5th Annual LIT Conference: Learning with Innovative Technology Conference 2020

Friday, July 10th marks the 5th Annual Learning with Innovative Technology Conference hosted by SUNY Empire State and the Saratoga Springs City School District. The conference website boasts, “This conference is designed for educators of all types and anyone interested in the use of technologies in education. The conference is packed with presentations from educators all over New York State who have something to share in the field. Participants will walk away from the conference with new and fresh ideas to bring back to your school and classroom.”

I will be presenting two sessions in the morning and below are the slide decks to access the information shared throughout my sessions.

Session I:

Session II:


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25 Podcast Assignment & Project Ideas

Podcasts are a great tool for learning and to showcase learning. With cloud based podcast platforms like Anchor and Spreaker, creating a podcast is simple and accessible to all. I have curated twenty five different podcast assignment and project ideas for students whether working remotely or in the classroom. Each one can be adapted per grade level and content area taught.

1. Myths Around the World – Mythology is part of the curriculum in elementary school, middle school, and high school when students study ancient cultures. First students can read and listen to creation myths and hero myths from around the world to understand the elements of mythology. Taking examples from Greek, Native American, Indian, and Chinese mythology, students then write their own creation or hero myths. Students create their own mythical characters and write descriptions about their origins. Students can work collaboratively to write and then record their original myths for a class podcast series.

2. What On Earth Science DebatesEarth Science teacher in New York, Deb Davis has her 8th grade students research and prepare opening debate speeches around controversial topics in earth science: fracking, genetically modified foods, Keystone Pipeline, space travel. Students prepare an evidence file collecting valid and reliable research to utilize for their debate. On the day of the debate, students record the entire debate and create a podcast channel for the science debates. Parents and other students can listen to the debates and evaluate them for solid evidence and effective arguments.

3. Let Me Tell You My Story – Based on content area of the class, this podcast requires students to conduct interviews of people about their experiences living during a specific time period (history connection), or career exploration, or stories about community development. 

4. Book Versus The Movie – Which was better, the book or the movie? Students can debate and discuss the qualities of a book turned movie and which they would recommend.

5. RadioLab Style Informative Inquiry – I love the Radiolab Podcast and have written about having students create their own Radiolab style podcast on this blog and in a chapter of Teaching Literacy in the Digital Age. The podcast is organized like an informative essay with three body paragraphs, evidence to support the claims, and enhanced with sound effects and interview clips. Students can have lots of fun discussing  key topics in science or be more light hearted by debating who is the better super hero: Batman or Superman.

6. “Tribe of Mentors” – So I am a podcast junkie, and Tim Ferriss’ is one of my all time favorite podcasters. His podcast series includes interviews with celebrities, athletes, scientists, and more. Have students interview the people who they consider influencers and forward thinkers to share expertise and insight how to live your best self.

7. Create a suspenseful podcast like Lethal Lit to tell a mystery, horror or gothic tale in a series of episodes that lead the listeners through the mystery with red herrings and lots of suspects.

8. Need To Know – What are the things that you need to know before you graduate from high school (or elementary school or middle school). This podcast can be a series of short podcasts about what people should know once they leave school. For example, maybe  balancing finances and how to fold your laundry. Have students brainstorm a list of things that they think are imperative to know to help them navigate their lives beyond school.

9. Personal Narratives and Memoirs are great for podcasting and storytelling. Check out The Moth Radio Hour for examples for storytelling that makes you laugh and cry.

10. Poetry Podcast – Have students write their original poetry and then podcast their work to share with others. Students might also consider podcasting their favorite poems and discuss the elements of the poem that make it memorable.

11. On This Day  – Create a short podcast to introduce important events that happened on the specific day recording the podcast. The podcast can be based on history, scientific findings, or famous feats.

12. Wonderopolis: The PodcastWonderopolis is a fantastic website with daily wonders about our world curated on its website. Students can create their own wonders and then create a podcast to share their wonder findings.

13. Newscast – Students can take their school newspaper to another level with a podcast. Allow students to share movie reviews, news about school, and highlight school related stories on the podcast.

14. Let Me Help You – Students can create a podcast to teach others about technology. Allow students to podcast short and easy to follow “How To . . .  Tech” lessons for older adults. This can be adapted to any content or subject matter. For example, I can really use a math podcast to explain aspects of geometry and algebra.

