Thursday, February 2, 2017

Google Forms for Teachers

"I'll just Google it." That phrase, and it's variations, is most-certainly stated hundreds of thousands of times a day - and certainly I use it a fair share of the time. The Google search engine is a powerful and simple tool. Similarly, the Google "suite" of apps (Docs, Slides, Sheets, Classroom) are amazingly useful. Initially released over a decade ago, Google accounts in businesses, and especially schools, have become increasingly the technology of choice during the past 5-7 years. In line with that movement, the school district in which I teach moved away from Microsoft Office, fully replacing it with Google Apps about 6 years ago. While some of my colleagues were resistant, choosing to type up items on their home computers and printing them off there to photocopy at home, I chose to dive right in, knowing there was no looking back (and I simply didn't have enough money for ink cartridges and paper at home).

I certainly use Docs and Slides more than any of the other apps. My Daily Vocabulary charts and slideshows (examples here, here, and here) utilize those avenues (though I chose to download, save, and provide such items in my TpT store as Microsoft files, since such files can be used by non-Google Teacher's as well as uploaded and used in Google Drive). With that being said, Google Forms has, over time, certainly found its place in my educational world in a variety of ways, whether it be through record keeping, quizzes, or formative surveys.

Parent-Contact Log:
My first exposure to Google Forms came when I was searching for a time-saving way of recording parent contacts. Administrators at my school are proponents of making a certain number, or more, contacts with parents each month, and while I had created the paper-and-pencil version of the parent-contact log that my school was using, I still found it tedious and not very beneficial. The solution to this ended up being a Google Form version of a Parent-Contact Log. In addition to making it easy to enter in the information for each contact made, Google Forms allowed me to create a spreadsheet for all the results, which I shared with all the teachers and administrators in my building. This allowed other teachers to view contact made, and even search to see if "Student Doe" had been a behavior problem in any other classes. As an added bonus, I never have to remember to turn in monthly contact sheets, since the Forms results spreadsheet has been shared with my principal and he can double click the file to browse my contacts made whenever he so chooses.

Sample Parent-Content Form (see link to view as webpage)

Many teachers have noted that Google Forms added the function of serving as a quiz medium in the last year or so. There are plenty of tutorials about using Forms quizzes on blogs, YouTube, and other sites, so there is no reason to run the "how-to" here. However, I do want to point out that Google has done a great job with this. Forms quizzes allow for multiple-part questions as well as questions that require selecting multiple items to get the question correct (e.g. "Choose the three quotes that best support a central idea of the importance of friendship."). There are also add-on widgets withing Google Forms, such as Flubaroo, which allow for quick averaging of questions and other functions. Perhaps the best function of Google Forms quizzes, at least for me, is the quick feedback of which questions students are struggling with the most. If you're worried about students opening additional tabs during assessments for "illegal research" (i.e. cheating), I share those same concerns. I don't, for that reason, use Forms for vocabulary quizzes. If you're worried about other issues, such as students "peeking" at their neighbor's computer, Google does allow for randomizing the order of questions, which can help quell that concern, at least a bit.

An example of a Google Forms Quiz

Formative Surveys:
I just started using Google Forms in the manner I'll describe below; however, I have already found it so beneficial that it was actually the driving force behind writing this blog. This semester, I have started having students complete what I have termed "Weekly Google Check-ins." This idea utilizes a simple survey approach. After students enter in their first and last names, and bell they have my class, they are prompted to answer three short questions. The first question is a multiple-choice one, asking them about things such as strengths, weaknesses, or areas of confusion. This first question can also relate to the text or concept on which we have been working in class. The second question is a rating of 1-5 that can be a general topic or about the activities/texts we've been working with recently. The last question is a short response in which students share something not necessarily related to school (e.g. "Tell me about something non-school related that has been on your mind."). While the first two questions serve purposes of gauging student comfort and understanding, and they can also be used for grouping, it is this third question with which I've really been intrigued. I heard from a video clip a few months ago about how much more students will open up via technology versus paper-and-pencil writing. Although some student responses are very general (e.g., in replying to the question mentioned above, some students said they had been thinking about "sleep," or a movie they wanted to see), other students shared deeper ideas such as they had been concerned with how their older sister had been making some poor choices or the topic of genocide had been on their mind to look into. This third question, then, has allowed me to get to know students in a much more personal way.

