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Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

In New Zealand’s state schools, teachers are increasingly faced with larger class sizes, a diverse range of learning and behavioural needs and the requirement to include special needs learners into the classroom environment.

Although ORS students tend to come with a teacher aide (although not 100% of the time), the expectation remains that we will find ways to include special needs students into mainstream classes. Sometimes this can be to meet social needs, other times academic goals and sometimes a mixture of both – although not generally to levels we would expect of mainstream students.

This year I’ve been trying to find quick and easy ways to provide bespoke tasks so that a teacher aide supporting a Student with autism can do so in a meaningful and age appropriate way.  At 14, Student X is keen to have work that in some way resembles what is peers are working on.

This term that involved a novel study of Fleur Beale’s Slide the Corner.

Based on the novel’s content, I devised a series of lessons using Microsoft’s Learning Tools to provide a series of bite sized lessons for X to work on while we focussed on essay writing.

Using a picture of a Lego car,  the Student began by labelling car parts on a paper handout:

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Then, with his aide’s help, he completed a cloze paragraph filling the gaps with words from a word bank to write a paragraph about the main character, Greg

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Finally, using the same syntactical structure, he was then prompted to complete a paragraph supplying similar details details about himself.

Step f

I then copied and paste the word document into a OneNote in X’s Class Notebook.

That’s when the real fun began! Using Immersive Reader, the paragraphs were read back to him.

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At this point, Student X’s expression was one of sheer incredulity. He was simply delighted to hear “his” work read aloud. I showed him and the teacher aide how to adjust the gender and speed of the speaker (he was similarly enthralled by the tortoise and hare icons).

Finally, I demonstrated to the aide and student how to use the dictate function. This allowed X to tell the computer what to type. X was asked to tell the PC what he thought about the lesson – a very basic reflection as his processing is pretty much surface level so he has a very literal world view. We discussed his response verbally first.

I’m  hopeful that both the student and aide will use these amazing Learning Tools again – at least in English but also other subjects too. (The only issue we had was that some of the school laptops had not been updated to run Windows 10  a- simple fix but it pays to check first to ensure microphones are accessible.)

 

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From primary school years, children are taught the difference between nouns and verbs, then adjectives and adverbs, possibly prepositions and articles.

Why then at secondary school, do we find many students still confused over identifying parts of speech?

And does it matter?

It matters because as students progress through the NZC, our aim is that they will be able to provide insightful analysis on author’s purpose. This means they can independently analyse entire texts (or extracts) and figure out what they writer is trying to say and why. The how they do this then becomes important. Tone and style (more concepts for senior students) are inextricably linked to diction and language features.

In NCEA examinations one of three externally assessed standards for English is Unfamiliar Text. Many students avoid it due to lack of confidence in the simple act of identifying and then explaining the effect of diction, language features and structural devices.

I suspect that although students are “taught” various writing devices over the years, it is the application of that skill that is the real challenge.

And thinking beyond the lines is certainly challenging if students are not hooked in to reading by this stage.

For revision, I’m going to use a triple app combo (selling it!) to bolster confidence at close reading texts in my Year 9 students. Using Office Lens, OneNote and Flipgrid, I’ve developed a lesson that aims to revise parts of speech identification and then, consider the effect of the writer’s choices working initially collectively and then independently.

  1. Via my phone, use OfficeLens, take a pic of a passage from a novel we studied in class.
  2. Send it to their shared ClassNotebook.
  3. Students log in and silently read the passage
  4. Instruct students to use the highlighter to highlight nouns purple, verbs red, adjectives green and adverbs yellow.
  5. Then instruct students to open the same passage in Immersive Reader (under view in OneNote)
  6. Go to Grammar Options icon top right. Turn the various parts of speech on.
  7. Students can then compare their selections to the correct answer. The colours I selected are the same as those used in Immersive Reader to help visual learners.
  8. On the whiteboard, make a list of all the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs in the passage.
  9. In pairs, ask students to discuss the connotations of adverbs and adjectives.
  10. As a class discuss the following: How did the character feel at this point? How did you know? What was the effect on you – did you feel sorry for him? Excited? Happy? What words made you feel like that?
  11. Give students a starter sentence and instruct them to write a passage in their writing journals explaining the writer’s purpose.
  12. For homework, share a flipgrid code featuring a topic asking them to give examples of parts of speech that created a sad mood in the same passage.
  13. Discuss in class the following day.

This task could then lead on to revision of the novel itself – in particular we could use it as a springboard to an essay on character. Working smarter is the key at this end of the year, right?

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Following from our session on learning tools that encourage differentiation and inclusivity for all learners, our teacher aides have provided me with some feedback which makes for interesting reading. Top of the list of tools/apps the group were showed that they intend to use was Read Aloud. This makes perfect sense as our teacher aides work with students who struggle with literacy and are challenged with a range of learning disabilities.

This was backed up by reasons they supplied for the apps/tools they believed would have the most use for them. (I have deleted some of their comments to protect student privacy):

 

From my own viewpoint, the biggest take home for me was the need to share the basics first. I created a Class Notebook for the workshop participants to access material, share ideas and have a play without thinking that most had not even ventured into a Class Notebook. In a way, I should have started with that before delving into specific apps.

The other takeaway was the needs for consistency across devices in a school. Some of their learners have their own device and others use what is available within the specific department/learning space on a given day. Other things I take for granted such as using Office Mix also piqued their interest. Most know how to set up basic power point but were unaware of the record option. Others were not sure how to add music so a follow up session on Office Mix is top of the list.

Hopefully we’ll get some more time together next term to delve deeper into their first foray into the many ways Microsoft can enhance the teaching and learning experience for these vital support staff.

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If ever there was a digital tool designed to boost basic literacy that can be used across curriculum areas, is easy to use with multiple applications MS Learning Tools, featuring Immersive Reader and Read Aloud functions, is it!

To truly embed digital technology in our classrooms, we need to find generic tools that can used across curriculum areas that benefit core skills such as literacy and numeracy. Learning Tools offers assistive technology that meets both these goals. It is also a great option for time poor teachers keen to use more digital technology but lacking the time to investigate and trial options.

Learning Tools isn’t new but has recently been updated to make it more user friendly and available across a wider range of MS platforms. Learning Tools (which includes Immersive Reader and Read Aloud) can now be accessed via OneNote (desktop and online), Word (desktop and online), Outlook Office Lens and Windows 10 Creator.

The Immersive Reader function is potentially a game changer with the ability to vastly improve reading comprehension. Selecting Immersive Reader in the ribbon opens the text on a page in a new window and gives the student options to make visual changes for ease of readability as well as breaking down the text via three icons in the top right corner of the page.

Students can change the column width, page colour and text space.  This is great for dyslexic students who find it easier to read with sepia background and comic sans font and great for the teacher who doesn’t have to spend time preparing separate handouts.  The library icon gives students an option to break the text into parts of speech as well as showing the text broken down into syllables – so great for ESOL students.

Writing fluency and accuracy is also catered for via the Read Aloud function. Students could literally have text read aloud – their own writing or text scanned and saved electronically.  Updates mean that students now have a voice selection option through the setting gear icon so thaey can change the speed of the voice narrating the text as well as the gender. This could enable students to “hear” mistakes in their own writing and then correct syntactical and grammatical errors.

Here’s a link that includes a great introductory video of how to use Learning Tools in OneNote (note it makes reference to the dictate function which I have been unable to locate since updating to Office 2016).

And here’s a link to an explanation of updates that occurred late last year which might supersede some of the above but gives another good overview of what’s available.

And some FAQS. Scroll 2/3 down the page to find links showing how to access the different components of Learning Tools in various platforms. It’s a shame that the interface isn’t consistent across platforms but if you delve into View or Review in your task bar, you’ll find these tools!

 

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Still thinking about reluctant readers, sometimes it seems the best way to grab the attention of C21 learners is to add a digital element to tasks/activities. This has worked well in the past for writing activities so I’ve started looking for ways to use the digital world to entice (or ensnare – tomato/tomatoe) my reluctant readers.

Philosophically, I’m in two minds.  The debate that all reading is reading regardless of platform is almost passe but It seems a shame that students can’t simply pick up a book and engage with words on paper. Then again, I grew up in a different era with far less distractions so I’ll put that misgiving aside and focus on finding interactive sites and tools to bolster reading engagement.

One thing I hear a lot “I can’t find a good book.” Really?! (You pick your battles and that is not one worth fighting!) Is We offer recommended reading lists to our seniors and I talk about reading a lot in class, often bringing in books from home to create mini displays around themes we’re discussing or current issues. I also put best seller lists on the whiteboard and refer to those to encourage a reading culture while other staff review books on the school website. Last year, I set up a Pinterest page of good reads and promoted that in class. Simple to do and enables students to visually browse titles. (My juniors blog about their reading on Taieri HotReads but those texts aren’t generally sophisticated enough for Level One and Two).

A site worth checking out is Book Drum. The self-described companion site gives additional information on a range of titles so if, for instance, a student is reading Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, they can visit Book Drum for background information on the setting and events including maps, photos and a range of visual and audio materials. The Bookmarks Section has YouTube clips and interviews that help give context to the issues covered for titles featured.

These days you don’t need a special device or to download an app to read a book online. There are plenty of options for the digitally inclined to read online with texts easily accessible via the standard range of internet browsers.

A few years ago while teaching a media communication course, I discovered that our local public library has a range of magazine titles and newspapers from around the world which you can read FOR FREE online. All you need is a library card and a birth date to log in. Go to the homepage and under Digital Resources tab you’ll find a Newspaper Direct Press Display option (as well as a plethora of other great material ideal for research standards). There are a range of titles with articles suitable for Level One and Two. And did I mention, FREE!

