Saturday, September 30, 2017

Empowering Students with Peer-Designed Lessons

Image Credit: Ulrich Wechselberger / Public Domain

Traditionally, teachers have always determined the pace and format of all their lessons. What if we shake things up a bit in our classrooms and give students more control over how they learned instead? What if we put students in the driver’s seat of learning, let them design their own lessons and allow them to be teachers for the day?

Relinquishing control of one’s classroom may seem a bit scary or chaotic, but it doesn’t have to be that way if we provide the guidance and structure students need. Below are the steps I took to ensure my students were designing meaningful lessons for their peers. I allowed students the option of working alone or in groups of their own choosing.

Teaching Specific Skills and Content
Narrow down the standards, skills, or content that the lesson must address. This helps students determine the focus of their lesson. For example, in my language arts class, all groups were challenged with teaching a chapter of a novel we were reading. Each lesson must address a literary element present in the chapter, and students were to choose from this list: characterization, conflict, theme, figurative language (symbolism, metaphor, simile, or hyperbole), setting or mood.

Instructional Materials
Students had to design the instructional material for their lesson. They could create handouts or use presentation software like Google Slides to fulfill this requirement.

I asked my students these questions: What will your peers do to show that they have learned the content you taught? How will you evaluate each student individually and collect data on their learning? I really enjoyed the different approaches my students took to create their assessments. Many used Kahoot, a web-based gaming platform that tapped into their peers’ competitive spirits as they tried to best each other. Using this digital tool, lesson designers developed their own questions and determined the answers. Kahoot will reward players with points based on two criteria: the correct answer and student response time. Other lesson designers had students write their responses on Google Slides, Google Forms, or Google Docs. Others created Jeopardy games and tempted students with candy to encourage participation. (Check out this great Jeopardy template from Eric Curts’ blog.) Some students opted for a non-digital route and passed out handouts or had classmates answer questions on a sheet of paper. I let my students determine the method they preferred.

Conference with Students
Before teaching their lesson, I met with each group to make sure their lessons were meaningful. I also checked for errors and questioned them on their workflow. For example, one group created a template in Google Docs for their assessment. Their plan was to have each student make a copy of the template, but they didn’t think about how they were going to collect these individual copies. I suggested they use a Google Form to collect the links to the individual files. I also pointed out that if the assignment asked students to write a short response, then using Google Form where all the answers would be populated into one spreadsheet is more efficient than collecting over 35 individual files.

The Day of the Lesson
To ensure that all lessons were focused and productive, each group had to teach a concept or skill and give an assessment in approximately 15 minutes. This helps keep the lessons interesting and the students engaged. The peer teachers were addressed as “Mr.” or “Ms.” which everyone found extremely amusing. During the lesson, students also enjoyed having command of the classroom and would gleefully direct peers who were off-task to pay attention.

Peer Assessment
After all lessons were taught, each group met to assess the data they collected from their peers. They had to determine a method for assigning grades, and I loved the discussions that arose over how to do this fairly. Each group would report a score for each student in the class. Then, I averaged the scores each person received from all the lessons that were taught and used that as a participation grade.

Not only did the students assess their peers for their participation in the lesson, they were also asked to evaluate their peer teachers and to nominate those who gave great lessons. In turn, they also evaluated their own teaching practice by answering the following questions:

1. What skills did you teach your peers?
2. How effective was your lesson? How do you know?
3. What can you do to improve your lesson?

The responses to this project were overwhelmingly positive. My students truly enjoyed this activity, and countless students commented on how challenging it was to be a great teacher. One of my favorite responses came from a student who wrote, “I learned that it is not easy to be a teacher. It takes time and dedication to actually learn to teach properly.” Also, quite a few came to the conclusion that “being a lesson designer and presenter is harder than it looks.” Many also shared that creating a lesson forced them to learn the material better because they were responsible for becoming experts on their chapter.

Empowering Our Students
By giving students voice and choice, we are cultivating our students’ investment in their own learning. This project also fosters many college and career-ready skills such as decision-making, project management, analysis, collaboration, communication and metacognition. Not only did I enjoy seeing my students bring new energy into our classroom environment, but they had a blast, too.

Let’s empower students by giving them more control over their own learning in the classroom. The end result might surprise you as much as it did me.

Originally published on KQED's "In the Classroom" blog. Reproduced courtesy of KQED.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

8 Ways for Students to Reflect on Their Learning

How do we know our students are truly learning? Teachers often use tests and essays to gauge student achievement. And although these methods are useful ways to measure student performance, they place most of the responsibility of analysis on the teacher. What if students were also involved in actively analyzing their mastery?

In my classroom, student reflection is regularly woven into each unit of study throughout the year. Below are eight ways I’ve found to encourage and promote this very important cognitive skill.

