Tuesday, November 20, 2018

How to improve note taking in the classroom through video


Does this sound familiar. It's the point in the lesson when it's time to give the students the basic information about the topic.  You create this great presentation.  It has all the information the students need to know including checks for understanding. You set aside 15 minutes during the lesson for these notes and have an application activity to follow that will take around 35 minutes. The day comes to show the presentation to the students and it doesn't go as you planned.  

Some students quickly copy the information into their notes, other students are still setting up their notes and your already onto the next slide, and some students start off taking the notes and then their brains check out for a bit as they start thinking about something that happened at home.  When they check back in they realize they missed two slides of information and are trying to catch up.  Plus as they are supposed to be writing down what is on the slide while you are verbally adding information about it going into more explanation and giving examples.  Some students are busy listening to you and they forget to write down what is on the slides, while others are so busy trying to copy down what is on the slides that they don't listen to a word of what you are saying. All of this becomes apparent when you get to your embedded checks for understanding slides and realize that some students missed the key parts.  The notes take you 35 minutes to get through instead of your projected 15 and now you only have about 10 minutes for practice.  Leaving the class not prepared for that nights homework.

If you have students that are language learners or have a learning disability, trying to listen to a teacher, look at the information on the slide, and write everything down can be very challenging.  The result is that they miss information and it takes two to three times as long to give students the information. And if you have students that can process things quickly they are left sitting board while waiting for the class to catch up. This can lead to behavioral disruptions in class as they try and entertain themselves while waiting making the note taking part of the lesson take even longer as you are dealing with these students.

There has to be a better solution.  One that allows students to move at their own pace.  For me, the solution came through videos.  With videos, the students can take notes at their own pace.  They can pause the video so that they are not writing and listening at the same time. They can rewatch a segment that they don't understand or watch it again before a test.  There are video hosting sites that allow you to add comments, questions, and voice overs on the videos.  This can help direct the students in their note taking skills and give them immediate feedback on their level of understanding of the topic.  By taking notes through videos, I am able to incorporate more hands-on activities and higher level thinking activities into my lessons.  If you want to learn about my process for teaching though video, follow the steps below.


Simple Steps to Teaching Through Video


1. Turn Your Presentations Into Videos

There are various ways to convert your already made presentations into videos.   If you have a mac and use keynote you can record your slideshow and then export it to a movie.  You can also record your slideshow in powerpoint and export it to a movie also. Another way is using a screen casting program to record a video of what you are doing on your computer screen.  The one I use is screencast-o-matic.   There is also camtasia and screencastify.  Finally, if using an iPAD there are various apps that allow you to create a video.  I have used the Showme app when I need to explain how to solve problems or draw structures.


2. Host Your Video


Once you have created your video you will need a way for the students to watch it.  If you just want to have the students watch the video without asking questions along the way than you could upload it to YouTube, Google classroom, Microsoft OneDrive, or any other platform that you use that will provide a way for students to watch the video.  However, if you want to add questions or comments than I would suggest hosting it in Edpuzzle.  I love Edpuzzle for the fact that it allows me to add voice overs, comments, and various types of questions.  The students get immediate feedback on the multiple choice questions so that they can monitor their progress.  It also allows me to set it to prevent skipping and gives me analytics on how many times they watched each segment. Plus it is integrated with Edmodo and Google Classroom.


3. Taking Notes During the Video

Students need to be actively engaged with the video, not just passive learners.   Being able to take notes from a video is a skill they need to learn and practice.  I have seen some students notes that look more like one long paragraph with no breaks between thoughts and ideas.  I have seen other students notes with just one or two sentences.   Students need to be taught how to use bullets as a form of organizing information.  They need to be taught to leave space between ideas.  These notes should be used throughout the unit and for that reason they need to be formatted for easy use.   I teach my students to leave 3-4 spaces between each major idea.  I remind them of this type of formatting each time the video stops them and asks them to summarize the segment.


4. Partner Talk and Editing

Once students have taken notes from the video they are not done yet.  One of the most important steps in the note taking process is sharing and editing of the notes.   It is not enough to just take notes from the video.  They need the opportunity to discuss their information with a partner, edit their notes, and synthesize them.  This step helps students process the information and clarify it so that they can start applying it in class activities.  For example, the day after they watch the video, which they do at home, I will spend around 15 minutes in class having students talk with their partners and edit their work. First, I have the students discuss their notes from the first segment of the video.  During this time students will add to their notes, cross off information, and highlight the key details.  Then, I have them work together to come up with a big idea sentence that synthesizes the information from the segment.  They write their big idea sentence in the 3-4 line space that they left while taking notes. Next, they continue to do this for all the video segments.  Finally, together they use the big idea sentences to summarize the notes.  If there is time I have them share their summaries out loud so that other students can hear their thoughts.


