Whew! The school year FLEW by- before I could collect my thoughts, the juniors were now seniors and the seniors were, well, gone. So was my time…
I have so much to reflect about the year- the OneNote introduction to the junior class, the changing curriculum to come, moving The Adventures of Huck Finn to AP English…and that’s just the beginning. I have all summer to share the year, starting with some amazing project examples. I started the year dedicated to open projects, meaning that no project had a list of “things” it had to be. More like each project had a list of objectives and meanings it needed to express. It was a bit scary at first- letting the students take the wheel on how and what their final products would be- and there were some failures. But I’m a proponent of failure in the classroom as well as letting the student set their standard. Most of them will set it higher than a teacher ever would.
I did this project with two different modules; the first round you can read about in my previous post. The second time around wasn’t much different save for this: it had to be a product. (No emojii comic books, please.) Same rules- the chosen annotations/project had to be from either Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon or Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. For project completion, each student had to complete an “interview” about their project (click Project Annotation for the questions). This module did not disappoint- many of them developed projects so innovative and creative, I plan to use several as examples next year. So, with much ado, here is the first of many showcases.
This is a Marauder’s Map of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:
Pretty amazing, yes? I’m excited to see what this could look like when applied to Song of Solomon. I’m pretty excited in general that Harry Potter found a way into my classroom…stay tuned and I’ll share the Tarot Cards next!
*Note to reader: the original published version is here.*
“Learning to love reading is easy; learning how to be an active reader is not,” I say often to my students. I hope they start believing me because this is precisely what Madeira English is about: active reading. From the moment they start ninth grade, we push students to articulate the why or significance of a text. By sophomore year, we ask them to expand their ability to express how a writer’s technique creates shades of meaning. In junior year, we inch toward research mode by asking how that significance might correlate to a movement, a historical time period, or even an abstract concept. It is a process and it begins with active reading. But what does that mean?
This is the question asked most often in my classroom usually in some form of “How should I read this?” or “Am I doing annotations the right way?” From a teacher’s perspective, there are many answers to those concerns. For some, annotating means a highlighted, scribbled-in-the-margins book. For others, it means a Cornell-style note page. Last year in my class, it meant a presentation of insights in a shared document. The teacher in me loved this; the reader in me started a rebellion. After all, isn’t part of the assignment how you enjoyed the novel? Why you may not like it? Aren’t annotations a little too forced? I am trying to read, after all.
I really began investing how to join those two things- how to move my students to both a personal response and an academic view of a novel. I spent the summer like most English teachers, reading, only this time, I really tried to examine how or when my love of the book merged with my thinking about the book. And, while I may be closer to an answer, I do not have a perfect one. I did, however, emerge with new thinking about annotations. When we began Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon in the junior English Slavery to Civil Rights module, I asked students to do two kinds of annotations. The first is what I’m coining “commitment.” The assignment was simple: pick a chapter you liked, a chapter you felt connected the reader to a bigger idea, then organize your annotations for sharing. Not much different than last year; the significance here is “pick a chapter you like.” I’m coining the second collected annotations “invent.” I asked the students to do the same thing except, this time, they were to take the annotations and make something. Anything except notes. Make something that illustrates understanding and demonstrates why they liked the book.
I’m still trying to convince my students, particularly my art afficionados, that OneNote is an amazing tool for graphic drawing. So when I said, “Your OneNote is a sketchbook- use it!” for one of the activities this week, my artists looked at me a bit skeptical.
Let me explain.
Some of my classroom activities involve creating a graphic organizer of sorts; this week it was to create a visual infographic that demonstates gothic elements in the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. I started small- you can use any platform. Paper, pen, marker, computer, performance- any and all modes were available to them. Much to my dismay, most of them chose paper, pen, marker, crayon.
Now, while I don’t fault anyone for this (I love the feel of a gel pen on a moleskin myself), in the process of trying to convince the students that OneNote is much more viable and much more than a simple organizational tool, I was failing. On one hand, I was getting good work:
On the other hand, they weren’t realizing they could transfer the same techinique to OneNote. In fact, this is what happened when I told them to think about doing their graphic digitally:
Admittedly, not a bad start, but not quite the same as the first attempt.
