Comics and Digital Story Telling as an Assessment Option

Sunday, December 23, 2018 No comments
It's important for students to collaborate, communicate, think critically, and create, but sometimes it is hard to keep up with new digital artifacts that we can incorporate into our assessment options. I've written posts about students creating infographics, discussion topics, blogs, and memes, so today I want to add comics or digital stories to that list. I'd love to hear about the things your students are creating so I can add them to our repertoire!

Why Should Students Create Comics?

  • Students have to think critically about audience, tone, and purpose to communicate content. 
  • Many students have read and enjoyed graphic novels in the past like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Manga, March, and many other titles. Creating digital stories for them can be engaging and tap into valuable prior knowledge. 
  • Digital stories can be told in almost any discipline for almost any content. 
  • Digital stories can meet many of the narrative standards for ELA and literacy across the curriculum. 

Which Tools Should We Use? 

What do Student Samples Look Like? 

Here are 4 student samples from my 9th grade English class. After finishing the graphic novel March by John Lewis, (about the civil rights march in Selma and lunch counter sit-ins), students created comics that retold other events of their choice in the civil rights histories of African-Americans, Latinx-Americans,  Muslim Americans, The LGTBQ+ community, and more. 

Student Created Infographics

Friday, December 21, 2018 No comments

TL;DR Infographics are a great way for students to combine critical thinking, design elements, and content knowledge to show mastery or share information with peers. Want to see some student examples? Scroll down. 

What Infographics Can Assess?

Infographics can be used in pretty much every discipline to assess content standard mastery. Here are some ideas of major assessments that fit nicely with infographics:
  • Research: I mostly use infographics as an additional way to assess research standards so that we are doing more than the traditional research paper.  My rubric usually assesses use of credible sources, MLA/APA citations, main claims, and supporting evidence. 
  • Conceptual Knowledge: Infographics are also ideal for students to demonstrate an understanding of content. Instead of a traditional test or project, students could do a deep dive into the content to communicate the concepts in another format. 
  • Design: In order for students to create successful infographics, they have to pay attention to audience, purpose, color schemes, white space, and logical/emotional appeals. These decisions help students process and prioritize information, which is a vital part of critical thinking. 
  • More? I'm sure there are more elements that I'm not thinking of.  Feel free to leave comments/questions/suggestions in the comment section below. 

What does the lesson flow look like? 

  • Analyze and Critique Published Infographics: Before students start working, I think it is always a good idea to show some samples and have students google more samples to get the general idea of what infographics entail. Then, go through them and have students find elements that they think are especially weak or strong. This plants the seed of what they are trying to accomplish in the end. 
  • Work through the research or content: I teach AVID, so I'm big into having students take focused notes on the research or content that they will be using for the infographics to organize themselves and process information before the creation begins. For us, this is a lengthy and interactive process, but it could be condensed significantly.  
  • Create: We do a lot of the creation in class because I try to #ditchthathomework, but many students work on it at home also because they don't make enough progress in class or because they get so into it that they want to put in the extra time. 
  • Critique Peers and Revise: Part of my philosophy of education is that the process is more important than the product. Because of that, I usually have students share a fully complete first infographic to a padlet and then peers evaluate each other and give suggestions for improvement. We have a discussion about trends in strengths and areas for improvement. Students use the discussion and peer feedback to go into their work and strengthen it. 
  • Publish: Even though the learning can always continue, we do celebrate the products that are completed when we are ready to move on as a class. 

What tools should students use? 

  • Venngage: This year, we used Venngage and I thought it was pretty user-friendly and the templates made it easy for students to create really beautiful products (easy google single sign-on for students). I posted this page of tutorials in my google classroom. The 5-minute getting started video was all the overview that most of my students needed to get started. One thing to know: with the free version, students cannot share/download their work, but they can publish it and share a link with you. There are some samples that students made with Venngage below. Sorry the purple one got cut in half! 
  • Google Drawing: Heidi Resnik and I worked together on helping multiple teachers in different departments at ACHS create infographics with students using google drawing. Here is the basic slide deck I created to help students get started on creating infographics with google drawing that relies heavily on the chart function. If you want to use that slide deck please click file > make a copy and do not request access! Thanks.   There are some samples below of student infographics made with google drawing below. 
  • Canva: I haven't used Canva with students, but I have used it for my own personal projects and it's pretty awesome. 
  • Piktochart: This used to be my go to infographic maker years ago when I taught at St. Bonnie because it was one of the first ones to market.  Students created really intricate designs, but they found it a little tedious to use, which is why I went with Venngage this time. 