The Dunedin Public Library website also includes ebook and eaudiobook sections. At the eaudiobook section, you can borrow via one of two services. The ulverscroft option features a catalogue of 184 downloadable titles enabling users to listen to books being read. This service can also utilised via a free app for Apple users. You simply download the app and bang, you can access the titles. Brilliant. This should be treated as complimentary activity – it’s still essential in the spirit of the Achievement Standards for independent reading that students actually read a text but for a slower reader, I see potential in having the book in hand and listening at the same time as they are reading.  The ebook section allows users to borrow and read books online, a familiar concept for a generation of people who have grown up around ereaders such as kindle.

At Read Any Book users can do just that, Ebook Friendly has done all the hard work for me listing the top 10 ebook sites (some titles free, others not) while TechSupportAlert lists a whooping 346 sites.

 

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Still on a reading theme, here are a couple of clips I have used to inspire Level 1 and 2 students:

I have developed a series of close listening questions to accompany the high energy How and Why We Read. Let me know if you would like a copy:

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the biggest challenges teaching senior “alternative” English classes is engagement. In the first week of school, that bubble of (barely containable) excitement heralding the arrival of junior classes is sadly missing for many of their senior counterparts. Some are repeating Level 2 English, some are ESOL students, most “hate” English and pretty much all of them “don’t read.” And so we embark on a sometimes tedious and (if you let it be) soul-destroying journey to teach and learn together.

Although it is always challenging, this is high stakes in more ways than credit counting. For many, it may be the last time they will study literature or attempt to craft writing which makes the quest to help them enjoy some sense of success and enjoyment even more pressing. After five years working with these students, I have learned to focus on the micro because for many attaining Level 7 of the NZC is akin to climbing Aoraki-Mt Cook – not impossible but a huge task.

So what can we do to try and inject some positivity into their learning journey? Course design is an obvious starting point. At an OATE PD day at the end of last year, wide ranging discussions were held on the inclusion of Unit Standards into courses (pros and cons), family expectations, school expectations, ministry expectations – lots of people expecting lots from these young people, many of whom continue to find basic punctuation a struggle.

At our school, we inform students and their families that for many, this is a two year course to ensure expectations are realistic. We are open to assessing work against Level Six and Seven of the NZC so students might pick up some Level One credits and we are picky about the extended texts we use in class. We’ve found that texts with an episodic structure rather than epic narratives work best.  This year, we will try The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien which lends itself to plenty of writing and research activities as well as being an extremely well crafted text in its own right. For many of these students, reading classic literature at school might score a high 10 on the moan factor today but they always feels a sense of pride when they finish reading these texts and, despite their preconceptions, engage readily with classics – which is why we still teach The Outsiders, To Kill A Mockingbird and the Lord of the Flies. They are timeless for a reason.

When it comes to short texts, I focus less on language features and more on content and meaning. We use lots of song lyrics that relate to themes we’re reviewing. Those that have worked well include: Hurt (Johnny Cash), You (Young Sid), Another Brick in the Wall (Pink Floyd) and Goodnight Saigon (Billy Joel).  Wherever possible, I use visual texts so alongside Apirana Taylor’s Parihaka poem, we watch the kinetic typography clip. We also look at the earlier version by Jesse McKay alongside Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade and then read/watch Tim Finn’s lyrics. Connections anyone?!

In 2015, we offered Vocational Tasks for some achievement standards which helped with what is an enormous barrier to success for many – relevance. I see more scope for using these in the future although found the tasks themselves were extremely sophisticated for these learners – writing a “website” or investigative feature article requires specific skills and for many, the structure of a persuasive essay is safer territory.  Using their Career Quest generated findings (see upcoming post), some attempted to write a report on issues in their industry/career field using focus questions as subheadings. This research can also be used for oral presentations. To boost participation in this standard, we now allow students to record presentations to play in class and also give them the opportunity to work in pairs. This is a work in progress.

But above all, my big focus for Level 2 ENL is to help them become engaged readers. Over half of the Achievement Standards we offer rely on students reading independently and reflecting on their reading so that rather lofty goal has become my main focus via a series of small steps.

I keep folders in class of magazine articles, short texts, lyrics and poems organised via subject so that after getting to know students, I can steer them towards material that might engage them. (The bonus is that I have taught some students already so have a head start). I reinstated SSR and was thrilled when they all bought into this although not so thrilled that some opted to leave books behind in class… I took them to the library where the librarian presented a range of suitable texts with a focus on non-fiction linked to personal interest. This year, I plan to take this class to the library once a fortnight. If reading is key, this should be a worthwhile investment.

It is all well and good to say they should be reading themselves, but if they haven’t developed those habits, I’ll do my best to ensure they are reading at school. Who knows, even if the credits aren’t gained, maybe some will read a book or two and maybe, some might decide to keep reading beyond the confines of our classroom. It might not show up in a credit counting table but I’ll consider that a success.

 

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