Slacking Off? Use Slack!

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This year, I’ve introduced Slack to our English department. Slack is a great tool for communication and collaboration with colleagues. It helps to reduce unnecessary emails, send direct/group messages and drag, drop and share files with your team. The platform is user friendly and operates very much like Twitter, with # and @ symbols to tag and link people to conversations. The best bit is that it’s free!

Why use Slack?

Sharing good practice, tweaking resources, arranging deadlines/meetings can be a pain in the neck to manage via email. Slack makes these processes much easier. Within our department, we often share PDF, Microsoft Word and PowerPoint files. If you use services like Google Drive, Dropbox etc, just paste the link and that document is immediately in sync and searchable for all team members across all of their devices. Slack has many other integrations which can be installed and used within the app. Some of these include, Quip (document sharing and editing software), Google Hangouts, Wunderlist, Giphy, Twitter and more.

How do you set it up?

Setting up a team is easy. You are required to create a team name and invite members. Before you do, I would advise that you play the short official video ‘What is Slack?’ to your team so they get an idea of what it’s all about. Click the link below and have a look:

‘What is Slack?’  https://youtu.be/9RJZMSsH7-g

As you can see from my video posted on Twitter, I organised team members into class ‘channels’ – for example, all Year 8 teachers were assigned to ‘#year8’, Year 10 teachers to ‘#year10’ etc. The ‘general’ channel is used for team-wide announcements and general information.

How do you get it?

Once you’re invited, Slack can be accessed through your browser however, I prefer to use the Mac app. For ease of access, I usually keep the app open and running in the Dock. Nevertheless, Slack pushes notifications to your device(s) when someone posts to a channel so that you don’t miss anything.

Slack can be downloaded free on iPad, iPhone and Mac from the App Store.

Mac App Store: https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/slack/id803453959?mt=12

For us Slack has made sharing, communication and collaboration easy and is slowly helping us shape a strong teaching and learning culture.

Try it with your team!

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#12 ‘Blueprint Resource Planner’

For just over a month now I have been posting teaching and learning resources both on WordPress and Twitter. I’ve been flattered by the responses I’ve been getting and amazed that I’ve inspired lots of teachers to create engaging resources for their students. Many people have asked me how I think of and produce ideas that are effective and visually appealing. However, there isn’t a simple answer. To take people through a step-by-step process of how I create resources, I have made the ‘Blueprint Engaging Visual Resource Planner’.

The Blueprint Planner works in a similar way to @TeacherToolkit‘s popular and very effective ‘5 Minute Lesson Plan’ and guides teachers through several stages of the resource building process. No doubt, this tool will be useful to some and irrelevant to others although I believe it will help many to move away from the generic Comic Sans worksheet that switches so many of our students off.

I have purposely created this tool to be used as a supplement to a lesson plan and I must stress that the ideas, skills or knowledge you want students to learn comes first. The Blueprint Planner serves to transform these ideas into something accessible and stimulating for students. Here’s how it is broken down:

  1. Create: Software Choice (Microsoft Word, Publisher, Photoshop): Before you begin, consider how you are going to make the resource. I use Microsoft Word – simple and unprofessional I know, but it works. Word, Publisher and PowerPoint are good for handling images, text boxes, shapes and adding artistic effects.
  2. Paper/card/ size (A4, A3) Title (question, statement, topic, learning objective): If you know students will be writing on the resource, then paper size should be considered. Will A4 provide enough space for text? Is A3 too big? The title of the resource also should be addressed. Will you use a question or statement that students aim to answer by the end of the lesson? Or a simple topic title? What’s more, will the resource be reused (such as a book mark) or will it be made into a physical 3D shape (see ‘Language Device Mountain’)?
  3. Theme and Background Image (link to topic) Colours and Fonts linked to Theme: Having a theme for a lesson or resource is a nice touch and keeps learning focused. The resources I have tweeted or posted on WordPress are designed with a specific theme in mind. For example, most ‘Of Mice and Men’ resources use a rustic wooden floor background – in some cases an old American flag is layered behind. In the overlay resources, I generally have a wooden desk – sometimes with additional coffee cup stain ‘png’ images pasted on top. It is simple and easy to find backgrounds and takes no time at all. On Google images, I search for ‘X hd wallpaper’. This normally brings up a high resolution and stylised version of what you are looking for. This can then be copy and pasted onto your document. With regards to colour and font, I do not use striking or vivid colours as they often make documents look childish and old-fashioned. You may disagree. Depending on the topic/theme, I tend to download free new fonts that enhance the look and fit with the image.
  4. Foreground Image(s) (photo, diagram etc): This is a key part of resource making. If a document is visually appealing, students are more likely to be engaged. I always take images from the internet and always use images of real things. I find resources can look ‘tacky’ and unprofessional when clipart or cartoons are used. A simple Google image search normally does the trick. For example, if I want a picture of a fridge, I type: “fridge png”. I normally search for ‘png’ files as they often do not have a white background. This is really useful to create a realistic effect when placing the image over a background image. If it is not possible to find a picture without a white background, then I remove it myself on Microsoft Word (double click on the image and select ‘Remove Background’). I often consider writing task instructions on foreground pictures. An example of this can be seen on the ‘Unit 1 Presentational Device Support Overlay’ where text is written on top of blank Polaroid pictures. *Initially foreground images may need to be pasted into another blank document so that they can be put “in front of text” before being pasted into your resource document.
  5. Text Box (Student work/response space): On several resources I have created recently, I have avoided the use of text boxes or spaces for students to write. This is generally because it is vital to monitor student progress over time therefore students need work recorded in books. Nevertheless, work spaces can be useful if they are used to visually show progress. For example, in the SOLO Notebook (see below) I have built a resource that outlines the progression of the lesson whilst incorporating a grid for students to jot down ideas in boxes dedicated to each of the SOLO stages. This can then be used as a tool to help students construct a written response in their books.
  6. Differentiation (Support and Stretch Tasks): Effective resources include some form of differentiation. ‘Support and Stretch’ was introduced to our department by my colleague @AimeeCasson who often includes these options in PowerPoint presentations. I also offer ‘Support and Stretch’ on a PowerPoint slide, however, it also works effectively on the resource itself. Here’s an explanation if you are unsure of the concept: ‘Support’ is generally a reminder of tools, ideas needed to complete a task to a high standard, whilst ‘Stretch’ tends to be an additional task to encourage students to explore their responses further.
  7. QR Codes (links to YouTube, webpage, useful resource): If you have read my previous post on QR codes, then you’ll know I’m a massive fan. They are really effective in marking and feedback but also useful in aiding student progress within a lesson. I have included several QR codes on resources posted on Twitter, all of which provide really engaging support to learning. For example, in the ‘Differentiated Boarding Passes’ ‘Of Mice and Men’ home learning task, I included ‘Support and Stretch’ links to YouTube videos on 1930s society and various webpages with summaries of key characters. I have also used codes that link to Examiners’ Reports to help students assess their progress (please see Unit 1 resources). QR codes are simple to generate; go to www.qrstuff.com and enter a specific URL to create. Once you have downloaded the code, it is easy to paste it into a document.
  8. AfL Opportunity (success criteria, mark scheme information): I find mark scheme information to be extremely useful on a resource. However, it is not always convenient due to space restrictions. If you consider doing this, use only a few level/band descriptors in order to save space. What’s more, it is far easier to paste a image of the mark scheme into your resource rather than typing the whole thing out word-for-word. This can be done by capturing a screenshot. To do this, hold ‘alt’ and press ‘print screen’ on your keyboard. Your image can then be pasted and cropped in Microsoft Word before being dropped into your resource.
  9. Sketch it (diagram of finished copy): Finally, plan the layout of the resource. By sketching it, you can plan and position elements you may not have considered before. For example, resources often need direction arrows in order to make tasks explicit to students. Furthermore, the layout of information is often crucial to ensure students benefit from the resource. After sketching, evaluate. Make sure you have not overloaded the document with information, boxes, panels or images. Keeping the resource simple is best.

The pictures below show the completed Blueprint Plan for the ‘SOLO Notebook’ resource, plus the finished product.

Please note that the ‘Blueprint Engaging Visual Resource Planner’ will be adapted and developed over time. Feel free to download and provide feedback.

Download: ‘Blueprint Resource Planner’

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#11 ‘Analysis Connectagons’

I came up with the idea of ‘Analysis Connectagons’ after trailing the ‘SOLO Squares’ which I have seen others use Twitter. The ‘connectagons’ are a pretty simple concept once you get your head around them and lead students to deeper thinking. Again, this task is ideal for group work and gives students the additional challenge of making connections and justifying how they arrange and position each shape.

