The Blipped Classroom… Or Flended Learning?

Last year, I had major voice problems. A combination of poor breathing habits and too much coffee resulted in a very strained voice. I couldn’t be more thankful for those voice problems. They really pushed me to reconsider the way I teach. Around the same time, I bought an iPad. I also couldn’t be more thankful for my iPad, because that too helped me find alternative methods of teaching. I stumbled across ShowMe, an iPad screen-casting app. That was the beginning. To avoid delivering content to my students in the lecturing style of teaching, which strained my voice the most, I recorded all of them at home, in a quiet environment that did not require raising my voice. I would them post them to my ShowMe profile, give the students the URL and they would watch it at home. I later came to learn that this was the concept of the ‘flipped classroom’, which is becoming a huge trend now in education. It was funny that I was only driven to that way of teaching to preserve my voice and help it heal!

I also started using blogging with my students around the same time, as it was a ‘quieter’ discussion platform. I relied on the school’s intranet LMS for that. I did not have to conduct the same discussions in class, where I would have to use my voice often to facilitate the discussion. Basically, class-time was used to solve worksheets, for revision and for group projects, where my talking would be limited to one-on-one or to a small group (a much more manageable task when you have voice problems). I also set up a wiki on the school’s intranet LMS for creating revision notes. The students did not really make use of electronic devices in the class, partly because I was still learning about which apps to use and how, and partly because there was no clear policy at the school for BYOD device. Here are some screenshots of what we did in class through the intranet LMS system.

 

 

This changed with the beginning of this academic year in January. Year 7 students were all required to purchase iPads and I was one of the eLearning leaders (because I literally begged my principal to assign me that role). The school had drafted a BYOD policy and I had to help create a framework for using iPads and eLearning/mLearning in the school, and to train teachers through PD sessions so that they too can become more comfortable with the use of such devices. Of course, in my role as an eLearning leader, I was sent out to a lot of conferences and inservice sessions, and my learning was exponential.

I was only teaching drama for the first half of the academic year (as I was employed part-time to allow me to finish my masters). But during the second half of the year, I was asked to step in for two teachers that went on long-service leave, one after the other. I created a blog for my year 9 humanities class, which I primarily used as my teaching notes and a revision resource for them, should they need it. I tried to encourage them to blog more but I only had the class for four weeks and creating that culture of blogging takes much longer. Then I stepped in for a year 8 English class. I used the school’s intranet LMS to create a blog for discussions in the class. I also used the blog to teach them about effective ‘digital citizenship’ and how to create a positive ‘digital footprint’. Now, I am back to only teaching drama again, and I am using my drama subject blog more to document the student learning and to show what we are doing in the class.

Through this journey, I have learnt a lot, and I believe I have found the right mixture of Web 2.0 tools, a mixture that works for me. This is not to say that these tools are the best out there, but they work for me, and this is the main lesson I have learnt: it is all about what works for you and your students, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for using ICT in the class. ‘Flipped classrooms‘ and ‘blended learning‘ sound like very fancy terms, but at the end of the day, the teacher is the main driver behind student learning and student success. I do believe in the importance of blended learning, as we need to prepare students to become effective digital citizens and to possess the necessary ICT-literacies that are in very high demand in the modern workplace. I also believe that flipping the classroom has its merits: most of the lecturing can be done at home where students work at their own pace, and this frees up class time for doing the nitty-gritty learning stuff!

So, here is my Web 2.0 and ICT classroom framework, which I believe combines the two concepts (others are definitely allowed to disagree, in fact I would appreciate all feedback and suggestions for improvement):

