This post will be in two parts. Part one will offer an assignment designed for a 9th or 10th grade Language Arts course. Although my focus is online learning, this assignment works with a blended class, and I offer suggestions to the classroom teacher. Part two will offer ways an online teacher could provide authentic, effective feedback for this assignment.
Parents’, teachers’, and the media’s perception of teenage social life is complex if not paradoxical. For the most part, parents still dread the day their sweet child turns into a self-absorbed, rebellious teenager who lacks empathy and socialization skills. When the day finally comes, that dread turns into anxiety over whether the student is sharing too much of him/herself online and with others. Students are on social media sharing with their friends too much rather than learning anything. These two concerns led me to develop a unit that would help install empathy through Twitter and a collaborative mind map app MindMeister. At the end of the unit, student groups would conduct their own interviews to produce their own radio piece.
The lesson is designed for ninth or tenth grade Language Arts class but could also work for an advanced eighth grade Language Arts class or a high school health class. The lesson works in two parts.
The first part is an in-class, teacher-facilitated Twitter Chat during the audio recording from HowSound.org “Five Things,” which tells the story of motivational speaker Bill Picard who has cerebral palsy. The Twitter Chat could easily work for an online course as a synchronous event.
For the second part, students use MindMeister, a collaborative mind mapping app, to record notes about sounds, images, interviewees, Cerebral Palsy, and Bill’s life and personality. Each student contributes to a whole-class mind map, and this can then be used in class the next day to facilitate discussion about goal setting, empathy, and how to produce a good radio show. By doing this lesson, students will meet the three learning objectives:
- Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.
- Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
- Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Again, the goals are to help build empathy in students, raise awareness of people with disabilities, and to provide a purpose for writing.
Both Twitter and MindMeister will help students share ideas and information as they analyze “Five Things.” A Twitter Chat at the beginning is appropriate because it allows students to share their thoughts silently. Since people with disabilities often illicit strong responses, students will want to blurt out comments during the piece. Twitter allows them to do so, and hopefully, knowing that their comments are public, they will monitor their responses. For example, a student might catch himself from posting something hurtful because he knows that everyone will see his comment.
MindMeister is a mind mapping app that allows students to contribute to one document. The free software is easily accessible on Chrome, iPad, iPhone, and Android, and it is very easy to use. The strong visual will help students organize their analysis and notes. Furthermore, MindMeister tracks the changes and additions, so the teacher can hold each student accountable. When students return the next day, the teacher can use the completed map as a teaching tool to facilitate student-led discussion.
Since technology fails and students can be impulsive, the teacher should anticipate a few possible challenges. First, the Twitter Chat could turn ugly if strong guidelines are not given beforehand. Second, if several students are working on MindMeister at the same time, one student’s additions may not appear. The teacher can trouble-shoot this by telling the class to bring their additions with them in class. Finally, the last few students contributing might not have much else to add: everything thing they thought of is already there! If this is the case, the teacher could tell them to add details, quotes, or the times to preexisting notes. Furthermore, the teacher can accommodate students with limited access by allowing them to come to school early or stay late and use the school’s computer lab.
For a student-friendly presentation of the assignment with all of the resources included, please see here:
For this assignment there are two parts the teacher assesses: the mind map contribution and the discussion question. Both the online instructor and the classroom teacher can follow up through email or a discussion with students who did not contribute to the mind map. For blended classes, the teacher should praise students who made insightful comments and interesting details to the mind map and share these with the class, and the online instructor should highlight some of these through an announcement or newsletter.
The teacher can choose from a variety of options how to grade the discussion posts. The classroom teacher may grade participation within the class discussion, and then grade a written reflection. Since are different ways to conduct a class discussion online, the virtual teacher has more options to choose from. A teacher might require students to post their responses and then to respond to their peers’ posts. This rubric could be used to assess the discussion. Another option is students could participate in a Socratic synchronous session to discuss the mind map. After the discussion, the students should choose to reflect one just one of the discussion questions and submit this to a drop box. The instructor could then provide written or audio recorded feedback on the assignment.
The assignment’s strength is that it creates multiple opportunities for the teacher to assess student understanding. Both the Twitter chat and mind map are forms of formative assessment, and the teacher can use students’ results to guide further discussion and instruction. The discussion board posts could either be a formative assessment or summative assessment, and the teacher could use the discussion board rubric to assess students.