Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Why We Should Play Collaborative Games in the Classroom

A few months ago, several of my fellow doctoral students and I were in a conversation about building more camaraderie in our classrooms and schools. We’d noticed that students tended to build groups based on similar past experiences (which makes sense). Yet, we were frustrated that we wanted students to make connections outside their groups so they could learn from others’ experiences and gain a more diverse outlook.

“However, how much can we as teachers do to create this?” I posed. The answer came from one of my colleagues: “Maybe that’s where we need to create shared experiences for them.”

I’ve been thinking about that conversation ever since. What experiences can I create in my classroom that will forge relationships outside of their normal friendships? One way, I believe, is through collaborative games.

Collaborative games have made a resurgence in recent years. Pandemic and Forbidden Island are two common names, but there are also The Mind, Just One, Mysterium, Codenames Duet, to name a few. Plus, the ubiquitous Breakout and escape room games certainly promote cooperation. We also can’t forget the classic Dungeons and Dragons.

A couple weeks ago, Michael Matera and I chatted about collaborative games on his Well PlayED podcast (check it out below), where we talk about some of our favorites. But when we finished, we were a bit disappointed–we’d felt that we hadn’t even scratched the surface of the whys and hows to use collaborative games in the classroom.

Any Time is a Great Time for Collaborative Games

First of all, collaborative games are great all year long, but especially at the beginning of the year when you’re cultivating the classroom culture. Focusing more on cooperative games early emphasizes the importance of togetherness, teamwork and camaraderie. Plus, playing games is one of the best ways to get to know someone. Personally, I’m not a big cheesy icebreaker fan (last year my principal started our summer inservice with an anti-icebreaker: we shared all the ice breakers we would NOT do. It was amazing.)

But playing games, especially cooperative ones, provides lighthearted interaction between people. Through side talk, students get to slowly learn about each other. It’s a far more natural feel than concocted icebreaker games (like the Bingo squares where you have to find someone who went surfing this summer or who has more than three aunts.)

As teachers, games early in the year provide insight into our students. We can observe their interpersonal skills. We can identify students who are more reserved or dominant. We can join into games and build relationships with students on an even platform rather than being viewed as solely an authority figure.

But What About the Loss of Competition?

In recent Twitter chats, I’ve asked about what could be lost by playing cooperative over competition, and to be honest, not much. Competitive games can help teach students to work through frustration and to lose (and win) with grace–all important lessons. Another concern might be students who ride the coattails of other students. Again, this is possible, but I’m not sure if these students would behave much differently in a game where it’s “every man and woman for him/herself.”

However, I think the benefits of cooperative games and activities outweigh the deficits. This doesn’t mean we should put away competitive games. Instead, maybe we should consider ways to incorporate some collaboration into them.

Playing games in teams rather than individuals can boost the feeling of collaboration. It’s often easier to lose as a team and share the disappointment. Another way may be to adopt a “boss battle” format, where it’s the students against a common enemy–such as a fictional monster (you can find this in Classcraft) or even the teacher.

Applying it to Writing

I’m certainly not opposed to playing collaborative games (such as the ones mentioned earlier) just for the purpose of developing interpersonal skills. But I really encourage teachers to modify or somehow connect these games to current or upcoming learning.

My College Comp students will be introduced to collaborative games in the second week of school this fall. However, we’ll also be working on process writing. Teams will play one of the games and write directions and strategies for it. Then, teams will swap games AND the directions, and the teams will learn their newly acquired game with the directions provided by the previous team. As they play, they’ll also give feedback and suggestions on the directions and strategies.

The directions are then returned to the original teams, who will then revise the directions, add images if needed, and post directions online in the format of their choice.

Many collaborative games can be modified to different content areas. Codenames Duet and Just One can easily be adjusted with any content information. Or take a well-known game such as Deal or No Deal, add problems or questions from your content area, and have the entire class play (thanks to Kevin Roughton @mrroughton for this idea!)

Whatever game you’re choosing to play with students, consider how you might make it just a bit more collaborative and, as a result, build a stronger culture in your classroom.

