Saturday, September 2, 2017

Helping students understand color in photos

 At my school I teach yearbook and journalism. I understand the different writing styles quite well, but I only have a very basic understanding of photography.

I had the opportunity to receive this book to add to my class room in exchange for honestly reviewing the book for others.

To really give you an honest review, it is helpful to know what types of audience you are.

Personally, even for just a coffee table book, I find these picture BEAUTIFUL. However, the book is intended to those whom have a DSLR camera and intend to plan and take great pictures in camera (rather than depending on Photoshop or another editing software).

As stated before, I am a beginner, but I found the different examples of photos easy enough and while I haven't tried everything personally the great thing about digital is I can try try again.

A couple yearbook students have already flipped through and one of them has already asked to take it home.

A great addition to any yearbook or journalism classroom and great for anyone else who just wants to have a better idea of taking better pictures with their camera.

You can purchase Understanding Color in Photography: Using Color, Composition, and Exposure to Create Vivid Photos from Amazon (affiliate link) or most of the big book stores.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Linguistic Card Game for students

When I have stations throughout the school year I enjoy adding a "fun station." I like to have it be somewhat literary or linguistic. One great game is Bananagrams and I just found out about a new one called Rewordable.

This is a great game for you to enjoy with family and friends, but more than that it's a fun way for students to take an intellectual brain break and think about words (which is key for yearbook and journalism especially!)

There are 124 cards consisting of single letters, blended sounds (ch), and full syllables (ine, age, etc).

The game starts with three cards and three tokens facing up. Then each person gets five cards. You make words with your cards and collect tokens if possible. Once you create a word, others can add to it and it turns into THEIR word.

It really is easy and we only looked at the directions twice the entire night! It isn't just the one with the most verbose vocabulary that wins. It takes some serious thinking and brain power to keep it.

Notes: If you are using this as a quickie with your students, I would not use the tokens. I would just have each student grab five cards and see what they can create.

I was lucky enough to get this as a freebie to try out in my classroom and leave an honest review. As a self declared word-nerd, I honestly love it. You can find it for sale at many big book stores (e.g. Barnes and Noble) I've also include an Amazon affiliate link below (if you purchase through this link I get a small percentage which I use for my classroom)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Rad Life: Journal Review

There are more and more books today reminding students that they live in a wonderfully diverse  world. In fact the author of this journal have written quite a few books that focus on bringing attention a diverse variety of women wo otherwise live in the shadows of history.

This journal was created as a companion to those books (Rad American Women A-Z and Rad Women Worldwide). However, I own neither and find it great as a stand-alone.

Basically it's a guided journal that makes it easier to relate these larger than life women to students' own lives. AND in many cases introduce them to women who they probably haven't heard about in the classroom.

There are pages for drawing, doodling, and sketching...and pages with lines for writing. There are prompts based on quotes encouraging them to write about their own life or draw how they see themselves today.

The people vary from BeyoncĂ©, who let's face it they already know to Agnes Varda (a European film maker).
In my mind, the journal accomplishes three tasks:
1. It gives students a touch of history and may ignite a curiosity in something or someone bigger than their life.
2. It helps students get to know themselves at a deeper level
3. It can have students create connections with people they otherwise distant from

As a teacher, I LOVE this book as inspiration for my own journal bell ringers. I plan on gifting it to a student I know who has a love of history.

I was lucky enough to get this book in exchange for an honest review. If it seems like something you're interested in, please check out three of Kate Schatz's books (including this one!) below. The below links are Amazon affiliate links. Regardless, these are 100% honest.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Four fun ways to start a new school year

Looking for a great first day of school? Here's a piece of advice. DON'T just have them read the syllabus!

Here are some alternatives for a memorable first day that gets you off on he right foot with your students and sets clear expectations for how you want the class to be.
  1. Zombies!
    • What is it? Yes, I said zombies! One of my FAVORITE first day of school activities is having students work in groups to defeat the invisible zombies that are taking over the classroom. Interested? Read more here.
    • What do I need? This requires no technology but you do need some set up. Easily adaptable if your number of students changes. You can photocopy the reflection questions at the end or if you have a projector project them on the board. I usually upload them to my LMS (PowerSchool) and have students submit work there. If you plan on using tech I'd have some paper for back up (first days are chaotic) 
  2. Have a snowball fight
    • What is it? Get to gauge your students writing style, let them throw things, recycle paper and have them get to know a little about their classmates. More about the ABCs of me here
    • What do I need? This requires no preparation and no technology. You can use scratch paper, computer paper, lined paper. Very easy for a first day.
  3. Have them present you to their classmates
    • What is it? Rather than give the students the story of your life, see if they can figure it out based on what's in the classroom. They work with one another, and ultimately present you to their peers. Full blog post
    • What do I need? Your classroom needs to be pretty set up for this. So if they've moved you into an empty room, this isn't the best activity. Otherwise, this is a no-prep, no tech activity.
  4. Do lots of little tasks
    • What is it? Stations are a great option for the first day! I like to have my students do a little of everything
      • Read the introduction to the first unit in the textbook and answer some basic questions. 
      • Play a couple games on quizlet to see what vocabulary they already know
      • Do a mini-scavenger hunt in the syllabus
      • Draw a picture of their goa for this year and under it write three ways they will achieve that goal. 
      • Have them do something partially related to your first unit
        • e.g. World Literature usually starts with the hero's journey so I have a section where they need to pick which hero "doesn't belong" and defend it
          • For example with: Iron Man, Thor, Spider Man, Batman a student could say: "Thor doesn't fit in because the rest are humans" or "Spider Man doesn't fit in because he's the youngest."
        • The big fun with this one is that they CAN'T be wrong. It's practice to think critically and not be afraid to just guess.
      • Create a small video about their name (blog on this to come!)
      • etc.
    • What do I need? It really depends on you! How big are your classes and how much time do you have? My stations are usually pretty low maintenance. Each station gets a letter with a series of related questions. Students complete each station on their own worksheet or the (usually recycled) sheets of paper provided at that station.
What do YOU do the first day of school?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Have your students introduce YOU to the class

So many teachers right now are asking about
that first day of school. I thought I'd make a quick blog post with a fantastic no-prep, no tech option.

I can only do this one in the summer with incoming freshmen as during the school year I have too many students who already know me (because I taught them during the summer).

Many teachers do this with a fancy handout or PowerPoint. Since I never know the status of my classroom the first day (e.g. How many students? Will I have technology?) I keep this no-prep and easy.
  1. I warmly welcome students to my class and ask them what kinds of things teachers usually share about themselves the first day. As they give me answers I write them on the board
    • Home city, If they have kids, Professional background, etc.
      • If students don't guess right away you can nudge them, but I usually get a pretty good list.
  2. We sort the list into three different categories
    • Usually we get something like:
      1. How does she teach?Teacher Type
        • We tie this into rules and expectations too.
      2. What has she done? Background
        • Professional, Personal
      3. What does she like and dislike? Personality
        • I have LOTS of "me" around the class, if you don't you may not want to include this.
  3. I pass out scratch pieces of paper and tell them to walk around the classroom and find any evidence they can that shows them who I am as a teacher. 
    1. Depending on how involved they are, I usually give about five minutes.
      • If they're just sitting or staring at one spot. End it sooner. But they're usually into it.
    2. You may need to set more guidelines depending on your privacy. I let them open any drawer that is unlocked and have even had a (rather brave) student ask if he could look in my purse. I allow it! 
  4. Stop the class and have them see what evidence someone else collected. Sharing is caring!
  5. Tell them now they are going to take the evidence and explain how it tells them who I am. I usually give an example
    1. Ms. Peck has almonds on her desk. This tells me she is trying to eat healthy.
    2. I also model using different evidence to support the same conclusion: Ms. Peck has almonds on her desk and bike pedals under it. This tells us she wants to be healthy.
    3. As I say this I also write it on the board. Then I erase my specific terms and the students are left with a sentence frame: Ms. Peck has _______ This tells me ______.
  6. As this is a little more intense, they'll be in groups (I like my groups of 3-4 students so divide appropriately) I also assign each group a category: personality, teaching, background
  7. Give them some more time (2-5 minutes) to gather more evidence now that they have a category and goal.
  8. Encourage students to focus on the evidence they have to create a mini-presentation on what type of teacher Ms. Peck is.
  9. Students present!
    1. As students present I praise them for their conclusions even if they are wrong..
      • Example: I had a student infer I was Native American because of my complexion and the dreamcatcher in my class. I shared I was Mexican and the dream catcher was for a different reason. Then as a class I tried to get them to guess (I taught American literature)
    2. Other times they are right but their evidence doesn't support it.
      • Example: I had a student infer I loved to travel because of my travel signs in the classroom (that pointed to Rome, London, etc.) I explained those were because I teach World Literature and asked if anyone saw any evidence that I love to travel other that those? (My diploma from Spain, the picture of me riding an elephant)
  10. You're done! Congratulations you had a first day where students got to:
    • Work in teams
    • Find evidence
    • Think critically
    • Make inferences based on evidence
    • Learn about you
    • Move around
    • I feel awkward calling this student centered, as it's all ABOUT the teacher, but the students do all the heavy lifting.
    • And had fun! 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ten tips to flawless writing

Four years ago I wrote a guest blog post for learnemy. They are no longer around, so I thought I'd share the original post here:

As an English teacher it is easy for me to correct students' work. It is harder to teach them to correct their own work. Throughout the years I've picked up tips and tricks that help them avoid mistakes, and catch / correct them once written.

Proofreading isn't as easy as you may think. Tihs shwos your mnid is asoewme. Have you seen that before? It suggests that with only the first and last letter in the right place your brain will find the context and fix it for you. It is always harder to proofread your own work than someone else’s, but sometimes it must be done! How on earth can you proofread your own work?

Below I cover the best way to write a document. Understandably you can’t always follow these steps from start to finish, but ideally you would be able to do so.

1.   Hand write the first copy
a.  What? Who writes anything anymore? I know this seems antiquated but when you write with a pen or pencil silly typos are less likely to occur. Most people also type faster than they write, so by writing you are forcing your brain to slow down and form more accurate sentences. 

2.  Know what you are looking for
a. Different documents have different things you need to keep in mind. A formal essay should avoid first person, contractions and slang whereas an e-mail could include all of those (depending on your company). Be sure you know the style rules you should be following and keep these in mind for the next steps.

3. Type it up and use a spelling and grammar check
a.  Most computers come with a grammar check. Make sure yours is set up in the right language and use it! Do NOT just click, “OK” to everything. Read the options, the explanation and ONLY if you agree change it. Sometimes you may agree that it is wrong, but not in their corrections. That’s OK; rephrase it however you like. If you aren’t sure consider re-writing the sentence a different way regardless.

4.       Get some distance
a. Re-reading something five minutes after you wrote it will rarely yield amazing results. Coming back to it the next day (or longer) is better, but if you absolutely must send it off that same day take a break before you re-read it. Stand up and leave your computer / desk. Get a cup of coffee. Talk to a friend. Get your mind off the document. 

5.       Print it out in sections
a.  I love trees as much as the next person but most people will find more mistakes on paper than on a screen. Use recycled paper if it makes you feel better.

b. If you are proofreading a longer document try to check it in chunks. If you aren’t used to proofreading and you attempt to do it all at once you will likely get tired halfway through and stop noticing as much. It is better if you can divide it into smaller parts.

c. Another option is to read it all at once but only focus on one thing each time. For example: This time I am only looking for run on sentences. Note: This is harder to do!

6.       Read it out loud like you did when you were a child
a. Do you remember when you were little and you read with your finger on the words? This is called tracking. It is helpful to track when you grade your own work because your brain has to register every word. You can’t skip a word or phrase. This is especially useful with unneeded words you will hear as wrong (but only if you manage to say them!).

b. We often hear mistakes before we see them. Did you run out of breath before the sentence ended? It’s probably a run on sentence. Does something just sound awkward? It probably is!

7.       Make it bleed

a. Did you know that many teachers nowadays are being told not to use red pens. Some studies suggest that teachers are too negative when they use a red pen compared to other colors. Embrace this! You want to spot all the mistakes you can so use a red pen and get that edge.

8.       Read your document backwards
a. Backwards document your read? No, not like that. When you read from the top to the bottom your brain starts auto-correcting what it knows you meant to say. By reading the last sentence, then the second to last, then the third to last etc. your brain won’t anticipate the next step and you’re likely to find more mistakes. This is hard the first few times, but it does get easier.

9.       Embrace technology!
a. If you notice that you are frequently using the wrong word (e.g. there instead of their) jump on your computer. Find (Ctrl+F) all uses of your incorrect word and check them all at one time. Also take advantage of tech tools to check your writing.

10.   Rest and Repeat
a. A good job is never done, as stated before it is really best if you let your text rest in between readings. Even if you think you are done take the longest break you can, check it one more time, and then send.

There we are! Ten easy ways to proofread your own document. Whenever possible I suggest you find a trusted friend, colleague, old teacher, or relative who will look over your work. An extra pair of eyes always helps. However, if you are unable to do so, following these steps should make sure that your document gets as close to perfect as you can get it.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Using tech to help students review their writing

One of my big focuses as a teacher is giving students tools they can use without me. I've given many students checklists and models that they have later thanked me for as they used them throughout many later classes.

Besides those paper tools, I also give my students some electronic tools for reviewing their papers, e-mails, articles and really any written work. None of these are a replacement for a second set of eyes, but it is nice to have technology help out.

Most of these are Freemium meaning they offer services for free, but offer more or better services (without advertisements, less wait, etc.)

Below I'll give links and brief descriptions to four sites I give my students. Try them out with your own writing and share them with your students! I bet one or two of them will thank you.

1. Grammarly

If you sign up here you get to try Premium for a week (full disclosure I get a free week if you sign up with this link). Premium is nice, but I find the free version is definitely great too.

There's a Grammarly browser add-on (for Chrome, Firefox or Safari), a Microsoft Word add-on, and students can go to the site and copy and paste text to check it.

My favorite part though, is the weekly e-mails students get. Grammarly sends an e-mail once a week that lays out spelling and grammar issues they encounter most often.

Students can combine this with NoRedInk and practice any grammar skills they still struggle with on their own.

2. PaperRater

This site does have a lot of ads, but it's a great time to teach some digital citizenship in being careful what you click on. Students copy their text and then go to PaperRater. Once there, they paste their text into PaperRater filling out their specifics (type of text, grade level, etc.). The site looks at several different elements: Spelling, Grammar, Word Choice, Style, Vocabulary and Words. Then it gives a grade.

Obviously, this isn't perfect! For style it looks a lot at transitional phrases. For Word Choice it basically identifies words like "a lot, I don't, big, don't, get, really, many, am, go, most" and reminds students to consider other words or use a thesaurus.

A big thing to go over with students is that the grade is automated and that it definitely isn't a crystal ball that will predict that grade they earn.

3. Hemingway Editor
Reminding students that bigger isn't always better, Hemingway looks at sentence length, adverb usage, passive voice, and just awkward phrases to make writing easier to read.

While PaperRater also looks at sentence structure, most students get focused on the spelling, grammar, and grade. Hemingway focuses exclusively on structure. Spelling and grammar errors are irrelevant.

Hemingway Editor is definitely a site worth introducing to students. There is a time and a place for adverbs, passive voice and complex sentences, but this site's easy color coding can help students see if they have too many of one color populating their essay.

4. The Writer's Diet
Last but not least, there's The Writer's Diet. Based on the book by the same name, the site encourages writers to have "fit" writing rather than "flabby" writing.

After copying and pasting a text, students' are given a bar chart detailing a breakdown of their text and then the text itself.

There you are! Four more digital tools that students can store in their toolbox.

I am always sure to discuss all of these with my students. In fact often when first introducing them I have them run their text through and make changes. Then they give me a little write-up  which site they used, what was helpful, and what was not so helpful. This helps build a critical eye and students get an idea of when to use which site.

These are meant to be helpful tools, but they should be used with a critical eye. These are all automated and none of them perfect!

Do you know of any others I should add to my list? Have any experience you'd like to share? Let me know in the comments!

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