Online Literature Circles – Beginning Stages

Last year in our 8th grade Language Arts class, we used literature circles to read The Giver by Lois Lowry. We are using the book again this year, and to increase the amount of student talk that happens in the classroom, I am moving a lot of the discussion online. Since I have a large number of non-native speakers in the class, the online discussion serves as a primer for the discussion that will happen in class. If each student does their homework, they will be able to contribute to the group discussions in class. If you are unfamiliar with literature circles, here is a crash course.

To set this all up, I am using Edublogs (Pro). I put a lot of thought into finding the easiest way to get everything organized online in a way that is easy for students to navigate. This is what I’ve come up with. If you know a better way, please share ASAP!

First, I thought about what I needed to make available online.

  • Literature Circle Instructions
  • Role Instructions
  • Reading/Discussion Schedules
  • Groups
  • A place for students to post

I started by creating a page named ‘Literature Circle’. This is the main page for all of the work we’ll do in the unit.

lic1

I used a page and not a post so the content is always there, in the same place. Here, I will put up the general literature circle instructions.

Next, I created two more pages called resources and groups. These pages have the parent page Literature Circle. On the resources page, I will put up the role instructions; the groups page will have group lists and reading/posting schedules.

lc2

Now for the part that took the most thought. I’ve decided on categories as the way student posts will be organized. I chose this because selecting a category when you post is simple. Also, I can create the categories myself.

lc3

First, I created nine categories (Groups 1-9). Then, I added those categories to the menu below the groups page.

Now, here’s what I imagine happening when the assignments begin. Each group has one member that will start the discussion (summarizer). When the summarizer posts, they’ll have to click the category for their particular group. Once they do this, their group members will be able to find the post easily by clicking on their group from the drop-down menu. From there, the rest of the group can comment and add their own posts the same way.

 

Tips for using Edublogs forums

Edublogs provides a massive amount of support through its support blog, TheEdublogger. Recently, I used it as a resource when setting up my class blog. While it provided all of the information I needed, a lot of it was scattered around the site, which resulted in me searching for things within and outside the site. In this post, I will explain some of the difficulties I had, and how I worked around them to set up forums on my blog.

A few notes before I start – I used the forums plugin, which is available with Edublogs Pro only. I found that it’s much easier to work with than the forums described here.

forumsplugin

First, make sure you’ve actived the plugin, then you should see a forums label on your dashboard.

What I found most challenging while setting up forums for my class was the hierarchical structure of the forum. What I originally wanted was a menu item ‘forums’ that would drop down and show individual forums, which could house topics and replies. I also wanted a list of forums to come up just by clicking the ‘forums’ menu items as shown here.

forumslist

Initially, I tried creating a page called ‘forums’ that I could post my forums inside, but it left me with an empty page. What I learned through trial and error was that the forums plugin already has a ‘home’ for forums (in the above picture) and there is no need to create a ‘page’ that stores the forums. The forum home is located at http://yourdomain.edublogs/forums

In my case, it’s here: http://thegreateights.edublogs.org/forums. This is exactly what I unsuccessfully tried to create as a page. I found that adding a link to the blog’s main menu was much easier.

To get the forum in the blog’s main menu, you first need to add a link to the forum home. Since it’s a link, it has to be done manually. To do this, click ‘appearance’, and then ‘menus’. You’ll see options to add pages, links, and forums to the menu. First you want to add the forum link.

addlnk

You can see that I pasted the forum link into the url field and titled the link ‘Forums’. Now, when I add this to the menu structure, it will show up as ‘Forums’.

menu structure

When you drag the forum into the menu, make sure it is the placed all the way to the left and is not a sub-item of another menu item. You can see what I mean in the picture. NOTE: You will not see any sub-items in the menu structure as you see in the pic below).

Now the menu on the actual site looks like this:

menu

Since ‘gallery’, ‘our work’, and ‘forums’ have sub-items, a drop-down menu opens when the mouse is dragged over them.

Creating the actual forum that students will use is much easier than all of this. All you have to do is click on forum from your dashboard and create a new forum. In my class, we wanted students to add their own creative writing examples as replies to specific topics. To do this, I created one ‘creative writing’ forum, and then added four topics to that forum.

First, create the forum.

createforum

All I did here was give the forum a name. After this I added the topics.

edit topic

Don’t forget to add all topics to the correct forum. You can do this by clicking the drop-down menu at the top right of the page in the topic attributes section. I did this to create four topics.

