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English: QR Code takes a browser to the articl...

One of my teaching and tech-coach mantras is

Don’t just use the latest and greatest tool or gadget just because it’s cool.

Although I’m a sucker for the latest app on my personal iPad and I’ll be the first to waste–er USE–my planning period playing with a new web2.0 tool, when it comes to actually incorporating these tools into my classroom or curriculum, I am much more cautious. I’ve had too many experiences where I fly right into a new tool only to have it explode in my face, so before integrating a new tool or device, I allow myself some time to play with it myself and mull over its implications and impact.

And so begins my flirtation with QR codes. I’ve known about them for over a year, and used them in a couple of professional development sessions and conferences. But when I thought about how they could apply to my classroom or English curriculum, I drew a blank beyond gimmicky. Sure, I could put QR code around my classroom or use them to disseminate a link to my students, but how was using them better than using my classroom Moodle or Edmodo sites? Plus, until our BYOD initiative was in place this year, cell phones were officially banned from classrooms. QR codes are an inherently mobile tech tool–hence, a no-go for helping me beyond the tools I was already using. I pushed these goofy black-and-white boxes to my “not yet” category and explored other avenues of tech incorporation.

With the implementation a BYOD initiative and the loss of my classroom set of laptops, I began shifting my thinking to how my technology integration would change to using predominantly mobile devices. Now, I began wondering if QR codes could be more useful. The following are two ideas I have had rolling in my brain, and I plan on implementing in the near future.

Back-to-School Night

In mid-September at our high school, parents and guardians have the opportunity to follow their student’s schedule to meet each teacher and listen to a 10 minute presentation about the curriculum, classroom expectations, etc. I’m guessing many schools have something like this in place, so I’m also guessing many teachers will relate to my feeling of frenzy when I try to summarize myself, my curriculum, and my teaching philosophy in the 7 minutes remaining after the majority of lost parents stumble into my room for their “English” period. Next year, I plan on handing each parent a business card or syllabus with a number of QR codes to different websites or digital documents that they will find useful or interesting to understand my English class. One of these QR codes will most definitely lead them to a Google Form where I ask them to provide me some feedback on their student. This parent survey has been a practice of mine for years, but I usually have such a small percentage of return because of the lack of time (or the lack of parents that show up for this one night). Using QR codes in this way solves a few problems for me:

  1. Limited time with parents. 
  2. Copying of multiple documents that may or may not be interesting or useful to every parent.
  3. Awkward and wasted time at the beginning of each new transition between classes. Now parents can use this time to already begin looking at my materials instead of waiting for me to greet everyone and begin.

Whole-Novel Reading

Ever since I read Arial Sack’s online article Reading Fiction Whole, I’ve been mulling over how to try this literature method. Her argument is that students may dislike reading in English or in school because we teachers segment the story–seemingly arbitrarily– to discuss or teach concepts. This segmentation doesn’t allow for authentic student interaction with the literature and can drag the story far beyond the normal time it would take to read a novel. Instead of every student reading the novel at the same pace and stopping at the same times (dictated by the teacher), students are given the novel, sticky notes, and time to read both in and out of class. This way, students are differentiated based on their own pacing with the story, and they have authentic, student-directed interaction with both the text and the teacher through the use of sticky notes.

Read her article–it’s excellent. But one of my sticking points in implementing the whole fiction concept was that I also have some specific skills or concepts I need to discuss with EVERY student. So how would I know when the students had reached certain points in order to discuss character development, foreshadowing, or have them work through some scaffolding to state a theme? And here was my epiphany moment! I could create a QR code for specific mini-lessons, activities, questions, or discussions that I wanted my students to complete, view, or discuss as they read the book. Here’s the plan:

  1. Create or convert lessons/activities/discussions that I previously had on paper to digital forms. 
  2. Create a unique QR code for each activity and number them.
  3. Copy these codes onto a sheet of paper (again, numbered chronologically).
  4. When I first hand out the book, have students cut out these codes and place them on certain pages of the book with masking tape.
  5. Demonstrate how the code works and explain the expectations for them.
  6. Allow them to all complete one for a pre-reading activity.
  7. Trouble-shoot or field any questions.
  8. Let them run with it!

This frees up my class time to conference with students, grade or provide feedback to their activities, monitor discussion boards, and pull aside any student who needs direct instruction or help in reading the novel. I am differentiating so the student who wants to read the novel faster than his/her classmates is not held back, and the struggling reader can still develop independent reading strategies but with extended time and potentially extra help.

I’m excited to put this together and will continue to blog about each step! Follow me on the journey but putting RedPenConfessions in your RSS feed or follow me on Twitter. Have any of you found ways to use QR codes to enhance your classroom? Comment and share!

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