Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Aha: Visual Literacy 1st Presidential Debate 2016

Visuals seen in the presidential debate

Tonight, I watched this video recording of the first presidential debate of 2016 between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

In terms of visuals, one interesting aspect to note between the two candidates is there appearance. Clinton wore a red dress while Trump wore a blue tie and a pin of the U.S. flag. In the debate, appearance matters... one must "look" the image of the president of the United States in order to become it. I also noticed that both candidates seemed to be wearing a lot of make-up, presumably to look younger and more attractive.

The next aspect of visuals I noticed was there facial expressions and gestures. Both candidates had a confident facial expression, even when being insulted. I noticed that Clinton and Trump would even make "faces" when something negative or illogical was said by their opponent. Clinton communicated with her nonverbals (face, eyes) that Trump was irrational when it wasn't her turn to talk verbally. In addition, both talked with their hands and occasionally wrote notes to appear as if they were thinking hard.

In the debate, I thought it was interesting that the legitimacy of Obama's birth certificate was addressed since we discussed this in class. I immediately thought of the political cartoons of Obama as a monkey. It is a shame that this is still being debated and disagreed upon today when Obama has been president for 8 years. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Aha Journal: September 24th

Pride Cry 2016: Unmask Your Spirit

Our t-shirt design for Pride Cry.

This year's homecoming theme at UNI is "Unmask Your Spirit." As a member of Students Admissions Ambassadors (SAA) on campus, I am participating in the Pride Cry.

What is Pride Cry? It is an opportunity for student organizations or groups on campus to design a 3-minute song and dance to show their UNI spirit. During this 3-minute interval, the group must include the UNI Fight Song and somehow incorporate the homecoming theme. Most groups choreograph their own dance moves and lyrics.

History of Pride Cry

According to Rod Library Collections, the first ever UNI Pride Cry occurred in 2001, the 80th anniversary of homecoming: "The Panther Pride Cry competition gave students a chance to show their school spirit with skits, dances, or other kinds of demonstrations."

Another important visual aspect of Pride Cry is appearance. Teams usually try to show as much UNI spirit through their dress as possible. This consists of wearing all purple and gold clothing as well as accessories like beads and face paint. A team last year even had purple and gold ballerina tutus.

This former Northern Iowan article entitled "There's no crying at Homecoming! ... Or is there?" shows some pictures from previous years of Pride Cry.

The Event: Monday, September 26th 5:30pm

I will compete in Pride Cry this Monday. I hope to post a picture or video to my blog to show our performance.

My team has prepared a routine involving many visual aspects. We have moves to match our lyrics:
  • "SAA! What? Cats! What?": When we say "what," we look at each other with our hands up
  • "All you panthers stomp your feet like that": We stomp to the beat on the groun
  • "We give tours for you just walk this way": We open up our arms to show people "the way"
  • "Tell us how we're looking babe": We cross our arms and look at one another
  • "Unmask it now ya'll!": We throw off our masks covering our faces
  • "Okay panthers now let's get in formation": Everyone runs to the center of the stage
  • We sing the fight song and do the visual gestures that go along with it, such as the "UNI" symbols with our hands
As you can "see," there is an important visual aspect to the Pride Cry routine.  If our routine sounds good but looks disorganized visually, we will not make it to the finals on Friday. Here's hoping for the best! I will update my blog post after the event, hopefully with some pictures or video.

Update: Tuesday, 9/27

 Here is the video from our Pride Cry! It is not the best quality because it was taken on a cell phone camera. We didn't advance to the finals on Friday :( I think we rushed our stomping too much, and it didn't align as well with the words. Oh well! We still had a lot of fun doing it!

Innovation through Annotation

In my original App Smash with Nick, we asked students to journal each night using the app Stigma, a journaling app to monitor students' mental health. This app automatically generates a word cloud from a user's journal entries to show which words they are using the most. From this word cloud, we asked students to produce an audio recording to describe which words in their cloud they felt were most reflective of how they have been feeling.