5. Accountability and Assessment

Having students do steps 1-4 is enough to teach the lesson through the video.  However, I know some teachers want that extra formative assessment piece to determine where the students are at in their level of understanding. There are various ways you could do this.  You could have students write a short summary of the video and ask one question about it that they turn in as they enter the class. You could give them a short 5 question quiz that tests their basic knowledge of the video.  Finally, you could host the video on Edpuzzle and track their progress.  


I want to leave with one word of advise as I finish this post.  Try not to make your videos more than 6 minutes long.  Typically videos that are longer than that either have to much content that should be broken down into smaller lessons or have to much extra information that is not necessary.  For example, if the video is a math lesson having one to two examples is enough to teach the lesson.  More than two and the video becomes to long.  Save the extra examples to do in class the day after the video.

For more information check out my blogs on flipped lessons.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

What should the focus of school be

Tests, tests, and more tests.  Do you sometimes feel like all we do is test.  Between quizzes, unit assessments, quarterly tests, semester finals, and state testing it seems like students spend one third of their school time testing.  They are told that they need to make sure that they are meeting their A-G requirements so that they can get into college.  They are told to take more AP classes. They are told that they need to get A's in order to be competitive and get into the college they want.  All this just leads to kids feeling more pressure, more anxiety, and more feelings of being failures.  I have had students that have gotten upset because they had an A- and didn't think that was good enough.  I have had students miss school because the anxiety of being the top in the class was to overwhelming.  I have known students who have given up after getting a C on a major test because they would loose their 4.0 GPA and felt they would not get into the school of their choice after that.




As teachers we are told that our students need to be at a certain level by the time they leave our class.  It doesn't matter what level they start, they all need to be mastering all of our subjects standards by the time they leave.  Some states put so much emphasis on this that amazing teachers that can raise students by three grade levels are told that they are poor and ineffective teachers because raising the students three grade levels is not enough when those students need to jump four or five grade levels just to be at standard.

Is this what the focus of school should be?   Should it really only be about teaching the standards, preparing the students for the high stake tests, and focusing solely on the academics.  In my opinion No.  In fact its a loud NO!

School should be a place where students can develop their creativity.  It should be a place where students are allowed to take risks and fail and learn from those failures.  It is a place where they learn how to socialize both in person and online.  It is a place where they build their problem solving skills.  It should be less about testing and more about growing.  So many times the focus is on sending students to college.  Not every student needs to or wants to go to college.   Students should not feel that they have to go to college in order to be successful.  


So what can we do to change this test focused, college is the only path, culture we are creating?  Here are some steps we can take.




#1. Give less tests.  Look at how many tests you are giving your students and try to eliminate 25% of them.   That doesn't mean you aren't assessing them.  You can still assess them and give your students feedback.  I'm talking about the weekly tests that some teachers give.  The small quizzes in a unit before the unit test.  If you feel you still need them so that the students know how they are doing then consider not assigning a grade for them.  Just have them take it as a formative to lead your instruction.

#2. Allow students to fix mistakes.  Let students know that mistakes are a part of learning.  Allow them to improve their projects, to make test corrections, and then retake tests.  I would even take it another step forward by allowing their grade to change completely, not just giving them partial credit for retakes.  Consider the amount of learning that must take place in order for a student to change a D project into an A project.  Or to change their grade from a 45% on a test to an 85%.  That amount of self-motivation, self-determination, and self-guided learning should be rewarded.  

#3. Offer student choice.   Let them choose their own way to demonstrate that they know the topic.  They will put more effort into a project that they want to do and are interested in than something that a teacher assigns.   Consider the possibilities if you let them write their own children's book about the topic, create a video about the topic, make a podcast, draw an infographic, or create and sing a song.  The students will be creating what they like and in the process will be learning more about the topic.


What are some of your suggestions?  Please leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

How to Build a Positive Relationship with your Students

At every school there is at least one teacher that the students love.  The one class they all want to take.  Surprisingly it is usually not because the class is unchallenging or easy to get an A in but the opposite.  The class is usually challenging and getting an A is difficult.  However, the students all want to take it and that is because of the teacher.  So what does that teacher have?  Why do students petition to get into their class?  

That teacher has learned that one of the most important ingredients to a successful class is having a positive relationship with their students.  This teacher can turn a passive student that turns in no assignments for other teachers into an attentive student that participates in their class.  They know how to work with a student that has behavior issues in other classes so that they are minimal in their class.  What is their secret?  How do they create these positive relationships?  What can we learn from them?  