1. Blogging
All my student have their own blog, and in addition to writing on topics of their choosing, I often also ask them to write about what they’ve learned from  a lesson I’ve taught. My prompt usually includes variations of the following questions: After studying this unit, what conclusions can you draw? What do you think of the ideas and skills we covered during our lesson? What do you think about what you learned? Did you find these lessons meaningful or valuable? Why or why not? To learn more about incorporating student blogs into your teaching, check out my post “How to Inspire a New Generation of Writers Through Blogging.”

2. Websites
All my students also have their own website, which is  a great way to showcase the projects they’ve worked on in my class. For each assignment they add to their site, I ask them to write a short paragraph of explanation and reflection. Because I teach in a G Suite for Education district, my students use Google Sites, but there are also many beautiful website builders like Wix and Weebly that students might find equally easy to use.

3. Padlet
I love Padlet, a virtual bulletin board where students can share ideas and crowdsource information. If building a website seems a bit daunting, then Padlet is a great alternative — it’s very easy to use. Students can post their projects on a Padlet and reflect on what they’ve learned.

4. Google Slides
Google Slides is not just a tool for creating presentations, it can also be used as a digital book. Think of each slide as a page in a book, and you get the idea. Students can upload or import each assignment into a separate slide, and write a short explanation for each one. With lots of fonts, colors and layouts to choose from, a reflective paragraph never looked so pretty.

5. Google Forms
What better way to keep things quick and simple than by collecting reflective responses in a Google Form? I love that Google Forms populates all responses into one spreadsheet. No need to click on 175 different files to read 175 paragraphs. You can also use the same form throughout the year to have students reflect on different assignments, since all responses are timestamped. Below is an example of a form I use in my class for this purpose.

6. Google Classroom
When I want my students to write a short paragraph, I often turn to Google Classroom. Using its “Create Question” feature, I can quickly ask my students a reflective question, and they can post their replies. I can also decide if I want their answers to be viewable by only me, or if I want them to read and respond to each other’s ideas. What better way to promote reflection than to have students interact and evaluate each other’s responses?

7. Screencasts
Not only is screencasting a fantastic tool for reflection, it promotes fluency skills as well. Students can open a digital assignment on their computer and record themselves talking about what they’ve learned from the lesson as they show the project on their screen. Some popular screencasting tools include Screencastify, QuickTime, Explain Everything and PowerPoint 2016. This list includes both free and paid software. Some are Web-based or specific to Mac, iOS or Windows platforms.

8. Student-Designed Assessments
Since last year, I have given my students the option of designing their own assessments. I first ask them to consider what skills and content they learned from a particular unit. For example, after reading Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” and Dolores Huerta’s “Proclamation of the Delano Grape Workers for International Boycott Day,” I asked them to reflect (in small groups) on their takeaways from the lesson. They replied: “We learned many rhetorical strategies and how they help make a speech powerful and convincing.” They also realized that “words are as powerful as actions,” and “problems can also be solved without violence.” After pinpointing the goals of the lesson, we craft a rubric together to identify the criteria that will be used to evaluate their assessment. Students have fun working on this project, and I love seeing their creativity.

A Reflective Classroom
As a teacher, I want my students to become independent learners and critical thinkers. I truly believe that in order to learn, one has to be reflective. If you have found ways to encourage reflection in your students, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Originally published on KQED's "In the Classroom" blog. Reproduced courtesy of KQED.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Pure Magic - How docAppender Can Save You Time!

docAppender is a Google Forms Add-on that takes information gathered in a Google Form and adds it to an existing Google Doc.

Here are a few ideas on how to use this fantastic tool:
  • Feedback on student work (You can insert a rubric and include comments. Great for teacher AND peer feedback.)
  • Reading check-ins (Students fill out a form on what they're reading and what they think of their book.)
  • Record student achievements, behavior, and progress
  • Collect teacher input before a scheduled IEP meeting
  • Document teacher observations

Do you have a different idea on how to use docAppender? Please share it in the comments below!

Resources to Get You Started
1. Want a copy of a feedback form? Click here and select "USE TEMPLATE."

2. To get a copy of my quick guide, click here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Real News, Fake News or Opinion? Teaching Our Students to Discern the Difference

Image Credit: Matylda Czarnecka / CC BY-SA 2.0 

It used to be so easy to distinguish between truth and fiction. In previous years, I would focus on just teaching my students the difference between fact and opinion. Now the Internet has become a murky river of information, and buzzwords like “fake news” and “alternative facts” have become real concerns of an educated society. How do we teach our students to discern all these differences in this post-truth era?

Below are some ideas, lessons, and resources to use in the classroom. You'll want to adapt them to suit your needs or cater them to meet the ability level of your students.