What do student infographics look like? 

Samples from my 9th grade AVID class on a research topic of choice using Venngage,, and other online resources: 

Samples from my 11th grade English class about the Harlem Renaissance, made with google drawing and academic databases.

 Would you use infographics as an assessment?  Holler at me with questions, comments, or suggestions!

Finding Time to Teach a Love of Reading

Wednesday, November 28, 2018 No comments
From my perspective as an English teacher, 12 years into the game, it is our solemn responsibility to teach students argument and rhetorical/prose analysis and research and poetry and discussion techniques and source synthesis and structure and grammar and vocabulary- not to mention the 4Cs and how to create infographics, blogs, and other digital media. Even though I know that it is not the most relevant skill to their adult lives, I low-key love the moment when a student sees how Emily Dickinson is alternating iambic tetrameter with iambic trimeter and mixing in near rhyme to emphasize the pain of isolation. It is true exhilaration I feel when a student emails me from college to thank me for teaching her how to use an academic database. And don't even get me started on the LOVE I have for Spark Video, Whiteboard Animations, and Socratic Seminar. But those moments cannot come at the expense of stripping students of their love of reading. Over the years I have found myself asking, why can't we find a way to dissect logical fallacies through close reading without making every text a chore? The challenge of finding time, space, and energy to teach the standards, soft skills, technology, AND encourage a love of independent choice reading is one of the biggest challenges of my career right now. Here is how I am attempting to meet the challenge:

Giving students time and goals. 

This was the biggest hurdle for me. When I first took on the challenge of getting students to read more independent, choice books, I saw it as an extra, side assignment that I could mandate students complete 100% out of class. I didn't want to "waste" any of my precious instructional minutes. And it was a total flop. Students procrastinated, blew off the reading time, and did a lot of fake reading. We couldn't have meaningful conferences along the way because I couldn't sit beside them while they were reading. The adage was true: you have time for what you make time for. 

So I made a change. Now I reserve the first few minutes of class for independent reading.  We set a timer and read. That communal reading time means that we can see what everyone is reading. We can have quick informal conferences. We can recommend books to each other. We can also see who is not making much progress in a particular book and make some recommendations about an alternative book or give tips for fitting reading into a busy student schedule. Even with the time given in class, I expect my students to read outside of class and I challenge them to read at least 2 books of their choice per quarter. Even though it is certainly not my only priority as an English teacher, students' reading lives are a priority to me and so for now I feel good about giving time to read and the gentle nudge toward quantity.

Helping students get good books in their hands and give them a lot of choices.

Last year, I got lucky and had the wonderful teacher librarian, Heidi Resnik who could shoulder a big part of the load. She used the library budget to buy high-interest, relevant books; she book talked to my students; she asked them about their reading life. Most of our OUHSD schools are exceedingly fortunate to have dedicated teacher librarians.  Unfortunately for me, my career has been a bit out of the norm, and I have only had that one year with a teacher librarian.  Every other year of my career, I have been completely without library support.

To compensate, I've tried to build my classroom library with the help of donorschoose.  I've also purchased my fair share out of my own pocket and put a lot of YA on my Christmas/Birthday lists for my family to gift me. Luckily, I love reading young adult fiction, so there is no sacrifice there! I've also found students willing to donate good books to my classroom library.  I am no Penny Kittle, but we have a healthy stash of inclusive and relevant books. 

Not overdoing the assessment.

This is another substantial challenge for me. I am naturally inclined to seek hard data. I don't want to let anything slip through the cracks. But I think I have to let go of this tendency in order to give students the time and space to read. Nothing sucks the joy out of reading like logging, summarizing, and journaling everyday. That being said, I don't feel comfortable letting go of all assessment.  Here is what I am trying right now; I'd love to hear what other teachers are doing for assessment in this area: 

Interactive Journals: 

About every 2-3 weeks, students tell me in 2-3 sentences how their reading life is going.  They may rate their book, give a reaction, or make a connection. I write back to them with my take or questions.  We use google slides for this interaction so that students can quickly copy a new slide to the beginning of the deck each time they respond.  We also keep two lists of books on this deck: 1. books I've read 2. books I want to read next. Here is a link to a copy of generic template we are using. Because these journals are short and only every few weeks, I hope that they serve as a check in and not a chore.

