CoT Ch. 3 Language

This is my fourth reflection on Ron Ritchhart‘s Creating Cultures of Thinking novel.

This chapter is especially dear to me, since I am a language teacher and a language advocate. As a parent, I know that my children learn so much by just watching and listening. So when Ron Ritchhart talked about how teacher modeling is so important for language usage in class, it just made sense to me. But, until now, I had not truly noticed my exact phraseology.

“And that is the thing about language. It is at once ubiquitous, surrounding us constantly, yet we hardly take notice of its subtleties and power.” (64)

Top suggestions for teachers found in the chapter, but rephrased with my personal responses:

  • use “we/us” so that you are included in the lesson/learning and so you encourage a collaborative team instead of a competitive battlefield as a setting for your classroom.
  • use “Might be”  because it encourages more guesses and risk taking in general. It also makes it seem like there is no right answer, so students keep pushing/challenging themselves and each other.
  • use conditional language like “could,” “would,” and “what” to open up the dialogue to the students. If used enough, and students start using it too, then it encourages more collaboration in the classroom.
  • be a good listener. Repeat what you are hearing from students and then try to encourage elaboration. “Good listeners ask authentic questions to clarify points, unearth any assumptions they may be bringing to the situation, and be sure of the speaker’s intent.” (Ritchhart 83)
  • utilize “wait time” so students know that thinking can sometimes require some quiet time. I try not to look at students when I am allowing this time, as I am then modeling the “thinking” look.
  • refrain from using the “all-knowing THEY” so the ownership remains in the classroom. I have been instead referencing specific texts or asking students “Could you find an example of that belief/point in our reading or in another text we’ve read?”
  • praise student EFFORT, not their right answers. Point out when students are doing good thinking. One of my most-commonly said responses to students is “That’s a great question!” (and -at home- I say “That’s a good idea!” to my son, which is probably why this is his most-used expression to date!). Since reading this chapter, I have expanded to saying “That’s a great question! Does anyone have any guesses for the answer?”

“In his book Making Learning Whole, David Perkins (2009) identifies a chief problem in much of school learning: our tendency to teach… ‘aboutitis.’ We teach about the subject rather than engaging students as members of it.” (74)

At first, I was very intimidated by this idea. But then I realized that I do this in several small ways already. I call my students “Frenchmen” instead of “freshmen who take French,” my juniors are “les francophiles” since they can speak French in a more fluent manner, and so they get a more-Frenchy term. Ritchhart goes on to say…

“When we recognize the true understanding of a discipline involves learning its processes and ways of thinking as well as its content knowledge, then we naturally create opportunities for developing those abilities.” (75)

Then I realized that I was doing this. I ask my students to look for patterns when they are learning irregular verbs and have them compare these conjugations to other regular and irregular verb conjugations that they know. This helps them then try to figure out what the conjugations are for other unknown verbs when they come across them in the future.

“A key aspect of initiative, or what researchers in sociology and psychology sometimes refer to as ‘agency,’ is the ability to make choices and direct activity based on one’s own resourcefulness and enterprise. This entails thinking about the world not as something that unfolds separate and apart from us but as a field of action that we can potentially direct and influence.” (76)

This is another intimidating concept to read. The more I read, the more I thought back to my Bachelor of Arts Secondary Education degree from Albion College. One of my professors, Kyle Shanton, used to always stress that the students should be working harder than the teacher. At first, I thought, “Well that’s not possible!” But then I tried it. I had students make up their own reading comprehension questions for a text that we read in class, and they got more out of the text and their understanding of how to answer the different kinds of questions (short answer, matching, etc.) than they would have if I had just made the questions myself.

“What we see here is not a miraculous transformation occurring as the result of some small tweaks in the choice of words, but rather a very clear alignment between intention and word choice that over time has shown a powerful effect in nurturing a culture of thinking.” (64)

 

Overall, this chapter makes me think of the Amazon children’s show called Stinky & Dirty, which does a great job of modeling thinking and the usage of the expression “What if…” to encourage deeper thinking and problem-solving abilities in young children.

 

 

CoT Ch. 9 Environment

This is my third reflection on Ron Ritchhart‘s Creating Cultures of Thinking novel.

