Beth Holland

Food for thought…

Revisiting the “Comma Zone”

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My first foray into using technology in the classroom came in 1999. Desperate for a way to help my 9th grade English students understand the content of the dust-ridden, antiquated text book foisted on me by my predecessor, the Director of Technology suggested that I try using PowerPoint. I had never heard of PowerPoint, and after a few hours of trial and error discovered that it was a fabulous animation tool! Little did I know that I was supposed to have used it for static bullet points rather than flying clip art.

To meet my students’ learning needs, I used the software to create a dynamic set of self-paced tutorials to teach them how to properly punctuate with commas. At the time, the Twilight Zone had made a resurgence, hence the creation of The Comma Zone.

In a place between phrases and clauses lies the comma zone…..

Using a single floppy disk, I loaded the file onto all of the computers in the lab. Then, I took my students during class time and had them work through a series of accompanying worksheets as they interacted with the slideshow. They could ask questions at any time, and had ample time to complete the work. Those who flew through the exercises could then create their own Comma Zone scenarios.

At the time, this was a high tech approach to teaching. I didn’t enter the situation with the thought of using technology, I just desperately needed a way to ensure that my students could meet the desired learning goal of being able to properly punctuate a sentence. Differentiation, multi-modal presentation, and enrichment were not driving forces for this activity – especially since these were all foreign concepts at that time.

I retold that story today while introducing the concept of Backwards Design at an EdTechTeacher workshop. On the way home, I thought about my students’ learning challenge as well as the technology now available. If I redesigned the whole unit, what would it look like….

  1. No PowerPoint – instead, I would use Google Presentation so that my students could also access the file from home as review.
  2. No Paper Worksheets – from my Google Presentation, students could take online quizzes and surveys. This would let me gather real-time assessment data. Personally, I like Google Forms over something like Survey Monkey. However, especially if my students are using mobile devices such as iPads or Android tablets, a student response system like Socrative would be even more effective.
  3. Grammar Blog – the 21st Century Comma Zone would be posted to a blog. After completing the work in class, or maybe even at home, students could post their own examples as comments.

Actually, rather than spend an entire class period with students working through an animated activity, I would probably Flip the class. My students would access my grammar blog and complete the Comma Zone (or any other similar units) online for homework. During class, they would then demonstrate their understanding of what they learned by creating their own grammar tales, presenting their knowledge to the class, or integrating their new skills into their writing.

Maybe it is worth revisiting the Comma Zone. If only I hadn’t saved that file on a floppy disk!

Author: brholland

EdD Student, Writer, Speaker, Consultant

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