Tag Archives: Edmodo

30 Year Gold Star

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I guess it’s official. I got my 30 Year certificate from the DET on Tuesday at our end of year Christmas lunch. It is a funny sensation. It actually doesn’t feel that long and I still think I have a lot to learn. Every time I work with a new group of kids or a new member of staff or listen to my beginning teacher daughter I am reminded that I know very little. I am challenged to think in new ways about the job I do, and I keep having this thought “why didn’t I think of that?”.

I am taking a break from cleaning out my filing cabinet and folders at home. I have to do it now. It’s all over the spare bedroom and we have guests for Christmas! And yes I have found some things that are 30 years old. Am I still using them? No, but they do remind me of things I thought then and ways I taught that are probably embedded in my thinking now. It is quite exciting. It is also very therapeutic. I am chucking a lot. I want to get it down to ‘manageable’ and easy to find. I have discovered the best system anywhere, any time is a simple alphabetical system. Finally. It only took 30 years!

So how do I decide what to throw out? Our current syllabus and programme helps. Not much use keeping things that have been  superseded by more innovative thinking. No point keeping grammar sheets – there is a lot more around on the internet that is a lot more fun. Do I keep my personal notes on texts I have taught? Even if I do refer to them, I know I will make a new set of notes next time I teach that text anyway. And they will focus on completely different things because my frame of reference has changed.

Anything on Shakespeare seems worth keeping, and there is such a lot of it over the years! Great ideas for getting kids writing seems worth keeping too. Kids still need to be inspired to write, that hasn’t changed much. And poetry. Poems and ideas for teaching poetry. And there is a lot of that too! I must really like teaching poetry, because I can’t bear to part with a good poem.

Notes from 30 years of professional learning and conferences? Not much I want to keep. What ever I was excited about I used straight away, so the rest obviously didn’t inspire me that much. Thinking skills and pedagogy? Yep, still like trying out ways to challenge kids to think. Still interested in the craft of teaching and how kids learn.

I am procrastinating, I know. I need to get back in there and finish it. A few gems have turned up. A few years ago I did a presentation on “ten things I learnt this year” at Annual Conference. It must have been a good year. Looking back over those ten things I covered a lot of territory. Naturally it got me thinking about the things I learnt this year, so here’s my list:

1. How to set ‘a reasonable amount of homework’ – thanks to Edmodo. Set things that kids have to think hard about but don’t have to write a lot. Focus on the really important thinking they need to do and the really important skills they need to practice, like writing a well structured analysis paragraph with evidence. And do this every week, without fail.

2. How to teach kids to write better essays (I know, I have a million ways to teach essay writing and I am still experimenting!) Teach them how to write a well structured paragraph. Teach them how to write different kinds of paragraphs for different kinds of essay questions and different modules. Model it and make them do their own in the next lesson or homework task. Use the videos on “Building a PEE paragraph”  Give them a formula for writing the introduction and make them practice it until they can go beyond it.

3. Get kids to do some short writing at the beginning of every lesson. Link it to the current work, revision of last lesson, concepts for the next lesson, fun writing. Follow it up with sharing in lots of different ways. Give them a half sheet of paper to write on and collect it. You get a lot of insight into their learning and what they still need to learn.

4. Never forget the joy of performance, or the deep knowledge and understanding that comes from performance.

5. Plan lessons that only take one lesson.

6. Keep finding new ways to get kids engaged in making their thinking visible. They just loved ‘illuminated texts’!

7. There are only two rules for the classroom. Good manners and everyone participates.

8. Kids actually do like reading. Don’t stop.

9. Make connections. Plan units so that the texts are constantly referred to in exploring a ‘big question’. Choose the best texts, not just those that are available. Don’t try to teach everything about the text. Focus on the things they will actually need to know about  to do the assessment task or the exam. And make the kids do all the thinking.

10. If it is not working, try something else. Keep trying until you work out what works. Then keep doing that.

11. And …. there is nothing like a good game of jeopardy to keep them buzzing right to the end of last period Friday!

Now, back to the filing cabinet!

The excitement of new technologies.