“No more cells and bells” is the main message of this chapter. It’s also been something that has bugged me ever since I started teaching at the IA. How can we be one of the best high schools in Michigan but have some of the worst facilities? My first few years at the IA, almost every classroom was set up with the traditional rows. It wasn’t until recently that we have started to make the shift (as most schools in Michigan have, finally!). And, in my classroom, that didn’t start until the 2017-18 year. (Mainly because I did not have my own classroom, as most teachers struggle who work in smaller buildings would know.)

The first thing that I did in my own classroom (new this year!) was to decorate one of the cork-boards with IB and IA specific characteristics. The 10 horizontal papers each highlight an IB Learner Profile attribute. I found these slides already made on Pinterest from the École Père-Marquette. In the center are the letters IA in the school emblem style. On each letter I wrote “Nous sommes…” (we are) plus characteristics that I want to see in my classroom. On the I you can read verbs/actions and on the A you can read adjectives.

Cinader.IA.IB.jpg

“…when learning is viewed as an active, collaborative endeavor that fosters the development of fluid intelligence– the ability to problem-solve, reason, and explore new ideas with others– then the default arrangement in rows doesn’t make much sense.” (230)

This year, I have taken many risks. I let one of my freshmen classes rearrange the room so they feel most comfortable. The A day class arranged the majority of the desks in pairs or groups of 4-6, with most of them right near “the front” of the classroom. Once I got a standing table and stools, my B day was able to rearrange the room. At least 8 students every B day “sit” at the standing table (Dec. update: this table started in the back of the classroom because I did not think that students would be able to see around it, then my students asked if they could move it here, next to the board and the window so they could still use it and see the board more clearly).

insert image here

Before testing, I allow my students to move chairs/places so that they feel at ease. One of my favorite “tables” during testing the first time we did this is the image below of the four freshmen boys who have their backs to each other. To me it says “I know that my friends have my back, and that we are in this together, but I’m not looking at their tests.”

Cinader.2017.TestingFreshmen.jpg

Here you can see my four freshmen choosing to rearrange their desks like this for their first big assessment.

“Documentation focuses on the learning process itself by trying to capture the events, questions, conversations, and acts that provoke and advance learning over time.” (249)

Since I started teaching at the IA in 2010, I have commenced the year with my freshmen making alphabet posters. It teaches them to use a French-English dictionary and it provides them with a creative outlet. These are then hung in the classroom like you would see in most American elementary schools (along the top of the wall in a neat row). The students enjoy it every year and they like decorating the room with their artwork. My juniors get to decorate the class as well, but they recreate Impressionist artwork on felt squares that are then hung on cork strips or on a cork-board. Both of these classroom decorations are an annual tradition for me.

This year, inspired by this reading and by a colleague (Jan Gardner), I decided to use one of my corkboards as a student showcase area, so we can highlight more than just the artwork they do. I informed all of my classes that they could post up their work on the board, from notes to assignments to whatever; they could pin up something that they worked hard on and that they would like to share. I also encouraged them to share things that they would like feedback on, but so far there have been only a few items posted.

Cinader.2017.Board2.jpg

Here you can see student work on display. If the alphabet letters were NOT used in the “final” alphabet, and the class still REALLY LIKED the letters, they placed them here: on the student showcase board.

While reading another education text Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today by Eric. C. Sheninger and Thomas C. Murray, I came across the following quote, which I feel sums up my thoughts on classroom environments (and compliments Ron Ritchhart’s point in this chapter):

“But education is not about transferring from one to many; it is about learning within the student…. the classroom ought to focus on assimilation and application of knowledge to new contexts. The teacher becomes the guide on site, instead of the sage on the stage, requiring wholly new learning spaces and teaching techniques.”  – Eric Mazur

Cinader.2017.calendar.jpg

This year, our 9th grade teacher team decided to implement a calendar and agenda usage modeling system. Our administration had these posters made for each of our classrooms so we could help the freshmen learn to be organized. Note that these are placed at the “front” of the classroom.

 

 

 

CoT Ch. 2 Expectations

*This is my second reflection on Ron Ritchhart‘s Creating Cultures of Thinking novel.*

When you think about expectations for the classroom, you normally think of how you want the students to behave. But in Ron Rittchart’s chapter “Expectations” he persuades you to go beyond that: to think of the purpose of school, to delve into the vocabulary associated with school, to question your own practices. Now, when I decided to take on this book study, I had hoped that it would make me think, but I did not realize just how much I would feel inspired to change. My first reaction to most of what Ritchhart says is “Yes! And how can I do this in my classroom? What will it look like?” Then I put down the book and start thinking, writing down notes on any piece of paper that I can find. So, for chapter 2, here are some of the quotes from the book with my added notes. Feedback is appreciated.

“In learning-oriented classrooms, mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn, to grow, to rethink (45)”

I highlighted this and almost wrote “true” in the margin, since I firmly believe in this. But then I tried to think about how I encourage this behavior in MY classrooms. Where is the evidence that shows my students that mistakes are valued?  I have students correct their own formative assessments, using a different color to make corrections. I have associated a grade to these corrections but it’s always been small in points. I encourage students to rewrite an entire word or sentence so the correct answer is clear. I emphasize that they should not erase or cover up their mistakes, since it will not be as obvious to them when they look back at their papers what was wrong. But then the students almost never see these papers again, unless they study them at home on their own.

“That is what work feels like. It is done for someone else, not yourself, and the focus becomes completing the work, getting it done and over with, and possibly pleasing the superior. (45)”

My worry is that my students only do their homework for the grades. And then it makes me question the assignments: are they even worth it? At the start of last school year, I wanted to get rid of all worksheets. I wanted homework to become more individualistic but I wasn’t sure how to do that. So far this year, I have given my students options for homework: they could complete a worksheet or write sentences or highlight the concepts while reading. To me, homework should be for practicing the material. Each assignment should have a purpose and should work for that student, with the end goal being that they are learning more about the content.

“…when teachers felt pressured to perform by an outside authority, then these teachers would be more likely to employ controlling teaching strategies as an instructor, thus impairing student performance” (46).

This was definitely how I felt the first few years of teaching at the International Academy. It wasn’t until the then Associate Principal, Mike Giromini, questioned my teaching methods the year that he evaluated me that I realized I had made some extreme changes to my pedagogy and to my curriculum (compared to when I taught in Swartz Creek my first year out of college). Since then, I have been making adjustments. But I can only do so much when my colleagues do not feel inspired to change up the curriculum. So I’ve been baby-stepping through this one. The main thing that I do with my freshmen is that I introduce a topic more naturally and have them use it months before I teach it (example: direct and indirect object pronouns); this way, I am still following the curriculum, but doing so in a more “me” way.

“…students’ prior conceptions and real-world experience often stand in the way of their understanding” (50).

During my masters summer cohort at MSU, I did a group project about this. You can read about it and see our presentations here, on my personal website, and here, on our group’s website.

growth mindset v. fixed mindset pages 57-58

I don’t know if it’s because of the striking differences in perspectives of growth mindset students v. fixed mindset, but this section really stood out to me. I decided to read this section (scanned above) to my classes (juniors and freshmen). The students were also surprised by these facts. And ever since this time, we have been referencing this reading when talking in class. Before a test, for example, I will say “Let’s approach this with our growth mindsets; let’s see this as a challenge.” Especially for IB assessments, students are NOT meant to get every question correct. The assessments are meant to build resilience and to separate out the truly gifted from the average language learner. I plan to continue referencing the growth mindset in my classes this entire year and beyond.

CoT Introduction

The start of the new school year always makes me rethink my pedagogical approaches, and what better way to reflect on that than by going through a well-known educational textbook? I will be reading Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Cultural Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools by Ron Ritchhart. The goal is to read one or two chapters per month during this school year, helping guide my reflection on my teaching and my classes. I’ve been trying to find a renewed purpose for my blog, and I believe that a thorough book study is just the ticket! Feel free to read one or all of my posts, and I encourage you to give me as much feedback as possible. I am in my eighth year of teaching at the International Academy, and I want to revisit what I am doing, ensuring that the students are getting the best education possible.

In the first chapter, The Purpose and Promise of Schools, Ritchhart goes through the “story” that is found in each school’s culture. This story stems from our collective experience in school, but is mainly led by the teachers. For me, my personal experiences in high school were close to the typical, “old school” model. But, in college, I had a mix of experiences. I remember thinking that my creative writing teacher did not actually teach us, since we did more round-table discussions (students correcting each other) than getting direct feedback from the professor. At the time, I did not realize that I would listen to and learn more from my peers (who were simultaneously growing in their knowledge of writing because they were held accountable) than I would if it were the “old school” class. When I taught for a semester in Swartz Creek, I remember starting off my classes with a more natural approach. But, two years later, when I started teaching at the International Academy, I went right back to the “old school” hit-them-with-the-curriculum method that I thought was required of me. I guess I fell into that “idea that learning is a competitive rather than collaborative venture” (referenced by Ritchhart on page 27) because the IA follows the IB Programme.

As stated on page 34, “We must become shapers of culture and message managers to realize our vision and transform our schools.”  As I was reading this quote, I felt like this was a daunting task, but the more I think about it, the more I feel called to make a difference. It’s why I went into education in the first place: to make a difference in education. So here I am, thinking of what kind of culture I want to create. No matter where I teach, I want my classroom to be a place “in which a group’s collective as well a individuals’ thinking is valued, visible, and actively promoted as part of the regular, day-to-day experience of all group members” (31).

So, each day, when lesson planning, I will try to ask: “What kinds of thinking are being valued, privileged, and promoted?” (20) so that I may become both a shaper of culture and a message manager. I will continue to read this book, posting my reflections/thoughts to each chapter as I go (hopefully one chapter a month, with time to implement changes and reflect on those changes before moving on). I plan for this to be an ongoing, year-after-year, endeavor. So please give me feedback!

Thankfully, I have a future colleague (and one of my former students!) who will be embarking on this adventure with me! Her name is Emma Dunn, and she will be completing her student teaching this 2017-2018 school year. Please follow her posts as well on her WordPress blog.

 

Pinterest

As the yearbook teacher/adviser of my school, I have found that Pinterest is indispensable for boosting the creativity in my yearbook classroom. For those of you who are not familiar with Pinterest, it is a website and an app where you can gather other websites/links (represented by photos) in one location. For example, check out my board (a collection of specific “pins”) on yearbook.

What do you need?
Access to the Internet (again, you can use the app or you can just go to Pinterest.com).

PRO: Anyone can go on Pinterest. You can’t pin anything unless you have an account, but you can search and be inspired by what you find.

PRO: Students can work in pairs or small groups for this, so you do not need a device for every student. Sometimes I found that small groups made the assignment even better.

PRO: Since it is accessible on so many devices, normally I did not need to reserve computers or laptops from the media center. Students shared their phones, tablets, or laptops that they brought with them.

CON: To share the pins, my students work in pairs or small groups and then share what they like and don’t like on a shared Google Doc (a table withtwo columns: INSPIRATION and FAIL). They can all edit at the same time, but it is not done in Pinterest so the images don’t show up (though they could insert the picture and hyperlink it to the site). I have thought about creating a Pinterest account just for my yearbook class, but we really only use it one or two times at the start of the year (as a class).

PRO: I have an account and so I have a board for yearbook. When kids don’t know where to start, I tell them to look at my board and then try to then branch out to other people’s boards. I remind them that they do NOT need to agree with me and that the yearbook is their creation (not mine), which is why it’s always so much more interesting than if I had designed it.

Overall, Pinterest can be used to find inspiration for anything. It can even be used for teachers to find inspiring curriculum, classroom management, pedagogical ideas, seating charts, etc. As an educator (and as a mother), I find it extremely useful. I highly recommend checking it out and creating an account.

Moodle

If you are familiar with Learning Management Systems (LMS), then you have probably heard of Moodle. Since it is something that is paid for district wide, it’s not really something that individual teachers can try or purchase for just their class. So why am I reviewing it? Because it’s one of my most-frequently used tech tools for my classroom, especially by my students.

What do you need?
Again, your school will need to set this up. Most of us teachers are not privy to these decisions, but -in case you are- here’s my two cents!

