Online Classroom: Edline

Edline Hompage Pre-AP 11

The snapshot above is from the online space I use for a Pre-AP English class I teach at EIS. This site is an essential part of how I organize instructional materials and facilitate all of my classes at EIS. Although it is not available publicly, students and parents can access the site from home or phone. I have highlighted some of the aspects of the page that I like.

A. The left margin is all business. There are built-in links to other Edline pages for schools, classes, extra curriculars, etc. There are also links for accessing student information, taking attendance, and keeping grades.  Edline is a gateway technology for many teachers.  Once they realize the benefits of having an online space, I can get them to explore other web tools. One of the most popular extensions has been from Edline’s MyContent to GoogleDocs, which makes their documents revisable and transferable.

B. Images are always nice. The image above depicts a scene from Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye. It is from this site.

C. I like to list some of the essential questions for a unit in the center of the page. The questions are a good reminder for students and for me that the work of understanding literature and rhetoric is really a means to develop our worldviews.

D. At the very least, a class website should provide a calendar to help students manage their responsibilities. The really important part about the Edline calendar is that it is synced with calendars for other classes. Each student can see one calendar with input from all of their classes. Teachers can also see if their assessments are overlapping. (A similar scenario could be achieved using GoogleDocs.)

E. The top part of the right margin is where I publish files for assignments, readings, and rubrics. I use GoogleDocs instead of .doc so that students can download the files and edit them to take notes or complete assignments on their computers. I have also started using GoogleForms for in class assignments and personal reflections. While I usually get frustrated that Edline is not open to the public, the fact that it is privet allows me to upload things like AP practice tests and other materials without violating copyrights.

F. This class website is just the starting point for my classes. It is designed more for facilitation than instruction.  The links section is the outlet to the web 2.0 tools, like Ning and Twitter, that really get students inquiring and innovating in authentic ways.

Discovering Prezi

In preparation for an interview, I was asked to create a lesson plan on Yala Korwin’s poem “The Little Boy with His Hands Up.” I thought it would be a good chance to try a Prezi.

Click here to see what I made.

I’ve been thinking a lot about technology at school and how it’s used. For a lot of classes, technology is a projector, a SmartBoard and an online calendar. While these tools are useful, they don’t change the way that students think and learn on their own. The value in technology is really in how we choose to use tools to build on the essential goals of the course;

  • One of my goals is to give students models for thinking and communicating. For the prezi I made today, I wanted to model the dens of thought that should emerge while reading of a poem. Even though I only selected a few questions and references, the prezi shows how words and images from the poem trigger connections to other knowledge. I also wanted to model different levels of questioning.
  • Another one of my goals is that students learn strategies to approach new and difficult texts. For this particular prezi, it is essential that 8th grade students have read the poem and thought about the image for themselves first. The prezi is not organized as an introduction to the poem, but as a guide for a more critical third or forth reading. If they only looked at the prezi, their experience with the poem would be limited and borrowed.
  • I also want students to be part of the course narrative. This prezi depends on me to judge the students’ understanding and facilitate a discussion at the same time. I designed the path as a suggestion for the course of discussion, but one of the reasons that I like prezi is that I can abandon the path if I need to respond to discussion. I also like that I can add student insights to the endless canvas on my laptop, hit refresh on the SmartBoard, and the prezi is a living document. Their insights become part of the instruction.

Blogging for Students

This week I learned that it is much easier to blog in a place that I know students are using, than it is to blog here for “you.”

As a writing teacher, I try to keep students thinking about their audience. As a writer, audience is what makes writing an agonizing process for me. I am the kind of writer that will rewrite a birthday card several times and then not send it. I am the kind of writer that drafts an email about something positive a student did in class 3 hours before sending it. Writing has almost always been this way for me. Publishing for an unknown audience is something that I understand the importance of, but I struggle to do.

This week I started blogging for students about our class and about reading The Catcher in the Rye. It’s easy. It’s fun. I get to tell them what I don’t have time to tell them in class.

Platinados

It may be  important to go into a conference with a lot of questions and some objections, but it is equally important to realize that anything can happen.

I did not find the snapshot of my life and career in 10 years that I was looking for, but I was challenged and encouraged in ways that I could not have expected.

I learned that a lot of schools struggle with curriculum because of high teacher and administrater turnover.  This was an important thing for me to know, because while I understand that curriculum is a living document, I’ve felt like it was my responsibility to engender one. Instead, I realize that the most valuable thing that I can accomplish as an individual teacher (and with the individual teachers in my department)  is something like a reflective curriculum map. So even though we are starting late, next year’s teachers will know what we did when, why, how and with what resources.

After curriculum, my focus at the conference was technology. I learned that some schools have computer labs and media specialists. How exciting for them! How can a school make technology a part of curriculum, if we rely almost exclusively on students’ access to personal technology?  Students are not required to take a course in technology, and we assume that they know how to create a one inch margin when we require that for a document uploaded to a wiki. (This goes back to the curriculum problem.)

We talked about all kinds of Web 2.0 tools. I still don’t have a favorite, and there are new ones all the time. I think part of my genius as a teacher is to read about and visualize how to incorporate these tools (2.0 consulting), my ungeniusis seeing these tools from the perspective of my untrained but savvy students. How much do they know? What is the best way to write or give instructions?

Now it is my turn to create a presentation on integrating technology for colleagues and other Honduran teachers at the T3 conference next week. Time to learn about teaching by teaching.  Although this is something I was expecting, I feel (as I often do about education) like there are so many variables to consider and no best way to sort through them. Of course I would reject the notion that their is one right way, but I do want to want to present something useful.

“Platinados” is the word used by people in the Dominican Republic that means locals. I don’t feel like a local in the Dominican Republic, but the conference did make me feel like a local in education. This conference showed me that the things that I read, think about, question and anticipate in education are the same things that were highlighted at a conference called “Preparing for the Future.” Despite the fact that I’m in a less developed country, I am preparing students for the more developed countries where they will study.

I am lucky to have the friends, mentors and colleagues who constantly feed articles, questions and observations  into my curiosities.

A Retreat in Santo Domingo

I have been to several educational conferences: A conference on teaching about the Holocaust showed me how to teach literature as primary source. An AP English institute reminded me to be bold and send emails to the people who write ‘the books.’ It also taught me how teachers share. A conference I helped plan for the Association for Experiential Education helped me realize the beauty and complexity in bringing educators together.

This week I am attending the Tri-Association conference for teachers at international schools in Central America, the Caribbean and Colombia.

I’m looking forward to meeting teachers and comparing experiences. I have a million questions about literacy, ESL, curriculum, technology and transitions. My plan is to do a lot of listening. I’m looking for things that will make me a more effective teacher now, but I am also trying to picture what I am going to do next as a teacher and where I want to do it.

Boxed In

The curfew is over, but now I’m feeling a little boxed in by curriculum questions and my new responsibilities as a department chair.

In my first year of teaching, I loved having the freedom to teach how and what I wanted to. I spent time exploring great books with students. I listened to them, encouraged them, provoked them. I enjoyed facilitating discussions and writing that was organic, of rather than for the students. Even though I did not sleep very much, I looked forward to class encounters and I hope students did too.

I have bits of tangible evidence that show that students learned and grew from the beginning to the end of the year, but I do not have a document stating which standards were met, when, to what extent, or in which ways. Some people think this sort of document is important…ok, a lot of people in the world of standardized testing and in the world of education I studied as a pre-service teacher think it’s important. I’ve never been a person who looks around for standards and benchmarks, but I understand them. I also understand accountability in education and the service that teachers provide students (and society) by having standards.

This year, the high school I work for has decided to adopt some standards and benchmarks for English. So far it seems like they are moving from  “reading and writing” to “reading and writing with a plan.” As a new teacher, it’s still great to have the freedom to explore and listen. As a department chair, democratic citizen, and realist, it is hard to comprehend a school that does not have clear standards.

The result of 50 years of  high teacher-turnover, hiring new teachers and a  consistent lack of accountability is students who struggle to work within 8 new sets of reading and writing expectations every year of school. If intelligent students can graduate from our school with the communication skills of a 6th grader, the school needs to take responsibility and change.

I was excited when the administration announced that curriculum alignment was a school-wide goal this year. In my naivete, I imagined meetings and conversations about which skills, materials, etc. were appropriate for each grade level. At the very least, I thought the school would use the “copy paste” method from another international school or from a US state (since students receive a US diploma).

Of course, there is no time for meetings and no one was assigned to the task of searching for a curriculum to adopt. Of course (again), aligning curriculum is a huge task that could be a full-time job.

I know that I’m not qualified to develop or choose a set of standards for English at any school (especially not a bilingual school). I do enjoy the research and the email conversations I’ve had on this topic. However, I hope to achieve more than a personal interest in curriculum by the end of the year. Even though I won’t be at this school next year, I would like to leave something for a new teacher to start with. (Some new teachers prefer standards to a blank slate.) I would like to leave the school with something more than another “restart” button.  At the same time, sadly, I find myself wondering if “restart” is part of the nature of international schools.

Last week I had to confront the goals of curriculum alignment and  improving student writing. “Kimberly, can the English department provide a writing rubric for teachers to use in all subject areas?” My thought bubble in that moment said, “Nope.” My mouth said, “I’ll try.”

For better or worse, the first thing I did was read the EC Ning discussion of Maja Wilson’s book Rethinking Rubrics. I’ve been meaning to read the discussion for a while, but it only confirmed that a standard rubric for all writing in a school is impossible. Furthermore, it confirmed that high school writers are in a complex rhetorical situation.

After much reading and much thought, I decided that I had a choice between something like a traits of writing rubric and something more holistic. A traits of writing rubric would give teachers the option of emphasizing certain areas of composition that pertain to their discipline or to a particular assignment. It would give students a more clear (though not perfect) picture of the different components of their writing. A holistic rubric would take some of the I-am-not-an-English-teacher pressure off and give teachers more flexibility to assign grades that show students whether or not they met the standards of a specific assignment, though maybe not whether they met writing standards. A holistic rubric might mystify students a bit more than a traits of writing rubric.

After talking to as many teachers as possible, I decided that the least-impossible rubric would be something holistic. I looked at holistic rubrics for personal narratives, short stories, research, and analytical writing. Still feeling defeated, I laughed at the criteria that stated “has a plot.” Imagine a plot in a chemistry lab.

Surprisingly, the AP Literature rubric was the most popular. I sent out the link to Dawn Hogue’s AP Scoring Model, because it is not specific to a particular AP essay. Teachers from all subjects liked “responds fully to the question asked,” “support their points with appropriate textual evidence and examples,” and “writing need not be without flaws.” Administrators liked the attention to style and elements of effective writing. (I wonder what AP Literature students would think if they saw this rubric in their philosophy class or chemistry?)

I was initially confused that teachers saw this as a useful rubric for writing in their subject areas, when it is meant for timed writing. It does not recognize the need for revision or audience. Now it is also obvious that a major problem with this rubric is that we haven’t defined “elements of effective writing” for bilingual students in our current system.

The school needs a writing handbook before it can rely exclusively on any rubric.

Students’ right to education in Honduras

For the last two days, schools in all of Honduras have been closed. People have been asked to stay in their homes until there is some political resolution. Although the curfew has been lifted, things are still unstable. Our school is closed until Monday. The ‘Crisis Politica’ has been a disappointment for many reasons.

Janelle and Ruth are two of these reasons. The curfew interfered with the presentations they prepared for AP Literature.

At the beginning of the term, I gave students topics that seemed random to them at the time but apply to texts that we deal with later on: intellectual freedom, plagiarism in colleges, human geography of Italy in 1300, socialism in 1950, Jim Crow Laws, etc. They meet with me two weeks before their presentation to get resources and suggestions. They meet with me again one week before their presentation to tweak and blend their work into the course.

This week Janelle and Ruth were scheduled to present on Old and Middle English (kennings, boasts, forms) and Canterbury Cathedral. This is the beginning of Chaucer. They were prepared and excited to share what they discovered. When school was canceled on Tuesday, I got an email from Janelle: “Ms. I was so ready for today. I didn’t tell you, but I found this recording of some old guy reading Beowulf. Sounds so bad.” When the curfew extended to Wednesday, I got an email from Ruth with no message, just a “:(” and one attachment. The attachment was a map of the Canterbury Cathedral with a class picture from our Ning representing all of us locked inside. I had to laugh.

While I have been literally locked inside my apartment, I have been wondering if there is a solution for Honduras and if I have a future here as a US citizen and teacher at an international school. These student emails made me realize how much I love my job. Just like Ruth and Janelle, I am sad that I don’t get to teach this week. I’m lucky enough to be as ready for and excited about teaching all of my classes as they are about Chaucer. Despite everything that’s going on, I would rather be at school with them than pondering and watching UN speeches all day.

I have three (hopefully not more) days to continue thinking about students’ (and teachers’) right to education. I can’t fathom how a struggling government in a struggling country can close schools and shut down commerce. Honduras cannot wait two months (until the election) to go back to school or even to begin hope for some stability that makes attendance at school feasible for all students.

