10 poems to make you think, cry, cheer, and respond

Poetry is powerful. Poetry tells stories. Poetry is testimonials. Poetry persuades, informs, and inspires. In an article for the Atlantic, Andrew Simmons wrote, “poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected in high school literature classes.”

In my own classroom I have utilized poetry throughout the school year for close reading, text to text connections, textual analysis exercises. Students are not only readers and listeners of poetry but also poetry writers themselves. Creating poetry for our multi genre projects and point of view exercises, responding to and writing as characters in the books they read. Below is a collection of powerful poems to share with secondary students for close reading, critical analysis, and mentor texts.

Stair-Poem

How to Write the Great American Indian Novel by Sherman Alexie

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Gamification Lessons from Jumanji & Ready Player One

Two of the most popular movies these past six months have been the reboot of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle(2017) and Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One(2018). Both movies are about gaming and teachers interested in gamification can borrow some elements from these movies to boost their game-infused classroom. In this post I am not going to review or critique these movies, both have merits and criticism. Rather, I want to identify the gaming elements that can be models and mentors for our own gamified classroom whether you are an expert player or noob.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Game Conventions:

3 Lives – Each of the main characters in the movie has three lives. Some characters risk these lives in order to level up, challenge, or help one another. What if students had “three lives” or three tries to complete a task to quest? How would this impact their effort and abilities to succeed in the classroom game?

“NPC” or a “cut scene” – Once the four main characters arrive in Jumanji, they meet Nigel, an NPC (Non-Player Character), and as such is only programed with certain responses for certain questions. The characters even audibly freak out when a “cut-scene” comes onscreen, before Spencer (Johnson’s character) explains that many games have them to explain backstory. What is the backstory to your game? The more backstory your students know or learn, they are more invested in the game.

How to Win the Game – The only way to escape the game and survive is to complete the task, so the four students try to survive the jungle of Jumanji with various threats bearing down on them. The key here is that the players had to work together in order to finish their quest and win the game to get back home. Team work is essential and similarly, team work can be the key to success with quest based learning.

Reading Player One Game Conventions:

Similar to Jumanji, Team Work is essential in Ready Player One. The protagonist, Wade Watts actually wins the Oasis with the help of his friends. If students are given missions and tasks where they have to work together, are able to crack codes, uncover the treasure, and battle the bosses by putting their heads together.

Easter Eggs – An Easter egg is an intentional inside joke, hidden message or image, or secret feature. Some websites state that there are more than 120 Easter eggs in Spielberg’s Ready Player One adaptation. Most of the Easter eggs in Ready Player One happen to be allusions to retro video games and movies from the 1980s like RoboCop, The Flash, Freddy Kreuger, The Iron Giant, to name a few. For a complete list check out this blog post from ScreenRant. The idea with Easter eggs is to provide another layer of challenge or hidden message to the game. In fact, before the movie was released, there were Easter eggs dropped all over Twitter to promote the movie (See below). What if you were to plant a few Easter eggs in your homework assignments, Google Classroom, or dare I say worksheet. Imagine the fun students might have cracking the secret message or to uncover a new side quest or mission.

Borrowing elements from 80s video games. Each level that Wade must reach references an 80s video games. We can look to games of over times for elements to use with our students from Dance Battles to scavenger hunts.

Whether you use all of these elements or just a few, adding a few gaming touches helps to draw in your players and students into the game of school or the game narratives you have created for your classroom.

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Racism, Black Lives Matter, and Young Adult Literature

When Jason Reynolds gave me an advanced copy of his book, All American Boys (Scholastic, 2015) four years ago, I knew I held in my hands a powerful book that initiated authentic discussion about racism today. At the same time, it helped my students draw connections across texts and see the relevancy of reading To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee, 1960) in our classroom today. Racism still exists and police brutality has hit record heights.

