Collaborative Novel Writing Presentations for MPTC

This is the presentation that I gave today for the MPTC Div II and III.  Collaborative ideas for all three sessions are in this post as well, so find your sessions ideas and get writing, due date is Friday March 14th.  If you have questions or concerns, please email me!

Class Novel for Division II & III

From the High School session this morning:

IMG_6441 IMG_6440
From the Division III session this afternoon:

IMG_6442 IMG_6443

From the Division II session this afternoon:

IMG_6444 IMG_6445

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Education in the age of change: A TEDx Talk

I gave a talk a week ago at TEDx RockyView Schools, and I wanted to share it with a little bit of context for it with you.  One of the biggest hesitations teachers often have when I am working with them on enhancing their practice and working with digital tools is that they are somehow losing in the process.  There is an overwhelming feeling out there that the more teachers ‘put out there’ of their work and skill, the less value there is of having them in the classroom.  I used to be unsure how to respond to that fear.

For a time I thought (mainly to myself) that if the world was changing in such a way that teachers could be replaced by online tools, then I would want to be aware of those tools, familiar with them, because someone has to know how to keep the ‘machine’ running.  If all of us were on the ropes, I would at least be as valuable as I could by understanding the new technology.  Then if the teachers were all ‘let go,’ I would possibly still have some value in the new system.  It was a naïve perspective.

In doing my research for this talk, I found that I do believe that we are in the midst of a change because of technology and that we most certainly need to become familiar with technology.  This is not because technology will replace us, but rather because it could replace us if we aren’t pushing our teaching practice to be as effective as possible.

Make no mistake, there are billions of dollars at work trying to figure out the ‘next way’ in education, you need only look to the United States and the various initiatives at work there to see how money and cost-saving can effect education.  However, if you look to Alberta, Canada, you will also see some amazing efforts by teachers to integrate technologies both personal and publicly purchased, to change practice based on current research, and the possibilities the democratization of knowledge has brought to a modern education system.  These changes have been brought about by an environment of research and study, willing to look at how to best blend the expertise of teachers with the innovation technology brings.  It’s not perfect, but it does inspire hope that instead of looking to replace teachers with some learning program or hardware solution, the answer will continue to be a blended, human approach to learning.

Enjoy the talk!

What Creativity Brings to Student Accommodations

I have worked with several teachers over the years who have specialized in supporting students with exceptional needs, and  have also worked in my own classes to utilize the resources at my disposal to support learning in the classroom. I have learned through this work that one of the most effective methods of providing student accommodations is to look at the problem with a creative lens.  While at times this seems counter-intuitive, as there are long-standing patterns of support used in many schools, by thinking manly about the needs of the student and what they need to be able to do, sometimes we are able to bring a very cost-effective and meaningful solution that would have escaped us if we were just looking in the standard book of solutions.

Case in point; I was in discussion last year about several students in my class who were ADHD and or otherwise easily ‘distractible’ in my fourth grade class. We had tried several accommodations for them that had worked moderately, but they were still unable to function well in the quiet times of class, where they had to maintain focus on a single task for a period of time.  As I watched them carefully, I was reminded of my tenth grade non-academic students who functioned in much the same way during writing times.  Those students, with permission (or sometimes without,) would trot out their iPods and focus themselves by tuning out the rest of the class with their music.  While I didn’t always prefer their musical selections, or the level at which they played them, I could scarcely deny the effectiveness of this self-accommodation to tune out their peers.

With the support of our administration and the learning support team last year, I was able to purchase iPod Shuffles for the classroom. I loaded these up with classical music to drown out the background noise, nothing lyrical, just pleasant and engaging music. The results were astounding. While it didn’t work for every student experiencing difficulty; for those that were engaged, it was a profound change for them.  In fact, the students began asking for the iPods immediately as we sat down to work.  Since the iPod shuffles have no screen, no other distractions, the students are not tempted to ‘play’ with them and are not distracted by the technology.  They simply put the headphones in and get down to work, which is what I was looking for.

Our school has purchased 10 iPod shuffles and they are used in several classrooms now, with great results.  Students enjoy the independence and focus it offers them, and teachers are enjoying having another, relatively inexpensive, accommodation to provide for their students. If we can look ‘outside the box,’ sometimes we will find what we are looking for set just outside. How can you approach student accommodations differently?  What could your students need that no one has seen before?

