Friday, January 26, 2018

A Unit Plan for The Hate U Give--With Technology

Lately, I have been working with students and teachers on using technology to teach one of the most thought-provoking novels I’ve read in years: The Hate U Give. If you haven’t heard about it, it is a Young Adult novel by Angie Thomas that addresses issues of racial bias, code-switching, and stereotypes within the context of a White police officer shooting a Black adolescent.

The novel leans on dialogue to tell the story, and readers witness events from the perspective of Starr, a Black teen who lives in a lower-income neighborhood but attends an all-White, private prep school.

It is one of THOSE books – the kind that is impossible to put down once you start reading.

Some teachers I’ve talked with are concerned about the language in the book. Four-letter words are sprinkled a-plenty throughout. But, let’s be real. Kids already know these words, and most use them. No need to pretend they don’t exist. Words only have the meaning that we give them; otherwise, they are just sounds.

Using technology to aid in teaching The Hate U Give helps jump start conversations, engages students in literary analysis, and underscores the NOW of the book. Digital technology is for the 21st Century, and so is this novel. Here is a brief unit plan for teaching and learning:
Activity OneAn anticipation guide through Kahoot.
      Ask students to answer the questions with their mobile phones, then download the results. Save these. After the novel discussion is over, come back to the guide and have students answer questions again to compare their answers. After the anticipation guide, talk about the cover, predict what the story is about, and read the first chapter out loud together.
Activity TwoCharacter analysis through Voki.
      Students create a Voki that reflects the characteristics one of the characters in the book. Ask students to use the character’s language and voice, as well as background information. Make sure the Voki looks, sounds, and acts like the character description in the book. Don’t forget Brickz!
Activity ThreeSetting analysis through VoiceThread.
      Using VoiceThread, students download three-to-five photos from Google images that reflect the setting in the book. With the voice-over feature, they talk about each image and its importance in the novel.
Activity FourPlot analysis through TimeToast.
      TimeToast is a timeline feature that allows users to plug in dates and events. Use it for analysis of the plot by asking students to plug in the key events on their own TimeToast timeline.
Activity FiveLanguage analysis and author’s purpose through FlipGrid.
      The use of language and the author’s purpose can be debated by students through FlipGrid. Have key questions ready for students to answer, but give them the freedom to post a reflection on their thoughts about the book’s language, themes, and events.
Activity Six/Culminating Project – Discussion of themes through video remixes.
      In small groups, students can choose one of the themes from the book (racism, stereotypes, loyalty, standing up for what you believe, the importance of family, etc.) and create video remixes that mash up images, music, and video.
Extension – If your students really enjoy the novel and want to extend their learning into the community, they can explore social justice ideas HERE. They also can do online research on police shootings from the last few years, as well as the Emmitt Till story HERE and HERE and HERE.

Enjoy this groundbreaking book along with your students!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Making the Most of Mobile Phones in the Classroom

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on the implications of allowing mobile phones and other devices in the classroom ( -- all tinged with a bit of nail-chewing and angst.

My position has always been to ALLOW MOBILE PHONES IN THE CLASSROOM and use them to inform instruction. We want to bridge the gap between students' in-school and out-of-school literacies, and phones are one way to do this. Students can use their Smartphones to participate in activities that can be reviewed later or shared with a friend (or parent). They will be less likely to hide the phone under their desk/hoodie/book if they can "play" with it in class.

Here are my FIVE GUIDELINES for using Smartphones in ELA:

1. Set limits. Allow phones for specific moments and activities, but don't give in to a free-for-all, or you will have a room full of distracted students.
2. Design a parking pad. Make this out of construction paper and chalk and place it in the center of a collaborative table. Ask students to "park the phone" until you give the signal to use it. 

3. Offer a phone break. Give students a 5-minute break during class to check their Facebook, texts, etc., and you will find they are less anxious and more willing to focus. Plus, they probably need to answer the texts their moms sent.
4. Take advantage of online tools. Ask students to download apps like Discovery or NYT to view films and content relevant to class. Create Kahoot quizzes so that students can use their phones to record responses. Use Twitter to respond to current events or argue positions.
5. Encourage use of the camera. Students can use their phone's camera and video recorder to snap pictures/video of items around school. Let them use digital images to respond to prompts, reveal information about themselves, create mini movies, record mock TV newscasts or talk shows, and illustrate the themes in a poem or short story. 

