Alternative grading methods including standards-based grading, going gradeless, and ungrading have gained popularity in recent years, especially in higher education contexts and in response to the pandemic. As NJ-educator Matt Morone warned me this summer, there’s a rabbit hole of online resources on these topics. After getting a bit lost down that rabbit hole, I found Point-Less to be a helpful introduction to alternative grading refreshingly written specifically for an audience of high school English teachers. Zerwin presents her approach clearly and flexibly, encouraging readers to take what works for them and ignore the rest. One suggestion that resonated with me is to have students write reflectively at the end of a semester or school year about their learning, citing their own classwork as evidence of their growth. [ . . . ]Read More
When the NCTE convention’s unplanned shift to an all-virtual format resulted in the cancellation of many previously accepted sessions, the editors at Teaching/Writing put out a brilliant call for manuscripts to capture some of the ideas that couldn’t be shared at the conference. [ . . . ]Read More
“This issue addresses a variety of topics, including Young Adult literature, social justice, artificial intelligence, climate change, and mindfulness. We are proud to share work from writers across the country, including pieces by first-time authors, graduate students, and early-career teachers” (Editors’ Note). [ . . . ]Read More
Are you interested in digital literacy? Would you like to do some professional learning from the comfort of your living room? Then read on to learn about 11 upcoming opportunities to jump-start your digital literacy knowledge!
Drew University’s DrewTEACH program is offering a full slate of free virtual professional development on digital literacy this spring. Learn about topics such as collaborative annotation, fake news, and ethical communities from the comfort of your couch by registering for the free series that begins January 21 and runs through April 7. [ . . . ]Read More
In the statement, authors share four beliefs to consider when integrating technology in ELA, with applications for K-12 teachers and students, teacher educators and students, and literacy researchers. [ . . . ]Read More
I’m thrilled to share my review of Tanny McGregor’s wonderful book, Ink & Ideas (2018), featured in the current issue of English Journal.
Ink & Ideas is an indispensable guide for any teacher looking to introduce or enrich sketchnoting (aka visual notetaking) in their classroom. Read the full reviewfor several examples of how McGregor uses visual notetaking to enhance “engagement, comprehension, and thinking” across P-16 classrooms and subject areas.
Here’s an quick excerpt from my review posted on Twitter:
To learn more about my experience teaching sketchnoting and to access my favorite instructional resources for visual notetaking, check out the following posts:
Congratulations to rising senior Brianne K. for being selected as a winner of The New York Times annual poetry contest! Her blackout-style poem, “Triggers,” is prominently featured on the NYTimes website, alongside the other winning selections.
Brianne’s powerful and timely poem (pictured below) reads, “to be in a School is to survive algebra, social studies, and gun violence.”
The NYTimes also published the following author’s note about the inspiration for her poem:
As a tribute to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting tragedy, my poem is 14 words to symbolize the day that innocent students, sons, daughters, teachers, and friends lost their lives and loved ones on February 14th, 2018.
Congrats to Brianne on behalf of her teachers and classmates!
The activity fit perfectly into our modern and postmodern fiction course— students noticed the “fragmented” nature of the found poetry exercise, and also commented on the modern feel of their short but powerful poems. I also timed our poetry writing day to coincide with state testing, so the exercise itself brought a welcome change of pace.
Here’s an example of a poem we read for inspiration:
When all three of my classes had completed their poems (and submitted photographs of their work to the New York Times contest), one class suggested that we create a hallway display. That class worked together to first mount the poems against white paper, and then arrange them on a large bulletin board in a high-traffic hallway.
Here are some fantastic student examples (shared with permission):
How did you celebrate April’s National Poetry Month? It’s not too late to get your students involved in this contest! All entries must be received by Thursday, May 9.
In the piece, we describe our chance meeting on Twitter that inspired a collaborative learning experience between our high school and higher education classrooms. We detail our use of KAHOOT! as a teaching tool to review MLA format and academic integrity, reflecting on the value of play and games in the classroom. Additionally, we discuss the benefits of collaboration across grade levels and institutions, sharing opportunities to facilitate such collaboration through professional organizations and virtual networks.
The spring issue of JoLLE also includes podcast interviews with all of the issue’s authors. In our podcast, we discuss topics such as the role of technology in the classroom, the value of games and play, and professional uses of social media.
We really enjoyed the process of working together—first by connecting our classrooms, and later as collaborative writers of this piece—and we hope that our authentic joy comes through in the podcast and the article itself.
High school students in Lauren Zucker’s Honors Modern Fiction & Nonfiction class recently created sketchnotes for two texts written nearly one hundred years apart: Franz Kafka’s classic novella, The Metamorphosis(1915), and the latest release from Netflix’s popular Black Mirror series, the interactive film, Bandersnatch(2018).
Zucker first introduced students to sketchnoting by using excerpts from Rohde’s The Sketchnote Handbook, a YouTube video of Rohde’s “Sketchnote Mini-Workshop” (that allowed students to draw along with Rohde), and McGregor’s Ink & Ideas, a sketchnoting book for educators.
Zucker suspected that Kafka’s highly descriptive and visual text—in which the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, famously transforms into an insect—would lend itself to beginner sketchnoting. Though Kafka himself did not want readers to draw the insect, even Nabakov ignored Kafka’s wishes, doodling a rendition of the bug in his personal teaching copy of The Metamorphosis.
After showing students several ways to structure sketchnotes from The Sketchnote Handbook (e.g., modular, vertical, radial), Zucker suggested that students organize their notes for The Metamorphosis in three sections to match Kafka’s three-part structure for the novella. For a more detailed post about Zucker’s introduction to sketchnotes, see here.
Students were given the option to complete their work digitally or on paper. About two-thirds of her students created sketchnotes digitally, while about one-third opted to take notes on paper.
Depicting Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch
When the class viewed Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, students were instructed to take notes while viewing the film; though visual notes were not required, many students elected to take sketchnotes. This might be due to the story structure itself—a choose-your-own-adventure style narrative path determined by the viewer’s decisions.
Here’s a pair of sketchnotes that depicts all of the narrative paths in Bandersnatch. [Note: Major spoilers ahead!]
World Sketchnote Day “Daily Doodle” Activity
To celebrate World Sketchnote Day, which coincided with this series of assignments, Zucker’s students did a variation of the Sketchnote Army’s “daily doodle” activity, in which participants spend one minute sketching the word of the day on a post-it note—anyone interested can participate on the Sketchnote Army Slack Channel.
In Zucker’s class, students had one minute to depict a topic (related to Bandersnatch) on a post-it note: technology, mirror, or adventure.
Since completing these tasks, several students have opted to continue taking visual notes in Zucker’s English class.
See the slideshow below for examples of these talented high school students’ Metamorphosis sketchnotes!
Are you a teacher using visual notetaking in your classroom? Comment below with your feedback and ideas!
Lastly, see below for Daisy L.’s (11th grade) Metamorphosis sketchnotes drawn in OneNote. Scroll down (or zoom out) to view them in full.
After three years of experimenting with digital badges with both high school students and adults, I’m still exploring ways to integrate and share them.
For those new to badges, here’s a simple definition I wrote in an earlier post. To access additional introductory, intermediate, and advanced resources I’ve curated on digital badges, see this slideshow.
In a nutshell, badges are digital ways of recognizing accomplishments or skills. Open badges are tied to evidence of learning and designed to be shared, so recipients can showcase their skills across digital platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn).
Mozilla announcedthey’ve be encouraging Backpack users to migrate over to Concentric Sky’s (@ConcentricSky) Badgr (@Badgrteam) platform. After creating a free account, I found the platform to be very easy to use.
Badgr’s features for sharing/displaying badges: [ . . . ]Read More
When I returned from a recent conference with boxes of books and swag, some of my colleagues asked how they could score their own free books for course consideration.
Several publishers will provide educators with free copies of their books to examine and consider for adoption in a course or curriculum. Many books are sent by mail, but some are offered as e-books. Publishers have their own requirements, but many require that educators sign up with a school email address, and some require that books are sent to a school address.
See below for ways that high school and college instructors can request free (and significantly discounted) examination copies. Happy hunting, book lovers!
High School Teachers
W.W. Norton & Company offers free examination copies for high school teachers, searchable by subject area. There are many more gems under their “instructors” tab—especially the section devoted to English. Norton’s regional sales representatives can help teachers navigate their catalogue and find new materials.
Penguin Random House offers low-cost booksas examination copies for high school teachers: $3.00 for any paperbacks that retail for under $20, and 50% off for any hardcovers or paperbacks that cost over $20.
Six-word memoirs were a quick and excellent way to get students writing, revising, and crafting digital texts.
