Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Rethinking Instruction

Yesterday in content reading classes we did the study strategies jigsaw - what I have termed learning to learn. I have read through and "graded" all the reflections and once again find myself wondering if this Jigsaw is the way I want to go with this information. I wonder if the artificial nature of the activity makes it less useful for my students, and if there is a better way - a more economical way [with respect to time] to accomplish my instructional goals. The hard part is that these students, by and large, have already developed their own note making strategies and are good readers, making the exercise "feel silly" for some students. I get that comment every year and wonder now why it's taken me this long to see a different way to do this activity.

One idea I've thought of happened because a student needed to miss this particular class in order to teach his Internship class, an experience that I think is more valuable than the Jigsaw [or just about anything else I could drum up in class]. I didn't think it fair to penalize him because his schedule didn't mesh with one I had made up for our class way back in August. So, we talked about it and I came up with an alternate plan. Basically, he will use one of the note making strategies to hold his thinking about chapter 11 [on study strategies], then find two other students who used the other note making techniques and talk with them about their methods. Then, he will write a reflection about the methods and compare and contrast their advantages and disadvantages. As we were negotiating this, it occurred to me that perhaps I had stumbled on a better way to accomplish my instructional goals with this chapter.

In fact, as I type this, I am thinking that I might just begin the semester by teaching each of the note making strategies prior to the initial chapters - having students use a different note making strategy each chapter, then in groups discussing them. I have a couple of charts they could complete as they discuss the information, and then write a reflection on the process. That would free up an entire day - and would help students in a more authentic way. They would see how I modeled the use of note making and discussion as part of our class - it would not be as artificial. This might also be a way to feature the advantages of some of the methods that students just didn’t see in the present activity. INSERT, in particular, took quite a few hits in their reflections. It isn’t one of my favorites, either, or wasn’t until I discovered how much Mary’s physics and chemistry students liked it. Chapters 2 and 3 in our textbook are particularly difficult – written more on a graduate level than for initial certification students. INSERT would be a good strategy to use with those chapters precisely because they are so difficult.

Another related problem that surfaced in students’ reflections is that very few of them perceived the idea that even if they didn’t like one of the note making strategies, they will have students in their classes who need to be taught several note making strategies so they can choose one that works best for them. Most of my students seemed to think they will be teaching kids much like themselves. At least that’s the impression I got from comments about teaching “only 2-column notes because I really liked that one” or “I’d never teach INSERT, it’s too much trouble” or “chapter mapping won’t work with high school because there is too much information to record.” Perhaps three to five students understood that these strategies could and should be adapted to fit their particular content area and some actually gave excellent ways to adapt them. The idea about putting page numbers on the INSERT sticky-notes was superb! Someone else mentioned that perhaps students could map each section rather than the whole text – a good solution to the conceptual density of many science and social studies textbooks. Another student mentioned altering 2-column notes for math. Perhaps I need to be pleased that a few students really “got it” rather than worrying because all of them did not make the connections I hoped they would make.

So, maybe I've come up with a different way to teach the note making strategies, and do it in a more time-efficient manner. Also, this might give me an opportunity to highlight the different aspects of each strategy. One of the difficulties I noticed as I read students’ reflections is that they are having a hard time understanding where their students will be in terms of students’ ability to read and understand text . . . only one student made the connection between these note making strategies and using a CLOZE or other initial assessment to determine the amount of support students will need to read and comprehend the text. After all, most of them admitted to never reading their textbooks and they all did very well in high school. The most depressing part of all of this is students’ possible solution to this problem – it is one I fear. These students will probably revert to “giving notes” on the overhead, once again doing the students’ work instead of actually teaching them how to read and comprehend complex text such as newspaper and journal articles, primary sources, and the textbook. Giving notes is great crowd control; it feels comfortable because most of these students endured that kind of mind-numbing teaching when they were in high school. Unfortunately, it also impedes students’ literacy development and extinguishes curiosity and motivation in students.

