of diverse learners with greatly differing needs. 

Those fortunate to be in 1:1 or BYOD environments can take advantage of the many software apps and extensions, such as personalised playlists (Sophia.org) that exist to act as additional support for those who need it - technological teaching assistants! 

One app I have recently been exploring is the Read&Write for Google extension.

Read&Write for Google is a free* Google Chrome Web App that increases accessibility for struggling readers and writers, and can help offer assistance to EAL learners.

Read&Write for Google Tool Bar
Simply visit the Chrome Store and install, and a tab will appear
- on Google Docs

- on web sites
- it will also work with KES, PDF and ePub files.

Full features include text-to-speech, dictionary, fact finder, highlighting, word prediction, and Read Aloud with dual colour highlighting.

This video explains more or read the support document here and here.

* Access to Read&Write for Google is free for 30 days. Limited access is available for free after this time, but premium features require payment.

07 December 2013

Personlised Learning Playlists

My recent explorations led me to complete two courses on Sophia.org. Whilst doing so, I discovered 'Playlists'.
Sophia.org Playlists
Playlists are a collection of tutorials chosen to allow learners to pick and chose a learning path that best suits their particular needs. For example, if I wanted to teach Story Writing, I could create a playlist with tutorials covering story-mapping techniques, the stages of story-telling,  effective openers, and satisfactory endings. These may constititute the basics that all learners would need to know.

However, as is evident in any classroom today, the needs of the population are diverse. I know I would need to include some tutorials on basic writing techniques too - such as using correct sentence punctuation, maintaining tense and narrative perspective, how to accurately use speech marks, and using strong verbs.

Story Writing Playlist Sophia.org
I would also want some tutorials to push some of my more accomplished writers, such as effective opening, satisfactory resolutions and non-linear narratives, for example.

A playlist created on Sophia would allow me to include tutorial videos on all these aspects of story writing. Learners can then be instructed on which are MUST views, and which are MAY views. Learners can pick and choose the ones they need to progress, creating personlised learning pathways easily and quickly.

Register with Sophia.org to start creating personlised learning pathways easily - and for free. You don't need to be tech-savvy, as Sophia.org offers many tutorials already uploaded and these can be added to a playlist with a simple click. You can however upload and add your own videos if you want, and create a combination of your own and ready-made tutorials - some of which have been peer reviewed and endorsed. You choose how to share the playlist and being online, learners can access the playlist videos as and when they need to - meaning your playlists can be used to flip your classroom too!

Go to Sophia.org to learn more about creating playlists and start flipping personalising your lessons! Read my post on supporting struggling writes or EAL learners with Read&Write for Google.