While I like this idea,  I think that I need to take it a step further. After reading other blogs from English teachers, such as Learning from my mistakes: an English teacher's blog, one idea that really hits home with me is teaching students how to write well instead of just asking them to write each day.

We cannot expect students to become better writers simply by writing a short journal entry each night. Rather, we need to show them the craft of writing... why we should avoid cliches, how to show rather than tell through writing, etc.

In a different blog, The Daring English Teacher, the teacher suggests using an app like Xodo to annotate texts they are reading. Here is the link to the Xodo site. According to the site,
"With Xodo, you can edit, annotate, sign, and share PDFs on desktop, mobile, and web. Xodo makes working with PDFs quick and easy, so you can get things done." Sounds like an awesome way to use technology to transform learning.

Another app to annotate texts is Skitch. Here is the link to the Skitch site. Skitch is a little different from Xodo in the fact that the writing does not have to be in PDF format: "Get your point across with fewer words using annotation, shapes and sketches, so that your ideas become reality faster."

What if we teach students how to become better writers by having them annotate their own texts as well as the texts of their classmates?

Here is my idea for a lesson entitled "Innovation through Annotation":
  1. Have students prepare a rough draft of the writing assignment.
  2. After teaching students how to use the selected text annotation app (such as Xodo or Skitch), have students annotate their own work on this app. Ask students to highlight places where they feel they are showing rather than telling. Ask them to underline parts of their writing that sound cliche. Ask them to use the arrow feature to point to parts of the text that they would like feedback on.
  3. Once students are done annotating their own texts, have them share their annotated texts among each other. From here, students can provide each other feedback on specific parts of the assignment. This focus achieved through the highlighting, underlining and arrows can be especially helpful for students who often "don't know what to say" to their peers' writing.
  4.  Evaluate how this went for your students by asking for their feedback. What went well? What didn't? Did they enjoy completing the assignment this way?

Here is a link to an article entitled "Skitch - Annotation App" on "Mr. Patterson's Year 5/6 Blog." Below is an image taken from his blog of what a text annotation might look like:

While I have yet to try this in the classroom, I believe it is an innovative way to help students become more conscious of how they write, utilize technology in the classroom, and promote collaboration through focused feedback.
What are your ideas for other innovative ways students can become better writers?

Learning from the "prose": English teacher blogs

Image used with permission from Flickr.
"Norgan s.r.o." by Blog.
As I search for English teachers' blogs online, I am slightly shocked at the apparent lack of them. Very few blogs surfaced at my search of "english teacher blog" in Google. Some of the blogs I found had not been updated since 2014. This makes me wonder if teacher blogs are a dying trend. I can see why it would be hard for teachers to blog about teaching in their free time... when teachers have a moment to themselves, the last thing they probably want to do is sit down and write a post about teaching.

Regardless, I have found a couple of English teachers' blogs which I find quite interesting. The two blogs I have found are both from current English teachers, yet they are quite different: One seems to focus more on their policies as a teacher and tips for lesson planning, while the other focuses more on helping their students become better writers. Both have useful tips that I know will help me become a better teacher when I land my first teaching job.

Blog 1: "The Daring English Teacher"

In this blog, an English teacher (who apparently wishes to go unnamed) shares their policies and suggestions for creating engaging lessons. In their most recent post entitled "Late Work: Why I Changed My Policy," this teacher discusses one of the controversial questions in the teaching field: Should teachers accept late work?

The Daring English Teacher has tried accepting late work and not accepting it. They write, "During the years when I would accept late work, I always seemed swamped and overwhelmed. During the years when I didn’t accept late work, I had less assignments to grade and saved a lot of time. I also thought that I was teaching my students about responsibility and accountability."

However, we may be hurting our students more by not accepting late work: 
  • "By not allowing students to turn in any late work, we are saying that once a time passes, we no longer care to see what they know, what they’ve learned, and what they have to share with us." 
  • "By not allowing students to turn in any late work, we are saying that the learning stops." 
  • "By not allowing students to turn in any late work, we are denying our students an opportunity to cultivate a growth mindset."

We must also consider that as adults, we are still shown forgiveness for forgetting deadlines:
"If we miss paying our taxes on time, we simply pay a late fee. If we forget about paying the electric bill, we have a 15 day grace period. If adults have failsafes such as these, so should students."

Therefore, it is hypocritical to expect students to remember every deadline when they are humans with lives outside of our class.

Screenshot taken from "The Daring English Teacher" blog.
Another blog post in this blog entitled "Teaching in the 21st Century: Annotate Text Digitally" describes how to use the app Xodo to annotate text. This post seemed rather brief and not particularly helpful in my opinion, as the three steps are:
1. Install Xodo

2. Assign PDF
3. Annotate

For a teacher who is new to using technology in the classroom, I don't think this post offers much. I would have rather seen examples of how this teacher is using Xodo in their classroom with samples of their students' work.

Blog 2: "Learning from my mistakes: An English teacher's blog"

Unlike blog 1, this blog focuses primarily on helping students become better writers in the English language arts classroom. As a lover of writing who wants my future students to love writing as much as I do, I find this blog extremely helpful and inspiring.

The most recent post on this blog is entitled "The Cliche Glass Ceiling." In this post, the author discusses problems with cliches: "We often say what we don’t want. We don’t often say why we don’t want them or it. Yes, it is predictable and obvious, but there is often more behind it. Instead of saying ‘it had all been a dream’ is bad for an ending, say why it is so bad. It is terrible, because it insults the reader. They have spent the whole story investing in things and you smack them in the face by saying there was no point reading the story in the first place."

Before reading this post, I had never put much thought into how I would go about teaching the problem with cliches in my future classroom. This post serves as a good starting point for creating a lesson around cliches.

The second most recent post is entitled, "Paper 1: Why we might need to place more emphasis showing and telling in lessons?"

A popular phrase in the English classroom is: Show, don't tell. This teacher explains, "For ages, we have informed students to see that showing is good and telling is bad. Yet, I think we have missed a very important lesson. Why on earth would a writer show something when they could tell it instead?"

My favorite part of this post is the author's bullets on when writers show vs. tell:
"Writers tend to show to…

  • Focus on the experience
  • Create an atomosphere
  • Make the reader feel they are part of the story
  • Suggest things and hint things
  • Make the reader make judgments and opinions

Writers tend to tell to...
  •  Focus on the plot
  • Tell the story quickly
  • Make the reader understand the events quickly and clearly
  • Clarity
  • Show the reader what that writer wants us to think or feel"

In Conclusion

While both of the English teaching blogs I stumbled upon are quite different, both are helpful to teachers looking for fresh ideas and perspective. As I expand my PLN this semester, I hope to find even more blogs from English teachers, especially new teachers, that can help me prepare for my first year of teaching.

What is one teaching blog you have found that has helped you grow as a teacher?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Shakespeare Wants You to Use Social Media in the Classroom

Kevin Oliver, "In Class at the University of Surrey"
Used with permission from Flickr
"To use social media or not to use social media - there is no question" --Shakespeare of the 21st century. 

Okay, maybe Shakespeare wouldn't say this. Regardless, it is clear social media has transformed the way students study Shakespeare and other writers in today's English language arts classroom. 

Whether we like it or not isn't the question; students use social media as a primary tool of communication, so what better way to engage students than to implement social media in your classroom?

Let students leave their phones on and out

Why is our immediate "solution" to technology as teachers to tell our students to turn their phones off and put them away? What if we found a way for students to keep their phones on and out on their desk to engage them in learning instead of texting behind our backs?

There are numerous ways for students to use social media in the classroom. As teachers, it is up to us to decide what is going to work best to best meet the needs of our students and our courses.

To help with this process, Tanya Joosten's book, Social Media for Educators, suggests, "In determining which social media may help you improve the student experience and student learning in your class, there are a few questions to consider:
  1. What is the pedagogical need?
  2. How will the selected social media help meet that need?
  3. What aspects of the learning process should be improved?
  4. What learning outcomes can be better achieved through the use of the selected social media over other technologies?
  5. What is the expected behavior of students within the selected social media?" (30).

Using Snapchat

Snapchat is a popular app used by most middle school and high school students. An article from KQED Education entitled "It's Time to Consider Snapchat's Classroom Potential" by Chris Sloan explains how teachers might go about adapting Snapchat to the classroom.

One idea from the article that I find interesting is to have students become "journalists" at a school event. They must document pictures and videos from the event to put on their Snapchat "story" and include brief captions. Once the event is over, students should write a summary of the event and why they chose to include their specific photos and videos. 

There are teachers who worry about how Snapchat is mostly used for "social purposes" and the issue of "friend-ing" a teacher... But couldn't this be said for all of social media? Instead of asking students to create a second, "professional" account, Sloan states, "A better solution is to have a ongoing discussions with students about their overall social media presence. The more savvy teen social media users know that what they post can potentially have a much wider audience than what was originally intended, and they craft their original message with that in mind. They realize that nothing they post on social media is really private."

 Using Instagram

Like Snapchat, Instagram is also a popular photo-sharing app used by middle school and high school students. Instagram allows a user to edit a photo and post it with a caption and hashtags.

In Jason Cunningham's article on Education World entitled "Using Instagram in the Classroom: Five Activities," he lists five possible classroom activities:
  1.  "Take a picture of students re-creating a famous piece of art."
  2.  "Explore a moment in history by imitating a vintage photo from the public domain."
  3.  "Ask students to act as photojournalists at a school function."
  4.  "Make a scientific record of a classroom experiment or school science fair."
  5.  "Students explore their identities and the world artistically." (The most important one in my opinion!)
One idea I'd like to try to implement in my future classroom is using lines from poetry as captions for Instagram photos. For example, I recently posted this photo with the following caption:

(Image taken by Katie Upah)"but to be part of the treetops and the blueness, invisible,
the iridescent darkness beyond,
silent, listening to the air
becoming no air becoming air again"
-Frank O'Hara, Three Airs

I think a final important point to make about using social media in the classroom is that it is not always the solution to any lesson. As Joosten states, "Any emerging technology should not be implemented simply because it is cool or the latest thing" (29).

What is one way you have implemented social media in your own classroom, and did it go?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Aha Journal: September 19th

Helvetica in my world

 Since watching the 2007 documentary Helvetica this past weekend, I feel I am starting to see this font everywhere I look:
On my coffee cup from Iceland...

On the poster of my favorite band, Vampire Weekend...

On a photo of Orientation Staff from this summer...

On my RA nametag...

On the UNI volleyball schedule...

On a piece of art I have hanging in my room!
 Wherever I look, Helvetica is there. I am surprised and disappointed in myself for never paying much attention to this fact before I watched this documentary. How couldn't you notice that Helvetica is all around? But, as I remember someone saying in the documentary, a person is less likely to notice something that's doing its job and working well; if the font looked bad, then I would notice it everywhere. According to "The Simplicity of Helvetica" by WebdesignerDepot Staff, Helvetica was "created specifically to be neutral, to not give any impression or have any meaning in itself." In other words, the creators believed meaning should be found in what the text was actually saying, not the text itself. The article also mentions that "American Apparel chose to use the font for their own brand identity to poke fun at corporate culture in America" since so many corporations use this font on their business documents. I always had thought American Apparel chose the font for the same reason that corporations did; it's modern, easy to read, and neutral. The font Arial, developed in 1982, is extremely similar to Helvetica, and it is almost impossible for the untrained eye to spot the difference between the two fonts. I know I can't.

Here is the link to a quiz to test your knowledge of Helvetica vs. Arial. (I scored 10/20...)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Helvetica Movie (2007)

  1. What do you feel is the message the director is trying to express in this movie?  Support your answer with examples.
    I feel the director is trying to express the message that whether we are consciously aware of it or not, a popular font like Helvetica affects us every day and has a huge impact in our lives. For example, the director interviews a man who says that a designer choosing which typeface to use is like a casting director. If the casting choice is right, no one will think twice about it; however, if the casting choice seems wrong, people will notice. Such is the same with font. Helvetica has an appeal to people and even the government because it is a neutral, efficient font. Even if the government is always accessible and transparent, it can appear that way through the font it uses.
  2. If applicable , discuss if you think this movie has accurate depictions of minorities or if they are situational? Why or why not?
    I did not notice many minorities interviewed in the film besides some Europeans. I think it would have been interesting for the documentary to explore how ethnic minorities in the U.S. view the font Helvetica: Do we associate Helvetica with the "typical," the "majority," the Caucasian skin color?
  3. Explain if you think the director’s ethnic/cultural/professional background played a role in directing this film?
    I think the director's professional background played a huge role in directing this film. I couldn't see someone being interested enough in creating an hour and twenty minute-long documentary on the font Helvetica unless they were interested in design. I also noticed the director often asked the interviewees extra questions, such as, "If Helvetica started the Vietnam war, did it start the Iraq war?" Clearly, the director is interested and invested in their film.
  4. What groups (people of color, nationality, culture, class,gender etc.) may be offended or misinterpret this movie and why?
    I could easily see the movie as offensive to ethnic minorities, lower class, and females. As I said before, Helvetica seems to carry a certain connotation with it of being among the "majority," and the director did not interview any ethnic minorities, people of lower class, and few females. This makes it seems as if they are excluded from the majority. Also, one woman remarks in the film that Helvetica caused the Vietnam war and is associated with republicans. Therefore, I could see the film as being offensive to republicans as well as democrats who use Helvetica.
  5. What the movie added to your visual literacy?
    I never thought of an ugly typeface as a "visual disease" that could be cured with a better design. I also never paid much attention to how much space is between the letters and thought it was interesting how the space between the letters in a typeface is compared with the space between notes in music. It is interesting to me that there seems to be debate over whether or not a typeface should be expressive. Those who like Helvetica like it because it is a neutral font with no meaning in itself; the meaning of the message is found in the context. However, there are also those who don't like Helvetica. One man remarked that Helvetica has become a default (because of the computer); "it's air, it's just there, and you have to breathe, so you have to use Helvetica." Those in favor of typeface as a form of expression say typeface should have personality like illustrations and be a medium in itself. The film ended with a remark about typeface as an expression of who you are, much like clothes. I honestly have never paid any attention to typeface because I am required to type the majority of my papers in Times New Roman (MLA format). This film has left me wondering if I should change the font on my resume (which is currently Calibri) to Helvetica.
  6. What kind of artistic and/or visual means did the director use in the movie to focus our attention?
    I noticed that the director included numerous examples of Helvetica used in every day signs and stores. This shocked me because I never realized that almost everything is in Helvetica. I look around my room and see my signs are in Helvetica. The font on my iPhone is Helvetica. My planner is Helvetica. And I had no idea! I also noticed that the director often included fonts when interviewing people. If people were pro-Helvetica, he would include shots of them working with Helvetica. If people were anti-Helvetica, there would be shots of them standing in front of a different font.
  7. Additional comments/and or analysis/and or other movies recommendations (optional).
    I have never thought of typeface as a brand. One woman on the film said that Helvetica conveys the message that "our problems will be contained." I also found it interesting how someone else remarked it is something we don't notice but would miss if it wasn't there. The more we see it, the more the public sees it, the more designers use it... The world would be a different place (perhaps more expressive) without Helvetica.

