Management vs. Engagement

Over the course of my 15 years of teaching in the classroom, there has been a continual debate over management vs. engagement. The argument is that if you create an engaging lesson, then management issues will fade away like a bad stain in the washing machine. The opposite has also been stated, if you have good management then “engagement” (which has been confused with compliance, in this instance), also increases. We need to look beyond the either/or to the both/and.

A classroom should have good student management in place, but it should also include lessons/activities that are engaging. It is very difficult to have one without the other. You can spend hours creating an amazing lesson, but if your students don’t pay attention, then they will not be successful or find value in your plan. If you create your lessons with only you in mind, then the likelihood of students finding it engaging also decreases. In this scenario, you won’t necessarily have open rebellion, after all, your class is well managed, but you also won’t see student ownership of learning, that sparkle that lights up their eyes when they are excited about what they get to work on. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?

The Management Side:

It has been my stance for years that each teacher must decide for themselves what type of management system they want to have in their classroom. This does not mean, however, that you should have NO management system in place. That will lead to big problems down the road. Students crave structure. They need to know what they can and can’t do in your class – what’s O.K. and what’s not O.K., and they need to know where the lines are. That is only fair. We all have lines laid down for us in our lives, places that it is acceptable to go or talk about, and others where it isn’t. Students, however, need to have it explicitly stated. Depending upon the grade level you teach, they are developing their reasoning function, their ability to tie action and reaction together. We need to help them function in our classrooms in a manner that is appropriate. Don’t hide your expectations – let them know ahead of time. No surprises. I’ve talked to many students over the years who have gotten in trouble in a class. For many, the answer to the question, “what did you do to get in trouble?” is met with, “I don’t know. I did what I always do and the teacher just blew up at me.” With no guidelines laid down ahead of time, a teacher will reach their boiling point and explode. The student is left standing there with mud on their face, not sure what just happened. A management system that is thought out ahead of time and communicated to students and parents, will mitigate much of this issue.

One final thought on management – there are many different ideas on what classroom management could and should look like (some educators create management plans in partnership with their students), but always make sure it is something that works for you and that you can live with. Taking someone else’s management ideas or style and just copying them can also cause problems. Make sure it is something that you are committed to.

For those of you that are curious, I have a couple of podcasts of my management plan. The first is here: and the second is here:

The Engagement Side:

When we create lessons for our students, we need to purposefully plan for engaging activities. Don’t let it be an accident. You should consider the following questions to determine engagement opportunities: How do I want students to interact with my information? How deep do I want their understanding to be? How often will they need to process my information? What types of products do I want them to create that will show me that they have reached the level of understanding that I desire?

The answers to these questions will help guide your lesson planning. Engagement, as with management, can take on various forms. It might include individual projects or learning opportunities, cooperative learning, a novel experience, or experiential learning, to name a few. Some teachers begin lessons with exposing students to a new idea, experiment, video – something that causes the eyes to widen and questions to come pouring into the brains and out of their mouths. Others allow students to independently showcase their learning in individual ways. Still others allow create structures in their classrooms that allow students to productively engage with the other learners in the class to make the new learning more meaningful. All of these ideas are ways to increase engagement in classrooms.

But, for a bigger picture of motivation (and engagement first begins with a motivation to do something), I would refer you to Daniel Pink’s Drive. It is an amazing book on what motivates people and can be directly tied into a classroom. I’ve embedded a short video that outlines the book graphically for you (and wouldn’t this be an engaging project for your visual/artistic learners to do?).

As with all learning, make it meaningful, make it student owned and centered. That will start you on the path toward engagement.

Together in Harmony

Imagine a well organized and engaged classroom. A place where students feel safe, comfortable, and are willing to take chances. A place that they are excited to be in and hate leaving. It’s not a utopian vision, it can, to a large extent, happen. But it only happens with lots of planning, forethought, instruction, and monitoring. It will also not usually happen for 100% of your students, no matter how you try and tweak and alter and change. As with everything, you will also find higher levels of management and engagement during certain activities or lessons. Your job is to analyze the causal factors of both to help determine how to better replicate the highs and eliminate many of the lows.

