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Monday, February 15, 2016

Preparing Kids for Computer Based State Testing

   As the dreaded testing season draws closer, we teachers are always looking for ways to give our students a leg up and allow them to enter the testing session calm, confident, and fully prepared. The truth of the matter is, even in today's technology enhanced world, many students still aren't prepared for taking a test on the computer and lack basic skills that could hinder them from showing their true knowledge. I mean honestly, how many 3rd graders are really ready to type full responses on assessments? However, we can do a more comprehensive job of preparing our students for these tests with a few easy to implement techniques starting now.

Get Them Typing! 

  Although time is always the enemy during our school day, we must make it a priority to get students into the computer lab or bring the mobile lab to our classroom to get them practicing their keyboarding skills. Would we expect kids to show us what they know on a paper and pencil test without teaching them to write first?! We need to ensure they have these basic skills before entering the computer lab on testing day, so they can feel confident that the only thing being tested is their knowledge, and not their computer literacy and typing skills.

  A few great FREE resources: Dance Mat Typing    Typing.com    Keybr

  If your school wants to buy a subscription, I highly recommend: All The Right Type

 Expose Students Used to Reading Text Online and Typing Their Answers

  Although there are many great resources to find fiction and non-fiction text online with accompanying multiple choice questions, the truth is that students are no longer required to just click on an answer. Now students must actually type more in-depth and comprehensive answers. While we are all doing an awesome job teaching the standards in the classroom, we must give students an opportunity to practice typing their responses in a format that looks similar to what they will see come test day.
   My current favorite go- to format is using Google Forms. I will walk you through the steps to creating a Google Form for your students that includes a text, images, videos, and questions. In my next post I will then show you how to easily format the answers so they are easy for you to see, correct, and share for feedback.

Step by Step: Creating a Google Form 

   First of all, you will need a Google account and will then need to open your Google Drive.

    From there you will select: New: More: Google Forms.

    You now will have the option to format your form however you see fit for the needs of your classroom. For this example I have chosen to use a current events news article about the New Hampshire primaries. You can find great articles on NewsELA , Tween Tribune,  Time for Kids, and many others!

    To start I titled my form so that I can easily find it in my Google Drive, as well as easily find the results when students start to respond. Try to be specific, so that when you have multiple forms created they aren't all labeled, "Test Prep."

    Don't forget this next step! Add a question by using the button with a circle and plus in it, that says "Name" and change the response to "Short Answer Text." Without this step it will be very hard for you to determine whose response is whose.

    Next, use the double "TT" button to add a title and description. It will be in this box that you will add the text that you have chosen. Copy and paste the text you have chosen into this box. You will probably have to go through and format the text to show paragraph breaks and add spacing, but this area should give you plenty of room to upload a full text for students to read. Add the text where it says "Description" and add directions where it says "Title".

    After the text has been uploaded, you can then begin to add questions to check for understanding. To do this use the same button with the circle and plus sign to "Add Question" and use the format you would like. I like to label mine with the standard that is being assessed just to make it easier when I grade them. Be sure to change the response to "Paragraph Text" so that students have more room to type their response. If you are looking for some great Common Core question stems that address both literature and informational text, check out this website: Question Stems and use the bookmarks for your grade level. 

     If you choose to use a passage from a site that provides a multiple choice quiz at the end, don't be afraid to use those question to sprinkle into your form as well. They are already written and students will still be asked multiple choice questions on the test! 

     Many times students are asked to read charts or it may be helpful to have a picture accompany the text. Adding this is simple! Just save a copy of the chart or picture to your computer, and then use the "Add Image" button on the right to upload it to your form. You can give the picture a title or use this space to provide directions for what you want the students to do. Then, if you would like to ask a question about the picture, you can just add a new question below the picture. Simple as that!

     Finally, students must also become familiar with using video media in the upper grades as a source to gather information from. Adding this to your form is simple as well! Just choose the "Add Video" icon, where you will be directed to YouTube and you can find a video that fits your needs, or you can add a video using a URL. After your video is loaded, you can just add questions below as well. I chose to use the format of "Check Boxes" so students can practice the ever form of "Choose ALL that apply."

    Don't forget, you can always rearrange the text, questions, pictures, or videos by dragging and moving them using the six dot array that appears when you hover over a question.

   Now that your form is complete, you need to make sure it will collect the data you want and archive it for you. You should go up to the top where you can choose "Questions/Responses" and click on "Responses." Click on the three dot array and choose "Select Response Destination" from the choices. Choose to "Create a New Spreadsheet" and then name it similarly to what your form is called so you can easily find the responses in your drive. Click "Create" and the responses will automatically be linked to the spreadsheet which you can find in your drive.

    The last step is sharing the form with your students. By clicking the "Send" button you have multiple choices to share with your students. You could send them each an email, get a live link, or embed the HTML into a website.
    I personally always use the link and click the option to shorten the URL. I then just copy this link and post it for my students to type into their browser themselves. (Be sure students know that letters are case sensitive otherwise they may have a hard time being directed to the right page.)

     From here, the students can read the text, practice typing their answers, and be better prepared for testing on the computer and answering in this format when the times comes around.

     Stay tuned for my next post where I will explain how to take the huge spreadsheet of data and format it into easy to read, student by student, full page printouts using an easy Google Add-on!

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Power of Persuasion


      These past few weeks my class has embarked on an exciting journey as I started a Schoology group that is hosting six different classes of sixth graders from around the nation. Each weekend I have chosen a different writing prompt and all the students write and respond to each other on that prompt.
       Last week I chose a NewsELA article about raising the legal tobacco buying age. Every student read the same passage, at their level, we then had a lively classroom discussion and then students wrote their responses. They spent so much time on these and were so thoughtful in responding to their new online classmates.

      This week, in honor of the Super Bowl, I have chosen to focus on persuasive writing and the techniques many writers and advertisers use to hook consumers. Being that these students are 6th graders, and the target market for many of the products advertised, this seemed to be a great way to grab their attention and buy-in for this prompt and introduce persuasive techniques in writing.
      As they came in this morning I just posted the simple question, "What was your favorite Super Bowl commercial?" Of course we had everything from Puppy Monkey Baby to the Doritos ultrasound baby. It was great to hear some of their favorites, since those were a few of the ones I had targeted for this assignment. If you're interested in a similar writing prompt, here are some of the resources and quick links to the commercials I chose.
  Persuasive Techniques
          To get the conversation going, we first discussed what a target market is and what different types of products are marketed to different target markets. We watched a few commercials and decided on the target market for each.
          After that, we discussed the three types of appeals advertisers use to appeal to their target market.

        Ethos- an appeal to credibility or character
                 Advertisers use this type of appeal to show that their company is more reliable or credible than others. Often times they use a reliable source such as a study, doctor, or celebrity endorsement to make this point. 

        Logos- an appeal to logic or reason
                 Using this type of appeal, advertisers aim to show consumers the facts and evidence about what their product does. They try to be clear in presenting their facts to convince you. 

         Pathos- an appeal to emotion
                   Pathos is used to appeal to the consumers' emotions. Advertisers often show people being extremely happy using their product, or aim to show a sad situation in order to appeal to their emotion and gain a call to action.

   After discussing these three types, we came up with different companies, commercials, or ads that use each of these three appeals. (Trust me, the kids were at no loss for examples!)

       After that, we discussed different specific strategies that advertisers use. Here are the examples we looked at.

       Avante Guarde-  The idea that using this product will put you ahead of the times.

       Weasel Words-  Using words such as "virtually" spotless and "most" of the time. Giving the illusion of a guarantee, while not actually guaranteeing anything.

       Patriotism- Instilling the idea that buying or using this product will make you more American or patriotic to your country.

       Transfer- Using positive ideas, images, and words to imply that the product is also positive.

       Plain Folks- Showing that the product is used and needed by regular people and families.

       Snob Appeal- Suggesting that using this product will move you to a more elite status.

       Bribery- Offers you something "extra".

       Band Wagon- This technique suggests you should join the crowd in buying this product so you aren't the only one without it.

       Slogan- Having a catchy phrase that people will remember.

       Repetition- Repeating your slogan, an idea, or saying over and over with the hopes it will stick with people and they will remember your product.

       Testimonial- Using a satisfied customer to give their experiences with the product to convince others.

       Celebrity Endorsement- Having a celebrity use, advertise, and endorse your product. If they use it, so should you!

Super Bowl 50 Commercials
  After discussing each of the techniques and coming up with examples, we looked at the Super Bowl 50 commercials. Here are some of the more "kid appropriate" ads that I found. 

 FitBit               Jeep                Coca- Cola              Taco Bell                     
  Hyundai                Heinz          Honda

   After watching each commercial, the kids wrote down the major type of appeal that the advertisers used, and then the more specific technique they used to target their product.

   Finally, after all the prep work we got to our weekly question.

       "Which Super Bowl ad appealed most to you, and why? Which appealed least to you and why? Describe the different appeals and techniques that were used in each of the commercials you chose and how that played into your decision."

    This could be anywhere from a quick paragraph to a full on five paragraph essay. 

    We will use this a springboard to go into a larger persuasive writing project. Now that students understand that there are multiple ways to persuade others, they can tap into these techniques in their own writing. 

    I would love to hear how you implement this lesson or something similar. What will your students write about after learning about these techniques? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below!