Teaching and Learning Resources by Peter Pappas

Writing the Book on Test Prep

I don’t think the answer to improving student achievement is by narrowing the curriculum to devote more time to test prep. As I said in a prior posting.. “as if being a struggling learner is not punishment enough, increasing numbers are pulled out of classes that offer hands-on learning and outlets for their creativity. What awaits them is likely “drill and kill’ that doesn’t sound like much fun for students or their teachers.” More

I’m pleased to have just concluded a project that turns test prep on its head. In this case, eighth grade students designed and published their own guide to passing the eighth grade NYS English Language Arts exam. I was joined on the project by Pat Martin. We worked with the nearby Albion Middle School. Ten sections of students spent about 6 weeks reviewing various literacy and test taking strategies with their teachers. As they did, they generated their own guide to the strategies they felt worked best. Thus learning strategies find audience and propose. Students had the opportunity to reflect on strategies and rework them for a peer audience of “seventh graders.” And don’t kids love to give each other advice!

A team of student editors from each class worked to do the final edits with the three teachers who supervised the project. Each class designed its own 100-page book using Lulu.com’s web-based, print-on-demand publishing technology.  The publication cost was about $6 per book. (color covers and interior b/w pages.) Ten editions of the guide were published and a finished book for each student author arrived about a week before the exam.  This gave students time to take pride in their accomplishments and refocus their thinking to the task of the taking the exam.

The state test is given in mid January, but it will be months before we see the final results. As Albion’s superintendent said to me – this project isn’t just about higher test scores. It’s about giving the students and their teachers a chance to see themselves as innovative creators of content, not just a passive audience. Already there is talk about starting a new test taking guide written by the seventh graders.

For more on student publishing see our website Read > Think > Write > Publish. Check my blog entries under the Commentary heading for more on students and 21st century literacy skills.

So why aren’t your students publishing their own books? Part II

ABCs Human Body
ABCs Human Body

It’s been nearly a year since I first raised that question. In case you haven’t heard – print on demand technology has made it possible to produce beautiful hard cover and paperback books without minimum runs or prohibitive upfront costs. During the last year, I have helped teachers from across the country get started on digital publishing. Kids are motivated by producing books for an authentic audience. Publishing helps students master course content and develop project management and teamwork skills. The power of publishing enables students to think like writers, to apply their learning strategies and to organize and express their learning. It exemplifies the best of the information revolution –students as creators of content rather than as passive audience.

I find that a publishing project is a great way to ensure that my training workshops get put to use back in the classroom and result in teachers having the chance to reflect on their practice by looking at student work.

I continue to add material my website – Read>Think>Write>Publish. Go there and you’ll find downloadable template books and tech guides. I also have posted sample student books that you can use as models to motivate your students. You can download them as a free pdf or order them published at cost.

Stay tuned – student publishing is going to be big!

Engage Your Audience with a Response System

Turning Point ARS
Turning Point ARS

I’ve always found it ironic that I give large-group presentations promoting techniques to create a more student-centered classroom. Few teachers are inspired by a lecture on “Rigor and Relevance in the Classroom,” so I’m always using new approaches to engage my audience. Recently I’ve tried audience / student response systems (ARS / STS) in my professional development workshops. Judging from teacher feedback – its working.

So far, my favorite ARS is TurningPoint from Turning Technologies. It integrates into Microsoft PowerPoint and is quick to learn. It allows me to pose questions in my presentation, rapidly gather audience response via small RF keypads, and graph their responses into my PowerPoint presentation. I appreciate the quick set up – I open my laptop, plug in the RF receiver, pass out the keypads and go. After a few ice-breaker questions, audiences are comfortable using the responders.

For a sample of the system in action, here’s a 55 minute RealPlayer video of a conference presentation I did for the Oregon Dept of Eductation called “9th Grade Academy – A Small Learning Community that Works.” All members of the audience had responders and you can see how quickly we gathered data. If you need RealPlayer click here.

The right mix of presentation material and reflection can ramp up true-false, multiple choice and likert scales questions into a higher-order experience. In a recent “Content Reading Strategies” workshop, I teachers used the ARS to evaluate the strategies I was promoting – is it engaging for the student, does it support content mastery, will it be easy to use?

The quality of the discussion was dramatically improved. Teacher had a sense of how their peers felt and openly voiced their opinion on “why” they voted that way. The ARS helped us uncover a solid level of support that empowered their instructional leadership team to move forward.

Teacher evaluations of the ARS workshops consistently point to greater engagement, a better understanding in the material and livelier discussion. That works for me. Stop back for more of my feedback on the system. If teacher are this engaged, what it would do for students in the classroom?

So why aren’t your students publishing their own books?

We all struggle to create authentic writing experiences for our students. Imagine if they had an opportunity to see their work in print – and we’re talking about a real paperback.  Let them go through the process of writing, co-editing, illustrating and designing a book. Rigor and relevance meets motivation and self-directed study. I’ve gotten so excited by the results that I’ve done workshops to train teachers. You can see material and sample student books at my website Read > Think > Write > Publish.

I recently discovered Lulu.com – a print-on-demand publisher. I’ve used it to publish five books for a dear friend and author – Abe Rothberg. He wrote the manuscripts. I formated them in Word and converted them to a PDFs. I designed the covers in Photoshop and converted them to a PDFs. I uploaded the PDF files to the Lulu website. Cost so far – nothing!

Lulu doesn’t actually produce any books until one is ordered. Then the magic starts – Lulu takes my PDF files and produces a perfect-bound book and ships it to the buyer.

The money side at Lulu is pretty straightforward. No charge for uploading a book. (If you want to give it an ISBN number, that’s $35). Book production costs are $4.53 per book plus .02 per page black and white (.15 per page color). Example: a 50 page book with b/w text would cost you $.5.53 plus shipping. No costs are incurred until a book is ordered.  As a book author you can limit sales to only yourself, and buy unlimited books at cost (with a break on author’s orders of more than 25).  If you want to offer the books for sale to the public, you can set the price. You get 80% of the mark up over production cost. Lulu keeps 20% and sends you the royalty checks. They will also host your book as a downloadable e-Book for free.

BTW -  Abe has had a distinguished career as a journalist, university professor and author of seven published novels, two books of history, a collection of short stories, two children’s books, and a volume of literary criticism. His previous work was published by mainstream publishers and has been favorably reviewed in NY Times, Harper’s, Time Magazine, and Publishers Weekly. He’s also a dear friend and mentor whose previous work had gone out of print. We decided to cut out the middle man. For more on Abe go to his website – Abraham Rothberg

PS – I don’t work for Lulu

More than half of online teens have created content for the internet

A report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project states,

“Thanks to the internet, American teenagers can engage media material and create their own content in ways their parents could not. Today’s online teens live in a world filled with self-authored, customized, and on-demand content, much of which is easily replicated, manipulated, and redistributable. The internet and digital publishing technologies have given them the tools to create, remix, and share content on a scale that had previously only been accessible to the professional gatekeepers of broadcast, print, and recorded media outlets.”  Download Report  (253 kb) pdf

Educators and parents should applaud teen initiative and creativity. The new copy / paste culture fosters a bottom-up takeover of the information flow. Will teens upload more than they download?  Will the audience become the show?

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