I recently completed a graduate class on “Teaching K-12 Online” and as part of my course work I developed an online course of my own. 6th Grade Reading Lab is the online course I developed for students at my school. 6th grade seemed like a good place to try a reading skills course like this. In our program, 6th grade is the second year of middle school, but because many local schools in our area begin the transition to middle school at this point, we often have many new students at this grade level. In addition, our 5th grade program has a heavy focus on independent reading, so this is a great place to continue that emphasis without taking time away from the current English course. The course is a hybrid or blended course in that students will have some face-to-face class time in addition to the online content. Students will work through the course content over 12 weeks with one face-to-face meeting each week. They will also return for three weeks at the end of the school year to complete a culminating project. The course is self-paced to allow for students to move through the lessons at a pace that works for them.
There were a lot of choices to make about which LMS (Learning Management System) to use and I chose Schoology. I really like the layout and look and think it integrates well into the other face-to-face classes I am teaching. I will have to see how easy it is for students to navigate based on my structure.
Many of the elements of a good reading program include the need for repetition to build automaticity and confidence. Although the lessons are completed once, each lesson also links to activities in the skills section which can be repeated many times. I tried to make the activities high-interest and fun so students would enjoy and want to repeat them. Students will also have opportunities to discuss the lessons, as well as their independent reading, in the discussion forums.
Assessments of reading skills will be given at the beginning, mid-year, and end of the year to track student progress. I am using a leveled 3-minute assessment that can be given to all students and will share the information with classroom teachers and administrators. The beginning of the year assessment will allow me to focus on students that might need additional interventions and perhaps tailor some of the activities to their needs. Students that score low in certain areas may be given extra practice or may meet with me during our face-to-face time. Students that score well may have practice reduced in areas of strength to allow them more time for independent reading and work on the course projects.
At the end of the course all students will choose a project to complete that will allow them to demonstrate their learning. The projects will also be high interest, but will align to the skills that were taught in the lessons. Some of the project include creating a book trailer, creating an audiobook, and making a comic strip. All of the projects will be completed using various web tools.
I have enjoyed designing this course and look forward to seeing its effect with students once the school year begins. In designing the course, I think my biggest mistake was underestimating how much time it would take me to complete it. I chose a topic that I as an educator have not taught before, so not only was I learning the tools and theory of how to build an online course, I was also studying content. If I were to choose a topic for a first course again, I might choose something that I have already taught and transformed that into an online course rather than make myself work twice as hard on structure and format AND content.
One suggestion I would make for those considering developing an online course is to include screencasts for students so they are clear about expectations, goals, and procedures for your class. I have plans for completing these once I finish adding my content so the screencasts can show all aspects of the course.
I’m excited by the possibilities of this course and look forward to seeing how it might develop once school begins and I am able to see how it is helping students improve their reading skills. I will post more updates as the year progresses!
If you are on Schoology, feel free to view my course here: http://www.schoology.com/course/6197641/materials