Last week teaching @GaVirtual (Happy Birthday!)

this week turns 10Last Saturday was Georgia Virtual’s 10th anniversary. It was great to see everyone in person. We learned about new tools and developments, and we celebrated 10 years of growth and great teaching. And we celebrated with amazing birthday cake.

A week Two weeks ago, I tried a couple different things to jazz up instruction. Specifically, my aims were:

  • Plan another creative or collaborative activity for students.
  • Teach e e cummings’ “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r“
  • Increase student attendance at the synchronous session.
  • Find a fun way to review subject/verb agreement.

Here’s what happened…

Rethinking Synchronous Sessions

Last week Two weeks ago, my annotated bibliography was due for Georgia State. My research focuses on distance learning through asynchronous and synchronous video communication. The articles I found cover topics such as how various lecture-capture videos affect learning outcomes, attention, and motivation, how nonverbal cues impact learning and teacher presence, and how interactive tools influence on-task behavior and learning. There were a few recurring themes:

  • Students believe they learn better after watching videos of lectures (even though there are marginal learning gains)
  • Some students like videos that resemble in-class lectures; others don’t.
  • While there are mixed results regarding whether video of the lecturer giving nonverbal cues helps students learn, multiple studies show that it increases the teacher’s presence.
  • Interactive tools can lead to increased learning but perhaps only because it leads to increased satisfaction.
  • Interactive tools don’t necessarily decrease off-task behavior.

This research made me reconsider my general avoidance of lecturing during the synchronous session. So, I thought I would deliver a little direct instruction with distributive practice.

Synchronous Session

In the course, students are finally moving past the Guilt unit and moving on to Choices. The first module is conventions, which includes subject/verb agreement. As I told my students, this is tricky stuff, and frequently adults make mistakes. Plus, usage is always changing. For example, it used to be “The data show…” (plural noun, plural verb), but slowly it is becoming acceptable to write, “The data shows…”

So, I felt it was high-time to offer some direct guidance. After identifying three problem areas with subject/verb agreement (compound subjects, group nouns, and indefinite pronouns), I thought it would be time to celebrate with:

singles night

Convention Rule Breakers

After the grammar, I returned to poet-rule-breakers: Emily Dickinson (capitalization) and e e cummings. For Dickinson, I shared “I dwell in Possibility,” and the theme to Gilligan’s Island. Since we talked meter last week, I thought I would do the same service my ninth grade English teacher did for me: show how nicely most Dickinson poems match the tune. The e e cummings’ “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r“ was motivated by shameless self-interest and an effort at problem-solving.

Overall student responses to cummings: “pretty cool,” and “Oh it was very interesting. It forces you to pay more attention to the poem and hence remember it.”

And then, my favorite: “That song will be stuck in my head forever.” My work here is done.

Discussion Boards

Unfortunately, my creative brainpower was drained by the bibliography, so I didn’t come up with a very creative or collaborative activity. I know that the Conventions DB needs work.

  • Based on what you’ve read so far in this lesson, why are conventions important?
  • In which areas of conventions are you strongest and weakest?

The questions are open-ended, and they do promote reflection, but to what extent that reflection is authentic or genuine is also open-ended. For the first question, most comments focus on the need to understand each other and communicate clearly. The second question, however, students respond that they are weak in “sentence formation,” “paragraph spacing,” or “grammar.” Sometimes, I’m not positive they even know what they mean.


To fix this next round, I have some options.

  1. Have students listen to Slate’s “The Gist” podcast with Mike Pesca episode on spelling reform and comment.
  2. Debate which conventions we should begin to ignore (like “data”).
  3. Predict how conventions might change in 50 or 100 years from now.
  4. Offer a list of tips of how to practice conventions and have students choose and/or discuss tips.
  5. Have student create mini-lessons of conventions they are good at. Lessons would include a video, practice, and a quiz.

PLS Collaboration Inspiration

At the birthday celebration, I had the pleasure of meeting face-to-face with the other 8th grade Language Arts teacher. We talked about 8th graders general tendencies on the discussion board and discussed potential ways of fixing it. To facilitate further collaboration, I created a OneNote notebook for ideas. While setting it up, I came up with this idea for a future discussion board topic.

nonfiction db topic

Weekly Wins

  • Effective Subject/Verb agreement mini-lesson.
  • Giving direct feedback and resources on student-reported weaknesses in conventions.

Next Steps

  • Look ahead in the unit and come up with a collaborative activity.
  • Create and play some games during the synchronous session.
  • Make students aware of the grey area between fiction and nonfiction.
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