Ditch That Textbook

Teaching with less reliance on the textbook.

Archive for the tag “creative teaching”

A new start for Ditch That Textbook

After starting this blog last year and sticking with it for about two months, I realized something about blogging.

It’s hard. Well, regularly blogging is hard.

Recently, I have learned that my passion to share ideas and tools to help teachers rely less on their textbooks is as strong as ever. I love writing. I graduated with a journalism degree from Indiana State University and worked for several Indiana daily newspapers before transitioning to teaching. I really enjoy combining my joy of writing with my love of teaching creatively and using technology in the classroom.

So, my esteemed reader, here are my intentions for this blog going forward. I’m hoping to post twice a week: on Mondays and Thursdays. In fact, my first two posts are already written and scheduled to post as I type this message.

My focus, as it states in the subheading of this blog, is to help teachers rely less on their textbooks and to think outside of the box. Technology is a great tool for that, but it’s not the only tool. Therefore, I’ll be talking about other ways to ditch a textbook. It could be ditching the “textbook definition” as practiced by many teachers. It could be creative teaching or curriculum planning ideas. I’m a techy teacher at heart, but my intention is for this blog to be bigger than an edtech site.

I’m trying to get in the swing with Twitter (@jmattmiller), posting links to sites, new Ditch That Textbook blog posts and general musings on a regular basis. Those are also available on the Ditch That Textbook Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/ditchthattextbook). I’d be honored if you’d follow me on Twitter and like the Facebook page.

Please feel free to cruise around the site and check out my previous posts. Leave a comment about anything that strikes your fancy and I’ll be happy to reply with one of my own.

Feel free to contact me via e-mail at jmattmiller16 @ gmail . com about the blog or teaching in general. I’d love to hear your thoughts and engage in some dialogue on how we all can “Ditch That Textbook”!

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7 classroom uses for forums and discussion boards

These days, discussion boards and forums are pretty ubiquitous.

You can find discussions on almost any kind of website — about products to buy, music to listen to, food to eat, other websites to visit. There are probably discussion boards about discussion boards somewhere.

They really do highlight what we know and love about the modern Internet. They’re instant. Anyone can join the discussion (most of the time). We create and interact with content instead of just consuming it.

That’s why they’re perfect for classroom use. They hit many of our students’ strengths. Many of our students have never known of information sources where they couldn’t interact. (Except maybe those pesky textbooks.)

And they’re very accessible. Several course management programs such as Moodle, Edmodo and My Big Campus already feature them. They’re easy to set up. They’re easy to monitor. And the student collaboration possibilities are huge.

Discussion boards are even available for the less-than-tech-savvy educators. It’s called flip chart paper. Butcher paper. Chalkboards. The “graffiti on the wall” concept. Pose a question and let students discuss.

Here are some ideas for using discussion boards in the classroom:

1. Student opinions on content. After studying a concept, let students talk about it. There’s a lot we can learn from this collaboration — what they don’t understand, what stimulates them, what we left out of our teaching, etc. It may also encourage some peer teaching, which we know can often be more effective than teacher instruction.

2. Hypothesizing. Take an idea from your curriculum and turn it on its head. How would life be now if the Cuban Missile Crisis hadn’t been resolved? What how would the story be different if the main character hadn’t died that tragic death? This touches on some of the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

3. Vocabulary practice. Let students create a story together using new vocabulary — one line at a time, adapting to each other’s posts. Post a picture and have students write creative sentences/thoughts about it using vocabulary. Play with language.

4. Quiz show. Have students develop their own questions for each other from material you’ve been covering. They pose them to each other and answer in the comments section.

5. Anticipating. Stop in the middle of a story or chapter and, before proceeding, have students anticipate what is coming next. History, literature and so many other things we examine in school have such strong ties to students’ lives. Let them (or help them) make those connections.

6. Solving problems. Students can tackle the problems of the world, big and small through discussion boards. Pose a question relevant to what you’re covering and have them present well developed solutions.

7. Support. Offering a discussion board for students to ask questions about homework, a reading or a topic from class discussion opens up a potentially 24-hour help desk. Students can help students, or the teacher can provide help, too.

Things to consider — The level of privacy is crucial here. Discussion boards, I believe, must be closed to anyone who isn’t involved with the class. They can be opened to a whole class or grade level,MIT never to the public. It is up to us to protect our students’ personal information and protect them from predators.

Also, keep a close eye on what students are saying in these discussion boards, either from your own computer or by watching over their shoulders. This helps to ensure the integrity of your activity (avoiding student talk about how the cheerleaders look in their new uniforms). It also protects you and your students from the repercussions of inappropriate posts.

How do you grade these discussion boards? Often, in my Spanish classes, I just require a number of posts or comments and type my own comments to point out grammatical mistakes or ideas they may have missed. A rubric could be developed to pinpoint your expectations for students. Or it could simply be a class discussion tool for no credit or extra credit.

When done well, discussion boards are meaningful, interesting activities that take little preparation time and engage students.

In fact, you might save enough time to read (and re-read) all of my posts at Ditch That Textbook!

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How can we reach the Jeremys?

Meet Jeremy, a junior in my Spanish II class. (OK, his name really isn’t Jeremy. But that doesn’t surprise you, does it?)

Jeremy lives in the rural, low-income school district where I teach. He plays football and wrestles.

He’s just about the easiest guy to get along with you’ll ever meet – a guy that will treat anybody like a real person. Even a teacher.

However, for some reason – which I just absolutely can’t fathom – he’s not nearly as interested in Spanish as I am. Shocking, huh?

Sometimes he pays attention well – eyes forward, watching and listening – when I talk.

Other times, his head is hidden behind the flat-screen monitors protruding from all of my student desks. Not sure if he’s sleeping, resting his eyes or paying attention to me. (Probably one of the first two, I usually guess.)

Other times, he has a Sudoku puzzle out on his desk. I’ll be talking in Spanish – asking students questions, talking about things I think they’re interested in or creating a story with them in Spanish. And Jeremy’s there. He’s just looking at his Sudoku puzzle.

I’ve lost several Jeremys in my teaching career.

I’ve drown them in a sea of practice questions, irrelevant printed dialogues and verb conjugation drills.

They’ve departed from foreign language land with little to no desire to ever return.

The problem with this is that these are the ones we really must reach as educators.

This exchange, from an article on the Mind/Shift KQED website, illustrates it well. It’s between Joe Redish, a physics professor at the University of Maryland, and Lewis Elton, a famous physicist and one of his mentors. Elton asks Redish how his teaching is.

“Redish told him it was going well, but that he seemed to be most effective with the students ‘who do really well and are motivated’ about physics.

“Elton looked at Redish, smiled, and said, ‘They’re the ones who don’t really need you.'”

The ones who don’t really need us are our all-star students.

The ones who need us are the Jeremys.

A professor of mine once quoted one of her educator parents to my class: “The best students and the lowest students aren’t the ones with whom you can make the most difference. It’s the ones in the middle.”

Do the Jeremys of this world get motivated by my dry textbook content? Probably not.

Are they captivated by the best of our lectures? Not usually.

They’re the ones that need us to “ditch the textbook” the most. To step into the new era of students who learn differently.

Keep your minds open and your lesson plans in pencil. Be ready to adapt. Think outside the box.

The Jeremys will thank you.

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Google Voice: Connecting to the mobile student (Part 3)

Think teens love to send text messages?

The Pew Research Center in 2010 published results of a survey showing that 75 percent of teenagers own their own phones, and 87 percent of them use text messaging.

Half of texting teenagers send 50 or more texts a day, according to the survey. One third send 100 or more texts a day. The simple math tells us that’s 3,000 texts on an average month.

Can we harness that power for education?

Yes, but we have to be careful.

Communication is key, and it’s the first step. After weighing the possible consequences, be ready to have an honest conversation with administration. With the OK from leadership, parents need information on the situation and may need an alternative to educational texts if they’re uncomfortable. The ramifications of educational texting is a full topic of discussion for another day, but principals, students, parents and maybe even school boards need to be involved.

With that hurdle cleared, here are several ways Google Voice’s texting capabilities can help in the class:

1. Reminders: Remind students about assignments, projects, quizzes and tests. Parents may want to get these reminders, too.

2. Promos: Marketing professionals create hype for products by divulging details beforehand. Why not use that as a tool to get students interested and excited?

3. Review: Sending texts with questions or review information can give extra repetition with the material. In many cases, repetitions can equal increased achievement.

4. Primer: Get an in-class discussion started early. Give students a topic and something to think about before the arrive.

5. Extra learning opportunities: Offer the occasional extra credit question. Direct students to an interesting website relevant to class content. Some students won’t bite, but others are truly interested in going the extra mile.

Google Voice: Including student voices in class (Part 2)

Plenty of options exist for incorporating Google Voice, a free service from Google for voice and text messages, into many types of classrooms.

Yesterday, we reviewed what Google Voice can do. Today, we’ll cover some classroom applications for the voice message feature. By having students call a number provided by Google to leave voice messages, they can accomplish a lot of useful activities in a new environment.

1.  Traditional lesson questions: Haven’t ditched that textbook completely yet? Put a new twist on a common practice. Have students answer textbook lesson questions by voice instead of by pencil. Grading may take a bit longer, but the change of pace may inspire.

2. Audio essays: Give students a chance to make their case verbally. Audio essays – whether the 30-second or multiple-minute variety – let students inform and persuade verbally, a skill they will likely need in the workforce.

3. Interviews: There are so many directions this can be taken. Students can interview their friends for their opinions about topics from class. They can delve into their own genealogy with family. They could even interview community experts on a research topic.

4. Debates: This takes interviews to the next level. Students get a topic from class and find one or more classmates. They grab a cell phone (or land line phone) and dig in for a discussion.

5. Poetry reading: Make poetry assignments come to life. Students can write their own poetry and recite it, or they can give their own interpretation of a poem the class is studying.

6. Speak for a character: Let students interpret what a character in history, in a story or in anything involved with your class would say. How would Juliet describe her sticky family situation? What would Adam Smith say about the state of our economy? How would a Haitian describe her daily life and struggles?

7. Directions: Give geography mapping activities a new look by having students give directions from one place to another. Include important cities or landmarks they should know. Creativity reigns!

8. Tour guide: This is similar to the directions activity. Students study an important place and take tourists on a verbal tour, identifying people, places and things and injecting information along the way.

9. Predicting the future: Based on what’s happened in the past and what students have learned in class, what do they think the future will be like?

10. Songs, raps, chants or cheers: These can be fun to write and even more fun to perform. Make sure they tie back to class content, of course.

11. How did you solve it?: When students hear their peers explain how they’ve reached a solution on a problem in math, science or any other class, they might be more receptive to hearing it. However, student explanations can have mistakes (sometimes serious mistakes), so checking answers before recording might be a good idea.

12. Talk show: Students take the role of talk show host, taking call-in questions, discussing issues with their co-hosts or talking to guests.

13. Game show: Hosts ask the questions and contestants answer them for fabulous prizes. Celebrity guests could make things interesting!

14. A call home to Mom: Students could leave a message for their parents or siblings, explaining an interesting place they’ve visited, an interesting event they’ve witnessed or talking about something that’s on their mind. Tie it into a theme from class and you get conversational, easy-to-understand explanations of your class content.

15. Surprise question: Leave a question that students must answer on the outgoing message. The catch: Students don’t know the question until they call! This can be a kind of pop quiz and an opportunity to think on their feet.

Some notes about using Google Voice voice messages: Student cell phone minutes or long distance charges can be an issue, so warn them ahead of time. A letter of explanation (cleared by school administration) to be signed by parents can get them on board with avoiding potential problems. If parents are opposed to using Google Voice or don’t want to call to your specific number (if it’s long distance), calling a school voicemail could be an alternative. Also, students make mistakes. I’ll often let them re-record their messages by hanging up on their mistake message and calling right back. I just grade the last one they submit.

Next, we’ll delve into the text messaging options for Google Voice.

Google Voice: Including student voices in class (Part 1)

Including student voices in lessons is an instant way to gain interest.

Google Voice, a pretty powerful tool in the wide world of Google apps, opens up a whole new dimension of learning opportunities for the classroom.

Teachers can create a Google Voice account for free, which includes a local phone number, a voicemail account and the ability to send and receive text messages. When someone leaves a voice message on a Google Voice account, he or she can play the audio message, read a text transcription of it or even download the audio to a file.

Once the account is created, the sky’s the limit for using Google Voice with students. A slew of verbal communication activities can ensue, even with introverted students that rarely speak up in class. Recording audio with no one watching or listening can limit these students’ inhibitions about speaking and give them motivation to speak.

These types of speaking activities really touch on desirable real-world skills. In fact, the National Association of Colleges and Employers cited “verbal communication skills” as one of the top five personal qualities that employers want in new hires, according to its “Job Outlook 2012” survey.

So how do we use it in the classroom? Think about relevant applications in your classroom for now. Tomorrow, I’ll list 15 ways to classroom uses for Google Voice.

Super Learning: Encouragement from Super Bowl XLVI

Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

Teaching, as many professions, can be a thankless job, so a little appreciation can go a long way. Especially when it’s at the biggest sports stage in the world.

So when I received an invitation to go to a brunch honoring educators in Indianapolis, at the Super Bowl XLVI site — part of the Super Learning in a Super State program — it was a no-brainer. I love football, especially the Indianapolis Colts, and mixing that with my other passion sounded great.

It turned out to be a heartwarming reminder of how important educators’ work is and how much influence we can have.

Mark Schlereth, NFL analyst and former Washington Redskins player, encouraged educators with stories of his learning life. Former Colt Bill Brooks and other former players contributed.

Schlereth, who is dyslexic, talked about his struggles to read in school. A junior high journalism teacher humiliated him by forcing him to read from a newspaper in front of the class. After politely pleading the teacher to pick someone else, he went to the front of the class. And struggled. And stammered. And finally made his way through the first sentence.

That’s enough, Schlereth told us that the teacher said. He was finished because he was too dumb to go on.

Thankfully, that wasn’t his last impression of education. Another teacher saw potential in Schlereth and helped him to reach his potential in reading.

Now he’s an avid reader. He considers himself a “wordsmith,” underlining words he doesn’t understand in articles so he can look up their meanings later. He carries a speaking dictionary and a notebook with new words that he can review.

Now, his son struggles to appreciate the joys of education, and Schlereth hopes that his son’s teachers will inspire him in a similar way.

“I really appreciate all that you do,” he said. “Please don’t give up on kids like me.”

Those at the Saturday brunch were given a gift bag of trinkets with the “Super Learning in a Super State” logo, but I think that many of us took away more than that. Sure, the dignitaries at this brunch hadn’t gone to most of our classes and validated what we did on a day-to-day basis. But when there’s a huge force like the Super Bowl in town, and some of that force is used to lift up teachers for what they do, it can have a major impact.

Maybe one that we’ll live on for more than a couple of months.

Digital teaching in 30 words

OK, so in our brief blog relationship, you’ve probably already figured out that I love incorporating technology into teaching. I love watching kids connect with the material and with each other in a medium that just didn’t exist when I was in school.
So, despite the possibility of casting myself as a total techno-teacher geek, I present to you a quick, fun “Ode to Ed Tech” — educational technology in 30 words. Not sure how this will go, but hopefully well.

Wireless. Online. Discussion boards.
Keyboards clicking. Minds humming.
“Did you really post that???”
Comments. Likes. Digital dialogue.
“Stupid autocorrect!”
Quiet classroom. Noisy conversations.
“Can we do this again?”
Submit.
Success.

To spark interest in class, get personal

I was a yearbook adviser for several years and was the editor of my high school yearbook staff. I believe that working on student publications allows for learning that students can’t easily get anywhere else.
Here’s a key yearbook lesson that I’m sure my students are glad that I learned.
What’s the first thing you look for when you open a new yearbook?
Answer: You.
We are important to ourselves. We’re concerned about our image. We’re concerned about how we look and sound to people (even if we don’t outwardly admit it).
Think our students are any different? I teach high school students, and if that’s not a major egocentric time of life, then my hairline isn’t disappearing like a setting sun.
If our students want to find themselves when they open a yearbook, wouldn’t they want to find themselves in our instruction?
Blaine Ray, the creator of a conversational method of teaching world languages, says that we’ll know students are listening if we’re talking about them.
“They will pay attention better and they will remember what you have taught better,” he writes in his book “Fluency Through TPR Storytelling”. “Bring in events from their lives. Have mini-stories contain important school events or national events. Talk about food the students eat. This is all part of ‘personalization.’”
As a world languages teacher, I can talk about practically anything in my classes as long as it’s using vocabulary and grammar concepts that we’ve covered or that they can figure out on their own. So, from time to time, I’ll make up stories in class with my students as the stars.
We’ll talk about things that are important to them. Today, the start of our day was delayed two hours due to fog, so one of my classes and I talked about that a bit.
I don’t like using worksheets and activities out of textbooks. (Surprise, surprise, right?) When I need something like that, I prefer to write my own content, and often, my students are the main characters. Their lives are the plotline. If I have multiple class periods of the same subject, it just takes a “find and replace” in Microsoft Word to change the names.
Personalizing activities in a class is pretty easy in world languages, but it certainly applies to other areas of study.
Social studies teachers can equate the conflict and social ramifications of historical events to students’ lives.
Science teachers can personalize processes and concepts by having students act them out or by comparing them to their own lives (“mitochondria are kind of like the Red Bull that Jack drinks to stay awake playing Skyrim”).
Literature has so many parallels to our students’ social lives that we can often personalize what we read pretty easily.
Obviously, we should be careful when we personalize. Embarrassing our students is the last thing we want to do, and discretion is the key when selecting topics to discuss.
But, when done well, personalizing is exciting and attention-grabbing. It’s a great way to ditch that textbook!

The new textbooks are wired — and wireless

The print medium is dying a slow death.

Newspapers are declining in circulation as more and more readers look for their content online.

Libraries are being forced to either adapt to a new digital age with new equipment and programs or become ancient artifacts.

And then there’s the traditional classroom textbook.

No clickable links. No flashy videos. No interactive games.

Paper and ink. And at a high price, no less.

As we continue to move into this new technological world, our jobs as educators must change as well. Our students are much different than the students of decades ago — even a few years ago.

They don’t know a world without computers. The Internet. Digital devices.

They multitask like crazy.

Their media-innundated minds are wired for constant change.

And we can take two approaches. One is to continue teaching the way we always have. Good teaching is good teaching, right? And if we put the information out there and the kids want the grade enough, they can come get it.

Or we can step into their world. Change up our methods, but stick with solid pedagogy. Supplement with a blog. Engage students with a discussion board. Create a multimedia presentation. Use the vast communication ability of the ‘Net to connect to people with viewpoints our students would never see otherwise.

Go from the limited to the vast, unbounded limits of cyberspace.

But how do we do that? One-to-one computer initiative schools have an instant connection to the information superhighway, as do classes with abundant access to computer labs or laptop/iPod Touch/iPad carts.

But it doesn’t have to stop there. Our students carry more powerful computers with them every day than those that launched spacecraft many years ago. Smart phones — even more traditional cell phones — have powerful information gathering, recording and publishing abilities. Even if our schools have “no cells in class” policies, that doesn’t mean we can’t harness that power outside the walls of the school.

The information and options available to us is unlimited. Our tools are powerful and more ubiquitous than ever.

The digital natives are here. Now it’s up to us to reach them where they are.

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