As students completed the Jigsaw yesterday, I began thinking about how I’d handle Thursday’s class. I decided to have them take notes on the first part of chapter 7 – on guiding learning, and figure out what to do during Thursday's class later. I had originally planned to do the Columbus lesson, way back in August, because it is one that makes the point of matching strategy selection to your teaching goals. But this week is homecoming, and ESPN’s College Game Day will be broadcast from the CU campus. Great. I’ll be lucky to have a half-dozen students in class on Thursday. I don’t want to use that lesson for a hand-full of students, it requires discussion, and more points of view are better than just a few . . . but on the other hand, the students who do come to class will probably be the only ones who actually consider using these strategies, so maybe it would be productive after all. I’m getting way to cynical now. All because I realized [even before class] that the Jigsaw was probably not the best way to go – but I had already given the assignment, and was too stubborn to change course in mid-stream. I didn’t want to have students spend time making lesson plans and arrive in class to find I had changed my mind. I’m upset with myself and taking it out on students, which isn’t fair. What’s worse, I know better. At least they called it as they saw it. I’m grateful they trust me enough to tell me how they really feel and think about things in class. Without their honesty, I’d never be able to improve my own teaching. As I type this, I’m tempted to delete all my cynical comments, but I won’t do that because in order to get honesty, I need to be honest with them and with myself. I need to take a good hard look at how I’ve approached this particular chapter and make some changes now. It won’t undo a failed lesson for students this semester, but maybe it will improve the class from here on out. We have such excellent students in secondary education – they are bright, optimistic, concerned about their students’ learning, anxious to do a good job. I want them prepared and confident about their teaching from their first day to their [hopefully] retirement. We lose too many good teachers before they’ve had a chance to find their own art of teaching.

So, it’s back to the drawing board for Thursday – but I don’t think I’ll do the Columbus lesson because I wouldn’t have time to do that lesson AND focus on the ideas in the first part of chapter 7 and that’s what students will be prepared to discuss. I’ll need to come up with a way to focus and direct their small group discussion, and a way to have the groups share their information. The Columbus lesson can come next week. For now, I’ll need to back up and punt – something I seem to do too often for someone who has been at this for nearly 40 years.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Procrastination destination

I'm sitting here, with assessment projects to grade and mid-terms to finish grading . . . and wondering where in the world the semester has gone. I've "thought" several entries to this Blog, but time has a way of slipping away, especially this semester. I've delayed Blogging in order to get papers graded, get power points done, get things done for the Center - and I can tell that I haven't taken the time to reflect on my teaching in writing this semester. Somehow, just thinking about how things are going doesn't cut it, at least for me.

I was not happy with class last week -- in the middle of class, I realized that even I was drifting -- and I hate that. I felt like we were slogging through vocabulary . . . then slogging through pre-teaching. I refuse to slog through another "topic." Based on the What's Working -- What's Not think writes at the end of the mid-term today, I need to rethink some things -- I need to save time at the end of every class to read to students - without fail. I haven't done that as regularly as I should have, especially for the 2 PM class. There are so many students, and everything seems to take so much longer in that class. Also, the math folks are having difficulty seeing how these strategies can be adapted for their content - so I need to spend some time modeling strategies, then put them in content-specific groups to discuss ways to adapt and use the strategies. We probably need to stop and take a look at everything we have considered so far.

Several students mentioned not really liking theory - and I appreciate that. But I know that if they understand the theory, then they can adapt the strategies with much more success than if they are trying to follow some procedure for a strategy. Knowing a few "guidelines" for learning will help them more than knowing the names of strategies -- they'll end up inventing their own, of that I'm sure.

Students are reading chapter 11 using the different note making strategies -- I'm thinking that perhaps it would be better to have them get in Jigsaw groups to discuss the different strategies instead of "teaching" each other -- but I've already assigned the teaching part, so perhaps I'll adjust what I expect them to do during that time. Next year, though, I think I'll have students use different strategies as we read and discuss the text - and sprinkle in lessons I'll teach and unpack with them.

