Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Preparing for the New MLA

When I first heard the news that MLA launched an updated system, I felt a little sick. I’ve created tons of interactive online and hard copy activities to help my students navigate reading and writing MLA Works Cited entries. Because of the hanging indent spacing and variability of monitor size, each online Works Cited entry needs to be imported as an image. (I cheated with my samples here, so if the spacing looks funky, please forgive me. The OWL Purdue link above is dandy!) Days of work await me. Yikes.

Once I looked at the new MLA, however, I began to feel better. The changes make tons of sense, and I think students will understand the format more. Perhaps they will start to understand why I think being able to flip to a reference page and assess the quality of research from the entries is such an important and empowering kind of academic literacy. But now I’m getting ahead of myself…a new documentation style can only promise so much!

The big changes? No more underlining—like APA, MLA now puts publications and book titles in italics. The electronic resource formats have been streamlined somewhat, (We no longer have to identify a database “service”—hooray!) and entries now use “Print” if they are hard copy and “Web” if they’ve been accessed electronically. Here’s a little sample of old versus new:

Book with One Author, old MLA:

Miles, Felix. The Civil War. New York: Random House, 2007.

Book with One Author, new MLA:

Miles, Felix. The Civil War. New York: Random House, 2007. Print.

Journal Article from a Subscription Database, old MLA:

Homiak, Kathleen. “Six Strategies for Taking a Patient’s Health

History.” Patient Care Weekly 8.2 (2008): n.p. Academic Search

Elite. EBSCOhost. Seminole High School Library. 7 July 2009.

Journal Article from a Subscription Database, new MLA:

Homiak, Kathleen. “Six Strategies for Taking a Patient’s Health

History.” Patient Care Weekly 8.2 (2008): n.pag. Academic Search

Elite. Web. 7 July 2009.

Well prepared activities help me teach students how to read and write research documentation effectively, so I’m going to put the time in to update my materials. My department has agreed to go with the new MLA this fall, so I’m working on the changes, one exercise at a time. It’s certainly helping me internalize the new format…

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mind Bend

I’m a lucky girl. When I create content for online learning activities, the educational technology experts who work for my school system collaborate with me. Last week, I went to them with a dream. My students still struggle with reading their Turnitin.com reports; they don’t understand when a “match” constitutes plagiarism and when it’s incidental. To help them practice, I imagined creating an activity that branched. If students answer a question correctly, they would continue to a different question than if they answer incorrectly. This way, the activity can provide extra help to students who misunderstand a concept before layering on the next complex circumstance.

The experts greeted my dream with calm nods. “Yup. We can build that. Send us the content.” Oh! Okay! All systems go, right?

Since these magical people agreed to do the technical side, I started sifting through last semester’s Turnitin.com reports for screen shots showing the kinds of matches I want to help students distinguish. After I assembled half a dozen images, I started writing the first question. Question…feedback for correct answer…feedback for incorrect answer—Wait! Stop! I can branch out! Instead of writing feedback for an incorrect answer, I could write another question. In my better teaching moments, I greet student errors with follow up questions, trying to direct students towards the thought process that will yield greater comprehension. Now I could try and structure this computer activity to model that practice. (It’s not that I think the computer can replace me here, but as things currently stand with my students, I am not getting this Turnitin.com report lesson across to everybody. I decided to go down this road because I think students need to process this kind of critical reading independently to fully internalize it.)

Deciding to write a branching activity turns out to be very different than actually writing a branching activity, at least for my non-millennial brain. It hurt as much as my earlier attempts to be non linear. Flow charts and diagrams started to swim in my mind’s eye. How many branches would there be? Would the students answering follow up questions to incorrect responses ever get back to the trail blazed by students giving correct responses? Within half an hour, I felt hopelessly snarled in all the potential variables. My pedagogy bases itself on adaptability, so here I am knee deep in branching online activities when I love linear structure. Gosh, I miss the days of constructing linear activities exclusively. Sigh.

So I spent a few days feeling panicked every time I opened up my attempts at drafting this activity. Finally, I decided to write the activity from beginning to end as if a student answered every question correctly. What would the tree trunk of this branching exercise look like? What breadth am I trying to cover here? I needed to know the answers to those questions. Then, I looked at each question and imagined my follow up questions like traffic pattern clover leaves, looping out from the main trunk only to touch back again with a review loop of that concept planned for later in the sequence.

Will it work? Will it make any sense? Time will tell. I hope this kind of effort yields a differentiated learning tool that serves students well. Right now, I’ve turned the draft over to my tech wonders as I sit in a sweaty heap, exhausted by thinking outside my natural thought patterns. Do my students feel this way all the time? My goodness. No wonder they want to sleep through first period…

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lookin' for Lit in all the New Places

This summer, I’ll be teaching a literature survey course. I expect my students to be ready for the course to be over the day it begins. I’m sure they’ll also be pleasant about it, but I can imagine their palms facing me, thought bubbles above their heads saying, “Nothing personal here, lady. I just want this course to be over.”

Dragging students through literature that I love makes me nutty, so I’m already ruminating about how to approach the course. I construct all my teaching around student ownership, but I’m more successful fostering student ownership of writing than of reading and close analysis of text. Often, my students approach literary analysis wearily, like it’s an endless shell game: “Ms. K, just tell me where the answer is!” Our department also requires a final exam, a multiple choice affair that confirms knowledge of literary terms and basic cultural literacy. Preparing students for this test often elicits lots of “When will I ever need this stuff?”

Traditionally, I use literary circles, and I plan to do that again in this course. I’m also playing with the idea of opening the course by asking students to write on the pink elephant in the room: Why is it required for students to take a literature course? Why would the powers that be think such a course would be important for students?

I want to find a meaningful way to use Wordle, and I’ve got six months of Poetry magazine I want to work in, too. On the Poetry website, they have this fantastic Poetry Tool that searches poems numerous ways, like by occasion! I’ve got to find a way to work that in…When poet Terri Witek spoke at a conference I attended this past fall, she recommended teaching contemporary poetry along with our personal favorites. She reminded us that poetry changes with the times, so we should be sure to include the voices of our students’ times amongst the pieces we feature in lessons. As a student, I know the poets of the eighties and nineties touched me more viscerally than the historical giants, so her point made sense to me. I’m also thinking about how to craft an assignment that asks students to prove whether or not poetry is still relevant, to see what modern incarnations they discover to support their points.

Right now, the ideas are still swirling around in my head, waiting for a specific lesson plan in which to land. The course starts off at the end of June, so I’ve got a little time to play with my plans. Part of me believes lessons planned with excitement and anticipation are bound to work better than any other kind…

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher