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It’s been a hell of a school year – for us all!

I’ve been documenting my practical experiences in many posts, most of which you can find at Here Are Detailed – & Tentative – Distance Learning Plans For All My Fall Classes.

The two most recent posts sharing my latest lessons are:


Distance learning and English Language Learners

I think I’m pretty settled in with two of my classes – I have one period of an English ELL Intermediate/Beginner class, and three periods of an IB Theory of Knowledge class (though I continue to curse IB every week as I have to plan lessons for that class – did IB really have to pick this year to require an entirely new curriculum for the class?).

One of the reasons those classes are going so well is because I applied many of the strategies I had originally implemented in my ELL History class for Intermediates & Beginners (student leadership teams to help run the class, weekly surveys, constant small group work in breakout rooms, online games, no homework policies – you can read more about them in my previous posts).  It was easier to try them out there since all the students in that class had been in multiple previous classes with me – relationships were solid from Day One of distance learning.

And that class is still going okay – actually, probably better than okay.

However, I think there is definitely room for improvement. I’m particularly concerned that some of the students who are most needed support are not getting enough right now.  In addition, I have some other ideas I’d like to try out and see if some could also be applied to my other classes.

This post will function more as my “thinking out loud” than any kind of finished plan, and end-up being a sort of “to do” list over the next few weeks.

I’ll publish another post in the future detailing what ends up working and what flops…….

Here’s is my list of upcoming changes (not in any kind of logical order – it’s more of a stream of consciousness):

1) I want to try out Blooket.  I have previously posted about it, and added it to The Best Websites For Creating Online Learning Games. It’s like a Quizizz/Kahoot/Gimket online gaming platform though, unlike Kahoot, the questions and answers can be see on the same screen.  I’ve mainly been using Quizizz since it has so many pre-made games by other teachers, it’s super easy to create my own, and students can play them in breakout rooms in teams.  I’ve sometimes used Gimket just to change things up a bit (and I want to use it more regularly), and I’ve also occasionally used Kahoot because it, like Quizizz, has so many darn pre-made quizzes to choose from.  However, I have been hearing a lot of positive buzz from teachers about Blooket, so I will soo be seeing how students like it.

Speaking of games, I’d also like to more regularly do one where I ask a question, then student teams go into their breakout rooms for one minute to discuss it and write their answer on to get a point.  Finally, on games, Katie Hull and I are working on the second edition of the ESL/ELL Teacher’s Survival Guide, and I wrote the chapter on games last summer – I need to revisit it and see if I’m forgetting any that can be done remotely (by the way, our publisher released the chapter on distance learning early and it’s freely available for download – see HERE’S OUR CHAPTER ON DISTANCE LEARNING WITH ELLS & IT’S FREE TO DOWNLOAD (NO REGISTRATION REQUIRED!)).


2) I want to incorporate using EdPuzzle, both as individual and small group assignments and as a full class.  Nothing beats Fluentkey as a way to show videos to classes – it incorporates a Quizizz/Kahoot/Gimket platform to have students compete when answering questions.  The problem, however, is that they really don’t have a huge amount of pre-made content.  It’s easy for teachers to upload a YouTube video and create a game-like quiz, but I have to do that already for my IB Theory of Knowledge classes, and I don’t want to do it for History, too.  EdPuzzle has a HUGE number of already uploaded videos with quizzes for many subjects, including History.  I used it last year in my English class for some assignments, but haven’t done so yet this year. I also want to try have students working on it together in small breakout rooms (one shares the screen with the video; the others turn-off their sound; and then they work on answering the questions together).

On top of individual and group assignments, I want to try out their “Live” mode that lets teachers show the video to the class, and then students answer the questions at the same time, especially if I can figure out some way to “gamify” it (maybe see if a peer tutor can sign on at the same on my account to keep track of correct answers?). I’d love if others have played it as a game.  If you want to know how to use the “Live” mode, you can watch this video. After watching it, though, I still had questions and emailed EdPuzzle.  Here are the instructions they sent back:

You will find the option to “Go Live” once you have assigned the video to the class. After assigned, open the assignment and you will see the options as shown in the screenshot. Once you select this, you will follow the prompts to go live. Your students will also click on the assignment and be prompted to join the live session.

One issue with EdPuzzle is that a fair number of their videos are from YouTube and may be blocked by school district content filters.  That’s not a problem if they were downloaded from YouTube first, and then uploaded.   But many EdPuzzle videos come straight from YouTube. Our district lets individual teachers unblock videos when we’re in our physical school.  But in their wisdom, they don’t let us do that so students can see them on their school-issued Chromebooks.  So, I have to ask a peer tutor with a Chromebook to first check if the video is blocked and, then, if it is,  request that it be unblocked and hope that happens in a timely fashion, which may or may not happen.  Of course, I don’t think that’s an issue if I play it in Live Mode from my computer.

Yes, for Nearpod aficionados out there, I know that you can create the same kind of interactive videos with that tool.  But their library pales in comparison to what EdPuzzle has at their site.


3) Make sure I have a regular game of Messenger and Scribe using history-related sentences (see MODIFYING “MESSENGER & SCRIBE” (THE BEST CLASSROOM ELL GAME!) FOR ZOOM).


4) Dump our textbook and replace it with a combination of shorter texts, analyzing photos, showing Brainpop videos to the entire class, and EdPuzzle.  I really like the textbook I’ve used for years, America’s Story, but it’s just not ideal for a distance learning environment.  I have students read it in breakout rooms, with one student sharing their screen, others taking turns reading the paragraphs, and then working together to annotate the text using reading strategies, but I think here is where I’m losing some of the students who need the most support.  I think having students work together, for shorter amounts of time, varying between text, images and videos, will generate higher engagement and more learning.  The downside of that is that it means I will have to be “on” even more than I am now, and I’m not sure how sustainable that is for the next five months.  By the way, I’m liking the history texts at EdHelper and Kids Brittanica.  For images, I like some of the image analysis sheets at the National Archives, the See Think Wonder strategy (here’s a specific way to use it remotely) and other resources at The Best Ways To Use Photos In Lessons.


5) Create and implement a leadership development plan with members of the class Leadership Team. Having leadership teams (see RESULTS OF WEEKLY “SELF-ASSESSMENTS” DONE BY MEMBERS OF “LEADERSHIP TEAMS” IN EACH OF MY CLASSES). Having Leadership Teams in all my classes has been the single best move I’ve made this year, and is definitely a strategy that I’ll be taking forward in future years when we return to our physical school.  In History, and in other classes, they have been responsible for leading breakout rooms and regularly evaluating with me how the class is going and what needs to be improved (we “debrief” for a few minutes after each class).  However, I want to ramp it up a bit more and emphasize that I am interested in their development and not just what they can do to help make the class work better.  Basically, it’s reverting to my nineteen-year pre-high-school teacher career as a community organizer – I want to do two things:

  • Review the leadership self-assessment individually with each team member and co-develop a simple plan on how I can support them improve the skills they want to work on.
  • I want to target one focus of whole-class improvement that I would like the leadership team to work on with their group members each week (writing summaries, practicing conversations in English, etc.).


6) I’d like to try to make a clear modern connection to each chapter/era we study in U.S. History.  This kind of connection could be to what’s happening in the United States (we had just begun studying the U.S. Civil War when rioters carried Confederate flags into the U.S. Capitol during their insurrection) or to what’s happening in their home countries (prior to beginning study of the U.S. Civil War, students created presentation on Civil Wars that their families had experienced).


The question is – do I have it in me to try all these changes, or are some just aspirational?

I’ll let you know in a future post….