Student Book Recommendations:

I got this idea from the fabulous Jen Roberts who wrote about her book recommendations here. Basically, students use a collaborative slide deck to write book recommendations for their peers. Amplifying student voices is a much more powerful way to reach other students! Here is a copy of the template we use.

Student Book Talks: 

Unfortunately, I haven't fit student book talks in to this year yet, but last year my favorite days were the student book talk days! This blog is reminding me to fit this into our schedule too.

Listen to students talk: 

The simplest and probably the most effective assessment comes from just talking to students about what they are reading and listening to them as they talk to each other.

Google Forms and Spreadsheets:

I also use a google form and the related spreadsheet with conditional formatting that is described in this blog post from Jen Roberts and Alice Keeler. The data I collect here is for myself so that I can see trends and check in with students.

Sharing my book love and amplifying student recommendations. 

Another simple strategy for encouraging students to read is just to share what I am reading.  I talk very briefly about it in class and I tweet book recommendations when I think of it.  Through a very nonscientific study, I have concluded that the love of reading is contagious. 

I also keep a piece of large chart paper by my desk for students to add their recommendations for me to read next. It is pretty cool to learn from students in this way and evaluate my own reading life through their lens.

Staying inspired by other educators. 

Other teachers online, in professional development, and in real life keep me motivated to keep up the good fight.  Here are a few of the most inspirational to me at the moment: 
  1. Book Love180 Days, and everything from Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher
  2. Project Lit Community and #DisruptTexts
  3. Local Teachers like the ones below! 

How are you finding time to encourage the love of reading in your English class? I'd love to hear your ideas on twitter or in the comment section below.

Student Centered Literature Discussions with TQE

Saturday, November 3, 2018 1 comment

I recently listened to this podcast from Cult of Pedagogy, which was about the TQE strategy developed by Marisa Thompson, who wrote a blog post about it here. 

I was inspired to try TQE in my classroom and I have to tell you that I am loving it so far! I highly recommend that you start with the experts, by checking out the links above.  Below is a brief description of the strategy and explanation of how it is working for my class so far! We are currently using TQE as a strategy for our daily reading of the graphic novel March: Book One by Congressman John Lewis.  I'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, and/or suggestions in the comment section below. 

What is TQE? 

TQE is a method for student-centered discussion around a text. The acronym stands for Thought, Question, Epiphany. Students are asked to read a text and generate lingering thoughts, critical thinking questions, and epiphanies. Students are encouraged to dig deeply into the text to ask questions or have revelations about the themes, symbolism, author's craft, or other literary analysis.  See Marisa Thompson's original blog post for how she teaches this part. This is the type of strategy that is best when used repeatedly across a whole unit. With experience, students get better at the initial thinking and questioning as well as the discussion portion. 

Step 1: Have students read a chapter or section and come to class with Thoughts, Questions, or Epiphanies about the text.  

This step is important because it de-centers the teacher as the holder of knowledge and worthy questioning.  With guidance, students become the center of learning and discussion. 

Step 2: Have small groups meet to share and discuss their TQEs, picking 2 to share with the class. 

I have wipeboards and whiteboards around the room for each group to write their TQEs. During the discussion that follows, we are literally surrounded by student-driven topics. The small groups give students a place to answer points of plot clarification and discern the best topics for an overall discussion. 

Step 3: Have a Socratic seminar-style discussion about the student-generated thoughts, questions, and epiphanies. 

In the seminar, we have been focusing on: 1. Developing the argument, 2. Adding textual evidence. 3. Providing Counterarguments, 4. Connecting to historical and current events, and 5. Analyzing the author's purpose. 

Step 4: Use student-centered discussion topics as the basis for critical writing assignments.

I love the ownership that TQE offers to students and the transformation of the role of the teacher from lecturer to coach. What do you think? 

Blogging with Students!

Monday, October 29, 2018 2 comments
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to speak at Gold Coast CUE's Techtober. The topic of my session was blogging with students.  I'm going to share my presentation content in this blog post, but before I do I NEED to tell you that the keynote speaker at Techtober was Jen Roberts and y'all she blew my mind.  I've been following her on twitter, in her book, and through her blog for years and it was still a fantastic learning experience to listen to her speak. I highly recommend you check her out for yourself when you get a chance. Now on to the topic at hand...