Since Reynolds and Kiely’s groundbreaking YA Novel, a number of new young adult titles have continued to address racism, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement in poignet ways. Here are five new ones:

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is now being made into a major motion picture and what I love about Thomas’ book is that the protagonist, Starr, is honest, heartfelt, and conflicted at times. As one of the few African American students at a prep school, Starr is torn between the assumptions made by her peers at school and the neighborhood she grew up with. The protagonist’s voice throughout this novel is reflective and authentic.  

 

Similarly, Dear Martin (Crown, 2017) by Nic Stone tells the story of Justyce McAllister, a sixteen year old African American student at a predominately white private school. When Justyce is driving with his best friend, Manny, with the music blaring from their luxury SUV, a verbal altercation at a red light with a white off-duty police officer leads to shots fired by the police officer and Manny dead. The event shakes Justyce. He writes to Martin Luther King, Jr. after studying King’s legacy in school in order to reflect and understand the appropriate actions he should take in response to the media, his friends, and classmates and America’s treatment of African American males.

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Whereas Dear Martin calls attention to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s writings and teaching, Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little Brown, 2018) brings Emmett Till to the forefront. After twelve year old Jerome is shot because the police mistake his toy gun for a real gun, Jerome is a ghost observing his family, friends, the police officer and his family. Guided by Emmett Till, Jerome learns Till’s story and how racism and the murder of innocent African American boys has been happening for over a century. Able to communicate with the police officer’s daughter, Sarah, who is struggling to come to terms with her father’s actions, both realized that we can make the world better. Jerome is not the only ghost boy but there are hundreds of ghost boys who roam the world reminding readers of the many lives lost in the hands of police officers who are suppose to “serve and protect.”

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Jay Coles’ Tyler Johnson Was Here (Little Brown, 2018) is the newest YA Novel to add to this growing list. First, I have to talk about the cover of the book which looks so much like one of Kehinde Wiley’s portraits. Los Angeles native and New York based visual artist, Wiley’s “larger than life figures disturb and interrupt tropes of portrait painting, often blurring the boundaries between traditional and contemporary modes of representation and the critical portrayal of masculinity and physicality as it pertains to the view of black and brown young men.” The stark image of an African American young man staring at the reader enveloped in bright, colorful flowers (a Wiley signature) draws you in. Tyler and Marvin are twins brothers. When Tyler disappears from a party, he quickly goes from a boy who disappeared one night to another black boy who was murdered at the hands of police brutality. This book addresses family, education, poverty, and racism. Coles presented characters who go beyond stereotypes and it blurs between fiction and reality.

Whether you are looking for summer reads, new books to incorporate into your classroom library, or a book that is going to grab a students and make them sit up, read and want to talk. All of these books are worth reading, sharing, and talking about.

 

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To Gamify or Not to Gamify a Holocaust Unit of Study

BreakoutEDU does not accept or recommend creating games on topics such as slavery and the Holocaust. In fact, on the website it states, “Not all topics are suitable for a Breakout EDU game. For example, topics like slavery and the Holocaust are better suited for a classroom discussion or reflective essay and should not be gamified.”

With a sensitive topic like the Holocaust, I am reflecting on whether or not to gamify an 8th grade Holocaust and WWII unit of study.

There are a few games related to the Holocaust currently on the market like Secret Hitler which “is a social deduction game for 5-10 people about finding and stopping the Secret Hitler. Players are secretly divided into two teams: the liberals, who have a majority, and the fascists, who are hidden to everyone but each other. If the liberals can learn to trust each other, they have enough votes to control the elections and save the day. But the fascists will say whatever it takes to get elected, advance their agenda, and win the game.”

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I came across a game in development titled Rosenstrasse by Moyra Turkington and Jessica Hammer last summer at the Games for Change Conference. Rosenstrasse is “a tabletop freeform scenario with a strongly defined historical story weaving the lives of four pairs of men and women bound by love under the tightening chokehold of Nazi Germany. Players work through two characters to deeply explore two of these relationships as the clock ticks towards WWII and the Final Solution. Ideologies will be challenged, marriages tested, personal losses will be grave, and they will have to hold tightly together to see it through. The stories of these eight people will converge in a historic moment of terrifying civic defiance.”

stronghold_metadata_image Additionally, Call of Duty WWII depicts the Holocaust where “the player controls an American soldier fighting in the European theater. In addition to shooting Nazi soldiers, players will also be exposed to racism towards Jews and African-Americans within their platoon.”

I have thought about giving students passports or avatars, similar to those guests received upon entering the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. Students go on a mission to uncover the events and actions that led up to Holocaust, collecting evidence on both allied powers and axis powers for their roles during WWII. Furthermore, students examine primary documents to address the refugee crisis, decision to use atomic weapons, and the trial of Nazi War Criminals to explore the complexities of this time period. What are the choices and decisions that were made and how did it impact masses of people.

I am still thinking this through and developing lessons. The one burning questions at this time is when a game is created to address a sensitive topic what is lost and or gained building students’ understanding and empathy?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section on this blog.

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Field Trip: Neue Galerie New York

My students are currently studying the Holocaust and WWII. Collaborating with social studies, students are reading in small groups a wide selection of historical fiction, nonfiction, and memoirs connected to this time period. In addition to the independent books, primary sources, propaganda posters, diaries, poems, and art work are presented to help students learn about this time period and from multiple perspectives.

A current exhibit at The Ronald S. Lauder Neue Galerie in New York City, Museum for German and Austrian Art foreshadows the atrocities of Germany in the 1930s. — Yes, this is the same Ronald S. Lauder who purchased Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) better know as the Woman in Gold also on permanent display at the museum.

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Currently on exhibit is “Before the Fall: German and Austrian Art of the 1930s” an exhibition devoted to the development of the arts in Germany and Austria during a decade marked by economic crisis, political disintegration, and social chaos. The website states, “This exhibition, comprised of nearly 150 paintings and works on paper, will trace the many routes traveled by German and Austrian artists and will demonstrate the artistic developments that foreshadowed, reflected, and accompanied the beginning of World War II. Central topics of the exhibition will be the reaction of the artists towards their historical circumstances, the development of style with regard to the appropriation of various artistic idioms, the personal fate of artists, and major political events that shaped the era.” Works by Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Max Ernst, Oskar Kokoschka, and Alfred Kubin are presented alongside pieces by lesser-known artists such as Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, Albert Paris Gütersloh, Karl Hubbuch, Richard Oelze, Josef Scharl, Franz Sedlacek, and Rudolf Wacker.

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This exhibit and the paintings are windows and doorways into artists premonitions and warnings that something terrible was brewing in Europe in the 1930s. Many of these artists were deemed “degenerate” by Nazis because of political and religious affiliations. As the The New York Times states, the art work on display is “more than mere evidence of barbarity.”

In order to help my students understand the events that occurred during this time period and understand the hatred and the horror in conjunction with the books they are  reading, I created a virtual “degenerate” art exhibit. Upon entering the classroom, students were given a pamphlet with excerpts of Hitler’s Speech at the Opening of the House of German Art in Munich (July 18, 1937). Select paintings were posted around the room for students to view in a gallery format. I also included a QR Code to link to a slide show of the pictures on the art show pamphlet. Utilizing Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), students viewed the paintings. Together we viewed closely and discussed as a large class Felix Nussbaum’s Self Portrait [see above]. The next activity  required students to complete the statements from the point of view of Hitler and the perspective of a modern artist deemed “degenerate.”

The closing quote at the bottom of the pamphlet poses a quote from the artist, Paul Klee, “Art does not reproduce what we see. It makes us see.” Isn’t that what we want for our students, to make us see, provoke questions, make connections, and build empathy.

 

 

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4 Ways to Personalize Reading for All Learners

This post was written for ISTE’s Blog on 4/17/2018.

To be successful learners, students need to be proficient readers. Our classrooms are filled with a broad spectrum of readers: some are advanced, some struggle, some are English language learners and others are reluctant readers. And there may be other types of readers you can identify in your classroom.

