Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Using Wordle in an English Classroom

by Tara Seale

Wordle is a fun Web 2.0 tool to use with students. The most repeated word in a Wordle is the largest. Wordle also allows users to change the layout, colors, and font.

How can this web tool be applied to an English classroom? Just recently a Nebraska English teacher named Julie posted a visual rhetoric idea related to the health care debate on the English Companion Ning. Her idea was to review two wordles created by a website called FiveThirtyEight. If you visit the website, the explanation and the wordles will explain how instrumental a Wordle can be as a rhetoric tool.

In my classroom, students use wordles to evaluate literature. Recently my 9th graders used wordles to understand tone shift. Students read the short story "The Sniper" by Liam O'Flaherty, and then using a collaborative Google Spreadsheet, shared the one word that they felt best represented the attitude of the sniper at the beginning of the story and the one word they felt best represented the sniper's attitude at the end of the story. I created wordles from the tone words submitted by students. See the wordles below:

1st Block - beginning and ending tone word wordles

2nd Block - beginning and ending tone word wordles

Last year, students in my classes picked out passages from the novel To Kill a Mockingbird that they felt most represented a major theme in the novel. Students typed in the text of the paragraph or passage into wordle, and then they evaluated how the wordle represented a major theme. I created a wordle from one of the most famous passages in To Kill a Mockingbird below. Maybe you can recognize it.

My students also read a famous Langston Hughes poem and discussed how this poem relates to the dreams of the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird. See a wordle of the poem below:

One last plus: I used Wordle to create a word cloud of the novels that are required 9th grade reads in my school district. I then uploaded the image, added one of my favorite quotes about reading, and bought the poster from Big Huge Labs.

If you are interested, you can read more about how to create a poster wordle on the Enhanced English Teacher Blog.

Finally, I would like to leave you with a few technology tips about saving and posting a wordle on the WWW:

To capture a wordle as a jpeg image using a mac, hold down the shift>command>4 keys. A small cross hair will appear. Drag the cross hair over the image of the wordle, and let go of the keys. The wordle image will be saved on the desktop as a jpeg image.

To capture a wordle as a jpeg image using a PC, use the screen capture key on the keyboard. This action will automatically copy the entire screen. Using either power point or paint, paste in the image. Use the program's cropping tools to crop the image so that you only have the wordle. Then save as a jpeg image.

Next, upload the image to Flickr. Right click on the uploaded image and go to properties. Highlight the URL located under image properties>location. Use this URL when inserting the image into a blog, wiki, or website.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Annotating text using Google Docs

by Tara Seale

Recently, I wrote an article for the Google Docs Blog titled Google Docs: the tool for the 21st century classroom. The focus was how to use Google Docs and folders in an English classroom.

Besides the ideas in the Google post, my students are also using Google Docs to annotate articles, short passages, or poems. See the annotation doc for the poem "Ozymandias".

To create this annotation doc go to Create New>Document. Then click on Insert>Table. Then chose one row and two columns. Next, edit the first cell by clicking on the cell> then right click > Change Cell.
See the pop up below:

Under Alignment, use the drop down to select Horizontal: Left and Vertical: Top. See the image below:

Repeat the steps for the other cell. Next, paste in the text in the first cell. Then in the 2nd cell, use the return key to enter all the way down. Students will be able to insert text on the right side of the table at any spot if you enter all the way down. I suggest students highlight key words in the text so that they stand out.

Share this document with students as a View Only document. To do this click on Share (in the upper right corner)> Invite People. A pop up will appear, see below:

Click on To View. and then insert email addresses in the Invite box. Students will receive this document as a view only file. They will have to go to File>Make a Copy to be able to edit the document. This is important so that students will only edit their document; otherwise, students will edit and annotate over the top of each other if you do not have them make their own copy. I sometimes have students share the document in groups to complete a small group annotation, but it does not work well with an entire class. When students save their document, I also have them rename it with their block number first, last name, first initial, and the title of the assignment. My students use TP-CASSSTT to annotate a poem and DIDLS to annotate literature. When students finish their annotations, they share the document back with me for grading.

Some example annotations:


The Sniper

If you are new to Google Docs, and you need to learn more about how to use Google Docs in an English classroom, Google and the Writing Magazine teamed up to create a great Revision Lesson for Teens. This website also has a step-by-step tutorial for students and teachers.

For additional resources, view the videos and other links in the presentation below:

Friday, March 5, 2010

Flip Video Cameras in an English Classroom

by Tara Seale

My 9th grade English students recently used Flip Ultras to create heroic journey videos. First, students read Edith Hamilton's Mythology and then analyzed the "Monomyth" chapter from Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Students used Google Spreadsheets to create their own heroic journey chart with explanations and examples. We also read excerpts from The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler to discuss archetypal characters and watched a great YouTube clip called the Matrix Monomyth. Students worked in groups to combine all of this information into a script to illustrate how a modern day character follows the same heroic journey path established in many of the Greek myths. Students also included explanations of archetypal characters that the hero meets along the way.
Click on the link to view my Students Working on Scripts. You will need QuickTime to view the video (probably already installed on your computer, but if not, it is a free download).

