Did that title get your attention? Just kidding! As school districts throughout the PARCC consortium, like us, pore over their test results, it will likely become clear that students didn’t perform as well as they could have on an assessment category called reading informational text. It will be important for school districts and parents to look to improve this area of assessment moving forward. The shift towards informational text becoming an important part of standardized assessment–in this case PARCC–became apparent when the Common Core standards were released a few years ago. Controversial at the time (okay, still controversial to some), the Common Core called for a greater emphasis on the reading of informational text across the curriculum in schools. Ultimately, the Common Core recommends a split in what high school students read: 70% informational text and 30% literary works. For many teachers, this split was a drastic change from what was traditionally done in classrooms. This blog isn’t the place to debate the merits of this decision. All I will say is that I am in favor of students reading as much as possible regardless of its kind. I love both fiction and non-fiction and hope students feel the same. I also realize students will frequently encounter informational text when they enter college and join the work force; therefore, it is certainly important that we teach students how to read this genre. One way to improve students’ comprehension when reading informational text is through the website Newsela.
I have become a huge fan of Newsela (pronounced NEWS-ELLA) because of its design, the selection of informational articles available for readers, and the assessments that come with each article. I had heard of Newsela over the past few years but was initially skeptical. I am decidedly old school when it comes to reading. For many years when I taught I got hard copies of the newspaper delivered every day for my students to read. Even so, I realized a few months ago that my second-grade son needed some help with his reading. My son loves to read, but I noticed he was reading way too fast and not really comprehending what he had read. I realized something was up when he claimed to have finished a book in about fifteen minutes. Before you think I am some sort of an “intense reading dad,” I’m not. My son can read whatever he wants from Captain Underpants to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. As long as he is reading, I am happy. But, my son still needs to understand HOW to read. So, I started using Newsela with him, and I think it is wonderful.
Newsela is a free site (subscription model available) that edits news articles from organizations like the Washington Post, Associated Press, and Scientific American into different levels of complexity using the Lexile framework. This enables readers of different levels to all be reasonably challenged. Classes with different levels of readers can be differentiated as students are able to read the same article but at different Lexile levels. Each article comes with a few assessment questions that reinforce important content or vocabulary from a related article. Parents and teachers can track a child’s or student’s progress as they read, giving them insight into strengths and weaknesses. Newsela just released an app for Apple devices and it is most impressive. I think this app can be an important addition to a class set of iPads and any reading program. I honestly never thought I would like a site like Newsela. However, I think its ease of use, the quality of its informational text, and the fact that it gives real-time data on reading progress makes it something English and elementary teachers should consider using in their classes. Parents, like me, should also consider using it with their children. Overall, it is a great product and something I think will help students tremendously as they learn to read informational text.
This post is by Bree Valvano, an English teacher at Randolph High School
While I believe reading classic literature is a valuable experience, helping students see how the themes and ideas in these works are relevant to their own lives can be a challenge. My English IV classes recently finished reading the play Antigone. While no one can argue the value of the play, I wanted to come up with a way for my students to demonstrate their understanding of the major themes while also showing them how the themes are still relevant and how they connect to their own interests. The Antigone Making the Movie Project helped me to achieve my objective.
For this project, students were challenged to create a prospectus for a movie connected to one of the themes in the play. Students had to select the theme that was most interesting to them and create several documents including a rationale, a movie poster, a script for a major scene in their movie, and a movie trailer using iMovie. The results were outstanding. One group focused on civil rights and fighting against discrimination. One group focused on a female’s right to play football, a typically male sport. No matter what movie idea the students decided to focus on, they were required to make connections between the theme in Antigone and the theme in their movie. Below you will find two movie trailers my students created for the project. When you give students choices and the power to create something that is meaningful to them, you will be happy with the results.
As I continued to explore ways to utilize my classroom iPads, I came across two apps that I believe will help make the classroom experience more interactive and fun for my students. After viewing a professional development webinar on using iPads, I learned about Skitch and ThingLink. Both of these apps allow users to pull images from their saved photos and make them interactive.
Skitch allows the user to annotate images. Users are able to upload an image and add text, arrows, stamps, and other annotations. The app could be used to annotate a passage from a novel with students in the English classroom, identify the different parts of a model plant cell in a science classroom, label a map in a history classroom, or record the steps of an equation in a math classroom. The app is easy to use and takes models and annotations to the next level. When users finish adding their notes to the image, they are able to share it via social media or email. While I believe this is a valuable tool, the next app, ThingLink, is just as cool. ThingLink allows users to take a photo and add videos. Similar to Skitch, users can upload
an image. However, ThingLink allows users to add video content to the image. Users could use the iPad to record a video explanation to add to the picture. They could upload a prerecorded video, or they could search for a video on YouTube to upload to the image. After adding one or more videos, users can share their creation with others.
While I think teachers could use these tools to create engaging content for their students, I envision students using both apps together when completing a project. For example, when
studying a poem from the Harlem Renaissance, students could start by taking a screenshot of the poem. Next, they could annotate the text in Skitch, making notes and identifying rhetorical devices. After they save the image, students could upload the annotated poem to Thinglink and add videos about the author, time period, and/or theme. Finally, the students could share their presentations with the class and/or upload it to Blackboard or other social media sites to share with others. The same process could be used in different disciplines when researching or studying a scientific process, a historical event, or a variety of other topics. I am pretty excited to try these new tools out in the classroom, and I hope others try out these new tools too.
Bree is an English teacher at Randolph High School
As I continued to research and discover new ways to use technology, specifically the five new classroom iPads I have been given, I came across several articles that discussed an app called Subtext. This app allows you to download eBooks and create a collaborative reading area for students and teachers. The app allows users to define words, research concepts in a reading via the web, highlight lines, link to videos and other resources, mark notes, ask questions, and comment all in real time. If you know anything about me and my teaching philosophy, you know I had to learn more about this tool.
After downloading the app on my personal iPad and playing with it for a short time, I quickly saw the potential this app has for promoting collaboration and close reading of a text. Subtext allows you to create a classroom environment where students can collaborate when discussing a text. The teacher can embed information and web links for students to use while they are reading a text. The teacher can also add questions for students to answer, and/or the teacher can see the comments the students are making and add his/her own comments and answer questions. The teacher can also create specific assignments for the class that are linked to Common Core Standards. Since the Common Core focuses on close reading and using textual evidence to support arguments, this tool has great potential to assist teachers as they help students practice these skills.
As with any app, there are a few things you need to know before you get started. Students and teachers need a Gmail account to log into the app. Since most people are using Gmail and it’s free to set up an account if they are not, this doesn’t seem like too big of a deal. Also, the app itself is free, but you may need to purchase the text documents, depending on what is available. There are some free books, but not all books are free. You also need to purchase licenses so students can access the tool. The cool thing about the licenses is the fact that they can be assigned to a student for the lesson and then reclaimed, after the lesson, so you can use them again in another class. I personally think the cost is totally worth it.
I recently tried the app with my English IIH classes. They worked in groups to complete a close reading activity on Poe’s poem The Raven. Before the activity, I added questions and comments to help the students analyze the use of language and literary devices to convey theme. I explained the features in Subtext, and the students got to work. While students were asking questions, I was able to add my comments and they were able to answer each other’s questions. Students were also able to use the features to look up unfamiliar words and search the web to find helpful information. At the end of the lesson, I asked students what they thought of the tool and the response was unanimous. They thought the app was both fun and helpful. They enjoyed being able to construct meaning and collaborate when completing a close reading of the text. I will definitely be using this tool again.
This post is by Bree Valvano, an English teacher at Randolph High School
Last year I wrote a blog entry about the app ShowMe which allows the user to create tutorials on a whiteboard that can be uploaded and shared with others. Since then, I have been creating videos with the app to help my students gain a better understanding of how to annotate a text. I believe these videos are a valuable resource for students who may need extra reinforcements.
However, after attending a web conference on using tablets in the classroom, I heard about another interesting way to use this app in the classroom. The speakers in the web conference suggested having students use the app to create their own videos. Since I now have access to five iPads for my students, I thought this would be a great way to make my classroom more student focused. By doing this, students will be able to demonstrate their ability to use their active reading skills and share their ideas with others.
I plan to try this idea out in a week or so in my English IVB classes. I have already posted a few videos on Blackboard to model how to annotate a text (you can see a sample here). Next, I plan to have students work in small groups, using their own annotations of chapters from The Kite Runner, to create their own videos. I am hoping that this lesson allows me to assess what students are picking out of the novel and help them improve their ability to actively read a text. Once the videos are completed, students will share the link with me, and I will post them on our class Blackboard page. If all goes as planned, we will also use this tool when reading the more complex play Hamlet later this semester. I am hoping that the students enjoy taking ownership of their own learning and enjoy hearing their own voices, and the voices of their peers, as they talk through the process of breaking down the text.
I don’t want my fellow teachers to think that this will only work in the English classroom. I think this idea could work in any subject area. Students in a math classroom could create videos to demonstrate how to use a specific formula or demonstrate how to solve a problem. Students in a science classroom could demonstrate their thinking when completing a lab or explaining how the life cycle works. Students in a history classroom could demonstrate how they would annotate a primary source document. Really, the possibilities are endless. I believe that if we put the responsibility of learning in the hands of the students, we will be pleasantly surprised.
This post is by Bree Valvano, an English teacher at Randolph High School
I feel very fortunate to be one of five teachers selected to be part of the iPad initiative program in the Randolph High School Humanities Department. Our school recently purchased a number of classroom sets of iPads that are housed in Tech Tubs, a locking and recharging solution for tablets or Chromebooks. Since being selected, I have thought about how I can share some of the tools I find with others. I thought the best way to share this experience would be to post entries, outlining my findings, to the humanities blog. So here is my first entry.
After downloading some of my “go to” tools, such as Nearpod and Showme, I started to do a little research to find other apps I can use in the classroom. Over the long weekend I found two interesting apps that I will be trying out in my English IV classroom.
The first app is called Smule Auto Rap. This free app allows the user to record a short spoken clip and the app turns the clip into a rap that can be shared via email. I thought this would be a great way to make “do nows” and/or “exit tickets” more fun and relevant for the students. I plan on trying it out when students start reading The Kite Runner. I am going to have students record their reactions to pivotal events in the book, and after recording their responses and turning them into raps, they can share their recordings with other students and eventually email them to me. I feel like this could end up being a fun way to share their reactions and check for understanding.
The next app I found this weekend is called Trading Cards, and it is made by the people who run the ReadWriteThink web site. This free app allows the
user to create a trading card of information. This information could be about a character, a historical event, a novel, or a concept. Students are able to add up to 120 characters of information for each question asked and a photo. The trading card can be saved to use later when studying for a test and/or shared with others.
Again, I am so excited to be part of this initiative, and I look forward to sharing more information about helpful apps as I continue to find them.