“Fin ur txt msgs 4 hmwk; due 14.05.”

iPhone OK

I have spent the last five weeks with my Year 11 top set English class immersed in revision. They planned their revision timetable themselves deciding what they thought their weaknesses were and which parts of the syllabus they were not as confident about. Since then we have steadily worked on each area and this past week’s focus was Cluster 1 from the Poetry from Different Cultures section of the AQA Anthology.

In an attempt to challenge the class and mix things up a bit I decided to get them to do an activity where by they compared two poems over four paragraphs – explaining the ways in which they are connected. However the catch would be that they could only use 160 characters per paragraph; the same length as a text message! When asked: “…if that included spaces?” The answer of course was: “Yes.” The students then set to work with the usual aplomb that I have become accustomed to.

I felt that using the restrictive rules of text message lengths would focus, challenge and improve my students’ ability to revise effectively. They had to think very carefully about what they wanted to say which was then reinforcing their learning. Also, it meant that they were “reducing” – a concept that I spend a lot of time drilling into my students during this time of the year. It is my beleif that effective revision works best if you can reduce the amount you need to read over time – turning a whole folder of notes into A3  posters; then into A4 sheets; then words and phrases on flash cards. Eventually, just individual words and symbols become enough for a student to remember quotes and complex ideas.

The activity also challenged them to communicate concisely – something top set English students don’t seem to be able to do very well. It was great fun and the students really enjoyed but they found it very difficult. Some even suggesting that I had taught them too well and that they did not know enough text language as they hardly ever use it. This I found hard to beieve but more and more came forward saying that they write their messages as fully as possible – some even said that when friends used text language or spelt things wrong they get really aggravated.  So, perhaps there is hope? Civilisation will not come to an end yet!

I, on the other hand, had made a classic school boy error! I had presumed too much…thinking that my students being 15/16 years old would all be expert texters.  I see them everyday with their mobile phones literally glued to their hands and ears. I assumed they held within their brilliant young minds an encyclopaedic knowledge of text language and therefore this activity would be a breeze for them. What occurred in the classroom was quite the contrary. They were flummoxed, some so used to being able to do the work that they looked completely dismayed. Conclusion: Not all teenagers like to text!

We did not give up though! Eventually the students and I started to see results, that was, after I demonstrated my own skill at using text language or should I say “txt lang”. What I was really showing them was “tweet language” as I don’t really use my mobile phone but I tweet – a lot! Having become quite effective at truncating my sentences to fit the 140 character limit it became apparent that I was the expert and demonstrated a variety of ways to reduce the length of words.

The students began to get the hang of it and some of the results were very effective and students started texting each other their messages about their poems. This is what I had hoped for! They were sharing ideas and knowledge with each other that was concise, useful and they could take it away with them. Perhaps when they are looking through their texts they will look at them and revise when they were least expecting to? Several of the students did not manage to complete all 4 text messages so they asked to finish them for homework to which I said of course they could and wrote the following on the board:

“Fin ur txt msgs 4 hmwk; due 14.05.”

As well as revising poetry and having fun doing it my class also learned an important lesson about context. As they tried to abbreviate, reduce and find the best ways of communicating their ideas in the text message format they realised that should their texts be read out of the context of the room in which they were sitting they would probably not make much sense at all. For example within the context of our classroom the students would probably figure out that:

“L+NC r sim. bcuz both exp. imp. of whit cult on blk cult”

…was a shortened version of:

“Limbo and Nothings Changed are similar because they both explore the impact of white culture on black culture”

It would be very unlikely that someone reading the text outside of our classroom would understand it. This was not the intended learning outcome of the lesson but a useful by product none the less!

If I had been in a computer room I think I would have done this with Twitter as I would have had a record of all of the messages which could have then been reused. Although, adding a hash tag would have made the activity even more challenging! This activity was a great success, my class told their friends about it and I was soon asked by some of my colleagues about it.

Mobile phones and Twitter have a place in my classroom (along with many websites, apps and other technological devices). Their place is to enhance the learning of my students. Embracing a 21st century education through the use of technology is not always easy but I would encourage you to go for it. The results may not always be spectacular but they will be useful and like anything new, need to be tested, refined and improved upon.  I will certainly do this activity again but I have already thought of several ways to make it better… As usual, should you have any questions please mail me or tweet me!