Well, I'll see what changes I can make at this point - these students are going to be such great teachers and I want them to be prepared!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Ready or Not: A new semester dawns

I haven't posted since March -- and no wonder! I've taught non-stop since last August, 2005. I had full classes in Maymester, June, and July - plus the CEALL July Institute and then moving Lori to Denver last week. I'm exhausted and the semester hassn't even begun. But it's just around the corner, and I'm enduring yet another working weekend. I absolutely have to figure out how to eliminate some of the grading burden of this course -- but I am hesitant to give up any of the assignments. Students would say it serves me right, I guess.

I did eliminate the Book Club assignment, in order to add the Blogging assignment -- partly because I'm using a textbook for the first time in several years and I didn't want to burden students financially any more than I have already, and partly because in the last several semesters the undergraduates haven't gotten as much out of the assignment as I hoped they would. Maybe it's a matter of lack of experience in the classroom on the teacher's side of the desk, I don't know. At least I didn't just add on an additional assignment. In any case, I get tired of doing things the same old way, so I've made several changes this go 'round. Having the text has enabled me to eliminate a number of articles from the required reading and quite a few participation assignments. I predict I'll eliminate even more as the semester rolls on.

I've gone through the syllabus with a fine tooth comb, as it were, trying to catch everything I needed to revise and change -- chiefly my name. Since getting married over spring break, I have not gotten around to changing all the various documents that need changing -- passport, driver's license, credit cards, etc. What a pain in the neck. But, I'll hopefully get it done in September.

It feels so strange to have a textbook this time around. I am going to use strategies from the course to have students read, process, and discuss the text -- and hopefully that will help students see how the strategeis fit in with their own content areas. I'm also going to continue to teach model lessons, with strategies embedded, and unpack the lessons so students can experience the strategies in the context of a high school level lesson. I've taught this course since 1991, and actually taught the concepts and strategies since 1974. I've taught undergraduates, graduates, inservice teachers in the States, Latvia, Guatemala, Romania, Estonia, Croatia . . . so I need to remember that although the information is very familiar to me, it's the first time these students have ever heard of the ideas. The web site for the book will be really helpful -- when it is up and running for this edition, especially the flash card feature and the self quizzes.

Well, must move on to planning the Center of Excellence workshop for next weekend -- when it rains, it pours. I'll be so glad to see September roll around, I won't know what to do [especially because college football begins -- it isn't exactly a reason to live, but it's close!].

Friday, March 10, 2006

The grading thing

Yesterday, I finally got all the middle school work graded. Late. Very late. I hate that I took so long to get around to grading the midterms -- but this year has really been tough. Of course, as I type this I wonder if I would listen to a student who had that kind of excuse. I've always felt bad when I set due dates and then lingered over grading the papers. How can a teacher take points off a project or paper when s/he is late grading the stuff? I've never been able to reconcile that quandry - and probably never will.

The mid terms focused on analyzing think writes, and most students did a great job. Some, however, fell into the "trap" of grading spelling and mechanics rather than content. A think write is just that . . . writing about thinking, and as such should not be graded for spelling or grammar or mechanics. I'll be sure to allow them to do the think writes again; the important thing to me is that they learn how to use them for an assessment . . . not when they learned how to do it.

Workshop VI

Well, I'm going to try to post an entry while everyone else is rereading through their professional journals. I reread my blog, and noticed that I often have real insights as I write about what happened in class, but my problem is remembering the insights. I have kept a professional journal since I began teaching at the college level. At first, it was a way to vent my frustrations -- when I first started teaching in college, I assumed my students would be more . . . more . . . more something than my high school students had been. But they often forgot assignments, just like the high school kids; they often did just enough to get by, just like the high school kids; they often were more interested in a grade than in learning, just like the high school kids; they had excuses for not doing work, just like the high school kids [only more creative or bizzare]. It never occurred to me that perhaps I was not helping them to be more thoughtful or more reflective or to consider issues at a deeper level. Just like when I first encountered the ideas in what was then called content area reading -- I had assumed that students weren't doing their homework because they were "lazy" or "didn't care" -- but I discovered that in reality I was not teaching in a way that supported their ability to do the homework, or the reading -- I was the problem, not them. As I look back over this blog, and reflect on the 15 years worth of professional journal entries I have made it occurs to me that I've written a lot - and thought a lot, but that the missing piece for me has been to reflect on the reflections!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Blogging workshop

