Avatars (and Identities) on the Classroom Windows

Sticky Note Avatars 2018

We’ve moved into a curriculum unit called Digital Life, in which we examine technology and digital media, and privacy and data, with sixth graders, and we begin this work by talking about avatars and identity.

Our discussion leads us to two main points about avatars: they are designed to be a privacy buffer between the user  and the digital space they are in(using art instead of image), and avatars offer a chance for a user to project an identity, or a sliver of identity, into the world. We get to craft how the world sees us, if only in a visual way.

We work on an activity in which my students quickly design a paper/sticky note avatar for the classroom window before exploring some online avatar creation sites.

There are plenty of sports and game themed avatars (two of the most popular things my students do) in the mix but also, you can see more than a few avatars that have hidden stories that make you wonder as you look. I don’t have my students defend or explain their avatar, only make and share. We then put the sticky note avatars up on display as a visual reminder that we all inhabit both digital and classroom spaces together, and that we all have different interests and different identities.

Plus, it looks like cool art, doesn’t it?

Peace (on the pane),
Kevin

My Students and Their Technology Use


Digital Tree of Life flickr photo by ehren deleon shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Each year, as I begin a unit called Digital Life, I ask my sixth graders to take a survey, and the results help frame discussions about the role of technology and media in their lives.

Personally, I look for trends across the years of doing versions of this survey (Facebook, almost non-existent now; Snapchat, increased use; less negative experiences; more adults talking about technology; etc.)

Here are this year’s results:


Or here

Peace (wondering),
Kevin

Class Podcasts/Student Voices: This is “Why We Write”

Today is officially the tenth annual National Day on Writing.

Get writing!

Yesterday, I had my students work on a small piece of writing, in which they explored the question of “why I write” and then we did a class podcast of their voices. I am always so pleasantly surprised (should I be?) about the depth of their thinking about why they write, and am always so hopeful afterwards that our work around writing has some resonance with them.

Here are the podcasts from all four of my sixth grade classes:

 

Peace (in the voice),
Kevin

Celebrating the National Day on Writing

Tomorrow is the National Day on Writing, now in its tenth year (I believe), through the support of the National Council of Teachers of English and other organizations, like the National Writing Project. But tomorrow is a Saturday.

Today is when I will do some activities with my sixth graders. I had hoped to try to do a Zine project, but I dropped the ball on my planning and worries about time necessary to do a quality job. So, I am pushing the Zine idea out further into the year. (I connected with our city library, which runs a Zine project for teens, and they have some examples and resources I can borrow.)

So, I am going to do a version of what I have done other years, which is to have my sixth graders write about why they write (the theme of NDOW is Why I Write), and then share their ideas in the classroom. From there, students will volunteer to do an audio podcast (when I mentioned this the other day, they were excited about it), and then we’re going to use Make Beliefs Comix site, turning the writing piece into a comic.

Here’s mine:

Why I Write 2018 Comic

I hope to have a Wall of Comics about Writing in my classroom by the end of the day and to have student voices released into the #whyiwrite world, too.

These are voices from last year:

And a few years ago, I asked my colleagues at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, why do you write? This is what we said.

What about you? What will you do? Why do you write?

Peace (writing it down),
Kevin

 

Exploring the Project-Based Learning Experience

I faciliated the first of a few PLC sessions with colleagues across my school district yesterday afternoon during a full PD day, with our focus on the theme of Project-Based Learning. I’ve been reading A.J. Juliana’s useful book on PBL (The PBL Playbook) , which we are getting copies of for everyone in my small group.

I pulled out a small PBL simulation project idea from his pages for today’s workshop as a way to walk us through the possibilities of PBL. The idea is to use the Global Goals for Sustainable Development resource site to choose a topic, explore that topic, discover information and action, and share out.

I was hoping the teachers might enjoy the simulation process, and would view it as a learning experience as both student and teacher.  They did enjoy it, expressing appreciation for the small-scale (about 45 minutes) version of something that loosely follows the overall flow of a PBL venture. They worked in small teams on this.

We used Google Slides for our work, since it is part our PLC networked space. (AJ suggests making a Public Service video on mobile devices, too. I like that, but didn’t want to overwhelm my colleagues. And they liked having some experience in Slides and Classroom)

I did a sample presentation on the Hunger Zero concept (above), so that I could experience what my colleagues will experience (who are thinking of what their students might experience in a PBL classroom), and to work through any problems.

Peace (an ongoing project),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Thanking the Colleague Who Taught Them Before You

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I try, as often as I can, to acknowledge the efforts that my fifth grade colleague in the grade below me does with my current students, as I often see evidence of her handiwork when they become sixth graders. I’d like to think our schools would be a better place if we did this kind of acknowledgement more often. None of us teach in a vacuum. None of our students learn in a vacuum, either. We all build upon what has happened before.

The other day, I sent my colleague (C.S.) this note (B. is our special education colleague):

Dear C. (colleague),
I am starting to look over some of the first literature-based open responses with evidence from text and they are a solid batch (with a few outliers). I am noticing a pretty strong understanding of the format, with students working to find and cite evidence, and the use of the T Chart organizer. As much as I say “we are building on what Mrs. S did with you,” they are just as likely to say “this is like what Mrs. S taught us last year.”
🙂
I am grateful for the work you do, C., as it sets the stage for sixth grade (as I hope the work I do will set the stage for seventh grade). Our earlier collaborations and discussions around open response writing (with B. as a bridge between us) is definitely making a difference.
Anyway, I wanted to let you know. Thank you.
Sincerely,
Kevin

Peace (acknowledged and appreciated),
Kevin

Considering Perspectives: There Is No Single Story

Beyond the Single Story

The topic of The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Adichie in the Equity Unbound course suddenly seems everywhere in my field of vision. First, of course, the professors who are collaborating in the Equity Unbound (Mia, Maha and Catherine) have invited the open participants to view the TED talk on this topic.

But then, at a meeting this week for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a colleague who teaches at a middle school was sharing with us one of his educational ideas to broaden cultural perspectives with his seventh graders, and he mentioned how that very day, he had been showing the TED talk with his students to spark writing and conversation.

I nearly jumped out of my seat, to say, we’ve been talking about that, too, in Unbound Equity. I didn’t jump but I did talk to him later about the discussion threads unfolding online.

Which all got me thinking about the unit I am in right now with my sixth graders, around short story writing. We’ve been exploring Narrative Point of View, and the choices a writer makes in telling a story, and how different Narrative Points of View (first person, second person, third person) bring to light different elements of story.

Number crunchers of story

Right now, my students are flipping a touchstone text story from the start of the year (Rikki Tikki Tavi) and re-writing the story from the view of what was the antagonist, turning her into the protagonist. Some of my young writers are struggling with this shift in perspective — they get locked into a story as it is told (as if a writer can do no wrong) and can’t twist it another way. Others are excited about the freedom this shift gives a writer.

A phrase I have tried to repeat to them: Every character is a hero in their own story. Everything is perspective.

And all this discussion and conversation has me wondering if it is nearly time to consider bringing The Danger of a Single Story into my classroom, as an extension of our writing. I feel inspired by the work and insights of others in Equity Unbound and beyond. I need to watch it again myself, from the perspective of my young students, and consider the appropriateness for our learning space.

Meanwhile, one of the participants in the discussion thread on Twitter brought up an interesting perspective on digital interactions and story, and raises the question of whether a digital platform expands or contracts the story. This, of course, is an ongoing question …

Multiple Stories and the Digital World

Peace (at different angles),
Kevin

 

Word Walls and Sticky Notes: Where Novels and Vocabulary Collide

Word Wall with Context Sticky NotesI’ve been making a concerted effort with my special education colleague/co-teacher to spend more time helping our students make contextual connections to our vocabulary acquisition system. We have a lot of language-based disabilities and a handful of ELL students this year that need more support than ever. I’ve begun using Word Walls, for example, and we have been integrating the various words into games and activities.

This image shows our Word Wall with sticky notes in which students had to connect the words to the novels we are reading (Flush and Watsons Go to Birmingham) in context. They had to write a sentence about a character or scene, using one of our words from this week’s vocabulary unit. This was easier for the Watsons group than for the Flush group, since the them of the words were Civil Rights. But all students in all the classes found a way to success.

I’ve used Word Walls, but not with any real dedication through the year, so I am trying to keep it going and aim to be using the wall as a place for review and learning.

Plus, you can’t go wrong with colorful sticky notes and 11 year students.

Peace (on the wall),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: The Class of Infectious Curiosity

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I almost title this post “The Chatty Class in Room 8” or “The Class of Non-stop Talking.”

But I didn’t, because the more I thought of this one particular class of sixth grade students (out of four groups that I teach), the more I realized that the talkative nature is driven more by wondering and curiosity than anything else. I’ve had plenty of classes through the years where the talking was difficult to keep in check (and I am pretty lenient most of the time) and where small clusters of students (last year, it was a group of boys) think class time is social time all the time, and that the teacher’s voice is one to tune out.

Not this group.

These students always have their hands raised, always want to contribute to the conversations, whatever the topic might be. They always are asking insightful queries to their classmates during presentations. They bring us on tangents, true, but interesting ones, with odd angles of looking. They always seem to want to know more, more, more.

And I think that curiosity is infectious, is it not?

I noticed the leaders of the class — smart, strong students — being kind to others, by asking them to share more, explain more, think more, question more. And their classmates have followed their lead, which is quite interesting to watch and to see. They’ve already built on my work with them to create a safe space to wonder in.

So, even if the room gets loud at times, it’s the right kind of loud. The curious kind. The kind of talk every classroom in every school, everywhere, should be open to.

Peace (and wonder),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Starting the Year Write

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Three weeks in and my sixth graders are already writing up a storm. We’ve done a short story prompt (using a map of imaginary land as setting for an adventure); explored characters in a short story read-aloud with evidence from the text; designed a treehouse in their writing notebooks; and now are working on sharing and explaining their aspirations for life in our Dream Scene project. We’ve composed with media on the computers and doodled in the margins of text on paper.

I like to come out of the gate with a lot of different kinds of writing. This allows them to enter as writers from various directions — not everyone loves open response analytical writing, not everyone loves writing fiction — and allows me to get a glimpse of where they are at with skills and imagination and basic writing skills.

Some of my young writers are already amazing me with their skills. Others, they are already worrying me, too. My role is try to help my students at both sides of that spectrum, as well as those in the middle, to move forward and make progress, and find joy in the act of writing.

And so the year begins.

Peace (in text and beyond),
Kevin