Enhancing Engagement and Learning

Instructional Strategies & Resources

Learning Centers

As a middle school teacher, centers never seemed like an option because I most often associate them with elementary instruction; however, after implementing centers into a narrative writing lesson, I found them to be just as effective for my seventh graders as they are for third graders. While the centers were a great tool to assess learning, there were a few glitches. Time management was difficult. Some centers were completed quicker than others. I also had to adjust transition styles because my kids required more structure than I had planned. It was also important to have activities and some resources available in print because the technology was not always reliable. Despite these minor issues, this was a successful activity.
Learning Centers in Middle School

Zaption and YouTube

Today's students are exposed to much more media that can be utilized for learning, such as audio and video. As a result, the idea of text has taken on a new meaning. For example, I completed a plot review lesson with my kids, and I used video to help review vocabulary and as a text for practicing learning. My students began with a Zaption video. Zaption allows teachers to take a YouTube or other video and insert questions (many formats to choose: multiple choice, drawing, open-answer, etc.) that students answer as they watch. It is a great tool for checking student understanding as they watch videos. Unlike the traditional pencil paper response used while watching videos, Zaption forces students to remember to answer the questions while they watch instead of watching, zoning out, and then answering the questions at the end of the video. Can students still slack and not pay attention? Yes, but my students have been overall successful using Zaption. Here is the video I used for my plot review vocabulary lesson.

I also use unaltered YouTube videos in my class. I have recently begun using video read alouds of books in my classroom that I find on YouTube. I often do not have access to books I would like to use as mentor texts, and to remedy this problem I have turned to the internet to access them. I even use videos that are not books as texts. For instance, with the plot review lesson, I used Disney shorts as the story my students used to create and complete plot maps. While viewing a video cannot completely replace reading a text, I saw that my students, especially those who have trouble reading and comprehending, were able to present their understanding of the text easier since the video provided the audio and visual help needed for their learning styles.

Steps to Good Grammar

When thinking of E:21, many teachers believe that that means technology must be incorporated within every lesson; however, that is not the case! Since I began teaching, I have noticed a need for students to have more exposure to grammar practices, but I have always had trouble fitting grammar lessons into my plans. When I presented this problem to my E:21 coach, Denise Phillips, she recommended the book Steps to Good Grammar by Genevieve Walberg Schaefer. It is a book of pencil/paper grammar lessons that teach the parts of speech and correct usage.

Beginning with lesson one, I gave my students the pretest and saw a need for more practice with helping verbs. The next day, we did the lesson in the book for helping verbs. We then began the drills, which only took us five to ten minutes to complete at the beginning of class each day. As we worked on the drills, I was a little worried about the effectiveness of the practices. My students' grades were all over the place, and many of them were very low and not improving. I continued to work through the drills, four total not counting the initial lesson practice, and arrived at the time to give the test. The result, my students had improved!

I believe these practices were successful in improving my students' grammar because some skills are just better mastered through repetition and practice, and I will continue to use the lessons; however, there is one thing I will change. Once my students have completed the pretest and we are moving on to the lesson practice, instead of completing the lesson straight from the book, I will take an entire class period to incorporate the lesson with an activity and practice. I will continue to do the drills the same by having students complete them within the first few minutes of class each day, and we will end the grammar unit with the test. I also plan to get Walberg-Schaefer's second book Understanding and Using Good Grammar, which includes more grammar skills than just the basic parts of speech.

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Paper Chat

As a formative assessment tool, I used a strategy called Paper Chat, a Discovery Education SOS. Before we began working on subjects, we participated in a silent discussion to get the "juices flowing." As seventh graders, being able to identify subjects and how they connect to verbs is a review. Using the paper chat allowed me to see what they remembered and what they already understood about that part of speech. It also gave me concrete evidence of their understanding that I could view and critically assess since it was written down and saved, unlike an open spoken discussion.

The entire conversation took place on paper; no talking! The kids actually loved this aspect of the activity. The students answered the question on the paper, and they were able to make connections among each other's comments. What was interesting about having the students write out their discussion rather than speak it was to see students how the students represented their thoughts. Not only did they use words to express their thoughts and understanding, but they also used symbols and drawings.

Cooperative Learning: "You Can Quote Me on That"

Discovery Education provides a collection of instructional strategies. The strategies, collectively titled Spotlight on Strategies (S.O.S.), are great for cooperative and collaborative learning, which is important to 21st century learning. I recently used the "You Can Quote Me on That" strategy to help introduce research topics to my eighth graders.
I wanted to have my students research social issues through music for their research projects, with the end result being a multimedia presentation about a social issue and a song that represented the issue. The original SOS was designed for quotes from speeches, but I tweaked it by using song lyrics. Here is the original SOS: http://blog.discoveryeducation.com/blog/2016/03/21/sos-you-can-quote-me-on-that/

The lyrics were hung around the room, enough for each student to have their own song. I did not tell the students they were looking at lyrics; they thought they were just quotes. After the students chose their lyrics, I had them use the Make a Date grouping strategy to share the reason why they chose the lyrics they chose. The strategy was interesting because students were drawn to the issues the songs presented rather than a specific genre of music. The students chose how they wanted to present the information. The following is an example project, a Prezi presentation by Bailey Swank:

Poetry Stations

At the end of school, we review the different genres of writing we covered throughout the school year. When this time comes, it can be difficult to come up with fresh new activities to reteach concepts and skills, and this was exactly the problem I had when planning my final poetry activities and assignment. I turned to the internet for help and came across a poetry stations lesson created by Ariel Sacks.

The stations allowed the students to write multiple poems in a limited amount of time, which is exactly what I needed to accomplish. Once the students finished

Learning and Sharing Vocab Using ChatterPix

To start off this school year, I introduced my kids to the steps of the writing process that we will use throughout the entire year. While learning new terms is not always the most exciting, with the incorporation of technology resources and tools, learning academic vocabulary can be less of a bore.

For this lesson, I exposed my students to the writing process terms through a Flocabulary video. My students love Flocabulary because the songs are interesting with beats and melodies that they actually enjoy. The videos aren't cheesy, which is often how many educational videos are perceived by my seventh graders. Although the site requires a fee for use of the videos and other resources, it is one I would certainly recommend.
I placed my students in groups of three to four, and each group was required to make a video defining and explaining their assigned writing process term. I printed the lyrics to the Flocab video and allowed my students to use the internet to research and create their own definitions for their steps. After researching and writing a script about what they learned, they recorded a 30 second ChatterPix clips on their iPads. They loved creating the clips! With the editing options and fun stickers, making the videos became more engaging and interesting. Once everyone made their clips, I compiled each classes clips to create a class video of the writing process. Below is a sample from my fifth period.

Publishing Writing

The final step of the writing process is publishing, which I try to emphasize the importance of. It is through publishing that we give purpose that is bigger than making a good grade or pleasing the teacher to our students' writing. As my classes progress throughout the year, I am trying to evolve and advance the publishing opportunities my students have. Here are a few ways my students have published work this first semester:

  1. Traditional Reading to the Class- My students published poems by reading them to the class. To make this more interesting, I made the day a themed day of Coffee Shop Spoken Word, complete with hot chocolate, low lighting, and a spoken word spotlight.
  2. Podcasts- I wanted to add some technology to our publishing, so I had the students record themselves reading their personal narratives using the Recorder app. They then shared them with the class in Google Classroom.

  3. Public Padlet- I wanted to keep the technology element but to also add feedback from a larger audience. I created a padlet where all of my students for all of my classes could post final drafts of their essays. Once everyone had posted, all of my students chose three essays to read and comment on.

Below are samples of the podcasts and a link to the padlet.