Friday, November 7, 2014

First night of Actively Learn: reflections

So, the students came back today after their first night of homework reading the first third of Oedipus on Actively Learn.  I also had my first experience grading the work.

First, let me share the student feedback with you.

They said: They universally loved the ability to define a word right there.  They loved how easily and quickly they could find out the definition.

I say: Excellent!  They are thinking about words and defining them right as they are in the context of the word.  This is a major win.  If I had a university research team, I would design a study to test word meaning retention using a tap-to-define feature on a site like this or a kindle, versus using a paper dictionary or a dictionary on a different device.  My hypothesis would be that because they are tying the word's meaning to its use in the same instant, the meaning of the text overall and the individual word are strengthened.

They said: When I asked them about the questions I had embedded in the text, they liked how the questions made them stop and think.  One student said that it helped to break up the reading and make her think rather than just rushing on ahead.  A lot of them said that the questions made them reread because they realized they didn't understand something.  They liked the questions that asked them to summarize so that they could process what they had just read.

I say: This is a win!  I was worried they would be annoyed by the questions and have their flow unnecessarily interrupted.  My theory is that with a tricky text like this translation of Oedipus, the questions help to clarify and focus their reading.  My guess (again, someone give me a research budget) would be that the questions built into an easier read would be frustrating.

They said: They felt self conscious about leaving comments.  Were they being graded (aka judged) for those comments?  They weren't sure what to say.  They seemed to feel like the kind of marginalia they might make in a book would be deemed "stupid."  I don't think I agree, but that feeling is valid.
"Publicizing" their margin comments caused some anxiety.

I say: I wonder if Actively Learn could have a function where they left comments that only they could see.  So, there would be three options: private to them, shown only to me, or visible to the whole class.  Right now, the latter two options are the only ones.

They said: They liked seeing their classmates' (anonymous, per my settings) answers to the questions.  They can only see the answers of other after they submit their own answers.

I say: I want to ask them next class how it felt to see their own answers affirmed.  Did they realize the either strength or weakness of their own answers as a result of reading their peers' answers?

Okay, now let me tell you how it went on my end.  

I found the grading pretty fast.  I saw all of the answer to each question in a list.  I could click one of four choices: Incomplete, Basic, Proficient, Advanced.

If I clicked "Basic" I added a comment as to why.

Personally I had to think about the different between Proficient and Advanced.  I was looking for a stretch, a reach, or an especially well supported idea.  I was looking for a deeper understanding, a more thorough explanation.  I looked for students to take an analytical risk.  They all asked what those words would translate into as far as grades go.  Then I remembered the class settings.  Here are the defaults, which I kept:

Which looks like this so far for the first 14 questions:

  I actually think this is pretty accurate.  I might make the basic worth fewer points.  I think proficient should be an 8.5 and basic should be a 6 or 6.5.  Basic is really what I am using as you answered the question but it was off the mark.  Because, what if it is complete, but wrong?  Should they get a 7/10 for being wrong?  These are the questions I need to grapple with.  I can't change the buttons (Basic, Proficient, Advanced) so I need to think about how to use them, and how to translate that meaning to my students.

A quick note, if I don't push any button on a particular student's answer, it doesn't even count that question in their total.  I have a student who had some technical difficulties and left 4 questions blank.  I didn't click anything for her on those and it didn't penalize her for those blanks.


My reaction is positive.  I was feeling a little skeptical yesterday and not totally sold.  I still haven't made my mind up yet, but the scales are currently tipped toward the positive.

I want to also add how awesome the team at Actively Learn has been throughout this process.  I have emailed them with questions and comments, they have helped me upload custom texts and helped me troubleshoot problems.  They are very helpful and friendly and really listen to what I have to say.  I can't say enough about how great our interactions have been.  I am willing to take this risk and try this software because I know I have their ear and their support through it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Actively Learn journey begins

I have been absent for a while from the blog, and I will show you my excuse:

Our second baby just turned 12 weeks old!

But, I have been back at work for a little under three weeks, and I have some new projects with e-reading beginning.

In 2012, I went to the NCTE conference in Las Vegas.  In the exhibition hall, I met a man who had just started a website called Actively Read.  He got my info and signed me up.  It has taken me two years, but the site is now called Actively Learn and I am making my first foray into using the platform.