I am at an Apple sponsored workshop on Blogs and Podcasts - very interesting! I'm wondering how things are going for you all out in the field, too. Maybe this morning I'll find out more. I'm learning a lot about podcasting, which is new to me - and perhaps I'll be able to figure out how to record some short "lectures" that you can then access [in stead of reading 4-5 articles] for part of upcoming modules. That would be easier for you, I think. So - that's what I'm trying to figure out: how to do some podcasts as part of some of the modules in this course.

I hope you are getting into the routine of school, and that things are going smoothly for you. How are your classes? Have you established the schedule for picking up each class? When will you be teaching full time, and after that, for how long?

Well, break is over and I have to pay attention now!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Workshop IV

This past weekend was the fourth workshop in the Center of Excellence for Adolescent Literacy and Learning. We focused on discussion and writing to learn. I went into the workshop with four lessons planned -- way too much, and I knew it but couldn't seem to make a decision about which lessons to focus on until the last minute. In the end, I did one demonstration lesson about Columbus and then focused on an interactive presentation on writing to learn.

I'm glad I did the Columbus lesson - based on exit cards, it made the point I was trying to make: that one's teaching goals, content, and students all must be considered in order to have a good match between the content and the strategy. Sometimes, a lesson doesn't work simply because the strategy chosen doesn't match the content being taught. It's a hard thing to learn, and it took me quite a while to learn it, but this lesson seems a good one to illustrate that particular point.

I pretty much gutted the writing to learn presentation -- well, actually, I selected only two strategies to focus on, and will leave the rest for another day. Glad I did, too, because we finally had a chance to think about the projects participants are to complete. That's one of the things I need to focus on as I debrief observed lessons and meet with participants. I have quite a few visits lined up for January, so it will be very busy. Meanwhile, I'm excited to be getting out into the schools - and wish I had done so more frequently in the fall. Can't help that now, though. Oh well, as Scarlett said, tomorrow is another day.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

I think this is my first post

I am a little worried that i didnt do something right, but i think this is my first blog post ever. I hope everyone has a great weekend before we start out student teaching experience.

Jeffrey Simpson

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

cyberspace and the blogsphere

Well, today we probably created an exponential number of Blogs - but we are all learning together! Half the class knows what they are doing - and the rest of us are struggling to figure all this technology out. In any case, this semester should be interesting. For everyone who mucked about in the Blogsphere with me today - 2 points on this assignment already! That means you only need 8 postings [maybe fewer if the posting is reflective!].

Monday, January 09, 2006

A morning at Wren Middle

This morning, I am at Wren Middle School, visiting teachers participating in the Center of Excellence for Adolescent Literacy and Learning. They are amazing! Graphic organizers posted everywhere - even in the halls! Students are surrounded by the content they are learning - immersed in it, as Cambourne recommends. While waiting to talk with a couple of the teachers, I have been browsing Internet sites to post on Blackboard for both the middle school reading class and the Center of Excellence Blackboard site. I've found some amazing resources in less than 45 minutes. I think the middle school reading folks will appreciate the links that will serve as resources for their YALIT project - and I know the Center teachers will love the links I've found, too. I need to get out into the school more often - it's truly inspiring.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Ah! The (working) weekend

Reflections on the last two classes, written on Saturday morning.

