REVIEW: The Graide Network

The old piles were paper with staples that snagged, red ink that annoyingly jumped from the margin of page one to just the edge of the page behind it.  The new piles are digital: lists of essays to score, paragraphs to mark up, a notification that appears on your device to tell you that you have 30 new items to grade.  It's like "You Got Mail!" from hell.

Google Classroom announces that your students are "done," so now it's time to digitally grade their work.

Google Classroom announces that your students are "done," so now it's time to digitally grade their work.

Like many high school English teachers, I often engage the complaint culture and express to my colleagues just how onerous grading and assessing student writing can be. We commiserate. We exaggerate. We go back to our "to do" holes.

Canvas wants you to know these items are STILL ungraded. 

Canvas wants you to know these items are STILL ungraded. 

We thought that going digital would make assessing and improving student writing faster and more efficient. This thinking, turns out, was wrong, at least for me.

As I sought ways to improve my feedback on student work, I tried everything: audio recordings of myself speaking as quickly as possible; Snagit screencasts of my play-by-play essay reading; annotations in Google Docs; narrative responses sent through email; rubrics uploaded to Turnitin; paper and pen.

And then something happened.

At ISTE 2016, I met one of the co-founders of The Graide Network, which "connect[s] middle and high school teachers with qualified teaching assistants to grade and provide feedback on student work." This semester I was determined to pilot their service in my AP English Language & Composition classes. I teach two sections.

The Graide Network teacher dashboard.

The Graide Network teacher dashboard.

When the service launched in September, I posted to The Graide Network an assignment for two periods of English: an upcoming 40-minute rhetorical analysis essay based on a prompt from a previous College Board administration of the AP exam. I uploaded the prompt, the rubric, essays already scored by the College Board with score rationales, and my notes to the Graiders ("Please spend 5 minutes on each essay, note two areas of strength and two areas for improvement"). The Graide Network offers packages of 20, 50, and 100 hours that could be distributed, for example, among members of an English Department. I figured this first double-set of essays would take around 5 hours or so. It did.

The Graide Network allows a teacher to post an assignment, provide explanatory context and protocols for grading (including rubrics and points of interest), and specify the amount of time the Graider should spend on each student work. Here I asked the Graiders to use the College Board 9-pt. scale to evaluate a 40-minute timed rhetorical analysis essay.

The Graide Network allows a teacher to post an assignment, provide explanatory context and protocols for grading (including rubrics and points of interest), and specify the amount of time the Graider should spend on each student work. Here I asked the Graiders to use the College Board 9-pt. scale to evaluate a 40-minute timed rhetorical analysis essay.

The Graiders, undergraduate students who might read and evaluate my students' work, post mini-resumes, so you can seek a Graider who is interested in becoming a teacher in your content area.  The Graide Network can also use its matching formula to pair you off with a Graider, too. Within a day or two, I was matched with a Graider for each section of my course.  Five minutes. Two positives. Two negatives. By Tuesday, please and thank you.

My notes and instructions for the Graider along with supporting documentation.

My notes and instructions for the Graider along with supporting documentation.

On a Thursday, my students handwrote essay responses to the prompt. That afternoon the copy center took each stack of essays and scanned them into single PDFs. I uploaded these PDFs on a Thursday afternoon. By Monday morning, I had reports from my two Graiders that were astonishing in detail, accuracy, and care for my students. One Graider generated a Google Sheets report in which each student had a dedicated tab of feedback. 

The Graider's macro comments on the entire class helped guide my future direct instruction.

The Graider's macro comments on the entire class helped guide my future direct instruction.

This view allowed me to quickly scroll through student performance and the Graiders' individual comments.

This view allowed me to quickly scroll through student performance and the Graiders' individual comments.

This invidual student report could be easily printed and distributed to the writer. I attached this to the handwritten essay and returned it to the writer just two class periods after he wrote it.

This invidual student report could be easily printed and distributed to the writer. I attached this to the handwritten essay and returned it to the writer just two class periods after he wrote it.

The other Graider wrote 25 invididual letters to my students. The effect here was intimate and direct. Narrative feedback shows care for each writer's development.

This Graider began with statistics and then introduced some trends across all student writers.

This Graider began with statistics and then introduced some trends across all student writers.

Here is one letter my student received. I anonymize essays using student IDs for student privacy.

The individual letters of feedback lead to silence in the room while students entered into a moment of introspection while reading the specific and actionable feedback from the Graider.

The individual letters of feedback lead to silence in the room while students entered into a moment of introspection while reading the specific and actionable feedback from the Graider.

REVIEW: My first experience with The Graide Network was very positive.  The feedback was of high quality; it matched my expectations and specifications; it was way more timely than I have ever been with feedback on writing; and it showed my students how many people are invested in the shared mission of education.

My plan is to use The Graide Network once per quarter for two AP sections. I may run out of my 20 hours of allotted time, but the money in my view is well spent. Students can write more and receive more (and varied) feedback, and I can spend a bit more time planning great lessons. The Graide Network is no panacea for the great woes that overflow the English teacher's digital tote bag, but it provides another layer of feedback and some relief from that grading grind.

25 Tech Tools for English Teachers

These edtech tools (apps and sites), grouped by category but not ranked, may assist in the teaching and assessing of reading and writing in the ELA courses of secondary education teachers. Most are free. Those which require payment for "premium" versions are accompanied by a dollar sign ($). Click each name to learn more.

  1. I Write Like

  2. Hemingwayapp

  3. Draftback

  4. Expresso

  5. Grammarly ($)

  6. SAS Writing Adviser

  7. new MLA Style

  8. The Graide Network ($)

  9. NoRedInk ($)

  10. ProLogo English Verb Flowchart

  11. CommonLit

  12. Books That Grow ($)

  13. Safari Reader

  14. Librivox

  15. Genius

  16. Goodreads

  17. Call Me Ishmael

  18. Podcasts (Serial, Revisionist History)

  19. TED Ed

  20. Lynda ($)

  21. PollEv

  22. TodaysMeet

  23. Kahoot!

  24. Quizziz

  25. Quizlet Live

Top 10 ISTE takeaways for English teachers

ISTE always overwhelms me by its size and scope, and in Denver, I wanted to come home with tools and resources specific to teaching English and Language Arts.  Here are ten edtech tools and resources I think English teachers can leverage to increase engagement and deepen learning.  #1-2 are whimsical, #3-5 relate to classroom interaction, #6-7 deal with reading, and #8-10 help with writing and writing feedback.

1. Call Me Ishmael

Students brainstorm a book that's challenged or delighted them. They call a phone number. They leave a voicemail reflecting on the book's effect on them. These voicemails get turned into typewriter animations by the site's curator. Here's an example from a reader who was moved by The Catcher in the Rye.

2. Vocabulary Size Test

This 50-question vocabulary quiz of synonyms and antonyms attempts to gauge the overall size of a user's English lexicon. Students could complete this in 5-10 minutes as a reminder that our vocabularies will always grow with reading and speaking daily. I might use this as a precursor to Membean's diagnostic tool. Other free sites include Test Your Vocab and My Vocabulary Size. (Each varies in its methodology.)

The author's results.

The author's results.

3. Docent EDU

This tool allows teachers to assign any reading passage (from a website) and interpose comprehension and reflection questions. Requires a subscription.

4. Quizizz

Much like Kahoot! and Quizlet Live, Quizizz is a game platform that allows a classroom of students in real time to answer questions on their devices. Quizizz would make for a great prelection tool. Teachers could create, say, a ten-question quiz on a newly introduced era of American Literature, and students would -- at their own rate -- complete the Quizizz. Teachers get real-time data (Excel spreadsheet of results) and students compete to ascend the leaderboard.

A sample Quizizz that could be used as a pre- or post-test activity.

A sample Quizizz that could be used as a pre- or post-test activity.

5. TeachersPick (iOS app)

I've been using DecideNow to spin a wheel and randomly call on students during class discussions. TeachersPick is a digital popsicle-stick picker that does the same but with the ability to track who's been called on and who hasn't as well as add emojis to gauge engagement.

6. Books that Grow

If you have a struggling reader who might abandon a reading passage on account of its difficulty, and you had the opportunity to give her the same passage at incrementally easier reading levels, might you try it? Books that Grow take public domain works and scale their reading levels to engage all readers.  This webapp allows students to read MLK's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," for example, in four versions, from level 2 to 4 to 6 to 8. The subscription model allows teachers to create classes and deploy reading assignments within classes. Students might start reading something at a Level 7 and then reread it at Level 9. The goal, it seems, is to get students invested in the content on the path to eventually engaging the primary source text.

Screenshot from BooksThatGrow's Level 4 rendition of MLK's famous letter.

Screenshot from BooksThatGrow's Level 4 rendition of MLK's famous letter.

7. Common Lit

CommonLit.org is a free repository of texts grouped by theme or genre that can be distributed by teachers to students or read online. Each text has a contextual background preface, footnotes for challenging vocabulary, text-dependent comprehension questions for students to answer, and discussion prompts. I've seen quality fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and primary documents in the collection.

Screenshot from the "Lady of Shalott" page on CommonLit.org. Notice the mouse-over footnotes, the gray box with the contextual background info, and the questions on the right.

Screenshot from the "Lady of Shalott" page on CommonLit.org. Notice the mouse-over footnotes, the gray box with the contextual background info, and the questions on the right.

8. StoryDice (iOS app) and Rory's Story Cubes (iOS app)

Both priced at $1.99, these apps gamify creative writing tasks.  Students roll the digital StoryDice to get icons representing characters, setting, and plot. Rory's version presents players with nine dice and up to 10 million combinations of scenarios to inspire creative quick writes or impromptu oral stories.

Screenshot from the StoryDice app. Create a story from the face-up icons.

Screenshot from the StoryDice app. Create a story from the face-up icons.

Screenshot from the Rory's Story Cubes app. Keep a few static and roll the rest for a plot twist or character revelation.

Screenshot from the Rory's Story Cubes app. Keep a few static and roll the rest for a plot twist or character revelation.

9. SAS Writing Reviser

This Google Docs add-on gives student writers a small suite of revising tools.  Perhaps your student is struggling to embrace the active voice. Maybe your students begin every sentence with a Subject-Verb opener.  Dangling modifiers? Lack of parallelism? SAS Writing Reviser highlights within a student's text in Google Docs areas for revision: economy, variety, power, and clarity. If you have students with Chromebooks, this is a great add-on.  SAS Writing Reviser is part of a larger application that works on iPads, too, called SAS Writing Navigator.

Screenshot of a Google Doc with the SAS Writing Reviser add-on to the right. This student began most sentences with the Subject-verb opening. By highlighting these openings, SAS gives the student a visualization of the impact of monotonous syntax.

Screenshot of a Google Doc with the SAS Writing Reviser add-on to the right. This student began most sentences with the Subject-verb opening. By highlighting these openings, SAS gives the student a visualization of the impact of monotonous syntax.

10. The Graide Network

Imagine an undergraduate student who wants to become a teacher. That student volunteers to be your virtual teaching assistant who will grade student work according to your assignment protocols and your assessment rubric. The Graide Network provides teachers the ability to add another layer of substantive feedback to student writing. I imagine using this for early drafts of major writing assignments.

Screenshot from the results of The Graide Network's end-of-year teacher survey.

Screenshot from the results of The Graide Network's end-of-year teacher survey.

How to help students with how to ask for a college recommendation letter

If you've been in education in the last ten years, then you've received the subject-less email lacking a greeting and demanding "What I miss in class?" category of emails from students. A colleague of mine got an email once with no body but just the subject "About my D."

Truly we need to help students with the various modes of communication essential to life success and the ways to use them appropriately.  Initial emails should be complete and formal with clear subject headings, progressional greetings and end salutations, and standard paragraphing. From there forward, follow the lead of the teacher, I tell students. If she responds without intro or outro salutations, then mirror that in your response. If she remains formal with "Dear X" and "Sincerely Y," then stay formal and follow her example.

Last week I got a half-dozen emails requesting college letters of recommendation for rising seniors. They were smart to ask early (before the end of their junior year!), but a couple never saw me in person, and one basically sent a text under the guise of an email: "Would you write a positive letter of recommendation for me? Sent from iPhone." 

A quick Google search reveals countless templates for how to ask for a recommendation letter. After all, students may not have ever asked for something like this before and they may not realize the time it takes for teachers to write one well. Yes, it is the professional duty of high school teachers to write these letters when appropriate, but helping students to ask properly now will save them grief when they ask college professors for professional references or former bosses for a work referral. 

To help students meet teachers halfway, I designed a Google Form that asks a requesting student to reflect on his time in my classroom. It's my way of saying, Yes, I will write a good affirming letter on your behalf, and I want it to reflect the specific ways you are a strong writer, reader, thinker. The questions require narrative replies in the form of specific stories from their class experience.  These responses jog my memory and help me sort the 135 student experiences I shared during the previous year. I wonder if anyone else uses a form like this or has ways I could enhance it. 

Modeling Curiosity: You interested in that? Then contact who made it!

Others have written on "grit" in education -- that combination of "consciousness and perseverance" -- that could lead to depth of curiosity and mastery learning in an otherwise task-switching culture.  When students exhibit intrinsic interest (a real pop of joyful intrigue), teachers jump at their enthusiasm and try to drum up a sort of hysteria of inquiry.  Ooh, you like medieval history? Have you seen this virtual tour of the weapons museum? Oh, you like choose-your-own-adventure tales? This open-source software lets you make your own digital text-based adventures. Often, however, I have seen student interest peter out exactly at the moment when I do encourage a student to dig deeper (i.e., go the second page of the Google results).

To model research grit, recently I told students the origin of a lesson plan I gave them on privilege.  After students read articles by Robert Jensen (1998) on white privilege, I wanted them to feel what privilege was -- something more immediate and physical. I borrowed this kinesthetic activity from a Buzzfeed article by Nathan Pyle, who writes that he "once saw a high school teacher lead a simple, powerful exercise to teach his class about privilege and social mobility." I was curious to learn more about this exercise during which students tossed balled-up paper from various parts of the room into a recycle bin near the front. Students couldn't choose their seats; luck did, and so students could quickly ascertain that privilege is unearned and access to the American Dream, at least within this symbolic model,  is not always evenly distributed.