 

The Four Tendencies: Learning About Myself, My Kids, and My Students

A few weeks ago, my friend Sarah escorted me to her favorite bookstore in Omaha (shout out to The Bookworm), and recommended The Four Tendencies. She’d read it and said she’d learned much about herself and also her students. Of course I wanted it for my own, and immediately she made me take “the quiz.” She was certain I was an Upholder.

Wrong. I’m an Obliger.

What does this mean?

The Four Tendencies

According to author Gretchen Rubin, who also wrote The Happiness Project among other titles, the Four Tendencies is a framework she created based on patterns she saw in human responses to outside expectations. In other words, Rubin asserts there are four main ways that we react to both outer expectations from others and our own inner expectations.

Upholder: These are the Hermoine Grangers of the world, the people who meet both the expectations of others as well as their own inner expectations. If they set a goal to exercise each day, they’ll do it. If they commit to planning a fundraiser for you, they’ll do that, too.

Obliger: This is me. Commitments to others are prioritized before commitments to myself. Obligers take care of outside expectations, make sure everyone is happy, and then will fulfill inner expectations.

Questioners: These people are opposite of obligers. They are fully committed to their inner expectations, but may not be so to outer expectations. This doesn’t mean they’re opposed to others’ expectations–they just need to understand and respect the why behind those expectations.

Rebel: Rebels resist all expectations–they want freedom and self-expression. This doesn’t mean rebels are lazy or don’t achieve–they will simply do so on their own terms.

What I Learned…

I’m an Obliger first, and then a Rebel second. I’ll work hard to meet deadlines that other set for me–and that also means that I work best when someone is relying on me. Deadlines I set for myself aren’t as threatening as deadlines others set for me. What Obligers like me need to do is seek accountability partners to help put the pressure on us.

However, I can turn into a rebel. This small part of me wants to defy expectations. Say I can’t do something, and it’s possible I’ll do it just because I can. I love independence and doing things on my own terms and in my own time.

More importantly, I think I understand others better, or at least appreciate where they’re coming from. Both my husband and I are Obligers, and we can be frustrated with our son, who’s a Questioner. He wants to know the “why” for everything–something we’d hoped he would grow out of but never has. But now I understand better how his mind works, and that he’s not trying to be difficult.

I can see some of these tendencies in my students, too, and more importantly, I can help work with them more effectively. Generally, Upholders and Obligers do well in the “game of school” because their tendencies fit well with meeting outer expectations of their teachers.

However, Questioners need to know the why, and teachers should be prepared for that. In fact, all students should know the why. Whatever we do in the classroom, we should be ready to explain what the purpose is and what the benefits are for those involved. Thankfully, we have Questioners to remind us about the importance of purpose.

Rebels, according to Rubin, are the smallest group, and I would venture don’t always succeed in the “game of school.” These students, and perhaps some questioners, have been my most challenging over the years. Rubin advises that we need to give rebels freedom and choice rather than demands threats.

Just How Scientific Are The Four Tendencies?

There’s not a lot of scientific validation on them. Rubin shares information about some research studies on the Tendencies here. It’s early, though. Like any theory that’s new–and especially any theory about human beings–take it with a grain of salt.

Rubin herself says that people aren’t completely one tendency or another–they’re more of a mix. I’m an Obliger-Rebel. My husband is more of an Obliger-Upholder. But I also wonder how a Tendency can change depending on a situation. Based on the framework, there’s no such thing as an Obliger-Questioner, but there are times, such as in conversations about education, where I can take on a questioner tendency.

Might it be interesting or beneficial for students to take the quiz? Perhaps. Being more aware of their natural tendencies could help them be more proactive to meet their deadlines, especially if they’re obligers and need accountability.

However, I’d also be wary of trying to classify students into black and white categories. Teens are still forming identities, and being human, they behave differently based on the situation.

I’d still recommend The Four Tendencies. It’s made me more cognizant about the different ways to share ideas to students and colleagues alike.

What have you failed at this week?

 

Writing this post takes courage for me because I don’t like to admit my failures.

The irony is that time and again I’ll say in conversations and Twitter chats that teachers need to be accepting of student mistakes and failures. Why, then, am I not more accepting of my own failures? More importantly, why do I dwell on those failures SO MUCH that I hesitate to take a future risk, fearing that I’ll just fail again?

I need to change my mindset about failure and lose the negative connotation it has.

While I was listening to The Power of Moments on Audible today, authors Chip and Dan Heath shared a story about a father who asked his children, “What did you fail at this week?”

Right away I had one. I’d been turned down for a book project.

But what about the failure before that? I began to struggle because I couldn’t think of a recent failure before that one. That’s when I started wondering: Was I putting myself out there and taking new risks? Was I trying to be innovative or just trying to survive?

The book includes the story of the inventor of Spanx, who was rejected by male clothing manufacturers again and again, but she’d experienced so many doors slammed in her face during her sales career that the word “no” didn’t faze her anymore.

Deanna Singh, entrepreneur and change maker, keynoted the Summer Spark conference in Milwaukee this year, and her final message was similar. In the Q and A, she was asked about her failures–as it turned out, she was creating a “failure” resume. She wanted to outline all her failures that she experienced, so others could understand that failure is commonplace and even an integral part of success.

Failure is scary. As Chip and Dan Heath explain in their book,  it’s almost cliche to hear “Take Risks,” but when we hear this phrase, there’s an unspoken promise that all will work out, that we’ll enjoy rainbow-filled results.

Unfortunately, that’s not true, and that’s tough for me to accept. I don’t like putting myself out there if I’m not sure I can succeed. Part of me wants to stop thinking about book submissions, stop reading other great teachers’ books (because I’ll compare my failures to their successes), and stop tweeting my posts–surely, someone will recognize that I’m an impostor.

If I’m going to ask my students and my own children to take risks and expect failures, I need to as well. I need to eat my own dogfood. I need to take a risk every week and be grateful, even excited, about my failures.

The Difference Between a Good and GREAT Conference

 

I just returned from Summer Spark in Milwaukee yesterday.

I’m exhausted. I got home, brought in my suitcase, and collapsed on the couch and slept for two hours (except for the one moment when my teenage daughter thought it would be funny to tickle my feet. Death threats were given.)

But this is how you know that a conference was phenomenal–you’re fully exhausted afterward. And you don’t get fully exhausted from the sessions, although the sessions at Spark were amazing. Truly. I highly recommend going.

What makes a good conference GREAT is what happens outside the session.

And I’m not talking about the adult drinks, though those are fun, too. What I’m talking about is the deeper conversations about our beautiful practice called teaching.

Let’s start with the power of roundtables and food. Over breakfast and lunch and great food at Spark (the great food is a bonus), teachers from several states (and Canada 😉 shared philosophy and opinions about the greatest issues in our practices. We covered grading, professional development, social media, instructional coaching, just to name a few. While sessions are great, it’s these conversations  that are just as powerful. Great conferences provide these moments.

The learning extends to evenings, too. If you’ve been to ISTE, you know the hundreds of social events available. And though you may be tired–trust me, I’m an introvert, so I always am–you need to go. Or if you’re hosting a conference, you need to plan one. At Spark, there’s always a game night, accompanied with good food and beverages. We didn’t talk education, but we built relationships. We laughed hard, those deep stomach-hurting, tear-erupting laughs that never end. And we played games. Admittedly, I never like learning a new game. It takes brain work. However, I’m always glad I did. This year, I learned to play Silicon Valley Startup, a game I had little interest in. But as I played, I started thinking of classroom connections. I also built relationships and connections with my fellow players (I’m talking to you Mike Washburn, Jon Spike, Jeff Gargas, Chad Ostrowski, Dave Kolb, Scott Beiter, and Lori London). If you want teachers to build relationships, I’m not sure there’s any more effective way than introducing a hilarious game.