The Spontaneous Premiere of #edchat8CST on Twitter

I had just finished a very brief chat on #cdnedchat tonight and, as I had joined late, found myself in the mood for more educational conversation. What happened next was one of those moments on Twitter where you realize the power of social media. Darin Johnson (@AnIowaTeacher) was lamenting the lack of a chat at that moment, and so I dropped the suggestion that we start one. At that moment #edchat8CST was born and both myself and Darin sent out the call for educators to join. Within moments we had a topic: Using Social Media to Start Something New in the Classroom and I moderated the conversation with four questions. We had teachers join through the whole hour, and I was astonished that there were people creeping the chat (reading and watching without participating), new connections to both Darin and myself, and the conversation was electric. One of the greatest outcomes was the side-chats and spontaneity of the group, willing to put more ‘out there’ because it was not a ‘regular’ chat. Our four questions over the hour were as follows:

Q1: What social media do you think would be most conducive to classroom use?
Q2: What innovative uses have you found for Social Media as you teach?
Q3: Brainstorming time; If you had unlimited technology available, what WOULD you try using social media in education?
Q4: How can we spontaneously make better use of SM in our classrooms? Like this chat?

I was so impressed that a tenuously connected group of educators (I had never had a conversation of any great length with Darin prior to our staring the chat) could create such a great collection of ideas and resources, experiences and positive conversation. It was the highlight of my week on Twitter, and it’s only Monday! At any rate. Thanks to all who joined in, and we will use the hashtag again for impromptu chats, keep watching! Please read the storify below for the full conversation!

Support for iPads in the Classroom? Check your Staff!

I had a great discussion today that reminded me why I feel it is so important to do what I do with Developing Education, New Teacher Chat #ntchat and other supports I am involved in online.  My conversation was focused on the best way to deliver support to teachers with the various technologies we have been providing teachers.  While there is an inclination to digitize support and send the teachers to a website, video tutorial, or even Google, this misses the mark with teachers who are already overloaded and don’t have the ‘extra time’ to go out to these sources to learn about technology.

Think about it for a moment, if teachers were apt to go online and had plenty of time to spend on their own personal development on their own time, I think the uptake with technology in many cases would be exponentially further than it is.  The truth is, great teachers worry about the art of teaching and the preparation for it in their own time.  Their dedication is part of what makes them great to start with. We burn these teachers out by pushing them to do more in an environment they don’t understand, even when we provide support by way of training videos or websites.  They simply don’t have a passion for technology learning, or they would be doing it themselves.

Instead of offloading training and support for technology to be done ‘at your leisure’ (how many of us have leisure, or use leisure time for that?) look to someone on your staff who does have the passion for using technology in learning.  Give that person some extra prep time, collaborative time, or better yet, make that person a full-time educational technologist.  If you are able to provide your staff with someone who effectively uses a passion for educational technology in the classroom, and has or is developing a knowledge of the curriculum links associated, I bet you will find that the money spent on that position will go far further than the man hours putting together presentations on technology or training guides.  Every teacher I’ve known who has taken up a technology I have offered has seen the value of that technology to their own classroom and situation before they started.  It is hard to instil that value without a passionate, articulate teacher who is willing to walk with them into the classroom and help them make it happen.  Think about your team, your staff, do you have someone you think could fill that role?  You may be further along the path to great technology instruction than you thought!

I have had the fortune of being in this role in two schools, and let me tell you as someone who is passionate about this, it is FUN to watch teachers flip the switch.  It’s why I get so fired up about technology in the classroom!  If you want to ask me more about this, or have me work with someone you want to test in this role, see my contact link above and connect.  I would love to support you!

Why we need to move away from App-Based Learning {iPads in Education, iOS, Educational Design}

I have been and continue to be a huge proponent of iOS in education, mainly because of its effectiveness in getting the tool out of the way as a hindrance to student learning.  You can read more about those perspectives here.  However, in every talk I give, I try to mention several apps for each task I have students perform.  This can, at times, seem counterintuitive to those I am speaking to who want a ‘single solution’ in their classrooms.

Why do I do this?

The answer is simply that I believe students should have the opportunity to pick a tool to do a job.  I want students to have options and think about why they are choosing the tool they do.  If I give students one option, they may learn how to use that app, but have not learned why that app is there and why it was chosen for use.  As opposed to other areas of learning in their lives, the ‘reason’ behind technology is often hidden from the view of the student.  Students understand, or can be easily taught, why they would use a dictionary to define a word instead of a newspaper, though using the newspaper might be an interesting exercise.  However, there are a multitude of reasons for using or not using an app, and my reasons for choosing an app may not be comprehensive or valid for all students.

What do options in apps bring to the table?