I asked Mr. Pyle on Twitter if he had the contact information for the teacher who devised the activity.  Minutes later -- I later told my students -- Mr. Pyle replied that he had emailed me separately. I opened my email to find that Mr. Pyle, a Buzzfeed writer whom I'd never heard of hours before, was now sharing with me the origin story for this useful lesson plan.  He, in fact, was the teacher who devised the exercise while previously a high school teacher himself.  I shared this email correspondence and this revelation with my students and tried to point out how my own curiosity had led to research, which, in turn, lead to communication, which then lead to conversation and additional resource exchanges, which lead to depth of understanding and finally dissemination of knowledge.

On a whim, I Tweeted at Mr. Pyle, a BuzzFeed writer, and he responded within minutes.

While grit may ordinarily describe longterm efforts, even momentary grit -- a seeming oxymoron -- is something I want to teach my students daily.

Other examples of modeling curiosity in my classroom have included...

Whether we're "unpacking" an excerpt from McCarthy's The Road or "peeling back the layers" during a close viewing of Jaws, I think modeling curiosity is one of our greatest strengths and duties as teachers.

When a student says, "That's cool," follow up with, "Hey, what did the originator of that video game, film, story, blog, 3D printed marketplace, etc., say when you Tweeted at them?" Make the pursuance of curiosity the new status quo.

Emoji Literacy, Face with Tears of Joy, Domino's, and Urban Dictionary

When I did my MA in Linguistics, I spent a year studying urbandictionary.com, a collaboratively authored online slang dictionary. While students and parents continue to use that resource as an arbiter of meaning for the evolving lexicon of the masses, emojis have since supplanted many slang words as daily topics for debate, but as with slang, emojis seem to evade codification.  Even Oxford Dictionaries 2015 word-of-the-year, the "Face with Tears of Joy" emoji, did not produce universal understanding among my students.

"Face with Tears of Joy" emoji. Oxford Dictionaries 2015 word-of-the-year

Recently, when I asked my students to associate an emoji with the feeling they got when thinking about the American Dialect Society's 2015 word-of-the-year, singular they, they did not agree on the meanings for the various smiley faces.

Here is how students reacted when I queried them on polleverywhere.com. Notice where each student dropped their green pin (see what I did there with singular their?): sunglass face, smirky face, tongue-wag face.  Perhaps these are self-evident emojis, but others caused fierce debate. Is a droplet of water always a tear or always sweat or neither? Do emojis perspire due to emoji exertion or emoji despair?  Is there emoji existential panic?  Why do emojis fume with emoji nasal blasts?  Do purple devil emojis only get the benefit of two emotions?

polleverywhere.com

polleverywhere.com

Some distinctions in meaning are moot. Does the red face mean 'angry' or 'perturbed' or 'fuming'? Is a rosy-cheeked kissy face caused by puppy love or a passion more amorous?

But other emojis, my students demonstrated, demand scrutiny and debate.  Is an upturned smile always sinister? Is a flat mouth neutral -- that is, halfway between a smile and a frown -- or something else entirely?

To solve this mystery, I engaged -- of course -- Domino's Pizza.  In 2004, it was a student who turned me on to urbandictionary.com ("Mr. Damaso, you're in the dictionary.").  A decade later, two students came into class early to give me a playing card deck, a stack of cards imprinted with the Domino's logo depicting single emojis or sometimes strings of emojis with corresponding definitions and usages on the back.  I guess I'm turning to giant pizza retailers now for all of my pictographic standardization and codification needs.  Yes, there's the Emoji Dictionary and Emojipedia and Wikimoji, but I'm going with Domino's because Domino's.

Domino's reports on its companion website that demand was great for these decks, and they're all out. (Don't worry: You can still print your own.)  The deck promotes "Emoji Literacy," but in the end, of course, pizza sales become the clear objective of this promotion. Apparently, there are many ways to eat pizza and many reasons why.

 Left to right: 'hey girl, hey,' 'relaxing,' 'trying to work out,' and 'speechless.'

Here are a few of my favorites in the Emoji Literacy deck from left to right: 'hey girl, hey,' 'relaxing,' 'trying to work out,' and 'speechless.' 

A scrambled mind: the teacher's Wheel of Tasks

The pity of a powerful computer is the panoply of choices a teacher faces when the students are no longer in the classroom. After a 7am-3pm maelstrom of inciting and putting out teenage fires, when we're left at last to "finally get some work done," we often face the inevitable Wheel of Tasks.  Grade this. No, answer this parent's email. No, contact the counselor about special accommodations for that student. Wait, email that edtech company about the official spelling of one of your student's names.