As a result, teaching is not “one size fits most.” We need a variety of approaches — and for a variety of mediums. Teachers must not only address functional literacy, which includes reading of visual, print and digital text, but also encourage students to be critical consumers of information and effectively communicate their thinking about these texts.

Technology has allowed teachers to diversify their teaching and provides leverage for all students to succeed. More important than the technology tools you use, however, is that you create meaningful classroom experiences to promote reading, critical thinking and digital literacy.

Here are four strategies and digital tools to curate personalized learning and reading experiences that expand student knowledge and promote critical thinking, digital citizenship and the literacy skills of proficient readers:

HyperDocs and playlists. Similar to a Google Doc, these digital documents allow you to pull together learning resources in one place. The document contains hyperlinks to all aspects of the inquiry unit — videos, slideshows, images and activities for students to complete and gain understanding. Students have multi-modal opportunities for learning, and there is less teacher lecturing at the front of the class.

HyperDocs allow students to work at their own pace and offer a road map for student learning. Depending on the HyperDoc the teacher makes, differentiated activities and technology-rich assignments can help students learn and show their understanding while completing the activities included on the HyperDoc. Teachers might have students complete only a certain number activities on the HyperDoc or require students to do them all.

Differentiated choice boards. These can range from no-tech to high-tech and are another way to provide students with individualized learning by providing choices or options based on their readiness, interests and learning preferences (think multiple intelligences). As education author Carol Ann Tomlinson explains, differentiation is a way of “tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Differentiation can be based on content, process, products or the learning environment.”

Through differentiation and choice, you can provide alternative ways for students to learn and show what they know. Choice menu boards are a great way to do this and, once again, technology can help.

You can create choice activities for before, during and after reading to highlight reading strategies, content understanding and multiple intelligences. Whether in the form of a Bingo board or a Think-Tac-Toe, choice in the classroom empowers students, while at the same time adheres to learning goals. When students are able to select choices that most appeal to them and that they’re comfortable completing, they can master the activity and move on to more challenging activities.

Quest-based learning adventures (and gamification). This approach to learning connects game mechanics with content objectives to promote learning and deepen student understanding. Through gamification, you can transform literacy instruction into a game with creativity, collaboration and play while still meeting Common Core State Standards and ISTE Standards for Students.

Exactly how you bring games and game playing into the classroom is really a matter of thinking creatively and playfully about what you already do. For example, you could tie assignments to point values and badges that students could then use to unlock privileges, such as a homework pass or preferential seating.

As with choice menus, students would choose which assignments to complete and when, but with the aim of collecting as many points as possible or a “literacy champion” selection of badges. Alternately, you could organize an overarching mission in which assignments are like a sequence of game levels. Students would need to successfully complete each assignment in order to “rank up” to the next and eventually complete all the required material.

Digital reading platforms. Actively Learn and Newsela are just two platforms that offer accessible text that you can use to build comprehension and conversations in the classroom. Both are available free for teachers and students, or you can upgrade to the subscription-based pro versions. In both versions, teachers can embed quizzes, annotations and writing prompts with every reading. The pro edition adds such features as the ability to view individual student progress, track student progress against the Common Core State Standards, and for students and teachers to see each other’s article annotations.

Actively Learn allows teachers to upload their own material to the platform. Customizing assignments with a digital platform leads to more effective and independent instruction that targets students’ strengths and weaknesses by giving support to students who need it, while omitting it for those who don’t. You can use Actively Learn, Newsela and other reading platforms in a variety of ways to support diverse readers and build content knowledge with jigsaws, do nows and flipped learning.

The readers in our classrooms are individuals with unique needs and preferences. Technology allows teachers to offer learning experiences to support these diverse student learners. As Alabama Principal Danny Steele commented on Twitter, “It is good to know content. It is great to know pedagogy. It’s imperative to know the kids.”

Once teachers get to know their students, they can incorporate meaningful and thoughtful learning experiences for all learners.

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What Makes a Great Student Essay?

