Research Cheats for Struggling Students

research cheats
The purists in the crowd may take great umbrage with this post, but I’m willing to risk their wrath. I have to meet kids where they are- and where many of them are is struggling when it comes to research.

I’ve vetted this Research Cheat Code sheet with small groups of students and it’s worked well. It contains four tools that work well together. These tools are also helpful for any student in the “pre-search” process. They are:

1. Google Advanced Search – allows students to search by reading level.

2. Using CMD F (keyboard shortcut) to search for keywords in a document to aid in scanning for relevant information.

3. TLDR- “Too Long, Didn’t Read” is a summarizing tool that gives options for short, medium or long versions of articles. There is a “summary” section that students should bypass as it often omits critical information. CMD F will also work in TLDR to aid in scanning.

4. Google Similar Pages- Provides students a list of similar sites, cutting out the junk that Google often packs into the search results.

Please note- TLDR and Google Similar Pages are Chrome extensions. Students need to use Chrome in order to use them.

This Research Cheats handout can be kept handy to help students out.

Research Cheat Codes

Backchannel Chat in Action

Moe Beaulieu is a risk taker. She’s a relatively new teacher who has her students on her radar. She’s not afraid to try to meet them where they live. When I popped into her English I classroom  this week she was talking with them about expectations, the realities of teacher pace, and the upcoming documentary they’d be watching.

I had come down to try to talk to one of her students but I saw an opening and, as I am apt to do, walked right on through. I talked to her about using Today’s Meet, a backchannel chat tool, as a way to provide her students a venue for asking questions and making connections during the documentary. I showed it to her very briefly, spoke with the student, and left.

At our staff meeting today Moe said she’d used it- and was stunned at the conversation that went on during the documentary. Not all students chose to post to  the backchannel but those that did made interesting comments, asked clarifying questions, and raised points of view that might not have been shared had students just watched the video. Those that didn’t post still had access to the ideas and questions (and answers) in the chat. She’s given me permission to share the transcript of the chat with you. You’ll find a link to it at the end of this post.

Moe was smart. She didn’t try to use backchannel as a way to make sure everyone was paying attention. She didn’t threaten them with it as an assessment tool. She simply used it as a way for students to deepen their understanding of the topic via collaboration.

The transcript is a glimpse into her students’ thinking as they were learning. It provided a way for students to have a voice when speaking out loud would be distracting. It’s available for viewing after the documentary, providing jumping off points for discussion, debate, and further research. Moe could also use it to determine overall class understanding of the film.

You’ll need some context before reading the transcipt. These students were working on a learning target about conflicting viewpoints and evidence. They watched Lost for Life,  a film about young adults who made poor decisions as teenagers and are now in jail serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. Click here to access the Today’s Meet Transcript.

How could this work in your classroom?

Out on a Limb: Holding Ourselves Accountable


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I had a conversation with a colleague on one of the last days of school that has stuck with me ever since. We were discussing classroom management (I had just posted my “Distracted by Tech” article). My colleague said, “I get so tired of listening to complaints from some of our staff. All I hear is what the students haven’t done or won’t do and what they (the teacher) isn’t going to do. I’d love to hear how teachers hold themselves accountable for student success.”

I write often about strategies for holding students accountable when using technology but rarely have I thought about my own accountability when teaching.

This post isn’t really about tech integration and may offend some people. It’s not my intent. My intention is to spur thinking for those who are stuck and frustrated and perhaps are thinking laptops and phones are the cause of the learning blockage.

Teacher accountability isn’t easy. It’s not about how detailed my lesson plans are or how clear my directions for projects are. It’s not about how much kids like me. It’s about how effective I am in my teaching practices. In a nutshell, teacher accountability means that I take a regular look at my teaching practices, my classroom management, and my personal pedagogy and see how well it is meshing with student achievement.

For me this falls into four segments:

Relationships: 

As a human teacher there are students I click with and students I don’t. Some can be downright nasty to be around when they are wearing their armor. I find that sometimes I don’t WANT to get to know these students- but if I am holding myself accountable, I have to find ways to develop some sort of relationship with all my students. We don’t have to be BFFs but I do need to give them the same amount of time and attention that I give the “easy” students. Sometimes I will keep track of who I have worked with during class- then make a concerted effort to connect with those that are off my radar during the next class. It may take all year but I can usually make headway with even the most hardened soul.

Relevancy

I teach digital citizenry and it’s abstract. There are lots of “if…then” situations and quite frankly it’s a topic that often seems remote to students because these situations won’t ever happen to them- until they do. I don’t have too much trouble showing them in class why it’s important that they learn about it. What is difficult is figuring out how to help them change their actions. I’ve had success having students show mastery in the classroom and thought I was teaching well until I saw these same students in real life trouble for doing the exact opposite of what they learned. I don’t hold myself accountable for their decisions, but I do hold myself accountable for the fact that I didn’t teach the information in a way that made it leave the classroom walls.

Relevancy makes learning move WITH the student. My challenge is to find ways to make what they learn pop up as a behavior choice when they are faced with decisions.

Workflow

Having a classroom workflow can make life so much easier. Many classrooms have this already- it is a physical workflow chart designed and agreed upon by students that indicates what to do when a student begins a project, is finished with a project, or is stuck. A large majority of behavioral issues and/or work stoppages result from students not knowing how to start their work or getting confused during an assignment. When all students are on the same page in the workflow, students can help each other move ahead.

(Spoiler alert. Some might be insulted here.)

Teachers need a workflow too, and part of our workflow has to be to move away from our desk. Relying on students to come to us when they need help isn’t effective or efficient. It gives us no way to start conversations, recognize good progress, or give the feedback that keeps students moving. Being on our feet and moving around the room keeps kids more accountable and helps us have a better idea of how they are doing.

Having a plan of how you will target those that are falling behind (and moving ahead!) helps with efficiency. Knowing where my students are in their learning helps me group them so they I can better give targeted instruction. I have often done daily seating charts so I can put students together based on their progress, saving me from answering the same questions at different times all over the room. Planning MY workflow helps the overall progress of the class.

Ongoing assessment

The days of the end of unit test as the only assessment are gone- thank goodness! We now rely on a number of kinds of assessments that allow students to show what they know. What we aren’t so good at (still) is the really informal formative assessment. Throw out the idea of the quiz- we don’t have to work that hard. Formative assessments that are quick and simple can give us a really good handle on how our students are grasping the material. Rather than expound upon the ways we can do this, take a look at Edutopia’s “Dipsticks: Efficient Ways to Check for Understanding.” You should find something here that will work for you and your students.

 

 

Brain Warmup with Geoguessr

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 8.09.48 AMI will begin this post with the disclaimer that I was addicted to Geoguessr from my very first attempt (and fail!). I have poor geography skills on a good day and this game would normally not be one that I would gravitate to.

The basic premise is simple. Geoguessr provides a Google Street View of a building or area. You have to figure out where in the world it is. You are able to move around using the same tools you do in StreetView. Once you think you know where it is you submit a guess. Geoguessr shows you a map of the actual location, your guessed location, and the distance between the two.

The beauty of Geoguessr is not in how it strengthens geography skills. It’s a great way to wake up the brain and begin using the problem solving skills necessary in any discipline. Strategies that worked for me were to look for language clues on buildings – for instance, WC on the bathrooms told me I wasn’t in the US. Other clues might include the side of the street that traffic flows on, what pedestrians were wearing, or flags that are flying in front of buildings.

Geoguessr allows you to “take what you get” or use their filters to narrow down the geographic area.

At our school we’re addressing not only curriculum but also the manner in which we ask students to think and attack obstacles. We’ve adopted the 16 Habits of Mind . For some students these are not innate skills and need to be discreetly taught. The use of Geoguesser as a learning warmup touches on a number of these habits and frankly is just plain fun.

Changing Classroom Culture with Chat

Setting the tone for a digital classroom culture can be difficult. Students have one set of behaviors that they use at home (or on their personal devices) and one that they use, hopefully, on their school devices. For some students the boundaries are one and the same- they use technology appropriately no matter where they go. Others straddle the line…or don’t see it at all. With a conscious effort we can help them change the culture.

A great place to start is by using Todaysmeet in class. This backchannel tool is easy to set up, easy for students to access, and provides a good way for students to practice social networking in a “teachable” venue.

Here’s how I used it:

I went to a sixth grade classroom to help with logins for their LMS. Rather than go from desk to desk asking kids who needed help, I had them go to the TodaysMeet room. They were instructed to put their name in the nickname box and the message “I need help” in the message box.

The result was a list of kids that needed help with their logins. These are sixth graders and they are used to towing the line, so we had no inappropriate responses. The task for the tool was specific and the students could clearly see the purpose.

That said, in time it could be a great way to begin the conversation about how you present yourself online.

Today's meet How? From a gradual release of responsibility. My next step from here would be to use this as a way for students to reflect on their learning. A teacher could set up a room that was called “I wonder” and provide a place for students to provide questions about their learning.

It could also be used as a way to provide an exit ticket for students.

At some point someone will go off-course with their response. This is not a discipline issue! It’s a the perfect opportunity to address appropriate online behavior – and a way to begin the creation of an SOP for online discussions. Once this behavior has been agreed upon and practiced, the sky is the limit. Your class will be ready for tweeting, blogging, google+ communities, participating in global projects and all other manner of social media interaction with the intent to improve learning.