I worry about our students’ ability to discern what is best for them if they are always handed the tool and then simply ‘go through the motions.’  If we are looking to inspire learners, we need to give them some dead ends and have them rethink their route.  I understand that this is not always practical or expedient, but students can find more than one way for students to achieve learning and reach outcomes.  To be honest, I am working hard at blending technology and other learning methods in my classroom so students don’t even simply go to technology to answer a problem.  It is tough, and I am learning as I go, but I am learning that there is an advantage to being 1:3 instead of 1:1 in a classroom.  Students learn that technology is but one tool in the cupboard, and not the one they should always turn to.  Good lessons in grade 4!  Likewise, even in a 1:1 environment, having a plethora of apps to achieve a task leads children to evaluate what is working, and isn’t, for them.


Obviously, some apps have particular purpose, and I am not saying that there is no value in having apps to highlight a concept or review learning.  What I am advocating is for teachers to spend more effort on creating great projects that could use any number of apps, than on creating a process in a specific app that students must follow lock-step.  Let’s use our digital tools to broaden the possibilities for our students, instead of narrowing them!

5 Key Learnings From Intern Teachers: A Reflection

I have the good fortune of having an intern teacher right now, the fourth I have taken in my career. It’s not always a perfect match or scenario, but it is always a learning experience. I have taken some key learnings away from each of my intern teachers, and appreciate so much the benefit they bring to my classroom. So, in light of recently being added to the team of moderators at #ntchat and my reflections on my current intern teacher, here are five key learnings I have gained from having an intern in my room. My hope is that if you are on the fence about this process, some of these ideas may inspire you to take the plunge and share your room.

#1: New Paths

I am always shocked by the range of approaches one can take to any classroom process. Having an intern teacher means opening your mind to the new possibilities and approaches another teacher can take. I have gained so much insight into pedagogy by seeing an innovative approach or a new presentation method that I had never considered, that the intern would never have considered doing my way. You couldn’t buy that kind of teaching insight

#2: Risk

Intern teachers are not set into particular teaching habits yet, they consider everything they do, they are obsessed with it. However, due to inexperience they have to try new things to reach desired learning. Intern teachers will risk a lesson, a few minutes, a little paper, to try something new. How many of us established teachers are willing to go down a new path because it might be worthwhile? Too often our desire to simplify our teaching experience leads us to do what is expedient and easy, intern teachers have less comfort so they are far more willing to ‘shake things up.’

#3: Passion

Slice it any way you want, intern teachers are generally pretty excited to get in front of a class. They are excited about new lessons and their preparation, they are eager! I think I’m still pretty passionate about education (I mean, I do this blogging thing and all) but I have to admit that I still get fired up just seeing how much intern teachers enjoy teaching. It’s a wonderful thing to get that shot in the arm, and witness that passion, particularly at a time of the year when teachers start to wear down for the duration of the year. Having an intern teacher to connect with, share with and redesign learning with is a great inspiration.

#4: Goals

What is your current goal as a teacher? If you are thinking something to the tune of ‘making it through the year,‘ you may want to sign up for an intern. These individuals are busting at the seams just to get into our profession, they have a very clear goal, and they work hard to achieve it. Professionally, many of us can become so focused on the day to day that we forget that there is more out there for us. Interns connect us to that world and allow us to see new places we may wish to take our careers, new directions to move in. They give us pause to reflect and consider our own careers.

#5 Research

Okay, many of you know I am a research junkie. If you don’t, you do now. I love current research and digging for new discoveries. For those of you who aren’t about to start digging through University archives, intern teachers are generally filled up to the brim with current educational theory. You can ask them about current pedagogy, beliefs, thoughts on classroom structure and discipline. If they don’t know about it, many of them will go back and do the research or ask their professors so they know. However, I have yet to have an intern that didn’t have at least a cursory knowledge of current theory. This is wonderful to connect to, even if it only affirms what you do, as some of us have not connected with those places of higher learning where our careers were born in some time.

Clearly there are many more lessons to learn from intern teachers, and this is really just the start of the discussion. If you’d like to hear more from great intern teachers and those new to the profession, join #ntchat Wednesday nights on Twitter. We would love to have you join the conversation!

If you have any other learnings to share in your experiences with intern teachers, please comment below and we will keep the conversation going!

Project-Based Learning: Writing a Class Novel

I recently had a request on #ntchat to share a project that I have done many times over in High School English.  Writing a class novel requires an investment of time and a great deal of organization, but overall is a tremendous experience for your students, and one that can fundamentally change the way that your students look at literature. Not only is it a great team-building activity, and one that forces students to work through differences in perspective, ability, authority and discipline, but it is also a TON of work that students are willing to do because of the desire to reach the final product.

