Making Curriculum Pop

Thank you to all the folks who have been wishing us the best in our move. For those of you new to the Ning, Nicole and I recently moved from NYC back home to Chicago. Our first week back we stayed with our families in the northern suburbs of Chicago. Our jobs, and new home are about an hour away from the parental units.

Since Nicole started school started yesterday we checked into a hotel Sunday night to make the commute manageable.

Today we finally received "official" word that we will be closing on our town home Thursday morning! We were slated to close almost two weeks ago. Now we just have to hope it doesn't take until mid-September for our worldly belongings to arrive from the mythical warehouse in Jersey. While our displacement is an annoying speed bump, a little perspective reminds us that this is nothing compared what some folks endure. If you're a fan of This American Life do check out Act 1 of Episode 177 "American Limbo"...

Act One. The Family That Flees Together, Trees Together.
The Jarvis family, a group of eight, goes on the run from the law — for seven years. They live on a boat, in a treehouse in a swamp. They escape capture time after time. And how do the kids turn out, living a life outside of society, as fugitives? Surprisingly great. (22 minutes)

Stories like this are not only teachable (7-12th Grade), but they help you view life with a wide-angle lens.

Now you, being an inquisitive person, are probably wondering what I have been doing with my "American Limbo?" Mostly, I've been taking care of moving logistics and working with Nicole to get her curriculum organized. Her school has an fairly traditional curriculum in the core literature classes so we've had romantic candlelight dinners at the Holiday Inn restaurant. Every evening we sit, stare deep into each other's eyes and whisper sweet nothings about ... the ways we can make her curriculum pop.

I'll share the fruits of those labors in a later Ning post. In the meantime, all you really need to know is that we created a Ning for Nicole's students. I was on the computer here at the hotel, checked in on her Ning and caught a glimpse of the kids "working." In the lower right hand corner of MC POP and Nicole's Ning there's a little pop-up chat interface. You've gotta love this classic exchange:

I was, as the kiddies say, LMAO. If you're not up on your txt lngo check Frank Baker's blog post or this t-shirt...

Hopefully the image is self-explanatory.

In the midst of all this curriculum planning, I've been pulling files from the Mindblue / RRG archives that might be helpful for Nicole. Could there be another brilliant, wonderful and elegant (cough, cough) PDF on the horizon? Funny you should ask that question....

All teachers, across every discipline and grade level encounter situations where they have to find out if students did their reading. To do this you can ask students to annotate a text (see last week's post) or do a journal. These are good assessments, but sometimes you just want to quiz the kids to see, without Internet and in class, if students have been reading. Often, to accomplish this goal we default to a series of questions that hover on the bottom rungs of Bloom's Taxonomy.

My favorite example of these questions come from one of author and professor Bill Kist's Power-Points I happen to have on my computer:

Questions for Chapters 1-8 of To Kill a Mockingbird
1. Where does the story take place?
2. Who are the Ewells? What makes them special?
3. What do the children find hidden in the tree in the Radley yard?
4. How do Jem, Scout, and Dill spend their summers?

While these can be efficient, they generally don't generate evidence that a student carefully read or processed a text.

To avoid these kind of assessments, I've developed about ten higher-level "Did You Read?" assessments over the years. Today, I'm going to share the Cartoon "Did You Read?" Quiz. When elementary teachers see this quiz they'll be like, "Cha, I do this all the time!" Elementary teachers always have crayons and coloring paper on tap - this is one of many reasons I believe elementary teachers have the deepest understanding of pedagogy. Me? I just keep trying my best to be as cool as elementary teachers.

I first used this cartoon quiz at the college level. During the quiz, a student remarked, "you actually have to think to take this quiz." I explained that answer was so correct that he had earned an extra credit point even though I hadn't asked a question. All the "Did You Read?" quizzes use higher level thinking skills, are easy to grade and in some cases are even FUN.

It is a very simple document, but a powerful tool to engage students with any text assigned for homework. It also allows you to quickly assess if students have done their reading. If you plan to give this a try or end up using it in class please drop some feedback on your experience below.

