Reassessment.

I get nostalgic for 2006 often, when Google Reader was my curated news source. When Google killed Reader, how I used the Internet changed.

I moved to Twitter, and around that same time Facebook was becoming more of a publisher and less of a way to stay current with friends who no longer lived near me.

And that’s where I’ve gotten my news mostly—friends on Facebook post links of what they’ve read, and the people I follow on Twitter (which I try to keep eclectic) keep me informed of stories I might otherwise miss. And in the name of “staying informed,” too often I get lost in the Sea of Endless Scrolling, and I’m not being my best self. Not by a long shot.

As Kevin Roose wrote in today’s New York Times, I’ve developed some routines that have broken my brain just a little bit. But those routines developed, in part, because I teach journalism and popular culture and feel a responsibility to be informed.

I tell my students “If the product is free, then the product is you.” My friend Julie Smith taught me that. All the products I’ve been using to “stay informed” are free, and I am definitely feeling like a bit of a product.

I want to go back to the halcyon days of Google Reader, when I woke up every morning and read blogs and news stories I picked myself. While Feedly has been a decent substitute, I got out of the habit of using it. I subscribe to the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Omaha World-Herald, but I’m not in the habit of going those places first.

While I recognize the value in virtual spaces, the way I’ve been using them hasn’t been valuable. And when I get close to shutting down all social media forever (for reasons like the ones in this Wall Street Journal story), I panic a little bit (for reasons closely related to what Courtney Kendrick realized: it’s about power).

So what to do? Kevin Roose’s article resonated with me, as being practical without being Draconian. So if you are feeling a similar “environmental shock” by how tied you are to your phone, maybe take a small step. Here’s some lock screens from the tech coach Roose consulted. There’s no shortage of TED talks about the insidious effects of too much phone use–Tristan Harris and Sherry Turkle are my favorites. I turned off all notifications three months ago, and I’ve noticed a small difference in how I feel when I pick up my phone–much less stressed, since I’m not bombarded with tiny red numbers all over the place.

I’ll still check my social media accounts–I connect with too many people not to–but I’ve just been too bombarded with cautionary tales in recent months to not make even more changes when it comes to my phone.

Station Rotation: What Students Thought

You can read part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Today I had my students answer a few questions about how to stations went. Here’s their answers.

 

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 8.36.54 PMThis actually surprised me, mostly because when I’ve tried new things in the past, some students have really bristled at change.

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Well this was a nice warm fuzzy for me. But also made me realize I might need to do a little more explanation about the AP Style quizzes, and maybe tweak how they read, interact with, and discuss the example stories. I asked which stations were least helpful, and it was just about a equal split with the AP Style quiz, comma splice review, and reading feature examples.

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Sorry, 6.2% of respondents…looks like you’ll be doing stations again.

I did include a free-response, but only five people responded. They all wanted more grammar instruction via Khan Academy, so I’m glad to know that went over well.

Overall, not a bad showing. I didn’t anticipate the level of positive feedback, so I really am pretty happy with how it turned out this time. Will definitely be doing it again.

Big thanks to our district tech coordinators for providing quality professional development–something I was able to implement immediately–and thanks to our district for providing the time and the subs to allow that kind of collaboration and growth.

Station Rotations in Journalistic Writing

Read how I came around to stations in a secondary classroom here.

First, full disclosure: I took no photos of my stations.

Why did I take no photos? Let me dispel a station rotation myth. For some teachers, setting up stations that allow students to work independently might mean time for the teacher to catch up on grading, parent contacts, etc. But implementing stations that way ensures teachers miss out on what I found to be the best feature: directed instruction with smaller groups of students.

So I couldn’t take photos because though 3/4 of my class was not in my immediate teaching purview, I was working with 1/4 of my class the entire time.

Second: this post is long. TL;DR: I think I found a way to make stations really work, despite teaching in a 47 minute block of time AND sharing a classroom with three other teachers.

Here’s how it happened.

Catlin Tucker suggests instead of planning lessons vertically, plan them horizontally. So I thought about thing I would spend an entire day teaching: AP Style, peer revisions, grammar instruction, and dissecting story examples. In previous semesters, those items took up four days of instruction. But was it all that effective?

So I went horizontal. Could any of those activities be done with correct supports, a little frontloading, and with collaboration between students instead of with me directing the whole show?

Yes. Here’s what it looked like on paper:

I needed two days for it to work. 10 minutes at a station is too little time. 20 would be perfect. I divided the class into four groups, and by the end of the second day, every student would have been through all four stations.

Station 1: AP Style quiz. All students have access to the AP Stylebook online, and a generous journalism teacher wrote 40 AP style quizzes and shared them with any adviser who asked. So I printed quizzes and these instructions:

Complete AP Style quiz 3 and 4.
Collaborate with each other on the quizzes.
Use the AP Stylebook.
Correct the quizzes as a group (come get the key from me when you’re ready!)

Station 2: Fixing comma splices and run on sentences. As students transcribe interviews, recognizing these two sentence construction problems is the #1 grammar issue I see in their writing. Here’s what I had them do:

Watch the Khan Academy video about comma splices and run on sentences.
Complete the quiz that follows the video.
Create a Google Doc in your Journalistic Writing folder and title it “Comma Splice/Run on practice.
Write at least one sentence that has a comma splice, and one that is a run on sentence.
Share your Google Doc with someone else in your group, and have them correct your incorrect sentence.

