What Matters?: Building a Class Magazine

What matters to you? What issues or topics do you think get misrepresented or not talked about at all (in school, family, or community)?

This project that I developed for my final make begins with these questions and ends with a class magazine written and assembled completely by ESL students.

I am excited to share their final product in the upcoming weeks, but until then, please check out the write-up for the project here.  Please begin with the “What Matters?” document.

Designing for Equity

Thinking back to my first blog post that I wrote for this course, I realize that it took my HOURS from the time I began writing to the time that I hit Publish.  I was writing for an authentic audience, but the group, the expectations, and the stakes were unfamiliar to me still.  As the weeks have passed, I truly feel that the other voices of #ED677 have come out through your own posts and I have come to be familiar with them.  In turn, these weekly posts have become easier and easier.

One of my small moves, in an attempt to bring principles of connected learning into my classroom, for next year is to create a class and students blogs that aggregate in the exact same way our class and personal blogs are connected.  When facilitating this project for my students, I need to remember my own initial reservations when I began the same experience.

This semester, my inquiry questions took the shape of the two below:

How do I combine language-learning with play that reflects 21st Century problem solving skills?  What does this learning community look like?

How do I use the principles of shared purpose and creativity to help my students view our diversity as our common asset?

These questions have ultimately led me to thinking about how I can give my students the power of voice.  As part of the ESL community, they have powerful, invigorating, and unique voices that they share within our classroom.  However, they go unheard outside of our walls.  Therefore, my final make this semester will be a final project for my current ESL class, which will be asking them to each write an article for a class magazine.  This idea was 100% inspired by our course reading on Meeno Rami’s class magazine, (SLA)ng. My students have been exploring the following questions: Whose voices do we hear in the news? How do we determine if one voice is more reliable than another?  Thus, I see it as extremely appropriate to now give THEM the literal power of voice to become one of these voices we hear in the news.

As we tackle this project, I will be cultivating a sense of shared purpose as we join together to create a magazine that represents all of us. I will also be encouraging that they honor their interests, as I have left the topics of their articles completely up to them.  (Although I have already generated a list of topics to mention in the direction of several students, namely a sports article on the school baseball team, a music review, a fictional short, and a Summer fashion guide.)  Furthermore, before they begin writing, they will have to research what has already being said about their topic.  Market research here is not going to be found in any library database, but instead in the Twitter feeds of people who they follow related to their topics, in their favorite blogs, and from the recommendations of the peers around them.  Finally, my students will have to fight their fears and get creative; the format of the magazine is up to them.  It will be a daunting task, but isn’t that the first ingredient for creativity?

One the day of their final, students will use that time to share the link of their magazine via their social media platforms.  Our Superintendent has a very active Twitter account, and he can expect to be tagged in some of our tweets with the magazine link!

#s6s Interview

This week I interviewed a middle school ESL teacher, a high school ESL teacher, a 12th grade English teacher.  All three are close friends and colleagues of mine.  The two former ‘interviews’ was more of an informal conversation I led around the lunch table in the English Department Faculty room.

Therefore instead of writing out a transcript, I thought I’d share three takeaways that I learned from each of my friends.  I organized these takeaways into 1) something that I agree with, 2) something that surprised me, and 3) something that I will take into my own practice.

Middle School ESL teacher

1) That students are avid users of social media (at home, in class…) but so many of them are NOT responsible users.  If we want to promote and recognize their interests in utilizing social media and technology, we need to show them how other students around the globe are using technology in productive ways.

2) That she is NOT a fan of the 1:1 iPad program at her middle school.  She admits that she is not very good at integrating apps into the classroom, so thinking of ways to use the iPads is time consuming in an already too-busy schedule.

3) I got a list of all the best restaurants owned by past and present ESL families in my district!  Eating at these types of restaurants was exactly what I did at my prior district in order to help myself see the ‘whole’ student that I was teaching.  By going to these restaurants, I not only see a large part of that student’s life, their family, their food, and their culture, but I also see the community and street that they live on.  That is incredibly important.

High School ESL teacher

1)  Since we share many of the same students, I agreed wholeheartedly when this teacher  said that her students express an incredible amount of interest and curiosity in the presidential campaign.  They constantly ask questions about how politics and campaigns work here, trying to decide how similar or different the practice is to their home country.  They also express extreme curiosity and anxiety over certain individuals and have daily questions about the policies that they preach.

2) I was surprised to hear that her group of students does not frequently open up with stories and connections to their home country during whole-group discussions because my group does so constantly.  She says that she hears about their interests and cultures during 1:1 conversations, but gets little of that information during whole-group activities.

3) Zaption!  It is a free website that allows teachers to upload any video (so we can resource videos that our students are interested in!) and insert questions at various intervals.  When students log on, they watch the video.  When the teacher-created questions pop up, the video pauses and students respond!

12th grade English teacher

1) Since we are both currently teaching The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath, we ended up talking about our students’ interests in mental health.  She said that she is not sure if it is that mental health conditions are on the rise, or if it is just less taboo to admit and talk about them, but she has seen it become a much more prevalent issue in her students.  I agree that I see the same phenomena; we teach classes of students who all either have or know someone who is struggling with a mental health condition.

2) I was so surprised to hear that she has had huge success using webquests in the classroom!  I tried a webquest once this year and could barely feel a pulse in the room.  It just goes to show the importance of knowing your learners!

3) I would like to start something similar to “The New and Good” that my friend has used for many many years.  At least one day a week, she asks each student to share a “New and Good” so that she may hear a bit about what is going on in the lives of her students.

“Engage” app

Parent engagement is one of leading determining factors of student success.  Check out the NEA’s Research Spotlight to read more on the topic.