There are certainly more uses for Google Forms that I have utilized in my class. For example, a colleague and I just used a professional day to put together a very intricate survey for our school's entire student body to choose speakers for an upcoming college/career day. Doing so will allow us to sort results in the corresponding spreadsheet and then individually schedule all 650 students. Of course, that example is a very specific and unique one, but it speaks to the wide variety of uses and limitless potential areas of utilization that Google Forms can address.

Well, that's it for now. I encourage you to share with me, via commenting below, your own experiences, uses, and potential ideas related to Google Forms.  Any and all feedback is always appreciated!

Until next time, keep teaching your students with all the passion that I know you bring to each and every day in the classroom!

-A Teacher's Teacher

Monday, January 9, 2017

Classroom Charging Station

I've been teaching high school at the same school in rural southwest Ohio for the last twelve years. During that time much has changed, but one of the constant struggles, the prevalence and distraction of personal devices, has only seemed to grow. Much like you, perhaps, I have tried many different approaches regarding phones and music devices: trying to be the "cool" teacher that allows students to use them unless they "cross the line" (whatever that means), being the no-nonsense tough guy, and everything in between. The one commonality between all my past approaches has been the students were left responsible to keep the devices away or use them responsibly - in other words, they had the devices in their pockets or book bags.

Toward the end of last year, a different idea came to me, and I gave it a "test drive" during state-mandated testing, since security guidelines from the state required students to be device-free. The plan was to have a cubby-like system, similar to what students have in lower grades, to store their devices. This allowed for organization, while also having the phones and iPods out of sight (and hopefully, to whatever degree it was possible, out of mind). I looked around the Internet for possible types of furniture to use, and even had my mind set on an old card cataloging system as the way to go. That was, of course, until I found out those old wooden library catalog cases went for hundreds, often thousands, of dollars as collectible antiques.

Opting, instead, for more of a "group cubby" system, I decided to use an unused piece of furniture from my basement that looked similar to a shoe rack and had 8 equal-sized compartments. I placed a small plastic bin from the dollar store in six of the areas, leaving two larger compartments for tablets or laptops, in case students were to bring such items to class. On the front of the six bins I placed a label with seat numbers (Seats 1-5, 6-10, etc.), since all the seats/desks in my room are already numbered for various purposes. Students were told in advance that they would be expected to "check" their devices when entering the classroom. For testing purposes, I didn't have any resistance from students, and things went perfectly.

I knew that, coming into this year, I really wanted to have something to "sell" students on the idea of checking their phones in the baskets at he door. To achieve this, the same thought kept coming up: provide a way for students to charge their devices while in the cubbies. Essentially, make it so they check their devices into a charging station. Some funds from our distric PTO became available, and I ordered two 7-port charging hubs ( At first I asked for donations for charging cords, but didn't have much luck. The assistant principal did donate several cords that had inputs for multiple devices, but many students had devices with cases, and the inputs wouldn't fit. Faced with a funding issue, an administrator helped put me in touch with a contact at a local energy company and I was able to pitch to her the idea of sponsoring the charging station (with recognition on the side of the station, of course). I ordered ten Amazon Basic Lightning cords and ten Amazon Basic Android-compatible cords with the sponsorship donation.  I was able to creatively mount the hubs under the chalk/marker tray behind the cubby system and then weave them through the baskets in each cubby area (see picture).

While the amount of cords ordered does exceed the current amount of slots I have between my two 7-port charging hubs, it also allows for backups/replacements, if necessary, or the chance of possible expansion, adding a third hub, depending on student interest and usage (and funding) following this year.  As things stand now, I have one Apple-compatible cord and one Android-compatible cord in each plastic bin (shown in picture). 

Of course, I'm still in the first go-around with this device check-and-change approach, and I'm sure there will be the occasional issue or obstacle to overcome at different points throughout the year. However, I wanted to share what I have come up with, and what seems to be successful with my own students and classroom, thus far, in the hope that it might help some of you. Half-way through the year, it seems to have been a great success.  It's been interesting to see students who clearly are arriving earlier in the class-change between bells just to get the charging cord that works for their device in their seating-group's basket. I've even had students come by my room and ask, during a bell they don't have class with me, if they could charge their device (to which I allow them to do ask, while also thinking, "you're welcome...whichever teacher has that student this bell").

I encourage you to share your own experiences, thoughts, and/or reactions to the topic of device classroom management. I'm more than happy to reply to any questions you have, as well.

Until next time, keep teaching your students with all the passion that I know you bring to each and every day in the classroom!

