The past 18 – 24 months has been an exercise in building the plane as we are flying it. We had no other options because the Covid pandemic forced the nation and largely the world into virtual learning. What did we learn from the experience?
Making Lemonade from Lemons
Many districts have wanted to increase their technology use and didn’t know how to finance it. Now that the nation has gone 1:1, how will we move forward? Will the millions of dollars we spent on hardware be wasted? Will the devices and hardware sit unused at the back of classrooms, or will we embrace the opportunities that 1:1 affords us?
For now, these are the top 10 things I learned from our forced virtual learning experience. Will we handle it better not if, but when we have a hurricane, tornado, snow day, or outbreak? Now is the time to coach teachers to prepare for well-thought-out technology integration.
Here are the top10 lessons I learned from virtual teaching:
Owning and collecting knowledge is no longer a superpower. The Internet provides more knowledge than anyone could ever use in a lifetime and is searchable in seconds.
Our tests and assessments are largely based on recall and students can easily google the answers.
Completing work does not equal learning. Learners must prove mastery.
Relationships are the foundation for most classroom learning. Sense of belonging drives much success. That goes for teachers on a team, too.
Empathy and learner profiles are powerful in reaching learners and getting them to take risks. That includes teachers who are learning daily.
All work and no play makes kids not want to show up. Including fun activities increases learning.
Collaboration is a skill that we must teach, practice, and nurture.
Reflection is worth the time it requires.
Teachers have the same needs as students. Treat them as humans not robots.
I’m hoping to have the opportunity to blog about each one of these items. Each needs to be unpacked fully to make sure we do more than just see the problems. What will you DO about each of the items? If you are looking for ideas and support, consider scheduling a call with us.
If you would like to add to the list, please add your thoughts to the comments below. If you’d like to be a guest blogger, I’d love to hear from you.
Saving time is the number one priority in most teachers’ minds. If we can save a few clicks on a task we do repeatedly throughout the day, and you multiple that by 180-190 days, that’s a lot of time saved. As a teacher and incurable efficiency seeker, I turn to Google Chrome for extensions for time saving opportunities. There are plenty of extensions upon which, as an educator, I have become completely dependent. Here are my top 5:
UPDATE: Screencastify just added the MOST AWESOME features, so I had to move it into the #1 spot for increasing productivity and time saving! More to come on Screencastify additions in another blog. Stay tuned!
My top teacher extension is Screencastify. As the name implies, this extension enables screencasting from your device. The power of this extension is in the speedy way you can record a mini-lesson for students to watch either remotely or in person at a station. Once recorded, these mini-lessons can be shared with other teachers, and if you divide and conquer, just think how much time you would save! 🤩🤩🤩
This extension automatically saves all videos you create to your Google Drive and has export options for animated GIFs and mp4 for iPad viewing. It has automatic upload-to YouTube or Google Classroom features, so you can begin building your training library right from this extension.
Microsoft Districts Can Use It, Too
If you are a Microsoft District, you can still create videos in a free @gmail.com account and share the link from your Drive. You don’t have to worry about YouTube being blocked when you host the video in your Google Drive. Teachers can also download the video and upload it to OneDrive or any LMS you use such as OTUS, Schoology, Canvas, Teams, etc.
The Free Version is AWESOME!
As you can see in this screenshot, the free version of Screencastifyoffers up to 5 minutes of video with an unlimited number of videos. This is ideal because most recommendations for training video length supports less than 5 minutes. That might force some of us to be more concise, and that’s a good thing.
Screencastify offers browser tab, desktop, and webcam shots. It also allows your webcam shot to float over your screenshot with the ability to move it around, close it, and open it at will. There are drawing tools for easy screen labeling and annotation, and it’s just an all around powerful tool for teachers and students alike.
There is also a vibrant editor within Screencastify for all free and premium users. The editor has tools to cut, crop, zoom, blur, and add text to your video. I use Screencastify for all of my training videos. For under $50/year, I went premium because the ROI (return on investment) is worth it for me. If I were still in the classroom, I’m pretty sure I’d stick with free.
UPDATE: Screencastify has added embedded questions in your videos for student engagement and tracking for formative assessment. Check back for a full blog and video showing the new features.
With the onset of personalized and self-paced, asynchronous learning, teachers and students have a need to communicate asynchronously. Remote learning maybe seemed like a novelty in the beginning, but it quickly led to text fatigue, and some early or struggling readers and writers were at a loss. I also can’t even begin to think how hard it must be for the Pre-K – 2 teachers to teach and assess reading skills!
Talk & Comment to the rescue! Talk & Comment is Chrome extension that enables teachers and students to click the microphone icon, record an audio file, click a button to auto-copy the link, and paste it anywhere pasting is possible. The most popular place to place it is in any Google app comment. When you do this, it pastes as an actual audio file that is click-and-play no matter whether you are in Docs, Sheets, Slides, or Classroom. However, when outside Google, it pastes the link anywhere, and the user need only click the link to hear the audio file.
Think about how easy feedback and collaboration can be for all learners with this new handy tool. It can be used as an asynchronous conversation tool.
How to Use the Extension
Step 1: install the extension.
Step 2: click the microphone icon on the right edge of your Chrome browser to begin the recording.
Step 3: click the green check on the pop-out toolbar to stop the recording
Step 4: listen to the recording before sharing it
Step 5: the link automatically copies to your clipboard, so all you have to do is paste it (control + v or right click and choose copy). Even the littles can handle this.
Step 6: Paste your link.
When you paste it in a non-comment area, it looks like this:
How concerned are you by the ads that show up on websites that you want to share with your students? Because you cannot predict what will show up, there is always the chance that something inappropriate or just distracting will pop up.
Are you tired of creating lessons with links to sites that change or are broken over time? Well, struggle no more. In just a few clicks, this super friendly teacher extension turns any webpage into a PDF with full credit to the source and without any of the ads. You can download the PDF and share it out with students via a hyperlink in any file or LMS you choose.
This Chrome extension just might end up being the number one time saving productivity extension for teachers and students. It turns any digital PFD into an annotatable document. The free version is robust enough to meet your basic needs, and the paid version is off-the-charts useful.
Kami functions seamlessly with Google Drive, OneDrive, and your hard drive. The free tools include highlight, comments, and text boxes as well as free draw, shapes, and eraser. If you saved a webpage as a PDF with Print Friendly & PDF above, Kami gives the students the tools they need to annotate and mark it up. Also, worksheets that you scan as a PDF can now be completed digitally. I don’t condone all worksheets on devices, but worksheets do have a place for practice and review, so don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, right?
For students to be able to use Kami, each would have to have the extension installed. If you have a Google console, these can usually be pushed out and installed by your IT Department saving you the time and effort. If not, check out this video showing parents how to install the extension.
If you or your school does decide to purchase the paid version, you get a dictionary, text to speech, equations tools, images insert, and digital signature features. They are always improving, so check out their website at kamiapp.com.
With two clicks, Google Docs Quick Create lets you create a new, blank file for the following apps: Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings, and Forms in a new tab! It is a time saver and doesn’t create it over existing work on an open tab. It opens a new tab for you AND starts a new blank file! It shrinks 4 steps into 2 and stops you from starting a new file over an existing tab.
Without this extension, you have4 steps to get a new, blank file:
click a new tab,
go to your apps launcher (waffle),
locate the app you need,
click on it,
With this extension, you have two steps to get a new, blank file:
click the extension
choose your app.
Done! Just like that. This app works great for teachers and students alike, so share it with your students to save them time as well.
With your school or district approval, consider sharing these extensions with your students to empower them to create freely and professionally! As a Google district, your IT Department can add the extensions across the board remotely, so the students and teachers don’t have to jump through hoops to install the extension. (Another time saver for everyone!)
So that’s it for my top 5 time saving extensions for teachers. Please, use the comments section below to share your top power extension for teachers. Let me know what you think of the extensions on my list, and share your successes or failures with us. If your teachers or admins could use some remote or on-site training for increased efficiency, check out our Google training opportunities.
It’s that time of year again; high-stakes testing season is upon us. Teachers are stressed, worried that their students will not perform well even though they all worked hard all year, perhaps harder this year than any other. As teachers, you want to be able to track student progress, but how do you do that? Plenty of software programs have figured out how to track student progress, but how can we as teachers in the classroom do it? Well, now that students have devices, I might have a tool to help you lower the stress and know what your students know whether you are in person or remote.
Student trackers are becoming more popular for many reasons: they increase student agency, encourage goal setting and reflection, make transparent what used to be nebulous, remove the “extra-credit factor” that skews grades, help teachers know where students need support, provide reasons to celebrate, and help students and teachers see which skills have been mastered. All that in one tool? Yes!
Student progress trackers do not have to be complex. In fact, the simpler your system of assessment and grading the better. There are two things you must do to make this work: 1) adjust your assessments to be sectioned off by standard and skill, and 2) create your tracker to mirror what is being assessed. The reverse is also true. You can create your student progress tracker first and then create your assessment sections to mirror the tracker.
I recommend a spreadsheet for tracking over a word processing document because it has infinite columns and rows, and you can turn text and merge cells. You can also have multiple sheets inside one workbook that can be linked to one another. If you are intimidated by spreadsheets, don’t worry. You can get a copy of some sample trackers below.
How Do I Set Up a Student Progress Tracker?
As I have been working with high school teachers, my examples will be for Grades 9-12; however, once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to adapt the tracker for any grade.
Below are two examples of a biology student progress tracker. The first has the standards across the top, and the second has the standards down the left side. Notice row 1 lists the domain, row 2 lists the standard below each domain, column A lists student names, and the intersecting boxes will report mastery once it has been met.
Horizontal Biology Student Progress Tracker
Vertical Biology Student Progress Tracker
What is essential is that you determine in advance what is required to show mastery. This should be documented for all to refer to as needed. When a student fulfills the requirements, he/she can add an emoji to a digital tracker or a sticker to a wall tracker.
It’s the end of May, and the school year is officially over. Ahhhhhhh. Thank goodness. I don’t know if I would have survived another week with my 15-year-old son. In my previous post, the teacher in me was talking. The schedule I created was for someone in authority to present to students. Sadly, I forgot how little authority parents hold with their teens. Anyone else have the same experience? Anyone? Feel free to share your experience with us in the comments section.
As it turns out, the schedule I offered in How to Manage Remote Learning Part 1: Make a Schedule was a panacea, a utopia, a dream. Here’s what I assumed would happen. I assumed my son would go to bed at a reasonable hour and not treat this at-home learning like it was summer break. I assumed he’d get out of bed when I woke him up. I assumed my son had some semblance of organizational skills. I assumed my son cared about learning and school. I assumed my son would work hard because he didn’t want to disappoint his parents the way I did for my parents. What’s that phrase about making assumptions? When you assume you make an ass out of u and me. (Shout out to the Bad News Bears.)
Well, it’s not the 80’s anymore. My son informed me that he was on summer break, that none of his friends was going to do any of the work, that the school couldn’t fail everyone, and that he doesn’t care about learning. Wow. How could I know absolutely nothing about my 4th child?
In reflecting upon the experience, here is my takeaway: Our students need more guidance from their teachers. As a former teacher, I am not happy to put more pressure and more tasks on the plates of teachers; however, I do believe teachers are the only ones who have the connections and the authority to help our kids.
My recommendation is to create a homeroom or advisory period if one does not exist. This period would be used strictly for relationship building and remote learning study skills. It is so true that students don’t care what you know until they know you care. Our children are struggling with a lack of social time, and they cannot know their remote or virtual classmates if the teachers do not take time to help them kids meet and get to know one another. In addition to knowing one another, they need to get to know their teachers and the teacher them.
Once there is a sense of community among this advisory group, I would field questions among my students and ask them what they are struggling with. Then, I would allow the students to share out their answers for one another. Students know best what works for students their age. I imagine peer recommendations would be most positively accepted by teens and other ages.
Questions that I would present:
How many hours do students your age need per science and doctors to stay healthy and on your game?
When would you consider too late to go to bed?
How do you feel when you only get 4 hours of rest vs. 6, 7, or 8 hours of rest?
How are your eating habits?
How much are you exercising? Do you feel better or worse when you exercise more/less? What does your body need?
What schedule is working well for some of you?
What learning environment works best for you? If your friend were struggling, what would you recommend s/he try?
What are some habits you developed that served you well? What are some habits that didn’t serve you well?
These are just a few items that I have tried to discuss with my 15 year old. If I were still in the classroom, these are some items I would make sure to discuss with my students. Empowering students now is even more important than ever as our students are forced into independence.
We are all edupreneurs today. As we develop ideas, we try them out and have to iterate over and over again until we find a working system. Please, share your successes and failures in the comments section. Sometimes, sharing failures can help us save time, so don’t be afraid to share them as well.
If your teachers could use a remote training on how to achieve these recommendations, please give us a call. We are ready to help.
Thanks folks. Stay safe. Vote. Wear a mask to protect yourself as well as others.
When I started teaching in 1989, we didn’t have standards. We had textbooks and the common sense we were born with to cover what we thought students needed to be successful in this world. As an English teacher, I chose which books I wanted to teach. I knew I needed to cover writing which included grammar, spelling, sentence structure, transitions, word usage, parallel structure, voice, and ideas. I also knew I needed to cover both fiction and non-fiction comprehension. To assess student learning, I created quizzes and tests that usually had fill in the blanks, short answer, and essay questions. I didn’t assess by standard. I didn’t know to make sure my assessments were balanced with a fair amount of questions to assess each skill I had taught. Basically, it came down to whether students remembered what I had said and whether they could imitate what I had shown them. My teaching was teacher centered.
Fast forward 30 years. We now have standards telling all teachers what a student needs to know on a continuum from K-12. We have No Child Left Behind which focuses on the collection of data and the proof of growth. We also have competency-based learning and personalized learning along with Project Based Learning and blended learning to name a few. What all of these learning methods have in common is the tracking of student progress.
While working with a high school, our focus was on students tracking their own mastery as a boost to student agency and ownership. Setting up a tracker is easy if you base it on standards. Below are trackers I created for my teachers who were using USA Test Prep, a software system that both teaches and assesses and works quite nicely as a complement to classroom teaching. (Disclaimer: I do not work for or get any compensation from USA Test Prep.) Spreadsheets are best to use for creating trackers because they are already set up in a grid system. You can choose to have students run horizontally or vertically with the standards and indicators running perpendicular to the students.
The trackers below are for a wall and could be used for celebrations instead of the long-held belief that they are for shaming. If we celebrate every student who shades in a block to show mastery, every student will want to shade in another block. If used as a positive, community-building chart, tracking data can be powerful.
Another way we can use the tracker for community-building is for helping one another. From this tracker students know to whom they can turn if they haven’t mastered a standard yet. If I am a student struggling with standard 6.1 Theme, and I see three other classmates who have mastered it, I can ask them to explain it to me. Sometimes, students communicate better to one another. It definitely helps if the teacher schedules community time and encourages students to seek and give help as needed.
Sample Student Trackers
English 2 EOC Skills Student Tracker
English 2 Student Progress Tracker
Algebra I Skills Student Tracker
Algebra I Student Progress Tracker.
Biology Skills Student Tracker
Biology Student Progress Tracker.
US History and Constitution Skills Student Tracker
US History & Constitution Student Progress Tracker
Within USA Test Prep, there is a Student Dot Rank, which tracks mastery of skills within specific categories like assessments or within all categories including games and activities. Green=80%+ mastery, Yellow=60-79% mastery, and Magenta=1-59% mastery. Here is an example of what you will see:
Software programs that help track mastery are a blessing because they are able to track amounts of data that humans could never track manually. However, it is possible to track data without the aid of a software program. That topic will be covered in my next blog, so stay tuned.
If you are tracking student data and have questions or tips to share, please use the comments area below. Also, feel free to contact me directly for a conversation about student skills tracking. This is an area that many of us can still grow in.
If you are interested in receiving a copy of any of the trackers, please click below on the respective trackers.
Are you curious about green screening? Do you lose too much time looking for the just-right graphic to work in presentations for teachers and students? Me, too!
All too often, I find a graphic that I like; however, it has a colored background on it. Why is this a problem? Check out the image below: a soft yellow background with an hour glass for time. That blue square around the hourglass is ruining the look.
