There was once a time when contemplating tearing down my classroom walls fancied me wearing a yellow safety helmet and operating a wrecking-ball wielding crane machine. Surely after knocking down windowless walls of cinder blocks with a sledgehammer I would have reluctantly exchanged my yellow hardhat for a striped jumpsuit with numerical identification. No need to get caught up in such fruitless delusions anymore. Not with all the technology gadgets available to educators. In fact, a little ingenuity and a toolbox equipped with digital tools are all teachers need to flatten traditional learning environments and discover the real size of today’s modern classrooms…infinity.
A Model Lesson Plan
After experiencing the power of Google Forms as a sounding board for my Advanced Placement Language students to peer-assess their analytical essays, I was extremely confident the same structure would work with any class, even one on the other side of the school district. Due to the successful first run with Google Forms as a means of peer-assessment in Studio 113, I knew the only impediment to connecting with a class from a different school would be matching up schedules. After speaking with a respected colleague, Denise Ramsey of Flowery Branch High School, the blueprint for a limitless class and lesson plan began to take shape. The walls came crumbling down. Mrs. Ramsey and I embarked on a plan to merge my East Hall students with her Flowery Branch students in a two-week attempt to once-and-for-all conquer any weaknesses and misunderstandings with the analytical prompt of the AP Language exam. Our plan consisted of two phases.
Just before Spring Break, students in both schools on the same day composed analytical essays stemming from a common prompt. All students had just fifty minutes to read the prompt and passage, to brainstorm for writing ideas, and to craft a well-written analytical essay worthy of a solid score from the AP Language free-response rubric. The students’ essays were exchanged via our district mail courier in only a couple of days. Under the anonymity of assigned numbers, the students were then asked to critique two-to-three separate essays using this Google Form. For the next week, both Mrs. Ramsey and I continued to follow our individual curricula while setting a flexible due date for all peer-assessments. All essays were eventually reviewed, and a live link was shared with students from both schools while I worked on polishing up the final spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel. To say the students were eager to read the constructive criticism found on the live link is a gross understatement. They experienced a range of emotions. They were ecstatic, disappointed, surprised, pleased, angry, and frustrated. Overall, however, they were challenged to improve. Once Phase 1 was completed, the second part of the plan was ready to begin.
For several days, my colleague and I discussed essays with our respective students and tried to ascertain solid feedback. What did the students think about the process? Were their assessments and scoring accurate? Were the students tougher on each other than the teachers may have been? Overall, did all students receive information that will ultimately lead towards improvement? To discuss the success of Phase 1 and to practice dissecting another analytical prompt, we decided to virtually connect both classes using Microsoft Lync, a video conferencing and instant messaging program made available to our district this school year. The success of two Twitter tweet-ups with colleagues and students from Virginia and New Jersey proved to me that classrooms are limited only by one’s imagination. Conducting a virtual class across the county would be no problem. Armed with iPads and laptops, students were easily directed to the four main websites when our classes “Lync”-ed up. These four sites were: my AP Language teacher page, a TodaysMeet backchannel, the shared spreadsheet of all peer-assessed essays, and the link to the next prompt to be discussed. Take a look at the video below to view the setup for our virtual class that took place on April 18th. Although we ran out of time on this particular day, the overall lesson was already a success. Care to watch the class in action? If so, scroll down and click play. If you are looking to connect with a class of eager students but can’t see past the mortar and blocks, don’t reach for an archaic demolition tool. Instead, hit me up on Google Hangouts, Skype, Lync, or even FaceTime. We can plan out a rocking lesson plan and watch the walls crumble around us. Trust me. The view will be amazing. And the possibilities…infinite.