Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Data Driven Aughts

by Tara Seale

I titled this post the Data Driven Aughts, first because educators and students alike have been driven by data accumulated from the NCLB assessments, and second because I wanted to use an Urban Dictionary word because I am hip like that. Aughts refers to the decade between 2000-2010. Even though teachers frequently complain about standardized testing, and I am a proponent that believes much of what we are testing and how we are administering the tests (Please - a paper and pencil?) isn't relevant in the 21st Century, I still pour over the data produced from the NCLB assessments. Maybe it is my competitive nature because I want to know that what I am doing in the classroom is really making a difference, maybe it is because I haven't seen a way to use data to indicate growth through project based learning portfolios, but I currently depend on standardized testing to determine if my student has moved, hopefully in an upwards direction, or unfortunately, maybe he or she has not moved at all.

In a recent blog post by Lisa Nielsen at the Innovative Educator titled 21st Century Educators don't say, "Hand it in." They say, "Publish it!" Lisa spells out why standardized tests are not reliable indicators of what students are capable of achieving. She advocates publishing student work for an authentic audience, and she also provides six ways for an educator to move from a classroom that hands it in to a classroom that publishes it. I highly recommend reading this post, and I completely agree that this is the best environment for students, but I also believe that standardized testing is not going away in this next decade either.

Data is even becoming more flashy. I recently checked out data on the NAEP website to discover that they were using the Google's data in motion gadget as a visual graphic to demonstrate how 4th grade and 8th grade math scores have changed between the years 2003 to 2009. As a literacy teacher, I quickly noticed that only the math scores are using the cool visual motion graphics, and most of the scores move in an upwardly direction. I wonder what direction the literacy scores move?

This is my real worry. There are many articles out there suggesting that students growing up in this Googlized Century cannot maintain focus long enough to read a full length novel or write a lengthy prose, I don't necessarily believe that (read my response to one of these article at Sharing the Solitary Self for a Greater Mind), but I do have some concerns that arose when I read an article about the NAEP data from Detroit.

Ryan Beene wrote an article at Crain's Detroits Business titled Detroit's public schools post worse scores on record in national assessment. At the fourth grade level, only 3 percent tested at the proficient level and at the 8th grade level, 4 percent tested at the proficient level. This is alarming. Even if we should be moving towards project based learning and a publish it instead of turn it in classroom, when less than 5 percent score proficient on a basic skills test (even though they did use a pencil in a texting world), this is alarming. Do I think the scores would have been different if students created a portfolio and took a digital assessment, probably, but there is still obviously some serious issues and deficiencies in this urban area. When I went to the NAEP website to see how the rest of urban America performed on this test, it was better than Detroit, but scores were still very low. The highest 8th grade reading score was
in Charlotte with 29 percent of students scoring proficient.
The blog comments at the bottom of the post in the Ryan Beene article list a variety of reasons why the Detroit scores were so low: lack of parenting, politics, economics, inadequate teaching, inadequate classroom equipment, etc... but what emerged for me as I read the comments is that there are numerous problems without a clear plan to fix it.

If nothing else, the data driven aughts have shown us that something needs to change, but I also see change. The NAEP will have a digital component in literacy by 2011, and we are moving in the direction of adding 21st Century equipment in all schools. I am not sure if this will all be enough, but I hope when I click back onto the NAEP website in 2020, I will be able to see the literacy scores set to motion, but of course, there will be another gadget by then, something even more visually dynamic, something not even invented yet, something that one of our students will create.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Glogging - not Blogging

by Tara Seale

Have you heard of a Glog? I recently used Glogster in my classroom to allow students to display a short, descriptive paragraph before we embarked on a long narrative.

I wanted my students to be able to describe a place to create a setting, usually essential for a great narrative. I do not teach Pre-AP or AP English, so for regular 9th grade English students, a model sentence is usually the best way to start.

The sentence below, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is absolutely the best model sentence that I have found to use in describing the location of a place.

