Wednesday, November 07, 2007

And students shall lead us . . .

I'm sitting in the library, amazed. I had a meeting this morning in Java City to do some onerous work for the department [is there any other kind???]. As I walked into the library, I remembered a conversation I had yesterday with Sarahann - one of my science students in READ 498. I guess being in the library surrounded by so many books brought the memory to the surface [if only I had a pensive like Dumbledore!].

Sarahann was crafting unit plans for genetics and came by to get my take on her ideas. We were trying to figure out how to address the information about Mendel - the history behind his discovery of the principles of genetics as a lowly monk, working in obscurity. I couldn't think of anything short of an interactive lecture on the history of this research, but thankfully Sarahann was much better at ideas than I -- she wondered if there might be a children's book about Mendel and his work. Sure enough, a search on Amazon and Barnes and Nobel turned up a great book about Mendel and his work with peas. But her lessons are due tomorrow - and there wasn't time to order the book and see if it was what we were hoping for. So . . . we found a copy in the CU young adult library section! She set out for Cooper and retrieved the book and is now set to do the lesson on the history of genetics.

Maybe I need to pay much more attention to my students than I have in the past. Maybe I could learn a whole lot from them instead of vice versa. I'm always so eager to share what I've discovered about teaching science [and other subjects] that I tend to forget that they, too, are teachers -- here is a perfect example of students' thinking being far and away better than mine!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The light at the end of the tunnel is --- the headlight of a train

I was thankful this morning that I had a Jigsaw scheduled for class today -- the work of a Jigsaw is done weeks [or months or years, as in this case] ahead of the actual Jigsaw. Because I was in Orangeburg all day yesterday and was exhausted from the trip, it was wonderful to know that class would "run itself." The Jigsaw today is one that all students can profit from on two levels. The information about working with struggling and English Language learners is crucial for beginning and experienced teachers alike, and the strategies [I-Chart, Cubing, Discussion Web, and IntraAct] embedded in the discussion of the articles, as well as Jigsaw itself, are adaptable across the curriculum. I am usually pleased with this Jigsaw, but today, particularly for the math majors, it seemed too -- something. [they would probably say too long] I don't know - or maybe I do.

In hindsight, I wish I had ended the Jigsaw with the Discussion Web and just omitted the IntraAct in the math section. Although the science majors saw immediately how they could use IntraAct, the math majors were struggling to visualize how they could use any of the strategies. Once again, I think I have thrown too much at a time at them. I'm wondering if experiencing any of these strategies in any context other than math will help the math majors. Because I am not a math teacher, the adaptations of the strategies are not always apparent to me right off the bat - and because the students in 498 have never been on the "other side of the desk" and most have never really thought about the underlying mathematics in the algorithms they are so good at, they have a hard time envisioning adaptations. But because I have worked with so many great math teachers and seen how they can think immediately of ways to adapt almost any of the strategies to mathematics, I know it is not only possible but probable that, once in the classroom, these pre-service math teachers will be able to adapt strategies for their students. I just hope they try them before they revert to the old "drill and kill" method of teaching math.

So, maybe I'll try skipping the "experience the strategy embedded in a lesson" thing and go straight to adaptation after reading the chapter. For writing to learn and writing to inquire, that's how I think I'll approach writing. My fear is that students will "get" the strategy but not associate the learning cycle or the basic theory underlying the strategy with the strategy itself. Strategies alone just won't get them as far as they need to go with students; they need to know how, why, and under what circumstances these strategies are used. But at this time I've got to do something - anything.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Adapt, not adopt or fear and panic

I did a lesson today that could serve as a model for integrating current events into a curriculum in a way that involves students in research, extends the curriculum, and helps students see how what they are learning in school is used the "the real world." Each of the strategies is well-suited for both science and math but they do take some adaptations, as do all strategies. I've seen excellent math teachers use adaptations of Discussion Web with several concepts in algebra; I need to call Leigh and remind her to send me those examples.

I need to keep reminding myself that these pre-service teachers have a hard time creating adaptations. Some are able to - but it is rare. And just because it is hard for them to "think outside the box" right now, doesn't mean they won't be able to when they have gained some experience in the classroom.

I like the slower pace - focusing on fewer strategies, but having students create examples from science and math. I just hope I'm giving them sufficient different strategies so that each of them will have enough strategies to choose from.

I didn't really have the math folks with me today. They have a hard time thinking of real world adaptations of the math they are teaching and a harder time envisioning adaptations of strategies taught embedded in other content areas. Perhaps I should have found a math current events lesson - but I had to make a choice between sleeping and having two different lessons today, and sleep won. After this weekend, things will be a little less hectic; at least I hope so.

These students have been taught math in one way: memorize algorithms, one and only one way to work math problems, use of naked numbers; we are asking them to teach in a whole other way - a way that promotes understanding rather than rote memory. They have a tall order and many, I suppose, are near panic. Who wouldn't be?? They fear, I suppose, not having all the answers. But who does??? And what a mistake to think that having all the answers is a good thing for students. We've all had teachers who feed their ego by proving [or trying to] they are the smartest in the room. When that happens, students are marginalized and most will never really love the subject matter they are being taught.

There is so much to learn about teaching - and learning -- and so little time. I remember when I was a new teacher -- these students know so much more than we ever did when first we set foot in a classroom. That gives me hope.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Conundrum at best

We are half way through the semester now and everyone, students and professors alike, are pressured [almost frantic] and tired. How can it be October already? Halloween is right around the corner.

I have to find a way to keep my late afternoon class engaged -- they are tired, I am tired, we are all ready to go home by the time class begins! Perhaps I need to use a workshop class structure more often -- engage students in creating activities to use in their classrooms; the other days I can model strategies embeded in a lesson. This Thursday [tomorrow] I'll be having students work with reading/learning guides and QARs in science and math; we'll also take a look at other questioning strategies.

I need to try a lesson out before the CEALL workshop next weekend -- maybe I'll do that on Tuesday of next week, have students provide feedback [so I can revise the lesson] and then have students work with the strategies to come up with adaptations for their content areas on Thursday.

We'll see how this goes -

Thursday, October 11, 2007

More with less

I have made a decision to focus on less in more depth this semester - something I usually think about at the end of a semester when I'm frantically trying to "cover" everything. This semester, though, I reread my Blog before I planned the semester, and realized that I really needed try doing more with less. So far I'm pleased with the way things are going. I eliminated several assignments this semester and haven't missed them - probably won't.

Today, I blocked out some time for students to work on anticipation guides or problems to use to engage students in topics. Students in the 2PM class worked on anticipation guides, and pretty much stayed focused on the task. I think they got a better understanding of anticipation guides, something they wouldn't have developed without today's workshop. But in the 3:30 class, there were 9 absences [this weekend is a non-game weekend and Monday is Fall Break - I should have seen this one coming] and students who did come to class seemed sort of distracted, unfocused. We were all tired, break was literally minutes away - and they didn't get as much done as in the earlier class. I hope the time was valuable to them. Maybe it was me - maybe I was too informal or unstructured. I'm planning to create some additional workshop time this semester, but kind of hesitate to do so if the time isn't well-spent. Maybe I need to provide more structure in the later section - do something like a Think-Pair-Share and have students provide responses to each other's drafts. That way, students could share and get feedback on their plans. I'll need to think about this - goodness knows I have enough new stuff to use with them, but I don't want to throw so much at them that they get overwhelmed.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

At the end of the day . . .

Before I go home today, I had to capture my reaction to an article I just skimmed -- the article is going to appear in Thinking Classroom, a journal that is close to my heart, both professionally and personally. Thinking Classroom grew out of the Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking [RWCT] project in Eastern Europe that began in 1997 and lasted for five years. In truth, the project lives on in hundreds of thousands of teachers in Eastern Europe, Central America, and areas of the Far East where the RWCT project has taken root and grown. It also lives on in all the volunteers who worked with the in-country participants.

I was an RWCT volunteer from 1998-2003 and worked first in Latvia and then in Guatemala. The experience was the single most important thing I've done professioally in my life. It changed the way I looked at teaching and learning .. and in very real ways at the world. The teachers I worked with in both countries are still friends today, although I haven't seen them in too many years. I'll never forget their enthusiasm, their work ethic, their intelligence. I hope they learned half as much from me as I learned from them.

But back to the article -- it is by Pat Bloem and David Klooster -- they asked, "where were you 10 years ago." They reflected on their involvement with the Czech Republic, where they were volunteers. It made me think about where I was 10 years ago -- before I bumped into the right person in the right place at the right time and found out about RWCT. When I was young, just beginning my teaching career, I remember one evening during which four of us had gone out to eat and come back to our house for coffee. We played one of those parlour games - "what would you be or do if you could be or do anything" -- I remember Norm wanted to be Secretary of State; Linda [who was a social studies teacher] wanted to be an archeologist; it is not to my credit [and probably telling] that I cannot remember what Mike [my husband at the time] wanted to be/do. What I do clearly remember is that I was doing exactly what I wanted to do - I was teaching. Its all I had ever wanted to do. I never dreamed that I would become involved in a project like RWCT, that I would get to know 35 teachers from half-way around the world and would find a soul-mate among them, that I would make ten trips to Eastern Europe and see Romania, Hungary, Bram castle [which is sometimes mistakenly called Dracula's castle], Moscow and St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, and come to know the streets of Riga, Latvia, as well as I know my own hometown. What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?

I know that parents often tell their children not to be teachers -- that they are smart and could do so much more . . . but the truth is we need the smartest people in teaching, and most of the time when we follow our dreams - our heart - we find lives so much richer than we could ever imagine.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Less is More [warning: long!]

September 22, 2007

Today I taught the first lesson in the first Center of Excellence for Adolescent Literacy & Learning [CEALL] Follow-up Workshop – and I had worked for hours pulling the texts together, so I was anxious about it. After looking at the strategies Interns and Apprentices had the least experience with, I wanted to design a lesson that used Jigsaw and multiple texts, and I wanted to provide experience with several discussion strategies. The lesson was engaging, and I was pleased with that. But it might be “misnamed” – it was really about the three major monotheistic religions in the world, not so much the Middle East. So maybe next time around I’ll title the lesson differently, so it isn’t misleading. Even though the lesson focus was on religion, everyone was absorbed in the reading. The I-chart helped focus the reading – there was so much -- I probably could remove a couple of texts from it from it. Thinking about the 1.5 hour time limit, there were probably too many texts for such a short period of time – it could have formed the basis of an entire unit!

In the middle of the lesson, as I watched the Jigsaw groups working, it occurred to me that the Discussion Web I had planned was too much and not really “on target,” so I just left it out. The I-Chart worked so well to both focus and support the reading as well as focus the discussion that in the end I didn’t really need the Discussion Web. Another reason to leave it out was that it was focused on the issues between Israelis and Palestinians – another facet of the Middle East issue, but not really on target given the readings and I-Chart. All in all, because of the time [we had decided to move the share from Friday evening to Saturday morning] a wise move, I think. But it wasn’t only the time issue. I’ve really got enough material for three separate lessons in these materials. One on the religions [a fundamental understanding necessary to consider the current [and past] crises in the area], one on Israel/Palestine, and one on the Middle East in general. I just need to weed out some things and reorganize the materials.

So I was pleased with the level of engagement, and the graphic organizers produced by the Jigsaw groups were wonderful – I think it was an interesting lesson and I was able to model Jigsaw and I-Chart – we’ll leave Discussion Web until later.

The afternoon lesson was a math lesson on measures of central tendency. I had posted a paper with marks on it so participants could measure their height in inches and record it on another large piece of chart paper on the wall. As participants came back from lunch, they helped each other measure their height and posted the data on the chart paper. In the lesson, we used the original data as a springboard to discuss organizing the data, describing the data [here's where measures of central tendency came in] and then which descriptions were appropriate in different circumstances.

In retrospect, I wish I had used the data generated to better advantage. I could have had participants calculate the mean, median and mode when they read the short text; that would have helped make the connection between our data and the reading. If Leigh [a Leadership Team member who is a math teacher and worked this first workshop] had not been there I would have made an even bigger mess of the lesson. When she first looked at the data, all mixed up [which is how I wanted it to be] she just couldn't stand it. She said, first I have to organize this data -- and she did; but she did a sort of stem and leaf plot [which turned out to be a good idea because then we discussed the tri-modal nature of the data].

But it all worked out in the end, and although it wasn't perfect, the lesson worked. We used cubing as a way to discuss and refine the vocabulary terms of mean, median, mode, and outlier. Next time around with this lesson, though, I'll pick a better text - outlier wasn't even in the text!

Well, that's what reflection and revision are for, I guess.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sequence or Chaos?

Last week in class, I rediscovered the power of turning class over to student -- at least in the math section. The article we read about the use of language in mathematics, specifically symbols, was really good [and I wish the one on language in science had had the strategy suggestions that were in the math article]. I had students select one strategy, apply it to some concept in math and present the idea to the class. Wow! How creative these pre-service teachers are; I was amazed at their energy in presenting their ideas. I wondered, for a moment, what it would be like to just wander through the topics in any old order -- sort of a chaotic meander through content area reading. We took an extra day with the presentations, but I really don't care. I'll make up the time somewhere, but I'm still wondering about abandoning the "lock-step" order I've outlined. I truly believe that assessment has to come first - and that they need a firm grounding in assessment topics they aren't likely to have experienced as students [getting to know you strategies, for one thing]. But at the moment it feels a little like trying to run through knee-deep water - sort of slogging through topics. Maybe it's just me, though. I didn't mind going down the "rabbit hole" of the strategies, and I'll do it again when we need to; but I guess I'll keep slogging through. For one thing, if I abandoned the schedule totally, the students would really feel like class was chaotic [which is, now that I think of it, a bit like a real classroom].

