Bringing Stories to Life


Wordcloud made with student reflections after they finished this project.

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I decided to use technology with a personal writing assignment. In the past, the stories students have written about their families have been so interesting, I’ve wished that other people could read them, too. I often recount their tales to colleagues on the bus or in my office. So for this assignment, I decided to use technology to make it available for many people to read, and to use the concept of audience to try to make the work more compelling.

every day

I mainly told the students what I wanted to see and then let them work, and sometimes struggle, with the technology until they had a good product. More of my teaching time was focused on helping them with the writing itself. I read and commented on their drafts privately, using, and responded to the problems I saw in their writing by teaching them minilessons

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 10.00.59 PMI found them resources online to help with their biggest problem of telling about the events, rather than showing them.

They gave each other peer feedback, and some of them conferenced with me. And in the end, most of them have wonderful stories to share on the blog I created, Feathers From Afar. I made all of them authors on the blog so they could add their own post.

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One of my favorite aspects of their blog posts are the clips of their interviews that they added. The emotion and truth seems to leap out from these voices. It even reminded me of NPR’s Storycorps. I loved listening to Storycorps recordings shared on the radio every Friday morning when I lived in Seattle.

The timelines give the stories context in history and tie the people to world events, as well as highlighting important moments of their lives.

Last, the commenting feature gives the students a variety of feedback from their peers, family, teacher, and sometimes from an even wider audience.

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I asked the students to write a reflection about how the use of technology affected the assignment in their perception.

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I’m glad I worked on adapting this particular assignment and I will definitely use it this way again in the future.

Course 5 Project



My first idea for the Course 5 project was to help my students create electronic portfolios of their writing, and the group helped me think about this at the end of Course 4, but I was never very comfortable with the plan, so I continued to think and look at my courses for a project I could do that would make a truly different learning experience for my students.

As I began to teach The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, the assessment Cathi Wiebusch gave me was a biography that she had really enjoyed teaching in Hong Kong about ten years ago. She had the students write a biography and publish it in beautiful book form so they could give it to the person they wrote about. As I looked at this writing project, I realized the students could use technology to open up more possibilities for the assignment. The core of it is still non-fiction writing working on literary techniques, but the technology would enrich the product and give them more choice.

First, we now have the technology of Skype and online interviews, so they could work with a family member who doesn’t live nearby. Second, they can use the recordings of their interviews as part of their product. I also thought about how to add the context of the person’s life to the biography. This could happen through the creation of electronic timelines which allow students to add links to relevant websites as well as student-written blurbs and photos. And then publishing online would allow students a wider audience for their writing and make the products more real and relevant. Some of the elements of this project overlap with my original thinking about portfolios.

So, although this post is more reflective than it was meant to be, this is the plan that I decided to pursue.

Inupiat Family from Noatak, Alaska, 1929, Edward S. Curtis

Problem-based Learning



In PBL, the best possible situation is to be interdisciplinary and to have lots of time with students. So, of course, I felt like that let me off the hook. Literature study isn’t very conducive to PBL. But then I tried to dig into some of the other skills I teach. Writing is something that can easily be incorporated into PBL, and perhaps as I move into teaching language and literature, where the focus isn’t solely on literature, I can incorporate some problems. The other place where this can happen is in Theory of Knowledge, which is inherently interdisciplinary and meant to be connected to the real world and to student experience. If I were to spend more time focused on events or situations, and use them to tease out the TOK concepts the students are supposed to be learning, this might work well.

Technology is essential in PBL for collaboration, for research, and for presentation of ideas.

I think one of the biggest benefits of PBL is the buy-in of the students created by the element of student choice. This is one of my biggest take-aways from the COETAIL program and one I’d like to keep working towards in all my classes.

The New Tech Network has good resources for PBL. One of the ideas they express clearly is the bringing kids in on the ground level of the standards, using the learning goals as the starting point. This, in essence, is one of the problems. How do we learn and show our knowledge and understanding of these goals?

Bianca Hewes, an English teacher in Australia might be a good online mentor for my subject ares. I look forward to reading more of her blog.

Why We Blog

I have a fun success story about one of my Theory of Knowledge student’s class blog. A post he wrote about Korean literature got picked up by another blog and re-blogged.  Yay!

Today I found out that I got one of my Field Notebook entries shared on a blog!

The blog, Korean Literature in Translation, is edited by a professor at Dongguk University here in Seoul. He liked what Joon had to say about Korean Literature Theory. It was exciting for Joon that his writing was recognized and appreciated by a university professor, and it gave value to his thinking and writing.

This incident also applies to a few facet of the concept of connectivism. One of these is that Joon is now connected with Charles Montgomery (who, coincidentally, went to the same elementary school in California as Joon, decades earlier) and with a Korean Literature network. This network is always exchanging ideas and Joon can dip into the stream as much as he wants.

Another connectivist activity that I ask students to engage in is reflection, particularly in Theory of Knowledge. The course, itself, asks students to do this continually. We present ideas and then ask where else they see these ideas, what other connections they can make in other contexts, in their own lives, etc. When my students write blog posts or reflections on their learning, I ask them to use the acronym C.O.W.:  connections, observations, wonderings. I got this from my husband, Mike, who uses it with his elementary classes. It provides a good framework for students to own their learning, “to make meaning of incoming learning,” as George Siemans wrote in his connectivism article. That’s why I put a clip of my photo of Andy Warhol’s cow wallpaper on my TOK blog.

Pink cows

Flippin’ Lit

Jared Tarbell,

Jared Tarbell,

“Flippin’ Lit” is what I hope my students don’t say in their heads when they think of my class.

But what is it?

This is my struggle. The majority of the definitions of flipping instruction are meant to replace content delivery in the classroom with content delivery outside the classroom. I can’t claim never to tell my students something or define it for them in the classroom, but even when I’m sharing information with students, I ask them to respond, to talk with each other, to give me their ideas first. So I don’t think it’s relevant to my teaching.

What is more relevant for me to consider is what Jeff Utecht pointed out some time ago in The Thinking Stick,

The flipped approach, if nothing else, is making educators look at how they are using homework time and class time differently. That’s a good thing…we can only change approaches if we’re first willing to look at what we’re doing now and how we can use our time with students both at home and in the classroom better.

I feel like I never have enough class time. With our schedule, I spend only 3 hours and 15 minutes every six days with my grade 9 literature class. At the same time, I know my students are bogged down with hours of homework every night, on top of the other activities and extracurricular studies they pursue. Many of my students sleep less than six hours a night.  I need to be careful with my class time, but I also need to be careful with their at home time.

Here’s where I think I’m already flipping my instruction:

1. Online discussions and/or comment threads: I use the easy and well-designed discussion option in Haiku to set up discussions for my students. Though I give them a starter-question sometimes, they mainly write their own questions. I assess them for how well they respond to each other, use text to support their ideas, think independently. Though we have loads of discussions in class, I often direct the conversations and ask follow-up questions. In-class discussions favor kids who think quickly and have outgoing, confident personalities. Online discussions give the benefit to students who take time to formulate their ideas and who aren’t as likely to jump in and speak their minds.  I love to read these discussions. They fill me with awe and warm fuzzies about the level of thinking and analysis of these great students.

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1b. Another version of online discussions I’ve used is article commenting. They read an article, or choose from a set of articles, at home, and are responsible for posting a comment in response to the article and to the comments already posted. This allows me to see they’ve done the reading, gives an incentive for them to do their homework early (so they don’t have to read as many comments) and it teaches them the skills they’ll need to be part of our culture’s online conversations. I can easily point out one or two “gems” from the set of comments to show them exemplars.

2. Students read and annotate their texts at home. Haha! This is the English class classic. But then I ask students to work together to prepare a section of text to teach to the rest of the class, via discussion, not just students lecturing each other. They decide which questions to raise and which passages to focus on. This is well-spent collaboration time.

3. Haiku Wikiprojects provides a place where they can post their writing and I require them to read and comment on each other’s pieces at home. also has this function, but it’s more complex and time-consuming, so I only used it once.

4.  I post grammar and writing resources to Haiku, allowing students to access them if they need to, rather than teaching the whole class. This is an area where I can continue to develop. Some of the resources I open up and look at with them in class and others I just point out as optional, like the “Biography Tightening” checklist. Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 10.04.21 PM

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Word Games

USSR Medal

An “honorary badge” for Socialist Emulation in the USSR. Has gamification already been tried?

In first thinking about gamification in English education, I didn’t see a lot of good uses for it. Not that the drawbacks of gamification that Ian Glover points out, encouraging compulsive behavior or discouraging less competitive students, would be much of a problem, just that I didn’t see where it could be applied constructively.

Then I thought about the vocabulary conundrum. Parents and English teachers usually don’t see eye-to-eye about studying vocabulary. Giving kids lists of words to study, and then testing them, is generally ineffective at actually developing a child’s vocabulary (the body of words they know and can use) and wastes time. I usually suggest that students read more, at their just-right level, and keep a notebook of words they don’t recognize. This is a good strategy, but difficult to stay motivated to do. So there it is. Expanding your vocabulary is a task that might benefit from extrinsic motivation.

I have also been recommending to my students. It’s good because it quizzes students on words in context and is responsive to students’ answers, coming back to missed words, etc.  When I looked at it again, I realized it’s completely gamified as well. After just one word-quiz round, I got this:

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I think this site might be a useful way to incorporate “vocabulary instruction” into my course without really spending any time on it. It would require students to spend some time, but could be manageable. I will think about building this in to the grade 9 course I will continue to teach next year. It will be interesting to see how College Board revises the SATs and whether the tested vocabulary will truly be “relevant” as they claim.

Here’s what they say:

Relevant Words in Context

The redesigned SAT will focus on relevant words, the meanings of which depend on how they’re used. Students will be asked to interpret the meaning of words based on the context of the passage in which they appear. This is demanding but rewarding work. These are words that students will use throughout their lives — in high school, college, and beyond.

Requiring students to master relevant vocabulary will change the way they prepare for the exam. No longer will students use flashcards to memorize obscure words, only to forget them the minute they put their test pencils down. The redesigned SAT will engage students in close reading and honor the best work of the classroom.

This may change our students’ SAT-prep focus significantly for the better. I have hope.

The other place I think gamification would work well is with general “outside reading.” It could be combined with goal-setting and might allow students to aim to improve and beat their previous amount of reading, rather than comparing themselves to others. There are always crazy readers in a school like SFS (One of my seniors read 365 books in 2013–talk about setting personal goals and meeting them!) and this could be difficult for kids who don’t enjoy reading on their own time.

Keys to Tech Integration

The Edutopia article, “Why Integrate Technology into the Curriculum?: The Reasons Are Many” has several good points, but this is what I agree with most:

Effective tech integration must happen across the curriculum in ways that research shows deepen and enhance the learning process. In particular, it must support four key components of learning: active engagement, participation in groups, frequent interaction and feedback, and connection to real-world experts. Effective technology integration is achieved when the use of technology is routine and transparent and when technology supports curricular goals.

Reading this, my thoughts jumped to an assignment I’m just about to start with Grade 9 Literature. They will choose from a short list and read novels in small groups as “outside reading” for our novel unit. For years I’ve organized this kind of thing as Literature Circles. I used to have students fill out a Lit Circle booklet, complete with lined pages for their handwritten preparation notes and their discussion notes. In recent years, I have posted the roles and instructions on Haiku and had students take notes onto a google doc so they could share it with each other and with me. They didn’t always mark who wrote the notes and I struggled to give them an individual grade.

What I realized today is that I should be using technology to make this assignment and the learning of the experience better for my students. I still want them to learn how to read closely and hold a small group literature discussion, the original goal of the Lit Circle, but this assignment can be more than that, I think technology can help them engage more actively with each other, can elevate their group participation, can allow whole groups to interact with each other, and can connect them to experts who have already written and spoken about their novels. It will give them more choice in the ways they fulfill the goals I give them.  It can also reinforce the lessons I’m teaching in the novel unit and allow them to practice their own analysis. Here’s my initial page, brainstorming the requirements I will share with the class.

Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by

Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by

I think this exemplifies where I am with technology integration in my classes. I am starting to see possibilities for making my curriculum stronger, for giving more choice and allowing problem-solving, for letting students take more control of their own learning, for helping them give and get more feedback, but still supporting the curricular goals of my English literature course. On the SAMR model, I think I am solidly Modifying my curriculum and pushing a bit into Redefinition. In terms of TPACK, I think I’m working at the intersection of content, pedagogy, and technology and that the benefits of rethinking my content as I work to integrate technology are definitely happening. Responding to Jeff Utecht’s evaluative question on The Thinking Stick blog, “Is the technology creating new and different learning experiences for the students?” My answer is “Yes, sometimes. And I’m still working on it.”

Mash-up Success

I thought I should comment on the mash-ups that resulted from the Hamlet assignment.  Here are some examples of what they came up with:

Mitchell created a Twitter account for the characters and started his tweets like this:

  1. You disgusting piece of filth, a storm’s coming buddy. #watchyoself

    Michele wrote her own screenplay of a Hamlet/Inception mash-up and created a movie poster to go along with it. It ended like this:

    Horatio is walking across the castle ground. He walks until he reaches a lake, the same lake from the past cut scenes. An air of melancholy surrounds him.

    Ophelia, I have revenged your death. Hamlet tricked you to opening your heart for    him, your love turning into infatuation. If it wasn’t for that Prince..

    He looks at the middle of the lake. Horatio pulls out the piece of paper first seen in the very beginning. It has Hamlet’s name written out.

    We never were friends… did you know?

    Horatio stares at the lake. An illusion of Ophelia stands in the middle. She disappears

    You never realized the love I carry for you but it doesn’t matter. Revenge was taken..

     Horatio begins to walk to the middle of the lake. The ice begins to crack beneath his feet.


     With a CRACK, the ice beneath Horatio’s feet collapses. Horatio falls into the water. The paper with Hamlet’s name flies out of his grasp.                                     Inside the water, muffled sounds of gunfire firing into the air can be heard. Horatio closes his eyes. Hector Berlioz’s “La Mort d’Ophelie” begins to play in the background. The paper with Hamlet’s name floats and lands on the water. It quickly soaks up  water and dissolves. Horatio opens his eyes, startled, and­                                       

    Fade out.


    Hamlet-Inception Poster by Michele Lim

    Brennan and Peter wrote their own Magic Treehouse-type play, “Magic Bathroom Stall: Defecation #2: The Prince(s) of Denmark”

    Here’s an excerpt from their piece, which was fantastic at taking their audience into account:

    Brennan and Peter find themselves in a medieval bathroom in Castle Elsinore. Literally a hole in the ground.

    Brennan: This is getting really old really fast.

    Peter hears a voice from outside the bathroom.

    Peter: Wait I hear something…it’s a voice; sound’s like a man. Lets see who it is.

    Brennan: Or we can just stay here…

    Peter and Brennan walk out of the stall and find themselves in a balcony overlooking the main hall in which Hamlet is giving a soliloquy.

    Hamlet: To be, or not to be, that is the question:/Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

    Peter: NOT TO BE!

    Brennan(whispers): Shut up Peter!

    Hamlet is shocked

    Hamlet: Father? Is that you again? Tell me what I must do.

    Peter: Umm Yes ‘tis I…uhhhh…Hamlet you’re a 30 year old man, stop being a little crybaby and be decisive.

    Brennan (whispers): Peter…isn’t that…

    Hamlet: For the memory of my father!

    Hamlet pulls out his sword and runs himself through.

    Brennan: Peter, you just made the man kill himself.

    Peter: Well…at least he died as a man.

    Brennan: Peter, that was Hamlet, as in the prince of Denmark that goes on to kill Polonius, Laertes, and Claudius and results in the death of Ophelia, Gertrude, and causes the downfall of Denmark.

    Peter: Oh that Hamlet…I was really hoping this was the unimportant Hamlet.

    Brennan: Peter you don’t understand this could change the future of humanity as we know it.

    Peter: Well what’s done is done.

    Brennan: No, Peter according to the mathematical equation e=mc^2 and the interlinking properties of the space time paradox using Einstein’s theory of special relativity in relation to the observable spectrum of tachyon fields in tandem to the hyperspace loop, literally our world will end if the events that Hamlet put into motion don’t occur.

    Peter: Brennan you dropped out of HL math, how in the world do you understand advanced quantum physics?

    Brennan: I did some research after our last time traveling trip. Peter, you’re the reason why Korea is split into two countries.

    Peter: Yeah, that was a good day. Kim Il Sung was such a great guy! Remember how he showed us his nuclear arsenal?

     I saw Hamlet mashed with Swan LakeMoulin Rouge, Oedipus Rex, the TV show, SupernaturalPhantom of the Opera, the popular songs “Radioactive” and “I Knew You Were Trouble”, a silent film, and The Lion King with brilliant voiceovers of the original film clips by Michelle and her dad.  Overall, this assignment was a lot of fun and pushed the students to play with genre, stretch their understanding of the text, and be creative. 


Remixing Fun

Mashups, Cut-ups & Remixes

This kind of playing with text is usually a lot of fun for my students and myself. I should do it more and have the playing be more open-ended. In the past, I’ve had students create things like journals, Facebook pages, and treasure-chests for various characters like Romeo and Juliet, Scout and Boo Radley, and Holden Caulfield. They often show their sophisticated understanding of character and their deep reading through these responses.


This is a different form, called an “Altered-Page Found Poem.” (Youngen Lee did this with her students last year.) This one was written by Carrie Arizona

Found Poems

Another assignment I love is the “Found Poem” or Pastiche, where students choose favorite lines, or quotes relating to a character or theme, from several different locations in the text and then recombine them into poems. This works well with highly descriptive novels like My Antonia by Willa Cather and anything by John Steinbeck.  It gets students to think about syntax, line breaks, and economy of words in poetry.

Here are my class instructions from 2012:

1.  Choose one character or other focus from Of Mice and Men.  (Could be a place or a theme)

2. Find quotes (no more than 6 words in a row) that show you something about that focus.

3. Arrange into a poem at least 10 lines long. You can add up to 5 extra words to help the flow of the poem. Put page numbers in parentheses with the quotations.

4.Don’t forget to give your poem a title.

And here’s one of the poems from that assignment:


      by Terry and Sol

The silence fell on the room 

Grizzled head, half-blinded eyes 

The ancient dog lay down head between his paws 

Softly and hopelessly 

All stiff with rheumatism 

Can’t eat, can’t see, can’t even walk without hurtin’ 

Slowly and stiffly 

Followed the gently pulling leash 

A shot sounded in the distance 

The silence fell on the room 

Night invaded the room 

At first, I thought this would be a good assignment for this blog post, and it is, but I think I will try a different assignment with more options.

A good explanation of the Altered-Page Found Poem is on Vince Gotera’s blog, The Man With the Blue Guitar.   (Carrie Arizona’s DeviantArt gallery.)

New Assignment

In a month or so, my grade 9 students will be studying short stories. I will give them an assignment to create a mash-up or remix of one of the short stories in any genre or medium/media they want.  And my IB Lit HL students are reading Hamlet right now, so I will also give them an open-ended assignment to create a remix of Hamlet, probably just one or two pages. I really appreciate the New York Times Learning Blog article, “Remix, Reuse, Recombine” and the rules from their lesson plan:

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In particular, with the IB Lit class, it’s important for us to think about and for them to be exposed to “New Textualities.” Mashups and multimedia story telling are certainly in that category. Jonathan Gray’s article “New Audiences, New Textualities: Non-Fans and Anti-Fans” discusses some of these ideas.

A Washington State Ferry Tale


This is the story of how I met and fell in love with Mike. I just kept coming back to it over these past few days as I’ve been thinking about the story I want to tell. It’s not technically connected to my curriculum, except that I asked my students each to tell a story as we started the school year and my story was not this one exactly, but it was another ferry story, one that involved a foggy morning and a dead body. Maybe in the future, I will tell them this one, and maybe in the future I will create a digital version of that other story.

In order to make this story, I started from scratch with VoiceThread. Probably the biggest challenge was the choice of media. After spending hours searching for WSF (Washington State Ferries) video that was available to use on Vimeo and on YouTube, I realized I couldn’t use the video, so I found several dozen perfect photos using Flikr Creative Commons searches. But when I started the VoiceThread, I couldn’t use any of them. I had to start a new Flikr search through VoiceThread. There were not nearly as many photos and not of some of the details I was interested in, like the stairwells coming up from the car deck. I’m glad I learned it and I think the slideshow with voiceover suits this story well. I’m fortunate that so many people photograph the ferries.  I would enjoy shooting the footage for this story myself someday and re-doing it. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to make videos, adding transitions (probably too many) and audio and doing the editing with the home videos we took of our kids. Shooting video in order to tell a story, though, would be a new experience for me.

I also did the planning of this story on a google doc, writing out what I wanted to say in the voiceover and using it as the driver for the images I chose. Because I couldn’t get the exact images I was picturing, I did do some improvising at the end. I also thought I could change the order of the slides as I went, but that didn’t seem to work, so the order isn’t quite as good as it could be.