Thankfully, I don’t need to worry about it anymore and neither do you. I recently discovered remove.bg, a site that removes backgrounds for free. Neither you nor your students need to create an account, so you don’t have to worry about data collection on your students or whether or not this is a 13+ app.
Here’s what the site looks like.
Notice the drag and drop or upload feature on the opening page. While there is a Login/Sign up button in the top right, this is not necessary to use the site. If you do not login, your picture will not be saved and will only be downloaded to your device.
Before and After
When I drag my hourglass image anywhere onto the webpage, it automatically removes the background for me. I didn’t have to do anything else. The simplicity of this site makes it usable by K-4 students through adult.
This is what I see after the site does its job. Remove.bg removed the blue background leaving the transparent checked background.
What If Too Much or Not Enough is Removed?
If I am happy with the image, I can download it. If too much or not enough of the image is erased, I can hit the Edit button. Once in the edit window, I can choose the thickness of my tool, choose erase or restore, and work to make the image exactly what I need.
Here is a view of the edit window in Restore.bg. With a simple swipe of the restore tool, I restored the bottom background and word “hourglass.”
Here is a view of the “Erase” choice in the edit window. Notice how I was able to erase the orange sand in the top half of the hourglass.
Now, I can insert the transparent background image to my slide for a much more professional look.
Technology is becoming more and more user friendly. This is especially important for teachers in the classroom who want to increase creativity without sacrificing time from content.
If you are wondering whether this software removes backgrounds for green screening, it most certainly does. Check out this selfie with my living room in the background. Now I can embed myself into any digital environment available to me.
Please, leave a comment letting me know what you think of this free graphics tool. If you use it yourself or with students, please stop back and let us know in the comments section, or post it on social media and tag me at @EFPTech and/or @CultivateLearn.
If you are trying to encourage collaboration in your classroom and are having trouble, read on. You will see 7 steps that will help you build stronger student collaborators in collaboration activities.
What’s All the Hubbub?
Why is collaboration such a big deal all of a sudden? Everybody wants to collaborate: songwriters, businesses, school districts, teachers, and now students. What is it, and what, if anything, is its importance?
Well, as it turns out, collaboration boosts creativity and thinking. Teamwork works for big jobs and also for small jobs.
“The ability to work in teams is one of the most sought-after skills among new hires, yet research suggests that students may not be graduating with the level of skills needed to succeed on the job.”
That’s reason enough for me to start incorporating collaboration into my classes to allow my students the opportunity to practice and attain those collaboration skills.
For two years, I encouraged collaboration in all of the classes with which I worked. After awhile, I started to wonder whether all the work to set up collaboration was really that important. Then I was present for a presentation by Anthony Kim of Ed Elements. In that presentation, Kim shared some data with us from John Hattie’s Visible Learning. What caught my attention and subsequent dedication to collaboration is the graphic below.
Taken with permission from Anthony Kim’s presentation. @anthonx
In it, Hattie shows that 0.40 is the effect size for one year’s growth. The highest growth effect comes as a result of … you guessed it, peer collaboration and discussion coming in at a whopping 0.82!
That means that, according to Hattie, peer collaboration and discussion result in students learning more than twice what they would learn in a traditional classroom with a traditional teacher. Even more than differentiation and immediate feedback.
That’s worth restating. Peer collaboration and discussion result in students learning twice what they would learn in a normal year’s growth.
Whoa! That’s amazing! With growth like that, we should all be collaborating and discussing all day long, right?
Were We Successful?
Well, my teachers and I worked on collaboration in our classrooms. We learned about, planned out, tried out, and reflected on blended learning station rotation that required a collaboration station. The results were very telling.
At our end-of-the-year meeting we reported out our findings. Of our group, 95% said that the collaboration station was the least successful. Upon reflection, here’s what we surmised: students don’t need just the opportunity to collaborate; they need to be taught how to collaborate well.
How Can We Improve Collaboration?
All summer I thought about why we failed and how we could succeed. I knew there had to be a way to teach students how to collaborate well, and I processed and researched and finally put together this infographic called “7 Steps to Building Student Collaborators” (see right) for teachers to follow as a scaffold for building strong collaborators. As everything else in education, this is a work in progress, so please try it out and send me some feedback to improve it for all who might happen upon it and try it out. Here is a detailed description to help you get started. As it is a progression, feel free to jump in wherever makes the most sense for your students.
Step 1: Begin with open-ended discussion questions for the students to process their thoughts. Google Classroom is a great tool for this because the answers to Classroom discussion questions are hidden until after a student submits his/her answer. No copying, folks. What you see is what you get. Set the settings to allow students to respond. (This allows them to see other’s answers). However, you must go into the Student section and change the rights to “Only teachers can post or comment.” (see graphic) You want this because in step 2 you have to teach your students how to write an appropriate response to a post.
Step 2: Teach students what makes an appropriate, well-written response to a post. To do this, share How-To videos 1 and 2 below and Accountable Talk/Moves charts like the one below that demonstrate well-written responses, and practice, practice, practice. Maybe your students could be empowered to create their own video, blog, vlog, or infographic for others to use.
Step 3: Give students the opportunity to practice using accountable talk (found here and here), and practice responding as a whole group to one another’s posts in Google Classroom. As a modeling exercise, the teacher will type the responses as the students formulate them together. You can start out whole group and move toward small groups formulating responses as one entity. There are plenty of apps to assist you. Socrative allows students to post their answers and then vote on the best one. Google Classroom allows teachers to post a discussion question for group responses with only one person per group submitting a response. A shared Google Doc with a table can be used to share out the final group responses. A shared Google Drawing can be used with post-it note style text boxes for each group to claim and fill. Please know that once is not enough. Students need the opportunity to practice, practice, practice. Once you are confident that students know how to write group responses, change the Google Classroom settings to “Students can post and comment.” This will open up discussion questions for peer response. Once you feel confident that students understand the phraseology in writing, you need to transition to verbal responses.
Step 4: Move to an on-the-spot, think-fast, response system that requires accountable talk or sentence starters. Socratic seminars are just the activity for this. If you are not familiar with Socratic seminars, they are basically student-led discussions with the requirement that everyone has to contribute something to the discussion. The teacher is responsible for formulating questions that are open-ended and draw out student interpretations that should then be supported with text or some other data. Great Book, Junior Great Book Shared Inquiry discussions, and Fishbowl discussions are similar to a Socratic seminar. It doesn’t matter what system you use as long as students have to piggyback on one another’s responses. This is where the accountable talk comes in. It gives students the phraseology to have civil agreement and disagreement. It also encourages deeper inquiry instead of superficial analysis of a topic.
Step 5: Now that students are becoming comfortable with more academic phrases and sentence starters as a whole group with teacher monitoring, it is time to set them into small groups to monitor themselves. Create simultaneous small groups each with the same task: run your own Socratic seminar or Great Books discussion for shared inquiry. Formulate starter questions as a whole group or as small groups, and then share out before beginning the activity. Formulating questions is a skill that our students could practice more. Scaffold here as needed.
After the activity, debrief and give students time to reflect upon what went well and what could be improved. Practice these small group synchronous discussions a few more times until you and they feel confident that they could monitor themselves completely during a station rotation class period. It’s now time to move toward asynchronous collaboration.
Step 6: Today is the big day! Your students should be better prepared to rotate into a collaborative station without needing your help. This is a huge accomplishment and should be celebrated by you and your students! Your job is to create 3 or more stations: Independent, Collaborative, Teacher Directed. If you are not familiar with Blended Learning Station Rotation, check out Blended Learning Universe through the Christensen Institute.
Step 7: Finally, take time to allow students to reflect on the experience. Debrief with them to get their feedback, so together you can build a better station rotation each time.
Reflection Tools: Journal, blogs, Google Classroom, Google Forms, Think-Pair-Share, ClassKick, Nearpod, Seesaw, Vocaroo, audio recorder, video recorder, Screencastify, etc.
The Power of Feedback
If you are ready to try collaboration with your students, please try out this scaffold and send me some feedback. I’d love to hear about your successes as well as your recommendations for how, together, we can make this process better. It’s all about the collaboration, right?
Here is the infographic in case you’d like to print it out.
Being a teacher can be stressful and time-consuming! When I was in the classroom teaching 4th-graders through 12th-graders, I wanted to make every lesson important and effective. Doing something new was important to me because I bored easily, and my students did, too. I was not the type of teacher who could use the same lesson year after year or even period to period.
Analysis and reflection are important parts of being an effective teacher. Sometimes our lessons are a huge success; other times, our lessons fall short or are complete failures in our eyes. As I completed lessons, I would reflect on what worked and what could be improved, and I applied what I learned as soon as possible.
Why do teachers put so much pressure on themselves to have the perfect lesson on the first go round? The following shows the growth of an activity that was good in its first iteration and grew and improved with each iteration into an amazing, powerful, authentic activity. If you want to grow with the lesson, read on. If you are really only interested in the final project, jump to the third take. Either way, be confident that your lessons can grow and improve with each iteration. As you read along, pay close attention to how real-world involvement and application grow with each iteration.
Authentic Activity: Take 1
Setting the Scene
The teacher is Ms. Heyward. The class is English 4: British Literature, and students are mostly seniors with a few juniors sprinkled in. Paradise Lost by John Milton is the literary work of study. Students will participate in a mock trial to put the characters of Paradise Lost on trial. Students choose which group they want to belong to: 1) characters/actors in the live trial, 2) defense team, 3) prosecution team, and 4) news media. Each group is responsible for knowing his/her role whether it be developing a character from the story or becoming a lawyer or media blogger.
The judge listens as the prosecution questions the witness, God.
Eve is sworn in before being questioned regarding her involvement in the fall of man.
The concept of a legal team was daunting because only one or two lead lawyers were needed. To include all members, each team developed a research team responsible for digging into the text and researching things on the spot. The presence of iPads made using a back channel as a collaboration tool possible; the back channel used was Today’s Meet. The research teams used it to feed questions and information from the story to their team’s lead lawyers to support the questioning and cross-examination of witnesses. Everything occurred in real time, on the spot. You either were prepared or you were not. There were no re-dos.
Satan is cross-examined by an attorney.
An attorney for the defense returns to his seat after questioning a witness.
To include more students in the process, there were three media teams tasked with reporting and blogging in the style of three major news outlets: NPR, CNN, and Fox. Understanding political bias came into play with a review of powerful propaganda words. A Google Original site was created for each class (see them here: period 1 and period 3) documenting the project.
In preparing for the mock trial, students knew they had a responsibility to their team. The actors had to know their storyline, the legal teams had to know the characters’ stories inside and out, and the media teams had to cover the events in the room while writing in the style of their specific news outlet. There was not a student in the class whose job did not matter. Engagement was high, and students left the room talking about the experience. The use of an authentic activity raised the level of engagement and understanding.
Authentic Activity: Take 2
A real judge presides over the authentic mock trial.
Fast forward 2 more semesters. Ms. Heyward saw an opportunity for growth and improvement. In an attempt to make the activity more authentic, she brought in real lawyers to train the students in actual trial proceedings and booked a journalist who recently covered a high-profile trial as a guest speaker to share her insights with the class. Ms. Heyward also booked a real judge to oversee the trial and had 12 adult jurors from the community serve, deliberate, and assign a verdict.
There was much excitement as the trial date approached. Students worked on their teams to prepare. Witness statements were taken, pre-trial hearings were held to determine what will and will not be admissible in court. Arguments were developed. Media teams created their own mock news sites and started blogging.
The Big Day
For this authentic mock trial, a 12-person community jury is sworn in.
The prosecution worked collaboratively to prove guilt.
Each attorney is trained in how to properly address a judge in court.
This authentic activity has a bailiff to swear in each witness.
Finally, the big day arrived. The Media Center was reserved, increasing the feeling of authenticity. A table at the front was reserved for the bailiff, judge, and witness box. The jury sat to the right of the judge with the Defense and Prosecution teams sitting opposite the judge and the news outlet teams behind them. It was very exciting.
