Enhanced English Teacher

A blog about using technology in an English classroom

iWant iAnything

December 6, 2010 by · No Comments · 21st Century Literacy, Videos and iPods, YouTube

I recently re-watched an older, but universally relevant, video on YouTube by The Onion News Network about the Macbook Wheel.  In this “newscast,” there is a facetious interview with an Applc customer who says, “I will buy almost anything if it is shiny and made by Apple.” Is this me?

Lately, it has been hard to Christmas shop in electronics departments when there are so many ipad displays.  If I own an iphone, ipod, itouch, and iMac, does this mean iWant iAnything?  I do when I touch it, play with it, or see someone else with it, but then I realize I may just have iEnvy.

Check out this ironically funny video about the iWant iAnything phenomenon.

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Archiving My Tweets

November 26, 2010 by · 2 Comments · 21st Century Literacy, Twitter, Web 2.0

I recently returned from the NCTE (National Council Teachers of English) Convention in Orlando, FL.  I presented twice, and I plan to post my presentations some time this week on my blog, but even before I post my presentations, I wanted to share a great feature that I discovered from one of my fellow presenters, Andrea Zellner.

Andrea uses Twistory to archive all of her tweets into a calendar. I knew immediately that this would work with me.  When I find a great website or web tool, I always want to share, so I tweet it out. Later, I have to search through old tweets to find that great website or web tool.  Of course, I use Google Bookmarks and Diigo, but sometimes I just forget to bookmark the website or web tool.

The amazing thing about using Twistory with your calendar is that it archives the tweets in chronological order by date, just like adding events to a calendar.  This is perfect for me and possibly for you.  Have you ever thought back to a tweet and you knew the approximate date that you tweeted it out, but it was too far back to actually go through all of your tweets to find it?  Using Twistory with a calendar makes it easy to find that tweet.  Look below to see a screen shot of two days of my tweets in August synced to iCal.

I wish I had known about twistory before now.  I recently used twittergrader to find out how long I have been tweeting, and as of today, I have been tweeting 2 years, 3 months and 26 days.  It would be nice to have an archived calendar of all of those tweets.  Unfortunately, when I signed up for twistory, it only went back to June when it began archiving my tweets.  There is also another late sign up problem, I tried to archive my tweets to a Google calendar first, but twistory had difficulty completing that task, and I received a message that said they were working with Google to correct the problem, so for now, I am using iCal.  Andrea is able to sync her tweets to her Google Calendar, but she has been using twistory for awhile now.

If you decide to sign up for twistory, it will create a shared calendar with your tweets.  Each tweet is synced to the day you tweeted, so if you have a busy day, you may want to view your calendar by the week.  The screenshot I shared is in the monthly view.  With this new feature, I believe I will tweet more often because I can go back and find that great website or web tool; it is right there in my iCal twitter calendar!

Thanks Andrea for such a great tip!


Google Docs

February 20, 2010 by · 1 Comment · 21st Century Literacy, Google, Web 2.0

I regularly use Google Docs in my classroom.  Not only is it engaging, it also teaches students 21st Century skills.  I am always amazed when students ask me if they can take notes in Google Docs.  Microsoft Word, what is that?  Most of my students are so comfortable with docs that if you asked them if I had Word installed on my classroom computers they might not be able to answer.  What do I think about my students using Google cloud computing?  It is what they should be doing.

Google Apps for Education is free for school districts and currently nothing else can beat it. I do not feel like I am serving Google Koolaid because I am really serving 21st Century skills that can be readily applied to any Web 2.0 tool.

If you are interested in reading about how I use Google Docs in a high school English classroom, read the Official Google Docs Blog Post: The tool for the 21st century classroom.


January 22, 2010 by · 4 Comments · 21st Century Literacy

I have not posted on my Enhanced English Teacher Blog in a month or so….

For one, I have been busy.  I attended the NCTE Convention in Philadelphia in November.  Next, I went to the Google Teacher Academy in Washington DC, and both were incredible experiences.  I am still processing all that I have learned in the past month or two, and I will blog about it soon.

But, the real reason is that the NCTE asked me to blog for them at the NCTE Secondary Section Blog, and I am also blogging for my school as we start trying to create a podcast program.  I am calling my blog Enhanced English Teacher on our school server blog as well. If you watch the videos on my school blog, they currently only play on a Mac for some reason.  We are working out how to get them to play on a PC too.  In addition, I am blogging with my students on a Teacher Blog Page while trying to maintain a Teacher Google Site page for assignments.

I am considering migrating this blog to a wordpress blog and possibly purchasing my own URL.  I am at cross-roads now as I decide what would be the next best step.  I also have a Mobile Me account that I use to share video and pictures with my family, but I can’t decide if that is where I need to start my blog.  As I struggle through where I want to go next, any suggestions you have as my readers would be greatly appreciated.  Please just leave me a comment on how you blog, what platform you use, and if you purchased your own URL.


Playing with Plays presents Romeo and Juliet

November 11, 2009 by · 1 Comment · 21st Century Literacy, English Resources, Romeo and Juliet, Videos and iPods

I recently read Playing with Plays: Romeo and Juliet for Kids.  As a 9th grade English teacher, this little book will definitely become a gem in my collection of engaging resources.  First of all, the book is broken down into three mini-plays based on available actors: 6-11 actors, 9-13 actors, and 14-18 actors.  Group sizes help teachers to sort students for each mini-play.

In the forward, Brendan Kelso discusses the important scenes of Shakespeare that have remained with him since high school.  These are the scenes that are alluded to and remembered, such as, “Romeo, Romeo; wherefore art thou Romeo?”  The most important element of this book is that all of the famous lines that teachers want students to remember are there, but the lines are connected with language that students understand.

The plays can be acted out in 10 minutes or less which is perfect for a flip video rendition of  Romeo and Juliet.  I plan to use this fabulous book to group my students and create flip video versions to post to our student blog pages.  Not only will students be able to recite some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines, but they will also be able to connect with the characters in the play to develop a greater understanding and appreciation of Romeo and Juliet.

Thank you Brendan Kelso and Playing with Plays for your excellent, engaging, and short enough to be able to use in class, melodramatic plays.

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The Digital Writing Workshop

November 6, 2009 by · 8 Comments · 21st Century Literacy

I recently read The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks.   This is the book that every English teacher in America should be reading.  Troy Hicks takes the traditional writer’s workshop, introduced by well-known educators, such as, Donald Graves and Nancie Atwell, and reinvents it to include the all important digital element.

On page 5, Hicks discusses the purpose of his book, which relates to the obvious changes in technology; he explains how to create a writing workshop that goes beyond paper and pencil to implement a workshop that emphasizes 21st Century skills.  Hicks addresses RSS, blogs, wikis, and podcasts, and he provides a companion website to support the book at the Digital Writing Workshop Ning.

I love that Hicks discusses how to introduce NPR’s This I Believe series into the classroom.  His ideas, thoughts, and rubrics are more than enough reason to buy this book.  If your high school is not implementing this writing assignment at some level in your school, I highly suggest that you visit the website and buy Hick’s book to discover why it is a keeper.

The most important element that Hicks brings up is on page 104 when he discusses why we are missing the point when we assign digital projects as assignments.  Is the font, the colors, or even the number of slides used, make a project relevant?  None of this really assesses whether a student can effectively create a worthy digital product.  As an English teacher who understands that digital elements and images are connected to words on a deeper level than just using the required number of pictures in the slides, I know this is true, but assessing and creating a rubric is difficult.  The Digital Writing Workshop demonstrates not only how to use new technologies, but also provides teachers with charts of effective digital writing.  If you have just purchased this book, turn to page 115 to figure 6.2 to see what I mean.

I have used wikis and nings with my students, but this is the first year I have ventured into letting my students support their own personal blog.  Hicks created a Blogger’s Matrix that includes assessments for teachers to use with student bloggers in the classroom.  I plan to incorporate these assessments into my classroom.

I was excited to find a book called The Digital Writing Workshop.  The title alone inspired me, and I knew that this would be a book that would be an invaluable resource in my classroom.

I recently read on the ning that the Heinemann is offering a special discount on this book thorough Nov. 30th.  I encourage you to purchase the book to discover how you can change your classroom with digital writing.

Google Teacher Academy

November 1, 2009 by · No Comments · Google, YouTube

I recently applied for the December 9, 2009 Google Teacher Academy, and as part of the process I made a 60 second video to convince Google to pick me.  Thank you to my 1st block students and to Tait Shrum, our district’s Technology Director, for participating in this video.

How to Introduce Nings in the classroom

October 7, 2009 by · 4 Comments · 21st Century Literacy, English Resources, Nings, Romeo and Juliet, To Kill a Mockingbird, Web 2.0

I was recently interviewed by Tim Walker for an article in the NEA Today titled, “Students live in a Digital World.  Are schools ready to join them?”  I have had several requests asking me to share how I introduce Nings in my classroom.

Creating a Romeo and Juliet Ning with Students

Last school year, I used two different nings in my 9th grade English class.  I created the first ning to engage students as they read Romeo and Juliet, and then I created another ning to accompany the novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  Before we began reading Romeo and Juliet, I discussed how a ning has a format similar to Facebook and told students that they would join the ning in character.  I then modeled what I expected by joining the ning in character as The Bard.  I wrote my responses to the profile questions as if I were Shakespeare joining the ning.  I told my students that they would answer the same profile questions but from the perspective of their character (we drew names).  I divided up the characters in Romeo and Juliet and then added a few extra main characters to cover all of the students in my class, so we had a Romeo 1, 2, and 3, for example.  I gave my students a planning sheet to fill out as we began to read the play.  Students connected with their character so much that my plan to listen to the play on CD went astray.  Students wanted to read the parts of their character.  I believe showing the students the ning before we began reading the play and modeling how to create The Bard profile page enticed students and inspired them to create worthy ning profile pages; I know it definitely kindled their interest in reading the play.  Although we were almost finished with the play when we actually created the ning profile pages, we continued to post on the ning as we went back and closely read certain acts, and this greatly added to their overall understanding of the tragedy.

Creating a To Kill a Mockingbird Ning with Students

I decided to introduce the To Kill a Mockingbird Ning before we began reading the novel.  I set up this ning differently by focusing on connecting outside literature, text, and videos to the novel.  I used the event tab to write up assignments and due dates for posting to the ning.  Students’ posts reflected their understanding of the universal themes presented in To Kill a Mockingbird and how those themes were connected to the other media introduced in class.  Although this ning was introduced differently, it also engaged students because the ning guided their reading and provided a way for the students to digitally respond to the novel’s themes and further the discussions started in class.

Creating a ning for the entire 9th grade class

Ambitiously, our high school created an entire 9th grade class ning for this school year.  Our lead 9th grade Keystone teacher, Tim Hall, wanted to add a technology element to Keystone that included all 9th grade students and teachers, so we created a Class of 2013 Ning.  We are using the ning to connect 9th grade students with each other and their teachers as they transition to high school.  This is our first year to use a ning with an entire class, and so far, in addition to using the ning as a communication tool, it is also allowing us to open discussions about posting responsibly on the web, introducing effective online discussions, and creating a positive web presence.

Where to start?

To create a ning, I first watched Steve Hargadon’s recorded webinar on Building a Ning from Scratch.  Follow the link to the Ning in Education webpage and look under Highlighted Resources in the lower left corner.  The Ning in Education is also a great community to join if you are looking for more resources and information about how to use a ning with students.  I also belong to several other educator nings.  If you are an English teacher, I recommend that you check out the English Companion Ning if you want to connect with other English teachers.

Other ning examples in the English Classroom

I would also like to recommend that you check out these nings: James Miscavish’s classroom ning: LHS Freshman English and Candace Follis’s blog page that has links to her classroom nings.

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Writing Grants

October 1, 2009 by · 4 Comments · 21st Century Literacy

I have been busy writing grants the past few weeks to benefit my classroom.  My district has set aside money for teacher grants, and I want to put it where it is best deserved, but of course, my focus is literacy above all else, so maybe I am biased.  The majority of the high school math teachers in my district have a Smartboard in their classrooms, but we have not implemented this tech tool in the English department yet.  Because I also serve as an Instructional Technology Specialist, as well as an English teacher, some of the math teachers have asked me how I would use the Smartboard in a classroom.  I cannot answer this question because I do not have one, and I have never used one, very jealous too!

I decided I needed to know if a Smartboard is  a worthy technology tool to have in an English classroom.  Would it benefit my students or would it just be a great gadget that might engage my students for awhile?  I started my research.  I started with Dana Huff.  You can view her posts related to a Smartboard here.

Then I moved to the English Companion Ning.  Many resources for using a Smartboard in an English Classroom are posted on the ECN.  Just go to the website and search for Smartboard or click on this LINK to read one of the forum discussions.

Next, I started to search for software that I could use with my mythical Smartboard to assist my students in engaging, interactive lessons, and I discovered Smartboard enhanced software lessons provided by Prestwick House. After reading what my students could do with the enhanced lessons, I knew that I really wanted to try this out.  I googled reviews and decided I had to have a Smartboard to use with the Prestwick House software.  I am not a traditional student myself.  I need to move around, and I am very visual, so just sitting and listening to a teacher go on and on is much like Charlie Brown’s teacher, blah, blah, blah, and I have no idea what she said.  Poetic justice has given me students much like myself.  I deserve every one of them.  They need to move and see what is happening.  I know that technology is just a tool; it is never the complete answer, but I do believe that the ability to drag clauses, parts of sentences, punctuation, and the like around on a Smartboard is not only engaging, but it will make a difference in those students who have to move and create.

I wrote a grant to ask my district to provide me with a Smartboard and software to engage my students in class.  I am not sure if it will be considered one of the worthy grants they receive, but even if it isn’t, my district has given me the opportunity to request this money for my classroom.  Every district across America should earmark money for teachers to write up their requests and explain what technology tools they want to use in their classroom and how it will benefit the students.  Our district form is just a short four part form and well worth filling out.  I can only hope that districts across America are also implementing this strategy.  America needs to ask teachers what they want in their classrooms: How will they use it, and how will it benefit students?  I am so impressed with the teachers that I follow on Twitter and blogs that I believe if districts across America implement Bryant School District’s process of asking teachers what do they need and how will they use it,  school districts will find that they have teachers who are creative and innovative when it comes to finding ways to engage students, and this is what will make the difference in America’s students.

Using a Livescribe Pulse Pen in the Classroom

September 25, 2009 by · 1 Comment · 21st Century Literacy, English Resources, Technology Resources, YouTube

I created the video below to post on Ken Royal’s website The Educator’s Royal Treatment.  My daughter and two of her friends graciously offered to try out the Livescribe Pulse Pen and even complete an assignment for me.  Please view the video below to see what they said about using a pulse pen in the classroom.  I have also posted  a How to Use a Livescribe Pulse Pen pencast as well. I am just beginning to see the power of using the pulse pen the classroom, even if I only have one.  I will continue to write about my pulse pen ideas at The Educator’s Royal Treatment, and I hope I will be able to obtain a class set of pulse pens to use with my students in the future.