Not only do we need to get back to school to read Chaucer, we need to get back to school because it is the one thing that gives students in Honduras autonomy from their parents messy lives and the opportunity to leave. While it is important to have educated people here, they have to go abroad to become educated further. Whether or not they return is an entirely different blog post. While Janelle, Ruth and I are eager for school to resume, college essays are filling up my inbox. Other students are using their time at home to assert their right to an education looking forward, by discussing 1984 on our class Ning and getting caught up with other school assignments.

Rethinking Technology

After a year of using Ning with AP students last year, for an AP project this summer, and for managing our Department activity, Ning is now blocked at school. I’m fighting for it to be unblocked, but I also admit I haven’t completely measured the risks and benefits. The most important thing is that it is intuitive for students. They can ‘figure it out’ so they are fluent in their online interactions and writing.

Administration is cutting costs by limiting photocopying, so students are to print out all materials at home and bring them to class. (There goes last-minute planning and the element of surprise.) All materials have to be posted on Edline (user unfriendly school site). I was hoping to just post a link to a wiki I prepared for this year, but that is a no go. Although google documents make it easier, I don’t think I can manage both sites. I’ll still use the wiki for students to upload and share work. I also started  a mini writing center on the same wiki, but I probably need to rethink that.

I have no regrets about jumping in with Ning and with a wiki. Navigating the IT and admistrative aspects of technology in and for classrooms will hopefully prepare me for future attempts.

Powerful Wednesday

I have a love – hate relationship with the week before school starts. Sure, I have an impossibly long list of things I’d like to do before students arrive on Monday.  Sometimes PD makes my head hurt. Some important tools and information are still “missing.” But it is the only time when all of the teachers are together. We share our ideals, our philosophies, our challenges. What is unknown about the year is a source of our unique excitement. Learning from teachers is power.

This morning the AP Spanish teacher, who has been teaching at our school for 30 years, asked me to help her create an account on turnitin.com.  After the morning’s PD, we met in the computer lab for what I thought would be a brief signing up and signing in. I must have forgotten that I was in Honduras, because, before we even turned on a computer, we spent 20 minutes sharing thoughts on last year’s AP scores, updates from college-bound students, goals for our respective AP classes this year.  I realized that we really only knew each other through students’ in our own classes: “Ms. Escobar told us that romanticismo was 100 years later in Spanish literature.”  “We already read a Borges story in AP Lit.” Learning from students is power.

At some point we created a TurnItIn account, and  I forgot about my ‘para hacer’ list. An hour and a half later we were leaving the lab, and I thanked my AP Spanish counterpart for inviting me to the computer lab to help her. She isn’t afraid to try new things, to share her convictions, to admit her faults. Somehow our time together today closed gaps (real or imagined) between experienced and new teachers, local and foreign teachers, English and Spanish teachers. Communication is power.

At the end of the day, I was going to do yoga in one of my colleague’s classrooms. Instead learned that we lost another student to kidnapping, so we cried and questioned. Support and fear are power.

Tonight  Hondurans all over the world are celebrating a soccer victory over Costa Rica. Soccer is one thing that everyone can agree on. Soccer is power.

Finally, a member of my English Ed cohort posted a suggestion to the rest of us on Facebook: Let’s take on a hearty enjoyment of life and care a great deal about many things. We can teach anything we care a great deal about. Small things that reconnect and revitalize us are power.

“A New Ecology” anew

When I started this blog, I thought I wanted to tell stories about everything from forgetting my classroom keys to scuba diving. But by the time I was finished writing a story, I was never sure exactly why I was telling it.  And I always wondered how students would feel if they learned my thoughts on our class or their city this way. 16 unpublished posts from November and December.

This week I’ve been working on a wiki for my classes and a ning for my department. When I remembered this blog, I remembered that I wasn’t the only one who created this blog. We started it for me to use, because “teachers have to use the tools that they want use in their classrooms.” I am going to ask more students to publish their writing this year. While I will always be sensitive to their reluctance, as a blogger anew, I will also be better at helping them through the writing process.

I haven’t posted anything on this blog for almost a year. It is too late to go back and relate my first year of teaching and living in Honduras. (I’m sure that floods, power outages, violence, nepotism, earthquakes, abstinence only education, team dinners, kittens, futbol and political unrest aren’t very interesting anyway…) I’m going to start up from where I am now: more familiar with technology, more confident about what I have to say about teaching and learning to teach, more excited to build relationships that only technology can facilitate.