Below is what the final products look like. The first picture shows what you see when you look at the topics from the dashboard; the second shows the view from the blog. topic list

tpics on page

The day before spending a class in the computer lab, we had students begin to write short stories based on prompts that gave them opportunities to practice writing the four topics in the forum. While in the lab, they were able to revise, develop, and add their stories as replies to the appropriate topic. The final product looks like this:

sensdetailes

In my next post, I’ll go over the steps we took to have all of our students join the class blog, and create their own. This is my first time using forums in edublogs and would love some feedback, positive or negative.

Storified Twitter Chain Stories

“In the depths of New York City, on top of the Empire State Building, a creature rested.” This is the first line of @ manyvoices, a Twitter story written collaboratively by 140 elementary and middle school students across 6 countries. The story began with Mr. George Mayo, a teacher in Washington D.C., and was eventually edited and published. You can find a free pdf here.

We are using a similar model in our 8th grade language arts class to begin our unit on creative writing. the major difference between @manyvoices and our assignment is that Mayo created one twitter account for all contributors to share while we are using hashtags to collect and present the story using Storify. The hashtag and Storify make it easy to publish the finished stories, but we lose 11-12 characters.

Here are the instructions we gave to students:

twitchain

 

Once all of the students tweet, it’s easy to search for, and individually drag them into the story.

storify main editing page

The above screenshot shows Storify’s main editing page. The menu on the right-hand side allows you to search for many different types of content. For our story, I clicked on the twitter icon, then typed in the the hashtag for the class I was working on.

imageedit_3_7777033612

Here you can see that my search grabbed all tweets containing the hashtag I had specified. Since the hashtags for each class are unique, the search doesn’t grab anything unrelated. From here, you can drag the posts into the main story. I think it’s easier to drag them individually since they show up with the most recent first, which is actually the final tweet of the story.

The next step is publishing the story. After clicking the publish button at the top of the page, you can change the way the story is displayed.

storify1

Clicking the template button brings up this menu. Here you can choose the way your story will be displayed. We chose the slideshow because it worked best with the way we wanted to read the finished story in class.

Here is what it looks like:

storify slideshow

Since most of the students hadn’t read their entire story, or the stories from other classes, reading them together was truly a fun experience, as you can see here:

laughing

Our next step is to do another story with the entire 8th grade. From there, we may ask other classes to join, as Mr. Mayo did. Another thing I really like about this is that we can use the tweets to focus on language. Eventually, we’ll use them to create editing exercises that we can do as a whole class or in small groups.

 

 

 

 

Reformulating Second Language Writing

The English proficiency level of the students at my current school varies greatly. This presents a challenge when dealing with corrective feedback on writing assignments because we don’t know exactly what each of our students knows; we know what they were taught in 7th grade (I teach 8th grade), but with new students coming in all the time, it only helps so much. Corrective feedback on structural and/or grammatical topics the student has never learned gets them nothing except more confused, as it does with oral correction. We needed a way to help the student notice their errors, provide corrective feedback, and NOT overwhelm them with a page or red ink.

The answer to our question was first presented in 1978 by Levenston. I wasn’t around then, but it was a great year – Darkness on the Edge of Town and Van Halen were released, so ‘reformulation’ is in good company. Reformulation is when a native speaker rewrites a student’s piece of writing. The native speaker writes to make the piece sound more natural, making organizational and grammatical corrections while preserving the content of the original text. For more information on the history of reformulation and present status of reformulation research, read “Reformulation, Noticing, and the Development of L2 Academic Writing” by Jackie Dannatt.

We chose to use this technique with our struggling writers because it is naturally scaffolded and student-centered (Reid, 1994, Cited by Tardy, 2006). As you can see in the example below, we ask the student to do several things. First, they have to identify the change and write the original text and reformulated text in the table. Next, they have to describe the change. What I like about this is that it allows all students to comment on the change. The student could say something like ‘moved words’ or ‘fixed fragment’, depending on how much they understand. Finally, they have to check yes or no to let us know if they understand the change. This will help us plan follow-up support for the student, in groups or individually.

wp_essay reformulateAfter getting the completed tables back from students and doing this on future writing assignments, we’ll be able to plan more appropriate practice as students pre-write and draft.

I’ll be updating this post in the next few weeks with some samples of the completed tables so please check back.

References:

Levenston, E.A. (1978). Error analysis of free composition: The theory and the practice. Indian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 4(1), 1–11.

Tardy, C. (2006). Appropriation, ownership, and agency: Negotiating teacher feedback in academic settings. In K. Hyland & F. Hyland (Eds.), Feedback in second language writing: Contexts and issues. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Grade 8 Language Arts, Twitter, and our First Flipboard Magazine

Setting up Twitter

In this post, I will describe how we are beginning to integrate Twitter into our 8th grade English Language Arts classroom. We introduced Twitter just last week, and it is the first time to do so for both myself and my co-teacher. Fortunately, we have tech specialist TechGirlAsia (@jena_simon) to share her expert knowledge and guide us. Thanks, Jen!!