After all, we are preparing students for college and life, so we want to show them ways to use that all-important phone. Plus, allowing phones in the classroom means we can check our OWN texts, etc., without looking like hypocrites. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

5 Tools to Try This School Year

It's a new school year! Yay! Time to try out some new tech tools in your ELA classroom!

However, you can't know everything or keep up with the latest gadget at all times. Instead of going wide, go deep. Focus on one or two tools and get really good at them.

 So, here are 5 tools I'm using this year and how I will use them.

1) Google Cardboard. This is a Virtual Reality tool that I keep finding new ways to use. It is inexpensive ($25 for two), and pretty indestructible. Use your smartphone to download a few VR apps (NYT VR or Discovery VR are my favorites). Then, put your phone in the Google Cardboard and immerse yourself in the world of...sharks, sunflowers, hang gliders...  the list is endless. I am using these as prompts for writing (View the bottom of the ocean and then write about it!), as well as a way to enhance background knowledge.

2) Slack. I am enjoying using this collaborative meeting site as an educational tool. It is meant for business, but I have found that students can use it to plan projects and communicate with each other. I recently used it to set up a project between students at two different schools. They never actually met in person, but used Slack to create a presentation.

3) Flipgrid. This is really a video selfie tool. What I mean by that is that students talk into their computer's camera and record their faces and voices. Then they post their responses to a shared page. They can use the tool to record reactions to stories, reviews, or to create a persuasive argument.

4) EDpuzzle. This tool has been around for a few years, and teachers are finding new and amazing ways to use it. I have used it extensively as a way to flip my classroom. You can record videos or screencasts, then upload them to EDpuzzle. You also can imbed questions about content on the videos as students view it. Finally, you can use the questions to act as a quiz or assessment to check for understanding.

5) Visme. Infographics are huge in the world of Pinterest and Twitter. Teach critical digital media literacy to your students by asking them to design their own infographics on a non-fiction article or research topic. The graphic above was made using Visme, which is one of the easiest infographic tools I have used.

Most of all, have fun, and don't be afraid to try!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Kindness for the New Year

Kindness in Suffering - Anne Barbour

Kindness Journals
For this new year, in the wake of a difficult 2016, I have decided to try to commit a random act of kindness every day. For me, this means quietly and anonymously doing something kind, generous, or unselfish for someone else without expecting praise or even acknowledgement. 

This is not an original idea, of course. But it somehow makes me feel like I am contributing something worthwhile to the world at large. Instead of simply tolerating the bad and ugly, I am doing my only tiny part to help counteract the growing movement of incivility in America. 

I started this on Jan. 1, but then it dawned on me: Why not ask students to do the same thing and document their efforts with a digital tool? 

This is a Random Acts of Kindness Journal!

Kindness can make you feel amazing -- or, sometimes, unappreciated, or sometimes, ashamed or guilty. All of these feelings are part of the human experience -- But my students may not know this. So, using the new GIF Maker digital tool, they can document the feelings they have while participating in a type of digital writing or storytelling. 

This tool makes creating a GIF so easy! You simply paste the URL share code from a YouTube or other video into the  large window, then the tool takes over. This is a screenshot of the window:

After the video downloads, you will get an active window with sliding bars that you can adjust to select a small clip from your chosen video. A GIF typically is about 1 to 3 seconds. You just slide the bar, watch the clip in the large window, and then scroll down to the bottom and click "Create GIF."

Once the GIF is created, you can download it to your desktop or share on Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest. (Click on the Advanced tab to access the GIF's share code.)

For the Random Acts of Kindness Journal, students TWEET a daily digital journal entry, each one marked with a note of what they did and how it made them feel. They can use a hashtag to keep them all in the same digital "bucket," such as #Katieskindnessjournal.

Here is a sample:

Here's to more kindness in 2017!