Writing Ballad Poems through ICT tools

After a lot of administrative work last term, I’m finally back regularly doing what I like best – teaching. In my role ( one of many ) as a Lead Teacher supporting the 5/6 Team, I get to teach small groups of students in workshop environments in areas of need and/or choice. This term, the Grade 6 students are beginning their writing workshops by focusing on different narrative forms. As a songwriter, I’ve written many songs in the Ballad style, telling stories through song. This was a natural fit for me to take on a Narrative Workshop based around Ballad Poetry. Combining my talents in writing and ICT, I have decided to heavily incorporate Web tools to teach this unit. Here’s a rundown of how I plan to do it.

My main tool for delivering this unit of work will be Edmodo. I’ve created a subgroup within the main Grade 6 Edmodo group specifically for Ballad
Poetry. Before the lessons even begin next week, I have posted links to Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, a YouTube video of the Ballad of Paul Bunyan for an American ballad example, a site showcasing all the ballads of Robin Hood as an introduction to how traditional ballads as story telling originated and a link to a website that has a published version of ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s “Mulga Bill’s Bicycle”, ensuring the students are also exposed to our native Australian ballads. During the next 3 weeks of the unit, I will be encouraging the students to post their own search results of ballads so that they can be exposed to a wide range of the ballad poem form. I think exposure to examples are important in any writing unit, especially in a form they are not accustomed to.

A final link I have provided on the Edmodo page is a excerpt from the Simpsons’ episode, “Bart the Daredevil”, in which Homer goes hurtling down a slope on a skateboard and over Springfield Gorge, with disastrous results as always. When I read and chose Mulga Bill’s Bicycle as an example ballad, my mind immediately flashed to this episode as it related beautifully to the experience of Mulga Bill crashing his bicycle in similar circumstances. I felt that the students would need a contemporary link to this century old poem, and despite the objections of some in educational circles to the Simpsons, I get great engagement from my students whenever I use the cartoon as a crossover into other literature and thematic discussions.

My plan is to begin the unit reading Mulga Bill’s Bicycle and break the poem down into a sequential series of events. I’ll then present the clip of Homer’s disastrous skateboarding experience and do the same breakdown of events. Using the stanzas in the Paterson poem as a guide, we will co-write a ballad of Homer Simpson’s Skateboard. Here I will introduce the students to another Web Tool I like using for quick and easy collaboration – WallWisher. I’ve embedded the shared Wallwisher Pinboard into a post on Edmodo already. The students will review the Simpsons clip while working collaboratively on building the ballad in WallWisher through post-it notes of individual stanzas of rhyming verse. As they experiment, we’ll be able to see everyone’s attempts on our interactive whiteboard. As each stanza appears, we’ll be able to arrange them into a sequential order to tell the story.

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This way, I’ll be able to emphasise the idea of freely writing parts of poems that flow easily from your imagination instead of being stuck on a particular part and not progressing. By using the post-it notes on WallWisher, we will be able to manipulate individual verses and insert new ideas that fit when they arise. By having the board embedded in Edmodo, we will be able to continue this collaboration beyond the classroom lesson time for homework during the week or during independent writing time.

Once the students start drafting their own poems, we will use Edmodo as a collaborative platform for supporting each others’ writing. Children will be encouraged to post their drafts for others to comment on, allowing them to get assistance from myself or classmates if they get stuck for ideas, rhyming words, rhythm and structure. Once their drafts are ready, I will ask them to submit the writing through the Assignment feature of Edmodo. This will allow me to annotate their work with my suggestions and note, but not correct, grammatical/spelling issues ( correcting doesn’t teach them to edit independently).

We’ve identified that this cohort of students is reluctant or lack skills in editing their writing. I want to address this by allowing them to draft, edit and get teacher feedback through ICT. It means they don’t have to rewrite texts completely, instead just making changes where necessary. I’m hoping this will encourage them to make several revisions to their text, rather than the draft/correct/publish cycle we have perpetuated too much as teachers. Edmodo’s Assignments allows for several revisions to be submitted with the ability for teachers to feedback on each new attempt.

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Early on in the unit, we will be co-creating a rubric that will guide the students in composing their ballads. This will be posted to Edmodo so they can constantly refer to it as they are drafting and be aware of expectations as well as the structures and features to include in their ballads.

Finally, I’m going to spend a short time near the end of each lesson ( one hour duration ) presenting publishing options. I’ll be encouraging but not requiring the students to consider multimedia tools to present their ballads. By the time the unit is over, I would have already seen and assessed their ballads through the Assignments submissions process and as a result they will already have a written option available. I want to encourage the idea that publishing is not just for the purpose of handing up work for the teacher to assess. We should celebrate the creation of the ballad through a movie version, a multimedia slideshow, a comic strip, a blog post for others to see and comment on, or maybe turn it into a song Mr G style!

I’m looking forward to how this process will pan out. If it goes to plan, I hope that other teachers will try out the lesson structure and the use of Edmodo to encourage better editing of written work by students. I’ll return to this post at unit’s end to reflect on how it went. In the meantime, I would love to hear from other teachers about how you have used Edmodo or similar Web Tools to track writing progress.

Maths Extension/Enrichment and Edmodo


Addressing the needs of all students in your Maths Classroom can be a real challenge. Do we stream based on ability? Do we use collaborative mixed ability groups? What’s the role of rich,open ended questions and differentiated curriculum? How do we pitch to the middle 50% but still cater for the upper AND lower 25%? It’s a challenge I’ve been grappling with for 25 years. Recently, I’ve been considering the use of Edmodo to provide access to extension and enrichment Mathematics opportunities for the more able students in the classroom. ( For those unfamiliar with Edmodo, click here for a description) This is my plan. I would be interested in feedback on its potential effectiveness before going further with it.

Identifying the target group
This is not a simple task. The standard method these days seems to be the standardized test. In Australia, we have NAPLAN, the yearly national assessment task targeting Years 3,5,7 and 9. Debating its merits here is not my intention today. I see its usefulness in quick identification of the higher achievers in a current group of students. I would then administer the next level test to these able students to gauge how far their abilities extend beyond the current class level. For example, after selecting a group in Grade 6 based on Grade 5 results from the previous year, I would give them the Year 7 test. Using data analysis, I’d identify their strengths and learning needs for future programming and targeted areas for extension and enrichment.

This would only be a starting point. Standardized tests are a narrow form of assessment that don’t necessarily identify fully the student’s need for extension in Mathematics. I’d continue to evaluate the children within and outside the extension group. I’m sure during the year I would identify children who could join the group for extension in specific areas they excel in. The beauty of using an open, collaborative, independent learning platform like Edmodo is that students can opt in and out of specific tasks or units of work.

The Edmodo Extension Maths Program
This is how I envisage setting up and running an Extension Program in Mathematics within the standard classroom environment.

First I would set up a Maths group for every student in the class. I wouldn’t want the Extension group to stand out from the crowd by having sole access to Edmodo for Maths. I would use this area to post problem solving tasks that the whole class could engage with, links to quality Maths sites that students could use to consolidate understanding in current units and revise past lessons as well. I would provide opportunities for discussion of strategies used, allow children to share their understanding, ask questions that both teachers and students could answer and share with the class. I’d allow for the possibility of using iPad apps like ShowMe or Explain Everything to post audiovisual explanations or lessons created by teachers or lessons. I would also post resources children could access to support them while working independently. The extension group could have a lead part in sharing their expertise with other classmates in this main Edmodo group. they could even create their own mini “Khan Academy”.

I would then create a subgroup within the main Edmodo group for my Extension/Enrichment group. I envisage this group being formed from able students across all classes in a particular grade level, possibly across several if there are able students in lower Grade levels who could qualify. I would plan for this group to access materials and concepts beyond what is available to the main group but accessible through the same platform as everyone else.

Obviously there would need to be some significant planning and negotiation with all class teachers to ensure this worked within their programs. consideration would have to be made about how these students would participate in both the extension sessions and regular class lessons. I see this happening in a number of ways.