15. Choose Your Own Adventure – Remember the choose your own adventure books from the 1980s? What if students worked together to create their own stories that listeners were able to select where they want to story to go next. This could be an entire class or grade level project with each student writing and podcasting their “chapter.”

16. In The Know – Students can research all about animals, diseases, or sports and create an encyclopedia podcast that catalogues all about these topics.

17. The Best Recipes – Students can share family recipes on a podcast to create a collection of delicious dishes to share with others.

18. The Best Book I Ever Read Podcast – Here is a way to collect book recommendations and showcase students favorite reads. Students can access the podcast to find out what to read next. Think of it like a podcast for GoodReads in Classroom 2A.

19. Reader’s Theater – Have students create an “old time” Prairie Home Companion show with sound effects and original music.

20. The Story Seeds Podcast is a collaborative podcast among kids and authors. Each episode “captures the magic that happens when kids ages 6-12 meet and collaborate with beloved storytellers who grow original short stories inspired by their story ideas.” Have students create their own story seeds or borrow one from the show and create their own story magic to podcast.

21. Investigative Journalism – The Serial Podcast brought attention to an unsolved murder mystery and also the excellence of a podcast. Have students be their own investigative journalists and go hunting for the truth about local legends or unsolved crimes.

22. Reel vs. Real – Whether you are a Mythbusters fan or not, watching movies and shows online you might question the science of car races, explosions, or the reality of people’s lives in the moves. Have students analyze the films to discern fact from fiction.

23. Making the Invisible Visible – Many times history and characters are one sided and we rarely see or hear about those who are silenced. eclipsed, and ignored. Let’s bring them to the forefront by having students research and create podcasts that are history or literary based and give voice to those who were kept voiceless.

24. You’re Wrong About – This is actually a podcast series now and the idea is genius if you have students create their own podcasts to research and discuss things that adults are wrong about.

25. What this song means to me – For music fans, have students choose their favorite songs and podcast their close reading and analysis of what the song means to them. They might also address the craft moves of the artists and the key elements of the song.

Want More? Check out Building Book Love blog post which highlights many awesome podcasts that you can listen to, share with your students, and inspires more podcast creation ideas.

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Effective Feedback for Student Growth


Last week I wrote about Sarah M. Zerwin’s book Pointless: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading (Heinemann, 2020) and how she maps out her assessment practices omitting grades and numbers from her classes. Her book is filled with tools and examples how she manages feedback to support student learning. Her online gradebook hacks help to effectively evaluate her students so they can grow as readers and writers.

Similarly, I just finished reading Matthew Johnson’s Flash Feedback: Responding to Student Writing Better and Faster – Without Burning Out(Corwin Literacy, 2020) and I am drawn to compare the two books that address teacher efficiency of feedback for student success.

“Feedback is about showing students how to rise to the next level by illuminating pathos forward.” – Matthew Johnson

Both Zerwin and Johnson utilize conferences, self reflections, checklists and rubrics to help create a culture of feedback that propels students as readers and writers. These teacher-authors focus on feedback that is positive, specific, and comes from multiple sources – teacher, classmates, and student. Johnson states that when reading and evaluating student writing, teachers are not editors and should not focus on every little error or mistake the student writer makes. Additionally, not everything that students write needs feedback.

Here are the key tenets from both authors about feedback:

  1. Feedback should help the student; the goal is not to improve the work but the writer (Zerwin). Remember we are “teaching the writer not their writing” (Johnson).
  2. Feedback is a conversation (Zerwin) and not a one way street.
  3. Feedback should cause thinking (Zerwin) and help students grow as writers.
  4. Feedback should tie to a student’s learning goals (Zerwin & Johnson)
  5. We don’t want to scare students or confuse students with so much feedback so less is more. Be a teacher, not an editor. Johnson suggests offer feedback on two features per writing assessment.
  6. “Feedback should provide a path forward, not an autopsy” (Johnson). I love this quote because it implies empathy when teaching and evaluating writing. Teachers need to focus on feedback that is positive and personable. When students see too many comments and negative comments, they shut down. This is not what we want to do, rather see our students flourish as writers.

To provide helpful feedback, Zerwin and Johnson utilize the following tools and practices:

Have students Color Code Drafts by highlighting statements, claims, data, and analysis. This quick exercise helps for the teacher to see at a glance useful information and for students to follow up with where they need to revise their work.