How do I use it?
I separate out my classes so that each class gets its own page. This is done on the administrative end, so I just have to send an email and request a new class to be added. Then, I separate units by sections on Moodle. My MYP Honors French 9 class looks like this (from a student’s perspective):

MYP Honors French 9 Moodle - Student Perspective

MYP Honors French 9 Moodle – Student Perspective

And from the teacher’s view:

MYP Honors French 9 Moodle - Teacher's Perspective

MYP Honors French 9 Moodle – Teacher’s Perspective

PRO: As you can see in the above image, there are many options for editing for the teacher. Unlike Google Classroom, you can easily rearrange the order of items. You can also hide and unhide them with one click of a button. You can even choose to “Move right” on an item and it will be indented under another (see underneath most of the folders?). The gray items are the hidden ones. The ones in blue are active and can be seen by students.

PRO: Within each folder, I can add a description, which can link to other URLs (in the example folder below, I have linked to some YouTube pronunciation videos and some supplemental resources) or I can upload my own documents (see the PDFs at the bottom? Or I can always upload these to my Google Drive and then link to the URL in the description). Most of my folders link to the notes that I give in class, the worksheets done in class, and additional/supplemental sources (whether they are uploaded as files or they are hyperlinked in the description). My students LOVE THIS before tests, because they can re-print the notes and fill them out by memory. Sometimes I link to review games too.

MYP Honors French 9 Moodle - folder example

MYP Honors French 9 Moodle – folder example

CON: As you can tell, all of the examples are from the 5th Unit (out of 9) for my MYP Honors French 9 course. The resources on the teacher page were so extensive that they did not fit in the screenshot. All of this takes time. LOTS of time. My Moodle page expands every year, so don’t think that you will start off like this! But, keep in mind that you can always have your students find you links/resources as well. Some of my more motivated students will send me links to additional websites that they found online, and then I add those to the appropriate folder.

PRO: There are so many options for teachers when it comes to adding resources/content to your page. The list is quite extensive. What is nice is that Moodle will explain what you can do with each option if you select it (see to the right?). I tend to stick to the bottom options of file, folder, URL, label, and page. I have used nearly all of the options, but not all are as user-friendly as one would expect.

Moodle “add an activity” teacher view

PRO: For my school, students are used to accessing Moodle when they are absent or when they want to download resources. As a teaching staff, we all have individual pages for our classes, though some teachers will share pages if they teach the same section. For example, I teach one section of the MYP French Language Culture class and another French teacher has a second section, but we share the same Moodle page because we do the same projects/assignments.

PRO: If you do share the same page, you can separate out the students into each section for Calendar event, a news forum, quiz results, etc. This makes it easier to only look at YOUR students or to separate out sections by hour/block.

PRO/CON: I use the calendar on my Moodle page so students know what they missed when they were absent. Students also use it when they want to know if they had homework or not. The calendar is easy for teachers to update and you can even link to URLs  or upload a file — BUT you canNOT link to assignments that are present on your Moodle page.

CON: Also, the calendar only allows a user to see one day at a time. You are very limited for looking ahead and seeing what’s coming, especially since I title each of my daily activities as “itinéraire” unless there is a large assessment of some kind.

MYP Honors French 9 Moodle - Calendar Day View

MYP Honors French 9 Moodle – Calendar Day View

PRO: The quizzes will be graded by Moodle if you use multiple choice and give the correct response. If not, you can go back and grade them right in Moodle. Then Moodle will calculate the scores. You can separate your students by class (this is done when they enroll), and you can export the data to enter into your gradebook if your school does not use Moodle for reporting grades. Also, the data stays there until you delete it.

PRO: You can allow students to have “unlimited attempts” to only a few attempts to one attempt at each question. Careful that you do not allow a student to see their grade instantly after they hit submit on the question. Also, make sure that you explain to students before hand if they have this power or not. One time, I did not realize that I gave students the power to have a second attempt on their quiz questions; half of the class realized this and fixed their mistakes after they submitted their responses.

CON: Time. As always, the quizzes take a lot of time to create.

PRO: For my French classes, I prefer to use Moodle for vocabulary quizzes, since the images will show up on the screen in color (and then I do not need to project up the same image for all of the students and worry that those in the back cannot see as well as those in the front of the classroom).

PRO: You can also create a category of questions (for example, I can upload four images of “summer” into a question category). Then, you can choose “use random question” and select a specific question category. This is PERFECT for when your students are all sitting close to each other in your computer lab. The questions will cover the same content, but they will not necessarily have the same questions (or it will at least not show up in the same order). See below for examples of what I mean.