The Project

I always start this project by letting students know that we are engaging in one of the hardest acts of writing known to man, and that they have the chance to achieve something that few people ever do, and even fewer classes take the time to experience.  Now that I am more familiar with the process, I actually let my students know at the beginning of the year about the project, and that we will be working harder to complete the rest of our work and build in time for this activity.  On the assignment sheet (posted below) you will see I have listed some outcomes, but ultimately the project reaches far more standards than I could assess and the students even realize, so I simply chose the ones that matched up with what the students needed to fulfill at that point in the course.

http://wp.me/a31Gro-62

In the assignment sheet, you will see that the project functions around three central parts: Brainstorming, Planning and Writing.  Students assume different roles through the process, and some of those roles do not run concurrently, so it is important for you to plan that some students will need to complete other tasks at various points in the process.  Personally, I like having the students do some research on novel writing, structure and process during the unit to round out their knowledge.

Brainstorming

In this portion, I have students come up with general ideas for the novel.  I have done this several ways.  I have chosen two students to facilitate class discussion, with the ability to veto and modify ideas, but create a list of possible choices.  Alternatively, I have had students come into class after a night of contemplation with an idea that they have vetted through several other students, so we come up with 4-5 solid ideas to discuss as a class.  Either way, I generally give a class or two for this initial choice of topic, as it is important that most students are interested, and that the idea is fleshed out enough to begin work.  I prompt the students with a plot diagram and have them think about some of the characters, the twists and turns of the plot, what makes the story original, and the importance of time and place.  As all of this information is handed over to the committees, it is important that it gives a good starting point, but is not too prescriptive to work with.

Committees

I generally set the committees based on the abilities and need of development in the classroom.  The committee work days are some of the busiest for me as a teacher, and some of the busiest for the runners as well.  I will let you read the various roles on the PDF above, but the runner is the most essential role to working with the committees, and they must be engaged students who want to see the project work.  This is not the place to put students you are not sure about.  They must be able to resolve conflicts between the ideas and changes necessary in the various sections, and they must be constantly listening to the groups and aware of what other groups will need to know.

Writing

The last few times I have done the writing process, we have been able to collaboratively work with a Google Document, which is a much simpler process than having separate files for each chapter group as I had done in the past.  The idea of the writing groups is that the plot is divided into logical chapters that groups are then assigned to write.  They use the information from the committees to ensure consistency in the novel.  For this reason, it is essential that character descriptions, setting layouts and plot descriptions are thorough.  If these sections are not completed well, students will have trouble maintaining consistency in the novel, and details become confused.  However, if done well, then students will be able to follow the story throughout, and the editors will have a much easier time in tying the novel together.

Another advantage of the Google Doc is the ability of students to review the sections before and after them to ensure that the novel blends well together.  This is by far the most difficult area of the novel to do convincingly, and the Editors do a great deal of work here as well.  However, having students in groups consistently check with and read over sections before and after their work will pay great dividends in the end.

Editing

While it may be tempting to have many editors, in my experience one or two exceptional students will do a far better job, as they read the whole novel to make sure it all works together.  Generally, if they wish I will print off a copy of the draft novel so they can write directly on the draft and do not have to read the whole thing on a screen.  I generally give them a weekend or longer time period to complete the edits, and then they can return the drafts to the chapter groups for final edits.

Publishing

I use Lulu.com to publish my books.  My district has a policy that does not allow for the sale of student books, so I simply produce the book as an independent run, and offer the students the ability to purchase the book at cost.  Depending on the rules your own district has, I have thought that offering the novel for sale might work as a fundraiser for your department or school might be a great real-world use for this project.

Results

I have had varied results with this project depending on the students in my class in any semester.  There are times when the project doesn’t get all the way complete, and publishing is not an option.  There are times when the ideas the class came up with hit stumbling blocks, and we’ve had to go back to planning half way through the unit, and there have been times when the whole project has run perfectly.  However, one consistent takeaway has always been present; student learn much more about the novel form and understand literature much more after doing this activity.  I have had students respond after this unit and tell me that they were never able to understand how a novel works until this project, and they were so happy to finally ‘get it.’  I do multiple novel studies in a semester, and the responses to literature present after this project are consistently more insightful and deeper than prior to.

Overall, this project has become one of my favourites. Though the time investment is high, many teachers tell me they could not fit in a month for writing a novel, I believe the learning more than offsets the cost.  My advice to teachers trying this approach is to be flexible and seek to inspire learning, not push for completion.  You can’t undo the learning that an inspired student engages in by not completing a project, but a student being pushed to completion will never reach it in the first place.

I have given presentations on this process as well, and this PDF gives an overview of that presentation, it may help clarify some of what I have discussed here, and offers the research behind the process:

https://mrkeenan.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/collaborative-novel-project.pdf

What do you think?  Would you like to try writing a novel as a class? What do you need to make it happen?