Use checklists or rubrics as a tool for guides and feedback. Then, have students score their own work based on the rubrics. Both Johnson and Zerwin are proponents of students creating their own rubrics. Check out Johnson’s rubrics at resources.corwin.com/flashfeedback

Peer Feedback when taught, nurtured, and modeled can be helpful for students. Zerwin describes “speed dating feedback” for students to take 30 seconds to explain something they are working on or thinking about and then 30 seconds for the other student to respond. Additionally she describes “peer feedback circles” which provides longer time for classmates to read, respond, and then pass the paper to the next reader with a particular focus.

Additional feedback strategies include mini-lessons, mentor texts, and examples of student writing. Both authors utilize Google Forms for reflection. Johnson has students complete a self reflection when turning in a writing assignment. Letter writing how students are doing, how they are doing with writing and reading are also helpful tools. Johnson and Zerwin speak extensively about conferences and using conferences to provide comprehensive feedback that is focused on actions for the students.

Writing is scary and difficult for many of our students and when teachers provide comments and respond to writing with empathy we are helping students succeed. This might include giving a tip or offering a path forward in addition to a criticism. Both these books shed light on grades, assessment, and feedback to support deep learning and focus on what we value most: growing readers and writers.

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Hacking Your Online Grade Book: A Review of Pointless by Sarah M. Zerwin

Things students do that result in grades but not learning:

  • Copy work from another student
  • Game rubrics to figure out what you can do to get the most points with the least work
  • Use Sparknotes instead of reading
  • Watch movie instead of reading
  • Get too much help from their friends
  • Plagiarize

I am sure you can list more but this is the start of the list that teacher and author, Sarah M. Zerwin shared in her book Pointless: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading (Heinemann, 2020). This book was a refreshing read for me and it helps me to rethink how I will use my online grade book and the role of feedback in my classroom. I have had numerous conversations with my principal about getting rid of grades in my middle school classroom and Zerwin’s books shows how.


Zerwin is a 20 year veteran high school English teacher in Colorado and she begins articulating the problems with points and grades. She argues “points based grading gets in the way of student learning and a grading system rewards compliance over learning.” She pulls in support from Rick Wormeli,  Alfie Kohn, and Maja Wilson. If we remove grades, points, and letters from our classroom we can see more meaningful learning and growth happening among students.

You are probably wondering how does Zerwin hack her grade book and traditional grading practices.

First, it is about establishing clear and meaningful learning goals to creates a focus for students and the teacher. These learning goals articulate the work that students will do and how teachers can help them get there. The goals are simple, clear, and specific. Each is grounded in multiple standards. In her classroom, “learning lives in the process, in the work that writers and readers do along the way” NOT the final product.

As for the grading hacks and how she sets up her online grade book:

* Zerwin’s grade book still boils things down to a percentage through the semester. But this percentage reflects nothing more than how much of the work students have completed. She states, “We all need to think of that percentage not as a grade in the traditional sense but rather simply a percentage representing how much of the course’s tasks a student has completed. If it’s not 100%, there is work the student needs to do. And at semester’s end, that percentage is just one data point of many included in the determination of the semester grade.”

* She makes heavy use of the comment boxes in the grade book to build a qualitative data record of students’ journeys as learners. For example, students complete weekly reading comprehension checks on Google Forms and Zerwin cut and pastes student responses in the comment box to use as data. Additionally, after students meet for a reading or writing conference, the student completes a Google Form stating the outcome of the conference and what they are going to work on that week. 

* Students continuously reflect on their work alongside a set of learning goals for reading and writing and collect evidence of their learning toward those goals. These include progress reports and weekly goal planning. 

* At the end of each semester, students write letters in the form of stories about their journeys as learners. Examples of these letters are placed as interludes in between each chapter. The letter is a narrative that asks students to make sense of what they’ve learned, how they see it and know it clearly.  The semester letter/story is also where students select their final grade.

