Take Web Reading to the Next Level with Docentedu

Here’s the scenario, I’m at home reading my favorite Sunday morning newspaper on my Chromebook, and I come across an article that fits perfectly with the unit we’re currently studying. Pretty exciting, right, to find a current event that connects with the novel we’re talking about? Then, I start to consider the workflow. I’ve got to get a hard copy of this, and then I’ll need to make sure that I get into work early to make the copies I need. Hope no one jams the machine before I can get at it. Oh, and I’ll also need to write some questions and get those typed up and make copies of those for everyone.

Too much work!

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But, there’s a solution.

I want to make a plug for a great tool that’s helped integrate technology with my reading instruction. For about a year now, I’ve been using a Chrome extension called Docentedu. (Full discloser, I am an Docentedu ambassador, but not just because I get to put the badge on the bottom of my blog, but because I sincerely love this product.)

docentedu-ambassador-badge

This tool allows me to embed questions into any web-based text. Below, you can see a screenshot of what this looks like both before and after the Docentedu extension is enabled.

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Once students are logged into Chrome, logged into Docentedu and installed the extension, they can easily access the class you’ve created, see the docents, and then get to work reading, and answering questions. It’s great that you can set open-ended questions as well as multiple choice. Like working in Google Docs, Docentedu automatically saves the answers to the questions for the students and aggregates responses for you to mark.

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When the reading and questions have been completed, it’s easy to go into your teacher account and mark in a variety of ways. You can mark responses by student or by question. Because you set the answer to the multiple choice questions, those responses are automatically marked for you.

After the questions are marked, it’s possible to download a CSV file of student scores. I love this feature as it allows me to see a class average and to see how students did with the reading.

Because you can add your own notes to the webpage as well as embed videos from Youtube, using Docentedu creates a one-stop shopping for students. Recently, my IB English 11 students read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” and I used Docentedu as the tool for this reading. I found a decent copy of the essay on-line, then embedded the pre-reading activities at the top of the webpage–these included a Youtube video by another English teacher doing a background lecture to Swift and some notes of my own to help establish the socio-cultural context of the essay. I was also able to share this with a member of my department who specialized in Irish literature. He was able to help me craft my questions and add something to the background that helped students with this challenging piece of writing.

I did something similar in my “Media Maker” class with Tony Hawk’s “This I Believe” essay. I was able to embedded videos of him skating, as well as pre-reading questions for the students to hook them and activate personal and prior knowledge.

With the wealthy of great readings in the public domain, and our school going to a 1-to-1 technology integration with Chromebooks, this tool will be essential. Also, I think we’ve moved passed the age where there wasn’t always great content to read on the web and with major media outlets. Certainly, in this day and age, there’s so much great writing and content on the web. In “Media Maker” we’re only looking at web-based texts and writing and creation intended to be read online. When I am reading in print, and find something I might like to read with my students, I jump on the web, find the text and save it in my Docentedu account. 

Similarly, because we’re an enterprise level Schoology school, I can create pages in my class, and use Docentedu on these pages. It’s a great way to leverage the power of two different tools in one package. Also, we use a number of databases through our library for student research, Docentedu has worked great for getting students to interact with the articles there. I’ve done this with model essays that I want my students to grade. 

The one-stop shopping is important to me, because I find that students get confused when they have to go multiple locations on the web as part of an assignment. I would prefer to create a hyperdoc that keep students on one page and interact with all of the content that I put there.

To be honest, I haven’t worked with the annotation tool or the discussion feature. It’s a goal of mine this semester to work with those features. However, for the uninitiated, that those features are there is enough.

Last year, working for the first time with docent, some struggles and learning curves. It’s important to do the first couple of docents with students. Don’t simply assign them. My students have no idea what extensions are and were completely lost. I needed to take them through he process. Also, our network at school has this issue where the extensions, once installed, break when moving from computer to computer. Kids need to know how to install and uninstall connections. And, kids need to work in Chrome. That’s a habit that I have to beat into them as we move forward. Won’t be such a problem when were all working on Chromebooks in the near future.

Skip the Sunday night dread and panic of what you’ll be doing in class on Monday, and check out Docentedu today.

Infographics, Synthesis and Informational Writing

As part of my FYC, English 101 class, my students read a wide range of sources, provided by me, about the industrial food system. We’re reading Pollan, Schlosser, Moss to name a few.

Once we’re through some preliminary discussion, which happens both in writing and as part of full-class discussion, it’s time for some assessment. I want to know what they’re thinking, and how they see these sources in conversation.

This year, as part of a formative assessment in reading and synthesis assignment, I’m having my kids create info-graphics to meet these needs. This is the assignment I came up with:

Infographic Rubric

I took a couple of weeks to design this and it owes a great debt to the work on Kathy Schrock’s webpage. Anyone who is thinking about working with infographics or is currently work with them, should check our her page. There’s almost too much there.

 

Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

“Together they were going to heighten consciousness by dumbing down an already dangerously dumb constituency”

Mother’s Milk

Edward St. Aubyn

Last week, I read an insightful piece in the August issue of Rolling Stone by Janet Reitman about suspected Boston Marathon bomber Jahar Tsarnaev. Reitman tells a compelling story about Tsarnaev from his adolescents in Boston and his shift to radicalism in the facing of failing American dreams.

Many of you may have seen the controversy that emerged in in July regarding the cover which depicts Tasrnaev as youthful, child-like, and innocent. The general cry from the public was that Rolling Stone committed an insensitive act that insulted the families and the loss of life that occurred in April in Boston. On seeing this controversy on the local news, I immediately went to the store and tried to get a copy both because I wanted to read the piece but also because I wanted to defend Rolling Stone for their freedom to make such a decision with some of my money. I couldn’t find it in the Canandaigua Wegman’s. If they made a decision to pull the issue, they certainly kept it quiet.

This piece isn’t about what’s in the article beyond what I’ve written just above. I would encourage people to go read it to find out. It’s to say thank you to its Reitman, the magazine for opening my world a little more. It’s to say thanks for the children in the community who Reitman interviews and who made the choice to speak up to give us insights about their friend who is now accused of crimes and may very well lose his life for it.

While so much of today’s journalism and media is meant to please its readership. And what so many people seem to do is find the media outlet that best adheres with their world views. I’m certainly guilty of this—I read the New York Times and the New Yorker, but wouldn’t be caught dead with The New Republic. I listen to NPR but know that I’ve died and am consigned to the third circle of the Inferno if Fox News is on the TV. Kudos to Rolling Stone and its cover photograph for making the kind of thought provoking choice that asks its readership to reexamine their perception of an individual that the public has deemed guilty before the trial.

To my teaching friends and colleagues, I would recommend it as a compelling piece of journalism, storytelling, and a piece that would be nicely paired with a reading of Death of a Salesman or Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist.

The loss of life and of limb, heath and well-being is not something to treat with lightly. Our sense of national security, our deepest anxieties about the loss of security, these are things which we must acknowledge. But they are nothing when we lose our humanity, which means that we need to remember and acknowledge that our killers and our villains were once children, brothers and sons, students and friends. There can too often be in our culture a cult of compassion in which we attempt to say because this verges on insulting someone’s loss and tarnishes personal tragedy we cannot touch it. Or, as Edward St. Aubyn says in describing two of his characters, they “corrupted each other with the extravagance of their good intentions.” But this kind of thinking is a cult, because it both narrows and radicalizes what is right. While it’s intentions are humane, it block us from that humanity as well.

Right on!

“If there’s a single thing our state and federal governments could do to stir up a love of learning in our poorest children, it would be to take a good big chunk of the massive sum of money that’s now being wasted on the testing industry and use it, instead, to flood our students’ lives with the joys and mysteries of authentic culture.” Jonathan Frazen

Best of 2012

It is the season for critics to weigh in on the best and worst of everything. Me? Here’s the best of what I read this year. You may see of my stylistic leanings come out. And, this isn’t really books published in here and now, but instead a sampling of what I read this year. Hey, you can’t read everything all at once. We’ve got to keep cycling through old lists. I reread The Omnivores Dilemma for like the twentieth time and Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, which is goddam funny and human that I couldn’t put it down. You’ve just got to go back and reread the stuff from high school, just so you actually understand it.

1. Canada. I came to reading Richard Ford by being given the Sportswriter back when I was teaching English in New Orleans. In my mind, Rock Springs is one of the finest collections of short fiction out there. This is classic Ford. I also love coming of age stories and stories about adolescents.

2. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. This is one of those books that was just mind altering. I say the following in the most positive light–Reading Franzen is like have your brains blown out against the wall. This is the highest compliment I can pay. So, all you Franzen haters out there just need to pick up his books and read them again. Saying you don’t like him is saying that you don’t like The Great Gatsby or The Grapes of Wrath. It makes you look stupid. If that’s the way you feel then go and get yourself some more Maeve Binche to read. This will emerge as an American classic sure to be taught 100 years from now.

3. The Yellow Birds, The Long Walk, and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The barrels on the guns from Iraq are barely cooling, and already some fine literature about the war is out there to enhance and enlarge our perspectives on what war does to the men who serve. Still, I haven’t read a book that brings out the positive in war. I’m not asking for a “ducle et decorum est,” but if we’re not careful the general public will begin to think that everyone coming back from war is Colonel Kurtz.

4. The Orchardist. Weep because its good. Weep because it tears you’re heart out. This is a book that needs some further attention, but will may go largely unappreciated like another great book from years ago that needs a lift-The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

5. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two other greats that I read last spring. Karen Russel’s Swamplandia! and Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones.