Assignment Smackdown: Speech vs. Video

Having a 1:1 pilot program this year, I decided to offer two different variations of the same assignments to my 1:1 and traditional classes: one class would deliver their “This I Believe” essays as a speech; the other would make a compilation video.  Check out the results for yourself, here:

After the assignment, I asked both types of classes which variation they preferred. Overwhelmingly, they identified making a video as being easier and preferable, though one student said, “Instead of spending our time memorizing and practicing a speech, we spent our time editing a video.  It’s just different.”

From my end, I find there is a lot of value in asking students to deliver speeches;  we give students few opportunities to present on their own, and I think there is a lot of confidence-building that comes out of delivering a speech.  However, in terms of students’ engagement with each others’ presentations, the classes who watched and assessed each others’ videos were far more engaged than the classes who watched speeches.  Additionally, from my end, I felt comfortable allowing my students to provide peer evaluations of a video, which is a final product, rather than a speech, which is a performance.

So, in the end, what it comes down to is a more authentic discussion of audience.  Is the purpose of the presentation just for our class? The broader school community?  Our community at large?  For those assignments that reach beyond our classroom’s walls, video seems to be the winner; whereas, for those assignments that are particular to our group, I’ll stick to speeches.


Plus Participation: G+ Communities for In-Class Discussion

Plus Participation: G+ for In-Class Participation

In my class this year, we’ve tried a variety of online discussion and collaboration: Google Docs, Today’s Meet and Collaborize. With this initial foray into a true social media tool using a classroom Google+ Community, I was pleased to see that students’ comments seemed more immediate and more personal than in a purely academic or professional discussion tool; I imagine my preference and theirs is because this forum is the way that we are used to social media working.

Emily RevisionFor future use, I think our Google+ Community is a great way for students to ask and answer one anothers’ questions; for those deeply-reflective discussions, I’ll likely ask in a longer-form response, like Collaborize or Google Docs. Additionally, the G+ Community seems to be very useful for asking follow-up questions that ask students to reconsider their – or another student’s – initial response based on new information or further, real-life discussion, because of it’s ability to thread comments. See Emily’s revision of an initial comment about Brueghel’s Odysseus and Calypso to make a connection with The Odyssey at left. Lastly, the feature of giving a “+1” is incredibly useful for asking students to evaluate each others’ work for the best answer, or to allow students to vote on questions that they would most like to discuss.

The primary limitation of the G+ Community, for me, is that it is difficult to post a topic for the discussion. So, students will always be juggling the discussion topic and the forum, rather than working within a single screen. To overcome this shortfall, I asked that students include the question in their response. In hind sight, I’m not sure that this additional step is necessary, particularly considering that Google+ only displays the first few lines of text, so only the first few lines of students’ responses are displayed. An additional limitation of the forum is that, unlike a Google Doc or a Collaborize discussion, it is impossible to set an end-time to the discussion. Often, to gather students’ attention, I’ll turn off the editing function on our shared Google Docs to regather their attention; no such function is possible within a G+ Community. Particularly for an asynchronous discussion, the lack of an end-time on a discussion would make it harder to monitor. However, a reflective assignment based on the discussion, like a blog post or Google form, could easily act as a centralized location for gathering that student information.

If Only I Knew… What I Wish I Knew BEFORE Going 1:1

A month into the school year, I have a little bit of perspective on the 1:1 journey.  Many of these insights are obvious and traits of good teaching, but with the steep learning curve associated with 1:1, I hope that these reminders will save you some headaches.


1. Do it first:  For most of us educators, especially pre-1:1, the tablet is a consumption device, not a creative device. Moreover, much of the instructional material we create for the iPad is made most quickly and effectively from our primary device – a desktop or laptop computer.    So, with the additional workload of the 1:1 pilot program, I found that often times, I would create a document with my laptop and share it with students before attempting the assignment on my iPad myself. Invariably, this created more headaches in class, especially when it came to sharing or collaborating in real time, or using instant-feedback apps. I’ve found that attempting the lesson myself will help me to gain comfort with the student interface and help me to trouble shoot in advance of the lesson, instead of on the fly.

2. Do it in class:  Before asking students to tackle a new app or web-based program, do it in class.  Before 1:1, so many of the cool tools that I wanted students to use were best accessed at home: digital review games, videos, etc. In a 1:1 world, those resources are all at our finger tips, and I can help students to gain comfort with using them in the classroom before I send them home.  I’ve found that 5-10 minutes of using a new app or website prevents students from telling me that things don’t work at home and increases the quality of their work and understanding because they are less frustrated with the assignment.  Moreover, all 30 of their classmates are now familiar with the program – so I am no longer the only expert.

3. Avoid Tab-Overload: These days, I’m lucky if I only have 5 tabs open in my browser.  I assumed that juggling tabs would be natural for my savvy students, but in fact, they easily suffer from tab fatigue, losing the rhythm of their workflow and becoming distracted or frustrated.  However, the skills of reading and  curating media are among the greatest benefits of 1:1, as well as at  the crux of the Common Core.  Therefore, eliminating that juggling is crucial for student success.  Some easy fixes include using the Research function across the Google suite, so that students are researching in document or presentation, rather than working between tabs.  In other curating programs, like Thinglink or Padlet, I’ve found that asking students to write their ideas in a document before pairing them with an image on a website helps them to focus and increases the quality of their responses.

