26 August 2012

Google Reader Blog Grading

Google Reader is making grading blogs possible for me. Other teachers have discovered the wonder of feed readers like Google Reader before, of course, but here are some tricks I have been using with Google Reader to manage my COMPASS mini-class blogs.

When I just have a single weekly blog post to keep up with, it's been easier to just alphabetize blog links on Symbaloo and check off whether or not the posts are there each week. However, when blogs are pretty much daily, it helps to be able to see the blogs as they come in and go back and give credit as one goes. It's also nice to have the number of how many you have to go right there under "new"!
  1. Have a smartphone? Get the app. It's relatively slow-going, but I can still knock out a comment or two while on bus duty with the Google Reader app.
  2. Tag posts for organizing grades. For instance, my students must have 4 posts a week, each post on a different assigned topic--though the order during the week is up to them. If I tag each post with the week number and topic, then I can easily look up if they have met the week's requirements with a search of their name and a peek at the numbers in the tags!
  3. Tag posts for problem areas. The assigned length for posts is 300 words each, so in addition to tags for "run-ons" and "choppy," I also have "-300" so I can easily see if students are not saying enough. I find it best to add X in front of the problem area too, so these tags will appear after most of the tags with names or categories, and they'll all be together.
  4. Tag posts for what they do well, too. If the post shows how a piece should be organized or a good way to get the reader's attention, tag with an * in front of them, like "* organization" instead of "X organization."
  5. Star items that you want to use as examples for class. If someone wrote something that you want to show the class as a model of what TO do, star them, and you will have a stash that you can easily pull up! (Consider also labeling them with tags of what they are a good example of like "voice" or "organization".)
  6. Tagging can also be useful as an indication of whether or not you have commented yet. If you simply hold off on tagging until the comment is sent, then you can easily find where you left off, even if the Reader thinks you have read the post because you scrolled past it one time.

12 August 2012


Forty-five minutes a day, four days a week, I get to teach a class that is not a class! I will be preparing students to pass the reading and writing portions of the COMPASS test for entry and success in college courses.It is how my new school is dealing with the disparity created by hybridizing a high school and a college (we have to meet every day, they, well, don't). And I get to maintain my Spanglish cred.

It won't have its own slot on report cards or transcripts, though I did work out a deal with another English teacher so that students can get credit in his class for the work, so as to avoid the I-don't-have-to-do-this trap and not waste their time.

Plus, I get to have my mini-class in the computer lab, and you know what that means. That's right, my friends: blog them to death.

I confess a certain perverse attraction to testing, despite knowing intellectually that it is not the sum of my worth as an educator. The test is kind of like an aloof, dysfunctional parent whose approval I cannot help but crave. Nevertheless, I prefer to teach beyond the test most of the time. You know, break out the oil paints and hand-carved frame for Mother's Day instead of just macaroni and glitter glue.

So my plan is to have students writing and reading constantly. That's probably at least 50% of it. Then I see where the recurring problems are, where they could step up their games, and we have us some mini-lessons. I predict some work with run-ons and fragments, paraphrasing, rephrasing, mood and tone, author's purpose, main ideas and supporting details, and style.

I intend to set aside 15 of the 45 minutes each day for them to blog and for me to play Isabella from Phineas and Ferb: "Whatcha doooooin'?" Each of those four days, they will choose from one of four topics (though they must hit all four some time during the week)

  1. Something we read--We'll be looking at different articles, excerpts, and stories, at least one a week. The COMPASS site says for the Reading section to anticipate: "Practical reading, Prose fiction, Humanities, Social sciences, Natural sciences" to be covered. We've got eighteen weeks, so I'll aim to hit each type at least 3 times.
  2. Something you read--I figure they can handle one extra book of their own choosing over the course of a semester. Heck, I'm okay if it IS a picture book, as long as they have something different to say about it each week. And if they are more prolific readers, by golly they can have a different one each week, too, if they want.
  3. Something from class--Mind you, it doesn't have to be from our class, but I would like them to reflect on things they are learning. It might just be a rehash of something they found interesting or a breakdown of something they'd had trouble with (or perhaps were the only ones NOT to have trouble with). It might be a deeper look into something that raised questions. It might be something that they contributed to discussion or wish they had contributed to discussion.
  4. Something that won't get me fired--They can write about anything they want! As long as it is within the realm of high school classroom decency, of course. It would be cool if we had some poets or fiction writers, but it might also be a suitable spot for regular old journaling. Granted, we'll probably have to have a thorough chat on Day 1 about what is and is not high school classroom decent, but that is a small price to pay to get some worthwhile writing.

Now, of course Writing Skills for the test will cover usage and mechanics ("Punctuation, Sentence structure, Basic grammar and usage"), but I anticipate needing more time for the rhetorical skills: Strategy, Organization, and Style, as they may also be Writing Essays. To that end, I will have them choose one blog post each six-week grading period to refine and turn into something awesomer still, and we'll probably take one week of the term away from blogging to accomplish said refinement.

I think I will be able to fit a little choice in there, too, but probably only one of the three terms--maybe the middle, maybe the last. Here's how I foresee the revisions being revisioned:

  1. Persuasive essay--turn your post into a piece that makes your audience want to make a change.
  2. Researched essay--pick a topic with greater depth, find some sources, give them credit. (Not sure if this should be the second or the last one.)
  3. Poem or short story--get creative, master your own style and strategy, maybe imitate some "prose fiction."

I have to say that the more I think about this non-class class, the more excited I get about the possibilities! And if it means our kids blow the top off of the COMPASS test, all the better.

08 August 2012

More High School Spanish Driving Questions

I'm on a roll! Not just workshops, but booths at my new district's Teaching & Learning Conference have inspired still more driving questions. Plus I've been ruminating over how to phrase questions for materials I've used before (with minimal to moderate success but potential somewhere in there deep down). I may have too many choices for project-based units now, but perhaps I could enlist my online PLN to help me narrow them down? (Hint, hint!).

First, previous units:

  1. How do you respond to a medical emergency if the people around you speak only Spanish? (II or III)
  2. How can big cities fight back against gang violence? (with materials) (II or III)

Inspired by Ramona Winner's Global Awareness workshop:

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon
  1. What would make little kids care about keeping their teeth healthy? (I or II)

    Throw Your Tooth on the Roof has some cool info about baby tooth traditions from Mexico, Costa Rica, the Dominican, El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, and Spain (the tooth fair is a rabbit or el Ratoncito--who knew?)
  2. Do home remedies really work? (I or II)

    Los remedios de mi nana (this one is bilingual) might encourage them to tap into their own families' traditions and/or explore homeopathy.
Inspired by booths:

  1. Health Department: How can we, as teenage sons and daughters, help parents of teens reach out to and communicate with their children? (They already have offerings for parents in English AND Spanish!) (I-III)
  2. Health Department: Can teen parents raise happy, healthy children? (II or III)
  3. Botanical Garden: What power does the weather have over our lives? (I--Weather is mentioned specifically in the Common Core.)
  4. Botanical Garden & Farm Bureau: How can food make my life better? (I or II--An excuse for some cooking and science and health class crossovers?)
  5. CaroMont Health: What is the #1 killer of people like me, and how can I avoid it? (II or III)

So that puts my choices for Spanish I up around 15 and Spanish II up closer to 20. I had them narrowed to 10 each before, and I think that is a good number to offer, so if anyone has suggestions on which to sub in or out, I'm all ears!

06 August 2012

Driving Questions for High School Spanish

The first day, I'll give students a survey to let them rate the which Driving Questions capture their interest the most on a scale of "Now that I know this is an option, I cannot enjoy class without exploring this" to "I could get into this" to "Please, I think I will hate Spanish forever if we have to study this." (I would make it a Google Doc form, but my understanding is internet access is pretty much out of the question for a few weeks due to construction issues.)

There are topics related to units I've already tried out:
  1. Is it harder being black in a Spanish-speaking country or in the U.S.? (II)
  2. Should drug ballads be banned in Mexico? (II)
  3. Could a dictatorship ever happen in the United States? (II or III)
  4. (from La llaman America) Is it harder to immigrate to the United States legally or illegally? (II)
  5. (from La llaman America) Is poetry a waste of time? (II)
  6. (from La llaman America) Are people born into poverty destined to stay poor all their lives? (II)
  7. How can we, as teenagers, recognize and address bullying in our schools? (III)
There are topics I dreamed up during my training with the Buck Institute:
  1. How can we, as successful high school students, teach middle schoolers how to use Web 2.0 tools to improve their learning experience? (I)
  2. What would a Spanish movie about the story of my life look like? (I or II)
  3. What is the biggest change in human society since I was born? (III)
  4. How can we, as Early College students, convince 8th graders to come to our school? (I or II)
There are topics inspired by #PBLchat:
  1. What is the best way to use Spanish to promote brain health for the elderly? (I-III)
  2. How can we, as residents of Gaston County, help people who just moved to the area adjust to living here? (I or II)
  3. Is the DREAM Act the best way to help teenagers brought to the U.S. by their parents illegally? (II or III) 
There are topics tailored to fulfill Common Core Essential Standards:
  1. What can we, as teenagers, plan to benefit children of our community in honor of Children's Day? (I) 
  2. Could we, as students, plan a week-long trip for our class to a Spanish-speaking country that would be as appealing to the parents and administrators sending us, for its educational value, as it would to our peers, for its entertainment value? (I) 
  3. NM.CMT.4.4 Identify how knowledge of the target language is useful in a global economy: Could we help our county plan a bilingual career fair for our community to show the benefits of speaking two languages and connect citizens with potential employers? (I-III)
I have narrowed the choices down to 10 each for Spanish I and II (since I won't have III until the spring--going back to semester blocks is a bit of a shake-up).

I've done my best to try to create engaging topics that will, at the same time, get students hooked, align with Common Core Essential Standards, and meet students where they are in terms of ability. As I have not met any of these students yet (also a little jarring after 3 years of having a hand in the selection process), any feedback I can get before presenting these options to my new kiddos would be much appreciated!