My copy of this book is filled with post-it notes on numerous charts, marginals notes, and dog-eared pages. Her focus is on the process and not a final essay to show whether students are meeting learning targets. It is all about a culture of feedback and the multiple ways that students are gaining feedback from the teachers, their peers, and even mentor texts to grow as readers and writers. Chapter Five and Six alone articulate how our grade book can become a “data warehouse” rather than a mathematical jungle gym of vague numbers and points. Starting this fall, I will be adapting Zerwin’s grading system in my own classroom because students deserve better and we need to shift our focus on vague numbers and subjective rubrics to actually helping students grow as deep readers and creative communicators.



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12 Resources for Teaching Black Lives Matter

Many are looking for information and education regarding the current protests. Whether we are talking about police brutality, systematic racism, and culturally responsive education, we all play a role in to nurture a future of antiracism, equity, and justice. History is being made. Here are 12+ resources to help support your teaching and learning. 

Teaching Tolerance provides resources for teaching Black Lives Matter. These resources can help you talk with students about the historical context and mission behind Black Lives Matter and work toward making your school a more affirming, safer space for Black students.

We Are Teachers has resources on how teachers are talking with students about George Floyd, protests, and racism From check-ins to special lessons and 20 Ways to Bring More Equity to Your Literacy Instruction

CBS this morning showcased a video conversation by Emmanuel Acho, former NFL linebacker, who took it upon himself to provide some clear answers to questions posted by many white people.  In another morning news story NBC’s Hoda and Jenna interviewed writers Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely, co writers of the young adult novel All American Boys. The two authors address how to speak to kids about race relations in America. 

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is committed to inspiring a more tolerant and inclusive society. Their Talking About Race Web Portal provides tools and guidance to empower your journey and inspire conversation.

Continuing the work of anti-racism — which is active, daily work — is vital. This list of Anti-Racism Resources is a good place to start provided by American Writers Museum in Chicago. Ibram X. Kendi, author of How To Be An Anti-Racist, made this Anti-Racist Reading List which is a good launching point.

Looking for book lists for reading for young readers and adding to your classroom library? Many public libraries have compiled Black Lives Matter reading lists for children and families like Skokie Public Library and BCALA and the ALA Graphic Novels and Comics Black Lives Matter Reading List. Memorial Hall Library in Massachusetts provides a racial justice reading list online for secondary students and adults. School Library Journal has also compiled a #BlacklivesMatter reading list.

Epic Reads is offering books and videos that anyone can access for free for the next 30 days for elementary students. 


The national Black Lives Matter At School Coalition’s Curriculum Committee worked this year to bring you lessons for every grade level that relate to the 13 principles of Black Lives Matter. Here is the 2020 Curriculum Resource Guidefree, downloadable lessons to challenge racism, oppression and build happy and healthy classrooms.

Share your lessons and resources in the comments section here.


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Word Art Generators for Learning


Word Art generators are great online tools for brainstorming, building vocabulary , and even to showcase a theme or concept. There are so many ways that teachers can use word clouds for teaching tools and for students to create and practice learning. Here are ten ideas how you can use word art generators in your classroom for in person learning and remote learning.

1. Partner Sentence Creators – This activity is for partners of two only. Each pair will read the word art and write 5 separate sentences which must include the words within the word art. Students will share their sentences with the whole class. 

 2. Group Sentence Creator – This is an expansion of the partner sentence activity, however in groups of four or five depending on the class size. Here’s the catch, the rules change. Shorter rounds, longer sentences, longer exercise, and more vocabulary words. The team with the most vocabulary words in each sentence created will win. Of course, once you use a word, it can’t be used again. 

3. Story Time – This is an individual assignment. Each student will be assigned to write me a personal narrative (fiction or nonfiction) about their life, or a character’s life they made up. The students are expected to use 30 out of their 50 vocabulary words in the narrative.  

4. Missing Words – This is another at-home assignment. I will be giving all my students the SAME exact vocabulary word chart except they will be missing a few words. Their assignment is to figure out what words are missing. But this is not from the original list, this is using their minds and seeing what similar words they can come up with.

5. Vocabulary Review –  Use the word generator to review vocabulary.

6. Vocabulary Introduction – Use the word generator as a way of introducing a unit. For example, I would hand out a list of terms at the start of the unit and then students take a guess how the words are related or connected. Additionally, one could ask students to look up the definitions and create a word cloud. Students are to use a minimum of 15 terms.

7. Year Long Goals – At the start of the school year, have students create word clouds to illustrate what they hope to learn in the new school year. This can be an independent activity or a collaborative small group activity.  Students are to use a minimum of 20 terms. This would help set the tone for the year and establish classroom norms.

8. Final Assessment – At the end of the year, assign a final project in which the students are to use 50 words to create a word cloud. The 50 words they use are to be a culmination of everything they have learned. What words stuck with them? What words were the most memorable?

9. Biography or Theme Generator – Students create a word cloud of the biography of a famous author, scientist, mathematician, or figure in history. Similarly, students can create word art representing themes in a book or text.

10. Word Art Roulette – Another fun way to incorporate some vocabulary into the class. The student can blindly select a word on the word art and then present a 30 second or one minute speech about the word. 
There are many more ways to utilize these word art generators with your students, if you have a great idea share it in the comments section for others to read.
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Response to Social Injustice and Hate

The death of George Floyd is a tragic reminder that none of us should ever sit idly by and allow hate, discrimination, and violence to infect our society. As we have witnessed in the days since his death, people across our country are angry and frustrated.

The Jewish Heritage Museum in New York City shared the following, “In the words of Elie Wiesel: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

James Basker, President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, shared the  words of Lancaster Hill, Peter Bess, Brister Slenser, Prince Hall, Jack Pierpont, Nero Funelo, Newport Sumner, and Job Look, African Americans appealing for equal rights during the Revolutionary War:

“…your Petitioners apprehend that they have, in common with all other Men, a natural and unalienable right to that freedom, which the great Parent of the Universe hath bestowed equally on all Mankind, & which they have never forfeited by any compact or agreement whatever—But they were unjustly dragged, by the cruel hand of Power, from their dearest friends, and some of them even torn from the embraces of their tender Parents—from a populous, pleasant and plentiful Country—& in Violation of the Laws of Nature & of Nation & in defiance of all the tender feelings of humanity, brought hither to be sold like Beasts of Burthen, & like them condemned to slavery for Life…In imitation of the laudable example of the good People of these States, your Petitioners have long & patiently waited the event of Petition after Petition by them presented to the Legislative Body of this State, & can not but with grief reflect that their success has been but too similar—They can not but express their astonishment, that it has never been considered, that every principle from which America has acted in the course of her unhappy difficulties with Great-Britain, pleads stronger than a thousand arguments in favor of your Petitioners…whereby they may be restored to the enjoyment of that freedom which is the natural right of all Men—& their Children…”

That plea is from 1777. It brings attention to the historical context of racism throughout American History. Protest and civil rights started way before the 1960s. Our students need to understand that.  Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi’s book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You is a powerful book that examines the history of racism from the very first racist to the hate speech and racist stereotypes that permeates social media today. It will be the Global Read Aloud this upcoming October and is a book that every teacher must read. Stamped is one of many young adult books that be a catalyst for conversations about race, history, and hate. NCTE provides resources for your classroom in teaching Stamped including “Qualities of Anti Racist Curricula,” book lists, and a recording of the webinar with Kendi and Reynolds discussing their book with NCTE members.

Lucy Caulkins and the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project wrote in a statement about the current climate in our nation how to embark in conversations with students. She quoted Legendary basketball player, author, and activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who said, “Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands.” Caulkins continued to write, “Your conversations with students, the language and lenses you provide, let the sun in, illuminating injustices and making it possible to work toward better days ahead.”

Black lives matter now, and have always mattered. I am committed to anti-racism, respect, and love of ALL. I will continue to fight illiteracy and do my part to make the world a better place.

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Summer Months Virtual Learning Calendar

Virtual Learning Opportunities

One of the positive things that has emerged from COVID-19’s quarantine and remote learning is the wide abundance of virtual learning opportunities available now. I find that in-between teaching remotely, reading and writing I am also able to take classes, attend virtual lectures, and participate in enriching conversations. I have been lucky enough to expand my horizons virtually, travel the globe, learn new cooking techniques, and gain insight about history, writing, health, and so much more. This has allowed me to maintain my physical and mental curiosity and health.

I have put together a virtual learning calendar for my students and families for the month of June and will continue to share more opportunities for July and August. I want my students to have opportunities to “learn” this summer and even if it has to be virtually, there are incredible enrichment experiences online.

I want to share this virtual learning calendar with my readers so they can also access the abundance of opportunities online. When you click on each picture, it will take you to a different video, article, podcast, reading list, class, or virtual tour.

