Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Google Earth

If you have not used Google Earth with your students, it is worth finding a way to. I had my students download it today, and they were giggly as elementary school kids [these are very serious seniors by the way :)]. I use this to literally map our travels around the world in my world literature class (see Tom Barrett's great collaborative slideshow of Google Earth uses). We had a blast flying from California to mark Steinbeck to France to mark Voltaire to England to mark Huxley. As we were flying around, they asked what all of the markers were -- they discovered the photos and the Wikipedia entries; then I took them to the flames over Darfur. They were truly engaged at seeing the world.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The First Student Presentations

My first two students presented today -- they were tackling Voltaire and his time period. I was very excited to see my revised guidelines in action, and I had a right to be. The first student created a wiki of biographical information. He therefore was able to talk about Voltaire while his classmates just listened -- no frantic note-taking when they knew they had the wiki as a resource. He did not just talk though. He made a small PowerPoint to highlight key things and show images while he talked -- a perfect use for PowerPoint. He then played a YouTube video on Voltaire and Humanism that was a perfect way to bring in the audio component and have it be very useful. He ended with a trivia game about Voltaire, and the students really knew the info [they had closed the wiki :)]. Overall, a really thoughtful and engaging 20 minutes for us.

My second student created a webpage. He did not use FreeWebs like I had hoped -- the site he used has a free trial but then he will have to pay. So I am curious if his site will disappear in 30 days. But his classmates were very intrigued by his site and enjoyed the visuals he chose. He then played a YouTube video of a Beethoven piece. This was the most amazing part -- as the music was playing, he explained to the class how Beethoven's music was often soothing and melodic but that we should hear the tension building in this piece just like it was in this time period. Almost on cue, the music rose and the class almost made an audible, "Ahhh ..."

A 100% success day. We had great uses of technology supporting learning, we had music, we had archival photos, we had art, we had fun, we learned. My first two students have set the bar very high for their classmates.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Reading Strategies

I am still playing in my mind with how to better teach my students how to be great readers. I read a wonderful article in this month's English Journal about teaching reading to high school students that I wish I could link to for you, but let me sum up the author's main point instead. He did research in his own classroom between his preferred open class discussion method and lessons he planned with a specific reading strategy as the day's springboard. Before I say what his results were, let me say that I think as English teachers we all lean towards the open class discussion -- giving our students that sense of freedom to throw out ideas is a wonderful thing to do. But here is what he found: his students participated better in the subsequent discussions after they had completed a reading strategy exercise. Moreso, his students wrote better and performed better on assessments on literature they had used the strategies to tackle.

His findings confirmed for me what I have been playing with in my mind all summer. How do we help our students become good readers who do not get frustrated and quit when they come up against a reading challenge?

I tried his method today with my students and Candide. They read this for summer reading, and in the past I gave them a few questions to consider just to refresh the book in their minds before we begin to discuss it. This year, I had them do a guided rereading activity on the first chaper. Here it is.

Today in class, I began by projecting up the first chapter and asking them what they found in their rereading. We had the best discussion of this book I have ever had with a class. They made connections between the character traits presented and what they knew would happen in the book (Candide is shy and does not think much on his own --> makes sense that he struggles with disagreeing with his beloved tutor's ideas for so long). They saw the satirical barbs already in place (and could see that it took them longer the first time around to see the satire). They had fun realizing just what Pangloss was doing when he was tutoring the chambermaid (!!). And they said again and again, "I had not noticed this the first time I read the book, but ..."

Their essays are on Thursday, so we will see if the success in writing plays out for my students too, but the reading strategy approach is a keeper. (Here is another idea for a reading strategy -- I now know even more about why this lesson works so well!)

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Duh Moment

So, I have been having my students give background presentations on the works we read throughout the year for years now. I really like how it makes each one of my students the expert on one of the texts we study, and I like how I can step away from the front of the classroom and let my students run it.

However, I have not been thrilled with the overall quality of the presentations. Many are great, but many are merely Powerpoints read to the class. What was going wrong? Well, my out-dated assignment for one.

Here is my duh moment: Why was I not using all of my new technology ideas to make this assignment more engaging for my students? Why was I not encouraging my students to push into the world of the 21st century? Well, I am now, and I am very excited to see the results. Here are my revised guidelines. I am particularly excited about the audio and visual components. I can't wait to see my students' thought and creativity on full display.