 

Distracted by Tech? Address the Problem, Not the Symptom

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me to block a site. Truthfully, I’d charge people that want me to block all games from the internet a little more.  It would  fund my retirement nicely. It’s a problem that occurs everywhere- the complaint that games and social media distract students and make it difficult if not impossible for them to do the learning they need to do.

Lately the complaints have ramped up from teachers frustrated by students who are running out of time to complete work before the end of the year. They ask me to look through the students’ laptops and find out what they are doing instead of work. It’s tedious but it is part of my job so I do it.

Students have never been at a loss for ways to avoid work. This year I am seeing some old tools like Stealthy paired with newer ones like PanicButton. These are extensions from the Chrome Webstore that allow students to get around our filters (Stealthy) and hide webpages that they don’t want you to see (PanicButton).

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The extensions will show up (unless they are hidden) to the right of the address bar in Chrome as shown in the photo above. I suggest you start looking for them.

ImageThe Stealthy button is a red square with an arrow in it. When it’s red, it’s off and the school’s filter is in place. When it’s green, it’s on and the student is using a proxy server to get around the filter. This will allow them to go anywhere they want. There’s no free lunch here- there are risks. You can read about them here.

ImageThe Panic Button is a red circle with either a target in it or an exclamation point. Both do the same thing- they hide the pages the student doesn’t want you to see, and replaces them with a more school appropriate page. Students can set the page they want you to see.

We CANNOT control the use of these tools. We can’t block them. We can make the students remove them. They are easily re-added as soon as we turn our backs. It’s less of a discipline issue than it is a sign that the student has become disconnected from the learning.

I’ll challenge you to think of these tools not as the problem itself but as a symptom of a bigger issue. Not completing work is not a new problem. It is not caused by laptops, phones, or iPads. Technology has certainly made procrastination easier but it didn’t invent it. All these tools are a big fat arrow pointing at the real problem- the student is stuck.

So why did I bother to point these things out? Because they are a visual that leads you to conversations with your students. When you see that students have installed these kinds of tools it’s kind of like noticing they have a rash. It certainly provides an opening to begin a discussion. I had the opportunity to chat with two young men this week about their use of both of these tools. I asked what educational purpose they served, and as you could expect they had a hard time coming up with one.

Both students are athletes. I asked them if they would ever consider working hard in practice when the coach was watching, and slacking off and doing something else when the coach had their back turned. They thought this was ridiculous! Why would they do that? How would they ever get better? Neither wanted to sit the bench, and they acknowledged that that kind of behavior would be counterproductive.

This made things too easy. I asked how they thought using the PanicButton was going to help them if it only made them look like they were learning. Neither could come up with an answer.

Here’s where the door opens for you as a teacher. Distraction, procrastination, defiance- they are all symptoms of the same problem. Disengagement. It might be disengagement from a particular assignment or it might be disengagement from school as a whole.  It’s our job as teachers to figure out WHY. It’s not about “who’s fault” it is. It’s about finding solutions. Forward motion is the goal.

I’m not a social worker so I can’t fix the big problems- but here are some suggestions you might try for the smaller ones. Keep in mind that this does not have to be done for an entire class- apply these as you identify students who could use them.

Reading issues:

  • Print articles students need to read. When reading gets tough and Facebook is on another tab, the temptation is to turn to the easier task.
  • Use summarizing tools like Skimzee, SummarizeThis and TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read). Some work better than others but most work better than not reading at all.
  • Remove ads from pages by using Clearly in Chrome or Reader in Safari.

Distraction Issues:

  • Not all work is best done on the laptop. Decide if closing the lid will be beneficial for students.
  • Sometimes GoogleDocs provides too many notifications about new email, chat requests, etc. Have students write in Pages. Pages files can be uploaded for storage, or they can paste their work into a GoogleDoc when they are done. They can also use WriteSpace, a tool that provides a black screen with a cursor for distraction free writing.
  • Have students turn their airports off if they don’t need the internet.
  • Seating. If you know a child has a hard time focusing, do not let them sit in the hallway or with their back against the wall. Give them a seat where their screen is visible and keep an eye on what they are doing.
  • Ask students to use tools like IAMSTUDYING or Website Blocker. These allow the students to customize a filter that will block the sites they need to stay off of as well as the times they’d like them blocked. Helping students learn to self monitor can be crucial.

Accountability:

  • Exit tickets are a great way to hold students accountable for what they have done in class. Some teachers start with a daily goal and ask students to evaluate how they have done. They don’t leave class without handing in the ticket.
  • Ask them to email a copy of their daily work to you. It will only take a minute for you to evaluate what they have done and know how well they are using their time. This is especially effective when you are doing a whole class video. VideoNot.es gives you an easy way to do this.

If you’ve been in the classroom any time at all, you already have a hefty toolbox of strategies to help students. When you look at the behavior with technology as a symptom it makes it easier to put together a set of strategies to get your students moving ahead.

 

 

Tech Integrator Tip: Align and Conquer

If there was a standing job description for a tech integrator, it might include the following: “Ability to work with little supervision. Strong diagnostic and psychological skills. Able to shift focus quickly, easily and often. Must possess good sense of humor. Sales experience helpful.”

Tech integrators make their own schedules and are left to make decisions on a myriad of classrooms k-12. Sometimes it feels like we have no boss and sometimes it feels like we ARE the boss. Of course we have bosses but they are often stretched way beyond thin and self sufficiency is appreciated. Sometimes we operate like Tinkerbelle, spreading pixie-dust and performing magic to fix holes in teaching and learning with technology. What we seldom do is teach and train in a systematic method that is carefully planned and implemented building or district wide.

I’ve been an integrator for a very long time and always thought I did a pretty good job. I was busy, the teachers liked what I was doing in the classrooms, the kids were competent and engaged. Then things changed.

We’ve moved as a district to a student centered model of teaching and learning. Our teachers are tightly focused on student success. They spend hours working on strategies to help support the many levels of learners that are present in their heterogenously grouped classrooms. This tight focus has proved problematic for me.

In the past, I’d go into classrooms and do whole class lessons on digital citizenship, search strategies, or presentation skills (see the post on Dodging Presentation Fatigue). I shared weekly Tech Goodies via our conference email. I chatted teachers up in the hallways. Business was good.

Now it’s tough to get into classrooms. Students are working on a variety of things so whole class instruction is no longer appropriate. No problem- I’ll offer small group support in the areas I think they are most in need of. Off I go to organize the modules, send out the emails, chat in the hallways, and wait for the requests to come pouring in.

Except they aren’t. I’ve spent more time at my desk than ever before and it’s lonely there. It does, however, give me time to reflect on what’s going wrong and how to fix it.

Here’s what I realized. I am going about this all wrong. I am standing on the outside like a consultant. Change is happening all around me and I am still working in the same old “sage on the stage” environment, assuming I know what others need to know and just waiting for a way to tell them.

My district has spent a great deal of money sending me to graduate school to get a degree in Instructional Design. I originally pursued this because my grasp on content organization is weak, having gotten a degree in Equine Studies upon which to place my endorsement (another story for another post). I started looking at my job through the eyes of an instructional designer and quickly realized that I was working at the wrong end of the problem.

Most districts have a district technology plan. It’s usually a state requirement. It speaks to budgets and infrastructure and staffing and vaguely to student implementation. What they don’t have is a Technology Integration Plan. A district technology integration plan is a way to create a system of integration that gets to the heart of what we want to do with the technology that we are provided, district wide, in a formalized fashion.

Without getting deeply into instructional design pedagogy, it works like this:

Begin with a needs analysis. Both the district and your buildings begin each year with goals. Some of these will deal with technology or can be supported with technology. Have face to face conversations or submit surveys to the organizational leaders in your district. Find out where teachers feel they need help- or where they see the biggest gaps for their students. Ask students as well. This will help you eliminate assumptions that you will be bringing to the table. It will also help you develop goals for your plan.

Goals. Most of us have to write them and we do. Then we tuck them away and don’t think of them again, but they are essential to the success of your plan. Think of them as objectives for learning. Create them based on the results of your needs surveys, not based on your assumptions of what’s needed.

Once your goals are created, you can begin to brainstorm the problems and opportunities that will arise as you develop your training. This will help tease out the issues that can be solved by training and those that can’t. For example, if one of the goals is to bring more equity to the equipment distribution across your district, the problem may be that your budget won’t allow the purchase of more equipment. Solutions could include redistributing equipment and allowing teachers flexibility in their schedules to allow for sharing a well-equipped space. You’ll find that not everything is a training problem.

From here you can begin developing a system of training on the topics that will be most advantageous to your organization. You’ll find that it is beginning to look suspiciously like creating a lesson plan- and you are right. The tough thing can be finding time to present the training; however, since you are aligning your training with building and district goals, the buy-in may be considerably higher than what you have had in the past. You’ll have a good argument for sliding into inservice days.

Each district is different in how they handle their integrationists- but what is often universal is our ability to change how we work. We can be influential in how our buildings do business with technology. I’m working on this plan even as we speak, and have great hope that this will turn into a big win-win for everyone. Stay tuned.