Connectedness

As I write my final blog for this course, I’m struck by the word connectedness. In Digital Reading: What’s Essential in Grades 3-8 there is an entire section of the book dedicated to the word connectedness. There is something powerful about feeling like you are part of a community and connected to people in a variety of ways.

Technology isn’t about the latest high tech gadget or mastering the latest software, its about people connecting their thoughts and ideas with the thoughts and ideas of others. Technology in the classroom affords several opportunities for students to connect with their peers beyond the walls of our classroom.

Beyond the walls of our classroom also takes on a new meaning with the use of technology. It can be as simple as connecting to another classroom in another city, state or country, but it can also be giving the students within our own classrooms opportunities to work with each other in a different setting.

Virtual settings are comfortable places for teenagers to interact with their peers. Teenagers are sometimes embarrassed or too shy to talk to face to face with a peer they don’t know, but in a virtual space they flourish. Whether students are using Google documents to peer edit another student’s work without the pressures of giving direct feedback to the peer face to face or using Flipgrid to express their ideas, technology platforms provide spaces where students have time and opportunity to connect.

The ability to pause a video and rewind it for a second view provides students with opportunities for a better understanding of the underlying content. Technology creates a new space for interaction with content and collaboration with peers.

Creating spaces and opportunities for students to have an open dialogue with their peers in several different ways is the best way to create a sense of connectedness that is both timely and personal.

It’s not the technology itself that is so important, but the way in which technology is used to create a community where students are free to collaborate and connect with each other in ways that are different from their everyday face to face conversations.

Technology provides the access and space for collaboration and connection which ultimately provides a sense of connectedness.

Blogging

My students have been blogging for several weeks about the GRA Refugee. The first blog was to write about the character that was most interesting to you. Here is a sample response from one of my average ELL students. “The character I am most interested in Isabel because her journey sounds interesting.” They blogged several more times on the following blog topics: Describe your favorite scene from the book so far., What is the difference between a refugee and an immigrant?, Identify the character traits of your favorite character., What is the theme is emerging from the book?, and How would you respond to one of the characters situation in the book?

Today, we finished the book and students wrote blog on the story line of their favorite character. Here is the response from the same student one month later. “All the characters had a rough trip. Isabel was the character I chose . Isabel had left Cuba because there was a food shortage. Herself , and her family , had made a plan to leave Cuba , and to go to Miami , Florida. Senor Castillo , Ivan’s Dad , which are Isabel’s neighbors , had constructed a boat , for all of them to cross the ocean and make it to Miami. Isabel’s Mom was pregnant , and they wanted to make it to the United States land , for the baby to become a citizen . On there way the coast guards tried to stop them , so they all got off the boat , to make it in time on land for the baby to be born. They named Isabel’s baby brother Mariano , and a month later Isabel , and everyone one else was settled . Either in school or already found a job.’

We still need to work on several components of writing, but her underlying content is more thorough and complete. She went from writing one sentence to express her ideas to writing a solid paragraph to convey her ideas. This shows progress in her writing ability.

All of my students have been discussing the book in so many ways that they truly have done a fairly thorough literary analysis and they don’t even realize it.

Skype

On Friday, I was finally able to connect with an 8th grade class in Canada to discuss the GRA. I connected with another educator through a post I created on the GRA Facebook page requesting Skype connections. Once she agreed, I posted again requesting a topic for discussion and her Skype address. She responded with her Skype address and I requested to test our connections prior to the call. But, I received no response.

I tried to prepare my students for the discussion anyway. I grouped my students and asked them map out the stories for each character in the book. Each group shared and we discussed the plot line for all three characters. I also checked with the library and the technology department for a webcam, but my school apparently doesn’t have any.

When I got to class on Friday, I was unsure that we were actually going to connect. With my school issued tablet for a camera, I tried to set up my projection screen. Then, I literally spent all morning trying to set up my projector for the call. In my old classroom, I was able to connect my tablet to my projector with a few simple steps, but on Friday morning I was completely out of luck.

My students entered the room, as I frantically worked with tech support. It turns out that my new classroom isn’t set up to project from my tablet. Luckily, my teaching partner nextdoor is setup and was willing to trade rooms with me. It took a few calls back and forth to finally make a solid connection with the classroom in Canada. First, she couldn’t see me, then I couldn’t see her. She ended up calling me back on another device and it worked perfectly.

We started to introduce our classrooms and declare our favorite character from the GRA book. Her class chose Josef, while mine chose Mahmoud. Then, it was like pulling teeth to get students from either class to participate. I only had three students make good contributions to the discussion. After about 15 minutes, my students seemed to lose interest and they started to talk to each other. There were several times when we couldn’t hear each other because the background noise overpowered the sound.