Friday, September 9, 2016

There's an App for That: Stigma and The Grading Game

App 1: Stigma

App icon for Stigma

  • Name of app: Stigma
  • Grade level: 6th-12th
  • Subject area: English
  • Description: Stigma is an app that promotes journaling, reflection, and communication. After stating their mood (angry, sad, stressed, frustrated, down, lonely, anxious, overwhelmed, tired, okay, calm, good, productive, accomplished, happy, excited, or ecstatic), a user can write a journal entry up to 1000 words. They can then choose if they would wish to anonymously share their entry with the Stigma community or not. Once the entry is written, the app generates a graph with colors representing how you're feeling each day. The app also creates a word cloud with the words you use most in your journal. If one would like to utilize the penpal feature, a user must simply write a short biography (200 characters or less), and use hashtags to describe their interests (100 characters or less). From this point, the app gives you possible "matches" to which you can decline or accept. 
  • Iowa Core Standards: 
    • W.6.6: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
    • W.6.10: Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline–specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
  • Instructional video: Stigma App Review and How to Use It
  • Product created by app:
    Word cloud created by app after my journal entry. A teacher would be able to use this to get a quick glimpse of their student's journal without reading the whole entry.
    My bio to find an anonymous pen pal. This feature would be safe for students if they are smart and educated about the dangers of talking to people online. The app does not ask for your name, age, location, or personal info. The only way a person would get this type of info is if the user gave it to them.
    My mood chart from this week. The yellow circles are low on Tuesday and Friday because I was feeling "overwhelmed" and "tired" on these days.


    App 2: The Grading Game

    App icon for Grading Game
  • Name of app: The Grading Game
  • Grade level: 8th-12th
  • Subject area: English
  • Description: The Grading Game is a race against the clock to find typos and grammatical errors in hypothetical students' papers. If you do not find the minimum number of errors, you have to repeat the level. It is a fun way to promote proofreading and become exposed to different topics as you're reading about them.
  • Iowa Core Standard:
    • W.8.5: With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.
  • Instructional video: The Grading Game Gameplay and Review
  • Product created by app:
    If the hypothetical student's paper in the game earns a C or worse, you get to move on to the next level. I have mixed feelings about this because the game makes it seem as if teachers want to flunk their students!

    This is how the text appears after you edit it. The green is correct, the red is what you corrected when you proofread it, and the purple are errors you didn't catch.
    Upon clicking on the purple words, you can see what the error was that you didn't catch.

Aha Journal: September 9th

Chapter 1

  • I find it very interesting that Chapter 1 starts by talking about "The Structure of English," which is actually the name of a different class I have taken previously at UNI. As an English educational major with an ESL endorsement, I am studying Noam Chomsky's idea of "universal grammar" all the time. I had not realized his ideas influenced the development of a universal visual literacy! 

The current textbook I'm reading in Tammy Gregersen's Approaches to Language Teaching class.

A page from the textbook discussing Noam Chomsky's Universal Grammar Theory.

Chapter 2

  • Chapter 2 discusses perception in terms of frames of reference and how one's cultural upbringing affects how they interpret the world. I am currently taking a class called "Cultural Aspects of Language Learning and Teaching." In this class, we discuss how there are words for certain ideas and concepts in some languages but not in others. For example, in certain areas of New Guinea, there is not a heavy focus on wealth or how much one owns. For this reason, their language did not have a counting system except for "one" and "two." However, the world forced them to creating a counting system: one=1, two=2, one and two=3, dog=4, dog and one=5... dog dog=8. It sounds silly to someone outside of this frame of reference, but it makes perfect sense to the people of New Guinea who use this counting system.
    Textbook for my Cultural Aspects class. It's interesting to me how big of a role cultural plays in a person's frame of reference, both linguistically and visually.

    An image from the textbook which does a good job of conveying the mental thoughts a person subconsciously has when hearing or speaking or even seeing an image.