In my class, blogs are:

  • Student-generated digital writing with as much choice and individual agency as possible. Although I try to have voice and choice in my other curriculum, student blogs for me are a non-negotiable place where I must let go of the reins a bit and allow students to make many individual choices in style and content.  
  • Shareable and regularly updated. For me, blogs must have the ability to be shared among students and with their families. Eventually, I want to connect my bloggers with peers at other schools. Blogs are not a unit in my class, they are woven into every unit. I don't want to just teach a writing assignment.  I want my students to become writers.  
  • A conduit between my content and student voice. Students have feelings, experiences, and references to every unit we study. Blogs are a way for students to connect their own coming of age story with that of Scout Finch or pick apart the love at first sight scenario presented in both Romeo and Juliet as well as their favorite pop song. Blogs give me a reliable place to allow students to draw those connections. 

Why Blog: 

  • Authentic Audiences: Students blog knowing that their audience is much wider than just the teacher. They write for their peers, for their families, for themselves. They write expecting comments. Authentic audiences bring out the best in student writing in both form and substance. 
  • Peer Mentors: Reading strong blogs from peers inspires students to strive toward that achievable goal. When I point out a brilliant turn of phrase or when a student notices a clever organizational structure, my students become writing mentors for each other. This is really powerful stuff when moving writers. 
  • Digital Literacy: Blogs are where I teach quick skills, like how to add a hyperlink, how to format headings, and what the heck html means. While writing about our ELA unit, students are also getting contextualized lessons in digital literacy. 
  • Classroom Community and Relational Capacity: If you asked me for the #1 reason I blog with students, it will always come down to relationship. Blogs let me read into the lives of my students. I get to know all of them better through following their blogs!

      What do We Blog About?

      Whenever we blog, I usually give at least 3 choices and I try to make the content as relevant to students' everyday loves as possible. Here are just a few of the things we blog about:

      What skills do we have to teach when we are teaching students to blog?

      • How to use the Blogging Platform: We use blogger. On the first day, I create a step by step handout for setting up blogs and then I create a screencast of myself setting up a blog. I challenge all students to split their screen with my screencast on one side and their blog set-up on the other. They pause the screencast in intervals and use the handout to work on their own blog set-up at their own pace. Inevitably, a button looks a little different on their screens, or a menu has changed since I recorded the screencast, but we troubleshoot together as we get all set up. By the end of that period, everyone has a blog and we are ready to roll.
      • Commenting: Commenting is an art. We cannot let students learn that art in the vitriol under youtube videos. I start my lesson on commenting, with this adorable video that I got from Kristina Allison's blogging session at Spring CUE 2018.
      • Digital Footprints and Digital Citizenship: Before students start blogging, we have a conversation about what we want future universities, employers, and friends to find out about us when they google us. Even though students use pen names, we also have a conversation about adding to the collective understanding and treating everyone with respect. Here is a lesson idea from Scholastic.
      • Plagiarism and Image Rights: As an English teacher, I am very comfortable teaching students about avoiding plagiarism. Blogging with students has helped me grow as an educator in terms of image rights. I teach my students about creative commons, google images that are marked for reuse, and other image rights issues. Cult of Pedagogy wrote a great blog/podcast on the basics of image rights.

      Some Best Practices:

      • Use Mentor Blogs: I have found that it is very helpful for students to study professional well-written and well-organized blogs so they have some ideas of how to structure their writing. For example, if my students are writing a "Top 5" style blog, I will show them interesting listicle blogs and we will discuss how professionals emphasize titles, vary images, and leave off with a powerful message.
      • Blog Beside Them: I try to blog on the same topics as students so that they can see me struggle with them as part of the learning community.
      • Be Open to Student Trends: I am a planner. Even though I modify assignments based on student need, I like to have all of my major writing assignments planned out for the year so that I know they are hitting the standards. The blog is a place where I can be a lot more flexible. If I notice that students really want to talk about a particular topic, I throw it into the blog choice mix!

