Thursday, July 2, 2015

15 Ways to Use Verso App

My first impression of Verso was that it would be a great way to introduce a lesson cycle. But as my students and I worked with the app, I realized that it can do so much more.


Here's a list of activities that support building authentic literacy skills. But first, a quick note on establishing expectations for responses and comments.


1. Visual Analysis

Analyzing images is a critical skill. It exercises a learner's ability to make observations and connect new information to prior knowledge. 

Provide a link to an image in Google Drive or Images and prompt learners to describe what they see and to explain what makes them say that. This sounds simple (because it is), but it's powerful. 


2. Text Summarization

Using evidence to support understanding is key to comprehension and constructing arguments.

Link a reading selection in the content area (at the top), and prompt learners to share a short part that interests them. Require that they share the location of their choice so the class (or group) can refer back to it during discussion. 

The nature of a text summarization is to build meaning in whatever order learners choose. Therefore, it's important that the activity leader points out connections to the main ideas. 

3. Inquiry-Based Learning

Whether it's a quote, image, or question – to name a few examples – prompt learners to write three (or more) questions that come to mind as they begin to understand the content piece. Each question should be a single response, which means each learner will respond at least three times. 

Make sure to establish an expectation for commentary. For example, I often require students to find between four and six responses to "like." This keeps the data accurate when determining which questions are most helpful.    

Take the data a step further by downloading a CSV to edit in Google Sheets as a class.  

4. Plus / Delta

Classrooms run on routines. Plus / Delta is a thinking routine my class uses to provide a structure for commenting on work shared by other classmates. 

It's another simple yet powerful strategy. Find one thing you like and explain why. Then, find one thing you would change and explain how and why.

This strategy exercises cooperation and a sense of proactive feedback that people can be so good at yet often choose otherwise. 


5. Jig Saw

Split up the paragraphs or sections of a selected text and require learners to summarize their section and explain how it relates to a bigger problem the lesson addresses.

As learners finish their response, they can comment by making connections between the part they read and the parts they did not. It's a great opportunity to request clarification, as well. Remind them to be specific about where the information can be found in the text.

6. "Yes, and ... "

This is another commentary routine – as opposed to "Yes, but ..." When learners use this stem, they end up building the conversation regardless of the discrepancies.


7. Identifying Similarities and Differences 

This high-yield strategy has been proven many times over from Sesame Street to Marzano. It's how we situate new knowledge in relation to what we already know.

It's important to make the response debatable. If the activity is to compare the interests of two characters, respondents will complete that part before including which interest was most critical to the development of each character.


8. Responsible Use

In a sense, Verso app is a simulation that allows us to train learners to respond to problems with an audience in wait, not unlike social media or an open discussion during a business meeting.

Everyone has made a post or two that they regret, right? What if our kids and colleagues develop a decorum that transfers to reading critically, writing responses to emails, and making useful and respectful social media contributions?

In the hands of a good teacher, Verso app can facilitate awareness of ethical behavior, which is something we all want for our kids.

9. Thesis Statements 

I start this process by instructing my students to write one sentence summaries that contain certain analytical components, such as one similarity and one difference or one continuity and one change. I don't even mention thesis statements until they're writing them according to the criteria in the standards.   

10. Not Brainstorming

Brainstorming inhibits thinking and creativity when it's done in a call-out fashion. Verso app is initially a quiet activity, so it provides thinking time that's not distracted by people talking and throwing out ideas.

What's more, the respondent anonymity takes away the potential for personal judgement, supporting the learner to safely take risks with their ideas and beliefs.

11. KWL at Once 

What do you know? What do you want to know? What did you learn?

The first two questions are usually in anticipation of a lesson, while the last one is a reflection. That's still a great way to do this activity. But think about how much more a group of learners can grow when all of the responses to these questions are available for discussion. 

12. "I used to think ... "

This is probably my favorite reflection stem because it adds a sense of evolution to the learning process. Usually the commentary is light on an activity like this one, so I require one comment and between four and six likes, which can be given to comments, as well.  

13. Think Global, Act Local

We want to save the world. Well, at least we talk about it a lot. What if learners researched the most important global issue and shared how the problem exists in our "backyard?" If kids are hungry in Africa or malnourished in Asia, where is that happening in your own city?

Responses could include a summary of the issue and a short proposal as to where the class could start to address the issue. Perhaps an issue with the most engagement from the group could become the topic of discussion for a service project. 

14. Evaluating Progress 

Learners can see their progress report and revisit the activities to see specific work that received more engagement and compare it to work that received less.

The new activity could require learners to respond with a summary of their analysis and evaluation, including a goal for improvement. Commentary may focus on establishing patterns of progress.  

15. Revisiting Activities

Looking back at activities that were completed at the beginning of a lesson cycle, or even months ago, allows learners to see how much they've improved. We did this at the end of the year to reflect on the semester.

My students found a lot of unanswered questions in the commentary, so that was our mission: answer the questions. They got right to work – searching google, asking neighbors, and reviewing other work they completed in class.

Why Verso? 

When we learn in an environment that allows us to document our thoughts in an atmosphere devoid of personal judgement, we can see the strength of our work in a social context. Verso points learners to the quality responses, allowing them to find their voice and grow more confident as contributors.