Summer Goal: Social Learning Networks for the Classroom

I hope that your summer is off to a fantastic start!  I’m teaching a series of college application bootcamps so it seems that mine hasn’t quite started yet, but this week I want to share one of my major summer goals. If you haven’t made summer goals yet, I’m inviting you to take this journey with me and if you already have some expertise in this area, I’d seriously love your two cents!  This summer I want to learn how to effectively use a social learning network in my classroom.  I used collaborize classroom last year and I absolutely loved it (click here for a tutorial). However, some of my colleagues have decided to take up Edmodo or Schoology and it makes sense for us to have some constancy across the curriculum.

If you are new to the world of Edmodo, Schoology, and the other social learning networks, I’ll give you a brief definition.  Basically, these websites (and apps) allow teachers to create safe Facebook-like social networks where they can post information, assignments, quizzes, calendars, videos, and other content.  Students can also use the sites/apps to turn in work, which teachers can view, annotate and grade paperlessly.

Both platforms look amazing, but from what I can tell, Schoology’s iPad app beats out Edmodo’s app by far and Edmodo’s established user base and resources exceed those of Schoology.  Schoology also has a pay-for-service LMS side,which I will not need as my school uses a different LMS so I am just comparing the two free services. I went ahead and signed up for both accounts so I can play around with them this summer, but I think I will start the school year with Schoology because we are going toward a one-to-one iPad program and Schoology plays nicely with, which is my lifesaver as an English teacher!

Here is a look at the Schoology iPad App from Jennie Magiera’s Technology in Education Blog (if you are into classroom tech, you should definitely follow her!):

Here’s an intro to Edmodo for teachers from @MissJill:

Ready, set, go!  I’m off to the races with these social learning networks!  I’ll check back in with this in the fall to let you know all the tips and tricks that I’ve worked out.  Thank you so much for stopping by and don’t forget to leave questions, comments or suggestions below!

Low Tech, High Visual English Lessons

If you follow this blog at all, you know that I LOVE using technology in the classroom, but today I want to share some of my favorite  low tech  teaching strategies.  I am a terrible artist, but I find a lot of benefit in drawing as we read. Students remember my silly drawings and they gets sense of the big picture of the literature. I require note taking in my class and my students usually love taking these notes and invariably, they are so much better than me.

Drawing our way through English: 



My mythology unit begs for a map through the journey!  As we work our way through the Iliad, Aeneid, and Odyssey we can make connections and see the relationship between gods and humans. We can trace repercussions and retaliation to untangle the twisted web.  I usually draw this on my board as we go and by the end of the unit, it takes up all of my walls! 


This basic outline of the characters of TKAM is helpful when guiding students through the first few chapters.  Having this on the board helps students to put it all together for the rest of the novel. 




This character map of Ethan Frome is most helpful as a review at the end of the novel.  Before delving into the symbolism of the cat and the dish, I like to make sure that students have the basics down. 




Lord of the Flies is such a fun novel to unfold.  I usually draw the island from the beginning and add details as the novel goes on.  Some years, I’ve had student volunteers add details for each reading assignment and I am always amazed at their perceptive reading!


No reading of Slaughterhouse Five could end with an easy  linear mind map, but I love creating a visual with quotes that can help reveal the deeper truth behind the madness.  

Even though I am quite possibly one of the worst artists ever, I love to map out our reading and I find that students engage in the process well. What do you think?  Do you or would you try this with your students?  Leave us a comment below.


10 Things English Teachers Should Do this Summer


1. Read something the kids are reading. This is a double win that I don’t have time for during the school year.  Chances are, they are picking light beach reads that will entertain you and give you something to talk about next year.  I suggest John Green’s Looking for Alaska or The Fault in Our Stars.  Other popular books include The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Inheritance Cycle, The Private Series, and The Privilege Series.  I like to ask my students right before break which books they recommend.

2. Catch up on sleep.  You deserve it! Seriously, after all those late nights grading essays and early mornings prepping lectures.  Take a few vacation days to catch up!

3. Attend a conference.  There are so many amazing opportunities in the summer.  I’m excited for a week long conference I will be attending in San Diego, which I know will be professionally fulfilling and I’m making a little family vacation out of it too!  Check out our tips for getting the most out of any conference.

4.  Do something just for fun. We make so many sacrifices for our jobs and our students.  Take a day or a month to remember your passion for crafts or swimming or bad reality TV!  Time for pure fun will revive you come August and get you through that next year.

5. Read an author biography. We help students fall in love with literature every year.  Knowing the people behind the books and poems helps take it to that next level (and I certainly don’t have time during the school year to get in that much extra reading!) For something light hearted and appealing to teens, check out Secret Lives of Great Authors or you can pick something more traditional like the Robert Frost Biography of an American Poet ebook.

6. Take a field trip. One year when I was teaching Farewell to Manzanar, I visited Manzanar the summer before and it helped bring in that extra level of passion (plus pictures!).  This year, I think I will make it over to the Getty Museum to take in some of the great art.

7. Learn one new edtech tool. Might I suggest some video tutorials from yours truly: Google Drive, Grammarly, Collaborize Classroom, Quizlet, and more!  (Click on the tag “technology” in the right hand margin of this page for a full list) If you are not a tech person, don’t overwhelm yourself.  Just pick one that would make your life easier or your teaching more effective.

8. Organize your inspiration.  Use pinterest, use post-its, or use any other system you like. as long as you inspire yourself and organize the inspiration so you can actually use the ideas in real life.

9. Reflect on the previous school year. A few weeks into the summer, I like to review the course assessments I gave at the end of the school year.  With a little distance, I find this review even more informative.  Here’s a link to the post about my course assessment.

10. Set professional goals. Set goals in the summer, while you are still rested and idealistic.  I like to pick only one or two things to focus on during the year so I can keep my eye on them all year long and not be overwhelmed with a long list. Here’s a post about some of my goals from last year.

What do you think English teachers should be doing over the summer?  Any book recommendations?  Leave us a comment below.

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