Let’s not forget the transportation to these events. These moments are oft overlooked, but they’re also opportunities for conversations and laughter.  I was fortunate enough to spend time with Andrew Arevalo @gameboydrew during my layover to Spark and with Tisha Richmond @tishrich before our flight out of Spark. These are opportunities to hear more about their teaching lives, which are so different than my own. If we don’t get out of our region, we don’t learn about how different schooling looks in other parts of the country. Car rides to events also lead to deep conversations about podcasts and social media and other educational topics–and what’s more important about these conversations were the people willing to discuss both sides of the issue without passing judgment.

My point is that the sessions at education conferences are good and important. I certainly choose which ones I attend depending on the speakers who will be there and if I’ll learn something new from them that I didn’t know before.

But to take your conference–or your conference experience–from good to great is the conversations that you’re having or providing the opportunity for outside those sessions.

Build Curiosity with a Mystery Box

Have you seen advertisements for Hunt a Killer? Or the Mystery Package Company?

Inspired by them, I created a mystery box to introduce our Macbeth unit. My objectives:

  • Increase curiosity in the story
  • Build background knowledge before reading
  • Improve prediction and inferential skills.

My next step was to find objects to put into the box that would guide a student inquiry into Macbeth. Here’s what I included:

  • Two character maps
  • Map of Scotland and important Macbeth sites
  • A possible dinner menu for the banquet scene (with a note from Lady Macbeth)
  • The letter Macbeth wrote Lady Macbeth in Act 1
  • The “Double, double, toil and trouble” spell
  • Doctor’s observation notes of Lady Macbeth in Act 5
  • The “tomorrow” speech
  • An image of two bloody daggers
  • A (very cheap) crown

For access to all these items (except the crown), click here.

Last, I created a set of questions that would guide student thinking.

The result: A lot of engagement! Within seconds, someone from each group had the crown on their head. With a large assortment of items, everyone in each group had plenty to examine and discuss.

More importantly were the conversations I overheard. Students used information from different pieces of writing in the box to try to answer the questions. They debated and discussed  their conclusions. By having to explain how the texts lead them to their answers, they’re getting practice in using textual evidence.

 

It’s Time to Cull Your Vocab List

It’s time to cull our vocabulary lists.

When’s the last time you really looked at the vocabulary words that you teach and asked yourself if all these words were essential for students to know for life? Or are you forcefed a vocabulary program by your district, but deep down you know some of the words aren’t relevant to students now and will likely never be?

The sad truth is that so many vocab programs and workbooks out there are filled with words that simply aren’t used often in our world. Or we as teachers rely on textbooks to point out words that “should” be taught (which at least they’re within the context of learning rather than randomly selected like many vocabulary programs.)

I’m fortunate enough to have the freedom when selecting vocabulary words, so a few years ago I eschewed the vocab workbooks our district owned and selected words from the texts that we read. But since I’m revamping the junior level English curriculum this summer, it’s also time to re-examine the vocabulary. We’ll be reading new texts and leaving others behind, so I want to make sure that the words we’re focusing on this year in our vocabulary instruction are also words relevant to our texts.

But how to decide which words to use? Simply choosing long words isn’t the answer, nor can we teach students every arcane word there may be in a text.

Here are some steps I’ve been following:

  1. I limit my number to 12 words a month that students are responsible for demonstrating mastery. When I’m creating an initial list, I’m looking for words that not only appear in texts we’ll be reading, but for words that could also be used in other contexts.
  2. Checking college bound vocabulary lists. There are often important words on their lists that connect well with the content you’re teaching.
  3. Consider words that have multiple meanings. For example, “pedestrian” or “novel” or “objective.” Students likely know the first meaning, but the second meanings of these words are also extremely important–not only for students to use in their own writing, but when they’re reading, they need to know by context which meaning to use.
  4. Examine any important affixes that could be linked to the word. When I teach “circumvent,” I ask students what shape “circum” connects with. Of course, they answer “circle.” “So,” I continue, “when we want to circumvent someone or something, we go around it.” This emphasizes that “circum” is an affix that can be used in words outside the math classroom, too.
  5. This summer, I’ve started using the Google Ngram Viewer. This is a handy tool that shows the frequency of a word from 1800-2008. By checking words with the Ngram Viewer, I have another way to know whether this is a word students are likely to encounter in the future.

Examining some of the texts I potentially will have students read in our “truth” unit–a study of fake news, biased news, and unreliable narrators–I came across the word “polarization.” This is a word that

  • could be connected to both this context but also to science.
  • contains affixes that could be potentially addressed
  • is important to the context and understanding of our unit

With the Ngram chart, I can see that “polarization” has grown in frequency and currently scores a .0005, which is on the higher end of the words on my curriculum vocab list (for comparison, “dog” ranks .004, “investigate” ranks .001, and “complication” scores a .0004).

(More on how to use the Google Ngram Viewer here.)

Now take a look at “phototropic,” which is actually a word in the freshman vocab workbooks in our district.

A score of .000003! For whatever reason, the word achieved peak popularity in the 1930s (I’m surmising this could be connected to science text of the time), but even then the peak score was .00001–still not an extraordinarily high score. Granted, the affixes in this word may have some benefit in teaching, but I question whether this word is appropriate for a freshman vocabulary study. Does it connect with their texts? No. Can it be used in multiple contexts? Not that I’m aware of. Is the word used frequently and/or growing in frequency? Definitely not.

The Ngram Viewer is only a tool. It shouldn’t be the sole determinant of whether a word should be used or eschewed.

However, the Ngram Viewer can be a great tool for determining which words make the final cut on your vocab list. Or if you’re forced by your district to teach a set list of words, the tool can provide insight on which words to make “must learn” words and which words are of secondary importance.

Plus, creating levels of words within your lists can provide a way to differentiate. Students who show mastery your core  words can then focus their learning on a second tier of words–words that maybe aren’t as frequently used but still beneficial to know, such as enervating, ostentatious, or supercilious.

Think Microgoals

Yesterday I had the privilege of hearing my friend Michael Matera (@mrmatera) give the keynote address at the Westside Personalized Summit in Omaha. Like any great keynote (which his was), there is always one golden nugget that you grab. For me, it was microgoals.

Goals can be scary, especially if they’re big. We tell our students and ourselves to break them down to smaller goals, but it can be hard to even tackle those smaller goals. We make excuses:

We’re too tired.

It’s too cold outside.

We don’t have all the materials.

Michael spoke about microgoals. Instead of a goal of 50 push-ups a day, or 20, or even 10, set a goal of ONE push-up.  Will one push-up per day turn you into sexy, fit athlete by the end of one year? No.  But as Michael said, once you’re on the floor to do that one, you’re now committed. Are you really going to stop at one? Likely no, at least not most of the time. You’re going to put in five. Or maybe ten. Other days, you might even put in more.

Let’s take this beyond exercise. Committing yourself to a writing routine is hard. Every professional writer will tell you that. Instead of setting a 500-word goal per day, try 100, or even 50. Then give yourself the freedom to quit. There may be days that you will, but there will also be days that you’re now committed, you’re in flow, and you keep going.

This works great with students. They hear me say the mantra “The first 100 words are the hardest” every time we start a major writing assignment. Other writing teachers may scoff that I set a mere 100 word goal on the first day of a student writing project, but I do it because it’s easily attainable. One hundred words is a paragraph. It’s five minutes of work. Yet once students (or any writer) have 100 words down, it’s easier to keep going, and also easier to return the next day and continue the work.

We can set microgoals for any task we dread.

The bathroom needs cleaned? Commit to cleaning just the sink.

Papers to grade? Commit to grading one.

Endless emails to reply to? Reply to one. Or maybe two.

Even if you decide to stop after that microgoal, you’re already further than you were when you started. Just that much will provide the momentum to tackle tomorrow’s microgoal.

What I really like about the microgoal concept is the feeling of less guilt. When I procrastinate on a goal–say cleaning the bathroom, which definitely could use a good scrub–I feel guilty at the end of the day when I don’t do anything in there. By setting a goal of cleaning the sink and then doing that tiny goal, I can feel good that I moved forward on that task. Granted, I didn’t get the whole bathroom clean, but getting one part done feels much better than doing nothing.

Right now, this second, what’s one microgoal that you can set? Walking around the block? Reading that book you’ve been putting off for the next five minutes? Picking up three things and putting them away? Now, go do that. At the end if you want to keep going, do it! If not, congrats–you’re still further than you were earlier.

 

Kahoot? Quizizz? Gimkit? What Should I Use?

It’s been a few years since I last wrote about my favorite student response system for formative assessment. Every year, these companies come out with improvements and upgrades, and it’s hard to keep up with what each has to offer.

 

However, different systems may fit different moments in your class. Do you want your students to have repeated practice? Do you want them to take their time and process? Do you need some energy in your room? Each of these different systems provide different benefits. Here’s a rundown of the three I use most.

Quizizz: Perhaps my favorite, and here’s why. One, I can turn off the timer on questions, which is very important to me. I’ve found that when students get more points for faster times, they answer without thinking. What’s more important to me is that they take a little longer to think about questions and choose the answer carefully. Does this take away energy from the class? Yes, but accuracy is more important. In addition, Quizizz has great question banks, so you can create quizzes using past questions you’ve written or questions from other teachers’ quizzes. A huge time saver!

 

I frequently use Quizizz to get a pulse of the class, especially in checking their vocabulary learning. A quick 4-6 question Quizizz gives me an immediate idea of what words they know well and which ones require more practice. I show the results for each question (with no student names) at the end of the Quizizz, so the entire class knows where they stand.

Kahoot: The granddaddy of gamified student-response systems, Kahoot can’t be beat for the energy it brings to the room. Because students tend to focus on the “race” rather than the “thinking” for answers with Kahoot, I don’t use it as often.

 

I do like to use Kahoot when I’m first introducing vocabulary. Sometimes we do a Kahoot before I introduce words so I can get a sense of which words they know well, know somewhat, or don’t know at all. (Plus, reading their non-verbals is very telling, too). A few months ago, I started using it as I read a narrative that contained all our vocab words. As we encountered each word, I played the next Kahoot question that focused on that word. This served as a great way to make students use context clues from the text, and also an opportunity for me to explain the word more. (Informal input from the students was they felt they knew the words much better with this method than doing the Kahoot in isolation as a way to introduce words.)

Gimkit: This is the new kid on the block. Like Quizizz, students work independently on their own screens, but like Kahoot, they are racing against time or competing for “money.” Each question is worth $1 to start, but can be increased by purchasing power-ups. Students can also purchase power-ups as insurance (because you can also lose money by answering questions incorrectly), change the colors of their screens, or freeze their biggest competitors.

 

Unlike the other systems, Gimkit will continue to cycle questions, which means you will need to have a good variety of questions for each game (I would suggest at least 10-12). This is great for low-level knowledge questions (vocabulary, multiplication facts), but I don’t use it for higher level questions.

 

Another downside: you can only have 5 “kits” (aka quizzes) unless you purchase the paid version. For me, the paid version is worth it, but you have to do what’s right for you.

Quizalize

Socrative

Others to Try: Socrative and Quizalize

 

In the past, I’ve also used Socrative and Quizalize, which are both good systems. Both allow for flexibility with questions (especially if you have longer questions with more content). Both systems allow you to save and reuse quizzes.

 

Socrative provides a rocket-ship visual that is labeled with colors rather than names, so students can see how they’re doing comparatively to others but don’t have to worry about others knowing their score.

 

Quizalize scores well with its robust reporting of results and the added bonus of sending students to different activities based on how they score, which could be a huge benefit for differentiation after an initial opening assessment.

What I’d suggest is find the 2-3 systems that fit best with your style and what you’re looking for in a student response system. Each one has unique benefits, so choose the one that’s going to fit the need your students have at that time.

Create Your Own Media Bias Chart

 

Chances are, you’ve seen this media bias chart (or similar ones) on your social media.

https://www.adfontesmedia.com/

During my fake & biased news analysis unit, I wanted to incorporate this chart. I could have just had students study and analyze it, but I didn’t know how long-lasting the experience would stay with them.

Instead, I decided students could make their own charts.

Using markers and butcher paper, I drew an XY axis. I also added a section on the side for sources that didn’t have a place on the chart (such as satire like The Onion).

When class time came, I first modeled how to search for sources on mediabiasfactcheck.com, where students could then see how sources were rated. (See the BBC results below). Then I showed them how the chart worked–left/liberal sources on the left, right/conservative sources on the right, as well as the level of factual reporting.

At that point, the students started looking up their own sources. I asked students to find at least five sources–and they needed to move quickly because if their source was already on the paper, they had to find another one.

I also encouraged students to check sources that they see on social media, and to Snapchat and YouTube they went. Of course, many searched mainstream sources or sources their parents used.

What did they find from this? Our mainstream media tends to the political left. However, we live in a conservative rural county, so many also realized that many sources they see on their social media feeds tend to the right side of the political spectrum.

We ended with discussing how every form of reporting has some bias. Any news passed on is slightly skewed through the reporter’s perspective, but as the chart shows, some sources choose language and stories that lean left or right politically. We also talked about how this chart doesn’t indicate which sources are right or wrong, good or bad–except for the extreme ends of the spectrum, which are downright fake news and faulty reporting–but that the goal is to be balanced in our research and reading. If you use a source that leans right, then also peruse a source that leans left.

Another great source (if your school doesn’t block Facebook like mine does) is Wall Street Journal’s Blue Feed/Red Feed. It’s a great comparison of what our social media feeds can look like if we program them to see only left-leaning or only right-leaning sources. This encourages discussion on how this can affect American’s understanding of both sides of issues, as well as the effects it could have on our society if we refuse to listen to those who think and believe differently from us.

Lessons and resources like these are essential to make our students critical thinkers about the media they consume and their responsibility to society. The media bias continuum activity, in particular, was one that students commented said had a major impact on how they viewed the media.

Any other resources you love using to encourage critical thinking about media consumption? Share them below!

Audio Book Upgrade: Recording Children’s Books

When I was a kid, I spent hours at the town library listening to books with cassettes. I wanted to read each one, though I can’t remember whether I reached that goal.

Fast forward thirty years, and my students have re-created a similar experience for our elementary students. Here’s how we did it.

Step One: My theater/speech students visited our elementary school library and selected 2-3 books. This short field trip was one of my favorite days of class. Students gasped in delight as they found books they’d forgotten about–just as if they’d found a long lost friend.

Step Two: Practice and record. I first modeled reading a few books, talking about enunciation, pausing, and changing voice. Some students chose to do the project alone, but others worked together, serving as different voices for each other’s books.

I let them choose whichever recording device they wanted. Most simply used their phones. If you wanted to take it a step further, you could use Audacity and edit the final product, even adding special effects and music.

The most difficult part of the project was collecting the recordings. Because students used many different platforms, I received the recordings via email, text message, or AirDrop. Keeping them organized was a challenge. I eventually uploaded them all to a Google folder.

Step Three: Upload to Anchor. Originally, I’d planned to keep the recordings in a Google folder that was available via the QR code, but to play the recording required a few more clicks to open up Google player. Thinking this might be too much for a kindergarten or 1st grade students, I tried Anchor instead.

With Anchor, users only have to click “play.” Plus, recordings are easy to upload and the channel can remain private, so that only our elementary students with the QR codes can access it.

Step Four: Create the QR Codes. For each of recordings on Anchor, we created a QR code (there are lots of QR generators to choose from). We then taped them in the inside covers of the book before returning them to the elementary library.

This was the first year we tried the project, and we truly did figure it out as we went. In the future, I’d recommend creating a class Anchor account and recording directly on Anchor, unless students wanted to edit on Audacity or WeVideo and add background music or special effects. Other than figuring out how to transfer recordings from several types of cell phones, the project was an easy, fun, and rewarding for all of us!

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