Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting students to read directions

                What are we doing?  What do I do now?  What directions?  I’m done.  Whatta ya mean I’m sposed to create a spreadsheet?  

                Verbal directions with middle schoolers really don’t work that well – especially multi-step directions.  They don’t listen past the first sentence, if they listen at all.  So of course I have written directions.  But that presupposes they READ the directions.  

                I’m still experimenting.  Moodle, unlike D2L, doesn’t show the “news” or teacher messages when students first come into the course; they would have to click on a link.  Will they click on the link?  Since they never have,  I closed the “news” module entirely.  

                Besides not reading the directions, middle schoolers are not big on sequence.  They tend to click around rather randomly, so I need to 1) carefully organize materials and 2) “hide” anything I don’t want them to be distracted by.  Within each activity (like a discussion), there’s room for directions; the problem is getting them to do more than one activity, to do the activities a particular sequence, and to understand the deadlines. 

Right now, I’m experimenting with adding the directions for the day/week right in with the activities.  I write them on a Moodle label and place them just before the activities I want students to engage in.  

                They still ask:  What are we doing?  What do I do now?  What directions?  But at least not as often. ;)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

LOL: Texting and writing

               Does texting lingo end up in my students work?  All the time!  I have to confess that I find myself using U for You at times, so I can appreciate the difficulty my students have in avoiding texting slang.

                It’s easy to say “no texting slang.”  Easy, easy, easy.   Does that make it disappear?  Nooooo.  But I have my ways.

                When I’m introducing a new online activity, I want my students to focus on learning how to do the activity, so I’m not focusing on mechanics.  Yet.  But the second time we did the vocabulary discussion, I went in and drew a line through every use of texting and every spelling/punctuation/capitalization error – it took me more than two hours.  And then I didn’t give them any credit for entries they made that had any errors in them!  Oh, the screaming and gnashing of teeth.  In the big picture, low grades on one assignment won’t have much impact on their overall grade.  But they hate to see a low grade when they worked hard on something.  And I was mean.  I wouldn’t let them correct their work for a better grade.  I wanted the point to sink in.  And the next time, there were hardly any errors. They got the message.  

Is their work texting-free?  No.  But sometimes getting the conversation going is more important.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

If the technology doesn't work...

It was brought home to me recently the impact of technology glitches on student confidence.  In my class Moodle, I had a discussion forum that turned out to have a bug - the forum type where each student creates their own thread.  We were using the forum for journaling about doing research (I find the Moodle journal function easy to mess up), and wanted to make the journal a series of private conversations between my students and me.

Students really enjoyed reflecting about their learning - even asked if we could do this again!  But then students couldn't get into their threads.  It was only about 20% of the students, but suddenly they were locked out, frustrated, wanting to tell me what was going on with them, but unable to.  I provided lots of alternatives - email me, write it and hand it in, and for the week we discovered the problem, gave everybody credit even if they didn't get the work done.

But we lost the conversations that were going on.  And now students are worried that this will happen again.  Other parts of the Moodle that work fine are now suspect to them.  We are starting a new project - two way journals - where pairs of students read the same book and journal back and forth about it.  This year, I added using a discussion forum in the Moodle as one of the ways to do it (other alternatives are email,or  keeping a folder or a diary to pass and forth).  But one student told me she didn't want to use the Moodle, "just in case there's another problem." 

Up until now my students have been enthusiastic Moodle users.  Now they're not so sure.  It will take a lot of positive experiences to overcome this one bad one. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Feedback - improving student-teacher relationship

When I had my students (grade 8) reflect on the research project, each having an individual thread in a discussion forum in our class Moodle, I was really focusing on having them think more deeply about the process.  But what I discovered was that it also connected us more tightly - teacher and students. 

In the f2f classroom, I see 20 or 25 faces; I can talk to each of them during a class period, but it has to be fast, and there are always interruptions.  Online, responding to their reflections, I get to talk to each one, thinking about what each student needs right now.  And each one gets what they really want:  undivided personal attention.  That sibling-like jockeying for teacher attention drops away.  Wow.

Serendipity strikes again.

Vocabulary in a discussion forum

My students (grade 8) just weren't that interested in learning their 20 words of vocabulary. There just had to be a better way. One of the things I did was create a Moodle discussion, with a thread for each of the words. Dead easy assignment: post a definition, synonym, antonym, picture that illustrates the word, word origin, or use the word in a sentence.

I started with a requirement of 5. Post one thing about 5 words, 5 things about 1 word. Except they posted 20 or 30! So I upped the minimum to 10 things. And some students are still posting 20 or 30. I've hit on something! The pictures are especially a hit. (They are supposed to cite their sources.) We discovered that bmp images don't show in Moodle, that sometimes other pictures don't show either - or show on some computers but not others. The first two times, we do this f2f in the computer lab, so that I can head off any technical difficulties or misunderstandings. After that, it's homework.

The first few times there were a LOT of spelling, punctuation, capitalization errors. So after they had success, I warned them that they wouldn't get credit if there were errors; they didn't believe me. So I marked the errors with strike-throughs and took away credit. Oh, the wailing. But they're doing a much better job of proofreading now.

It isn't just that they're engaged with doing the work. Something interesting is happening with vocabulary tests. More A's. Usually I have the classic middle school reverse bell-curve: mostly A's and D/F's, not many C's. Now, I'm getting mostly A's and B's. And it's not an easy test. Use the word correctly in a sentence and show that you know the meaning - much harder than multiple-guess.

I think I'm onto something.