Friday, March 25, 2011

Did You Hear That? Immediate Feedback

My students and I were working on episodes for our podcast on biography books recently when two wonderful things happened: Unsolicited student response to feedback and peer coaching.

From time to time I would play back what a student just recorded due to inadvertent background noises, line flubs, or speaking volume issues. A good number of students would blush or feel embarrased when they first heard their own voices. However, with almost every student, that bashfulness quickly subsided, and something wonderful and unexpected happened next.

They wanted a "do over". They wanted to do it again! Do you know how many times I wished my students would voluntarily do their assignment over just to get it right? Imagine my surprise when they said:

"Can I read that one again?"
"I think I can do better, if I had another try."
"I want to change something."
"I thought of a better sentence just now."
"I sound like a robot. I want to do it again."

The benefit of immediate feedback was evident. In almost every case (not all, because some of them did a super job the first time) students wanted to re-record their lines. Upon a second or third go, the improvements were remarkable.

The second added benefit was the peer coaching. My students worked in small groups on these podcasts, and they were helping each other with suggestions about delivery and emphasis, and their suggestions were on the money! It was fantastic!

This idea is good for any student, but especially great for students who need coaching with diction.

Myna from Aviary
Get Started!
A USB microphone is relatively inexpensive. You plug it into any open USB port, and you're good to go. I purchased my microphone at a big box electronics store for about $20.00. Once you buy your microphone go to this free web-based program for podcasting called Myna from Aviary. You can watch a demo of Myna below. Skip ahead to 2:05 to listen to the part about recording voice.

Monday, March 21, 2011

I'll Confess: I Teach My Kids the Wrong Way

It's true. I teach my kids the wrong way. In fact I was a bit surprised to learn that more good teachers weren't teaching students the wrong way. But, before you go jumping to conclusions, let me explain.

I was in a professional development session after school talking about the Daily 5. Several teachers had commented on one particular technique authors Gail Boushey, and Joan Mosey suggest. When teaching classroom procedures and expectations, a teacher should show students the wrong way as well as the right way to do something. Some of my colleagues said they would never have thought of showing their students the wrong way. It feels unnatural, and counter intuitive.  However bizarre it may seem, it truly does work.

The wrong way can be the right way.
During the first month of school my students and I discuss and practice our classroom procedures and expectations. It sets the tone for the rest of the year, and students seem to feel much more comfortable when they know what is expected of them. While practicing a procedure or expectation, we will do it the wrong way and the right way.

Here is an example:
Let's say we are talking about listening expectations. I'll ask a student to pretend to be the teacher, and I sit in his/her seat and pretend to be a student who isn't following the expectation. I'll start a conversation with a neighbor while the "teacher" is speaking. I'll get into my desk and rattle papers around. I'll tap my pencil. I'll get out of my seat to get a drink. You get the idea.

The students really get a kick out of seeing their teacher act up, and frankly, I think it's a lot of fun too.  Afterward, we have a good discussion about why it was the wrong behavior, what I should have done instead. We also talk about what implications my rude behavior might have on the classroom environment. After the discussion, I'll have several students demonstrate the correct behavior.

Not only is it a wonderful technique at the beginning of the year, it's useful throughout the year. I use this tactic to revisit expectations that need to be readdressed. I also use it anytime I need to introduce a new procedure mid-year.

Have you ever tried teaching your students the wrong way? Share your creative teaching techniques.

*There are plenty of other great tips and tricks found on the right-hand side of the blog page under the section titled, "More Instant Ideas".

Monday, March 14, 2011

How To Use All Of Your Great Literature

I love teaching! I especially love to share great literature with my students on a daily basis. Learning about reader and writer's workshops years ago has given me the framework to pass on those passions to my students. Unfortunately, after a few years my book collection got so big, I was forgetting which books were great for which mini-lessons.

So, I've created a list of the books in my collection and which writing mini-lessons I have used those books for in the past. This list allows me the chance to finish my weekly lesson plans that much quicker! No longer am I spending lots of time trying to remember the titles I used in the past.

I hope this list can be of help to you as well. Use it as a starting point, continuing to add books to the list and improving your craft.

Please follow this link for an extensive list of writing mini-lessons.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

LearnBoost: Too Good Not to Try Out

There are countless web-based tools for educators. I follow an outstanding blog called Free Technology for Teachers authored by Richard Byrne. It was in one of his posts that I discovered one of the most amazing web-tools I've ever used. It's called LearnBoost. LearnBoost is a free web-based gradebook, yet it is truly much more than that.

First a little disclosure. I am not paid by LearnBoost, but I am a "power user" and featured as a case study on their website. All that means is that I appreciate their product, and so will you.

LearnBoost just might be the best educator tool you've never heard of. It's a relatively new product that has earned a Top-Ten Web Start Up award for 2010 from ReadWriteWeb. If you're looking for an easy to use gradebook, lesson planner, grade reporting system, calendar, and/or attendance manager, it's all delivered by LearnBoost. To learn more about each feature take the LearnBoost Tour.

Here are some impressive highlights of LearnBoost:
  • Easy to use
  • Lesson plans can be linked with the national common core standards
  • The calendar feature is fully linked with Google Calendar
  • You can share student grades with your students and their parents
  • Customer service is top notch (see below)
  • Web-based, so LearnBoost works anywhere you have Internet access
  • Teacher-centered approach to product development
  • Free-free-free

One of the most amazing things I've experienced about the LearnBoost team is the customer service. They care about what teachers want. One example of their way of thinking is the feedback tab found on nearly every page of the LearnBoost website. The LearnBoost team uses teacher feedback as one of the main driving forces behind their product design.

The second example of customer support is how amazingly quick they are at answering any questions you have about their product. On a Sunday afternoon I asked a question about their newly released reporting feature. I didn't expect an answer until Monday because it was Sunday after all. To my surprise, the CEO of the company emailed me back in 5 minutes with a solution! On a Sunday afternoon!

The third example is their quick video tutorials that are easy to follow and informational--perfect for the busy teacher. Check out one of their videos below as a sampling of their dedication to making teachers' lives easier.

I really enjoy using LearnBoost. I'm proud to call myself a "Power User".  If you are searching for a web tool that will make your life easier give LearnBoost a look today.

Example of a LearnBoost Video Tutorial

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Study Jams: Free Math and Science Animated Videos

StudyJams from Scholastic is a wonderful educational website.  I first heard of this great website from Richard Byrne's blog Free Technology for Teachers. StudyJams has a library of over 200 videos and slide shows about various math and science topics.  Most of the videos include a quiz "Test Yourself", and a section about vocabulary. I know that the information is solid, the entertainment value is there for my students, and it's free!

I use StudyJams a few different ways. I use it as an introduction to a concept or skill, as a mid-lesson support, or I use it as a wrap up to the unit or lesson.

Using StudyJams as an Introduction
My students were studying heat energy a while ago. To start off the unit we did a K-W-L about heat. After a nice list was built, we watched StudyJams: Heat. I ended up pausing the video a couple of times because some of the ideas that were discussed in our K-W-L discussion was explained in the video.  When the video ended, we continued our discussion. The students had been armed with a little more schema, thank you StudyJams, and they wanted to know about more heat and it's applications in their world.

Using StudyJams as a Mid-Lesson Support
I was teaching the class fractions. I began with breaking a candy bar into equal pieces, and shared some with a few lucky students (see "Craft Sticks" post).  I then launched into explaining what the numerator and denominator represent in a fraction. I was talking too much at this point, and needed to change gears, so I played the StudyJams video on Fractions. The video totally supported what I had just talked about, helping me deliver the message twice with different mediums.

Using StudyJams as a Wrap Up
As I was previewing the Magnetism slide show, I couldn't believe how much the slide show reinforced the topics we explored during our magnetism unit. I decided to use the slide show as a nice tidy wrap up for the unit. A nice feature of a StudyJams slide show is it either plays on it's own, or gives you complete control over the slide show. I was able to pause the show, and then review what we discussed, and I was also able to quickly and easily flip around to other slides.

No matter how you end up using these videos, I urge you to give them a try in your classroom soon.

*Note: Don't forget to check the archived teaching tips found under "More Instant Ideas" for more great tips!