It’s a big task and it isn’t easy. But it sure is rewarding…

Coming Soon…In the next week or so, I will write several blog posts specifically on engagement. Topics will include: How do you set it up? What are some good structures? How do you manage a student independent classroom? If there are specific questions you would like for me to address, please leave a comment on this post.

Yodio

A year or so ago Michelle blogged about alternatives to gcast. One of the websites that she mentioned was yodio.com/. Since then, I have had the opportunity to work with the site a little bit. It is an easy, quick, and free way to create slideshows that include not only your pictures, but your voice. It combines podcasting and digital photography.

I have had teachers make a yodio of their autistic students that was used to provide information about that student to staff members. Another teacher is using yodio to showcase her student’s alliteration book. After each child creates their image and sentence, they are recording themselves reading their page. Yet another teacher has used yodio as a way for students to narrate how to solve a math problem. This example is available below:

Teachers can use yodio as a way to track student’s ability to read a piece of text – another fluency check. It can be a great way to showcase a students development not only for yourself, but for students and parents.

A note: if you add your phone number from school and that number doesn’t show up on a caller I.D., then it won’t automatically tie into your account. There is a way to add a password when you use that number so that you can access that podcast on your account.

For ease of use, this is a great way for students to begin creating personalized products.

Dvolver Movies

It has been many, many months since I have last posted, but I decided that I really wanted to post at least one thing over break. I decided to focus on dvolver.com/.

This site allows anyone to create a three scene movie with up to two characters in each scene. Students can choose the setting, the background, the characters (and their dialog), the music, their title, and the title theme. It is a great way to allow students to begin working with these concepts in a more sophisticated way. I have had my students create movies explaining an important historical event, a process, and a “how to” video. They were able to select their topics based upon those three criteria. You could have students create a video on virtually anything. Some ideas would include: how to solve a math problem, a biography of a historical figure (or themselves), how to care for an animal or pet, how to play a game, and why something is important.

Since my students weren’t setting up an account, they had to create their video in one class sitting. I therefore created a graphic organizer where they selected their scene, background, character, and music selections ahead of time. I also have a place for them to write out their dialog. I found that if I just had them try to create it on the fly, they really struggled with not only finishing it within the class period, but also creating a quality product.

Just a small warning before you have your students create their own movies – preview the entire process first. There are several scenes and characters that would not be appropriate for students to use. I do not include those options in the graphic organizer that I created. When I am previewing the site with them, I show them all of the characters and scenes, but quickly point out those that are not O.K. for them to use. I have had no problems with them using inappropriate characters or scenes.

The great thing about dvlover is that you can embed the movies. I have my students embed theirs on their personal page on the class wiki. Click here to view some examples of my students’ movies.

Since I teach in a K-8 school, I can have my students create movies that can be used to instruct younger students or to extend their knowledge. I try hard to have a purpose beyond just completing the assignment for them to consider.

Below is a Jing screencast that I created to explain how to create a dvolver.com/ movie.

Dvolver

This screencast explains how to embed your dvolver movie onto a wikispaces page.

Embedding Dvolver

This is the graphic organizer that I created for my class: dvolver storyboard-1

I have found dvolver to be a great way for my students to create a visual representation of their knowledge.

Fluency

During this summer, I really started thinking about my students’ fluency. As a teacher of LEP and FEP students, increasing their fluency is an important part of moving them toward grade level comprehension. As I always do, I wanted to make the practice of fluency as real world as possible. Luckily, I work in a K-8 building and had developed a relationship with one of the 1st grade teachers. While it probably should have occurred to me earlier, it finally dawned on me that my students could prepare a short book and read it to his class.