Thursday's class was disappointing for me - mainly because we didn't accomplish what I had wanted to -- I scheduled the computer lab, and everyone had a chance to "drive" Blackboard, or at least parts of it. But because of difficulties with the chat [and because I didn't just give up on it when I should have and move on] we wasted a bit of time. Now, I discover - two days later - that we were the class to uncover the fact that due to the new updated to Blackboard, the Chat was actually not working at all. Great. I just love being on the cutting edge of technology - not. In any case, I got a message this morning that it is fixed. Haven't tried it with my dialup connection yet, but I will. Seems like we have a lot of loose ends [criteria for the YALIT assignment, learning how to use the chat tool, modules for the rest of the semester] to tie up. Makes me tired just to think about all of this.

Friday, I was pleased with being able to get a bit ahead of my plans - I actually had time to teach a sample lesson and unpack the experience. I'm hoping that by doing this a couple of more times, I can frame the remainder of the semester for this class. The theory activities were OK, but felt sort of flat to me - maybe it was because it was Friday afternoon and nobody really wanted to be in the classroom. Since I think the theory part didn't quite connectwith them, I'll have to make a focused effort to make the connections between the theories and the lessons I'm going to teach. In fact, I'll need to carefully select those lessons so that I can show connections to all four of the theories as well as have students experience specific strategies I want them to be able to use when they begin their Internship. I'm hoping I can drive home the connection between theory and practice in the next couple of classes. If I don't feel like I've accomplished that task, I'll be sure to build in some activities in the modules that will help to make that connection.

I really hate to think about not seeing these students again after next Wednesday. Oh, that's another thing we need to establish - a schedule of face to face meetings after they go out into their Internship. Oh well, looks like a full, working weekend from here!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

First class

First class, and things went normally abnormal -- for teaching that is. Just as I was getting ready to go to the classroom, the electricity went off. As I said, normal for teaching. So we got started in the atrium, and to be honest, I liked the ambience in the atrium much better than when we finally got the electricity back and we went to the classroom.

As I was driving in from Clemson today, I suddenly remembered that I had not duplicated the Biopoem handout - something I had planned to use in class. Oh well, I thought, I can just print it out and copy it at the University Center. Then, no power. So I improvised and did a People Search, which would have been perfect if students in the class had not been in a cohort together for a year or more. It worked OK, but wasn't as effective as I would have liked -- but then, it's a good thing that students know each other so well, and I did give them some examples of using People Searches in get-to-know-you situations as well as in content focused contexts.

Everything else worked pretty well, even though the wireless was down and I didn't get to everything on my lesson plans. I was pleased that I had prepared a module example - that way, students will know what I'm talking about when we discuss the online portion of class, but I realized driving home that I have a reading on the schedule that is not on the module A directions. Hope folks will figure that out - if they don't, it is one mistake out of many I'll probably make this semester.

I hope the structure of the online part of class is [or will become] clear to them - I know they are feeling overwhelmed right now. I just hope they are taking only one course in addition to student teaching/internship because in past semesters when students have been trying to handle more than one extra class, it's been really tough.

Tomorrow, I want to tackle theory base, but don't want it to take the whole three hours. I need to have them "drive" the Blackboard and before I sign off tonight or for sure first thing tomorrow morning, I need to clean out all the comments on Discussion Board from last semester and set up the Support Groups/Book Clubs. . .But my todo list is so long, and time is so short -- and there is that big football game tonight!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Planning for the semester

I am simultaneously trying to plan for the semester and learn enough about blogging to create an assignment using blogs. In my mind's eye, I see the professional blogs as an opportunity for students to stay connected to each other and to the course during Internship. I'm thinking I can roll several assignments into the blog, but I don't want to overload students to the point of distraction. I do, however, want to organize the distance education portion of the course in a way that will be transparent to the students and not confusing. Since I barely know what I'm doing with the Blog, that will be a tall order to accomplish before tomorrow. I feel a late night coming on here, and there's a big football game tonight, too.

The difficulty with this course is that I want an interactive dialog with all the students, but there are about 30 of them -- way too many to have in a chat room all at one time. At least I think so. I wonder how many of the students are knowledgeable about Blogs, the Internet, and technology in general. I'll find out tomorrow for sure!