-A Teacher's Teacher

Monday, November 21, 2016

Image Vocabulary

For as long as I have been in the classroom (and I'm proud to say that I still am - professional development and advice from those out of the classroom, even less than a year, often seems too idealistic and unrealistic), I have known English teachers who have lamented to me about the struggles their students have with vocabulary. In those same conversations, I'll even have a daring (perhaps honest) colleague who will question his/her own approach to vocabulary, wondering "should I teach vocabulary in the context of the texts we read?" or "should vocabulary be taught with random words that they might see on some future test?"

The context/no-context debate has raged between strong-minded ELA teachers for decades, likely even centuries. While both sides are well intentioned, it's hard to find any English teacher, and especially any experienced English instructor, who hasn't tried a variety of approaches during his/her time in the classroom. Having spent more than ten years teaching high school English (mostly 9th and 10th grade), I have been given articles photocopied from journals, books, and magazines, most claiming to have the found the "Holy Grail" of vocabulary approaches, only to find that such methods are impractical, far too expensive (did I mention I teach in a high-poverty district?), or simply ineffective. I have, from those many sources, been able to put together what works for me and my students in my own real (far from utopian ideal) high school classroom.

First, I made the decision to focus on vocabulary exposure and approach at the same time. This meant getting rid of my typical-ELA teacher bell ringers (journal writing) in favor of doing a vocabulary word of the day. By making vocabulary my starter, it was my hope that students would see vocabulary and the power of words as a priority in my classroom (and I believe it has been effective in doing so). The routine exposure of students seeing words that they might not know well, or at all, is beneficial. Equally important to me was that students were able to see the new/unfamiliar word used correctly in a sentence with context clues. To that end, in addressing process, each day students first write down the sentence displayed via projector on the whiteboard. The sentence has the focus word underlined, and students are required to do the same on their vocabulary sheet / on their vocabulary chart. Students then are required to write what they believe the daily word might mean, and we discuss those thoughts aloud before I project the correct definition or useable synonyms on the board as well.

A sample student weekly vocabulary chart is provided above

While the new word, context clue sentence, and  correct definition all make a difference for vocabulary retention, it is the addition of a priority on images - the visual meanings - that makes my approach as successful as it has been over the last 7 or 8 years. In addition to the sentence with context clues, students also see an image projected on the whiteboard that somehow communicates a meaning or synonym for that daily word. Sometimes this image is directly related to the sentence, sometimes it is marginally related, and sometimes it doesn't have anything at all to do with the sentence. No matter what, though, the image is meant to convey a meaning or idea related to the vocabulary word's definition.

A sample slide that would be projected for a daily vocabulary word
(the synonyms - in bold - are only provided after students first record their own guess)

The connection between images and meanings is nothing ground-breakingly new. For decades, big-wigs in ELA instruction, such as Marzano, have been touting the importance of student-generated images. Such curriculum innovators stress that students are required to generate self-meaning through such drawings. I agree with this premise (as a result, students have to draw an image of their own on their daily chart).  However, the idea of presenting students with an image, not merely requiring them to draw their own, helps students learn and retain vocabulary, too. After first using this image vocabulary appraoch in my classroom, I actually focused on it for the topic of my M.Ed. thesis, which required me to first do a great amount of background research. I found that there were two schools of thought regarding images and vocabulary: those encouraging providing images to students, and those requiring students to generate their own images. I was not able, however, to find any studies on the use of both elements simultaneously - a fact that only served to give my own research more merit. Long-story-short, my data-focused research found that the duel-image approach was an improvement over just using one or the other vocabulary image styles, and it was a significant improvement over vocabulary instruction absent of images.

In an effort to provide educators with resources relevant to this image vocabulary approach, I have made two 8-week image vocabulary sets (incuding multiple quizzes for each) available in my TpT store.  If interested, both sets are also available for purchase as a bundle for a $4 savings.  The sets are designed around words that would be appropriate for grades 7-10.  Use the links below to access those products.

If you end up trying this image vocabulary approach, whether with your own words (or personal approach), or with the ready-to-use sets linked above, let me know how it goes with your students. Perhaps you have a suggestion of how you did things to make the approach even more successful? Definitely share your experience with me (and your fellow colleagues reading this blog) via the commenting section. Your feedback, ideas, and suggestions - just knowing there is an audience for this blog, even - would be more helpful than I could ever express.

Until next time, keep teaching your students with all the passion that I know you bring to each and every day in the classroom!

-A Teacher's Teacher

Monday, October 24, 2016

Shakespeare Classroom Resources

Shakespeare. The single name, alone, elicits so many different reactions, ranging from disgust to love. Even today, I can trace my own passion for Shakespeare back to my senior year in high school with a teacher I'll just refer to as "Mr. T." While I had read Romeo and Juliet during my freshman year (and, for what I can remember, I didn't hate it), it was in my twelfth grade English class, during our class reading of Hamlet, that the spark of "the bard" was first ignited. I was, and still am, impressed by the complex characters, intertwined conflicts, and unexpected plot twists that come with reading Shakespeare's great tragedies. In college, my enjoyment spread to his comedies. I still (and I say this with disappointment and hesitation) have not fully embraced the histories, but am hoping that changes when I teach Richard III during a future semester of the high school Shakespeare elective I teach.

I find that many of the things that I use in my own teaching of Shakespeare are very similar or have been inspired by the before-mentioned Mr. T. when we studied Hamlet. One of my can't-do-without tools is the Hamlet Reading Log. The log assignment provides seven response options, ranging from summary to line analysis, and students are required to choose two of the seven options after each reading assignment (whether independent, done as a class, or a combination of both). I saved a copy of that handout from when I was in high school (I am sure you can think of something that you use that was saved from your own high school years). While I still use that original list of seven options for the regular curriculum plays I teach (most years that means Romeo and Juliet in 9th grade and Macbeth for my 10th grade classes), I knew I needed something fresh for me and for my students in the Shakespeare elective course I recently resurrected at the high school in which I teach. The result was this new Shakespeare Reading Log with seven new and differing options that encourage student readers to engage with any Shakespearean play, while allowing for student choice, which all teachers know is beneficial for a number of different reasons. As an additional positive aspect, student log responses often spur discussion and debate.

While the use of the reading log is certainly my favorite (and most versatile) tool, I also make use of quote quizzes during the reading of any Shakespearean play. I will be the first person to argue against traditional memorization of plot events in a work of literature, defending the use of open-text assessments, as I believe ELA teachers are given the task of teaching reading, writing, and higher-level thinking, rather than memorizing what has happened in a story or play. Despite that being the case, I make an exception for Shakespeare quote quizzes. The format I use involves providing students with 8-9 important sections of lines from the recent acts read/assigned (I call this the Quote Quiz Preparation Packet). When given these quotes (as well as the act, scene, and line numbers to locate them), students are required to record down who said the lines, to whom the lines were spoken, to provide a modern-language "translation" of the lines, and an explanation of the significance of those lines. After students do so, we review things as a class and come to agreement regarding some of the "debatable" explanations of significance which they sometimes suggest. In approaching things this way, students basically have an answer key provided to them off of which to study. Then, on the day of the quiz, students are provided with five randomly-selected quotes, from the original nine for which they prepared. These quotes look identical to the preparation packet, including the act/scene/line numbers, but not in sequential/plot order. In addition, I have adapted quizzes for modification, including a version that is partially filled-out (one item provided for each of the five quotes), and a version that has all nine quotes, in random order, which allows the student to choose the five quotes with which they are most comfortable and supply the necessary information. In grading the quizzes, I use the same slideshow that we created/modified as a class in our discussion after the preparation packet. In doing so, there are no "secrets" or surprises regarding acceptable answers.

I have quote quiz packs that include the following plays available, if you are, or will be, reading any of the following plays with your students:
-Hamlet (Acts 1&2)
-Julius Caesar (2 Quizzes - Acts 1-3 and Acts 4&5)
-Macbeth (Acts 1&2)
-Romeo and Juliet (Acts 1&2)

I there is also a Quote Quiz Bundle which includes all of the quizzes for each of the five plays listed above, and I will be adding a quote quiz pack with two different quizzes for Much Ado About Nothing within the next couple of weeks.

While the reading log and quote quizzes are the two mainstays of my Shakespeare instruction, I have also had success with other play-specific items. For example, I would feel a classroom reading of Hamlet to be incomplete without doing the Hamlet Discussion Quiz. Likewise, teaching The Taming of the Shrew without giving students the multiple project options available HERE would be missing something, as well. 

I hope that you find some of these ideas and pre-made products helpful as you work with your students on whichever Shakespearean masterpiece you are or will be experiencing. Please share your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions with me, as I'm always looking for feedback and new insights.

Until next time, keep teaching your students with all the passion that I know you bring to each and every day in the classroom! 

-A Teacher's Teacher

Friday, September 23, 2016

Sharing Text Sets and Prompts

As a high school English teacher, it can be hard to build a network of resources. While most secondary school teachers work within a department with at least two or three other teachers of the same discipline, that doesn't always guarantee those colleagues have the same classes or ability levels. It can be a bit like being on an island, but one that is part of a very close archipelago; almost close enough that you can shout to the neighboring islands, and hear faint shouts back in reply.