After discussing it with the 1st grade teacher and ironing out some details, it looked like it was going to happen. I had decided to piggy back on the concepts and content that he was teaching in class to help us determine which books to read. For example, when his class studied family relationships, my students checked out picture books on that subject to read. This was another way that this project could help build some background knowledge and experiences for his students. In this manner, both groups of kids would benefit. For some topics, my students selected from nonfiction texts, especially when it came to science topics. I feel that it is important for my students to learn how to read both fiction and nonfiction as they require different tones and expressions.

After our first trip, I decided to step things up a notch, and talked to my students about engaging the 1st graders that they were reading to. We talked about asking questions (both comprehension and connecting questions) as we read the book. In this way, the 1st graders would be even more engaged. It also provided a challenge for my students to come up with interesting, relevant questions for the group that they were reading to.

Since my purpose was to focus on fluency, I have videotaped each student read for about 20 seconds each time we visit the 1st grade class. I can then create a video of their clips and track their progress over time. It also allows me to assess how they are reading fiction vs. nonfiction texts.

I must say, my students have really enjoyed this experience. They are becoming more and more proficient and one of the benefits is their progress with not only reading out loud, but the level that they must understand the book and its concepts before they read to the 1st graders. While it is helping the 1st graders build their background knowledge, it is also doing the same for my students.

During the course of the week, my students select a book to read, practice reading it out loud to themselves, practice reading it out loud to their classmates, read it to me, and write down some questions that they can ask. In this manner, by the time we visit the 1st graders, most are proficient at reading their books.

I must say that this project has turned out better than I had hoped. It is an experience that my students look forward to. They do not complain about practicing because they know that a real audience awaits them. At this point, they know that the 1st graders will lose interest really quickly if they don’t perform well, so they always strive to keep it engaging. The first graders love it as well, stopping me during lunch to ask when my class will be visiting them.

Middle school student reading "Anamalia" to 1st graders.

Reading a nonfiction text to 1st graders.

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Thirteenth Edition ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnivals

Let me start by saying that it is quite intimidating to follow up Candace William’s Twelfth Edition ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival. She did a wonderful job introducing and transitioning between each blog submission. I am in no way as creative, so I apologize in advance, however I will give it a shot. Before we get started here is some information to make note of. Alice Mercer will be hosting the next blog carnival on December 1, 2009 at The Blog of Ms. Mercer. Following her, in February 2010, is Shelly Terrell at Teacher Reboot Camp: Challenging Ourselves to Engage Our Students and in March 2010, Karenne Sylvester at Kalinago English: Teaching Speaking Using Technology. If you would like to submit one of your blog posts for one of these upcoming blog carnivals, you can do so here. Lastly, hosting the Thirteenth Edition ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival is a privilege and I want to thank Larry Ferlazzo for allowing us the opportunity.

Yesterday, the circus, aka “The Greatest Show on Earth,” came to town here in Denver, CO. Today, however, we have our own “circus stars” to feature in the Thirteenth Edition ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival. I would like to present to you…

Ringmaster, Larry Ferlazzo
Larry Ferlazzo is the author of Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day …For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL. As ringmaster, Larry will direct us all to the important question “Separate High Schools for Immigrants?

Pyrotechnics and Sound, Nik Peachey
Nik knows how to set the stage and add all the fireworks and pizzaz when introducing Web 2.0 Tools for EFL ESL Teachers at Nik’s Quick Shout through his latest presentation in video and scribd booklet format. And, to make sure that the audience doesn’t get bored, he dazzles us with Creating your Broadcast Network, a collection of tools that Nik himself uses to “put information ‘out there.’”

Lion Tamer, Karenne Sylvester
Karenne is the tamer of all the lion hearted ESL/EFL/ELL teachers as she discusses the ins and outs of Twitter in her blog post The English Language Teacher Guide to Twitter, tech tip #11. Not only does Karenne tame those familiar with English as a Second Language but she also guarantees that those in the audience also understand “What’s a TEFL Teacher?” in her blog, Kalinago English: Teaching Speaking Using Technology.

Tightrope Walker, Johanna Stirling
Johanna balances and performs on the tightrope while explaining the skills needed to successfully use spell checkers. For the observers who are too distracted by her performance to take notes, they can find the answer to Spell checkers- how useful are they? at The Spelling Blog.

Animal Caretaker/Trainer, David Deubel
David is our featured animal caretaker/trainer. Working with animals is never an easy task, but David makes every effort to provide those in his care with the tools and encouragement to be successful. Stop by and say hello after the show. David and his friends can be found at EFL Classroom 2.0- Teacher Talk: Presentations to help new teachers.

Flying Trapeze Artist, Chiew N Pang
Chiew is a one man circus all himself as he flies from one trapeze to the next. The first combination of stunts is Ideas for the First Lesson and Ideas for Using Videos in the Classroom. As his finale, Chiew makes it fun for all with a Cockney Rhyming Slang, Game for a Steffi? Time for a Bubble?

Acrobat, Barbara Sakamoto
There is never just one acrobat at the circus. It seems they always perform as a group and put on a spectacular show when they work together. Barbara has mastered working with groups and shares her journey from the “pre-Internet 80′s” to the “social 2000′s” and experiences with PLN’s. What is a PLN, anyway? I’ll let Barbara tell you at her blog Teaching Village: We’re better when we work together.

Aerialist, Shelly Terrell
Shelly Terrell sores above the rest Getting Children Involved with Edtech at Teacher Reboot Camp. She also invites others to join her PLN up high with Voice Thread. Audiences are amazed as what they perceive as the impossible happens right before their eyes.

Fire Breather/Eater, Mary Ann Zehr
Mary Ann is not afraid of hot topics. She will astonish those watching with spectacular feats of fire at her blog post, Learning the Language: We Don’t Know Much About the ELLs in Charter Schools, as she eats and breathes issues concerning English Language Learners.

Juggler, JP Loucky
JP is not your average juggler. He juggles people at his CALL 4 All ning where he presents a CALL Collaboration Proposal. For those of you not familiar with CALL, it is an acronym for Computer Assisted Language Learning. So if you are interested in networking with other jugglers, give JP’s blog post a visit.

Contortionist, Rafael
Rafael displays his contortion abilities and talents bilingually. At his blog post Classroom language when using the board / Lenguaje útil del profesor de Inglés en la Pizarra, Rafael demonstrates a variety of questioning techniques teachers can incorporate while at the board so that students stay engaged in the lesson.

Unicyclist, Nightwalker
This unicyclist is not just talented in one area as some might assume. He has skills. “Skills?” you say. Yes, Nightwalker is proficient in balancing reading, listening, writing, and speaking skills to support his demonstrations. One performance that Nightwalker is best known for is Dictation. “Why Dictation?” you say. You’ll just have to stay for the show to find out.

Trampolinist, Janet Bianchini
Janet is “high on the hog” when she is on the trampoline and makes it look like “a piece of cake.” Her blog post WikiEducator Update demonstrates her skills as a WikiEducator using Wordle and idioms.

Circus Clown, Ann Foreman
Ann is one clown that stuns the crowd with her karaoke skills. When Ann is not performing, she hosts karaoke parties for the rest of the circus clowns. They all practice for their time in the spotlight using the Sing and Investigate Task at her blog Encouraging learner autonomy.

Encore: You can view all blog submissions here. Have a great school year and we look forward to seeing you again soon at “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Ning.com

In December, a colleague of mine, Kevin Byers, told me about a site that he was using with his students – Ning.com/. I was curious about the site and decided, after talking to him about it for a while, to try it with my students. Over winter break, I created my classroom Ning. I decided that I would keep the site closed so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it being open to everyone. My students had to access the site by invitation only through e-mail, so I decided that I would use their ePal accounts. After returning to school, I got permission from my principal and was ready to begin the process.

I first had to teach my students about social sites (which Ning is), how to communicate on them, how to navigate to the site, selecting an avatar, and the list goes on. My students loved it immediately. It was something that they were interested in doing not only every day at school, but also at home. After I had buy-in, I knew that I must keep the purpose of the site academically related.

We started by having discussions in the forum section about the books that they were reading. Invitations to join the site were extended to all of my students, but also to administrators and other teachers that were interested in posting information. This became a place where all of my students could communicate.

From there, I moved to embedding videos on the site. The first round of videos were based on what my students were studying in social studies class. For one group, a video on ancient Greece, for another, an archaeological dig, and for the last group, Chinese immigration. After watching the video, there was a question and they needed to respond to it. They could also respond to someone else’s comment. I found that this was an engaging way to bring content into my classroom so that I could support building background knowledge.

While gcast.com/ was free, I was able to embed podcasts that my students had given over various books so that others could listen to it.

Moving into next year, I plan on teaching my students about blogging (as there is a blog feature). I think that this can be a great way to lead into a more technical writing, especially if they begin quoting other sources (which I would like for them to do).

If you decide to start your own Ning (which means “peace” in Chinese, by the way), there are several things to keep in mind.

1. Decide if you want your site to be open or closed. As the creator of the site, you have network creator privileges and select the level of security that you want.

2. You can also decide what types of features that you want on the site (videos, blogs, groups, forums, music, events, etc).

3. You can decide the level of control over what information is posted. For some features, you can establish a requirement that the network creator must approve posts.

4. Each member of the Ning has their own page. As network creator, you can decide if they can change the colors on that page (this was something that I did allow).

5. Since my Ning was for academic purposes, I knew each student’s login information. This was not only a safeguard feature, but also one of practicality. I can’t tell you how many forgot their login information.

6. The content of the Ning is really up to you, the creator and to your members. The sky is the limit!

Alternatives to Gcast

With the unfortunate new price that it costs to use Gcast.com, Jennifer and I have been searching the Internet for alternatives that are free to use. Luckily, we have found two that we like. For those of you unfamiliar with Gcast, it is an online podcast host that allows its users to call in by phone and record a podcast. The podcast is saved to the users account to be edited later if needed or published. Jennifer had been using Gcast with her students to record their book talks. She was going to expand her use of Gcast to her professional development co-teaching class so that the members of the class could record their co-planning session. In search of an alternative solution, we posted a tweet asking for suggestions of similar sites to Gcast. In return, we were referred to phonecasting.com and drop.io.

Here is what we have found to be and not to be useful…

Phonecasting.com seems to offer promise because it allows users to record and publish podcasts through various methods such as uploading your podcast from your computer or calling and recording a podcast from your phone. It is free to use and the number you call to record the podcast is toll free. The later was a huge feature that we considered essential for two reasons: 1) we cannot expect our students to call a long distance number from their home phone and they may not have a cell phone 2) teachers cannot call long distance from the school and to record a co-planning session would possibly use excess minutes on their cell phones. However, Jennifer and I were both unsuccessful at setting up a channel (the location where the podcasts would be stored or featured). Even after referencing the “how to” directions many times, we still could not figure out how to completely set up the account and channel. It was very frustrating and we can normally figure out these types of things (at least together). Needless to say, we will not be using phonecasting.com.

I liked Drop.io almost immediately. Drop.io is much like an online file folder for sharing files. It allows you to upload media, documents, podcasts, pretty much anything you can imagine. It even allowed me to upload a .m4v file that I created and then exported from iMovie. You can “drop” a file by uploading it directly to your drop.io folder, emailing it, or calling and recording a voicemail. Drop.io also provides a number to call if you wish to host a conference call. Drop.io was very easy to set up and use. When I performed a “test” call, I was surprised how quickly the .mp3 file appeared in the drop. The only set back that we foresaw was the long distance telephone number for the voicemail.

Yodio.com allows users to record, create, and share pictures, presentations, etc. Yodio users upload pictures or a presentation and add narration from their computer or by phone. The number users call to record their Yodio is toll free. However, the number the user calls from must be registered with the account being called. Yodio was also very easy to set up and use. One thing that we like about Yodio is the visual component it offers.

We would love to hear of any sites that you use for podcasting or how you use podcasting in your classroom.

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