Monthly Archives: April 2013

CUE Presentation Notes


Literature Circles

The presentation was by Tiffani D. Brown. She has revamped the Lit Circle to make as much of it digital as possible. Her website is, and click here to link to her presentation.

She referenced a bunch of websites, especially for comic making. I have added all of them to the Tools for the Classroom links on this page, but I haven’t tried to use any of them.

I haven’t had time to do a Lit Circle, but I modified her activity into a Reading Strategies Jigsaw Activity to use with any chapter of a core reading book.  I created groups of four students and gave each one a Task. Then Task groups met to review their directions and begin their assignment together. Students finished the assignment as homework if they didn’t finish with their group, and the following day presented their Tasks to their original group.

They then posted their completed assignments on Edmodo, and each student was required to comment on another student’s Task (not someone who did their own task or anyone in their own group) using PQP– Praise (what was good about it), Question (what do you not understand or wonder now), Polish (what would make this assignment stronger).  This took about 20 minutes of two separate days.

Agenda Blog

I now post my agenda for the day on a blog, and on edline I have posted a link to these blogs on every single day. Students at home or at school can see what we’re doing in class and their homework anytime during the day, and there’s no excuse for not knowing what we did if there was an absence. I am very specific with directions (turn this in to ebackpack, Mockingbird Essay folder)– it takes a little bit of time, but the information is there permanently and kids can do it from home. This has saved me with parents who say their kids are confused and don’t know what to do.

I am able to link websites and dropbox documents directly to the blog, so I am no longer putting documents in Ebackpack. If I modify a document, I don’t have to delete it and re-upload it to Ebackpack– the link to dropbox remains the same. All documents can be accessed on the iPad and downloaded to Pages or Notability. I also link to audiobooks I have in dropbox so kids can listen to a specific chapter of a book without giving them access to the entire book.

If my lesson plan changes because we don’t get to something or I need to re-adjust according to student learning needs, I can easily modify the Agenda within a few seconds. I keep the day’s agenda open and ready to edit on my desktop and change and update/publish as needed. When I make a mistake– like linking to a Word document instead of a PDF (happens all the time)– I go to my computer, with a few clicks update the link, have the kids refresh the page, and the new link is there.  If I don’t get two a whole activity, I can cut and paste it from yesterday to today with the links intact, or copy it if it’s a two day activity.

I also link to digital tests this way. I can password protect a test and change the password throughout the day, or close and re-open the test as needed.

Digital Portfolios

I am beta-testing my Journalism students on Digital Portfolios. They are currently working on a record and reflection of all that they’ve learned and accomplished this year, and I will have them share their site with each other and me by linking it on Edmodo. They are works in progress.

My digital directions to students:

Student Samples:

Check out this student’s Writing Autobiography on the home page:

Check out this student’s Articles Page, with her first draft, final draft, and a reflection about each piece.

One more:


“Blogging” in the Classroom


Visit the site below to see how I use blogging in the classroom. I don’t use the word “blogging” in the traditional way– the students aren’t actually blogging. I post a blog– an article, a writing prompt, a critical thinking question, and require students to respond to it.

Thomas English 8th Grade Blog:

Some typical “blogs” I post:

  • Articles I find interesting or that I think kids will find interesting
  • Critical thinking questions pertaining to our curriculum
  • Quotes for students to respond to
  • Videos to elicit student responses
  • Poems for students to discuss
  • Parts left out of the movie (for To Kill a Mockingbird)
  • Examples of literary devices found in real life– similes in songs, alliteration in store names, allusions in clothing brands; and an explanation
  • Random topics: “If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?”

Students are asked to click on the “Comments” button and write a response. I usually ask students to write a minimum of 100 words, include a topic sentence, supporting evidence, and explanation to support their assertions, and practice good writing skills.  For some students this is a stretch, and others write double and triple the minimum, depending on the topic.

Students who struggle with some of the more abstract concepts in the blog question are able to read what other students have written to help them understand the question. Reluctant students don’t often search out “more reading” before doing their writing (and often think they “get it” even if they don’t), so I have done lessons requiring students to find another student’s work that they think is good and analyze it for quality prior to writing their own answers. I have found that students are curious about what their peers are writing, and are often surprised to the writing of the people they know. They are then able to see the academic work that is expected of them.

Additionally, because the student comment is immediately published, I find more students rereading and editing their work (often in Word or Pages) before publishing, which improves the quality of writing. Students are holding themselves accountable to their peers.

Students can be asked to read through the blog and find best answers, interesting ideas, and otherwise review a topic.

GRADING: I have finally decided how I like to grade student blog entries. I experimented with generous grading directly from online, giving students points in a gradebook for completion and following directions. This was difficult when I have different sections of the same class because entries weren’t by class period and I jumped around my gradebook. I then made a full alphabetized list of all of my students, recorded grades, and then had a student TA record the grades in my gradebook. This, too, is cumbersome. Finally, I decided my expectations were also a problem– they were too easy and didn’t allow me to encourage good writing mechanics and reinforce topic sentence/supporting evidence paragraph structure.

My current strategy is to copy all blog responses and paste them into a Word document. I increase the font size to 12, decrease the margins, and check through pagination to make sure no response spans two pages. This requires about 10 minutes of time and several pages of printing. I then grade each response for structure, content, and mechanics out of 20 points. What I like about this is that I can have students revise if they want. I can also have students paste all of their graded entries onto a piece of paper and assess personal weaknesses in their writing– lots of run-ons, poor spelling, etc.  This helps with goal-setting for writing for the year.