On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, about halfway between Marseilles and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-colored hotel.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

I like this sentence because it starts with three prepositional phrases, and most 9th graders can write prepositional phrases even if they do not usually incorporate prepositional phrases into their writing. I also like that this sentence starts with a general idea of the location and moves toward a more specific location, so I instruct my students to do the same. After the prepositional phrases, this sentence has a verb. Hopefully, all 9th grade students can supply a verb. Then the sentence uses adjectives that describe the subject, which allows me to teach comma rules related to adjectives. The last word in the sentence is the subject. Most of my students do not write sentences in which the last word is the subject. It is usually the first word in most of their sentences. This model sentence forces my students to explore how to end a sentence with the subject. I usually have great success with students who are trying to duplicate F. Scott Fitzgerald's sentence. See some examples below:

  • At the top of the wooden stairs and down the hall to the right, the loud sound of music filling the air, waits a large, cologne-filled room with clothes and junk all over the floor.
  • Through the wide turns around beautiful trees, about seventy-five miles from Little Rock, stands the two-story house, aging.
  • In the dim light of the afternoon sun, just through the back door, is my old, warm kitchen.

There are a few minor differences but basically the same structure. Next, I discuss the difference between showing and telling sentences. I always share Mark Twain's famous quote:

"Don't tell me the lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream!"

After my students are satisfied with their descriptive paragraph, we record their voices reading the paragraph. I am fortunate enough to have a class set of ipods with voice recorder capablities, but if you aren't, you can always use Audacity, which is a free open source software used for recordings. This assignment made me realize how important it is for students to hear themselves reading out loud. Even though my students read their own writing, they still had to read it several times to develop fluency.

Next, we uploaded everything to Glogster. Students selected images that best represented their paragraph. I discussed Fair Use and Creative Commons Licensing. We practiced using Google's Advanced Search by clicking on Google Search > Images > Advanced Search and under usage rights, we changed the default to labeled for reuse.

I am very pleased with the Glogster results. Click on the links below to see some of my favorites (be sure to click on the player to hear the student read his or her paragraph):

1st Student Example Glog

2nd Student Example Glog

3rd Studnet Example Glog

4th Student Example Glog

5th Student Example Glog

I try to model every assignment I provide for my students, so see the Glog I created below:

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The hardest part of the ACT was writing in cursive

by Tara Seale

That is what my son told me after he took the ACT in December. He said that he couldn't remember how to write in cursive, so he just printed and made a few loops here and there. When the proctor collected the tests, she paused, looked over his statement, and he worried that she would announce that he did not write in cursive. As my son and other students filed out of the room, they asked one another, "Do you know how to make a capital S in cursive?" and "Do you think it matters if I messed up the statement by not writing in cursive?"
When he arrived home, he had a discussion with his sister, a freshman in college, about writing in cursive. They both asked me why teachers waste so much time teaching students to write in cursive in elementary school when they never use it again.

I have been thinking about this discussion and their question. I am not sure I know the answer. When I decided to write this post, I Googled writing the ACT statement in cursive to see if anyone else had posted about students finding this difficult. Ironically, I found a student who started a Facebook group called The Hardest Part of the ACT test was copying the statement in cursive. I also found a post describing a situation similar to my son's titled Lost Art of Cursive Handwriting.

I decided to continue my quest to answer these questions: Should students write in cursive? Does it matter? Should we quit teaching cursive writing? Have we quit teaching it?
Time Magazine published an article in August 2009 titled Mourning the Death of Handwriting, and I found an interesting blog post response to the article at the Freestyle Pen titled Is handwriting really dead? A Washington Post article titled The Handwriting is on the Wall provided some interesting statistics, such as, in 2006 only 15 percent of the students taking the SAT wrote their essay in cursive, the rest printed in block letters.

I am not providing the answers to my questions in this post, but I am seeking answers. In my school district, students are required to learn cursive writing in 3rd grade, but that is the last time it is required. Students take keyboarding in 7th grade, but maybe it would be more beneficial to no longer teach cursive writing in 3rd grade and move keyboarding to 3rd grade instead. What would happen if we abandoned cursive altogether and totally embraced digital writing? I believe we are doing it slowly anyway, but I am not positive, so if you are a teacher, please complete the survey I created in Google Forms to gather information about how often teachers present handwritten material to students and how often teachers require handwritten material from students. You should be able to see the results at the end.

Survey Link

Link to the Results for people not taking the survey.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Year of Twitter

by Tara Seale

So did you try out Twitter in 2009? If you didn't, then apparently you weren't one of the 18 million who did. Several websites claim that 2009 was the year of Twitter.
Mashable's How Twitter Conquered the World in 2009

Yahoo! News: The Year of Twitter and Facebook

and Time Magazine explains "How Twitter will change the way we live"

I tried Twitter in early 2009, and I really didn't get it. I left a few measly tweets and thought there was nothing I could possibly say in 140 characters that anyone would want to read. I picked it back up again after a few months, and I lucked out by finding and following teachers who shared links to great resources that I could use in my classroom, so I began to share my ideas and to learn how to abbreviate and convey what I wanted to say in 140 characters. I currently use Twitter to keep in touch with teachers from all over the world @tseale.

As I began to use Twitter effectively, I wanted to share this powerful communication tool with my students. Luckily, I am in a school district that allows me to experiment with Web 2.0 to enhance my classroom curriculum. I created a teacher account @bryantenglish, next my students signed up for a Twitter account, and then we followed each other. We began by tweeting about outside reading, and I used Twitter to send out homework reminders.
I decided to use Twitter to engage my students while we read Edith Hamilton's Mythology, required for 9th grade students at my high school. Some students love the book and enjoy mythology, and some students think I am trying to torture them by forcing them to read about Greek gods and goddesses, so my hope was that students would want to read about Greek mythology if I connected it to a fun web tool, and I also decided it could help me teach one of our 9th grade required literary terms: persona.
I began by creating a list of mythological characters spread throughout Edith Hamilton's Mythology. I did not use any of the major gods or goddesses because they are all covered fairly quickly in the front of the text. I then gave the list to my students and asked them to look up the characters in the index and decide who they most wanted to be on Twitter. Students picked their top three, and I used their preferences to assign each character to one student. The students were sworn to secrecy to not share the identity of their Twitter persona. Students, over a period of ten days, created ten tweet clues in character as if they were their actual Twitter persona. They even changed their Twitter photo to match their character. The first student to correctly guess everyone's identity received the incredible award of sitting in my big comfy rolling chair for the day. I was surprised that this award was so appealing and inspired so much competition. By the second day, students were already on to me though. They claimed that I came up with this assignment so that they would have to read through the whole book to discover everyone's identity - busted- but it didn't matter because they kept participating. Plus, students learned how to create a persona. In the beginning, student tweets were rather weak. See some examples below:
I am the master builder.

I made the god's angry.

I labored long and hard.

Students tried their best to follow the rubric I provided in class, but I realized I had to create better models of a Twitter persona. I became Apollo and added my tweets to the rubric as an example. I also have to recommend the book Oh My Gods! by Scholastic for example tweets. The book even provides example Facebook pages for the Greek gods. I began to post my favorite student tweets on our class blog page to inspire students to create better tweets. See a few of my favorites below: think you have a big mouth... you apparently haven't seen what I have eaten. (Cronus Persona)

Ha Ha King Minos you can't catch me now. (Icarus Persona)

Hey Theseus you know I am a better hero than you. (Hercules Persona)

I am so selfish...How could I have let it get this bad... a war over me... It's really not that worth it. =( (Helen Persona)

I can't wait to open my gift! (Pandora Persona)

I used a Google spreadsheet to create a list of each Twitter account and a word bank for each persona that students had to research. Students filled out the spreadsheet as they guessed each identity, and they shared the spreadsheet with me when it was complete. If you are interested in seeing the links to my rubric, spreadsheet, and the directions I gave the students, visit the link to the Twitter Assignment on our class blog page.

I am considering how my students might use Twitter next. I like NPR's recent use of Twitter. They asked people to tweet about the year 2009 in one word; participants could also Facebook the word. Then NPR created a wordle out of the words they received. In a wordle, the most repeated word is the largest. I am going to steal this idea because I am Hermes, the God of Thievery (all of the good teachers are Hermes), so I think I will ask my students to tweet the one word that sums up 2009 for them, and maybe they will also find 2009 full of change and challenge, but somewhat awesome and hopeful too. See the NPR wordle below:

Read the NPR article here: NPR's The Year 2009 in one word.