Question the Publisher
Many students use search engines to look up information, and they often click on the first link at the top of the page. Very rarely do they stop and look at the URL before launching the website. They usually assume that if the information exists, then it must be true. Each of my students has his or her own blog in my class, and I use this as an example of how easy it is for anyone to publish their content on the Internet. I train my students to question the reliability of the publisher first before using the information from a website.

Credibility Rationale
When my students come across a website that they think they might want to use, they are instructed to read the “About Us” page. Sometimes students have trouble locating this information because the page might be named differently. It is helpful to let them know that it may be called “Our Company,” “Our Story” or some variation of this wording. Sometimes a website is published by the subsidiary of a parent company, and they will have to visit the parent company’s website to find out more information. If the publisher’s background is unknown or if the webpage is written by an author without a biography linked to it, my students are not allowed to use it as a source.

After identifying the publisher, students must then justify their choice by explaining why they think they have found a credible source. I call this the “credibility rationale,” and they must write a paragraph explaining their choice. I created a Google doc to help my students through this process, and the link to this file can be found here. Feel free to make a copy of it and customize it for your class.

Taking It a Step Further
The above lesson idea is a great first step to introducing the concept of evaluating a website for its credibility. To take it a step further, I recommend two excellent resources when gathering research material.
  1. Jim Kapoun's "Teaching undergrads WEB evaluation: A guide for library instruction" (published on the Princeton University Library’s website)
This resource has guiding questions that students can use to determine whether the source they found is credible. They are asked to examine each website for its accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency and coverage.
Robert Harris’s CARS Checklist has an easy-to-remember method for determining the legitimacy of published work. CARS stand for Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness and Support.

Google Advanced Search
Most students go straight to Google when searching for information. Though great when shopping for merchandise or other personal uses, it is not always the best method to use when conducting academic research. A great alternative is Google Advanced Search. It allows you to narrow down your search by omitting specific words or searching exact websites. For example, you can enter “.gov” or “.edu” in the box that asks for site or domain, and limit your search results to just government or university-owned websites.

Fake News or Real News
Sometimes we surf the Internet for information, but there are also times when information is delivered to us through social media or shared directly with us by our circle of acquaintance. In our digital world, where headlines can go viral rather quickly, our students are now also being exposed to unreliable information from the Internet. There have been many incidences where fake news now masquerade as real news, which can carry detrimental consequences. So what can we do as educators? Below are some lesson ideas and resources from various organizations that are tailored for the classroom.
  1. The News Literacy Project: Ten Questions For Fake News Detection

Fact or Opinion
In addition to discerning the credibility of websites, sometimes I find that my students have trouble understanding the difference between fact or opinion, even when reading a bona fide source. In my English language arts classroom, my students often quote from a text as evidence to support their claim. Though this is great for writing literary essays, this method doesn’t always work when writing an argument if the supporting evidence is gleaned from informational text. For example, I once overheard one student argue that “the quote is a fact because it’s in the article.” I realized that I had to quickly explain the difference between a statement of fact and a statement of opinion.

To help my students discriminate between fact and opinion, I like to use ReadWorks Digital, which provides thousands of non-fiction texts for the classroom and gives students the ability to annotate a text using the built-in highlighting and commenting tool. In addition, each text also comes with vocabulary support and comprehension questions.

To teach my lesson about fact vs. opinion, I first instruct my students, who are working in teams, to highlight all phrases that are factual. Second, I tell them to go back to their highlighted text and choose a different color to identify facts that are more specific, facts that contain a statistical data, or precise information like names or dates. Then, each team copies and pastes this information into a table in a Google doc that is shared with the class. This table has two columns: General Facts and Specific Facts. Next, each team is assigned to evaluate the answers of another team. They must determine if they believe the other team has correctly sorted the information under the right column. During this process, some teams will discover that another team has incorrectly identified a phrase or sentence as factual when it is actually an opinion. After sharing their feedback with each other, arguing over the answer, and defending their responses, each team walks away better able to tell the difference between fact and opinion.

When News Companies Publish Opinions
Another area students need help with is knowing the difference between a news story and an editorial. Often students are under the assumption that the job of all news companies is to report events. It’s important to point out that many news agencies have an opinion section as well. The New York Times Learning Network has a great lesson to teach this concept: News and ‘News Analysis': Navigating Fact and Opinion in The Times.

An Educated and Democratic Society
The advancement of technology has enabled us to search for almost anything we want, instantly. With information traveling at what seems to be supersonic speed, it is more important than ever to equip our students with the skills they need to make intelligent and fact-based decisions. They must thoroughly understand the difference between fact, fiction and opinion. How else can our students become informed citizens and critical thinkers in a democratic society?
Originally published on KQED's "In the Classroom" blog. Reproduced courtesy of KQED.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Pause Before Downloading: Rules and Resources for Reusing Digital Content in the Classroom

Duke Ellington Visit” by U.S. Department of Education / CC BY 2.0
Why can’t I use this picture?” This is a question my students often ask whenever they are looking for images on the Internet for projects they create in my class.