For me, multi-tasking has been my bane.  In the same way that students experience interrupted reading when they are Insta-ing, Tweeeting, watching Netflix, and all-the-while annotating Ben Franklin's autobiography, I too succumb to a lesser form of myself when I'm pulled in so many teacherly directions.

I tell my students I have a tab disorder (see image). If I expect them to hone in on a singular task (e.g., writing), I should model concentrated focus for them as well.

tabsbar.png


Using Padlet to Collect and Showcase Students' Creative Writing (parody poems of "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams in conjunction with This American Life)

During a grueling poetry research project, students need occasional breaks, so I give them poetry "snacks."  Early in the project I hook students on Def Poetry Jam with Gemini's "Poetic Bloodline" and Steve Coleman's "I Wanna Hear a Poem." We watch Billy Collins recite "Litany" before viewing a 3-year-old boy from Tucson do the same.  We talk about National Poem-in-your-Pocket Day.  I encourage them to savor language as Stephen Fry suggests even while we scrutinize, analyze, perform scansion, count syllables, etc.

Period 6 students publish their "This is Just to Say" parody poems on a Padlet. This is a quick and easy way to share work, especially short written work,  in a form a bit more visually interesting than Google Docs.

One of my favorite micro-lessons in poetry begins with the "Mistakes Were Made" episode of This American Life and ends with emulation/parody poems written in the style of "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams.  The episode highlights the fact that the poem has rich anecdotal weight, a clear structure, and a satisfying #sorrynotsorry finish.

The episode features a dozen or so parody or spoof emulations of the original Williams poem.  I point out to students the basic structure of the poem.

Stanza 1: The Sin -- The transgression, malfeasance, act, wronging

Stanza 2: The Deepening -- The context that makes the transgression even worse than first suspected

Stanza 3: The False Apology -- The #sorrynotsorry approach to acknowledging the sin but often through rationalization or downplaying

 

After the segment (Act II, "You're Willing to Sacrifice Our Love" starts at 49:43), I ask students to write one or two or three of these false apology paraody poems. Since the examples they hear are often darkly humorous, ironic, or otherwise heavy, many of the student pieces match.

WARNING: Some of the poems by NPR correspondents engage adult themes and mature humor and may not be suitable for all student audiences.

After 5-8 minutes, I ask students to post one of their poems to a Padlet from a link in the daily plan.  Now, they can see the poems of their peers, displayed like sticky notes, much in the same way William Carlos Williams purportedly left his "This is Just to Say" note for his wife in the kitchen.  In Padlet, students can paste in their poem text or insert an image. Some students screenshot their work and modify it to look like a kitchen counter note.

As poems surface on the Padlet wall, students read each other's work and nominate the poems that should be read aloud. A benefit of Padlet over Google Docs in this case use is the form factor of the adjustable entries. Students can resize the boxes, and this encourages experiments in line breaks to increase readability. Teachers can move notes and prioritize certain poems as if rearranging stickies on a bulletin board.

I can see many applications for Padlet. Since it supports image upload, students could quickly share in bulletin board style art they made, photos they took, memes they generated, etc.  The ability to rate/score comment on another student's work would improve the app.

Period 1 students publish their "This is Just to Say" parody poems on a Padlet. This is a quick and easy way to share work, especially short written work,  in a form a bit more visually interesting than Google Docs.


Dictionary.com widget in iOS Notifications screen provides an SAT-level word question-of-the-moment

The built-in touch-to-define feature in iOS is an easy way for a student to access the meaning of a word in the context of reading. Membean has been a great tool, too, for expanding my students' vocabulary, but recently I discovered that the Dictionary.com App has an accompanying widget that appears in iOS's notification screen.

The Dictionary.com Widget displays a recent word-of-the-day and three possible definitions. Pick the right one and click "Next Word."

The Dictionary.com widget will display a word and three possible meanings. Users can access the widget by swiping down from the top of the screen to reveal the notifications panel, answer the multiple choice question, and retrieve another question. A simple swipe up hides the notifications.

The Dictionary.com Widget will display correct or incorrect feedback within the notification.

The widget is hidden until you "Edit" your notifications panel. To do this, swipe down from the top of the screen, scroll to the bottom of the panel, and select "Edit."   All apps that support widgets will appear, and you can toggle them off and on.

Swipe down to reveal notifications. Scroll down and press "Edit" to add/remove widgets.

Use the (+) symbol to add the Dictionary.com Widget to your Notifications.

Sometimes navigating to an app and loading it can take 5-10 seconds.  With notifications, a simple swipe-down reveals the question-of-the-day from Dictionary.com. Students can answer 2 or 3 questions in that same 5-10 seconds during down time between classes, on the morning commute, or whenever.