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I love using Edmodo! It has created a very different learning environment for students but most of all it has pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me something I wished I’d learnt an eon ago. When Edmodo added the Quiz feature I quickly created a quiz that reviewed the first few lessons of a new Module I was teaching to my Advanced English (HSC NSW) class. It took about ten minutes. This set me on the path of setting weekly homework through Edmodo assignment and quiz features for the whole module. I liked the ease with which I could set tasks and the way Edmodo tracks the turning in of tasks for me. I also liked that Edmodo records students grades. Since I don’t want to spend hours marking, even if it is easier in digital form, I focused on setting short tasks that built skills and was relevant to the learning objectives for the week. The most students were asked to write was two well structured paragraphs, although, as one student said “That was a really hard question!”

Some things I learnt were:

  • A short task that has a higher order thinking skill is doable (and therefore more likely to be done), easier to mark and actually develops the critical thinking skills kids needed to learn.
  • The tasks progressed from revising some work done in class to going beyond recount to analysis and evaluation.
  • The relationship between learning objectives for the week and the homework seemed to be a key feature in the increasing quality of their answers over time.
  • The grade book feature insisted kids be accountable. Edmodo kept telling kids they had Late assignments.

Since the new Annotate feature has been added, the marking is even easier, without the need to open documents, mark and then re save and resend. I am keen to see how I can keep up the momentum in the next Module.

Time Out

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I’ve had a bit of time out this year. I had a simple fall early this year that caused a compression fracture in my left tibia. It is taking a long time to heal and I have had time off work. I’m back now, although still on crutches. These really slow me down! First week back has been busy with a great project I am working on with English teachers in our district. We are a rural district and our project is about improving outcomes for our top 25% of students. Distance, cost and access are real issues for us, despite the advantages of the internet. We had a very successful day on Friday, not least because we were able to meet each other and talk. We have lots of plans but our first need is to be able to continue our conversations in a way that is easy and allows for collaboration and sharing resources, both for students and teachers.

We have started an Edmodo group and I am really excited at the possibilities this will offer in terms of our own professional learning and for our students. Our teacher group has a range of skills and all our schools have video conferencing so we can meet in cyberspace for mentoring and collaborating on texts and teaching units. I think Edmodo will make it possible for the network of teachers to drive itself. I am also hoping that the opportunity to work through Edmodo with students in other schools will be seen by the students as a incentive to be more engaged and motivated to aim higher.

I’m sure other teachers are collaborating to improve outcomes for their students, perhaps through Edmodo, perhaps in other ways. I would be very interested in hearing how you went about it, the issues that came up and your solutions.

Time flies!

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I can’t quite believe my last post was so long ago! Life has been racing along at its usual hectic pace. Perhaps I haven’t felt the need to blog because I have been having so much fun playing with Edmodo with my classes and hanging out in the Edmodo language arts community and on the English Companion Ning. If you haven’t tried Edmodo yet and you have classes with DER laptops you have to try it. It makes life so much easier! Without a great deal of effort you can be “integrating technology”, sometimes without even trying.

My Year 11 class have been handing in their writing assignments this term using Edmodo assignments feature. This has been a revelation. A high rate of return, straight from laptop to me, no messy email attachments, and I have actually enjoyed marking them “online”. I could have used Word comments or got them to save to PDF and used various markup tools but that would have meant saving their work and attaching a file to the “Note” I left for them. Too many extra processes. So, I opened the file, read the work and began commenting on their work in the “Note” box as I read – a bit like a think aloud. It didn’t take long, my comments were much longer (and probably easier to read) and I found myself putting more responsibility on the kids. For example, since I couldn’t underline spelling mistakes I would say “You have five spelling mistakes”. This put the onus on the student to find them, a learning experience in itself. Interestingly by the last piece there NO spelling mistakes in any kids writing.

I also found that my comments were more explicit. Perhaps because, even though they could only be seen by the student, it was after all cyberspace and we all know that once something is in cyberspace it is there forever and will come back to haunt us one day. I think I was careful to write comments that were clear, supportive, constructive and that I would happily defend now, or anytime in the future. That is, they were clearly evidence based and I used the evidence in the comment.

The kids seem to enjoy using Edmodo. We have a bit of ‘chat’ going on during lessons which is minimal, not distracting, comes up on the IWB so I get a laugh too, and probably keeps the real world chat to a minimum. Using Edmodo everyday has also meant ALL of my Year 11 students bring their laptops to school!!!!! How cool is that!

Too many balls in the air

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It’s the last day of the New Year long weekend in NSW and the first time for a while I’ve had the time or inclination to look at other people’s blogs or write my own. As I mentioned in my last blog I have been grappling with some trying times and some really wonderful stuff too. My Dad has had to go into a Nursing home and I’ve spent some time going back and forth to ‘home’ to support my Mum(8 hour drive!) This will continue into 2011. My daughter also got her first prac report – truly excellent and I am so proud of her.