My response is always this: “If you go into a store and you see merchandise you like on the sales floor, can you take it without paying for it?”

In this era of digital media, where almost everything is searchable and downloadable, it’s easy to see why students, and even teachers, think that it’s perfectly fine to reuse another’s creator’s work. However, this is not always true.

Myths and Facts
Let’s look at some commonly held misperceptions of copyright law.

Myth No 1: You can always claim fair use.
Fact: Fair use isn’t a legislative right, it’s a legal defense you can use in a court of law. However, that doesn’t mean you will avoid legal repercussion simply by using this argument. To learn more, read Harvard University’s guide on copyright and fair use.

Myth No. 2: If it’s copyright protected, then you can’t use it.
Fact: The creator of the work owns the copyright. If you are able to obtain permission from the creator, then you can reproduce it.

Myth No. 3: It’s not copyright protected because it doesn’t say that it is.
Fact: It depends on when the work was originally created. Copyright laws have been amended a few times over the course of the 20th century, so you’ll have to check the work in question. However, as of March 1, 1989, all work is automatically copyright protected, and a copyright notice isn’t necessary for work to receive this protection. The United States Copyright Office explains this in more detail here.

Myth No. 4: As long as you cite the creator of the work, you don’t have to worry about copyright.
Fact: Citing work avoids plagiarism, but you can be in danger of copyright infringement. Check out this explanation from Duke University Libraries’ Web page for further clarification.

How can students incorporate media into their projects without violating copyright laws? Luckily, there are three options:
  1. Use creative work that is accompanied by a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons is an organization dedicated to helping creators share their work with the world. People who publish their work with a Creative Commons license are allowing others to reuse their work on their terms.
  2. Use work in the public domain. These creations are not subjected to copyright laws because either the copyright has expired or the creator has decided to give up his or her rights to the work. In the latter example, creators will declare this on their work.
  3. Create original work. Students are incredibly creative. Depending on their talents and inclinations, they can create hand-drawn illustrations, make their own computer graphics or take their own photographs. With the right digital tools, students can create their own original videos, music, images or audio.

Project Resources
I’ve gathered a few resources for students to use when incorporating media created by others. Don’t forget to tell students to verify the usage rights of all works before using them. In addition, keep in mind that when searching on the Internet, there is always the potential to come across inappropriate content. Before using any of the following search engines, check that it has been vetted by your school’s content filters. Also, tell your students to turn on SafeSearch — if it’s an option on the website.

  1. Creative Commons Search allows you to search for Creative Commons–licensed images, videos and music.
  2. Google Advanced Image Search allows you to filter your search, by image size, aspect ratio, color and more. The most important thing to remember is to scroll down to the end of the search fields and choose the correct “Usage rights” option.
  3. Pixabay is a website with many beautiful public domain images. Remember not to click on the sponsored links (those are not in the public domain), and you’ll find many great options.
  4. Photosforclass is fantastic for the classroom. All photos are all Creative Commons licensed, filtered for appropriate images and come with an automatic citation when you download a photo.
  5. Openclipart provides clipart that is all in the public domain
  6. Flickr This link will take you to Flickr’s search portal. You must click on “any license” to filter for the correct license.
  7. Wikipedia usually features work with Creative Commons license or those in the public domain.
  8. Pics4learning states on its homepage that it offers “a curated image library that is safe and free for education. Teachers and students can use the copyright-friendly photos and illustrations for classroom projects, websites, videos, portfolios or any other projects in an educational setting.”
  9. Foter has free stock photos. When choosing an image, users are guided through an attribution process that could be helpful for students.
  10. Library of Congress is the government’s website of online prints and photographs.

Giving Credit Attribution
As with textual research, giving credit is always something we should teach our students. However, most students are unsure how to cite images in their projects. Though MLA or APA citations are appropriate for academic papers, these look clumsy in a project or in published media. When providing attribution, include the name of the work (if known), the name of the creator and the usage rights. Also, include hyperlinks to the creator and the Creative Commons license in the citation. Here is an example of how to cite images with hyperlinks: “Beach” by Sean MacEntee / CC BY 2.0. To download an infocard to show students how to include credit attribution, click here.

Time to Get Students Creating
In the 21st century, understanding how to properly use digital content is an essential skill. Following copyright laws isn’t difficult if students follow guidelines and use the right resources. Isn’t it time we showed them how?

Originally published on KQED's "In the Classroom" blog. Reproduced courtesy of KQED.