Use a Coordinate Axis PollEverywhere Question to Start Engaging Conversations in Class

Last week I learned from Derek Bruff that I can create a scatterplot x-y coordinate axis poll in PollEverywhere. I've been using these graphs to stimulate conversations in class about guest speakers, readings, and even the podcast Serial.   Multiple choice and free response questions and even the newer discourse feature of PollEverywhere allow students to express opinions, but there is something about dropping a pin on a plane that allows for nuance of expression. With coordinate axis polls, I can challenge my students to assess a writer's bias, a speaker's believability, a story's dynamics, an essay's coherence,  etc.  Here's how I do it:

Step 1: Create the x-y axis graph

Using directional arrows and some text boxes in Word, I place oppositional words at the top and bottom of the y-axis and left and right of the x-axis. I take a screenshot, and then upload the .jpg as a clickable image to PollEverywhere. 

Step 2: Deploy the poll and freeze the screen (or "hide click markers") 

I make the poll full-screen and project it for student view.  Students can navigate to the poll on their smartphones or computers.  You can allow them to drop multiple pins, but for this exercise, I limit them to a single pin.  They read the question and drop a pin.   Was the keynote speaker very relatable but just a bit vague? Was she hyper-detailed but not relatable to the teenage audience?

Step 3: Small group share

Students share their screens with a nearby peer or two and justify the exact placement of their pin on the x-y axis. I invite students to share their answers in pairs or triads for just 2-3 minutes before returning to the large group.

Step 4: Large group share

I then ask students to share the profits of their small group discussions. You may even ask them to predict where most of the pins will appear when you unfreeze the poll. Perhaps a particular quadrant.  PollEv allows you to designate a square as the "correct" answer if you wish.

Step 5: Unfreeze screen (or "Show Click Markers")

PollEverywhere has a button that allows you to reveal or conceal the dropped pins, so a teacher can either "freeze" the screen (using the remote for the projector) or simply select the pin icon to show/hide the dropped pins.

Here are some examples from this week of teaching. Notice how clustering of viewpoint may occur. Students can be randomly called upon to stand and justify their pin's placement. Students could move to the four quadrants of the classroom to represent the quadrants of the coordinate axis graph and continue the conversation that way.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bias and Thoroughness in the reporting of Sarah Koenig in the hit podcast Serial

Relatability and Detail in a character's experience in Cormac McCarthy's The Road

How do you use continua or scatterplot data to help students investigate the grays of seemingly black and white questions?

How my Students Use Membean

Last May my students helped me assemble a video showcasing Membean, a comprehensive English vocabulary trainer that we've used at Brophy for the last three years.  My sophomores train 45 minutes per week, and my juniors train 60.  Since students are the end-user, they often find bugs or identify ways to improve the product.  The CEO of Membean has told me numerous times that the students' feature requests have shaped the way the product has improved over the years.  Close working relationships with edtech companies like Membean have made me excited to integrate productive tools into my teaching.

An introduction to the use of Membean (comprehensive vocabulary trainer) by students at Brophy College Preparatory in Mr. John Damaso's English classes.

UPDATE 26 May 2015: Membean featured this video in their Teacher Spotlight.

Students compete for meme rights to a Remind text alert

They'll ignore it (sometimes) if a teacher made it

Believe it or not, I think I found a way to make students ignore yet another stream of communication coming from adults and teachers.  We thought they read our emails. They don't. (Or at least not thoroughly.) We thought they read the e-newsletter. Nope.  We thought they read the announcements or the daily bulletin. They power-browse those. Maybe.

We thought that sending texts to their smartphones, even in a safe, easy way like Remind, would keep them informed of upcoming events, club meetings, assignments, and schedule changes.  Turns out students (after my 1,000th message over three years) may be swiping those away, too.  Remind alerts so conveniently pop up on their phones as SMS messages or notifications, but I'm still competing to get students' attention.  I know this because Remind lets you see which subscribers actually open an attachment (document, image) you send along with the text.  And they are not looking...in large numbers.  I thought I knew what students valued in a Remind alert, but I'm still learning. 

eyeball

Sometimes I send messages to 130+ subscribers and only see (next to the little eyeball icon) 10-20 viewers.

They'll open it if they (or their classmate) made it 

So there's hope.  Lately, I've been encouraging students to send me animated gifs, memes, and other-student generated content that I can attach to Remind messages.  As cute narcissists, students will create when they know they'll have a peer audience.  As a result, the touch-through rates are on the rise. In other words, the number next to the eyeball icon is increasing.  Here's a meme I sent that serves as a NoRedInk homework reminder. It leverages a classroom inside joke related to the infamous video of Allen Iverson discussing "practice."  (46 of 92 recipients viewed the image.)