Several students featured video game characters. Apparently, many X-Box and Playstation games have heroes on a quest who meet archetypal characters along the way. I guess a good story is still a good story, even in a video game. Students were highly engaged in this lesson, and the insight they gained about how stories are created and how patterns and common elements are repeated has added to their analytical abilities. I created a Mash-Up of Clips from the Heroic Journey Projects as a sample from all of the final projects. You can also watch each group's video on my student podcast page.

If you are interested, this is a link to the Directions for the Heroic Journey Video Assignment and the Rubric for the Assignment.

I was lucky enough to win some grant money through Ann Taylor Loft's Kids in Need Grant to purchase flip video cameras, and also to find a great deal at Digital Wish --Flip Ultras 2 for the price of 1. Ultras seemed to be the better choice because Ultra HDs create larger file sizes, and we were not trying to make picture perfect videos. Our camera angles were not great, and students did very little editing because that was not the focus of the lesson. The objective was to use technology to collaborate, to communicate, and to create an effective explanation of the heroic journey; students did not have time to add the "Wow" factor with fancy editing or effects.

The engagement and learning that I witnessed made me realize the usefulness of using Flips in the classroom. I hope to use the Flips again while we read Romeo and Juliet.

Some Technical Tips for using Flips on a PC or Mac:

The Flip Ultra will allow you to edit film in iMovie on a Mac and Windows Movie Maker on a PC. Just follow the simple directions below:

On a Mac, open iMovie. Select File>Import from Camera. Wait for the thumbnail clips to load. To import all clips, select Import All. If you do not want to import all clips, select Manual and Uncheck All. Then click on the small box under each clip you want to import and click on Import Checked.

On a PC, you need to install the Flipshare software that comes already loaded on the camera. Next, select the clips that you want to use. While in the Flipshare software, select Share>Online>Others. Then you will click on Other again and select Next. Name your folder and click Go. The folder will appear on the desk top. From Windows Movie Maker, you will need to go to Import Video and browse for the folder on the desktop. Select the clips you want to import.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Myth of Learning Styles

Note: Make sure you click on the title of this post to see the video.

Daniel Willingham of the University of Virginia is unpopular with many school systems. His research in cognitive psychology shows that the learning styles theory is not quite what it seems. What does that mean for education? In particular, what does it mean for the English classroom.

As students of language, Dr. Willingham's findings about meaning-based learning should not be a surprise to English and Language Arts teachers. The indeterminacy of language is firmly entrenched in the discourse of literature, composition, and criticism; deconstructionism is literary theory based on the shakiness of the meanings behind words. In our classrooms, we teach vocabulary and reading based on discussions of meaning, but how do we bring this meaning out in conversations with our students.

Over on the English Companion Ning, Jim Burke has been leading a study of his new book, What's the Big Idea?: Question-driven units to motivate reading, writing, and thinking. I have been reading the book along with the group and had a bit of an epiphany in conjunction with this video. The best way to get at meaning is to ask the questions that delve into those bigger ideas, those essential understandings. This book has already been a great help in organizing the essential questions I already used to guide my unit and lesson design. Particularly, a quotation Burke (2010) cites from Neil Postman spurred my epiphany: "Students enter school as question marks and graduate as periods." I think this connection between learning styles theory and meaning-based instruction may be the reason students graduate without any questions or imagination.

Think about Willingham's assertion in the video. Asking students to learn something aurally or visually asks the student only to learn a characteristic of something (like the shape of a country or the tonal quality of a voice); meanwhile, asking students to learn words asks them to learn the meaning behind something, its big idea. The trick is while visual and aural learning focuses on characteristics of something, meaning is more abstract. So, just like knowing the shape of Sudan won't help students understand the suffering of people in Darfur, asking students to learn the meaning of something visually or aurally won't either.

A recent NCTE inbox issue contained a study with similar findings. The January 12th edition of the newsletter featured an article on a recently released study of learning styles. In the summary section of the article, the authors state that they "conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporate learning-styles assessments into general educational practice" (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, and Bjork, 2009, p. 105). Taking these findings into consideration, why do we place so much emphasis on learning styles.

The students we serve thrive not on superficial characteristics, but deep probing questions. They are not unlike ourselves or the young children they used to be. My son is turning two this March 12th, and as I write this he is sitting next to me asking me all kinds of questions (as long as you speak 2-year-old-ese). His "whastht?"s ("what's that) and "whahappnd?"s ("what happened") are the mind's first forays into learning the most essential lessons we learn. He questions me constantly which, as a teacher, I love. He loves learning new words and repeating them...endlessly...until "truck" or "car" or "broken" fall away to newer and newer concepts. His curiosity is insatiable and joyful. Then I think about the lack of curiosity some of my students exhibit, usually on the standard level, and I get angry. Maybe that is the answer for parents who don't like, understand, or trust our schools: they've grown angry with watching learning-styles-driven teaching make students focus on the concrete and forget the importance of abstraction, of searching for meaning.

I for one have taken Jim Burke's new book to heart because it speaks to something I always knew was true. Standard, AP, IB, Honors, etc. are just labels. Question-driven teaching belongs in all classrooms. If a student doesn't understand a concept, make analogies, make connections, but most of all help your students ask the right questions that will guide them to the meanings they seek.

As always, please share your thoughts on the video, learning styles, question-driven instruction, or any ways this topic has come up in your professional lives.

Oh, and have a pleasant March. I'll see you all in April.