Wishing you a happy summer where you can quench your curiosity.


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Creating Quality Hyperdocs

Matt Miller (@jmattmiller) of Ditch that Textbook writes “a quality hyperdoc or hyper slide should: Share the day’s lesson and objectives, provide links to content, activities, and assessments, differentiate using those resources that provide students a choice over process and content, provide a common place where students can turn in work, and look good and seem well-themed” (2019).

I have been creating and using hyper docs (or playlists) with my students for a few years now and I love that they allow me to organize a unit or lesson in a clear fashion, front load student work so students can work at their own pace and even choose their own learning adventure. During remote learning, I have been using hyper docs weekly to give my students easy access to lesson material and interactive reading and writing experiences. On April 27th I blogged about the first week of a WW2  hyperdoc I created  and want to share how this reading inquiry has evolved in the past four weeks.

Each of the hyper docs has the same theme and format to indicate the unit. I added a screencast link to each hyperdoc to provide an overview of each element on the doc with specific directions students can access by clicking the “play button.” I have differentiated the unit allowing students to select their WW2 book, fiction and nonfiction choices.  As I reflect on this unit, I will add more differentiated options by product as well as content.

For Week One I wanted to build student’s background knowledge about WW2 and the Holocaust. I began with an anticipation guide on a Google Form and daily readings from Actively Learn. At the end of the week, students completed Hexagonal Thinking Maps (borrowed from John Meehan’s book EDredaline Rush, 2020) to make connections and show their understanding. Here are some examples of the completed work.


For Week Two, student began reading their independent reading books and I created a Podcast on Anchor for students to access a Read Aloud of Refugee by Alan Gratz in 30 minute blocks. My special education co-teacher has also been reading aloud and recording The Boys Who Challenged Hitler and posting on Google Classroom. Additionally, this hyperdoc provided two virtual field trips for students to explore Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Israel and the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Washington, DC through Google Arts and Culture.  Students wrote reflections on Padlet and Google Forms.

During Week Three, students viewed an online production ofThe Diary of Anne Frank: A special presentation created by artists in isolation produced by The Park Square Theater in Minnesota, available online until May 24th, 2020.  Park Square was set to open its 21st production of The Diary of Anne Frank to over 12,000 middle and high school students when shelter in place orders took effect. When it became clear that there was no way to assemble to record the staged version, the cast began rehearsing and recording a Zoom reading of the play. It was released on April 21, Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

These virtual experiences have been vital to help understand this time period and see, hear, and experience the rich artifacts from history. Students also took a virtual tour to Anne Frank’s Secret Annex in Amsterdam and created their own concrete found poem based on the themes emerging in their independent reading books. Students responded in a Flipgrid the lessons learned from Anne Frank as we continue to self isolate.

Anne Frank Flipgrid Response

This week, as well finish up our WW2 independent reading books, students are looking and author’s craft and drawing larger text to world connections. I created a flipped lesson on Authors Craft and Style. I want students to look deep within the surface of their text. Proficient readers are continuously drawing connections between the text and the world, and I have students reading an article about the rise of Hate Groups in the US today to compare to the rise of hate and anti-semitism prior and during WW2. Next week, students are working on a One pager about their WW2 independent reading book. There are no tests or quizzes, only opportunities for students to share their learning and understanding.

When designing hyper docs I keep the following in mind:

  1. Engage: Hook your students, get them engaged, and activate prior knowledge.
  2. Explore: Resources, such as videos, virtual field trips or articles for students to explore more information.
  3. Explain: Simplify and clarify the learning objective for students. By creating a screencasts my intentions are to provide explicit directions students can return to at any time throughout the week for clarification.
  4. Apply: Students create artifacts to demonstrate learning through Google Forms, Padlet, Google Drawings, and Flipgrid.


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Close Reading Stranger Things

What are the elements of gothic fiction and how can the Netflix series Stranger Things help to teach gothic fiction and close reading? This is the inquiry project my students are currently working on in our film elective.

Gothic Films contain the following elements:

● Dark & gloomy
● Supernatural beings, monsters and the paranormal
● Heroes, villains, damsels in distress and sometimes, romance
● Feelings of suspense, mystery and fear
● Settings of unease such as dark forests, storms and unnerving

I first polled my students to see who had access to Netflix.  As students are watching Season One of Stranger Things we have been focusing on why this film series is so popular and the elements of great storytelling and filming.

To help building background knowledge, students read an article about the Stranger Things creators, Matt and Ross Duffer in the New York Times. Students then completed a graphic organizer based on their reading and understanding.

Reading Response Graphic Organizer

As students watched Season One we focused on color, lighting, sound, and music to build suspense. Students learn film terminology to help better understand the ways filmmakers manipulate these elements for emotional responses from the audience. For example, Diegetic sound is a noise which has a source on-screen. They are noises which have not been edited in, like dialogue between characters or footsteps. Another term for diegetic sound is actual sound. Non-diegetic sound is a noise which does not have a source on-screen, they have been added in like the music interludes. I asked students what are some of the ways the film directors use non-diegetic sounds to build tension and suspense in the series.

Additionally, students have studied the character archetypes presented in the film series and mapped out the hero’s journey based on Joseph Campbell’s mono-myth.

I do not only want students to be consuming the show, but also use the show as a catalyst for their own creativity and movie-making. Students have had two film challenges, courtesy of The Jacob Burns Film Center.

Film Challenge No. 1 – Taking inspiration from Stranger Things and what you learned about match cuts. Create a short film about someone or something in your house that is not what they seem to be. Your film should use at least one graphic match, a way to connect two shots by having similar composition. Also consider sound, color, and lighting to help tell your story.

Check out this film posted on the JBFC website:

Film Challenge No. 2 – Think about Stranger Things and the moments when the characters were introduced to the Upside-Down (the Lab Scenes, When the wall in Joyce’s home reveals another world, when Nancy and Jonathan go into the Upside-Down.

Your second film challenge is to use some new camera moves and create a story about a mysterious room in your home.

IMAGE: Revealing a character’s reaction or a new piece of information at just the right moment can add the perfect amount of tension to your zombie love story or get a big laugh in your action-comedy.

A whip pan is a quick turn of the camera that can be a stylish way to make that big reveal. You must use a whip pan to reveal something to the audience. Check out the video about the Whip Pan Shot below for more information.

SOUND: What’s the sound of a sword made of light? What about a monster made of cosmic gas and time particles? Deep questions like these are the realm of the Sound Effect Designer and her team. They create all the sounds in a film from the common (footsteps), to the uncommon (Chewbacca). Create at least 3 sound effects for your film.

STORY: A new room has just appeared in your house! Nobody has ever seen it before. Was it there all along? How could you miss it?! Maybe it just appeared. However it happened, now it’s here and there’s a problem.
A few tips:

Every scene in your film should move the story forward in some way, big or small, and every scene should have conflict.

A character wants/needs something, and the story can’t move forward until they get it. Remember, the scene is only interesting if there is something in the way of your character and their goal.

Using frames from Stranger Things I created weekly check-ins with my students, like this  “Meme” Check-ins in a Google Forms and ask how students are doing under the current pandemic.

Stranger Things Meme Check In

Here were a few student responses:

I love creating films but I like watching and breaking down shows/movies better.

I enjoy when we watch little videos about something related to film making.

I like creating more than watching.

Class online school is has been good so far! The lessons and everything have been nice.

Class has been really good during this online school period. The amount of work is really good and the assignments can be fun.

Lastly, students are comparing what is real and what is fiction in the show. Students researched more about What Was Going on in the Hawkins Laboratory in Stranger Things? From the 1950s to 1970sProject MKUltra, also called the CIA mind control program, is the code name given to a program of experiments on human subjects that were designed and undertaken by the United States Central Intelligence Agency—and which were, at times, illegal. Experiments on humans were intended to identify and develop drugs and procedures to be used in interrogations in order to weaken the individual and force confessions through mind control. The project was organized through the Office of Scientific Intelligence of the CIA and coordinated with the U.S. Army Biological Warfare Laboratories.

For a creative writing activity, student wrote out the dialogue for the scene between Dr. Brenner and Hopper in Episode 7 at the Lab. What did they say to each other that allowed Hopper to go into the Upside Down with Joyce. Having students write out edited scenes sheds light on inferential knowledge and understanding.

Television shows and movies are great visual texts to help students practice close reading skills and showcase their understanding in creative ways like movie making projects.



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