Witnesses were sworn in, attorneys stood to address the judge and question witnesses, jury members sat stone-like listening to the proceedings as Eve, Satan, God, the Son of God, and even Sin were called to the stand, sworn in, questioned, and cross-examined. Finally, it was time for the jury to deliberate.
The 12-person jury deliberated in a private room to decide the fates of Satan and Eve.
As one of the jurors, I can tell you we had a tough time agreeing upon a verdict. Assumptions were made and called out, outside information was brought up and disregarded. We had to focus only on what was said in the courtroom. Information we wanted had not been sought by attorneys, so we did not have the information we needed to find both defendants guilty. Upon returning to the courtroom, the jurors stated the verdict, and the judge took one guilty defendant into custody. Before wrapping up, the jurors were asked to share their experiences deliberating over the fates of two people. It was important that the students see and hear the points that jurors disagreed over, questioned, and finally voted on.
In debriefing after the activity, Ms. Heyward and I found the following strengths:
Each student fully took ownership in his/her role.
Students showed mastery of the themes of Paradise Lost.
Students gleaned information about our justice system and the roles different people play within that system.
Students collaborated well on teams working toward a common goal.
Some students had increased creativity in developing the backstories for their characters
Some defense and prosecution members increased their creativity as they built arguments to defend or prosecute characters.
Students thought critically about the parameters of our justice system and tried to manipulate it in their favor whenever possible.
We also found the following weakness:
Students were not able to think quickly on the spot. Per the jury, the legal teams’ follow-up questions were weak or non-existent.
Some of the characters did not develop their backstories on the stand leaving gaps in understanding for the jury
Upon reflecting, strengths and weaknesses were identified. In general, the students clearly understood the text and its themes; however, their questioning skills were weak. We surmised that perhaps the final project was too much all at once. Perhaps the students needed more scaffolding along the way to prepare for the culminating project. Our new challenge: to find ways to incorporate similar types of activities throughout the entire curriculum.
Authentic Activity: Take 3
Upon returning from winter break, Ms. Heyward was excited to share with me that she had revamped her entire curriculum to address the issues making “Trial” the theme of her course using British Literature as the content covered. Each unit provided a guest speaker including lawyers from a local college and court reporters from the local CBS news station.
Unit 1: Composing an Opening Argument
Content: Pursuit of Happiness
Students will present themselves to the class in the format of an opening argument
Unit 2: Innocent Until Proven Guilty
Content: Canterbury Tales
Creation of Google websites with character analyses
Regular blogging as a character
Unit 3: The Art of Argument – Building a Case
Content: war protests and speeches
Voices of Protest
Silent discussion on War
Socratic Seminar on women’s rights
Today’s Meet backchannel analysis of Edwin Starr’s song War
Student analysis of song of their choice
Unit 4: Hearings and Motions – Pretrial Hearings and Motions
Refining witness statements
Deconstructing trials in teams
Unit 5: Closing Arguments
Argument of Good vs. Evil
How to make a strong appeal – rhetorical triangle
Final product: individual paper
Unit 6: Do We Have a Verdict?
Content: Paradise Lost
Full trial proceedings including all skills in units 1-5.
The next class to experience the trial will have completed each step once in advance and will be compiling and returning to all of the lessons learned throughout the course: opening arguments, creating witness statements, collecting and analyzing evidence, building a defense, interviewing witnesses, creating follow-up questions, making objections, and addressing the judge.
I’ll be back to share the details of the big trial.
Ms. Heyward and I have already decided for the next iteration we need to transport the students to a real hearing room in the county. We’re not sure we can pull that off, but as my mother always says, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Just remember you, too, can develop a lesson like this.
Don’t expect to do it all on the first try. Give yourself time and room to grow with the activity. If you take on too much too early you might be more likely to fail or get burned out.
Good luck, and please share your ideas, comments, successes and failures here with the rest of us.
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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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Empathy is at the heart of Asset Based Coaching & Social Emotional Learning. One way I build empathy for the educators I work with in trainings is remembering what it's like to be a classroom teacher and keeping it simple
Totally agree, @jmattmiller . Tech is not the goal. It should be a well-chosen tool to reach a goal and objective. A well-planned lesson without tech could be more engaging and educational. https://t.co/WOjsJstHwt