If people dig this quiz I will periodically post more of the "Did You Read?" Quizzes if there is a demand.

Happy assessing!


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Thanks so much! You are right--a "duh" activity that we forget can be a great assessment tool.
I am thrilled to see this, especially since I spent the morning at a department meeting where the push was for a book report format that only requires students to fill-in the blanks. I just wish I had gotten this one day sooner to help drive home the point that we don't need multiple pages of forms and the questions asked don't need to be boring and rote. I'm giving this a try the first day of school with my honors kids to check their understanding of the summer reading assignment! Please share more!
Yeah! Look how much more FUN it is to do the WORK of designing and drawing a comic, as opposed to the EASY (and mindless) task of filling in the blanks. The medium is the message.

And guess which assessment the TEACHER would rather collect 25 copies of, too...
This looks great, Ryan! I love to use cartoons in my teaching. At NAMLE two professors from UMich presented a session called "Seeing Arguments: Using Digital Media Visual Academic Literacy." They wanted to create an activity where students "create "complex, analytic, well-supported arguments." Their website is Http:// where they have the assignment and some student examples.
Thanks for the link, Jeana. The examples Chris showed in his NAMLE presentation were great. I'm going to be starting the year with Batman The Dark Knight Returns and having the students respond with some sort of visual composition seems perfect.
I really enjoyed seeing this quiz. Very creative! Thanks very much; keep 'em coming!!
Tamara, Jana, Marek, Jeana, Jamiee, Keith and DRL thanks for taking the time to post some thoughts!!

OK, so a lot of you folks are probably down with The Princess Bride by William Goldman - I mention that because in response to your feedback I can only say "as you wish.

This one was very much a "duh" one - some of the others are like that as well - I have at least 10 "Did You Read?" quizzes hanging out on ye ol' hard drive, so I'll be sure to send some more out in the near future.

Stay Groovy,

Ryan, Thanks for the Cartoon Read Quiz. I just used it to assess my students' reading/understanding of the carpe diem poets. The results were better than I ever anticipated! Their depictions of the images and themes in "To The Virgins, to Make Much of Time" by Robert Herrick and "To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell were, as you can imagine, "creative", fun and valid connections! I plan to use this again, especially with poetry with strong metaphors/imagery.
Lori, So wonderful to hear the quiz was a success - it has really been one of my absolute favs. If you get a chance - and I'm sure you're crazy busy - but see if you can scan one of the best quizzes and post it here for people to check out.

All you need to do is click the "add an image" icon and upload the pic.

Thanks so much for taking the time to share / send feedback!

Ryan, I finally finished the scanning of images, but when I clicked upload image, they appear as code, and not as images...I used photoshop and saved as jpegs...any advice?
Oh man, this sounds like AP material. If you're on a mac I've got ideas but if I recall correctly "you are a PC." I'm pretty sure what's going on is they are TOO BIG. What you have to do is save them as smaller JPEGs - if you have a tech person at school they'll tell you how to do that. If you have a photo program (iPhoto on Mac) they usually have a File > Export > For Web option.

Try that first - let me know if that works and we'll go from there - thanks for following through on this!!!

Here's a similar document I used in a recent residency:

Our 8th graders were studying the WWII era by reading comics & connecting them to local & world history, and they really needed to develop some common comprehension of basic (worldwide) events in WWII. Students divided up a timeline of major events. Then each student did some basic research & created a 3-panel comic strip detailing the event & demonstrating one or two of the techniques we'd observed & discussed in reading the sample comics.

(TECHNIQUES involved action, symbol, caricature, level of detail, point of view, etc. -- this area for visual note-taking could also be replaced with an expanded NOTES/SOURCES section.)

Objectives were to:
  • share information quickly
  • assess student understanding of the communication techniques discussed in class
  • prepare students for longer creative research projects
  • assess students' research skills & understanding of the usage of primary & secondary sources
  • generate a text that students would WANT to read (study)

You'll find some outcome & explanation of this particular mini-project on my COMICS WORKSHOP blog:
Henniker: A Brief History of World War II (in Comic Strips)

PDF version attached below....

-- Marek



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