Saturday, October 18, 2014

Give Great Feedback (Without Going Crazy)!

I honestly don't know how high school English teachers do it. For years, I have struggled to keep up with the writing output of my fourth graders so that I can give them the high quality feedback they need so they can improve. I must say, however, that once again, technology makes this process SO much easier. Today I'm going to share some high-tech (and low-tech) ways to give great writing feedback without having to give up all of your nights and weekends.

Get your class to use Google Docs

I can't say enough good things about using Google Docs with my students this year. We use it for drafting and publishing, and the students share their docs with me the minute they start working on a new piece of writing. A few reasons why I love it: 

1. I can keep tabs on my students. We all have those kids who look like they're working but really aren't. Or those who just struggle to get ideas down. In the past, when I used notebooks, it might take me a couple of days to realize that a student was struggling. Now, I can leave those students' documents open on my laptop and see in real time what's happening in their writing. It makes them and me more effective during our writing block.

2. It's a great source of data. I was working with a student in RtI, and one of the data points I had to collect was how much writing she was able to accomplish during our writing block. Google Docs allow you to go back through a document's revision history so I could see what the writing looked like each day. I could track word counts and changes, and I could even see if she had worked on it at home (where the big changes seemed to happen). All of that information was very helpful and far more than I could have gathered using a notebook.

3. It makes conferring and feedback easier. I can have students ask me questions about their writing, and I can immediately pull it up and see it. I can also track when I've given feedback and which feedback gets used or ignored. It's a great record of my work with students.

Consider a Feedback Add-On

When I went to ISTE this summer, I learned about Kaizena, a tool that integrates with Google Drive and allows you to give feedback in a variety of ways. For example, you can:

  • Give audio feedback -- make comments about the paper by talking to the student about his or her writing. It will record your comments and embed them to the document. This would be SO much faster than typing things out.
  • Re-use comments -- if you find yourself making the same comment over and over again, you can create the comment once, tag it for easy finding, and use it again later. Talk about a time saver!
  • Embed videos -- sometimes students benefit from short movies or examples that teach a particular skill. It's like a personalized mini-lesson.
The problem? As of this writing, the app doesn't work with the iPads. Kaizena creates a link in the first comment and that link directs students to their platform, but links like that aren't clickable through the comments on Google Docs' iPad app. It would be great for a class with 1:1 laptops, but that's not where I'm at. I've heard that an iPad app is in the works, but until then, I'm having to devise my own alternatives. 

Build Your Own Comment Library

Inspired by the concept of Kaizena, I've started to build my own reusable comment library for those comments that apply over and over again. I'm just using a Google Spreadsheet, and I've divided it into the following columns:

1. Tag - a word or phrase to help me find the comment. Examples:
  • Capitalization - Proper Nouns
  • Run-on sentences
  • Then vs. Than
2. Comment - type out the exact text of what you want the comment to say to address a particular skill or issue. Wherever applicable, include a link to an additional resource students can use for more examples of what you're talking about. I tend to include titles of BrainPop videos or links to Vimeo clips (not blocked by my school's webfilters, unlike YouTube). While my students still can't access the links in comments through their iPads, I can let them use one of our classroom laptops to view the particular video. The fact that it's just one comment vs. all of the comments make this option work for us over Kaizena. Here's an example of a comment I gave a student who was confusing "Then and Than" 
  • You are confusing two words that sound similar to one another: "then" and "than." The first minute of this video may be helpful to you: (you do not need to watch the whole thing)
3. Related Standard(s) - This is just one additional way for me to search through my comment library. Plus, if I find myself giving the same comment over and over again, I'll know which standard I may need to revisit in an upcoming lesson.

Why a Comment Library is a Huge Time Saver

My comment library allows me to give more thorough feedback in much more depth. Unlike a checklist or a rubric, I'm offering very specific feedback and suggestions targeted toward exactly what I see in a student's writing. When I notice something happening in the writing, I can highlight it, hit the comment button, and copy & paste the relevant suggestion into the comments section. I can do this quickly and still have time to type some individualized suggestions that may be relevant to the student. It's much more thorough than anything I could ever do on paper.

In addition, my comment library is constantly growing as I find new resources and see different things happen in students' writing. I've only been doing this for about a week, and it's becoming a great tool to help me curate resources and differentiate instruction.

Get Involved

As I mentioned, I've just started building this comment library on Google Drive. If you'd like to see it, you can view it here. If you'd like to get involved as a contributor, you can contact me via email or blog comments and I'll share the document with you so you can edit and add. 

Halloween Fun!

This is off-topic, but I was super excited at the arrival of my Halloween Jamberry nail wraps this week, and I finally tried them out today! 

I love the purple color and the subtle flare of bats flying around. It makes me feel festive without going over the top. I still have some Jamberry samples available to mail out, so if you'd like to try Jamberry nail wraps for yourself, I'd love to share! They're easy and fun, and they come in so many styles that you're sure to find some that you love. You can visit my Jamberry site or email me at eberjams (via gmail) to request a sample. 

