Sunday, September 14, 2014

Google Sites and PLCs

The Problem 

This year, I'm facing an important problem. Many of the teachers in our department know what PLCs (professional learning communities) are all about, but I'm not convinced that they have a clear vision. I'm not convinced that they know what it's supposed to look like. Perhaps I am being impatient, but let's act like I'm not.

In our district, the problem of collaboration is supported by Google Apps for Education. This means teachers can make folders for PLCs and work on documents simultaneously. Not many, however, have realized the power of using Google Sites to merge the curriculum objectives with the material.

Google Sites 

This year, I'm not scheduled with a particular PLC, so I'm working with the 9th grade teachers because they meet during one of my conference periods. This also helps move forward with my plan to strengthen our department, which starts in the 8th and 9th grades. Additionally, since my time is limited with them, I made a Google Site to demonstrate what it looks like when the district curriculum is merged with instructional resources.

Home Page (click or touch for site)
The first image shows a general homepage with access to two of the most important resources the students will need in 9th grade: vocabulary and current events. The second is an example of a lesson page with student-friendly directions, guiding questions, and resources such as videos, website links, images, and worksheets and other advance organizers.

The underlying goal of this site is to provide teachers with a resource that's usable so they can dedicate more of their time to making assessments and providing feedback, the most important elements of the instructional process that too often take a backseat.
Lesson Example

Getting Started

  1. It starts with the standards. 
  2. Once the standards for a unit are identified, it's often easier to teach and assess if questions based on the standards are formulated. This makes assessment design more effective.
  3. Make assessments for each standard and identify the standards that will be assessed on the unit exam. If there are too many standards on the unit exam, now is a good time to break the unit into parts one and two. This is one of the reasons we start with standards and assessment. 
  4. Next, the resources that will support the learning required to achieve mastery of the standards are found and organized. We do this on Google Drive both at our district and campus levels.
  5. Lastly, the resources are organized on Google Sites, which can be shared via link with the students and directly with the PLC members by sharing editing permissions for the site.
This was a little bit about how I'm responding to an important problem. Part of my motivation to solve this problem comes from a difference in opinion about how to provide professional development on the elements of an effective PLC. My way is heavy on application, learning by doing. Others seem to think that a book study will solve the problem, yet another group thinks it takes a long time.

We don't have long time. If I take three years to teach, I won't be teaching the same teachers anymore. Turnaround is an issue. Book studies are helpful, but we have to follow through and apply what we learn in a way that demonstrates progress.

Thank you Google for Sites and Drive.    

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

6 Literacy Activities that Work

Literacy is perhaps one of the most important skill sets students need regardless of their post-secondary pursuits. Here's six reading and writing strategies that I like to use. Some of them are used more than others, depending on the needs of my students.

1. SCANS

One of the more overlooked skills is skimming through a text. Even if the goal is to do a close read, it's still helpful to teach students a few steps to develop a technique. They scan and skim when they browse the Internet, so all you're doing is providing is some guidiance to the process and challenging them to practice on documents (starting with print is recommended). This is especially useful with non-fiction and general research. An extension activity could include something on website evaluation.

2. Question-Answer Relationship

This is about a process that we go through when we read. The activity challenges students to write out their thought process through an organization that matches the unpacking of inquiry when we read and think. If there's one thing classrooms need more of, it's metacognitive activities, thinking about thinking. 

3. One-Sentence Summary

The benefit of this activity is that it provides students the opportunity to practice writing strong sentences by condensing their ideas. It's often the limits on creativity that help develop it further. Essentially, this is microblogging, so let's have a conversation with our students about writing quality Twitter (and other social media) posts and how it relates to writing quality sentences. Word choice is everything, here. The photo to the right shows a wall in our classroom that is dedicated to anonymous summary responses. To add some evaluation, I have students mark a few responses with a plus or delta symbol (like or change). We can easily see if certain responses are more liked or need to be changed, which models for students the importance of prioritizing time by identifying the most popular or troubling areas. 

4. First Lines

Making predictions is one of the best components to a learning activity. First lines challenges learners to make predictions as to what a paragraph is about after reading only the first sentence. This activity helps learners become more engaged readers while practicing identifying main ideas. It also transfers well into writing more effective topic sentences. An extension activity could be to have students rewrite the first line after they confirm the accuracy of their predictions. Great stuff for ELLs, including English as a primary language speakers. After all, when English is used in the classroom, we are all ELLs.

5. Truth Statements

Introducing or reviewing topics can be more engaging when students write a few truth statements. The stem for these is something like, "It is true that ... " This activity can be shared out on sticky notes to a board with a confidence scale (1 to 4) to add some reflection to the process. This helps students develop their self-assessment and self-evaluation skills, which are critical to effective writing. I usually do this one after a brain dump, done individually, so students have some of their own facts to formulate statements. If you start a topic with the truth statements, have the students reflect on the accuracy of their statements to bring closure to the lesson.

6. What? How? Why? Outline 

Sometimes we call these journalist questions. When my students ask me what I'm looking for in a short response, I suggest answering these three questions as specifically and focused as possible. If the question is about what factors made assembly lines possible in the automobile industry, students should focus by choosing one factor, like interchangeable parts, to comment on instead of listing all the factors. This sets them up to tell how production employs interchangeable parts before finishing with why this factor is so critical to the success of the assembly line. There's nothing wrong with a three-sentence paragraph if they're good sentences. Students also need to learn that it's better to focus on one part really well than to try to get it all in and confuse the reader.

Thank you for reading. A second part with more challenging literacy activities will be posted next month. Please comment with ways you think these activities, or others, can be used to support our learners.