Image courtesy of mastrobiggo on Flickr.

#edread – An Update! (Spring Is In The Air)

blossom

The #edread discussion continues to blossom and has now (through some pro-activity) begun to bear fruit in school.  Not being one to wait for the discussion to have fully formed, I began sharing links and ideas that had been tweeted with my colleagues straight away.  I also shared a reading lesson that I had completed spontaneously the other week (read the blog post about it here).  Three other teacher followed my lead and did a similar lesson with their classes!

The outcome of the e-mails, sharing of links and ideas, and my constant chatter about reading resulted in a meeting between our Learning Research Centre manager (Andrea), a colleague (Jo) who has responsibility within English for Years 7 and 8 and I.  The purpose? To evaluate and improve the KS3 reading program and to look into ideas that can raise the profile of reading amongst KS4 students.

I came away from the meting truly inspired – both by the range of ideas that came out of it but also by the fact that a key component in this discussion had been the resources and ideas that had been shared by my Twitter PLN.  Crowdsourcing really is one of the most effective techniques to aid learning – Twitter simply makes it better by broadening the field.

From the meeting we have agreed to look in to / develop the following ideas:

For the last few years, at KS3, each class has had a weekly reading lesson. This year we introduced “shared reading” however I don’t feel that it was fully thought through.  The main problem being that the books we have to use have been around for some time and are not very appealing to our students.  Solution?  Andrea and Jo are going to research and compile a list of books that we could purchase (probably 6 copies of each) to use in reading lessons.  These are going to be new books, for different ability levels, by authors that are popular amongst 11-14 year olds; including graphic novels, comics, short stories, non-fiction texts and much more.  We agreed that “shared reading” was a good idea but that it would work better if we had more appealing texts and we could break the classes up into a wider range of groups.  I am sure that if we focus on variety and give the students more choice the shared reading experience will be far more effective.

This led on to a discussion about bringing the students into the LRC for their reading lessons.  As I mentioned earlier a few teachers have already followed my lead with this idea.  The English department used to do this regularly but it seems to have stopped happening.  Andrea the LRC manager wants it to become a more regular event (not just for English either).  We agreed that perhaps there should be a rota and that the students could be given a break from their “shared reading” lessons every 4/5 weeks by being brought into the LRC to explore the environment and to read whatever they want for pure pleasure.

As the meeting progressed I raised the idea of students “reviewing and recommending” books.  I suggested that recommendations or new-arrivals could be displayed on the computer screens when students log-in.  We also discussed setting up a LRC Blog so that Andrea could communicate with students and parents about what is happening in the LRC each term.  Students could review and recommend books on it and special events could be promoted.  This could be supported by more traditional methods like a notice board with reviews of books or recommendation slips stuck inside books by students when they return them after reading.

At KS4 Andrea suggested that we look at creating “reading lists” from curriculum areas.  This may work for KS4 students – if they have a passion for a subject they may choose to read more about it.  Wider reading is something that many of my KS5 students struggle with so introducing it at KS4 in an optional capacity may go someway to not only improving reading participation at KS4 but in turn help set expectations over reading at KS5.

We also discussed “Book Swap” which has already begun with Years 7 and 8 but I feel should be a school wide scheme.  I believe that if this is done right it can significantly raise the profile of reading around the school.  I am planning to do a “book-drive” to get teachers, parents and students to donate books to get the “Book Swap” off on the right foot.  I also wish for the “Book Swap” events to be organised by KS4/5 students – this will hopefully generate more interest if it is being promoted by students rather than just teachers.

The final idea that we discussed was “Drop everything and read” – the idea being that the whole school, at a designated time each week, literally drops whatever they are doing and read for 20 minutes.  Now, logistically this is the most challenging idea and the obvious answer (at my school) would be for this to happen during one an extended Tutor period.  However, I think it would have a much bigger profile and a more significant effect if it happened during lesson time.  The kids would be made to sit up and think about reading if in the middle of their Technology lesson they had to down their tools and pick up a book.  I will need to get my Principal on board with this one!  If anyone has any ideas about how I might convince her and the rest of the school to giving this a go please comment, e-mail me or tweet me @jamesmichie.  I think this has huge potential but will take some serious willpower to get it off the ground!