My students have been writing essays for their summative assessment after reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Students had a choice between three essay prompts:

  • A dominant theme in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is the symbolic importance of the mockingbird. In the story, Atticus tells Jem and Scout “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” (pg. 119) In a well written essay, chose TWO Characters in the novel and analyze how the mockingbird is a metaphor for their characters and actions. Use specific examples and direct textual quotes to support your claim.
  • In the novel, those who do not conform to what society expects of them are punished directly or indirectly. Choose TWO characters (other than Boo Radley and Tom Robinson) and discuss how their inability or refusal to  conform to social norms contributes to their status as outsiders and or outcasts. Use specific examples and direct textual quotes to support your claim.
  • As Scout and Jem mature, they notice that people in Maycomb lead hidden lives. Among these characters are Calpurnia, Dill, Mrs. Dubose, and Atticus.  Choose two characters in To Kill a Mockingbird who lead double lives and explain what circumstances cause them to do so. Use specific examples and direct textual quotes to support your claim.

After writing and editing student essays for more than a week, I received a handful of outstanding essays. I wanted to screencast the student exemplars to showcase for all my students the elements that identify the essay as an exemplar. A few of the characteristics include: robust textual evidence, a clear thesis or claim, strong vocabulary, and distinct voice.

By screen casting my read through, I am thinking aloud my annotations of the student’s essay.  Posting the videos online help my students (and parents) see, read, hear, and understand the learning targets we are aiming for in our writing and guide the student writers in my classroom still looking for models and mentors. Check out the two essays I showcase in the videos below.

 

Looking for more students examples and samples of writing to use for professional development or as a teaching tool with your own students? Achieve the Core has a library of student writing samples by grade level and types of writing prompts.

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4 Interactive Tools to Help Learners Build Reading Skills

Classrooms are made up of diverse readers, all with different abilities. As teachers, we need to be aware of our students’ strengths and weaknesses and create interactive lessons that meet the needs of all the learners in our classroom. Through differentiation and scaffolding, teachers can personalize learning while simultaneously building reading skills.

There are dozens of tools out there to help teach literacy skills and show students how to be, as described in the ISTE Standards for Students, Knowledge Constructors and Empowered Learners. The challenge for teachers is finding the right tools to help personalize lessons specific to their grade level and content area, while at the same time supporting the diverse learners in their classrooms.

Here are four of my favorite platforms for creating personalized, interactive reading lessons:

1.  Actively Learn

This digital reading platform offers a catalog of articles and texts suitable for elementary and secondary students. You can assign texts for your students to read as well as embed questions, polls and writing assessments throughout the reading. You can also embed media and hyperlinks in the text to help guide student reading and thinking.

Another benefit of Actively Learn is that it offers not only pre-made reading lessons with questions aligned to cited Common Core State Standards, but also the ability to upload your own text and create customized reading assignments for students. If a student doesn’t know the meaning of a word, right-clicking on the word brings up a menu where the student can choose to see a definition, translate the word or hear the word read aloud.

Because Actively Learn lets students translate the text into different languages or hear it read aloud, ELL students can read in their native languages and struggling students get help with text comprehension.

Customizing assignments with a digital platform like Actively Learn leads to more effective and independent instruction that targets students’ strengths and weaknesses by giving support to students that need it, while omitting it for those who don’t.

2.  Newsela

With a focus on nonfiction articles, this reading platform offers content on an array of subjects (current events, history, science, literature and more) and at multiple Lexile reading levels. Newsela enables you to search thousands of articles and text sets that are collections of articles on a common topic, theme or reading standard. To make it easier for you to share the same article with the variety of learners in your classroom, Newsela adapts its articles to several Lexile levels, so you can assign the same article to your whole class and still offer personalized reading.

No matter what their reading proficiency, students can all work on the same article and be contributing members of the classroom, but each can work at his or her prescribed level without being frustrated or bored. Newsela embeds quizzes, annotations and writing prompts with every reading. The text sets are excellent for jigsaw activities and examining multiple perspectives.

