Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Month: May 2018

Jenga-fy Your Class!

I’m all about different ways to modify current games for the classroom, especially if I can make them go beyond the traditional Q/A trivia game. One way to make poetry writing more playful was introducing Jenga Poetry to my students.

The concept is super simple. On each block, I wrote a noun, verb, or occasional adjective. When students pulled each block, they wrote down the word before returning the block to the top of the tower. Once the tower fell over, players could then use their word list to write their own poems or combine their words to write one group poem.

The concept proved to be super fun, and students often replayed the game. This made me think of other ways the game could be played:

1. Thesis Development. Place a topic on each block. With each block pulled, the players have to form a thesis about that topic. This could give them practice in creating theses but also ignite some ideas in their own mind.

2. Idea Development. Actually, my original plan for the Jenga blocks was to write questions on them for my seniors to reminisce about their high school memories before beginning their Last Lectures.

3. Concept Webs. Blocks could contain any major ideas or vocabulary that’s currently being taught. Students can create webs based on the words they’ve pulled.

No doubt there are dozens of other ways Jenga could be applied to your classroom. Get creative and design one!

Learning Through Making

A few weeks ago, I gave an Ignite talk about the power of making.

Too often, teachers end units with A MAJOR PROJECT to demonstrate student learning. However, we need to make projects the vehicle of learning, not just the assessment. By forming my poetry unit around projects with an audience, students learned through making and discovery.

(I recorded the speech on Adobe Spark, so check it out below!)

 

That Time When I Had a Formal Observation and on the Reflection I Couldn’t Decide If I Had Taught Or Not

My principal surprised me with a formal observation today. Three days of school left for seniors, so of course, today is the best day to be observed [note inserted sarcasm].

Seriously, though, my principal and I get along great and I warned him ahead of time that I didn’t know how productive we’d be with three days left of high school. I didn’t have any formal lesson planned, just independent reading time followed by worktime. Thankfully, my principal is the type of leader where he completely understood.

I’m not one who gets worked up about observations. I used to. I’d stress about it weeks in advance since we had to sign up for a day and time that we wanted the principal to come in. I’d try to plan something amazing for my students to learn, or maybe some fabulous presentations they’d give. Anglo-Saxon research presentations by students were my very first observation–I was so proud of myself for figuring out a way to be observed without actually teaching.

In some ways, you could say I wasn’t actually teaching today, either. There was no formal lesson. Three students alternated writing a collaborative story on an online game they’re beta-testing and working on their last vocabulary assessment (or let’s be honest, probably surfing YouTube when I wasn’t watching.) Another couple designed and planned their video reading responses. One wrote some refrigerator poetry. Two worked on papers and presentations for other classes. And one just read her book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

When I completed my post-observation reflection that asked me about how effective my teaching was, I drew a blank. At first, I thought, “I didn’t teach today.”

That’s the trick of the blended, quest-based classroom. It can feel as if I’m not really teaching. Just reading over shoulders, answering questions that arise, checking that seniors are on track to have all their work done to get signed out Tuesday.

It took me a couple minutes to remind myself I was teaching. I just wasn’t teaching to the stereotype of teaching that still looms in my mind: a wizened adult leading a lesson in front of rapt students.

But now, teaching is about providing a variety of opportunities for students. It’s juggling all the activities my students are doing because I know they’re more engaged and learn better when they control pacing and choose assignments. It’s meeting with kids one-on-one to explain a list poem or how to cite a source for their American history paper.

And teaching is also about all the front work I did to make this period work. It’s the set-up of different quests of creative writing students could choose from. It’s setting up a classroom culture of relaxed work with dim lighting and soft music. ┬áIt’s the relationships I’ve built through the year so I know which student to tease, which student to show some tough love, and which student to give a little bit more attention to because he doubts himself.

Teaching has changed, I preach to everyone time and again. Sometimes I need my own reminder, too.

 

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