This homework reminder went to 77 students and 15 parents. 46 clicked through to the image.  Messages sent with student-created attachments tend to get more views than those with teacher-originated attachments.

Some Internet memes have staying power. The "honey badger" trope helped the Remind alert below garner 57 views.  The double sideways carrot ( >> ) helps, too.  Giving credit to the meme-maker within the message itself also seems to create mini-celebrities in class and competition for future Remind real estate.

 

Sometimes still images aren't enough. After I posted a few student-created memes, the gifs started rolling in.  This feverish typer related to many a late-night Membean forgetters in class.

They'll open it if it mentions "extra credit" or contains cats.

LOLCats for the win!  Sometimes students are unpredictable. Who knew that a picture of cats from the iPad game Type:Rider would yield a 55% click-through rate?

They'll open it if their work is being publicly praised

This Remind alert went to 52 recipients. 16 clicked through to view the attached image, an AP-style essay written by a student that earned a 9 on the College Board scale. 

They'll open it if it (ambiguously) promises a worthy punchline...

This still from an animated gif portrays an awkwardly ecstatic Brad Pitt. Students appreciate awkward ecstasy. 

They'll open it if money is involved

This poster announced an accessible writing contest with prize money.

They'll open it if they are instructed to use a "stamp" to answer a question

I usually reserve all caps to command students to STAMP a Remind alert to show they've interacted with an attached image. Here the pretty colors mesmerize them into believing they are learning there grammar.  NoRedInk.com's metrics disagrees.

Have you used student-generated content to engage other students through Remind or other communication tools?

Google Docs for Collaborative Text Annotations

As a way into a poem with students, I often "crowd-source" the initial analysis through collaborative text annotation in Google Docs. Today I read them the poem "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Sara Teasdale. They were familiar with the poem from Ray Bradbury's short story of the same title. After reading the poem aloud (displayed onscreen), I said, "Go!" and each student was tasked with highlighitnig and commenting on a single word in the poem with a somewhat vague charge: annotate the word for its significance.

Students analyze diction choices in the Teasdale poem and then deepen the analysis by replying to each other.

In three to five minutes, you get a fully annotated poem and many inroads to conversation about rhyme, poetic devices, allusions, imagery, on and on.  Docs on the iPad is a little clumsy for students to navigate, but touch-holding a highlighted word will allow them to see the comment and then reply to it.  I encourage students to deepen the analysis of the word in question or to ask a follow-up for the original commenter. 

Today I showed them the Lit Genius page for "There Will Come Soft Rains" and said, "We can do better than this." They did.

What's in a Name? Anonymous Grading of Writing

As a writing teacher, I hope to encourage and witness growth in my students' work.   Tracking student progress helps me see a student's strengths and weaknesses as a writer.  That said, teachers battle bias like anybody else, so maintaining fairness in assessing a student's writing remains a goal of mine.

QUESTION: If the first item we see on an assignment is a student's name, how does that knowledge re-frame the way we read and assess that work?

In AP English Language & Composition environment, I ask my students to write timed, 40-minute essays, handwritten on paper with nothing but their ID number in the corner (see image).  I do this, I tell them, so that I can grade their work on the College Board's 9-point scale in a fair, objective, unbiased way.  Since students type most of their work, I tend not to recognize their handwriting, so I feel mostly confident that I apply the rubric fairly.  After administering several of these writing exercises, I realized that despite inking comments in the margins, I didn't really have a sense for a particular writer's trends because I didn't know who wrote what.  Anonymity stole the intimacy.

My AP English Language & Composition students list their ID numbers only when they write 40-minute timed essays in preparation for the AP exam in May. I annotate and score them, and only see their identities when I enter the grades into the gradebook.

QUESTION: Is it better (A) to know the identity of a student writer, track his progress over time, and all the while risk bias in grading the work or (B) to ensure anonymity but lose the opportunity to help shape a writer's improvement.

On reading assessments, I like to ask free response questions that require a paragraph reply.  Since I give these quizzes through Blackboard's "test" feature and with the help of Apple's Guided Access and Respondus LockDown Browser, I have the opportunity to grade anonymously a single question across all student attempts (see image).  Again, I can focus on the work (the answer to the prompt), but I cannot connect my observations to the development of a particular student writer.

Many LMSs allow a teacher to score work anonymously. Here I am grading a single "short answer" question "with user names hidden" in Blackboard after a quiz on The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.

QUESTION: How do you other English teachers handle this conundrum?  Do students benefit more from their work being assessed anonymously or from their work being tracked by a knowledgeable and nurturing writing instructor?

