Tag Archives: Curriculum

Five Questions Teachers Should Ask Themselves When Integrating Technology into the Classroom

The following five questions are those I try to take into consideration each time I integrate technology into my lesson plans.  A little hint:  The answer to each question should be yes!5 Tech Questions for Teachers

1.  Do I have a purpose larger than using technology for the sake of using technology?

This question is a biggie.  Technology should not be used simply in order to check off a box or fulfill a requirement.  When integrating technology into a lesson plan, your end goal should not change.  Unless, perhaps, you are a technology teacher, the technology is not the goal.  Technology is a means.  Learning is still your end.  Another way you can ask this question would be:  Does this technology either lead students to critical thinking, help students demonstrate knowledge, or make the learning and working process more efficient?

2.  Have I tried this technology myself?

Please, please let the answer be yes!  You always want to do a test run before introducing students to a new technology.  If possible, try the tool out both from the perspective of the instructor and the students.  Sometimes I like to gather one or two of my teaching peers to act as my “students” before introducing the tool to actual students.

3. Am I willing to have things not go as planned?

It is important that your answer be “yes” here.  Even if you have answered all of the other questions in the affirmative, nothing will guarantee that things will go as planned in the classroom.  Do you have a back up plan?  Do you know how to achieve your goals in a similar but different fashion, if need be?  Is it okay if this takes longer than expected?

4.  Is the input worth the outcome?

Technology is usually pretty great at streamlining a process and making us more efficient.  Some technologies, however, can do really incredible things at the cost of incredible amounts of time or resources.  Make sure you are considering your true learning outcome when deciding if the work and resources required behind the technology is the best way to go about achieving your end.

5. Will this technology respect the security of my students?

The web is a great way to expose students to the wider world around them.  When you test out a new tool, try to ensure that the students, themselves, are not over-exposed.  Use pseudonyms when possible, make sure any location features are deactivated,  and, when using images, do not use pictures of the students, or blur faces if needed.

Side Note:  A few weeks ago I wrote about making my own infographics like the one above.  If this presentation style intrigues you, be sure to check it out!

One More Side Note:  You are welcome to save the infographic for your own use, but please keep the creative commons license below in mind and credit TeacherNextDoor (with a link when possible).  Thank you!


Using Pecha Kucha to Help Students Review

Many of you may have heard of the Pecha Kucha presentation technique.  The general premise is this:  A presenter can have twenty slides and twenty seconds a slide in which to convey his or her point.  The slides advance automatically whether or not the speaker is ready.  There is more to it than that, and it has an interesting history; Those are the basics, though.  You can learn more about the concept in general here.

I want to share with you how it made a big splash in my 7th grade English class this week.  The class before a test, in middle school at least, is always interesting.  The students know it is coming, of course, but the realization that a few weeks of hard work is coming to a culminating assessment the next day can be overwhelming.  Middle school students are not always prepared to understand the reasons teachers have for assessing their understanding  or for understanding the ways we might go about it.

That is where the Pecha Kucha adaptation comes in.  We had been reading a novel, Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick, but the activity could be adapted to anything.  I divided my class into thirds.  One group was assigned literary devices, one was assigned plot points, and the other characters.  Each student developed one slide based on their assigned category and according to the instructions below:

For Review Activity

I had a number of goals for adapting and presenting the idea this way.  Mainly, it would help the students learn to think critically about what we had discussed, prioritized information, and present ideas in a manner other than simply regurgitating the way we originally learned it.  The following is an example that I showed my students.  I had them time me as I explained it in under 30 seconds.  It may only make sense to you if you read the book!

Regarding the book DRUMS, GIRLS, and DANGEROUS PIE by Jordan Sonnenblick

The kids loved the concept and how we adapted it.  They got creative with how they portrayed their thoughts, as well.  A number of students did some interesting work with the wordle-like website Tagxedo.  I pulled all of their slides into one presentation and they could come by to get at the end of the day if they wanted to use it for review at home.

What other ways could you use Pecha Kucha to help kids?  I think it could be a valuable tool for growing their critical thinking skills.

Summer Reading: The Good and The Bad Part II

It’s about that time of year, again.  The time of year our thoughts, students and teachers alike, turn towards summer.  If you are an English teacher, these thoughts probably include some musings over summer reading.  If you missed my initial introduction and poll regarding this topic, you can check it out here.  I could go on for pages and pages about summer reading, but the beauty (or trouble with) of a blog is that it lends itself to succinct writing.  I will try to be pithy, but I’m afraid it’s not my strong suit.


If anything, last week’s poll reveals that we are a divided profession on the subject of how summer reading programs should be handled:

Results from Summer Reading Poll

Results from Summer Reading Poll as of 4/18/2011

I feel as if there is no real majority of opinion, here.  Technically, offering one required title, a few free choice requirements, and not requiring any written work had the most votes, but only by one vote, and even then, it is quite different from the “runner-ups” of having no formal program or offering a student created inquiry project.  Beyond having a variety of opinions, many of us do not have the option of creating our “dream program” and must work within the stipulations set for us by our school systems. Regardless, we at least agree on one thing – CHOICE is key when encouraging students to read over summer break.

Visual Representation of Summer Reading Poll Results

Recognizing the variety of responses recieved by the poll, I know that not all readers are going to agree with my point of view.  Keep in mind, however, that I am not suggesting that there is only one way to orchestrate a summer reading program.  You know your  students best, and that knowledge should play a key role in designing your own program.  In the mean time, I would like to share some of my ideas with you.


My school requires a formal summer reading program, but I must say that I agree with them on this one.  In fact, my students once asked me why I couldn’t simply suggest that they all read over the summer and leave it at that.  A very honest discussion with these students revealed that the reading enthusiasts would keep reading and the self-proclaimed non-readers would keep, well, not reading, unless their parents enforced the suggestion.  The summer is a great time to put books in the hands of all students in a low-stress, independent environment in the hopes that they will learn to see how the practice of reading for pleasure may look in their own lives.  With the right amount of freedom in choosing books, the practice can also help students find books, genres, and series that they like.  The tricky part is holding students accountable for their reading.

In the past, I have usually required one common title because it will give my classes a common foundation from which we can pull from in our reading mini-lesson once the new school year begins.  In turn, this method also helps me to justify a student-choice book unit in the first semester rather than a whole-class novel, which works well in the semi-workshop setting used in my classroom.  This year, students are going to be able to choose their required title from a list of three options.  They will then read two additional books that are totally up to them.  In my experience, getting students to read on their own is all about choice, choice, more choice, and the availability of time and books.  In summers past, I also included a small assignment to be completed on the assigned title.  This year, there will still be a small assignment to be completed, however, I am offering options that cover a variety of learning styles, from visual, to auditory, to kinesthetic.  This representation of their learning, whether it be a blog, collage, podcast, or other conceptulization will be applied to their choice of what they read over the summer.  Once again, choice is king.


One element of reading for pleasure that becomes more evident in adult readers, in my experience at least, is the social element of reading.  Too many students relegate their reading to the classroom and do not always understand the concept of a reading community.  Feeling that you are a part of a community as you read can increase your tendancy to participate in acts of reading more often.  One of the biggest successes I have experienced in my summer reading programs is the addition of what I dubbed “Summer Reading Socials.”  Students began asking in January of this year if I would be including them this upcoming summer.  The basic idea is that I placed myself at a central location (that included ice-cream!) every other week.  Students could purchase a dessert on their own if they wanted to.  The main idea, though, was that we were gathering in a social setting to talk about what we were reading.  This was a huge success with my struggling readers in particular.  You can check out the flyer I sent home with students last year for a clearer picture of what these events looked like.Summer Reading Socials.  I also tried reinforce the idea of reading as a social activity through a webpage I created using google sites.  It is obviously no longer updated, but you can get the general idea by visiting it here: Summer Reading 2010. To keep motivation high, I also help current students take ownership of the program by helping to create a list of options for the free-choice books.  Students do not have to choose from this list, but it is nice to see what their peers have enjoyed and gives them a good place to jump off from.

Comments/Ideas/Anecdotes Welcome!

Summer Reading: The Good and the Bad Part I

Since returning to school after spring break, I’ve been mulling over summer reading.  How it will look for my students and how it would look in an ideal world.  I’ve got a blog post on the subject almost ready to go that I’ve been working out over the past few days.  I’ll share what I’ve done in the past, what I’m doing this year, how to get the most out of even the more restrictive programs, and my thoughts on the practice in general.  First, though, I’d love to get your thoughts on summer reading.  If you wouldn’t mind taking the poll below, that would be fantastic!

Thanks friends!

Selecting Engaging Texts

“Wait, you have read Peak by Roland Smith?” a student asks me incredulously.  It turns out that Smith’s book was the only title this student claims to have read all the way through and enjoyed … ever.  However, (partially because he enjoyed it so much) he shared that he was surprised to see a copy in our classroom library because it didn’t seem very “teacher-y.”  This conversation of ours about my own reading habits took place at the beginning of this school year as I tried to explained that I try to read a wide range of books so that I can make suggestions to students.  And, now I’ve spent all year trying to prove it.  We do not read things because they are teacher-y.  Or because they are one of my favorites.

Today’s post is partially inspired by the following library-themed comic strip from the geniuses over at “Unshelved”:

The above comic is found at Unshelved by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes. via Unshelved by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes.

In choosing books to read with my students, I try to be ever-cognizant of why I am choosing the books that I am and make sure it is not simply because, “I like it; they should like it, too,”  or the ever dangerous: “Every eighth grade student I’ve ever met (including myself) had read book X; my students mus also read it.”

Growing up, I Loved Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  I saw myself being best friends with Jo March:  Spunky, but overall very good; a writer just dying to see her words in print; makes mistakes, but with the best of intentions; future school teacher of lots of rowdy little boys.  We would have gotten along splendidly.  However, I am well aware of the fact that if I brought this title into my eighth grade Language Arts class on Monday morning, I would effectively lose the male half of my class.  Despite the fact that it is a title I love with a good theme and at an appropriate reading level, I do not teach Little Women.  Instead, I recommend it personally to those I think may enjoy it.

So how do we choose books for our classroom purposefully and with good taste but without trying to force our own preferred reading histories onto our students?  Donalyn Miller’s book, The Book Whisperer, has been very helpful in my quest to do a little whispering on my own.  Also, you have to read … a lot … in a wide variety of genres.  I’ve learned that I don’t have to like something personally to know whether or not it would be both appropriate and engaging for one of my students.  Working on knowing books and knowing my students has led to some great matches between the two materialize practically before my eyes.

Choosing a novel for a whole-class read is a little more difficult.  The process seems to be the same, though.  Know books.  Know your students.  I doubt that there is a universal title out there that will appear to any particular class.

If it’s helpful though, The Westing Game, Crispin, and Al Capone Does my Shirts are three titles that are frequently met with enthusiasm as whole-class novels with my middle school students.  Remember, though, that you teach your students, not mine.  What do you think draws them into reading?

%d bloggers like this: