Keeping students engaged in the classroom

Would you want to be a student in your own classroom? If you have children, would you want them to be students in your classroom? This morning at the TIES 2016 conference, I went to a presentation by fellow English teacher Pernille Ripp. I was familiar with Pernille since I have wanted to implement her Global Read Aloud, and I was very excited to hear her speak about student engagement.

I really enjoyed listening to Pernille speak about how to keep students engaged. After hearing her speak, it dawned on me that actually I’ve been “about” student engagement this whole time. Pernille spoke about having your students enjoy school and having students enjoy school and be engaged because of their enjoyment, NOT because they are being forced to or are doing so because of possible consequences.

Pernille asked everyone the two questions that I began this blog post with. Would you answer yes to those questions? If not, why not? She really emphasized that, as a teacher, if students aren’t engaged and aren’t enjoying our classes, we should ask them why.

Pernille said that she does the hard work of asking kids what they like, what they don’t, and then contemplating how you could possibly go about changing that.

Overall, she said the deal breaker was making students feel welcome in their classroom. Here were some very simple and quick ideas for more student engagement based off of these ideas.

  • Let students pick where they sit
  • Ask students how you can make your lessons better
  • Pay attention to what we take away (ability to sit where they want, go to the bathroom, listen to music while they work etc) and then try to give them some of that choice back
  • Stop talking so much! Try to only talk 10 minutes per class

These were just some really simple ideas. I already try to let students pick where they sit and try to not talk more than 10 minutes a class. I also let students listen to music. However, there is so much more I can do. I hardly ever ask students what works for them and what doesn’t. I will start at the end of this unit I’m currently on this Friday.

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Google Docs: 8 types of interactive lessons (with examples to copy!)

One thing that I love so much about Google is how versatile all of their apps are. Each app easily spans the gamut from a simple substitution tool on the SAMR model, to a complete redefinition of what was previously possible in the classroom.

I’ve been using Google Docs for years now as the main vehicle for curriculum with my students. However, I’ve also started not only using docs for content but actually for lesson delivery. How? DocentEDU, of course.

This presentation, which I will be giving at the TIES 15 conference on December 15, goes over 8 types of lesson plans that you can do with Google Docs in conjunction with DocentEDU (as well as a few other online tools).

Lesson type #1: Text-based

This lesson is what most of us English teachers (or many content-area teachers) think of most often when we think of lessons. Read something, interact with that something in a few ways, lesson done. However, by copy/pasting anything into a google doc, publishing it to the web, and then using the DocentEDU toolbar, you can make that “interact” part much more interactive! Add questions right into the text (instead of at the end); highlight words and phrases and then add your insight on them just like you were right next to every student; embed background info and extension activities with a simple embed code from (count ’em) 70+ sites and apps; you can even add a live, auto-updating class discussion anywhere in that text! Game changer, for sure. Here’s an example lesson.

Lesson type #2: PDF lesson

PDFs are a great way to transmit information. However, by nature of the type of file, they are static. No longer! Google Drive and Chrome the power to change a PDF into a google doc, and then you can do the lesson just like above. First, find a PDF with text that you like. Second, copy/paste into a Google doc. (You can also import the PDF to your drive, right-click and say open as doc.) Just do a little cleanup, publish to the web, and make into a lesson with the DocentEDU toolbar like above.

Lesson type #3: Close Reading

We’ve all heard of close reading. Our students have all probably rolled their eyes or made gagging noises whenever they hear the term, too. Close reading can be a way to make our students hate reading, closely. Using Google Docs and DocentEDU can make it less gag-worthy. Get a text in a google doc, publish to the web, and click on the DocentEDU extension. Then, use the toolbar to encourage close reading by your students. For example: highlight and add comments for important passages, highlight and add comments on vocabulary words, embed vocabulary using a web app like Quizlet, add multiple choice and free-response questions very frequently for reading comprehension practice, and embed any background knowledge presentations or videos as well. Here’s an example lesson to copy.

Lesson type #4: Differentiation

For this lesson, follow the steps to get a published Google doc and the DocentEDU toolbar. Then you can add in assistive embeds to differentiate for your students. These might be audio books from Youtube, your own voice from Clyp.it, vocabulary help from Quizlet, background knowledge Prezis and other presentations, Thinglinks, and more! Here are some more accessibility ideas. Here’s that list again of the 70+ embeddable tools as well. There’s more than likely one that will benefit your students. Here’s an example lesson to copy and use. 

Quick tip: I make a lot of my own materials for differentiation; however, I also think that there’s no point in reinventing the wheel. I find many of my differentiation materials from other teachers on the web. There are some great YouTube channels out there with audio books for almost everything, lots of great Prezis and other presentations all over, not to mention vocabulary sets for pretty much every book or story I’ll ever teach. Just do a search and you’ll be amazed at the materials that already exist!

Lesson type #5: Review

There are always times that we want our students to have the materials needed for review right at their fingertips in an organized way. I’ve tried many ways of doing this like putting everything into a folder or linking 10 things under an announcement in my LMS. However, this always seems to fail for a few reasons including death by tabs as well as unclear order. Also, who wants a Google Classroom post that takes up the whole entire screen with 15 links below?! So, I use Google Docs and DocentEDU to fix this problem.

First, I gather all of the review materials. If I want them embedded, I also make sure to get their embed codes ready. (To embed google products, you just publish them to the web and you’ll get an embed code.) Second, I just make a new doc, put in numbers in my google doc, and maybe a title for each number. If I have 10 things I want them to review, I’d just put in the numbers 1-10 in my doc, for example. You could put in some text, but you don’t have to. Third, publish the doc to the web and get the DocentEDU toolbar just like the other lessons we’ve been doing. Finally, using the sticky note tool, I embed all of the review materials in that doc, one under each number.

You can even use the other tools on the toolbar to ask students questions under each review material. You can even embed a class discussion under each review material to allow students to backchannel about what they are doing well and having trouble with. How amazing that students can chat about the review materials right next to the review materials while they review (and maybe not even in your classroom)!

Now, my students see the order I want them to review in, and have ALL of their review materials in one single website. It’s like I’ve made my own personal website just for test review. Here’s an example to see what I mean.

Lesson type #6: Blended/self-paced

We all know that different students work at different speeds. If you try to get a whole classroom of kids to do the same thing at the same time, you know you can only teach to the middle and you leave out the quicker students and leave behind the slower students. Not only does this cause classroom misbehavior, but it also hinders effective learning for many students in your class!

On a side note, I really look doing self-paced learning in my classroom because then my students can listen to their Spotify all they want. Also, I don’t have to talk to the whole class and you know how well that can go if you’re talking for more than 2 minutes at a time. In addition, students really like to feel autonomous and giving them a few days of autonomy (or even a whole week or unit) really makes them feel amazing and increases responsibility.

To do this, simply create several DocentEDU lessons on published Google Docs. You might create a weeks’ worth of lessons (maybe culminating in a review?) or a complete unit. Then, to make them so that students have everything at their fingertips and can work through the materials at their own pace, there’s only a little bit to do.

In order to make a “trail” from one lesson to the next, simply at the end of use sticky note feature to put link to next lesson at the end of the 1st, then do the same on the 2nd lesson for link to 3rd, etc etc. One idea would be to make a docent for each “chapter” of a book or text you are reading and link them like above. You could make a complete textbook or novel this way. 

Lesson type #8: Google Apps all the way

Like I began, Google Apps are amazing. Their core suite: docs, slides, draw, sheets, maps, and YouTube really can transform your classroom learning all by themselves. Did you know that you can use all in conjunction with DocentEDU and put them ALL inside a Google Doc using the DocentEDU toolbar? In essence you can create your own interactive website including every single type of Google App! Pretty awesome for your students. Here’s an example lesson to copy.

First, you need to make a google doc with whatever text you want published to the web. This could be any type of lesson I’ve gone over earlier, including perhaps a review-type lesson. Then, gather all the Google Apps that you want to embed. You simply have to publish them to the web to get an embed code. Using the sticky-note tool, embed away!

Feel free to use the other DocentEDU tools as you see fit. Want a live class discussion after the google sheet analyzing the data and connecting it with the free-response question students had to answer after watching a YouTube video-you can do that! And what’s even more amazing is that everything is no in one place to make it seamless for students.

 

Presentation(s) for TIES 2015

So, this year I’ll be presenting both days at the TIES 2015 conference coming up this next Monday and Tuesday. I’m very excited! Last year I was only there for part of one day, and this year I’m super excited to be there both days.

(On a side note, I could only go for my presentation last year and that was it. This wasn’t my choice; on the contrary, I wanted to be there as much as possible. However, my administrator said that a conference that wasn’t chosen by the administration was not something that was a priority. I was only able to leave 45 minutes before my presentation and then have to come back to school. It was a nice change when at my new school, my admin said that it is a privilege to have a colleague who is asked to present at conferences and they would pay for all of it. Such a turn around.)

I’m presenting one long, interactive session regarding how to create interactive Google Docs. My cofounder of DocentEDU is presenting with me. It’ll be a great time.

I’m also privileged to have been asked to present on a panel about teacher innovators with other teachers who have founded companies. This is sponsored by Startup Weekend EDU Twin Cities, which is happening again in February. Here’s the website. I’m actually in the main video on the site since my company, DocentEDU won the last time there was a Startup Weekend EDU here in the cities. I’m going to be a mentor for the participants and I’m very excited.

I’ll be sure to blog more about TIES and Startup Weekend once they happen.