The first thing we did was create a class account. I created a Gmail account for the class that both teachers share. I didn’t want our email accounts to blow up with Twitter interactions, and since Gmail allows us to collect mail from separate accounts, it seemed like a good idea – so far, so good. Second, we created the class twitter account and set up the twitter profile. We used fotor.com to create our header photo. I take lots of pictures during class and threw a few together on fotor and fit them into the 1500 x 500 header.

The next step was a bit more challenging to figure out. We needed a way to constantly monitor what goes up on our feed. At first, I thought it would be great to follow all of the students, but this would result in a feed full of K-pop and ‘fandom’ posts (what is fandom?) since many students are already Twitter users.

fandom

 

“A kingdom of fans, Mr. Bill!!!” shouts a student who has 3300 Twitter followers. It’s true. Anyway, to easily manage what shows up in our feed, we followed Techgirl’s advice and didn’t follow any of our students. Instead, we use hashtags to get student tweets on our feed. To do this, we had to use another program – Tweetdeck in Chrome and Tweetcaster for Android. What these programs allow us to do is follow a hashtag. This can’t be done in Twitter alone, which is unfortunate because I am now getting notifications from two apps. They work by saving a hashtag search in some form of a column. For example, our first Twitter assignment is shown below.

twitter1 edmodo

 

In this assignment, we ask students to tweet a picture of something from their lives that connects to Lois Lowry’s The Giver. All students tweet using the hashtag #ais8giver. This is a unique hashtag that we created specifically for this unit. Now, when students tweet their picture, it shows up in Tweetdeck or Tweetcaster in the saved search column. From here, all I have to do is retweet so it will show up on my feed.

giver connex

 

The class feed ends up looking like this:

asi8ela feed giver

Here, you can see that these were retweeted by @ais8ela. This gives us complete control over what goes on and stays on the wall. Of course, a student could still post to our feed by adding @ais8ela to their post. In that case, we have to edit, retweet, then delete.

This is where we are right now. Our first assignment is due on Monday and Tuesday. It’s working pretty well so far, and I will keep updating this post as we attempt to do more cool stuff with Twitter in the classroom. Thanks for reading!

 

Publishing Student Work

Students were pleasantly surprised when I shared a digital magazine I had created with Flipboard consisting of their tweets. They thought that the assignment had ended the moment they tweeted their picture. Creating the Flipboard magazine wasn’t too hard, but there were a few things I learned along the way about digital citizenship and internet safety that need to be mentioned.

As soon as TechGirlAsia opened my eyes to the possibilities of Twitter in the classroom, I was off to the races. In less than a day, I had all of my students signed up to twitter and an assignment ready to introduce. I overlooked a few things that caused some extra work later on in the process.

After creating the first magazine, I realized that each post included their full names (a no-no) and that the posts contained too many language errors. To keep the students’ identities anonymous, I had to retweet once again and delete the @student name. This puts the tweet in the class feed anonymously, as shown here:

anonymous post

Second, to deal with language errors in the post, we did two things. First, we practiced writing tweets by hand in class and had students edit each other’s tweets. Second, We analyzed and edited a few tweets as an entire class.

In addition, during the process of retweeting, I edited the tweets myself. To follow up on this, I asked students to find my edited tweet and compare it to their original tweet. Next week, they’ll bring in a short paragraph explaining the changes I made.

Now, onto Flipboad.

Creating the magazine in Flipboard is very simple for a few reasons. First, Flipboard allows the user to search for hashtags. After logging in, click on the search icon (magnifying glass) and insert the hashtag you’ve created for your assignment.

Screenshot_2014-10-30-13-11-15

Click on ‘Tweet mentioning #______’. Flipboard will give you all of the tweets that have that hashtag. Next, look for the small + icon in the corner of one of the tweets, or long-press the tweet and click ‘flip into this…’

Screenshot_2014-10-30-13-12-05

You will be prompted to add the post to an existing magazine, or create a new one. Keep in mind, if you have a few magazines there will be pages here, and the ‘new magazine’ option is not on the first page.

Screenshot_2014-10-30-13-14-21

Once you click ‘new magazine’, you can add the title and subtitle for the magazine, and set the category and sharing options. Now you’re digital magazine is ready to be shared. A cool thing I figured out accidentally is that adding @Flipboard to your tweet when you share the magazine creates a link directly to Flipboard from the tweet. Awesome!

Here is our final product:

Screenshot_2014-10-30-13-10-24

Also, long-pressing one of the articles within the magazine will bring up the options that allow you to promote one article to the cover. Our main man Jazz deserves the cover for his great tweet.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW OUR MAGAZINE