Virtual Instruction

Tin Can Phone

I needed a change of pace, and thought perhaps trying my hand at ELA (English Language Arts) might be just the thing. I also decided to see how well my progressive ideals held up to real life and took a position at a district quite different from any I'd taught in before. I was almost starting to figure out what I was doing when the pandemic hit and we all ended up at home. It was, however, certainly a change of pace.

These are some lessons I've compiled, stolen, or otherwise put together for use in a long-distance format (although they'd work in any one-to-one environment). In many cases I think the ideas are sound, but they lack the refinement of repeated use which comes from, well... repeated use.

It's quickly become my habit to include multiple brief videos (of myself) talking students through the written directions. I think this makes it more personal and for many of them means there's actually a chance they'll have some idea whats going on. I've removed my videos from these versions and left brief notes as to what the videos were about, should you choose to do your own. You don't want mine because (a) my kids aren't your kids and the emphases should be different based on your actual classes, and (b) if part of the goal is finding ways to connect with kids we haven't actually met, we should at least put ourselves on the screen regularly. They don't have to be polished - just do what you'd do in class and keep things moving.

The lessons use Google Slides or Google Docs. For anything you'd like to use, you simply have to make a copy using the drop down option under 'File'. Once you have your own copy, you have full editing power and whatnot. You'll find some of the Google Slideshows formatted for students to do the same thing - make their own copies to use and turn in. On these, I've used the 'Master Slides' feature to 'bake in' stuff I don't want them to accidentally change. You can change those parts as well, but it's a bit more involved. If you're interested, there are plenty of YouTube videos which will talk you through the process.

I'm not swearing any of these lessons or slideshows are amazing, but they might give you some ideas or save you some trouble vs. starting from scratch.

If you're not familiar with Google Slides or Google Docs, they have a wonderful feature I use regularly. You can "comment" on student work with specific suggestions or praise. If you tag them, they're notified that there are changes to be made, and they can "resolve" the comments as they make their changes. This in turn notifies you that they've revisited the assignment so you can re-grade it. I personally don't enter grades until students have the opportunity to revise. If they choose not to, of course, that's their call. And in case you're wondering, yes - we do quite a few Google Meets, although I've found my kids far more willing to ask good questions when I offer regular one-on-one time rather than trying to get them to speak up in a full-class setting.

Final Note: I don't own the rights to any of the visuals, videos, short stories, documents, etc., used in these lessons. I'm figuring since they were all things I found online and adapted for my purposes, I'm not adding any new copyright violations to the universe. Not sure that reasoning would stand up to close scrutiny, but it's enough that I can sleep at night. In any case, I hope you find some of this useful.

What's Your Name? (First Assignment of the Year) - I blogged about this one here. You can make your own copy of the Google Doc instructions, but you should make your own Sample Name Videos. Apparently some people have had trouble viewing them inside their school domains. Not sure why that is... they should be viewable by anyone. Thanks to Barrett Doke for letting me steal this. We transitioned from the videos into a very basic "personal essay." The goal was to (a) keep getting to know them, and (b) begin establishing that it's normal to submit a draft, receive feedback, and revise. The instructions are on this Google Doc and also walked through in a series of teacher videos (by YOU) in this Google Slideshow.

Three Short Stories - These were initially compiled to teach the concept of "Objective Summaries," but I didn't like the idea of asking for a purely reaction-less product without also asking for their subjective thoughts or interpretations. The first story is "They're Made Out Of Meat" by Terry Bisson. (The full story is in the slideshow, but I also make it available as a Google Doc for ease of reading on multiple devices.) I provide a sample Objective Summary in this one. The second story is "Thank You M'am" by Langston Hughes (also on a Google Doc), which is the one our textbook uses to introduce this skill. The third is a favorite of mine, "After You, My Dear Alphonse" by Shirley Jackson (here's the Google Doc for that one). These were a week's worth of online interaction. I insisted they not move on to #2 until they'd received my comments on #1, and so forth.

Literary Elements - This one is for what is essentially a remedial class with a fancier name (great kids, unenthusiastic testers). It's not an original idea - Introduce (or review) Simile, Metaphor, Personification, Alliteration, Onomatopoeia, and Repetition, using popular music excerpts. Students are then assigned to fine one example of each from their own music collection or whatever. The in-class version worked rather well, so I have high hopes for this one.

Vocab Squares - These are the online version of something I've used off and on for years. I'll eventually write more specific instructions on how to edit master slides for your own words each time, but for now I'll just share my first three weeks for you to do with as you see fit. They're titled quite creatively - Vocab #1, Vocab #2, and Vocab #3. For these I did two intro videos. One walked through the vocab squares and each box, etc. The second demonstrated how to look up root words and definitions, and the difference between a dictionary definition and a plain, simple English definition. 

Is That A Right? - I blogged about this one here. I haven't used it with students in its new "all virtual" form, but used to do this as a full-class discussion all the time when it was a PowerPoint and we were face-to-face.

The Docs Heard 'Round The World - A document activity best explained in the blog post I did for it. I hope to use it with students some day.

What's The Lesson? - This is just a slideshow version of four short video clips I used to use every year within the first few weeks of class. I'd explain to students in advance that each of these clips represents an important lesson about doing well in my class, in school in general, and possibly in life. It would be up to them to figure out what those lessons were. I'd play each clip, then ask "What's the Lesson?" While I certainly had some ideas of my own, you won't be surprised to hear that ideally the best part of the lesson is hearing what they draw from the various clips.

Sentence Stems - This is another one that's more of an idea than a ready-to-use lesson. Iv'e used sentence stems with AP students before, but this particular manifestation has so far only been used with teachers during virtual summer workshops (meaning if you're for some reason asked to do an hour of building PD, this might make a nice ready-to-use option). The Sentence Stems (Presentation) has sample stems in order to explain the concept with content-specific examples. For this summer, teachers were then assigned random breakout rooms (thank you, Zoom) and a group name and given a link to this teacher-specific version. One of the nice features of Google Slides is that many people can work on the same slideshow at once, so as long as breakout groups stuck to their assigned slides, everyone could actively participate in the discussions and groups could work out for themselves who actually did the typing. (If you have a situation where you can't trust students to leave other groups' slides alone, you can make a master slideshow for each group to copy and rename then use for their own work.)

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