We changed the subject to school day structure and activity clubs. Still several of my students were too embarrassed to contribute. Part way through our conversation, the students from second period entered our borrowed room to collect their belongings for class. Even though they were quiet and respectful, the whole process was overwhelming! I finished the call with mixed feeling about the connection. My students were completely silent, except with each other in side conversations. The students were not really engaged in the connection and didn’t have any major breakthroughs with the content. It took so much leg work for me to make it happen and the results were “meh” for lack of a better word.

I had another teacher respond to my Facebook request over the weekend and I’m not sure if I will take the time to try it again. If I do, I will prepare my students with discussion questions and ask them for structured responses.

 

Digital Reading

 The start of this book discusses the importance of having students read across texts to help them engage in reading with motivation. They also classify digital reading into two parts: what it is and what it is not. They claim that helping students use the tools for digital reading with purpose will bridge the gap between student reading at home and at school. They propose that the most important years to structure this type of reading is in grades 3-8.

This year, with my 8th grade class, I am struggling to get them engaged in reading. Along with reading the GRA book Refugee with my students, I am trying to add timely and important texts to our range of reading. Earlier this week, I assigned an online task for my students to identify types of conflicts in the story so far, as well as a task to define words that we have come across in the book. My students really seemed to struggle with this task. I had to show them how to copy the word to define, open a new tab and paste it into Google to find the definition. This basic task that I assumed would be simple, required a direct instruction. It required me to take a step back and think about digital processes, which is what the structure of this book is about.

My next attempt at adding a range of reading included a timely article from CNN about the recent shootings of Jewish people during worship in Pittsburg. This time, I took the article off the digital platform and added text boxes with questions for students to answer as they read. I read the article aloud first, then I showed them the online news report, next I asked them to close-read the article and respond to the questions. The students were encouraged to use their phones to look up words they didn’t understand as they read. They shared their responses with partners and used Accountable Talk stems to convey their ideas. This time the conversation was richer, but still lacked completeness.

Next week, I plan to have students read the poem Refugee by Bilston. When you read this poem from the top down, it conveys one message. When you read it from the bottom up, it conveys another. My students will be reading the poem and responding to the tone. Next, they will read it in the other direction to see if the tone changes. Their final step will be to record themselves reading the poem with a partner and discussing the way the tone changes. I’m hoping that the digital discussion will prompt the students to have a richer discussion.

Technology Connections

We continued the GRA this week. I found some character worksheets that another teacher created and posted to the GRA Facebook page. I used the character sheet at the start of the class period on Monday. Students worked in table groups to construct the character traits of each of the three main characters in Refugee.

Once we had a solid understanding of the characters as a class, I created a blog post for the students to respond to on their Writeit blogs. I had students post their responses and make comments on two blogs within the classroom and two blogs outside of our classroom walls. When the comments came to me for approval, I discovered that they needed more instruction on feedback.

We have worked as a class on peer feedback in our recent narratives and presentations, but they didn’t transfer the process to their feedback on the blogs. Several students wrote “nice job!” or “I agree,” but they didn’t offer a reason for constructive feedback or discussion. We spent a little bit of time as a class looking at good feedback and tried making comments again.

I also made a connection with another classroom who wanted to share a Flipgrid. They posted on the Facebook chat that they wanted to have several classrooms collaborate on their grid for Refugee. I asked them to add my email domain so we could join in. I was approved yesterday and used the code with my class this morning. This time, I assigned partners and gave them a question to answer using a response frame.

Students worked in pairs to write a four sentence response to the question, before reading the response on the grid. I few interesting things happened. Some of my students didn’t want to be in the video frame, so they intentionally sat on the edge of the screen. Others held the camera up high, so you couldn’t see their faces or they held a paper in front of their face to block out the view of their face. One pair went so far to remove themselves from the discussion that they typed their response into Google translate and played it while they recorded the video. I have to actually give them props for that one, it was hilarious!

I was disappointed to see that not only did the students struggle with the videos, but the Flipgrid connection I waited days to receive was still blank. We were the first class to post. I’m really hoping that the other 10 or so educators that signed up for the Flipgrid get going soon. I keep telling my students that we are reading the book along with other classrooms, but I’m having a hard time getting people outside of my classroom to produce work and connect it to my students and their work.

I feel like I keep making the students promises, but nothing is truly happening yet. We did play another Kahoot! game this week and had a ton of fun, but that just isn’t enough. Next week, I plan to add to the Flipgrids that we have already established. I also found an educator who is looking for connections on Twitter, so that it also in my plan for next week. I have some more blog tasks for them to complete, as well as another organizer that a teacher from Canada shared through Google documents. I had to modify it a little to meet the needs of my class, but hopefully it will set us up to have an informed discussion with another class in the future.

I am still trying to connect through Google Hangout, but I’m struggling to find someone to connect with. Once someone puts out a request 7-10 educators comment that they want to connect. I have offered to connect with them outside of the initial request, but I’m not having very much luck. It is proving difficult to connect with educators in other time zones. I only have one class for 90 minutes first thing in the morning, so my time availability is limited. I’m not giving up though. These kids are engaged and I’m going to get them to connect!

Today, I’m feeling more optimistic about classroom connections.

My eighth graders are starting to actually do their work! Last week, they all had a book reports due on Friday. Before I assigned the book report, we watched a movie and mapped out the Hero’s Journey. Then, we watched book trailers that previous students of mine created on Hero’s Journey books. I asked each student to write down a few titles that sounded interesting, so they wouldn’t go to the library “cold” for book check out. The librarian also offered some good suggestions of new releases that sounded timely and relatable to them.

I knew from my reading surveys that this group of students didn’t enjoy reading and rarely do it independently. So, as a class, we read everyday for 20 minutes for three weeks. One day, we even had a read-in. We spend the whole first and second period reading our books.

I created a blank Google slideshow and posted it to my Google Classroom for students to use to create their book reports. I also taught them how to use both Prezi and Adobe Spark pages. We had another two-period block of work time to construct reports with time to spare, in case they needed to finish independently. On Friday, I was so disappointed to see that only nine of my students actually completed the project. The other 15 didn’t seem to care.

I decided that these students needed another way to connect to reading. We needed a shared experience. A good read aloud has always worked in the past, so I jumped right into the Global Read Aloud. After a few days of student’s grumbling and me forcing them to comment verbally on their favorite character or asking for help summarizing the book, we started a rhythm. Once we finished the first part of the assigned reading, I used a Kahoot! game posted by another educator in Ontario. The students complained as they got their Chromebooks, but once the game started they roared in laughter and competition! After the fun Kahoot! game, my class wrote their first public blog comments about the GRA book Refugee. I signed up for a platform that I’d never used before called “Write About It!” The subscription is free, if you are participating in the Global Read Aloud. My students assignment was to answer the first week’s blog topic and then respond to another student’s blog post. Take a look at what they had to say: https://www.writeabout.com/class/MW3265/

I know this seems like a small step, but in truth, for these kids it is a huge step in the right direction. They didn’t even complain about writing today!

 

 

Sometimes I Feel Like Wheels Just Spin

The past week I’ve worked really hard to connect with other educators on the Global Read Aloud. In past years, the program offered several platforms for teachers to connect. This year, they aren’t suggesting a particular platform for connecting. Instead, there is a Facebook page for all educators to connect to try to find an appropriate fit.

I have commented and requested classroom connections diligently every day, often multiple times a day. What I’m finding is that other educators like my request or say “I’m interested,” but then lack a follow up to make a true connection. I have also found that it it really difficult to arrange a Google Hangout or Flipgrid with other educators because of the time difference. I have one block from 8:25-9:53 pst and most people are looking to connect at other times.

Just to make it more difficult, Flipgrid has introduced a new security feature this year that require participants on the grid to have the same @blahblahblah. This security measure is making it more difficult to share grids with classrooms outside of your own district. This small change has made it almost impossible for classrooms on different time zones to respond to each others videos.

On a good note, I have found an educator who is posting Kahoot games for classrooms to play. He is keeping track of scores and posting them weekly. I plan to play the game with my class on Wednesday. I think the students will find it to be both fun and intriguing to see how other middle school students scored.

My own personal review of the GRA is that it is a great idea, but it lacks consistency. A lot of educators are complaining about the timeframe and pacing of the book. Some people are behind and if you are off the calendar it makes connecting even harder.  The lack of a consistent platform lowers the ability to connect to other educators in a timely fashion. It is really is a lot of leg work! I have some leads in place with educators in Ohio and Canada, but I’m not sure if they will come to fruition.

My art classes started uploading their work to their online portfolios on Artsonia last week. It was really easy to have them snap a picture and use the classroom code to add it to my classroom portfolio. The downfall is that students who aren’t signed up can’t participate at all. I have sent home paper requests on three different occasions,  handed out directions on curriculum night, and had Artsonia send an email request to the guardian on file, but I’m still missing about 30% of my students. I even made a last ditch effort to have parents sign the instructions and I set up the accounts for the student, but I only had five takers.

I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and frustrated that the platforms are there but the connections are so messy! I feel like a car stuck in the mud! I keep pushing the gas and trying new ways to accomplish my goal, but the wheels just keep spinning.