5 Things your Literary Magazine can do besides Publish an Annual Magazine

At the annual Arizona Interscholastic Press Association fall convention at Arizona State University on October 27, 2014, I gave a talk to high school literary magazine editors about ways to engage their campus communities all year long.  The presentation below, "5 Things your Literary Magazine can do besides Publish and Annual Magazine," highlights the ways the Brophy Literary & Arts Magazine has tried to make itself ubiquitous on campus. We...

On the Edge of their Seats: Using polls, backchannels, and games in student response systems to create durable student engagement

Last month I delivered a presentation at Educator Day 2014 for the Diocese of Phoenix Catholic schools.  I wanted to convey that with so many student response systems available for free, teachers always have a way to give students a voice during each and every lesson.  The presentation below, "On the Edge of their Seats: Using polls, backchannels, and games in student response systems to create durable student engagement," provides case uses for the following edtech tools:

  1. PollEverywhere
  2. TodaysMeet
  3. Socrative
  4. Kahoot!

UPDATE: These tools change frequently. Since this presentation, PollEverywhere, for example, has added a "discourse" feature that allows students to see each other's free responses and "up" or "down" vote them (like on Reddit).

Remind me when the mail’s delivered

One of my favorite pastimes as an edtech enthusiast is to take commercial technologies that were not designed for school and adapt them for educational purposes. We’ve all done it: Tweeted out an assignment update; organized a school club via a Facebook page; asked a warmup question through PollEverywhere; recorded a student-written, spoken-poem through GarageBand.  There’s a little rush I get from pushing a technology in a direction other than that for which it was intended, marketed, deployed.

Recently, I’ve found myself going the other way: thinking about how certain edtech apps could be used outside of education.  Are there commercial or civic applications for technologies we use to inspire creative learning?

Given my satisfaction with Remind the last couple years (see my 500 Texts Later blog post), I was struck recently when my father mentioned the frustration he has related to the US Postal Service.  He lives in a closed community of one hundred homes whose mailboxes are clustered in a central area. Once a day, the mail carrier visits the complex and delivers the mail. During hot summer Phoenix days, my dad lamented, you never know when the mail’s been delivered until you park near the mailboxes, leave your car (and A/C) running, walk to your particular box, and open it with a sizzling key.  Is there a way to know if the mail's been delivered without getting out of the car, he wondered.  The traditional flag-up/flag-down mechanism doesn’t work with 100 boxes, so what to do...?

Have the mail carrier Remind you, I said.  The next day, we had the mail carrier download Remind, create a “class” for that community, and begin sending text alerts to neighbors who wanted a notification when the mail was delivered each day.  As in the classroom, this is an opt-in service for community members, and certainly a value-ad for the USPS, which you may agree is looking for ways to stay relevant.

With the potential of 100 text alerts simultaneously directing neighbors to their mailboxes, we now only need an app that can manage the pedestrian traffic.



PollEverywhere Icebreaker Poll Contest

PollEverywhere ran a contest last week: create the most engaging "icebreaker" poll to warm up an audience or classroom waiting for a presentation.  By entering this contest, I learned that this early student response system had more bells and whistles than I had realized prior.  Some 

  • GIFs: You can insert an animated .gif file into a poll question and scale its size (thumbnail to entire background image)
  • Images as answers: In lieu of text, you can insert an image (.jpg, .png, .gif) as a possible correct answer to a poll question
  • Fonts & Colors: You can manipulate the typeface of each poll element as well as the background color
  • Omit: You can delete elements like poll instructions
  • Clickable image: Users can touch an area of an image (map, chart, graph, table, art) as a correct answer. (See how I used clickable images in this interview I did with PollEv last month.)

I shared my two entries with my classes, and they were mildly hopeful that I had a shot at one of the prizes.  Last week I was informed that the Jaws poll I made would be featured in a list of other "ice breaker" polls, but, alas, I was not a winner, but my colleague @MrLBCP received an honorable mention for his Family Guy-inspired poll.

Entry #1: Jaws  (click for live poll)

Entry #2: Top Gun (click for live poll)

Both of these polls contain animated gifs. Click links above to see.  Do you have a go-to icebreaker poll?

Use Storify to capture a retrospective of your professional development timeline from Twitter

Today I realized that Storify could be used to represent a timeline of my professional development activities on Twitter.  Since my school requires a teacher portfolio that tracks classroom goals, teacher observations, technology implementation, student evaluations, etc., I think the addition of a timeline of the semester's PD goings-on would supplement the portfolio nicely.  By viewing the last several months of my posts on Twitter related to NoRedInk, Membean, Socrative, PollEverywhere, I can see how I've connected with other educators and developed relationships with edtech companies.

With easy account creation, Storify allows users to curate a retrospective of the Web, and I simply entered my @MrJohnDamaso Twitter handle and was presented with a stream of my Tweets and Retweets. I loaded a few hundred of them and captured them as a Storify that I can easily insert into my portfolio, Tweet out, or include here.