In thinking about the ways in which my students’ learning is NOT equitable, I immediately think about the above statistic.  Although not by choice, ESL families are typically uninvolved in their students’ school experience.  I encourage you to skim through M. Beatriz Arias and Milagros Morillo Campbell’s article to read more on what stands in the way of ESL parental involvement, despite the tremendous value that these families have for education.

Therefore, I could design 180 perfect lessons for next year that flawlessly address all of the components we have discussed here in #ED677, but if I do not engage my parents, I have not been successful.

The more information that my parents receive, the better.  They need, and deserve, to know what time students leave on early dismissal days, when parent teacher conferences are, how to request conferences, reminders for conferences, college application how-to’s and deadlines… And I have found that communicating this information via text is by far the most successful.  EVERYONE reads their text messages (the same cannot be said about a voicemail) and if they need to respond, they can do so anytime at their convenience.

Thus I have created the Engage app.  The Engage app is extremely similar to the Remind 101 app, which allows teachers to group text select groups of parents, but does not have the frustrating limitations that the pre-existing version does.  Instead of having a code that parents must use to sign-up, parents are instead able to search for a class on Engage by teacher last name.  This way, as parents cell numbers and cellphones change, they will never lose the ability to re-enter into the application (low SES families frequently change phones and numbers and EVERYONE is likely to lose a sign-in code).

With the Engage app, teachers are able to post calendars, send out deadline reminders, advertise school events and parent workshops, and send out meeting reminders.  Parents then have the ability to choose the language that my messages are in when they show up on the parent phone!!  In addition, unlike the Remind 101 app, the Engage app then allows parents to reply to the text message, allowing parents to ask follow-up questions for clarification.

Community Connections

The resources I explored as part of this week’s focus on connections ended up being an opportunity for me to gain some reassurance in the direction that I have been taking my class, as well as gain a few ideas for where to continue to bring it toward.

Over the past several weeks, my high school ESL students and I have been looking at the news.  On the first day of this unit, I asked them “Where do we get our news from?”  I got the predictable answers- tv, newspaper, magazines- first.  So I asked them again, “Where else do YOU get YOUR news from?”  Then I finally got what I was looking for- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the featured videos on Snapchat.

In connecting this initial experience to this week’s readings, I find it curious that my students knew exactly where they got their news from.  However, as much as they were aware of how they receive their information, they were hesitant to name social media sites as news outlets, as though “the news” signifies something that is formal and not shared within their own networked communities.

My interest in their answers continues to grow as I reflect on a latter lesson in which we were discussing the reliability of viral videos.  To the question “How often do you check to see if the viral story is fake?”  the majority of my students replied that they frequently go somewhere online to see if a video is fake or not.  The times that they don’t check is when they are watching the video just for the sake of a laugh.

To contribute to the conversation that this week’s readings bring to the table, I argue that students now how to access their interests.  They know who to follow and to which feeds to go to to find the information that they want.  They even know how to fact check.  However, what they lack is instruction that explicitly highlights these skills that they already use and give them purpose and meaning within the classroom.

You should have seen the looks my students gave me when I shouted “Yes!” and flung out my arms when someone finally called out that they got their news from Facebook.  The idea that a teacher was celebrating the use of Facebook was unreal to them.

As we move through the rest of our news unit, we will be looking at all of these different ways that people get their news, exploring exactly who tells today’s news, and who is responsible for being credible in today’s news markets.  It is my hope that these explorations start to turn their idea of what academia values on its head.



  1. This is a video published by Buck Institute for Education.  The students in this video are talking about their experiences with project based learning.  I think it’s important to note that these students all expressed a sense of investment in their projects because they were allowed the opportunity for choice.
  2. Check out what these students have to say about learning Astrobiology!  I can see the principles that we have investigated in this course highlighted in many of the projects that they describe.
  3. I truly struggled to find student voice in reflection of project-based, peer-supported learning assignments!  I wonder if this is because many teachers do not make student writing publicly accessible, or because we need to do a better job honoring student voice in reflection?

Peer-Based Learning

When I hear the term “peer-supported learning,” my mind immediately thinks “group work.”  Therefore, I think that while the principle of peer-supported learning does have the potential for incredible learning and growth opportunities, such an activity in the classroom requires a very well-executed plan, else the assignment quickly turns into something quite similar to what Kate McCay described in “Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom.”  The idea of student collaboration is fantastic, but the reality is that it often ends up being a chat session for some students and an unfair share of work for others.

In starting to grapple with the ways in which I could make peer-supported learning an enriching opportunity for students in my classroom, I begin with considering my own experiences as part of this course.  I think that the most meaningful way in which this community as supported my learning is how it has helped me grow my connections to the people and resources that matter to me.

In other words, through your weekly posts and #f5f finds, I have been connected to so many new twitter accounts and hashtags, as well as online resources (all of which have led me to countless more!) that have left me feeling more connected and supported than ever.  Through your finds and connections, I have made finds and connections of my own that are necessary to my learning and network of professional support.  Teacher2Teacher is a perfect example of a resource I was led to when I went into a rabbit-hole of clicking off of someone’s #f5f!  I have even started entering into Twitter conversations with a few of these resources I have been led to, and even got my first few re-tweets this week!

To turn back around to how this week’s principle of peer-supported learning implicates the students in my classroom, I bring with me this idea of how peer-supported learning has helped me to connect.  It is important to note here that in many cases, what I have benefited from has not been my collaboration with others in the course, but my connection to others in this course that have helped to lead me to others elsewhere who have material, resources, and ideas that mean something to ME.  With that and my inquiry questions in mind, I wonder if I can turn my final make into a project that allows my students to draw upon their peers’ networks of knowledge to lead them to other resources that mean something to them and the direction of their investigation.  I am considering having students use Paperli to each create a collection of their resources, much like something that would mimick our #f5f posts, in order to facilitate these connections.