I was so excited to start Write 6×6 last week. I was raring to go. Ready to put pen to paper. Super excited. And then I got the writing prompt. Whaaat! A song?
What song represents your career in education, your evolution as a teacher, or your approach to student success?
My enthusiasm was immediately crushed. I couldn’t think of a song. I mean how does Coi Leray’s “Players” have to do with my career in education? The lyrics constantly playing in my head, “Yeah, ’cause girls is players too…” Am I player? What does that mean? I can’t even think of another song, and this one is so not appropriate. Sigh.
It got me thinking though. How often do we crush our students’ enthusiasm in our classes? Does it happen on day one as Lisa did mine? Ha! Just kidding, Lisa. But truly does it happen at all? The biggest culprit I see is grades. Often with grades on those first few big assignments, a poor performance on the first few without the others in the grade book to weigh them out can be crushing. I often have students ask, how did my grade go from 95% to 72% overnight? Well, I graded something, and you didn’t do well. Crushed!
Students don’t always get the math, so seeing their grade drop drastically is not encouraging. So years ago I changed my strategy. I still crushed my students if they didn’t do well, but I introduced a policy to not only help students learn from their mistakes but also to keep them motivated and in the game. Assignments submitted on time and complete are eligible for a rewrite. They can resubmit the assignment within a week and earn a better score. Rewrites are optional, but they get feedback on the work and an opportunity to improve and learn. Canvas now makes this convenient for me to suggest rewrites with the Reassign button in Speedgrader.
I encourage them to submit a rewrite by giving them clear feedback using a rubric and comments on the assignment. Often times it’s a simple fix that students resubmit right away. Other times it’s a bit more involved. But the overall grade in the course bounced back up after a rewrite grade is entered, and hopefully, students are motivated to keep going unless, of course, they get stumped by a strange writing prompt and just give up without trying. Yep, I get it now.
I still chuckle when I think about every teacher I work with is now doing some form of remote or online teaching. I know it’s not a laughing matter, but I can’t help it. After spending four years as eCourses coordinator at the college, I know the reality of that statement. I’m sure everyone is doing their best. However, I can’t help but think about that select few who wanted to teach online because they thought it would be easy. Well, it’s not so easy after all, especially when you only get two weeks to do it.
It’s easy to post content (documents) online, and most LMS’s make it easy to record video and audio. But the hardest part is engaging students. How do you even know they are watching, listening or reading what you put online? I hope I’m not freaking people out, but trust me, they’re not watching, listening and reading all that stuff you just put in Canvas. They are just looking for the stuff the “counts.” I know I sound pessimistic, but I speak from experience. When I first started teaching online over 15 years ago, the first thing I noticed was that if there was no point value attached, it got ignored. That included textbook chapters, handouts, content pages in Canvas, and yes, even YouTube videos. I was shocked. They don’t like my videos? Did anyone even watch them?
I couldn’t really tell if students were engaging or not with my content, but they were missing huge gaps in knowledge that would have come from engaging with that content. I constantly found myself asking in my feedback, “Did you watch the video?” or “Did you read the handout?” It was definitely frustrating especially since I made a ton of videos. Once I got fed up with that I decided to change the design of my courses. I now have several different formats depending on the course. I made a couple of videos showing how I changed things up that you can watch below, but I’ll summarize here first.
For my ENH114 African American literature class where reading is crucial (Duh!), I changed the course so that every reading is an assignment. Yes, you read that right. Every single reading is an assignment. I call them lessons, and each lesson either has reading handouts, video or audio and then something for students to do. For example, in Lesson 1.1.1 Origins of African American Language, students watch a YouTube video and then write a summary about what they learned. Simple. I create this by using Assignments in Canvas, embed the video, write my instructions and then set the assignment to accept text and uploads for submission. The best part is I didn’t have to make the video. Thank you internet and YouTube.
Another example from the ENH114 class is a lecture I wanted students to read. Again, I made it a lesson: Lesson 1.2.1 Importance of Negro Spirituals that included a recording of me reading the lecture as well as the text of the lecture, and then asks students to answer a question about the content. I use rubrics so the students know what I’m looking for, and it makes it easier for me to grade. The idea that everything I want students to do is graded in some way can be daunting, but using rubrics makes quick work of it. I’ll demonstrate more ways that I engage students in this class in the video below.
For my freshman comp classes, I have a slightly different approach. Not everything I want for them to read and do is made into a lesson, but I do wish that would work. However, I do consistently make some of the content into lessons. You really need to have something for students to engage with on a weekly basis. If you don’t, students get in the habit of “skipping” weeks. Having assignments with weekly due dates draws them into the course. They don’t have to be much, just something that says, “Hey, remember you have this English class over here.” You can see more from these courses in the video below. You can find the YouTube Series I mention here: Crash Course Navigating Digital Information.
Lastly, I teach a hybrid (used to teach a hybrid) JRN203: Writing for Online Media course. Luckily for me, I design all my courses as online courses, so I only had to make a few adjustments in this course to transition to online. The biggest change was adding more online discussions. Oh, I know. That sounds so boring, especially since students hate online discussions. But these discussions are fun. I use FlipGrid. It’s a social learning platform that allows educators to ask a question, then the students respond in a video. Students are then able to respond to one another, creating a “web” of video discussion. They’re fun and students really like these discussions. Some are a little shy at first, but they quickly get over it. I got permission from my students to show a discussion they are working on currently in class. See below.
The reality of the situation is I didn’t create all of this in two weeks. These are things I’ve added as I’ve taught over the years. For many faculty out there now rushing to move content online, my best advice is to pick one thing you can add now to help engage students, and as the semester continues on, consider what else you might be able to add. You can’t do it all now, but just one thing might prove helpful.
Collaborative group projects in online and hybrid classes – Is there value in having students do them?
I go back and forth with whether I should dump it or keep it. Students hate it, but I think there is value, and it’s a lesson students need to experience. Things don’t always go the way they should, and students can learn a lot from having to deal with this adversity.
I’ve been using a group project in my ENG102 hybrid course for about two years now, and I think it teaches students a lot about collaborating, working in a team, and sharing in the learning process with others. In the video below, I’ll share my process with you, as well as a few tools in Canvas that you may or may not be familiar with: Collaborations, Groups, Perusall and NoodleTools.
Purpose: The purpose of the project is to teach students the process of writing an argumentative research paper. In groups of four the work through the whole process in four weeks. The only thing they don’t do is the actual research. I provide that for them. Let’s take a look, and I’ll show the tools as they are integrated into the process.
I have always been fascinated by assessment, unfortunately I know not everyone shares my feelings on the subject. I have had colleagues who consider it a dirty word. They dread the thought of it, and treat it as just another hoop to jump through when the time comes to participate. A pre-test here. A post-test there. A journal reflection. Or the ultimate avoidance, just saying a regular class assignment is, in fact, assessment. Unfortunately, those who avoid confronting the challenges of assessments are not helping with the end goal, to improve student education through meaningful analysis and feedback. The reason that some fear to participate in a group assessment and decide to take a solo route is that assessments are looked at as inconvenient or difficult; however, these approaches often overshadow efficient strategies for approaching this dilemma, strategies that which rely on one, simple trait: humility.
I love my standardized rubric for essays. It isn’t perfect, but it is consistent, and students appreciate that. The rubric is based off of one that is required to be used in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. That system consists of 16 colleges and every writing instructor uses the same rubric for their essays. I was lucky enough to see that rubric be initially implemented as well as its evolution over the last decade into its current form. Now there was significant pushback when the rubric was first forced upon the faculty. Arguments ranged from “but I don’t grade essays with a rubric” to “my rubric is already better than this one”, but top to bottom it was adopted. It is difficult to adjust teaching habits, but understand that a standardized rubric doesn’t change the way we teach, it simply unifies the way we grade. In that way, a standard rubric is even less intrusive than requiring a specific assignment for assessment.
So what is gained from using the same rubric for every essay? Starting on the class level, it is easy to get a snapshot of student’s skills improving (or not improving) over a semester. It also allows the teacher to see if the class as a whole is struggling in a specific area (I’m looking at you point of view slips). This lets allows class needs to be addressed on a holistic level through lectures. I do this with my youtube series “English Power Lectures”, but setting aside 15 minutes when essays are handed back to address major problems does the trick as well. When multiple faculty start to use the same rubric the assessment becomes that much more valuable. Now trends can be seen over a much larger group of students, it is also possible to see where one class struggles and another doesn’t. With this knowledge, teachers can share techniques for dealing with that particular issue. This is the beauty (and truly the purpose) of assessment. It serves as a common tool and focal point that can start an analysis, conversation, and implementation of course wide improvements. Now implementing something district or even school wide is difficult, so start small. Talk to a group of fellow faculty (or adjunct faculty) and do your best to develop a rubric that works for multiple assignments or essays. Use that rubric in a course and compare notes. It won’t be perfect, but assessment can always be improved upon. It may be difficult to unify your grading techniques with others, but remember that teaching isn’t meant to be a solo endeavor. Instructors are stronger as a community, and students will benefit from that community. All it takes is a little bit of humility.
I have found utilizing the Announcement option on CANVAS has been an effective way to reach my students. After every class meeting, I create an announcement based off the date. I include what we covered in class (linking any power points and videos), along with posting the next class period’s homework. If students are absent, I also link any recording sheets or articles they will need.
I have had many students provide feedback on the fact that I use this feature in a face-to face class. It helps them stay on track, especially since most of them all have smart phones. They do have a paper schedule, which we always go over in class, but this provides another type of support.
Another benefit is students do not have an excuse on not having their homework completed if being absent. It is still due, absent or not.
It is also a great way of holding them accountable…..I refer them back to CANAVS and the date in question.
This is a guest post from faculty member Stephanie Sawyer, M.S.| Fitness and Wellness. Last week was tough for many of us, and Stephanie had a great way to handle it.
I wrote a PAR blog about yesterday’s Canvas situation. I shared it with one of my mentors, Louise So, and she thought you would get a kick out of it. When life gives you lemons, take a walk?? Enjoy! Stephanie
After my refreshing quarter-mile walk from the parking lot to my office (I know this because my I-Runner app calculated the distance), I was greeted with a district-wide message stating that Canvas was down. Not believing that such a thing was possible, I logged into Canvas to find that it was true. I didn’t panic at first because the class in Canvas that I needed to access didn’t occur until the evening, still several hours away.
However, as the hours passed while I went about my day teaching other classes, the panic started to set in. I kept thinking that it was just a matter of time before Canvas was restored. Unfortunately, that was not the case as I was now two hours away from a two-and-a-half-hour night class. I needed access to two power-point presentations, a Discussion Board activity, and an interactive, web-based activity, which were all on Canvas. I can “song and dance” a class as well as any of my colleagues, but two-and-a-half-hours is a little long.
As I started looking for my power-points on my office computer, I realized that they were on my home computer since I had created them before becoming full-time faculty and having an office computer. Therefore, I had to hike another quarter-mile back to my car, drive home and e-mail myself the power-points from my home computer. This event took about an hour in all. In addition, I had to run to the copy center and print out copies of everything that was on Canvas.
I am happy to report that I made it to class on time, had all of my materials on hand and accumulated over 14,000 steps for the day. The lesson learned was to not always rely on technology, to have a backup plan and make sure that there are master copies to retrieve in a pinch.