The meeting was really productive and affirmed my decision to put reading at the front of my blogging / Twitter agenda.  Maybe it’s the time of year – it did feel like spring this week and I really feel that the #edread discussion is beginning to take bloom.

Student involvement:

I have also now decided that I do want to get the students involved in the discussion.  I particularly want to hear from KS4 students – those who do read and those who don’t.  I want to understand what reading means and represents to them?  Why some have continued reading for pleasure?  And why other have not?  I am trying to decide between using an open forum on the VLE, using the “choice” module  again on the VLE or using Survey Monkey. I have decided against using Twitter as it would be difficult to get a representative response due to the fact that I have limited control over who is on Twitter and who is not.  I will therefore use a method that all students can access.

The latest #edread tweets:

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the discussion so far.  Remember you can see a full archive of the tweets here and there is a dedicated page here.Image by kittykatfish on Flickr.

Connecting With Parents Online

rubiks cube

Last night I delivered an online presentation to parents of Year 11 English/English Literature students.  50 parents were in the room as well as myself and a colleague from the English department.  We had numerous e-mails from parents who wanted to get in to the meeting but couldn’t due to the fact that we were over capacity.  While that is frustrating, it is also very exciting. The highest number of participants in previous online meetings had been a little under 40 – a new record for the school. We are going to look into the capacity issue so it can be resolved for future events as the Science and Maths departments are due to do similar meetings in the very near future!

Link to the Online Meeting. (Link removed at request of school SLT)

A little background on CCC and its use of online conferencing:

At my school we have been using Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro for some time; video conferencing having become “a part of what we do”.  Our most prolific use of Connect Pro can be found in our delivery of an “Online Games Design Course” that is attended by Creative Media Diploma students and any other students who have an interest in games design.  This is currently running on Thursday nights between 7:00 and 8:00.

The meetings are led by @rhadad who is a teacher/games designer from Chicago.  She beams in every Thursday at 7.00 along with a guest presenter (Moses Wolfenstien@camaxwell@gtrefry) to teach the students about  games design.

This was pioneered by @greghodgson and @hstower last year and is now set to become a yearly course.  I (@jamesmichie) have been supporting the delivery of the meetings this year along with @iusher who continues to be an invaluable resource to us, in all of our online endeavours – including the session with parents last night.

Right, back to last night’s meeting!

The parents were invited to attend the meeting in a multitude of ways: text message, e-mail, postcard – each one had a link to the meeting room and brief explanation of how it works – Connect Pro install a patch the first time you run it.  As far as I am aware the parents had no problems with this.  We also put a banner on the front of the school website as a reminder.

We received many e-mails in advance of the evening from parents who wanted to be there but had prior arrangements .  As I mentioned earlier, after the meeting we received numerous e-mails from parents who could not get in and many e-mails also from the parents that did get in for a copy of the PowerPoint presentation that I used to show useful ideas, web links, our VLE and an iPod touch app (Flashcard Touch).

The number of parents online (or who wanted to be online) is amazing.  It felt during the presentation and afterwards that there was a real buzz – which continued throughout today.  Most importantly the response demonstrate that parents want to be involved in their child’s education and they want to be informed. Below is the PowerPoint presentation I used in the meeting:


[Aside] I also learned that I need to find better lighting for future meetings – I look too much like some strange lurker in the dark!

In conclusion:

It was a great experience! The buzz throughout the day has been great.  Since I began writing this post I have had over 20 more requests for a link to either the presentation or for copies of the PowerPoint. The school switchboard has had a similar number.  Adding the total number of participants to the number of e-mails we received from people who could not get into the meeting, we could have had over 90 participants – which would have been a third of the year group!

As a colleague put it: “We do all this hard work throughout the year but it’s just 20 minutes on a Wednesday evening that could make the difference.”  Hopefully the “difference” will be seen in the students results this summer!

If you would like to know more about what we are doing with online conferencing you can e-mail me or tweet me @jamesmichie.

Image courtesy of Toni Blay on Flickr.