In past decades or eras, there wasn't much that could be done to rectify this "island isolation." One could participate in local or county professional development, or be active in various national associations, but those opportunities rarely resulted in resources that could be directly taken from such those sessions, photo copied, and passed out the very next day. Everyone was working on different standards, different texts, and the rigor of any type of standardized testing wasn't a major concern for which to prepare students.

All of that, of course, has changed, due to the implementation of Common Core standards, to some degree, in over 35 states. Now, more teachers than ever before are expected to prepare their students to hit the same benchmarks and standards of ability as their peers in neighboring states, within the same geographical region, and even on the other side of the United States. While there was, and still is, debate about the true benefit of such multi-state standards adoption, I'll leave that take to other teachers and interested politicians.

In addition to share standards, the increased use of similar standardized testing companies and consortiums (e.g. AIR, PARCC, Smarter Balanced) has prompted English Language Arts teachers across the country to think about preparing students for high-stakes testing in a different way. High school teachers, especially, are feeling the pressure of having students achieve cut scores that are being used for graduation requirements in many states, and while many instructors have been sent to workshops and meetings to discuss testing format and to grasp some understanding of raw scores, scaled scores, and growth scores, little has been done to put actual test-prep materials into he hands of teachers for classroom use.

As you read this, I'm sure many of you have had the same thoughts and concerns. Everything culminated for me one day when I was actually working in a flower bed around my house. In a student-like "a-ha" moment I came up with a realistic idea that could help bridge the gap between teachers who want to help better prepare their students and the resources needed to do so. The idea, now known as the Text Set and Prompt Swap (TSPS), is fairly simple: teachers within a common grade band (6-8, 9-10), individually thing of a topic, compile sources, and write a prompt that goes with those sources. As many states require argumentative and informational writing, prompts are often encouraged to fall into one of those two categories. Once ready to share, the text sets and prompts are share with a compiler (via email, Google Drive, etc.). The compiler then formats all the text sets and prompts to look identical, before sharing all the sets back out to each individual who submitted and seems and prompt.

By approaching things through this cooperative approach, individual teachers (or multiple members of a department, as such encourages department unity and it builds a greater amount of text sets to use with all students in the grade band / building) gain a multitude of different sets and prompts to use throughout the year, and years to come. While it is a terrible cliche, this is truly a way to work smarter, not harder (finally!).

As the compiler for my own local TSPS, which currently includes teachers from 3 nearby school districts, I am proud to share that since the idea was shared in March of this year, we already have 9 argumentative text sets and prompts as well as 5 informational sets with corresponding prompts. Going into the school year with such a compilation of resources, each school is allowed to choose its own method of dividing the prompts between ninth and tenth grade classes.

In addition to the identically-formatted prompts and text sets, I also sought out and utilized an online platform that was nearly identical to the standardized testing format for the state in which I teach (we use AIR testing). Using the hosting platform EdCite, I posted the prompts and sets onto that site, allowing for students to practice reading, annotating, and responding to the prompts in a manner nearly identical to what they will see when high-stakes testing comes around in April. This, while not a necessity, takes the value of a Text Set and Prompt Swap to the next level which can only serve to benefit students in their preparation.

If you are interested in what a final product of a text set and prompt from my own local TSPS looks like, I have posted two text sets and prompts (both my own contributions to my TSPS), in my TeachersPayTeachers store. One is an argumentative piece regarding the use of Romeo and Juliet in the curriculum, and the other is an informational set and prompt on the topic of skydiving.  Both items are reasonably priced, and there is even a bundle that has both for a discounted price. I also encourage you, if you're a 9th or 10th grade teacher, to think about joining my Text Set and Prompt Swap. While it is local now, technology and file sharing means there aren't the geographical limits of collaboration that there were in the past. If you'd like to submit an informational or argumentative prompt and text set, you will receive three sets and prompts in return. Even better, if you and two other colleagues each decide to compile sets and prompts (which must be original - without using any websites that have put together sets and prompts already), I will share with you all 14 current sets and prompts that are part of my TSPS.
Click here to download this text set and prompt for free (for a limited time only)

Be sure to share with me your thoughts, successes, questions, even any struggles you might encounter along the way with the idea of Text Set and Prompt Swaps. I look forward to hearing from you and helping in any way I can.

Until next time, keep teaching your students with all the passion that I know you bring to each and every day in the classroom!

-A Teacher's Teacher