At the start of every school year, I look for a fun way for students to introduce themselves to each other and to me. Last year, I asked students to craft visual autobiographies on Padlet. This year, since I’m teaching a course for 11th and 12th graders on Modern Fiction and Nonfiction, I also wanted a quick activity to get my students writing their own modern stories. Enter the Six-Word Memoir! (Just in time for the National Day on Writing! #WhyIWrite)
An invitation originated by Smith Magazine, everyone from NPRto Oprah has invited writers to pen their own stories in exactly six words. This activity turned out to be an easy way to get students back into writing mode after the summer break. As a bonus, the legendof Hemingway’s six-word story (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”) was a perfect way to begin a conversation about modern writers.
I asked students to introduce themselves to the class in six words. “It doesn’t have to capture your life story,” I reassured them. “It just needs to reveal something about who you are.”
They got right to work. They wrote at different paces, so I encouraged students who finished early to write additional stories, while allowing more time for those who needed it.
Towards the end of the shortened, first day class period, we had barely enough time for each student to say their name and read their six-word story aloud.
The next day, I projected my own six-word memoir that I had published on the Six-Word Memoirs website.
I joked that the open-source image I paired with my story didn’t exactly look like me.
Then, I talked about my challenges as a writer and enlisted their assistance in revision. I wanted to capture a tension between being content in the present and itching to make progress, I explained. We played around with my verb choice. (We were already talking about diction and copyright on the second day of school!)
All-in-all, six-word memoirs were a quick and excellent way to get students writing, revising, and crafting digital texts.
I gave them a chance to revise their stories, talking with a partner about what they were trying to accomplish through language. Some students asked to draft new stories, which I happily allowed.
After writing their stories, students enjoyed pairing them with images and posting them on the Six-Word Memoirs website. I later realized they could embed their stories into their first posts to welcome readers to their class blogs.
Here some examples of their six-word memoirs (posted with permission by eager volunteers):
A few students were interested in the website’s monthly writing contests, especially when I pointed out that with the right six words, they could boast that they’d won a national writing contest. I hope to announce the contest topic each month (October’s topic is “Secrets to Take to the Grave”) to encourage participation.
For a relatively low-maintenance writing assignment, the six word memoirs yielding great rewards. It helped us introduce ourselves to each other without having to share a recycled “fun fact” about ourselves. In just a few minutes, students were able to see themselves as writers and talk about our writing choices. And we were all able to have fun with a digital publishing without the pressure of a graded assignment.
I’ll leave you with several student examples. If you decide to try this out yourself (or in your classroom), feel free to comment with additional ones!
Special thanks to Lindsey Caruso for feedback on this blog post–especially for your suggestions for the conclusion.
Are you looking to add mindfulness or social and emotional learning (SEL) activities to your teaching?
My two latest publications discuss mindfulness and social and emotional learning in the English classroom. Both articles share tech-free lessons that can be adapted across grade levels and content areas.
“Mindful ELA: Lessons from a Grassroots Wellness Initiative” (see below) tells the story of a teacher-led movement to increase wellness in a high school, and then zooms in on several mindfulness lessons from two English teachers’ classrooms.
“An Imaginary Party Sparks Academic Conversations” (see below) describes a lesson that uses improvisation and play to help students develop their speaking and interpersonal skills while discussing academic topics.
When I spotted the following preview of a discussion threadon NCTE Connects, I had to read more:
Vermont educator Donald Tinney was looking for short companion texts to teach in conversation with The Great Gatsby. I had just finished reading Fitzgerald’s novel with my 10th grade students, and was curious to learn how other educators help students relate its themes to present day.
Among the many treasures shared was a page of resources compiled by Susan Chenelle and Audrey Fisch. Their 2017 NCTE presentation referenced an article on “The Great Gatsby Curve,” an economic trend that shows a relationship between parental economic mobility and income distribution. Posted on an archived page of Obama’s WhiteHouse.gov blog, the article features an animated graphic posted on Tumblr with a graphical representation of the curve. Here is a screenshot of the Tumblr graphic:
While I await a copy of Fisch and Chenelle’s upcoming bookon teaching Gatsby with informational texts, I created my own lesson around “The Great Gatsby Curve” to prompt students to think about these contemporary economic issues.
Considering “The Great Gatsby Curve” Lesson: Parental Income and Economic Mobility
First, I asked students to analyze their first impressions of the website itself (obamawhitehouse.archives.gov). The following note appears at the top of the website: “This is historical material “frozen in time”. The website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.”