Part of this is that we are a bring-your-own-device school. I was asking girls who didn’t have a surface to work with the draw function and a mouse. I was also expecting girls who hardly ever touched a surface to fight at the opportunity to use mine-many remain unconvinced it could do the same thing. I did have three takers though. Here is the beginning of a different “The Black Cat”:
After watching and seeing P. create this, I turned over at least six. Only time will see if those six establish a sketchbook via OneNote. I’m at least happy they are fascinated by the Surface computer.
So, while I have convinced five of six in my department to switch to OneNote and two in the History department, I’ve still got some ways to go with my students. Ultimately, I think a rotating set of Surfaces, a classroom set so to speak, might be the best route. Now, I just have to find the money…..
Hang tight, my teacher friends. I promised a OneNote present soon- it’s coming, and I still have yet to tell you about the Socratic Circle done in OneNote!
It’s day five of the snow apocalypse in Northern Virginia. Snow days can be a teacher’s wish come true and their worst nightmare all in one. A former me would be scrambling to piece together an email, maybe some way to scan something in pdf form, and then hoping my students had both a computer and a printer at home.
Not this year and never again.
Not only am I on schedule with my lesson plans but in our five days off, my students have completed a quiz, a timed essay, and three collaborative activities that correlate to the reading. I’ve even sent a link to help a student who left her book at school, all via OneNote.
The beauty of OneNote is realtime- things move in OneNote immediately. When my students take a quiz, they can take it at the same time as normal class. When they take a timed essay, I use OneNote’s time stamp to track when completion happened and page history to tell me when they started. I dropped my audio lecture and powerpoint in the class content library so I could introduce Poe and start reading him as soon as we return.
While this is all good, the one thing I really love about OneNote is the collaboration space. For example, yesterday we did a group scavenger hunt for details about Edgar Allan Poe’s life. A simple table grid helped organize the data.
In another class, we used the collaboration space to generate a chat board, a way to post questions about their reading of George Orwell’s 1984.
And today, I’ve been dropping in on each student’s outline page in their own personal notebooks to answer outlining questions.
Makes me think that you could almost do an entire class virtual in OneNote….
I tried to write a post all about VSTE, and well, it just made me want to write about what I presented at VSTE (The Virginia Society of Technology in Education). So, two birds, one stone.
Let me tell you about this game I started playing last year.
My school runs on the modular schedule which means our academic year is broken up into 5 week units. I teach mostly juniors- so junior year of English looks a bit like this: each junior must take the required Slavery to Civil Rights module (junior year is American Literature) and the research paper module (I don’t want to discuss how this works for AP History students in this post). For the remainder of the year, they select three of four options. In the modernism module, I teach Hemingway’s In Our Time and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in five weeks.
Take that in for a minute. Five weeks.
As you can imagine, that’s a small amount of time to condense a lot of context, both literary and historical. When I first start with this venture last year, I spent the first four modules trying to bet on the right horse- how much is enough to read Hemingway? To read Gatsby? To teach about the Lost Generation? Where do I put poetry? Interwar period? THE WAR(s)? At the same time, I was starting to really entrench (sorry, I wrote Hemingway and then he was in my head) myself in game-based learning. (Now, what I do isn’t true to the current definition. I’ve come to learn that I’m more of a “playbased learning.” I’ll talk about that perhaps in a different post.) To me, the module schedule timing felt right for that kind of environment- five weeks. But I would have to create the elements first. And, because Hemingway was already complicated enough for an all girls audience, I choose to start with Gatsby.
The first play of this game was relatively easy, but in many ways not quite a success. I created stock figures, stereotypes of the 1920s: the mob boss, the mobster, the dectective, the police, the socialite, the press, the bank. Each figure had a particular perk- the mob could steal, the press could publish, the socialites could curry favor, and the bank did what banks do. Each character also had a security deposit box where they could keep evidence, pass messages, keep money. The objective was simple: convince the public that Gatsby was either guilty or innocent (depending on your character) by collecting or fabricating evidence from the story. We played for a week; the students even built alliances, something I hadn’t considered. They robbed with delight and I recieved everything from the hotel receipt from Myrtle and Tom’s affair, a faux newspaper that connect them mob boss to Gatsby bank accounts, a printout of Gatsby’s bank accounts, a string of pearls, a crime scene report…they were true to the text while being creative. It was incredible.
And yet, I still felt that the game was amiss. My students spent a lot of time trying to create evidence (sometimes just to create it) rather than thinking about the objective. Moreover, while they were alive in the world of Gatsby, I didn’t feel they were connected to the time period, let alone connecting Hemingway and Fitzgerald to a movement. And, to top it off, I’m a tech teacher. I pride myself on integrating technology. This game operated mostly with brown envelopes and paper money.
In the middle of all this, I took the game on the road with my work partner. We present at VAIS (Virginia Association of Independent Schools). I kind of turned my talk into a “how to play a game in class” to “it’s not quite ready, what would you do” session. The session was really invigorating- it was nice to see that other English teachers wanted to do the same thing- create worlds (whether virtual or digital) for their students to understand context. However, we didn’t really come up with a good way to modify the game.
So. I finished last year learning OneNote, going completely paperless, and trying to figure out how to make Modernism different with a game that was going well for my students, but not for me. Summer needed to be about work. I’m going to flash forward a bit here- just imagine me at my desk, fast forward mode, bending furiously like a puppet on absurd amounts of caffeine, a furrowed brow while I pretend that I didn’t just cram everything for this year into the last week of summer. You get the idea.
This year, the game has changed and I am loving it. It started with Lauren (my work wife/partner):
“Well, if you don’t want them to create their own artifacts, you’ll have to reconsider your objective.”
(Cue my groaning) “That would require taking the emphasis off Gatsby.”
“Yea. Perhaps. Or what if Gatsby was just an access point. What if, Fitzgerald, and not Gatsby was the point?”
And from there, the new edition was born. The characters are chosen a bit the same- each student picks a historical figure to play as and they create a facebook page for that character. This is still done in secrecy; we hold a Gatsby tea party to introduce the players to each other. (I’m told I make a very good barkeep.) They come in costume, and ask questions (with some help on what kinds of questions to ask- no questions that can be answered with yes or no statements). And then…then they get the rules.
There are five ways to win, depending on the alliance you’ve created/chosen. Each alliance has certain pieces of evidence and a certain amount of money they must collect to win. In this version, I have already created the evidence and I have already printed the money.
What’s the difference, you might say.
In this version, you win evidence, skill cards, and money through challenges. Now, these can be as Gatsby-related as I want or they can be time period related. I even threw in a few writing challenges. And, I DID IT ALL IN ONENOTE.
It. Was. Amazing.
I have everything from the Charleston set to modern day music, a written piece on why Lucious Lyon in Empire is a modern day Gatsby, a recreated Depression era advertisement and even an MLA citation for every Fitzgerald book our library owned. This version allowed my students to get really entrenched in Modernism. What’s more, we played for FOUR WEEKS. Alliances shifted, challenges became harder, and the competition was fierce. Every single student was engaged.
The game still needs some tweeking- I’ve learned that evidence should move into circulation quickly (the last time we played, I was sure the mod would end before a winner declared) and that challenges were a great way to scaffold learning when applied correctly. I am also considering taking the money bit out- it seems to complicate the game more than move the players. I did love using OneNote, but the cards were challenging to keep up with; while my students didn’t know that they could easily copy cards into their notebook and I would be none-the-wiser, I should have a better system. I experimented a bit with a twitter board in the collaboration space of OneNote with some degree of success, but I’d like to move away from having a tupperware container of “security deposit boxes” (aka brown mailing envelopes).
I took this to VSTE (Virginia Society of Technology in Education) in December. Despite my nerves, I managed to explain this to a group of educators (I won’t claim I did it well). Point is, I’m learning that there are other teachers craving the same immersed environment. They keep me alive. (Shameless plug: go to VSTE. If you are a technology oriented teacher, GO TO VSTE. You will find your people. I did.) I connected with one teacher who plans to do something similar with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and another who might take this to his history class. Please do- take and adopt. Maybe we can be friends, and I’ll tell you all about the Edgar Allan Poe/Forensics mashup I built with a fellow science teacher (next post spoiler alert). I posted the pdf of the rules (thank you Lauren for being much more skilled in InDesign than me). By all means, email or comment below, and let’s start having fun in the classroom!
PS: I have consent and permission to share student content on this post.
I need to write about the VAIS conference that energized my teaching philosophy, but all I can think about right now is the Gatsby game that begins in my classroom tomorrow. I’m like a kid at Christmas, an excited neurotic bundle. I can’t wait to see it played, I can’t wait for feedback, and I’m already anticipating writing about it.
I can’t help it; I’m a gamer through and through.
This all started with “what ifs.” I often find myself on Lauren Roy’s couch (she is the an education technology specialist at my school) playing through “what ifs.” In my dream school, English is married to computer science or a technology class. Video games are nothing more than interactive stories; novels are the original role playing games. Yet so many educators are reluctant to join the two for fear we lose something.
I, on the other hand, think they would be great for each other.
And suddenly, we were scheming. Two weeks later, and the Gatsby RPG is ready for play tomorrow. I’ve deviated a little bit from the original schematics (I’ll write more after the prototype is played through), but it’s just wonderful to know the fruits of collaborating with an amazing “what if” partner. (Also, OneNote is a great tool to keep all those couch borne “what if” ideas.)
*Click the picture for better detail.*
For now, I’m giddy and can’t wait to play. Will report back soon.
I’ve been in love with journaling since I could remember/retain what journaling meant; I remember my first diary very clearly. It was pink, glittery, and had a lock that was sure to keep out my little sister. My grandmother bought it at the dollar store, along with the pack of pens that I would lose in the next hour. But that diary….
It seemed to me (and still does to some extent) that both important people and everyday people alike kept a journal. Lewis Carroll (of my beloved Alice in Wonderland stage) kept meticulous diaries, even though they would one day incriminate him. Virginia Woolfe, the first writer I really understood as a woman’s writer, was an avid journal scribe. Mark Twain was never seen without one, Kurt Cobin rarely seen with his but it existed. It didn’t matter what walk of life, as a young girl I thought that people were supposed to keep diaries and journals.
I’d like to say that I kept up with my journaling through grade school naivety, through high school angst, and even through college busyness. But only some of that is true- I went through spurts of intense writing, where every day was meticulously detailed, “Lunch: tray of fries. Milk. God, why can’t I stop eating fries.” As I got older, details become ideologies ruminated at the end of the day, “How is it possible to know when you are in love, like the very moment?” But the truth is journaling, like writing is hard. And habit-forming, as in, you have to do it and make it a habit or you don’t do it and oops, where is that thing again?
And yet, I own at least seven, unused, neatly wrapped moleskins. Every now and then, I take them out, fondle the unbroken spines (50 Shades of Molekskin anyone?), and wonder if today is the day I will write in one.
I imagine some of my hangups are the same one my students face when asked to do an essay, rough draft, or even a creative writing piece; after all, the same questions they ask plague me. What do I write? How do I start? What if I get it wrong? What is a good entry? How long should it be? Inevitable, I begin to compare anything I might do to the amazing work of others. Like this guy, Kolby Kirk, and his amazing hiking journals. I particularly love how his moleskins are hybrids of writing, mapping, and sketching. I really like his philosophy that journals should be messy, dirty, interactive things that are free from constriction. Like rough drafts, but fun.
And then, a thought happens: how could I use journaling in my classroom as a way to help my students become active journalists? How could I help myself? Where would one begin? How would one start? Could I start? I talk all the time about the value of a rough draft, a good outline, and a working thesis. These are a lot like messy, dirty, interactive moleskins. Maybe this is merit in journaling frequently in class, but how could there be proof without being intrusive? What kind of negotiating would a teacher need?
And then: how do I let go of the part of me that wants to organize, label, and categorize every entry before I even start? How do my students? Do I grade them? How do I grade them if I want them to write freely? Is the act alone enough to warrant a grade?
I almost think with my new project (gamifying the classroom), journaling will become a must- it must become both record book and reflection. Journal prompts are a whole other issue- I have a love/hate relationship with using journal prompts in the classroom. While I completely see the merit in a guided prompt, the non-teacher side of me cringes every time I see or use one. I’m much more likely to use a writing guide, an insert if you will for my students. I really like Mike Shea’s moleskin insert for writers; making one for high school students would be interesting.
The best start might be my own: unwrapping a moleskin of my very own this week and put the untarnished moleskin issue to rest. Stay tuned.