Option 1. The students begin the lesson with the rest of the class. When they have received enough instruction on what is expected of them, they move on to completing required work for their class teacher independently, leaving their teacher to work with those who need support. When they complete the set task, they submit it on Edmodo through the assignment section and then enter their Edmodo Extension Sub group to collaborate on the higher level tasks assigned by me. They communicate with each other either personally if in the same grade or via posting their strategies, solutions, suggestions, questions, comments on Edmodo for the rest of the Extension group to respond to. Their work will be completed digitally and submitted through the Assignments section of Edmodo so that I can feedback and collaborate with them on the tasks.

Option 2. Alternatively, for one session a week, the group would meet with me and work on high level problem solving tasks and extension work related to the unit of work their class in currently involved in. Using online enrichment programs like the website nrich, the group would be collaborating on problems, sharing their possible solutions and strategies not only with each other but by submitting group or individual solutions on the nrich site for other like minded students to collaborate on through global forums. I envisage opportunities for the students to use technology such as screen casting computer programs or iPad apps I previously mentioned like ShowMe to record their solutions and strategies audio visually. Using a site like nrich, which would allow them to self select problems to solve would give them the freedom to challenge themselves both individually and in teams. It would also give them the option to opt in and out to return back to their class if they choose to.

Option 3. A third model could be a choice of making daily decisions to complete regular class work as homework and deciding to work in their extension groups or individually on Edmodo on a daily basis. As their test results would have already indicated in being selected for the program, they have most likely mastered the skills being taught in the regular class program and a simple completion of the tasks for homework would satisfy their class teacher’s need for evidence they have understood that area so they can report on it later in the year. This option fits a Personalized Learning model commonly encouraged in today’s schools and would allow the student to remain engaged in Maths at or beyond their level rather than going through the motions of completing simple tasks.

How Edmodo would help me implement this program

  • All links to nrich and teacher/student created work would be posted on Edmodo, with individual entries tagged or saved in libraries so that students could always have easy access to the tasks.
  • The collaborative nature of leaving instant comments and feedback allows the group to stay in contact with each other outside of school to continue their problem solving together. This could become engaging homework, with the teacher able to remain in contact and feedback on the work they post on Edmodo.
  • Each member of the group can work on their own problem solving and submit it to me or their teacher independently of the group for personal feedback before sharing with group if they choose to.
  • The function of the Assignment process in Edmodo allows for children to receive private feedback and allow the teachers to collect, collate and mark each submission, enabling effective assessment to occur at all points in the program. Teachers can submit rubrics and criteria for marking the work on Edmodo so the students know what is expected of them. I have had success with such use last year working with a Literature Circle group.
  • The fact that all students from the classes are also using Edmodo for their Math work as well means that all students can easily be given the opportunity to opt in to or out of the Extension group at any time without any extra planning or organisation by the teachers. I think this would be an important option as it would encourage other students to take on the challenge of extension tasks if they choose to.
  • Other teachers can be given co teacher status and become involved in the program, either as observers or contributors. This would allow for professional feedback on the suitability and effectiveness of the program.

These are my initial thoughts and obviously this kind of radical change to the status quo of primary schools as I have experienced them would involve leadership, class teacher, parent and student discussion. I need to think through this more and would appreciate feedback from others on how they have managed the needs of the more able students in their classrooms. I would really appreciate readers leaving a comment and contributing to the conversation of extending and enriching the learning of the able mathematician.

A break from iPad talk – Open letter to our Grade 5/6 students this year about Blogging

Ready to send to the students when school is back in the swing of things and Canberra Camp is over. What do you think?For teachers reading this, you may have already read something about blogging 7000 times on the Internet. Forgive me. Kids, this is for you.

Why do YOU write? Is it because you HAVE to? Is it because your teacher has to have a piece of writing by the end of the week so they can do your reports? Maybe it’s to show your teacher that you understand a topic. That’s a good reason. Sometimes you write to inform other children in the class about a topic you have researched. Another good reason. There are probably LOTS of reasons why we HAVE to write – we go to school!

Now put your hands up if you write because you WANT to. (pause to allow time for children to raise their hands before reading on). If you didn’t put your hand up, that’s OK. No doubt, you’re not alone there. I don’t always want to write. I think sometimes we don’t want to write because we see no purpose to it. ( Before we go any further, just want to remind you that at school, you still HAVE to write, OK? I am still a teacher after all.) Anyway, my point is I think a lot more of you would WANT to write if we could give you some good reasons to write. That’s why I want to talk to you about blogging.

Perhaps you don’t know what blogging is. Blogging is a writing publishing platform on the Internet that allows ANYONE to get their message across to the world. In other words, it gives you a world wide audience. You can share words, pictures, videos, animations, quizzes, polls – anything – and find out what other people think. There are obviously lots of rules we need to go through before we start this blogging thing but we’ll go through those later. Let’s just get back to blogging.

Here are my reasons why I think you should consider blogging.

Audience. Blogging means people other than your teacher, a couple of classmates in a conference and your parents when your file book comes home at the end of the term, get to see what you have to say. Think about that. A reason to write because others WANT to read it. A reason to write about your passions and interests that your teacher and Mum might not find interesting but 100s of children around the world find fascinating.

Sharing your knowledge. Guess what? You know stuff. It’s hard to let everyone know that sometimes when you have to stick to topics in class. When do you ever get the chance to share your knowledge of African capital cities? ( OK, Mr G, this isn’t about you, move on.) Or, your skills in playing a sport, your expertise in making animations? Blogging let’s you share this knowledge with others interested in the same thing. People learn from you and in return you may learn something you didn’t know. Since I’ve become interested in blogging I have learnt so much about Web tools, teaching methods, Maths and iPad ( yes, that’s right – I’ve learnt something from others about Maths and iPads. Shocking!) I’ve taught others too through my blog. It’s a nice feeling. And I want to keep doing it.

Purposeful homework. Your blog could be your homework. Teachers get to see it. Others, including your parents, get to see it. You can toss ideas around with your friends online to support each other. The dog can’t eat your homework! ( boo! Bad joke alert!)

Reflective thinking. “OK, so this is starting to sound like school work now, not writing because I want to.” I hear you say. But hear me out on this one. Seriously, you should WANT to think. It helps you learn and improve. Writing a blog gives you a chance to write down your thoughts. Spending the holidays starting my blog on iPads in Schools has really enabled me to clearly think through what I really believe. Without writing the blog, I would not have a clear plan in my head. I would not have come up with half the ideas if I hadn’t spent the time thinking and writing. Give reflective thinking a go. After a Maths class, spend some time writing about what you just went through. It will help, trust me.

Feedback and collaboration. At school, you get, at best, one chance a week to get some real feedback about your writing and thinking. If you’re lucky, your teacher will give you advice and 3 or 4 classmates in a conference might as well. On a blog, your writing is there for everyone to comment on. Your teacher, your friends, your family, a scientist from Germany, a sports coach from Brazil. Who knows? If it’s good, they’ll tell you why. If it needs work, a random student from the UK is more likely to give you honest feedback than your best friend will. Maybe other teachers from around the world will give you added feedback to support your teacher’s advice. It happens. You can also start up shared projects through your blog. It really can be a great opportunity if you want it to be.

It helps you feel good. Sometimes there has to be selfish reasons too. I have to be honest. I got a huge ego boost this week when I saw my blog appear on Google Search, Scoop-it and Zite Magazine’s Top Stories section on my iPad. Watching 33  countries’ flags appear on my blog and seeing the views counter tick over from 800 to 1400 overnight gave me a buzz. It’s a far better feeling than seeing your writing sitting on your teacher’s desk for a week or waiting 5 days for a response to an email you send to your colleagues. Knowing that other people want to read your work inspires you to want to do more. Especially when they tell you. So go ahead, kids. Do it for the attention… But do it well or you’ll lose your audience.

There are a lot more reasons for blogging than this but it’s a start. Of course we can’t do anything without the go ahead from school. There are a lot of rules and permissions and other important necessary stuff to go through before we can get started. You can get it going, though, if you tell us you really want to do it. So I ask you – do you want blog? There are massive numbers of kids out there on the Internet doing it right now. If you want to join them, let us know and we’ll see what we can get started.