As we all do at the end of a school year I have been rethinking the things I’ve done in 2010 and thinking about the things I’ll do in 2011. The laptops have certainly posed some new challenges and I am busily thinking about how I will tackle those challenges in 2011. My first priority will be getting kids to use them! Year 10 2010 made some insightful evaluation comments on their use of laptops so far. The bad news was that few of their teachers seem to be using them – me. They also commented on a school rule we have that students must bring a notebook for every subject as well as the laptops – in case the laptops weren’t working or the teacher wanted the kids working in their books. Their complaint about the ‘weight’ and the pointlessness of bringing both books and laptops was significant I think. Needless to say- we worked out a compromise pretty quickly. In 2011 notebooks will stay at school.

Another comment was on teachers’ level of comfort with laptops in the classroom – they had clearly recognized that asking teachers to use a tool they themselves were not experts in was asking a bit much. This was said kindly and respectfully – not as a criticism of their teachers which I found quite endearing. While they were willing to bring their laptops on days when they had English, many had dispensed with them on the other day. This is an issue I have already taken up with my colleagues and executive. While we have had plenty of professional learning opportunities for teachers there is some generational resistance to insisting kids use the laptops and more leadership is needed in this area.

The kids also did not see the laptops as something that had any impact on the quality of their learning, while IWB’s were considered to have added to their engagement in learning and quality of learning. This is an area I would like to explore a lot more in 2011. I have been thinking about how to get kids using the Web 2.0 tools more effectively and ‘organically’ – because they choose to not because I tell them do do it this way. I am going to start with edmodo again and really spend more time on teaching kids to use it, before moving on to other tools. One thing I will try to avoid this year is trying out too many tools, which is what I did in 2010, hence the title of this blog.

My New year’s resolution is to juggle one ball at a time.

Edmodo, and Student teachers.

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I discovered Edmodo last week and am in love with it already. What a great site! Perfect for working with 1:1 laptops and easy to join, for kids and teachers. I began by creating groups for my year 10 and year 11 classes and sent them a group email with the join codes. It doesn’t need kids to register with email addresses, you can keep it closed or make some posts public and is not blocked by DET!!!! I especially like the file sharing Library and that students can upload assignments. Another great feature is posting assignments and then as students upload their work it tells you how many have responded. Have you used it? Any advice for a first time user?

I had planned to ‘enrol’ kids in class time but as usual, a technical hitch. For some reason my IWB internet connection has gremlins. Very frustrating and after three service calls this week, no change. Despite this kids have been joining up – their wireless connection works fine!

We have a school Moodle but I think Edmodo is much easier to use – very simple to share files through the library and you don’t need to do a course to learn how to do it. I like to do a lot of my prep at home because I am too busy at school and get a bit tired of the amount of download I have to use to organise material with Moodle, not to mention how slow it is with satellite broadband.

One of my daughters is currently studying to be …. an English teacher. I have really enjoyed hearing her thoughts and ideas over the last few months and her questions have ‘tested’ my memory, assumptions and philosophies. Her questions about how I plan my lessons were a real test. After 30 years of teaching I don’t seem to write much down. I know I walk into the classroom prepared, knowing what I am going to teach and what I expect kids to get from the lesson and how I will do it – it just seems to be all in my head! I had offered her and some of her Uni friends some ‘work experience’ time, mainly because she had expressed her concerns about not knowing what to expect and not remembering much about the classroom because she is a ‘mature age student’!

Yesterday she and a friend visited our school for the day. I really enjoyed having them both in our staffroom and classrooms. They had some time in some classrooms, looked at resources, visited the Library to look at our new Senior Learning Centre and played with the IWB for a while. I made sure I ‘planned’ year 10’s lesson in a bit more detail than I usually do!

I think it is really valuable  for potential teachers to ‘visit’ schools. I know they do a couple of pracs (professional experience and internships) but I think time spent ‘helping out’ in a school would be very useful and create a stronger teaching service in the future. They have so much insight and a different perspective and we older experienced teachers have much to ‘pass on’ that is lost when we retire. It’s like we keep reinventing the wheel. If you have a Uni nearby why not open your doors to some student teachers? Or maybe you are part of a programme already running?