Using Proven Classroom Tools as a Life-Changing Experience

Our classrooms are independent units working within the whole of the college, like cogs in a watch.  Without our classrooms, there is no college.  However, we do not have to work alone.  (And like the cogs, if we do, the watch might not function.)  
We can use what others have learned to make a difference in our classrooms.  Joe and I discovered that our classrooms, though very different from one another, had a lot in common.  We both try to incorporate play into the classroom.  We both have journals.  We both use art.

And we thought it would be fun to share what it is we do in our classrooms that works.

Using play in the classroom
A discussion of how I used the riddles and art in the classroom and an earlier developed syllabus for the riddles is available.

Using blogs in the classroom
Since many of our students are digital natives, and those who are not are at a significant disadvantage both academically and professionally, introducing and using Web 2.0 into my classroom seemed like a good idea.

davisenglishI created a classroom blog, Davis English Addendum, where I could post things from class or about class and where the students could too. The students are required to post and comment, but because of or perhaps despite that sometimes they get very involved in each other’s lives through the blog.

I have my students make blog posts. These posts are all about their lives and their classwork. Many students do not even recognize electronic text as writing (Lenhart, et al) since they compartmentalize knowledge (Abbott and Nance).  Expanding their writing into a social medium could encourage them to see relationships between their education and the rest of their lives  (“Theory and Research-Based Principles of Learning”).

marine-corps-flag-wikipThis is a Marine’s blog post and all the comments students made. It was part of an assignment to introduce the students to each other and the blog.

A very different approach to the same assignment is seen in Secret Spy.

As you can tell, these two posts generated a lot of feedback, even though they were very different posts.

Appreciate Everything, Take Nothing for Granted was part of the narrative cycle of papers, in which students were supposed to post a six word autobiography and discuss it.

Using a blog is a good idea for more than just an English classroom though. There have been many things we did with the blog that are not “English” oriented.

The students use the blog to get help for class. Here is an example of how a student got help on an assignment when I was out of pocket at the hospital with my father.

Two students got on the website quickly enough to help him do his homework.

hurricaneLast September I used the website to keep students who were out of town up to date on the hurricane. Obviously that wasn’t useful for those of us around here without power.

We also used the website to discuss Hurricane Ike.

Right now in class we are working on their compare/contrast paper as part of the research paper cycle.

Things I mentioned in class, but that they might have forgotten, can be posted on the blog.

I have previously posted sample paragraphs from c/c’s on the blog, such as this one on embryonic stem cell research, this one on abortion, this one on health care reform, or this one on global warming.

CB029654Sometimes I reiterate important parts of the lesson, such as types of definitions, and give supplemental information, such as definition examples from real life.

The blog is a very useful classroom tool. WebCT and Blackboard can be used in very similar and non-public ways. I like using a blog because students from different classes can “meet” and get to know one another, sometimes we get comments from the general reading population, or from other students at other colleges. That is fun for the students.

Additional resources
Other things that have worked in my classroom are available from my education website, Teaching College English. It is not just for English teachers, but includes discussions that are relevant to all college instructors including writing syllabi, how to choose, use, and circumvent a textbook.

Finding the sources
Abbott, William and Kathryn Nantz. “History and Economics: Can Students (and Professors) Learn Together?”  College Teaching 42.1 (Winter 1994): 22-26. Academic Search Premier. Lone Star College Library, Kingwood. 27 April 2008

Lenhart, Amanda, Aaron Smith, Alexandra Rankin Macgill, and Sousan Arafeh. “Writing, Technology and Teens.”  Pew Research Center Publcations. 24 April 2008. 24 April 2008

“Theory and Research-Based Principles of Learning.”  Enhancing Education: Carnegie Mellon University. 26 April 2008

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