How NOT to Give a Video Assignment

Elizabeth & Amy Make a Vocab Video

Making a video with an iPad is as simple as point-and-shoot, right?  After a summer playing around with my own device, and countless hours invested flipping my instruction, I certainly thought so.  That is, until I got to my 6th period English 9 class last week.  With about 20 minutes to spare in the period, I assigned each group to introduce a vocabulary word from our Sadlier-Oxford vocab text.  The words, pronunciation, definition, synonyms and antonyms were all provide; all the students needed to do was to write an example sentence with the word using our theme-of-the-week (in this case, food!).  But, as the bell was ringing and students continued to film – or packed up and headed out the door, unfinished – I saw that clearly, making a video requires a little bit more structure than I had provided.  My suggestions are as follows:

  1. Time – Set a firm time limit and communicate it clearly to students. I like using online stopwatch or the timer app my iPad, and I’ll always project it with an LCD projector.  That way, students can clearly see how much time they have left to complete the project, and I’m no longer in the role of the “hurry up” police.  In the case of my first video assignment, 10 minutes would have been plenty.
  2. Show a sample video, or better yet, make a sample in real time – In my case, the students wanted to make far more than I was asking for in this simple exercise, in which I was merely hoping that they would gain comfort with the camera app and uploading to YouTube.  Instead, they wanted to write scripts, act out their words,  create props, etc.  And that was all in addition to the hair-fixing and moaning that happened as soon as they saw themselves on the iPad screen.  A sample video – and watching the process of making it – can communicate to them exactly how much or how little I’m asking them to invest.
  3. Lay out the steps of the process in writing.  That way, students always know what comes next.
  4. Think about how students will submit the video – and show them how to do it. With freshmen, I’ve found that rounding them up after they’ve finished their videos, then modeling submission for them works best.  That way, they can see the naming conventions for the video and all of the steps after they’ve finished the fun part.
  5. Allow them to see each others’ videos ASAP.  Students love video because it allows them to be the stars of the classroom.  Providing an easy turn-around for the videos to your class – such as collecting YouTube urls in a Google spreadsheet or creating a shared Google Drive folder for video submission allows all of them that feeling of celebrity – and enhances the investment in the learning activity.

Happy filming!

3 Quick Tips For Getting Students Blogging

Never before have I had to ask students to finish up their writing.  In my experience, students usually throw down their pencils in triumph after three sentences – not after having typed furiously for 20 minutes.  So, I was completely surprised – and stifling giggles – when I had to ask my juniors and seniors to wrap up their Friday Free Blog posts for the third, fourth and fifth times – on the Friday before a three-day weekend, no less.

Getting the students to this point took only minimal scaffolding on my part, largely due to the natural overlap between blogging and social networking.

Tip 1: It’s My Space … or, Their Space

Our students want to share their lives, their personalities and their preferred flavor of ice cream.  Never before in my class have I given students the opportunity to create and personalize a space that is entirely theirs to bring into the classroom, and never before have I felt that a 20 minute activity taught me so much about my students.  My only suggestion in terms of their first blog post was that they include images.  Check out the stunning – and diverse – results below:

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 7.38.06 PMScreen Shot 2013-09-04 at 7.45.17 PM

In all of my classes, we started small with a typical ice breaker: introduce yourself! From there, we’ve graduated up to more complex responses drawing on narrative and analytical writing types, as well as less-structured prompts like Friday Free Blog.

Tip 2: Inspiration is Everywhere

As a high school English teacher, my blog posts draw from our literary curriculum, our supplemental informational texts, and also the web at large.  In particular, I am a huge fan of these inspirational sites, which serve as our models:

  1. The Literary Jukebox – This blog, a side-project of Brain Pickings author Maria Popova, posts a quotation from a novel and a song that the quotation inspires daily.  Ask students to do the same (and also, articulate the rational behind the choice.
  2. Writing Prompts Tumblr – Luke Neff, a humanities teacher, posts incredibly creative writing prompts paired with stunning, inspirational images.  Each corresponds to a Common Core Standard.
  3. Re:Framed – David Theriault shares his students’ best work “re-framing” a concept from class through a personal lens – anything that they love.  While this concept is a natural for literature, I think it could fit equally well in any discipline.

Tip 3: Frequent Feedback

Just as blogging is a natural fit for our students because of their social networking prowess, they expect frequent and regular feedback.  Because we’re using Google Accounts for Education, my students use Blogger to host their sites, since the two are linked.  I’ve found posting comments on individual blogger pages to be a bit cumbersome because the site requires a CAPTCHA response.  As such, I’ve gathered my students’ blogs’ URLs and email addresses into a Google spreadsheet through a Google form.  There, I give each student feedback and use the ValMerge script (which runs a simple mail merge) to send students individualized emails.  Here is a short video to demonstrate and a sample spreadsheet.

Additionally, I’m working to implement a student feedback mechanism.  We’ve worked to establish norms for online communication (thanks to Catlin Tucker’s post).  Currently, the student feedback template looks very similar to the teacher feedback form; I’ll post about further modifications to the system.