Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Speaking Beyond the Classroom: Using Voice Comments in Google Drive

After seeing a post about Voice Comments via Free Technology for Teachers, I decided to play around with it. I love conferencing with students about their work, and know that many find my handwritten comments nearly impossible to read. Even when I attempt to decipher my hieroglyphics, I sometimes fail to accurately interpret my chicken scratching.

Before launching into the challenges and successes in my journey to learn Voice Comments, I'll share a few ways I plan to use the app in my classes this year:

1. Feedback for students: Students will need to set up a Google account, learn to use Google Drive (particularly the sharing, editing, and commenting features), and install the Voice Comments app. Additionally, teachers will need to "train" students to listen to the audio feedback. We all know that our written comments often get ignored by students, so it's imperative that teachers find ways to validate student listening to the comments.

2. Reflection about Units, Lesson Plans, and Assignments: Voice Comments offer teachers a unique opportunity to reflect on their own practice. I often have good intentions about writing reflections at the end of units, making immediate changes in lesson plans right after teaching the lesson, etc. We all know what happens to the best laid plans of mice and men! Typically, I don't remember what I planned to change until after the next time I teach the lesson! Am I the only one who does that?

3. Sharing Resources with Colleagues: Whether you share within your department, building, district, or virtual PLN, imagine bringing colleagues voices into your classroom and/or onto your couch and learning directly from them as they talk about how they teach a lesson, plan a unit, etc.

4. Peer Evaluating: What if students could peer evaluate by talking to one another outside the classroom? Although not all students will embrace this idea, once a few do, more will. Rather than skyping (as some of my students have done), Voice Comments allow students to highlight sections of text and sync the comments with the highlighted section. I see a much more productive peer evaluating experience than I often get in my classroom.

Additionally, monitoring peer evaluating in the classroom is a challenge for me, especially when I am working in a group. With Voice Comments, not only will I be able to offer students feedback, but I can listen to the feedback they give one another and improve the peer evaluation experience based on what I learn from their feedback.

Launching Voice Comments

To get started with Voice Comments, you'll need to access your Google Drive Page. Once there, select the red "Create" button and navigate to "Connect More Apps" in the gray box at the bottom of the page.

After selecting "Connect more apps," I needed to search for Voice Comments. Launch the app. You should get a request to "Allow" a list of options. Click on "Allow."

After installing the app, choose a file to experiment with. I have not yet figured out how to delete a comment and rerecord it, so I wanted to experiment first.

I decided to experiment with a fudge recipe. To access my voice comment, go to "Comments" in the top right corner and click on the link that will redirect you to my first attempt to use the app. Here's the link to the fudge recipe. 

There is a big gap in the audio where I wasn't sure how to stop recording (Stop is on the right where the microphone icon was located.). To hear the playback of my comments, click on the green arrow. After the gap, you'll hear my dog Snug barking followed by me mentioning my inability to remember talking about a feature of the app, which I still couldn't remember! What I forgot to talk about is the highlighting feature I mentioned earlier in the post.

You might encounter a prompt requesting that access by the app. This shows up as a small box in the middle of the page. You'll need to select "allow" in a smaller box; otherwise you'll get a spinning wheel that will prove very frustrating.

Another challenge I faced in learning how to use the app was with my built-in microphone. Even though I had granted the app access, it still gave me a message saying it couldn't hear me. I was able to fix this by clicking on an additional "Allow" box in the upper right corner just above the "We can't hear you box." Then I had to exit out and reload the app.

For me, technology always poses a learning curve, but once I overcame these initial hurdles, I found the app increasingly easy to use. That said, the real test will be on the receiving end!

Next, I experimented with an assignment reflection/tutorial. I chose to talk about teaching silent scenes in Beowulf. Here's the link. As readers of this blog know, I'm a huge disciple of performance pedagogy in language arts and take any opportunity I get to share the Folger Shakespeare methods with others. Voice Comments will be a useful tool, enabling me to talk about ways I use the Folger methods in my classes.

Since my first reason for learning the Voice Comment app is for feedback on student work, I decided to practice on a student-generated silent scene from a few years ago. Here's the link. I do see some challenges with the highlighting feature and with my ability to compartmentalize in my head what I want to say to students. Even though I mention surface errors in my example here, that's not really what I want to focus on in the future. My goal is to use the app as a way to comment on organization and ideas and only briefly mention surface errors.

Although conferencing with students about content and organization is my main focus in providing feedback, I do see potential for creating tutorials that address surface errors and grammar. That said, there's probably a better way to do this.

Jennifer Roberts has a helpful video tutorial; however, the site has changed somewhat, and I tried to address these in my post.
Both students and teachers know the old story about dropping a load of papers over the bannister and assigning those that land on top an A grade. Most old-timers like me know what it's like to return papers with coffee and popcorn stains. I have shaken my purple and pink pens in attempt to force more ink onto the page, and I've looked frantically for the pen I began grading a paper with days ago. Perhaps these stories will become legends of long ago as technology continues to evolve.

Happily, I can now dismiss students from class knowing that that evening my voice will once again greet them from the virtual beyond. (Insert smiley emoticon here!)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

"Teach Like a Pirate": Review 1, "Channeling My Inner Pirate"

Dave Burgess admonishes teachers to channel their inner pirate in his popular professional book Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator (Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. 2012).

I found myself of two minds while reading TLaP, so in that spirit I've decided to write two separate reviews of the book, which I gave four stars on Goodreads, one representing my two inner teacher voices. In a sense, I'm having a left brain vs. right brain debate with myself about the book.

This post focuses on what I like about the book and how I found myself reliving the pirate moments in my teaching career. I'll post my second review a little later.

Review 1: Channeling My Inner Pirate: A.K.A. Drama Queen

The drama queen teacher in me (I have a drama endorsement) loves Burgess's many lists of ways teachers can get students up and moving. Simply, teachers who teach like pirates embrace the edutainment philosophy and make class an increasingly fun place to be while still teaching to the standards, whether or not they be local, state, or CCSS. Simply, we can have and do it all! That's the premise of the book.

Thus, while reading TLaP, I began thinking about the ways I've unleashed my inner pirate over the years. At first blush, my list looks like this:

Have Fun with Food:
Early in my career, I incorporated a Medieval Feast into my Chaucer unit as a culminating activity. I checked a recipe book out of the library and translated the recipes from Middle English to late Modern English. Students prepared some of the dishes, and I made some, too. We decorated the room and dressed in costumes. I'll never forget the disgusting taste of Goss Sauce, and was surprised about how much I loved the Pomegranate drink one student made.

From early in my career, I've done what nearly every teacher does: I've fed my students. These days we have our Mocktail Party in my Communication dual enrollment class and our Anglo Saxon mead hall boasting celebration when we study Beowulf. A colleague creates a speakeasy when students study The Great Gatsby, but I have a junk food feast party that correlates with the party scenes Fitzgerald describes. The junk food feast works as a catalyst for emulating Fitzgerald's writing style.

TLaP inspires me to find other ways to incorporate food into my lessons. What do real pirates eat anyway?

Move Like a Pirate:
I've seen enough pirate movies to know they don't sit in lounge chairs on the ship's deck. Pirates have some impressive moves and quite capable get others moving too.

My colleague Debbie has a great description of Living Iambic Pentameter on her blog.Having been trained in the Folger Shakespeare Library's teaching methods, movement is no stranger to students in my classroom. I believe in getting students out of their seats and onto their feet whenever possible and incorporate performance pedagogy into my lessons, including poetry and prose, whenever possible.

My classroom is small, so sometimes I move class out into the hall so we can form a big circle for sharing and mingling. When students become "experts" on a topic, term, or concept and when they share their "expertise" with one another by getting out of their seats, we build our classroom community and reinforce our learning. When students are up and moving, they are more engaged learners and more likely to contribute to class discussion.

Speed dating, having a mocktail party, performing group speeches, blocking and performing scenes from literature are only a few of the ways I get kids to bust a move in class. I've even had kids play leap frog to get a sense of Twain's "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" and compete in a braying contest when we studied A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Take it to the Street:
There's more than one way to take students on a field trip.

Many years ago as part of the Julius Caesar unit, I began having a small outdoor festival. Students played Olympic-style games and wore togas. A few colleagues joined the party, which led to an all-school Shakespeare festival one year and a Twain festival another year. These festivals took lots of energy and became an all-school endeavor in conjunction with our local university.

One year I taught Uncle Tom's Cabin and decided to send my students on an Underground Railroad trip. I solicited businesses to act as points along the railroad. Students had cards they took to the businesses for documentation, and some of the businesses functioned as covert agents working to capture "students" along their journey. I incorporated a writing assignment into the project, too.

When I teach The Great Gatsby, I solicit our school resource officer to help by giving a presentation on drunk driving laws in our state. After, we set up an obstacle course of orange cones on the parking lot or practice football field behind the building. Students wear goggles that simulate the vision of an inebriated person and drive a golf cart through the obstacle course. This is a popular activity that would work well with any text that uses alcohol as a plot or character device. It's especially effective in the spring when students make plans for prom and graduation.

On her blog, Debbie describes the poetry/art project we turned into a museum walk for our seniors last year. I wrote about the project in an earlier post, too.

More about the Book:

My favorite parts of TLaP are the many lists of suggestions for engaging students in learning. Burgess talks about how to use music to inspire learning, how to become a guest speaker in your own class, how to simply transform the room's atmosphere using plastic sheeting, how to move the students physically and the class literally from the room to other physical spaces.

Burgess wants teachers  to be "daring, adventurous, and willing into set forth in uncharted territories." The pirate teacher "rejects the status quo and refuses to conform to any society that stifles creativity and independence. They are entrepreneurs who take risks and are willing to travel to the ends of the earth for that which they value. Although fiercely independent, they travel with and embrace a diverse crew."

As too Burgess says, too many teachers teach from a perch (the desk). Burgess incorporates the metaphor of a lifeguard tower to describe such teachers. Others call the the "sage on the stage." To engage students in learning, we must willingly immerse ourselves into our classrooms.

In fact, Burgess uses PIRATE as an acronym that he explains throughout Part I of the book. In Part II, he offers the extremely helpful list of ways to channel your inner pirate, and in Part III he tells us "How to Build a Better Pirate," meaning how to get our pirate ship to set sail without sinking!

As with my colleague Debbie, simply reading TLaP brought back memories of my pirate moments. Early on I began keeping a list of new ideas inspired by Burgess's book. Simply, the pirate creed works for any subject. Although Burgess teaches history, I see his ideas at work in my own classroom and in those of inspirational teachers from around the country and across disciplines and grades.

So get out your spyglass, matey, and view your classroom with a patch over your eye, a parrot on your shoulder, and a peg in your leg. I bet you have your own inner pirate bounty buried in your files like treasure on a pirate's map. And if you don't, a treasure map awaits in in Teach Like a Pirate. Here's to blue skies and smooth sailing.