I am lucky enough to work at a school where we don't have just one of these teachers but many and at least one in every subject area.  Below are some of the strategies these teachers do to help build and maintain positive relationships with their students so that their students want to push themselves and work as hard as possible for these teachers.


Strategy #1: Know the Names of Your Students

There is power in a name.  Imagine how important you make someone feel when you can call them by name without having to look at a seating chart or list.  That you can just look at them and know their name.  This becomes very important when you have 180 plus students.  I know some teachers who seem to know all their students names within a few days. For me its more challenging trying to remember all 180 students.  Here are some techniques I have found that have made it easier.  
1. create a seating chart with their name and picture.  While they are in class working on assignments walk around and use the seating chart to try and memorize their name as you ask them questions or comment on their work.
2. When you call on a student use their name to first call on them and then to thank them for their answer.
3. work on memorizing at least 5 students names from each class every night until you have every student from all your classes memorized.

Strategy #2: Greet Your Students at the Door

One way to start your students day off right is to greet them at the door with a smile and shake their hands as they enter.   This is not only an opportunity to teach them how to properly greet people but also a way to brighten the day of a student who might have had a difficult morning or night at home.

Strategy #3: Get to Know Your Students Outside of the Classroom

Find out what your students likes and passions are outside of school.  If they play school sports take time out of your day to cheer them on.  If they watch sports on tv than get the latest news and updates so you can have a brief one to two minute conversation with them.  If they are into video games do some research on the game and ask them questions about it.  If they are into music have a conversation about their favorite band or singer and why they like them.  For my students its all about YouTube.  They want to be the next big YouTube sensation.  Taking an interest in their life outside of school shows them that they care.

Strategy #4: Ask for Feedback

As a teacher we know the importance of providing our students with timely, relevant feedback to help them improve and grow.  This is also important for us teachers.   Allowing our students to give us feedback on how we are doing lets them know that we respect and honor their opinions and thoughts.  It also lets us know what is working, what is not, and helps us adjust our teaching strategies.

Strategy #5: Focus on the Positives and Be Specific

Unfortunately, for most students, they only hear negative feedback from a teacher in the form of corrections for doing something incorrect. This could be either behaviorally or on an assignment.  While constructive negative feedback is important, positive feedback is just as if not more so important.  When providing positive feedback make sure it is specific and praise the action.  For example, instead of saying "great job" say "I really like how you used evidence from the investigations data to support your claim". Another example is, instead of simply saying "thank you" when a student is doing what they are supposed to be doing say "thank you for coming in quietly and getting out your agenda to write down tonights homework". This specific and positive feedback lets them know exactly what you liked and why so they can continue doing a great job. 

Strategy #6: Don't Let a Discipline Issue Become Center Stage in Your Classroom

I had a student once that was so desperate for attention that when he entered the room he was always late and made a big production.  He made sure everyone knew he arrived and during the class time if he needed to get something he would take the longest path to get it.  He was kicked out of most teachers classrooms and had detention with at least one teacher or administrator every lunch and afternoon.  So I used his need for attention to my advantage.  I privately talked to him and gave him some jobs that I knew he would want to do because it would make him feel special, however, they were on conditions that he followed the classes procedures.  He ended up coming early to class so that he could pass out the papers to all the students.  If I needed something passed out during class, he was the one to do it.  At the end of class he was in charge of making sure everyone put their Chromebooks back in the right spot.  I also got to know about his likes outside of the classroom.  Having him do these simple tasks meant that he was no longer the behavior issue in my class as he was in other teachers classes. This is just one example of not allowing a student to take center stage.  Most discipline issue can be handled quietly and without the audience of others.   I also allow students to email me about possible problems with other students so that I am aware and together we can develop a solution.

Strategy #7: Allow Student Choice

Giving students a voice can be very powerful.  I allow my students to choose where they are going to sit in my classroom.  They are given three days to try out three different areas and then on the fourth day it is first come, first serve for picking their permanent spot for the next 5 weeks.   This allows them to get a feel for the layout of the classroom so they can determine what is the best location for them to succeed.  I also have veto power for those students that are having difficulty making good decisions so that they don't become a problem for the rest of the class.  Using this method has helped cut down on a lot of discipline issues based on seating arrangements.  I have found that for the most part students make great decisions for what works best for them.  Also, allowing student choice in how they are going to learn the information or do their performance assessment creates more engagement from the students because they are doing what they choose. Listening to the students about what they want helps build that positive relationship.

These are just some strategies that teachers do to build positive relationships with their students.  I would love to hear about more strategies that you use.