Station 3: Story dissection. Writers don’t become better writers if they aren’t reading. So I uploaded some examples to Schoology for them to read, and asked them to follow these instructions:

Watch the video that explains how you will get the stories, mark on them, and turn them in.
HELP EACH OTHER!
Read both stories, and highlight the who, what, where, when, why.
Also highlight details that the writer observed, and then wrote.
Share the note to the discussion board, and then look at what your peers noticed.
Discuss what makes a good feature story.

Station 4: Peer writing time. Students had been assigned a 150-word vignette earlier in the week. I used this time to debrief how the fact-gathering process went, and helped them fine-tune their ideas. I gave them time to write with me there, and as they wrote, I had their Google Docs pulled up. Students also asked questions as they wrote. After a few minutes of writing time, I highlighted sentences in their Google Docs and asked them to read the section out loud. I pointed out strong writing from every student.

This is already too long, so I’ll write another post about what went well and what needs to improve. Bottom line, though: I think it worked. On Monday I’m having students give me some feedback about it, and will tweak things from there. And I’m hopeful those tweaks will create better writers, better collaborators, and an overall better classroom culture.

Why Continual Technology Coaching is Vital to A District’s Technology Plan

I started teaching with iPads nearly six years ago. I was terrified, not of the iPads, but of not using them the best way possible, of falling short of district expectations. In those six years, I’ve settled into a workable routine for how I use them in my classes. This routine evolved because for the first couple of years, the district provided continual technology coaching and allowed constant collaboration as more and more teachers started using iPads.

It’s been a while since I’ve received any of that direct coaching. And a lot has changed with using iPads in education. I know that my district’s technology coaches are just an email away and always happy to pop in and have a quick brainstorm session, but nothing can replace the value of directed instruction on recent research and best practices, the value of collaborating across curricula and grade levels, the value of the “gift of time.”

Last Friday, the district allotted a day for “veteran” iPad teachers in our district to meet, receive some direct coaching, and spend time honing new ideas. I went with pretty low expectations of myself–after all, I’ve been part of this rodeo for six years. How could one day possibly change me?

Turns out, it changed quite a bit.

First, I had forgotten the energy I get from being around teachers in different content areas, seeing how they incorporate different technologies in their curricula. Getting away from my journalism mindset for a spell was refreshing.

Second, I had forgotten that sometimes, I still need to be taught. One of the activities during the day was reading a chapter from “Blended Learning” about stations. I also watched a couple of videos in the resources provided to us about stations in secondary classrooms. And my rusty wheels started to turn.

I had tried stations once before with the iPads, and it failed miserably. But something this time clicked. I started to see how I could make stations work in my secondary classroom, even in a room that I share with four other teachers.

Tomorrow’s post will have photos and an in-depth explanation of how the stations worked out, but for today, my purpose in writing is this: districts that expect teachers to utilize new technologies in their classrooms, but don’t provide supports to do so, will not see results they are hoping for.

I didn’t realize how complacent I’d become, how reticent I was to experiment, how resistant I was to trying anything new. Getting out of that rut is not only good for me, but is also good for my students.

Collateral Learning.

At the end of every school year, I talk to my classes about collateral learning. I tell them that I realize they have six or seven teachers who, for 10 months, tell them their class is vitally important to their lifelong success. And then I tell them, almost like it’s a secret, that for me, I’m more interested in their collateral learning. What did they learn this year about time management? Friendship? Setting boundaries? Identifying passions?

Yes, math and science and social studies and English and the arts and journalism are important, but what did they learn about how to live a fulfilling life? That is equally important.

This morning at 2 a.m., I thought about collateral learning in my current schooling. I’d been working on a JavaScript lab for nearly 7 hours, and while I’d asked for help and identified minor bugs, the lab still wasn’t passing the autograder.

It’s 2 a.m., an hour I hadn’t seen in who-knows-how-long, and I’m tweaking bits of code in hopes of being declared worthy, and I’m failing over and over and over again.

Oh, let me be clear: the code works just fine in simulators. In code validators, I’m getting zero errors. The people who helped me say they can’t find anything wrong with the logic or syntax of my code. It’s just the class automatic grader that doesn’t like something about my code and refuses to pass it. And since the autograder is a robot and can’t point to a specific choice I made, I’m a little stuck.

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Same errors for seven hours. I mean… just give up, amirite?

So at 2:12 a.m., I finally shut my laptop, turn on my meditation app and think: what am I doing to myself?

I haven’t written anything since starting this class. I haven’t practiced the piano. Haven’t practiced the music for the choir I’m singing in this summer. Haven’t read anything for enjoyment (because let me tell you, while informative and helpful, reading about JavaScript is not really enjoyable right now). Haven’t seen any new movies, haven’t binge-watched any TV shows. Haven’t edited any podcasts, organized my real or digital life, or seen any friends.

(I have gone to Jazzercise, so at least that’s something.)

What am I learning, exactly?

So before drifting off to sleep, I resolve to reevaluate my goals for this class. I make a list of things I need to do today, and things I want to do. And I go to sleep.

I woke up this morning with collateral learning still on my mind, and in the past month of working on this class, I’ve learned that I am not the best about self-imposed boundaries. It’s always been hard for me to say no to people, so this should not come as a surprise, really. But I didn’t think I would ever work on something for so many hours and be unable to set it aside, take a break, and do something that brings me joy.

I’ve learned that–right now, at least–I enjoy web design more than web development.

I’ve learned that I need to track my time spent on this, I need to plan more things in my days so my time with the class is more focused, and I need to be a tidge more forgiving to myself when I’m slow to grasp content.

I’ve learned I need a break.