Moodle - Editing Question Categories

Moodle – Editing Question Categories

Below: editing and organizing your quiz.

Moodle - Editing Quiz

Moodle – Editing Quiz

CON: Did I mention that all of this takes a lot of time?

PRO: If there are other teachers who teach the same content as you, you can create the quiz (or any activity) together and then share it between pages (I always ask the Moodle administrator to do this, since I am always worried that I will somehow delete something).

CON: The hardest activity that I have created is the “lesson” — What makes it so hard? The jumping to different pages if the student gets the answer incorrectly always makes it difficult for me to wrap my head around and difficult to stay organized. Since I found it so difficult, I have only ever created ONE lesson, and it is very short.

Overall, I really like Moodle. The biggest push for me to use it and keep it up-to-date is that it is utilized by my co-workers, so my students are familiar with it. Once you establish the norm of using Moodle with your students, as I’m sure it is with every LMS, they will no longer “bug you” when they are absent for their missed work. Or you can just reply with “What did the Moodle calendar say?”

Kahoot

One of my favorite review games to use with my freshmen in my MYP Honors French 9 class is Kahoot.

Kahoot game logo

What you need:

  • A projector or smart board
  • One-to-one devices for students
  • Wi-Fi or Internet access for everyone

 

How do you play:
The teacher makes a review game by creating a series of multiple choice questions on the educator’s site: create.kahoot.it Then the students access the game by downloading the Kahoot app or going to Kahoot.it  They log in using a game pin (provided on the educator’s site when the teacher hits “play game”), then the questions and answers are projected up by the teacher for the entire class to see and play the game. The multiple choice answers are associated with a color and a shape, which is what shows up on your students’ screens (not the actual words). They have to select the right color/shape to choose the answer they think is correct. The students are given points for answering correctly and for answering quickly.

CON: Each student needs his/her own device. And a touch screen is the best option. Not all of the students in my class have a touch-screen device, but some have two – so they share. Because my students are so trustworthy, I will hand out my personal cell phone as well as a school iPad. Most of the time, this covers my class and we do not need to send anyone down to the media center to check out a chromebook. I run the game from the teacher computer in the room.

CON: When students join a game, they enter in their names. Each name is projected up on the screen with the game pin for the entire class to see. Yes, you have the power to boot them out of the game, but it does not undo the reading of it by the class. For example, I had a student write something very mean about another student, and the entire class saw it before I could delete it. They were “just joking” and said that “we’re friends, so we are allowed to make fun of each other” – but it didn’t stop me from sending the culprit down to the main office.

PRO: On the other hand, if your students play anonymously, then they feel better that their rankings are not obvious to the entire class.

CON: Students do not like that the written (word) answers are only on the board (associated with a shape and color that then shows up on each individual device). My students said that they would prefer to have the responses show up on their individual screens/devices in writing, and not just associated with colors/shapes.

PRO: However, because of the above, my students tend to move to the front of the class or -at least- they all crowd around the board. It brings them closer together and allows for some informal (and on task) socialization between play times.

PRO: My students RAVE about this game; they love it so much. They are extremely competitive, even when they are playing anonymously. Their competitive drive inspires them to try their hardest and not yell out the right answer (thus giving each student a chance to think about the answer and test their knowledge). *Note: I try to prep the students by explaining that they get MORE points for bring correct than being fast; I stress that they need to read each response before choosing their answer.

PRO: Thanks to the above chat, I found that my students were better at reading through all of their options on other assessments.

CON: To make the games, it does take a lot of up-front work on the teacher’s end. An idea I had, though, is that you could have the students write up their own MC questions for a homework or in-class assignment; then you could use those as inspiration for the game. I’m sure the students would be tickled to have their questions show up on the review!

Google Classroom

For my first Ed Tech blog post, Google Classroom seemed like a nice starting point.