  1. A class Edmodo page: this is the central LMS system. This is where I would post content: worksheets, videos, quizzes, polls, hyperlinks etc… This is also where I would make announcements, and maybe start discussions about class-related material. I love Edmodo because of its quizzing, polling and library tools, and because I love social networking!
  2. A class blog: possibly using the school’s intranet LMS as the class’ central portal for blogging. The advantage is that it is all internal, however our intranet LMS can be quite limiting. Additionally, students can not really author their own blogs on our school’s intranet LMS, but rather only respond to posts from the teacher. This class blog will be used to facilitate discussions and to coach students in the practices of effective digital citizens.
  3. Student blogs: Additionally, I might set up one blog per group of students (4-5 students in each group) using a school-provided google account. The students would alternate posting and commenting roles throughout the semester (maybe inform them that you expect them to post TWICE during the term and comment on at least FIVE different posts, for example).
  4. A class wiki: this could be set up using the intranet LMS and could be used to create revision notes or a class textbook, or a collection of resources about the topics studied in class. The students can create and embed material using VoiceThreads and screen-casting tools, so that the wiki consists of a variety of multimedia tools to cater for their different learning styles.
  5. Combining Google Forms with screen-casting: this can be used for formative assessment of student understanding. I could create a screencast every week for the theoretical material that needs to be covered, and embed it in the class blog, along with an embedded/hyperlinked Google Form to measure student learning. I rely mostly on my iPad to create screencasts, using apps such as ShowMe or ExplainEverything. I have used Google Forms more than once already, and I love this tool. I have used it to collect feedback on a unit of work from students, I have used it to facilitate peer evaluations in my drama classes and I have used it as a worksheet to help in defining slapstick comedy. I can see many more ways of using it and there are lots of ideas out there.
  6. Using Google Docs: in the event of having to submit an essay or a powerpoint presentation (which is required in a lot of Common Assessment Tasks at school), I prefer requesting that the students use Google Docs. The advantage of doing so is that I can be granted access to the document while it is being created and can be involved in the whole process, which can then be assessed, as opposed to assessing only the final product (a submitted essay or powerpoint presentation). Students can also share their documents with a classmate while they are working on it, and this is to make use of peer feedback. Google Docs also encourages collaborative learning, which I am a very big fan of.

To conclude, I believe this framework doesn’t really fully flip the classroom, and it also makes use of blended learning. So I am going to combine the two concepts in one term, which should it be: FLENDED LEARNING or BLIPPED CLASSROOM?

Defining slapstick comedy!

Last week, the year 7s were exploring the concept of humor in general and what makes something ‘funny’. This week, we shifted our focus more on slapstick comedy and attempted to define/explain it. The lesson started with two warm-ups: Family Portraits and Mirror Exaggerations! These two warm-ups were selected to get the students thinking about some key concepts in slapstick: exaggeration, imitation, physicality/movement, and characterization.

The students were then seated in groups. One group member from each group was asked to bring their iPads and access this Google Form embedded on the class’ Edmodo page. Of course, some students forgot their usernames and passwords, but that’s the beauty of Edmodo, the teacher can reset the students’ passwords anytime.

The students then watched 5 short clips from ‘Looney Tunes’, ‘Home Alone’, ‘The Three Stooges’ and ‘Dumb’N’Dumber’. These clips were chosen to get them to think about how negative personality traits are accentuated and exaggerated in slapstick comedy, how status relationships are challenged and flipped (e.g. young smart Kevin vs. older bigger robbers in Home Alone), how slapstick humor relies a lot on showing comedy through exaggerated actions, movements, facial expressions and body language; and how ‘comic’ accidents play a very important part in creating slapstick humor. Below are screenshots of the Google Form used and some student responses.

The next part of the lesson was a discussion centered around the students’ responses. The Google Form responses were projected on the screen and we used it as a prompt for further discussion, with the aim of ultimately formulating a class definition of slapstick humor and what make it different from other types of humor. Below is a picture of the whiteboard after formulating the definition/explanation of slapstick comedy.

Next week, we will start exploring specific slapstick techniques that can be incorporated in skits and plays in the drama classroom! I can’t wait!

Year 6 students creating radio commercials!

This term, the year 6s are studying radio drama! This unit of work is designed to introduce them to the creative potential of the voice (as one of the actor’s main tools). It follows a unit of work on mime and pantomime, which was used to introduce them to the creative and communicative potential of their bodies (the other main tool any actor has). In previous lessons they have learnt that the voice can be used to create spoken language, music/jingles and sound effects/soundscapes. They have had several chances to apply techniques to produce these different sounds.

Today’s lesson was one in which they would learn the many ways a performer can change the sound of their own voice (playing with pitch, volume, tone, emphasis and accents). The lesson started with a warm-up in which they had to find different ways of delivering a tongue-twister: “You know you need unique New York, but does unique New York need you?” Some students sang it, some said it in an angry tone, some delivered it like a crying baby, some said it using several accents etc… It was lots of fun.

We then moved on to a discussion about the many ways a performer can change the sound of their own voice and asked some students to demonstrate, linking it back to the warm-up. After the discussion, I explained the task instructions which were written on the whiteboard. The students had to move into groups of 3-4 students to create a 1-minute radio commercial about an imaginary product that I assigned their group. Examples of products used: smart machine to make you smarter in your sleep, dog collar with GPS tracking, and magic seasoning that makes any dish taste amazing (for more wonderful ideas, refer to the Drama Notebook). The radio commercial had to include music/jingles, sound effects and spoken language, and each student had to change the sound of their voice in at least one way. The students heard a couple of radio commercials as a demonstration and then were given 10 minutes to quickly prepare and rehearse.

The performances were all recorded using my iPad (name of app: QuickVoice). The students then had to listen to their commercials to help them in their reflection and evaluation (to assess Criterion C – Reflection and Evaluation). The first part of the task is to write their four-sentence reflection using the reflection help-sheet (pictures below).

The students then had to use the checklist to assess their own performance and the self-evaluation template to evaluate their commercial (pictures below).

The last step was to self-assess their ability to reflect and evaluate and give themselves a mark out of 8 for Criterion C (rubric pictured below).

Here is a successful example produced today by a group of 3 boys advertising a car-repairing business. The commercial included sound effects, a jingle and spoken language, and the boys made use of accents and other ways to change the sound of their voice. Enjoy!

To reward or to punish?

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For someone who has had the pleasure of teaching a wide variety of subjects (namely: economics, business studies, statistics, humanities, English/ESL and Drama), I believe classroom management in a drama classroom is a bigger challenge than the others. Firstly, the environment is a lot more open and students are not seated on desks and chairs, which can be an intimidating factor for a lot of teachers. Secondly, drama activities and processes are often noisy and require teachers that are comfortable with noisy classrooms and know how to handle them. Thirdly, drama activities often push students to a level of self-awareness that they do not experience often and this can make a lot of them uncomfortable, which often translates in them playing up in an attempt to hide their self-consciousness.

An added challenge for me is the fact that drama is only timetabled as one double-period for every class per week, and we are expected to assess every criterion at least twice during a semester. When the teacher factors in the periods that will be lost due to excursions or public holidays or school events, or even absences, in the end you are left with approximately 16 double-periods per class per semester (each double-period is about 90 minutes long). Also, assessments should be carried out prior to writing reports which is during the sixth and seventh weeks of the term. Therefore, I often feel like I am racing to teach the content and skills, get the students to practice and apply those skills enough times, and then assess the drama process, and classroom management can often slow that down drastically and makes it more challenging.

Over my teaching experience, I have come to learn, adapt and create a number of classroom rules and procedures to make classroom- (and behavior-) management more ‘manageable’. I have learned to keep the rules simple and easy to remember. I have read that rules should be no more than five. I have come to know that rules should tell students what to do as opposed to what not to do, so instead of saying ‘don’t hit, kick or punch other classmates’, apparently it’s better to say ‘keep hands and feet to yourself’. I took every bit of advice I came across and I tried to adapt it in my classroom. I can say I am pleased with my ability to manage my classroom now, however, it still is a challenge that never ends.

For me, one of the most challenging aspects of classroom management is what behaviors to reward, when and how, and what behaviors to punish, when and how. In a class of 25 students, it is hard to keep track of positive and negative behaviors and to respond to every one of them. Of course, as humans, we tend to notice negative behaviors more than we do the positive ones, so teachers must be conscious and careful of that tendency. I have come to devise a few positive consequences for good behavior, and negative consequences for bad behavior.

Positive consequences for good behavior

1- Verbal Praise: simple, kind words of recognition for a student’s work or behavior go a very long way.
2- Using the Whiteboard: I have found that writing a list of students who are ‘on-task’ or ‘appear to be working well’ on the whiteboard can accomplish a lot. Students notice when others receive this recognition and try to imitate their behavior in order to get their names written up on the whiteboard. I also occasionally review and revise this list throughout the lesson to add more students or remove students who may have started to get distracted or off-task.
3- Merit Points: since I teach middle schoolers now, this system seems to work very well. I always inform my students what sort of behaviors will warrant a merit point at the end of the lesson, and tell them that they will be assigned during the last couple of minutes before the bell.
4- Merit Certificates: I try to keep a track of the upcoming year-level assemblies and prepare some merit certificates for the best students, usually they are the ones that have gathered the most merit points in the classes. These certificates are signed by the year-level coordinator and so that adds more recognition to them.
5- Stickers: sounds cliche, but yes it still works! I had my year 10s begging me for stickers last year.

I generally do not like to give material prizes like candy or stationary because I believe in intrinsic motivation, and I aim to build that in my students. Also, there are so many food allergies now, so one has to be very careful about any food brought into the classroom.

Negative consequences to correct certain behaviors

Behavior regulation chart: I have a poster chart on the whiteboard with six columns: name, warning, time-out, behavior-reflection form, behavior-checklist sent home, detention. It looks something like this:

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This chart is printed, laminated and hung up on the whiteboard top-right corner. The students are taught early on, and constantly reminded of, what sort of behaviors are acceptable and what sort of behaviors are not. The teacher can just write the name of the student and then tick the appropriate column. It’s best to start with a warning, and quietly inform the student what behavior you are warning against (make it short and simple, and so as not to embarrass the student, do it quietly between you two only). If the student does not self-correct, you can then choose the most appropriate consequence depending on the behavior. It’s very important to practice consistency: if talking-out-of-turn warrants a warning followed by a behavior reflection survey, then stick to it with all other students. This can be quite challenging as you will have some days where you might be more anxious or tense, but always try to be consistent and fair.

It is also very important to always have a quiet one-on-one chat with the student at a time when his/her peers are not around, where you can question the student to probe the reasons behind him/her choosing to behave that way. Keep this chat friendly but firm, and do not let it turn into an interrogation. You want the student to know that you have nothing against them personally, but it’s rather their behavior that you want to change or correct.

The behavior-reflection form was an idea I got from lauracandler.com and it looks like this:

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Not all incidents will require getting a parent’s signature. When I need a parent’s signature (which is usually the next step if the behavior continues) I often send home a behavior-checklist that looks like this:

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I still haven’t decided what is the best way to use this behavior regulation chart, is it best to make it progressive, where students take a step up the punishment ladder every time the behavior continues? Or can I reserve the right to choose the consequence to my judgment (after giving the warning of-course)? Richard Curwin wrote a very nice article about how the progressive system isn’t always fair.

What other positive and negative consequences do you use with your classes to reinforce positive behavior and correct negative behavior? What strategies do you use to stay consistent with your classes and to manage their behaviors?

Introducing Slapstick Comedy to the year 7s!

Today, we started a new unit of work on ‘Slapstick Comedy’. This unit of work is designed for the year seven group. The students had a quick circle warm-up where one student would call-out an emotion and the rest would mirror that emotion with a lot of exaggeration, using body language, facial expressions, gestures, poses. The students laughed a lot at some of the responses.

After a quick debriefing/oral reflection about the warm-up and the skills involved, the students were divided into groups of 3 or 4 participants, and each given a piece of poster paper and a few markers. The students had to then watch ‘Gangnam Style‘ and respond to these three questions (which I prepared earlier as a Tumblr post). While the brainstorming questions are not necessarily focused on ‘slapstick comedy’ per se, the aim was to get students to deconstruct humour in general and what makes certain things ‘funny’. These questions are from Tom March’s Look-to-Learn Tumblr blog.

While the students were responding to the three questions on the poster paper, one member of each group was withdrawn to bring their iPad and access the typewith.me EtherPad and input their group’s responses. The students were very engaged and keen to see each group’s response as they were writing it. Here is a screenshot of their responses and a photo of the brainstorm posters.

We then had a quick discussion about their responses and arrived at the unit of work’s ‘significant concept’ which is: Different people laugh at different things. The class followed that with a discussion of the unit of work’s ‘area of interaction focus’ and ‘MYP unit question’. To conclude the lesson, we had a quick reflection activity where the students set three personal learning goals for this unit of work, in written format. The lesson was quite engaging, made use of ICT and incorporated group-work, brainstorming, discussion and reflection. Next week, we will focus more on slapstick comedy and define it and start looking at its features/elements.

Student self-assessment: capitalizing on its benefits?

Assessment is a recurring theme in my blogging. I think that is because it was my biggest challenge when I started teaching. I wrote before how I thought that teacher-training programs do not prepare us sufficiently for our role as assessors as they do for our role as teachers. This blogpost will focus more on self-assessment and how I came to use it in my classroom. I am now a lot more comfortable with my use of student self-assessment in class, but it didn’t start as such. I would also like to invite other educators to comment and suggest other ways to fully capitalize on the benefits of student self-assessment.

The context is a unit of work on improvisational theatre for my year 7 drama classes. I always post the main content on the board for every lesson (imagine writing this four times a week for about six weeks!). Below is a copy of the whiteboard with the main learning material posted on it. Basically it is a simplified list of the features of the best improvisations and what the best improvisers do. We refer constantly to those two lists when the students give each other feedback on their performances, and when the students assess and evaluate their own performances.

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After having practiced improvisational skills for about five or six weeks through playing various improv games and theatresports, the students are given this task sheet that will be used to assess Criterion B (Application). They are told that this MYP Arts criterion is used to assess ideas, skills, techniques and processes. The students are then given a prompt for their improvisation, and the performances are filmed. After all performances, the students watch the video of their improvisations and then use the checklist in the task sheet to assess their performance.

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The last step required of the student is to use the self-assessment column in the rubric below to give themselves a mark out of 10 for Criterion B (Application).

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Last year, this process was already in place for me. However, I didn’t really know what the next step should be. I didn’t know how to fully bridge the gap between the student’s self-assessment and my own teacher’s assessment of their work. I did a lot of reading and professional learning on assessment, and I finally came across a fantastic alternative assessment tool: conferencing with the students. It seems very common-sensical, but in actual fact it wasn’t for me.

What I learned to do after the students use the checklist and the rubric to assess their work, is to conference with each one of them. I use this 2-3 minute chat (which I build into class-time), to probe further reflection. I ask questions such as: “Why did you give yourself this mark? What suggestions for improvement do you have for yourself?”. I also constantly remind them to refer to the guidelines for successful improvisations/improvisers written on the whiteboard for their oral reflection during the conferencing. Students are often (though not always) quite capable of evaluating their own work and formulating their own feedback for improvement. Of course, you will come across the students that under-assess themselves and those that over-assess themselves. I always remind the ones that under-assess their work that they are being too hard on themselves and focus on highlighting the positive aspects of their work. I also probe further reflection from those that over-assess themselves and ask them to see how they can improve. Using their performance, checklist, rubric self-assessment and the conference, I finally arrive at my own teacher-assessment, which I add to their rubric in the teacher assessment column, reminding them to use this discussion in the conference as their feedback for improvement.

I am now much more comfortable with the way I administer the task and assess the students, and with the way I allow students to assess themselves and evaluate their own work. However, I believe there is always room for improvement. I would like to invite teachers and educators to share their thoughts, views and suggestions.

ePeer eEvaluation?

I decided to take Peer Evaluation into the eLearning sphere. I experimented with my year 7 classes, as they have iPads. The students were registered into a class on edmodo.com. Earlier, I prepared this peer evaluation google form (picture of it below ) based on a template that I adapted from The DramaNotebook. I then posted the link to the peer evaluation form on the class’ Edmodo page. You can also embed the form into a blog/Edmodo, but with iPads it might be a bit tricky for students to view the whole form, so I chose to just post the link to the form, which they access through the Edmodo app.

The students were each anonymously assigned a peer to evaluate. Each group was then given a prompt for their improvisation (as a wrap-up of the unit-of-work on improv theatre). Each performance was filmed with an iPad. Once all performances were finished, I projected all the performances on the screen and then students started their peer evaluations.

An advantage of Google Forms is that you can hide certain columns, so I hid the columns that show the student names and projected the feedback they are giving each other, so it was all immediate and in real-time. The students were very engaged and enjoyed receiving this feedback in real-time, which prompted discussions about their responses to that feedback.