3.  Nearpod

This interactive presentation tool allows teachers to incorporate reading, questioning, viewing, polls, drawing and even virtual reality. It offers a library of interactive lessons on topics across content areas and grade levels. You can use Nearpod as a presentation tool for an entire class or personalize a lesson or strategy session for individual and small groups of students.

Using a platform like Nearpod allows students to work at their own pace and demonstrate their learning and understanding. With the different types of interactive response tools, teachers can support different learning preferences.

4. Buncee

While Nearpod offers both teacher-created lessons and the ability for teachers to design their own lessons, Buncee offers templates and blank slides for teachers to customize to design an interactive and engaging lesson. Using the graphics, video, audio and texts, teachers (and even students) can create engaging blended learning experiences. The premium version allows for quizzing in Buncee assignments and 360 images.

This post was written for ISTE’s Blog on 3/30/18 and you can read the complete article here.

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Mash Up March: App Smashing for Effective Feedback

When students are writing, Google Docs is a great tool to help brainstorm, draft, edit, and revise their work. I have been thinking about the most effective ways that I can offer effective feedback on their writing throughout the writing process beyond the Comments feature on Google Docs. Here are a few apps to utilize when giving feedback on student writing.

Flipped Lessons with Exemplar Writing – I often share an exemplar essay from a student from the previous year as a model and mentor for student writing. Using the SMARTBoard or Document Camera I am able to show the writing model and talk through the craft moves the student made that make it an exemplar paper. But, I can also make a recording of this and provide students with easy accessibility to the model essay, annotations highlighting the key writing moves, and explanation why the essay an exemplar. Using Google Slides, Google Drawing, and Screencast-O-Matic, I am able to record this lesson and have it available for students to view any time. Additionally, students can respond to the elements of the exemplar they notice, like, and want to model in their own writing with Padlet. Padlet is a collaborative platform or “board” for students to share feedback, answer questions, respond to a prompt, or brainstorm together.

MultiModal Feedback – Google Comments allow teachers to add comments on Google Docs. This is helpful to address specific concerns and highlights on a student’s essay. Additionally, the extension Checkmarks is an easy commenting tool that has popular pre-made or custom comments. Another possibility is to add vocal feedback with extensions like Read & Write or Talk & Comment. Teachers or peer editors can record their comments on these apps and the writer is able to listen to helpful suggestions to make their essay clear and concise.

App Smashing the Entire Writing Process – Using a semantic map tool like Popplet or Bubbl.us can help students in the beginning stages of writing to jot down ideas what they will write about and gather necessary textual evidence. Then, to help students build an outline, they might demonstrate their thinking using Explain Everything or using a voice recording app like Audacity. When students are writing Google Docs is a trustworthy tool. Then, reading aloud their essay to get peer feedback and check for correct grammar and usage, students can read and respond to each other’s writing on Flipgrid. Students can compile all their work on Thinglink posting links to showcase their writing process.

 

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Mash Up March: To Kill a Mockingbird Alternative Assessment Playlist

This month I have been mashing a few ideas and technology tools to share with you different ways to present information and for students to showcase their learning. I have been playing with hyperdocs and playlists a lot this year and have produced a few as choice menus and game boards to help guide my students through a reading or writing unit. Hyperdocs are digital learning experiences where students use technology to create, communicate, and think critically about learning and understanding. Playlists are synonymous with hyperdocs and offer students the opportunity “to Engage • Explore • Explain • Apply • Share • Reflect • Extend the learning.” 

With these ideas in mind, I decided to offer my students a summative assessment choice for our reading of To Kill A Mockingbird. Students can either write an essay in class about their reading and understanding of the text OR complete the game board with ten smaller assessments to showcase their reading and learning. Below is the hyperdoc that includes students creating videos, writing short responses, making text to text connections. Students are utilizing Google Docs, Google Slides, iMovie, Edpuzzle, and Google Forms.

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So, how are you going to mash up your lessons and assessments so that students are utilizing technology in thoughtful ways to showcase their learning?

 

 

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