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

3 Ways to Pamper Yourself When You're Low on Time

Have you ever heard the expression "There's no tired like teacher-tired?"  I didn't become a coffee drinker until I started teaching, and it seems like every teacher I know juggles way too many responsibilities. We teach, we parent, we study, we meet, we plan, and somewhere in that mix, we're supposed to take care of ourselves and our families as well. Talk about a tall order! I've never been great with the work-life balance, but as I've been increasingly pressed for time this past year, I've learned to prioritize and find shortcuts so that I can still feel pampered despite feeling crunched. Today, I'll share 3 of my favorites.

1. Jamberry Nails

I've seen bazillions of teachers blog about Jamberry before, and I'll admit that I was skeptical. I love getting my nails done, but I lack the time and budget to do that with any regularity. Not to mention, manicures never hold up on my nails. They always smudge or chip within a day. Getting gel manicures has helped, but those take a long time to put on and take off. And usually, I destroy my nails taking them off, too, because I'm impatient. 

In May, I tried Jamberry Nails for the first time, and I'll never go back to anything else. They're super easy to apply (20-30 minutes tops, and I'm slow relative to some people I know), and they last up to 2 weeks even with the heavy activity that comes with being a teacher, wife, and mom. Usually when I change them out, it's because I want a new pattern and not because the wraps are coming off. For example, check out these awesome Halloween wraps (which will be going on my nails next):

They look much more vibrant than any polish I've used, and they're not expensive. A sheet of wraps yields 2-3 manicures + at least 1 pedicure. If you have really short nails, you could probably get more out of them. I always buy them using the buy 3 get 1 free deals, so it's less than $5 for a mani/pedi for significantly less time and effort. 

I like Jamberry so much that I just became a Jamberry Independent Consultant (mostly so I can get the consultant discount on my nail wraps -- I want them all!). If you haven't tried them yet, I'd be happy to tell you more or hook you up with a sample to try for yourself. You can find out more by visiting my Jamberry website and liking my Jamberry page on Facebook. Or just leave me a note in the comments section, and I can arrange for a sample to be sent to you.

2. Gwynnie Bee

As a plus-sized person, I've been super jealous of all of the cute teacher-y clothes that friends have been posting from Stitch Fix. But I finally found an alternative that I love in Gwynnie Bee. Gwynnie Bee is a clothing subscription service that is like the Netflix for clothes. You select a plan (I'm currently on 3-at-a-time), load up your "closet" with clothes you like, and sit back and receive outfits from your virtual closet. If you like it, you can wear it and send it back when you're through with it or buy it at a discount. If you don't like it, you can immediately send it back to exchange for something else from your closet. There's no limit to how many outfits you are sent each month, and you can alert Gwynnie Bee that you're sending something back so they'll send you your next item.

I love my Gwynnie Bee subscription for a variety of reasons:

1. It's convenient - The clothes are delivered to my doorstep, and they have a prepaid plastic envelope so I can send them back. I'm constantly getting new outfits to try.

2. It's a time-saver - I don't shop nearly as much as I used to, and I don't have to do as much laundry or dry cleaning because Gwynnie Bee takes care of it all. 

3. There's no guilt - Shopping for plus-sized clothes gets depressing because selections are always more limited or dowdy, and while catalogs offer better selections, I never know how it will fit me. Now, I can have clothes delivered and not feel bad sending them back if they don't turn out as well as I'd hoped. 

4. You stumble onto great dresses you'd never find otherwise. Check out this fab retro dress that I ended up buying:

The minute I tried that dress on, my husband told me to buy it. Who could argue with that?!

5. It's perfect during transitions between sizes. I gained a bit when I had my daughter, and then I packed on a few more pounds when I started working on my PhD last year. I started Weight Watchers around Labor Day, and I'm already down 10 pounds (woo hoo!). I intend to keep on losing weight, but I don't want to have to buy a whole new work wardrobe at each step along the way. Now I can just go in and adjust the sizes on the clothes in my closet (they have sizes 10-32). 

Gwynnie Bee offers the first month free, and I highly recommend it. You can check it out using this link.

3. Birchbox and Ipsy

I started subscribing to Birchbox and Ipsy about a year ago. I'm not a huge makeup or product person, but I like trying new things, and it's fun to get a package every month. It's a small indulgence that makes me feel extra pampered. For example, this month, I received this amazing rosemary-scented shower gel in my Birchbox, and it's something I never would have found otherwise. In my experience, Birchbox tends to have more high end products while Ipsy has larger midrange samples that come in cute bags. I look forward to receiving both.

Treat Yourself

The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to take care of myself. This is true especially when everything gets busy and chaotic between work and grad school and caring for my family. I don't get to go shopping or go out for mani/pedis anywhere near as much as I used to, but I don't need to. There are so many amazing services and products out there that you can treat yourself even when you're extra busy. 

Finally, while I've been trying to take more time to pamper myself this year, I've had some help in the "feel like royalty" department. I was shocked beyond words when I was named Teacher of the Year at a faculty meeting last week, and my dear friends went out of their way to make me a crown, a tutu, and a sash for the local homecoming parade last week. They even made a matching tutu for my 3-year-old (who loves tutus). I work with some pretty amazing teachers, and they definitely inspire me and push me to be the best teacher I can be. I'll be sharing some of our amazing projects together in some upcoming posts, but I have to thank them for all they do for me each and every day. Loving what you do and where you work is the best kind of pampering of all. 

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