Then, I invited students to watch and read the animated graphic on “The Great Gatsby Curve.” The animation progresses quickly, so students watched it once or twice before writing down their interpretations of the graph. Eventually, I captured the screenshot image above.
After students wrote an interpretation of the graph in their own words, I asked them to write responses to a series of questions I raised aloud:
What is your opinion about this economic trend?
What does this economic trend mean for you? How might it apply to your life?
Does this trend hold true in your family? For example, did your grandparents’ income determine your parents’?
Shift your perspective. How would you feel if your parents had significantly lower or higher incomes?
What factors do you think contribute to this economic trend?
At the beginning of the school year, I asked my students to obtain or recover their public library cards. Since my students commute from several towns, this involved three local libraries. I hoped the assignment would encourage students to take advantage of the many resources available through the library.
I asked students to upload a photo of themselves with their library cards, and offered additional points for photos that conveyed “a love of reading.” Here are some examples (shared with permission).
One student submitted a pair of photos of himself as a five and fifteen year old getting his public library card. Astonishingly, the photos were taken on the exact same date, ten years apart.
A handful of parents emailed me unsolicited positive feedback about the assignment, including this short note (shared with permission):
“I love that you asked each of the students to get their library cards. When my daughter and her siblings were younger, we spent a lot of time at our library. When we went to the library the other day to get her card, she seemed nostalgic. She gave herself a little tour and got reacquainted with the layout. I reminded her that the library can be a place that she can study and take out books not just for schoolwork but for pleasure.”
When I spoke with a local library director, she shared the joy she experienced from seeing formerly active library patrons all grown up—they spent their early childhoods at the library, she explained, but then lost interest. She was thrilled to see them returning to the library to rediscover its offerings. Together, we realized we could seize the opportunity to highlight the resources that could appeal to young adults.
While I could not get permission to take my classes on field trips to three nearby libraries, I thought a virtual “field trip” would help students learn about these spaces and their resources from the comfort of our classroom. Now that they had their library cards, this was a chance to give students a taste of what the cards could offer.
I reached out to our three local libraries, and the librarians each generously agreed to give a 10-15 minute talk and virtual tour. I asked them to speak about shared services available to students from all of the local towns, as well as their library’s unique resources and special events. They could take a few questions, and conclude with a brief tour of the spaces (via web cam).
I created a Google doc chart for planning purposes so the presentations themselves would not overlap. I scheduled the library visits to occur once per week for three consecutive weeks, which meant that each librarian gave five, fifteen-minute presentations over the course of one day.
My school computer has a built-in webcam, but I requested a bigger, external one from our IT department so I could position it to capture more of the classroom at once. I conducted the calls over Google Hangouts.
Our Virtual Field Trips
The librarians were all friendly and eager to field student questions. They spoke enthusiastically about print and digital resources, patron services (e.g., free museum passes, lendable Kindles), and special events. Students followed along by referring to information on a print handout that the librarians had shared in advance.
Students enjoyed seeing the different teen rooms and quiet spaces in each branch, and several mentioned that they thought it could be a good place to work independently or meet with small groups. They were excited by upcoming events, such as the holiday cookie contest and a make-your-own bath bomb class.
Exploring Additional Resources
After we hung up the calls with the libraries, we looked into some of the resources together. We went on RBdigital Magazines, a database that offers digital issues of current, popular magazines. Students were pleased to learn that many of their favorite titles can be accessed on their school computers. Another day, we tested out Tutor.com, a subscription website that pairs students with live tutors.
We also played around with Mango Languages, an online language learning resource. We learned how to say some simple phrases in Korean, American Sign Language (ASL), and Pirate.
Students were astonished by the many resources available through their card. “This is all free?” several asked.
We also looked at Google Street View for each library to give students a sense of where each library is located. Several remarked that they hadn’t realized the library was “right there.”
Here are few reflections from students on the library visits:
“It was a great experience to see all the different libraries near me. I learned a lot about each of them and learned all the cool activities that go on.”
“I liked that we were able to see what each of the libraries looked like during the tours and we were able to see what resources each of the libraries offered.”
“I liked to know that we could get museum passes. This is beneficial to me because I think it would be a fun thing to do with my friends.”
“I was very interested in going to the bath bomb making class.”
“The library visit has inspired me to learn sign language, which I had never thought of doing.”
I’ve been tinkering with digital badges for a few years, but this spring marked my first effort to test them in the classroom. I’m still in an exploratory stage, but I wanted to share some initial reflections.
What are Digital Badges?
In a nutshell, badges are digital ways of recognizing accomplishments or skills. Open badges are tied to evidence of learning and designed to be shared, so recipients can showcase their skills across digital platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn).
Here is the full list of badges that I co-developed with students this year. If you explore the individual badges, you’ll find evidence from student “experts” who earned the badges.
Ninth and tenth graders developed the badge names, descriptions, and required evidence. They decided to group the badges into three categories: Reading, Writing, and Miscellaneous. Then, tenth graders designed the badges using open badges.me, which they picked up quickly after my three-minute demonstration.
We didn’t get these badges going until early April, so this year was more of a trial. Badges were not inherently motivating to all of my students. Some students were more interested in designing the badges than earning them. Regardless, the time we spent thinking together about skills worthy of recognition in our class was valuable.
While many students were eager to claim multiple badges, a handful were brave enough to ask, “Why should I want to do this, again?” I explained that a digital badge houses more information about your learning and skills than a grade does. If you collect several badges, I explained, you can create a digital portfolio of sorts that showcases your accomplishments. I showed them my virtual backpackas an example. Some were convinced, but they were not all emphatic.
Getting Started Resources
If you’re considering experimenting with badges, you can consult the following resources:
1. openbadges.me – A free, web-based program for designing open badges.
When we think about what reading looks like, we might picture someone curled up with a good book in a comfy chair with a hot beverage nearby. We might picture someone perusing the news over breakfast, or reading an e-book during the morning commute.
If you ask someone outside of the education field what teens’ reading looks like, however, they might not picture anything. For example, when I mention to someone that I’m researching teens’ reading, many lament, “kids these days don’t read anymore!”
But they do! And I have photos to prove it. Here are a few photos of reading in my classroom.
1. Students choose their own texts.
We still read some classic texts (e.g., Of Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby, Romeo and Juliet), but that’s not all we read. Even when reading classics, students connect the books to contemporary events and research they seek out themselves.
My students select independent reading books and read books of their choosing throughout the year.
Students take suggestions from YALSA’s list of “Outstanding Books for the College Bound” and the NoveList database. They create virtual bookshelves and groups on Goodreads, write reviews, and share recommendations. (Read more about independent reading and student book clubs in my classroom, here.)
2. Teens read and compose print and digital texts.
As Turner and Hicks (2015) argue in Connected Reading, the question of print vs. digital texts in the classroom is not about “either/or.” It’s about “both/and.” My students encounter a variety of texts, both print and digital. Rather than insisting they read or write in a specific way, I demonstrate options, and invite them to choose the best tool for their task.
3. “Whole class” reading looks different each day.
Sometimes, students sit in a circle (or in small groups) and discuss a book that I assigned.
Other times, students read aloud in class.
On designated independent reading days, students sit where they’re most comfortable. At back-to-school night, I asked parents to donate any furniture or items to help me create a cozy reading space in our classroom. Thanks to their generosity, we have a comfortable reading area with folding chairs that students move around the room.
Students also exchange reading recommendations virtually. My senior class created Pinterest boards this spring to organize and share online articles across disciplines.
What does reading look like in your classroom?
Let’s look at reading across grades and subjects. Please comment below or share classroom photos (with permission).
On Valentine’s Day, a day when emotions are heightened in high school, for better or worse, I trotted out an assignment that would invite students to have fun writing poetry. These were ninth graders—generally willing to play along when I call something fun even if they don’t think it is—but I did my best to present them with options they’d find inherently appealing. They even laughed politely when I joked that if they wanted, they could write their poem on colored paper and cut it out in a heart shape.
I introduced them to the epistle, a poem in the form of a letter. I’d like to think that they were as interested in my definition of the word as they were in the sound of the word itself. They first responded with giggles, but after some coaxing, joined me, unabashedly pronouncing “epistle” in chorus while I repeatedly pressed the speaker icon on Merriam Webster, my computer corroborating our pronunciation.
I went over some options for the “recipient” (audience) of their epistle, starting with the classic love poem. I reminded them that love poems aren’t always interesting to people outside of the relationship. Then, I shared several variations.
(classically) someone you love or hate
(more subtle) someone you want to thank, or someone who is annoying you
a public figure or celebrity (dead or alive)
a fictional character
a person you don’t know but interact with (e.g., the mail carrier, the pizza delivery person)