Making English class relevant is not always easy. Knowing how to read, write, and communicate effectively are important life skills; however, this seems to escape teenagers. English class can be made relevant through authentic learning activities and authentic assessments. If you are looking for an authentic learning activity including Sharktank, a United Nations grant, a jury, and a solution to social issues, read on.
Mrs. Collier teaches block scheduled English I classes. This means that she has 3 classes a day for 90 minutes each. For a unit on the rhetorical triangle, Mrs. Collier decided to challenge her students with a problem-based scenario; her students were challenged to present to a panel from the United Nations offering a $4,000,000 grant to support the most innovative product to solve the social problem caused by fast food. Think Shark Tank here. The students were expected to apply their knowledge of the rhetorical triangle and their skills of research, analysis of information, creative problem-solving, and presentation to convince the panel that their team and their product was the most viable and deserving of the $4 million grant.
First, students collaborated in groups of three and were tasked to read one chapter in Fast Food Nation dealing with a specific social problem created by fast food. After reading the chapter, students had to research the social problem and come up with a Shark Tank-like product to solve the problem. Next, the students had to create a presentation to try to convince the United Nations Grant Committee that their product most deserves the $4 million grant.
Persuasion and the Rhetorical Triangle
The students were tasked with applying the Rhetorical Triangle within their presentation to persuade the United Nations Grant Committee to choose their project idea as the most deserving of the $4 million grant. Having had training in applying logos, ethos, and pathos students were required to utilize all three in their presentations.
United Nations Grant Committee
Then, to make the activity more authentic, Ms. Collier invited
community and district members to judge the presentations over two days. Along with Lainie Berry, the District Director of Innovation and Digital Learning; and Caroline Mullis, a representative of the Coast Community Foundation of SC; I had the honor and thrill of serving on the UN Grant Committee to judge 4 of the 8 projects. The 4 products included a citizen watch-dog project to monitor pollution, a government-led pollution-monitoring system, a machine that detects E.coli in fast food burger meat, and a biodegradable and edible food packaging.
The Google Slides visual presentations were of varying quality as were the live student presentations. Overall, the 3-person jury was impressed with the level of research and creativity presented by each group. Mrs. Collier provided each jury member a rubric to judge the product, the presentation, and the rhetorical triangle and invited the jury members to ask questions for clarification before making our final decision. We three jury members discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each group, narrowed it down to two, and finally settled on one group to receive the grant. The winner was the biodegradable packaging to slow the pollution in the Arctic Circle.
Authentic Jury Feedback
Finally, understanding the power of outside influence, Mrs. Collier invited the 3 jury members to give constructive feedback to the teams. This particular team was powerful because one member is a former high school English teacher, one deals with budgets and deciding longevity of a project, and the third deals with grant applications daily and knows what to look for. The feedback given to the students included standard points about body language, confidence, volume, diction, and eye contact. After that, the jury explained the strengths of each group’s idea. Finally, the jury explained how important it is to cover all of the research thoroughly, and that knowledge of the subject matter is what ultimately gave us the confidence to grant one group $4 million.
Authentic Learning Take-Aways
This experience raised the level of engagement for the students because they had an authentic audience. Mrs. Collier did a fantastic job creating a real-world scenario with a real-world issue. Kudos to her and her students for their hard work and dedication to learning.
If you are interested in creating more authentic experiences for your students, I recommend heading to YouTube for a basic search. We found plenty of examples that served as an outline for what we wanted to do.
If you have participated in authentic activities with your students, please leave a comment to start a discussion. I’d love to hear from you about how things went and what we can learn from one another’s experiences.
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It’s early Saturday morning, and I am at the stove, my back to my family. My husband reads out the quote on the back of my t-shirt: “Inspire learners to lead.” My 16 year old son, however, immediately sees the irony in the statement and flips the wording: “Inspire leaders to learn.” He’s right. Are you leading by learning?
Turning It On Its Head
Many of the messages being generated in education are about what students and teachers should be doing, and so LITTLE focuses on what the leaders should be doing. All too often, building and district leadership are the least trained in technology, personalized pathways, and new innovative practices that are spreading across more progressive classrooms. Without leadership buy-in, innovation too often goes nowhere.
Many teachers are trying new things, some because they are too young to fear, and others because they are experienced enough to know what they can and cannot get away with. Sadly, the masses are in the middle, worrying about whether they can try something new or recovering from an observation that did not reflect what was really going on in their classroom. How can this happen? Perhaps, the observer was not aware of what to look for.
ISTE Standards are a great place to start. As an international body, the International Society for Technology in Education has a global reach as well as a global view. Of course there are technology standards for students, but there are also technology standards for teachers, technology coaches, and administrators. That’s right! Standards for admins!
“So, what are these well-hidden standards for administrators,” you ask. Well, here they are in a nutshell:
Visionary leadership: Educational Administrators inspire and lead development and implementation of a shared vision for comprehensive integration of technology to promote excellence and support transformation throughout the organization.
Digital age learning culture: Educational Administrators create, promote, and sustain a dynamic, digital-age learning culture that provides a rigorous, relevant, and engaging education for all students.
Excellence in professional practice: Educational Administrators promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators to enhance student learning through the infusion of contemporary technologies and digital resources.
Systemic improvement: Educational Administrators provide digital age leadership and management to continuously improve the organization through the effective use of information and technology resources.
Digital citizenship: Educational Administrators model and facilitate understanding of social, ethical and legal issues and responsibilities related to an evolving digital culture.
ISTE A.3 Excellence in Professional Practice
Standard number 3, Excellence in professional practice is the one I am drawn to. Here is how it breaks down:
a. Allocate time, resources, and access to ensure ongoing professional growth in technology fluency and integration b. Facilitate and participate in learning communities that stimulate, nurture and support administrators, faculty, and staff in the study and use of technology
c. Promote and model effective communication and collaboration among stakeholders using digital age tools
d. Stay abreast of educational research and emerging trends regarding effective use of technology and encourage evaluation of new technologies for their potential to improve student learning
Wow! How powerful! I have to admit that I have come across a few admins that are succeeding in this standard and its indicators, but all too often, the admins are the last to know about innovation and technology fluency and integration. Well, it’s not that difficult to stay abreast of the latest educational research.
Recommendations for Staying Abreast of Technology in Education
There are so many sources for technology information, and now it’s easier than ever to receive that information. No longer do you have to seek out information; it comes right to your inbox, your Facebook page, your Twitter feed, and your Google page. If you are an admin, and you don’t have one of those four technological connections, it is either time you let your students teach you, or it’s time for you to voluntarily remove yourself from education. Being connected is a great way to understand and connect with your students and faculty.
Many educational websites have newsletters and blogs you can subscribe to. If you aren’t receiving at least two educational resource emails per week, here are some websites I recommend:
While I was not a Tweeter a year ago, I am now getting most of my best educational information through Twitter. Twitter is not for wordy people or even full messages. Instead, it is an opportunity to share links to great blogs, tidbits of wisdom, and periodically a funny comment. When you create a Twitter account, do not leave your profile picture as an egg head. Immediately add a saying, a meme, or a photo of yourself to your profile. Choose a few key people to follow. I have given you a few recommendations below. Choose whom you follow carefully, and don’t overdo it. You don’t want to get overwhelmed. Wade in slowly, and if you like it, jump in.
If you have a gmail account, you can create a Google Plus, G , account. To do this, go to the 9-square in the top right hand corner. See graphic at right. Choose the red circle with G on it. This will take you to your Google Plus account. Set up your profile, and then go to the menu on the right and choose “Collections.” Here, you can engage in dialog with educators, administrators, and innovation leaders around the world. You will receive an email for each posting, and your post will go to every member in that community. This can get overwhelming very quickly, so only choose one or two communities to join at first. Click the JOIN button to become a MEMBER. To leave a group, click the MEMBER button and choose LEAVE.
Here are some recommendations for administrators and educators looking to connect with and learn from innovative educators around the world:
After joining a few Google Communities, check out the Google Collections. These function more like Facebook business pages, so only the owner(s) can post, and you can reply. It is still a great place for resources and getting connected.
As an admin, you have a unique power to make change. Be the voice and catalyst for change. If a teacher comes to you with ideas, research it, and support the teacher. Without administrator and building leadership buy-in, most innovation falls to side.
Share Your Experience or Leave a Comment
If you have an opinion that you would like to share, please leave a comment below. I’d love to get a discussion going.
Today, Señora Stewart’s Spanish I students at West Ashley High School worked on their family naming project on iPads. Without technology it is usually a written project; however, Señora Stewart and I worked to move it from the substitution level of SAMR to modification by including audio recordings, too.
The usual project was to create a poster of their imaginary family tree with photos of their imaginary family members and Spanish naming to go with each one. For example, a student might choose a picture of Johnny Depp as her father, and his picture would be labeled “Mi padre es Johnny Depp.” Without technology, this poster project usually takes two 45 minute periods.
As a member of the CCSD Digital Learning Cohort, Señora Stewart shares a cart of iPads with another cohort member. Wanting to digitize this project, Señora Stewart decided to use the iPads. Using either Keynote or Google Slides, the students were given requirements to create their family tree with the same titles and pictures AND a 2 descriptive sentences in Spanish. At this point, the project is purely substitution/augmentation on the SAMR chart, so Señora Stewart and I worked to add something new to the project.
Because foreign language standards require heavy duty communication activities, we wanted to work in a verbal recording of the presentation. To solve this request, we decided the students could insert their slides into iMovie and then record the words on the slide for each slide. Now, we are at modification in the SAMR model.
On the day of the project launch, I met with 1/3 of the class in a quiet space to teach them how to use iMovie. It took approximately 25 minutes to go over how to personalize a Google Slide show, take and insert a screen shot, add an audio recording, lengthen or shorten the picture to match the recording, add transitions, and more.
Once the training was complete, that first group became the “iMovie Geniuses” for the class. Upon returning to the class, each Genius took on two trainees and trained them on iMovie. The students were not told to stand and teach, but some chose to.
In the end, Señora Stewart’s class doubled its skills assessed because it included both written and spoken Spanish. This type of active assessment moves students from a fun exercise to one that is more challenging because it uses 21st century skills and incorporates the 4 Cs. I am curious to see how class achievements will change as Señora Stewart becomes more confident and comfortable with the iPads and as she progresses in the Digital Learning Cohort in her district. It is time to start collecting data from the students about their interest levels and their skill levels when it comes to Spanish. There is no guarantee that student learning is improving using digital devices, and it is our job to analyze the data and share the results.
If you are interested in collaborating about World Language learning using digital devices, please do not hesitate to contact me directly or leave a comment below.
For differentiation in the ELA classroom, No Red Ink is a godsend. Although it has always been available via the noredink.com website, many teachers learned of it through Edmodo as an app. However, it is migrating completely to its website on June 30, 2016. See the company announcement below.
As you may have heard, NoRedInk will no longer integrate with Edmodo starting June 30, 2016. On that date, we will transition your account to the NoRedInk website. Your data and classes will travel with you, and the site will look and behave just as it always has. The only change is that you will begin logging in at noredink.com rather than through an Edmodo app.
On June 30, we will send instructions to this email address. If you’d like to use a different address, please launch the NoRedInk app and go to your settings page. You can learn more about the change here. Also feel free to reach out with questions.
Thanks for all that you do,
The NoRedInk Team
If you haven’t already been using No Red Ink, now is the time to go to their website and set up an account. This app offers grammar practice with parts of speech, sentences, commas, parallel structure, MLA citations and more. This app could take you from 3rd grade through college.
If diagramming sentences did not excite you, try No Red Ink on for size. It just might surprise you.
As an English teacher, I saw my job as teaching people to think well and write well. The thinking was not nearly as difficult as the writing portion, and after leaving the classroom to coach teachers on how to effectively integrate technology into the classroom, I realize that writing was just a byproduct of what my real job was: to teach people how to communicate effectively. Writing was just one way to effectively communicate.
With technology becoming ubiquitous in our personal, professional, and now educational lives, we have so many opportunities to communicate; learning how to communicate effectively is becoming more important than ever with the organization of ideas and the quality of speech and text being the main focus.
If organization of ideas is one of the big three factors, why does written text take precedence over spoken word? Perhaps it has been that way because writing is permanent and digital writing is searchable. However, things have changed. Now, video is streaming live through Facebook and it is searchable on YouTube. Audio is also more prominent and is also searchable. While writing used to be more permanent, it is now just as temporary as audio and video because most of it is saved digitally. So then, why are we still focused on writing as the apex of communication?
Organizing ideas for verbal communication such as a speech or a podcast is just as challenging as the written word save the grammatical hangups. For our more verbal students, organizing thoughts for speech might even be a stepping stone to better writing because the student will process the information in a way that is his strength. Just as with scaffolding, this could scaffold for a hesitant writer. Check out this slidedeck by Professor Tamika Taylor with instructions for how to prepare for a speech.
That’s where podcasting comes in. Podcasting is much like a radio broadcast. There are no images or written text. Everything is recorded in audio form. Some great examples can be found in iTunes and on StoryCorps.Org 1100+ of which have been shared on NPR.org. There are free audio apps available on all mobile devices from regular phones, to smartphones, to tablets. Apple or Android – it doesn’t matter.
Apps and Websites
For Apple users, the Voice Record Pro App is free and powerful. Among the many features it offers, it allows you to import and export from Google Drive, offers editing, and saves into multiple formats. The age label is 4+ which means it is easy enough for kindergarteners to use.
For Chromebook users, Vocaroo.com is a simple, web-based voice recorder that offers a simple record, pause, and stop dashboard. The recording is saved on Vocaroo’s servers for 2-3 months and then is deleted. It offers the user a link that can be copied and pasted to share with others. I love this app for simple checking for understanding especially for the younger children who can speak more easily than write. I have used this successfully with students as low as first grade.
The world is changing, and the good news is that it now offers us many new ways to interact and assess our students. Check out podcasting for a new and different experience.