      Things to Consider Before You Blog with Students:

      • What are your district and school policies? Be sure to check with your board policy and principal before blogging!
      • How will you protect student privacy? We use pen names as part of our privacy settings. On blogger (and other blog platforms) you can also lock blogs down to certain email addresses if that is appropriate to your context.
      • How will you share them among students and how will you spread out the comment love? We use a spreadsheet in google classroom. Each week, I switch up mandatory commenting and allow students to comment on as many extras as they want. For example, I say, "comment on everyone in your desk pod and then any others you want to comment on" or "comment on the 2 people ahead of you and the 2 people after you on the spreadsheet plus any other blogs you want to comment on." Switching it up each week means that students read a wide selection of their peers throughout the year and no one gets left out.
      • How will you assess them? This is an area of growth for me. I'm still working on it, but here is a copy of my blogging single-point rubric.
      • How often will you blog? We try to blog about every other Friday.

      Here are a just a couple of screenshots of my students' blogs: 

      Use Google Sites to Organize Your Class!

      Monday, October 15, 2018 No comments
      I'm trying a new thing this year where I am using a google site to organize my classes. Here is a link to my very simple google site and here are the top 4 reasons I'm enjoying this new workflow! It is still very much a work in progress so I would love any questions. comments, suggestions, and teacher hacks you may have in the comment section!

      1. Easily Embed the Daily Agenda with a Google Slide Deck. 

      Each day, I add a new slide to the beginning of the slide deck with the agenda for the day. The google site automatically updates with the new slide.  Students and parents can use this as a reference when they are absent or curious about what is going on in the class. I like that the agenda is available to parents since it is on a site and not inside google classroom or an LMS.

      2. Include important documents and forms.  

      For me, these include my syllabi for each class and a google form that I use to organize and track my classroom library. I require my students to keep my site in their bookmark bar so that they can always quickly access these resources without searching around a classroom stream.

      3. Have a form where students can request a regrade.  

      Philosophically, this is probably the most important part of my website. It is important to my philosophy of education to give students lots of feedforward and chances to meet the standards. Using this link, students can request that I regrade their assignments by sharing a link to their work and reflecting on what they have done to improve the work/skill since the last time I graded it. I bookmark the spreadsheet that is generated from this form and check in on it once or twice a week.  I highlight the row once I have completed the re-grade so that I can track my make-up/redo work easily.  This makes it a lot easier for me to track assignments across multiple digital platforms; students submit google docs, screenshots from no red ink, Adobe Spark links and all kinds of other things that can all be managed on one spreadsheet.

      4. Easily Embed Padlets to Keep a Back Channel Open. 

      If you click over to my website, this padlet is password protected because it has some student information.  I use this page for students to communicate with me and with district personnel about our evolving tech situation. This is a clean way to hear students' voices and work on tech solutions, especially since we are a 1 to 1 school without any tech support on campus. I can see lots of ways I would like to embed resources like padlet into my google site in the future.

      Do you use google sites or another similar situation to organize your classroom? I'd love to hear your questions, comments, or concerns in the comment section below!  Have a great day. 

      Student Created Meme Lessons

      Monday, October 8, 2018 5 comments
      Student generated memes are a great way to bring a little fun into lessons while maintaining focus on content standards and student learning. I've seen some awesome student generated memes from classes around the district! Check out the student samples and info below then join the conversation in the comment section or on twitter. How do you or could you use memes in the classroom?

      Why To Have Students Create Memes: 

      • Memes are fun for most students and can hook them into the content you are teaching. I often use memes as a pre-writing hook to get students thinking and talking about something they will write about soon. 
      • Memes take a lot of creativity and critical thinking.  Students have to take a concept and distill it down to a few words that carry a lot of shared meaning.

      How to Have Students Create Memes: 

      • Share a link to a meme generator like this one. (Check in advance that it is not blocked on your wifi)
      • If you want to limit the meme options or if meme generators are blocked on your campus, create a "bank" of images for your students to use inside a google doc or slide and then have them copy/paste their selected image to their own google slide or google drawing.  Then, have them use the tools in G Suite to add text, speech bubbles, etc. 

      How to Have Students Share Memes: 

      Student Samples: 

      These first 3 are from a novel study of The Great Gastby. We were talking about the comment Fitzgerald is making about the American experience in the 1920s.

      These next 3 are from Natalie Dempsey's Science Class at HHS: 

      These final 3 are from an argument writing unit about the impact of technology on communication: