Fostering Creativity

Last year I showed my students Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about schools killing creativity and we had a discussion about whether they agreed or disagreed with his argument. Every student felt that during their school day, creativity was definitely NOT a skill that their teachers were trying to foster. Sadly, many felt that even their own parents killed their creativity, as they were told not to pursue their love of music or art, as it would not provide a stable income for them in the future. Right about this time, we were finalizing our study of the allegory, Animal Farm. I figured the best way for students to understand the purpose of the genre was to write their own allegories and I made it a goal to encourage both written and artistic creativity. It was a huge success, so this is now a unit I implement every year.

During the process, I encourage students to either develop a movie or book plot that symbolizes a historical event of their choosing. The steps include researching the historical event, diagramming plot, writing a scene or chapter passage, designing a book cover or movie trailer and presenting to the class.

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Outline for Project HERE.

Student Outline Sample #1

Student Outline Sample #2

Sample Book Covers:

Allegory Book Cover
Mixture of both hand drawn illustration and electronic text
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Made with Canva
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Mixture of both hand drawn illustration and electronic text

Sample Presentations:


A huge part of fostering student creativity is offering students choice. This year, I had students ask if they could use certain tech tools and or create book trailers instead of book covers, and my response was always “go for it!” Sir Ken Robinson says “we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it;” our job as teachers in the 21st century is to reverse this trend and the only way to do so is to make a conscious effort to design learning environments that “educate [our students]” into “their  creative capacities.”

Robinson, Ken Sir. “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” TED Conference. CA, Monterey. 2 Feb. 2009. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Fall in Love with Reading

Our English Department requires students to read at least one ORB (outside reading book) a semester, along with reading the grade level novels on our curriculum guides. Last year I noticed because the ORB reading ended in one culminating project, my students either “fake read” or rushed to finish a book at the last minute. I was fortunate enough to attend the UCI December Conference for Teachers and the keynote speakers were Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle…I know, awesome, right? Both Gallagher and Kittle make reading in class  a priority because as Kittle suggests “engagement leads to volume leads to rigor.” The more time and encouragement we offer students to fall in love with books, the more likely they will read more and then in turn try more challenging texts. Following the conference, I made outside reading a priority. Here’s what I did:

1. In Class Time for Reading

I tried my best to offer 15 minutes each day solely to the reading of their ORBs. This was my opening activity and as soon as the bell rang, I stared my One Click Timer and everyone read quietly until the timer went off.

2. Reading Conferences

Taking the idea from Gallagher, I created a Student Reading Conference journal and called up about 3-4 students each period to talk about their reading. During this time, I learned what types of books my students loved, their favorite genres, and discussed the plots of their current books. Not surprisingly, many students said they enjoyed reading, but with all their homework and extracurricular activities they had stopped reading for enjoyment. Several of my  Honors freshmen explained that the last time they had read a book out of their own volition and not because it was a class assignment was in upper elementary or sixth grade. The conferences were extremely valuable as I felt it also helped me establish stronger relationships with each student in my class.

3. Book Clubs

Also inspired by Kittle and Gallagher, this past month, I assigned students to Book Clubs. I selected six books for the students to choose from and asked students to complete a Google form ranking their top choices; to help, I supplied a brief synopsis of each book and links to book reviews to make ranking easier. I used the results to assign students to Book Clubs in each period. Most students were assigned to their  first or second choice.

Students met once a week in Book Clubs to discuss their reactions. Each week, I provided guided questions to help support their conversations, along with assigning one task. These questions and tasks were shared on Google Slides during each Book Club meeting.

Meeting Foci (we had 4 meetings total):

  1. First Impressions
  2. Character Analysis
  3. Passage Annotation
  4. Theme/ Character Analysis (Final Meeting)
    Sample Book Talk Slides (1)
    These are samples of tasks completed during Book Club meetings via Google Slides.
    Today was our final Book Club meeting and I tried for the first time a Fictional Twitter Account activity I discovered on Twitter (ironic?). Tony Vincent tweeted this blog post. Check it out! The students made a copy of the Google Drawing template and then once they were done, downloaded the file as a JPEG and uploaded it to our Google Slides. Their creativity was astounding! As I circulated the room, I heard giggles and conversations such as “that character would say that!” How awesome to observe students having fun while they critically thought about the characters in their Book Club books.

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Book: Out of Reach

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Book: Unwind
 

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Book: Shattering Glass

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Book: 13 Reasons Why
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Book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Next week, my students who read Out of Reach will get to Skype with the author, Carrie Arcos during lunch. This will be my first time Skyping in the classroom, so I am super excited!

I don’t yet know how I plan to follow up Book Clubs, but I do know that I care about making the love of reading in my class a priority and I hope when students leave my class this year they will be able to say that they fell in love with at least one book!

Tech Tools I love to Use w/ my English Learners

Before I dive into my list, let me provide some background about my Transitional class. My students have transitioned out of the ELD program, but are not quite ready to handle the rigor of a traditional English CP class due to language deficits. The goal with the Transitional program is to provide language support (oral, writing and reading) to help the students eventually move into an English CP class. I currently have 25 Sophomores enrolled in this class. Along with students new to the country, I also have LTELs (Long Term ELs) who have unique issues that  stem from low reading and writing skills, lack of family support and/or lack of motivation. Using technology with these students can be a challenge due to their lack of self-control. Without my presence in the classroom, circulating the room, these students will somehow begin to browse other sites (YouTube, for example). This makes choosing appropriate learning tasks and technology tools crucial.

1. Verso

One of the texts on our school’s Sophomore reading list is the play, The Glass Menagerie. Teaching drama is sometimes challenging because the playwright intended it to be acted out on stage. Often dramas are read in class and/or sometimes acted out by students. Because my students have language issues, reading in class needs a ton of scaffolding. I wanted my students to experience the play without having to watch the whole movie, while passively taking notes or taking up a 2 hour chunk of time. After a class reading, I would add an activity on Verso that required the students to watch a snippet of a scene and answer an open ended question tied to one of our essential questions. Once students make their initial post, they must reply to two peers’ posts. I love that the posts remain anonymous and students aren’t enticed to comment just on their friend’s post or worry about the class judging their own initial post.

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Verso sample
I provide students with frames for both posting AND responding. When I first started, students would comment, “I agree” or “Good job,” and the frames have helped significantly.
Verso Cheat Sheet
I provide my students a Cheat Sheet to fill out while viewing the video to help them organize their thoughts.

Love that Verso allows you to add instructions (I add sentence frames) and key vocabulary for students to include.

Verso edit

2. Peardeck

At some point, all teachers need to relay information to their students and/or teach new concepts. Before Peardeck, I would use either Google Slides or PowerPoint and deliver notes, while students took Cornell notes on a Google Doc and/or filled in a graphic organizer. While I tried to check for understanding, by occasionally asking questions and/or asking the students to pose their questions developed from their Cornell notes, I never truly knew how well my students understood the concepts. With Peardeck, I import my Google slides or Powerpoints and pose questions intermittently throughout the presentation. These questions may be open ended, multiple choice, or drag a dot/annotate on an image/slide. Because each student is logged in with their unique school email, I can see how they are responding live. I can time their response, lock the question, and even display anonymous answers on the screen for the whole class. There are many times during a lesson when, because I can view their activity, I will say “So-and-so, I am still waiting for your response,” which also holds students accountable. An added bonus, is that after a session, teachers can send out a “Takeway” that produces a copy of each students’ responses and leaves a space for students to take notes later into their Google Drives. Usually, the day after a presentation, I will start by asking them to revisit their notes and write a summary in the box provided.

3. GoFormative

Like Peardeck, Goformative is an awesome tech tool that allows the teacher to see the work being accomplished live. What is an added bonus is the ability to give live feedback, which pops on the students’ screen; this allows the students to make revisions and corrections instantly. This tool is AMAZING! I have had students annotate passages, answer multiple choice questions, write thesis statements, code essays,etc. You name it and it probably can be done with Goformative. One time when I had students annotate a poem, I asked students to upload an image that symbolized what was happening in a given stanza. Just by looking at the images, I could see whether they were getting the gist of the poem. Students were very creative and even uploaded an image, labeled it, and added their own pictures with the freehand draw tool.

Try one of these tools! You will not be sorry.