You can watch their video on how it works, but it is an e-reading platform, where teachers can layer questions, links, and notes onto the text.

It is web based, as opposed to many similar apps that are iPad only, so my students can access it on any device that has internet.

It's free, and we are using it to read Oedipus, Antigone and Medea, using translations in the public domain.

Today, my first class of honors sophomores signed up and familiarized themselves with the format.

Do I know if this will be successful?  No.  I am trying to keep an open mind and assess how things go as we go along.  My heart wants it to work.  My heart wants it to be a great experience.  We'll see.

Today, in just introducing the program, many students were excited by it.  There are questions they must answer to progress in the text.  After answering, they can see (anonymously or not) the answers or their peers.  I can also turn that function off.  I have created a layer of notes and questions within the text to help them read it.   I have linked to sites that will help them with contextual knowledge.  I have photos of the sphinx.  I have asked them to identify poetic devices.

When students read, they can leave notes.  Those notes can be visible to the whole class or just to me, a decision the student makes when commenting.  They can define words by highlighting or even have words read aloud to them.  This was all very exciting to them.

But of course, already there are downsides, at least after just one day.  A student came up to me to ask about getting an extension.  She found that this reading was taking her longer.  By having to stop and read notes, follow links or watch videos, she was slowing down.  Bad thing or good thing?  Isn't she deepening her understanding?  Is she rushing less?  Or is it a hindrance?  Am I unnecessarily cluttering up the reading experience for very bright students?

There is an essential question underlying this experiment.  It is: is this software necessary or helpful for students are are not only proficient, but excellent readers?  Is this a software that will benefit those who struggle but hinder those who do not?  I teach honors level sophomore English at an elite independent school.  Are the benefits of this type of reading universal?

We shall see.

Monday, November 3, 2014

TAIS Biennial Conference

Here is my most recent presentation on using Kindles and e-books in the classroom.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Letter of Introduction 2014-2015

(Since I am on maternity leave, I made a video of the following letter.)

Dear Students,
Sometimes you read something that feels like it was written just for you.  That’s how I felt when I read the following quote this summer:  “Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”  Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  When I wrote the first draft of this letter, I was pregnant with our second child.  Matilda was born on August 12, at 1:21 in the morning, weighing 7 pounds 6 ounces and 20.25 inches long.
But more than the obvious connection, this quote describes the feeling that I get at the beginning of every school year.  The fresh start every August is pretty grand.  I feel full of hope and new ideas, and I look forward to making new relationships with students.  What makes this year bittersweet is that I won’t be there on that exciting first day.  I’m not there to see my past students with new haircuts, a few more inches on their height, and a new sparkle in their eyes.  I won’t be there to savor the excitement of the freshmen—some new to Harpeth Hall, some returning, but everyone equally scared and exhilarated by all the possibilities this year holds. 
Despite being sad that I’ll miss the first day of school, I look forward to getting my own fresh start on October 20, when I return to school.  In some ways, you get two starts this year!  One in August with Ms. Noel or Ms. Sevits and then one in October when you and I will get a chance to meet for the first time. 
One of my favorite beginning rituals is to sit down in the summer and write a letter to my future students to introduce myself.  This is my eighth letter, and now that I have done it this many times, I think I have to keep it up until I retire. 
Before I become a little puddle of sentimentality and whimsy, let me get to the introducing part.  Hi!  I’m Mrs. Griswold and I’ll be your English teacher!  I now have two kids (that is so weird to say, still not used to it), Calvin who is two and a half and Matilda who is a newborn!  I got a lovey monogrammed for her recently, and someone asked who it was for.  I answered, “My daughter,” only to realize that was the first time I had ever said those words. 
This is my fourth school year at Harpeth Hall and my husband, Mr. Griswold, teaches at Harpeth Hall as well.  For three years he taught middle school science (some of you may have had him) and this year he is moving to the upper school to teach math (some of you may have him).  He is also going to be on leave at the beginning of the school year, returning the end of September, so that we can all spend time with our baby. 
In addition to our human family, we have a dog named Django and 6 backyard chickens who lay delicious eggs.  If you visit my teaching blog ( you can see the letter I wrote to students last year where I talked more about my chickens. 
Mr. Griswold and I moved to Nashville from New York City where we lived for 6 years.  We both went to New York independently for graduate school, and met when we were both teaching at our first jobs.  Before living in New York, I lived all over the world.  I was born in Ohio, but spent middle school in Mexico City and high school in Caracas, Venezuela.  I went back to Ohio for college but spent my junior year in London.  I speak fluent Spanish and conversational Portuguese.  If you catch me chatting with Ms. Lund, you may hear me in action. 
I have spent a large part of this summer writing a novel.  In November 2012, I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month, abbreviated NaNoWriMo.  In 30 days I wrote 50,000 words.  This has been one of my greatest accomplishments, and like many chance connections in life, it is very wrapped up in my memories of my cancer diagnosis.  On November 17, 2012, I found out that a lump in my neck was thyroid cancer.  If you have read The Fault in Our Stars, Hazel had thyroid cancer.  Hers was much more aggressive than mine, and I had surgery to remove my thyroid in December 2012 and I am currently cancer free. 
After that experience I competed in my first triathlon, which was another accomplishment I am proud of.  I would probably be doing another one right now, except for the whole, you know, giving birth to a human creature thing.  Next spring I hope to compete in at least one more. 
Since my activities have been more limited, and I had a little deadline ticking away in my belly, I have devoted myself to my novel this summer. See, you may find this crazy, but 50,000 words isn’t enough for a novel.  I’m glad I didn’t know that when I wrote my first draft, because I may have quit or not even started!  Actually, you need more like 80,000 or 100,000.  So, I wasn’t done after my first NaNoWriMo.  I have spent 3 other chunks of time since then working on editing and extending my novel.  Believe me when I tell you that the second draft of a novel is harder than the first.  The good news is that, at least in my experience, the third draft is easier than the first two!  I spent about 2 hours each day this summer reading, writing, editing, and revising. 
On July 25, I reached the end of my third draft and I had 75,000 words, which felt like a good place to stop.  I printed out all 275 pages of it, and my next step is to edit it with pen and paper.  I find that step daunting, so I am letting my manuscript rest for a month or two.  I need to look at it with clear eyes, so I gave myself a break. 
After editing on paper, I will need to go back and make those changes on my computer, print and edit again.  Then sending samples to agents in hopes that they will represent my book and try to get it published.  It’s a long road, but one I am excited to walk.
Tag, you’re it!  Tell me about who you are.  Please write me a letter in response where you introduce yourself.  One letter won’t tell me everything about you, but it’s a start, and you know how I feel about beginnings. 


Mrs. Griswold

Thursday, April 3, 2014

TAIS Tech 2014

Today I am presenting at the 2014 TAIS Tech Institute, which also happens to be held this year at my school, Harpeth Hall!

I am presenting in B Block (1:20-2:15) in Room 202 in the Middle School.

Below is my presentation:

Friday, November 8, 2013

Article on e-books published in English Journal!

This week my article "Rekindling Reading: On the Use of E-readers in the English Classroom" was published in English Journal, published by the National Council for Teacher's of English.

This was a year in the making, with about 6 drafts and even a Google Hangouts editing session with the column's editor.  I am really proud of the work I did and it is really exciting to see my name in print. 

The final draft was submitted in March, so it is odd that it is just coming out now.  The upside is that I now feel a renewed energy for e-books in the classroom, and I thought it would be worth checking in to tell you how it is going. 

This year I have 3 sophomores in one section reading all of the class texts on e-book. 

We just started reading Oedipus and Antigone in English II and I have lead my two sections through the process of downloading the Kindle app and the free e-book of Oedipus and Antigone.  I gave them all the basics in defining words, making highlights and notes, searching, and customizing their views.  This will be my first text where all of the students are using e-books. 

I will chart this whole class e-book adventure here and let you know what I find.  I am experimenting and encouraging the students to tell me what they think of the experience.  I hope I get a range of experiences and encounter lots of hurdles that we can brainstorm as a class. 

Stay tuned!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Parents' Night 2013

Last night was Parents' Night here at Harpeth Hall.  The parents meet with their daughter's advisor and then go to each of her classes for 8 minutes.  It isn't a lot of time, but it allows me to give an overview of the course. 

Despite being in front of people all day, being in front of adults is more scary than my normal routine.  This was my favorite Parents' Night yet.  The parents were all very kind and positive and it was a very affirming experience. 

Below is the PowerPoint I showed them to give an overview of my course.