Here’s how it works:

Students cut out two of each ‘Theme’ and ‘Character’ hexagon and work as a team to answer the layered questions in the spaces provided. As you can see in the example, the ‘Theme’ hexagon has three stages linked to the SOLO Taxonomy strands. The stages develop as follows: ‘Multistructural’ requires students to ‘Identify’ parts of the text where the theme is addressed; ‘Relational’ challenges students to ‘Apply‘ and link their ideas to at least three important quotations from the text. Finally, the in the ‘Extended Abstract’ space, students are to ‘Reflect’ and evaluate why Steinbeck used this theme in the novel.

The process should then be repeated for the ‘Character’ hexagon which contain slightly different questions. Instead of ‘Identify’, the ‘Multistructural’ task is to ‘Describe how Steinbeck presents this character’. Once again, the last two strands require students to ‘Apply’ by linking ideas to three important quotations and subsequently ‘Reflect’ on their ideas by referring to Steinbeck’s intentions/views and his message about 1930s society.

Once the shapes are filled in with top-notch ideas, the final challenge is to put them together (like a big jigsaw). This concept reflects the original SOLO ideas whereby students make links between each concept. This task is separate to the original and does not require students to link comments written on each hexagons. For example, in ‘Of Mice and Men’, the ‘Candy Character Connectagon’ can be placed next to the ‘Loneliness Theme Connectagon’ because Candy is a lonely character. What’s more, this connectagon can also link to the ‘Dreams’  as Candy buys into George and Lennie’s proposed plans.

This task is a great way of making progress visible and stimulates effective group discussion. Furthermore, it is a fabulous tool for revision and recapping themes and characters. I would like to see this in action on another text such as a Shakespeare play. If you use this resource in your classroom, please tweet a picture of it!

Download from: sellfy.com/JamieClark85

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#10 Character Cubes

Character Cubes is a really effective way of engaging students whilst allowing them to analyse characters on a number of levels. As you can see from the picture, the cubes incorporate the SOLO Taxonomy stages and are a great way to make progress visible.

In recent weeks, I have been trying to create new ways for students to make links between texts/characters/themes without writing their ideas straight into a conventional paragraph. More visual (and practical) methods of making connections ultimately helps students to retain information and is more likely to stimulate discussion. This task is perfect for group work (ideally four), as each student has to work on a specific character.

In the example, I have used characters from ‘Of Mice and Men’. Students begin by making the cube and then addressing pre structural task – in this case to read an extract from Curley’s Wife’s first appearance. Learning is then guided further by the ‘Unistructural’ stage – students are to identify key words, phrases or symbols from the extract. Next, the ‘Multistructural’ stage requires students to explain the significance of the key words/phrases or symbols identified. This can be done as a written response or in note form. Within the ‘Relational’ stage, students are challenged to make links to other quotations in the novel to back up and support their exisiting views. Again this can be added to their written response or notes can be taken. Finally, in the ‘Extended Abstract’ stage of the task students have to reflect on how their ideas link to the social/historical context of the novel. With regards to ‘Of Mice and Men’, comments on Steinbeck’s views on 1930s society could be made and linked to the character in question.

In order to encourage students to explore their ideas in a more sophisticated and developed way, I have included key terms from the ‘Dynamite Paragraph’ resource which shows students how to expand responses through key words. Here’s an overview of what I have included:

D/C Grade: implies, suggests, demonstrates, indicates, highlights

B/A Grade: another, in addition, moreover, furthermore

A* Grade: perhaps, maybe, could, might, possibly

Please see previous post on Dynamite Paragraphs for further information.

The best bit of this task is to build the cubes and make perceptive links between each. For example, the Curley’s Wife character cube can be placed on-top/next to Crooks as both characters are oppressed isolated and lonely. It would be up to the students to justify the connections they make and explain why they have arranged the blocks in a particular order.

Please download the resource from: sellfy.com/JamieClark85

If you use this in your classroom, please please tweet a picture of it in action!

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#9 ‘Language Mountain’

I suppose this resource should be included in the last post, ‘#8 Exam Support Materials’ as it’s a great revision tool for Year 11. Instead, I’ve decided to post it separately as many followers have retweeted and given it a favourite.

I like this resource because it’s fun. It’s an engaging and effective way for students to revise and remember the process of answering exam questions. In my Year 11 lesson today, a student commented that they appreciated my resources because they “creative”, “colourful” and “different”. Anything that makes students want to learn is great in my book.

The ‘mountain’ doesn’t take long to cut out and is easy to use. Students start at ‘base camp’ and work their way up the four peaks (different stages of analysis) which results in six PEE paragraphs. The base of the pyramid reminds students of the key language features and acts as support providing students with useful sentence openers.

It can be adapted to almost any subject! Try it.

Download here: sellfy.com/JamieClark85

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#8 Exam Support Materials

The English Language Unit 1 exam is notorious for its difficulty. Over the years, I have seen students struggle with a range of questions in both Section A and B. There’s no doubt that the most formidable requires students to analyse and comment on the effectiveness of language features in a text. What’s more, comparing or linking presentational devices frequently leaves student bewildered and frustrated.

With this in mind, I have been inspired to create various resources to support analysis and remind students of the skills required in each question. In the examples below, you can see how each overlay contains clear steps to aid learning. Both overlays feature support QR codes that link to exemplar responses and each contain analysis prompts when considering the effectiveness of a specific feature.

On the ‘higher tier’ overlay, I have included a viewfinder in order to train students to look for small details within a text. This concept was taken from @siancarter1 who introduced the idea in her Unit 1 resource materials – this has also been adapted by @theedukator who created the fabulous acetate overlays pictured below.

The ‘SOLO Squares’ have been extremely useful in encouraging students to focus on deeper analysis of presentational devices – in other words explaining what the features look like and (more importantly) how they are effective and what connotations they have. This strategy is effective for both more and less able students as it provides a more visual way to see the process of analysis. In the picture below, the student has colour coordinated his points for Source 2 and Source 3. This was a useful method that resulted in a great plan for his mock question.

Keep a look out in the future for more Unit 1 resources. I’ll continue to update this post.

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#7 ‘Bloom’s Taxonomy Tiles’

Originally developed in 1956 by Benjamin Bloom, ‘Bloom’s Taxonomy’ represents the different behaviours students demonstrate that are important to learning. The theory was remodelled in the 90s and is used by many schools (including my own), to help students develop deeper thinking skills and explore various layers of understanding.

Personally, I use ‘Bloom’s’ when planning lessons as it helps focus questioning so that it provokes thought. In recent years the all too familiar pyramid diagram has started to age and look old-fashioned. With this in mind, I decided to create the tiles below usning the ‘Rhonna’ app once again.

As you can see, the tiles contain the six processes of ‘Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy’: ‘remembering’, ‘understanding’, ‘applying’, ‘analysing’, ‘evaluating’ and ‘creating’. Each tile contains a list of key words and questions designed to stretch and progress learning.

Please feel free to download below. Whether it is used for a visual wall display, or simply to inform your planning it is a useful resource to use when considering the questions you ask to your students.

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#6 ‘Underground Discourse Markers Map’

I have had lots and lots of compliments on Twitter regarding this map. I am quite proud of it as it looks quite professional considering I created it on Microsoft Word! I got the idea from @LauraLolder who created a fab Underground map style wall display. This version is great for (smaller) wall displays and for laminated mats!

As you can see, it’s simply a list of discourse markers that’s great for supporting students with their writing and pushing them to extend their responses. There are several different ‘lines’ on the map representing the main six categories of discourse markers: comparing, contrasting, adding, emphasising, sequencing and providing examples. The map also has a QR code which links to ‘Analysis Squares’ (please see previous post).

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#5 GCSE Revision Mats

Preparing students for the Unit 1 exam can be quite hectic to say the least. The resources below are really useful in reminding students of the skills required for the paper in both Sections A and B and are great to slip into a revision pack.

For me, visually attractive resources definitely aid learning and help students to retain information. I created the ‘Revision Squares’ on an app called ‘Rhonna’ which can be downloaded for £1.49 from the App Store. Once I get my new classroom display up and running, I’ll definitely enlarge these mats into a A3 squares. They’ll look really good on the wall!

I have used the Section B mats in class too. When setting timed questions on writing to persuade or argue, I have found them useful to support students who need a push. Feel free to download below… I’m sure I’ll add to this post in the future.

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#4 Analysis Squares/’Dynamite Paragraphs’

The ‘Dynamite Paragraph’ method of analysis was created by Rachael Stevens (@murphiegirl) and is a fantastic way of encouraging students to extend their ideas so that their analysis is detailed and sophisticated. Please click the here to Rachael’s blog to find out how to use this strategy effectively.

Over the past few weeks, I have used this resource with D/C grade Year 11 students. The step-by-step approach and words/phrases allowed them to stretch their responses; this ultimately resulted in them  achieving B/A grades on their Controlled Assessment pieces.

From the original idea, I created the comic-book style resource and designed the ‘Analysis Squares’ mat – please see below. Both can be used as posters and are an effective way of embedding these skills at KS3.

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