For many years I have run a reading program in my English Language Arts classroom. Students know that every class begins with them coming into to class and reading for 10 minutes or so silently before we start the lesson for the day. The requirements for the reading are pretty basic: students are expected to read a certain number of books per year based on their grade level, the book must be a reasonable length (no newspapers or magazines) and after they finish the book, they write a brief (5-10 sentences) review of it.
This year, I decided to use goodreads.com for students to publish their reviews. The advantages seemed obvious: students can access reviews from home to complete them, they can share reviews with each other and they can update their progress as they are reading. So, going all in, in the first month of classes, I had all my students register and ‘friend’ me.
Immediately there were some issues – student forgot passwords, they couldn’t find me to friend, the site slowed to a crawl with the entire class bombarding the server etc. But gradually reviews have started to come in. As students wrote their reviews, I tried to comment on each one – which has led to some interesting exchanges:
I always love it when students catch me on my grammar! What I like best is that the student felt comfortable enough to give me a hard time.
The other thing I really love about goodreads.com is the new recommendations it makes to students once they’ve read a book. This student put it best:
Since this isn’t a book I knew, goodreads.com is doing a better job than I could have at helping this student! Overall, I’m super impressed with the results of using it in my classroom and I can’t wait to see where students take it next.
Two weeks before school begins and I decided to start up my year as I usually do with updating my course outlines. Now it’s only one week before school opens and I still haven’t finished writing them. Yes, it’s partially because the weather has been spectacular and the PNE opened, but it’s also because I am a bit stumped as to where to go with my outlines this year.
I teach three different grade levels of English Language Arts and I am teaching one Math 8 for the first time in a long time. The English courses have a standard course outline with the learning outcomes and general department guidelines and thanks to a generous colleague I have a similar outline for math as well. But those aren’t the outlines that I find the kids are interested in, and nor am I quite frankly.
Students are always more interested in the outlines where I explain explicitly what we will learn (the units) and how (projects, writing, assessment etc). And that’s where I find myself bogging down this summer. As I explained in my first post, I have big technology plans this year. Those plans all involve students, to varying degrees, using the internet and various social media devices to communicate. This means having to explain to both students and parents why I feel this exposure is both safe and necessary for their learning. Not an easy task.
When my friend’s daughter started kindergarten, she was given the standard permission form that many districts use regarding the use of photographs in the school. She refused to allow her daughter’s photo to be used because she thought it might be in some negative way. Fast forward two months and the daughter comes home crying with a photo of her class all sitting on the firetruck that came to visit them, only the daughter’s face has been blurred out and she couldn’t understand why. My friend went and signed the form the next day.
The story illustrates an important point – the consent forms do nothing to explain why the students’ photographs are useful in the educational process. It also does nothing to cover the other technology that I plan to have students use – which in some ways can be more exposing than a simple photo. My friend is not unintelligent, nor is she anti-technology, but since no one explained the importance to her of the photo release form, she didn’t sign it. How can I expect any different of my students’ parents unless I explain myself fully and completely.
So even if the sun is shining (again), I will continue to bash something out here that I hope will both the importance of the technology use in my classes, as well as the necessity.