Google Classroom App Image

Everyone seems to be jumping onto the Google Class bandwagon, but I’m not 100% satisfied. I have used Google Classroom for two different classes (DP1 French and MYP French Culture); both of these classes meet in person every other day of school (block scheduling). Here are my thoughts:

  • PRO: When you create a course, you can give students an enrollment key, so they can enroll themselves, or you can type in the student’s email address and force them to join the class. At our school, all of the students’ emails are shared under contacts, so I can add students to the class who were absent the day that I assigned them to join.
  • CON: Students must use their school email accounts to join Google Classroom. Right now, since the school email accounts are still a little new to the school (only two years old), my current juniors still use their personal accounts more than their school ones. So if I send out reminders or whatnot, they do not always get them (or they use it as an excuse to “not” receive the message). In a few years, I do not think this will be an issue anymore, but it’s worth mentioning.
  • PRO: You have the power to decide what students are able to do on your page: post? comment? post and comment? just read? It all depends on how you are using the Classroom and what assignments you are creating. For me, I allow my students to post and comment, since I would like students to ask questions to the whole class; that way -when I respond- the entire class gets the same response. This tends to stop the same question from coming up over and over again. Sometimes, students will ask me a question in person, and I will post a comment as a clarification to the assignment.
  • PRO: You can create assignments and give specific due dates, even specific TIMES that the assignments are due (by midnight, or by the end of a certain class).
  • CON: Once you create an assignment, you can move it very easily. Google Classroom only gives you the option to move an assignment to the top. So, if you would like to reorganize your assignments, it will take you a long time!
  • PRO: You can create an assignment that ALL students are able to edit. Because of the revision history feature in Google Docs, you can see who wrote what and when they wrote it. This way, if something “unique” is written on the shared document, you can figure out who it is.
  • PRO: You can create an assignment and then students will each get their own version (you have to create the document template in Google Drive, then link to the assignment and choose “each student gets own version” when you create the assignment). You can then see the entire revision history for each student’s work, which details when they worked on it and what changes were made. For my DP1 class, this came in handy while they were practicing their Language B Written Assignment. I was able to follow along and ensure that students were writing the task in their own words, without the assistance of an online translator.
  • PRO: Students are able to submit their work when they are done, even if it’s early. After they submit, they can still see their work, but they are unable to make edits. As a teacher, you can then comment and give them grades right in Google Classroom. Once it is graded, students are able to edit if they would like (and if you allow it).
  • CON: Teachers are unable to “lock” students out of an assignment. If one of my students does not submit his/her work, then I make a copy of that assignment so I know that he/she cannot work on it before I get a chance to grade it.
  • CON: On assignments where students follow a URL to fill out a Google Form, they still have to hit the “TURN IN” button, or else it will show that they have not completed the task, even though I have access to their responses on the form. This is really only negative if you do not collect their user names automatically when creating a Google Form (which could be the case if you want to make responses anonymous).
  • CON: You cannot monitor everything that your students are doing on their laptops/computers. I have had many students who have gotten sidetracked during class or who have worked on other homework assignments instead of doing my classwork. Of course, this means that they fall behind their peers on the class timeline; it’s hard to punish them, since I do not have evidence that they were NOT working the entire time.
  • PRO/CON: (depending on the assignment, this could go either way) Students are able to work on the assignments from any location/computer, at any time. That means that they could be at home, working on their assignments. This is great if you have a sick kid or someone on vacation. But if you want them to be writing in French IN FRONT OF YOUR EYES, then it is not always the best option.

Overall, it depends on the assignment as to whether I would suggest using Google Classroom or not. If you want your students to read and annotate an article (each getting their own copy) and then post comments to a shared Google Doc, then use it! Just make sure to explain in advance that students will need to hit “Turn in” when they have completed a task, or it will look like (at a glance from your home page) that the students did not do anything. Like any new resource, I suggest playing around with it from both sides (as a teacher and as a student) before introducing it in class. And don’t be afraid to say “Let’s try this out together, class!” — In my classrooms, students have enjoyed being the risk-takers and the “guinea pigs” with new technology. Anything that allows them to use their devices or the school Chromebooks!

Foreign Language Literacy Resources & Techniques

As a ninth grade French teacher, I do a lot of literacy skills with my students as they learn a foreign language. We start the year off with phonetics and basic syntax rules, and then quickly move to reading (and listening) comprehension before we go to oral and written expression. The greatest resource that I have found is the supplemental, online, interactive database that came with our new French 9 textbooks. We ordered our books through Vista Higher Learning (the college-level resource section) and we chose the optional “Supersite” for a small, extra fee. Each of my students created a log-in to go with their textbook code so they can listen, repeat (and record), read, watch short films, and answer all sorts of comprehension/grammar questions.

My favorite part about this website is the fact that it starts with the alphabet and a recording exercise. My students can listen to a native speaker and then record themselves pronouncing the letters; after, they can then compare their pronunciation to that of the native speaker. This allows them to self-assess before I give a formal assessment in class. The most advanced sections require students to read and fill in blanks with missing vocabulary words. I can allow them to have anywhere from 1 to 10 chances to fix their mistakes, since the website will automatically correct it for them while providing instant feedback. It has been a life-saver this year, since I have 34 students in one section, a colleague has 40, and another 37. It gives individualized attention that we just don’t have time for in class.

As a foreign language teacher, it’s not only important that my students know reading strategies, but they must learn how to read something withOUT being able to understand every single word. It is the #1 issue that my students struggle with in my class. The best resource that I’ve found in teaching all of my students reading strategies in French 9 is a website through the University of Texas, called the “Foreign Language Teaching Methods: Reading” website. This is an amazing resource, since it takes instructors through how to present the reading strategies and what the students need to do. There are four lessons which give different strategies, examples, and student growth goals. I like this resource since it helps me better prepare my students for reading comprehension assessments. Normally, I introduce a lesson and then give a reading comprehension assessment which works on the new strategies, scaffolding as we go. Once I’ve introduced all of the lessons, my students see if they can come up with more strategies. Normally, they just reiterate what was already taught, but putting it into their own words really helps them get a better understanding of the concepts.

Literacy Instruction at the IA

I recently started the next wave of classes in my trek towards getting my masters. This semester I am taking CEP 816 “Teaching with Technology Across the Curriculum” and TE 846 “Accommodating Differences in Literacy Learning.”  While researching the different standards and policies from the last fifteen to twenty years for my TE 846 class, I realize -now, more than ever- that the high school where I teach is different than nearly all other high schools. For, when I taught in Saline Area Schools during the 2009-2010 school year, I taught a class called “Study Skills” which targeted struggling students in seventh and eighth grades. In this classroom, I taught students organizational and study skills, though we also worked on literacy and “decoding” as I liked to call it. Because of funding from the state and federal government, Saline was able to keep that program running for two years. At Avondale High School, they had something similar while I was long-term substituting for an English teacher. I have come to realize that many high schools have these programs due to the state and federal laws. However, at the International Academy in Bloomfield Hills, there is no such class. Over 99% of our students are labelled “College Ready” by the end of their Junior year. If they have literacy issues, it is mainly because they are ELL, so they participate in ELL classes during and after school. I understand that our school is not like any other school. It is mainly because of the kids, the teachers, the parents, and the staff (in that order).

As an IB diploma program, IA students need to become literate and fluent in English (our Language A) and in a foreign language (their Language B). They are tested in reading comprehension, written expression, text interpretation, oral expression, and visual interpretation all in one of our offered foreign languages. The World Language Department uses evidence-based best practices to help ensure that our students receive comprehensive literacy instruction in the foreign language classrooms. As one of three campuses, my colleagues and I rely on each other to encourage effective teaching. We collaborate to ensure that we are using multiple sources of data to determine where the highest student need is, whether it’s by grade level, by class, or on an individual student basis. Since we have such a strong support team, we help our struggling students become successful. We coach and guide them using our own Response to Intervention (RTI) system of testing and evaluating. We start at elementary level goals (pronouncing the alphabet) and end with advanced literacy abilities such as fill-in-the-blank with a transition word, replace/define the pronoun, etc. Because the IB holds such high standards for the Language B classes, we hold high standards in our own classes. This past year, as the suggestion of my colleagues, I created a system of Tiers with my freshmen for their first larger reading comprehension assessments. It was a way to reach students who were still struggling with literacy in the French classroom while not slowing down those who were excelling. It worked out quite well, and I plan to do something similar this year, though I am thinking that my newest class (TE 846) will guide me in making changes to my Tiers and what they each mean. I am looking forward to this class and can’t wait to see what changes await my classroom.