Oh well, for now, we will consider assessment - so I'd better get busy. Both science and math groups gave me a lead into criteria - a nice coincidence.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

New trails blazed

I am attempting to multi-task, something that my generation did not grow up with and so are not quite as good at doing -- so while I wait for teachers to come to the Chat room, I think I'll "think through my fingers" about class today.

Maybe I was an idiot to try to actually teach class today, after the big game with Florida State and the horrible second half, but I plowed on and actually had an epiphany of sorts. One of the topics I really want to introduce to the undergraduates is that of creating criteria. In years past, I've always created the criteria for the Literacy Autobiography with them and that has worked well. But this semester, I dropped that assignment and all the other assignments have rubrics pretty much set in stone because they are tied to the conceptual framework. So, what to do? In the math section, one of the groups preparing to present their strategy from the article we read for class is focused on using Projects with math students to help them learn the math. Here is the entry into creating criteria: we will begin by thinking about criteria for their Project. Likewise, we can brainstorm in the science group about alternative assessments and create criteria for one as a group.

Actually, without meaning to do it, I've stumbled onto a very good 1-2 punch: the articles we read about language and science/math lead nicely into assessment. And all this reminds me that one way to help students connect to something of importance to them is to have them compare the "what makes good assessment" to how assessment is handled in their own classes.

Now, I just need to figure out how I'm going to handle providing them with the additional assessment strategies over and above what's in the text. We probably won't get to any of that on Thursday, because we are going to meet first to hear about the Italy Maymester opportunity.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Decisions, decisions

I'm wondering now if I should use the Blog tool in Blackboard rather than have students post to or some other Blog site. Maybe I'll ask the students what they would like to do.

That means, though, that I have a very short window of time to remember how to do the Blog tool in Blackboard. Best get busy!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New beginnings, old mistakes

Well, first class of the new semester is over and I'm looking forward to this semester. For the first time ever we've managed to schedule four sections of the READ class by content area. While that may be more comfortable for students, I wonder if we have sacrificed the opportunity to promote interdisciplinary connections and to push our students to think more like experienced teachers. It's sometimes difficult for pre-service teachers to adapt strategies they experience in the context of a lesson that is not taken from their own content area. On the other hand, when math pre-service teachers experience a math lesson, they really don't experience it like students -- they have too much prior knowledge. It's a real conundrum. I'm not sure how this will work but I'm looking forward to the semester.

Class today was OK - but not great. I was disappointed in myself, and as I think about it, I wish I had eliminated the think writes and just kept the What's Easy/What's Hard activity. When I required the Literacy Autobiography, the think writes were important -- but since I eliminated that assignment I'm not sure I need to keep them. If I had eliminated those think writes, I might have had enough time to do the chapter mapping justice - but these are college seniors -- they don't really need me to model that strategy but they do need to see me model how to handle assigning that kind of note making strategy to high school students. Reminds me once again to quit trying to do too much in each class. I'll have to go back to the schedule and make some adjustments.

I can see that I need to build in time on Tuesday to have students set up their Blogs -- and I 've got to talk to Agida about the math journals. I hope we can combine those assignments because I cannot eliminate mine - it's tied to the Conceptual Framework. Oh well, tomorrow is another day.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Two or more heads are better than one!

This morning, during a lesson in our CEALL workshop, we were engaged in a lesson on alternative energy sources. A participant asked why we were using INSERT with the normal signs [check, plus, question mark] and wondered if we could have used W for "how this works"; A for advantage; and D for disadvantage. DUH! Of course! the I-chart was designed to focus the readers on how each alaternative energy source worked, the advantages and disadvantages of each one. Once Jaye suggested this, it seemed obvious that using the adapted coding would have been easier and would have further focused readers on the important information. However, another participant said that perhaps we needed to look at more than just that information . . . perhaps once students had read and coded their notes, they could go back and recode using the new codes -- what brilliant teachers we have in CEALL! The adaptations they suggested were right on target - and next time I use this lesson, I'll have readers code the text using a different set of codes. Truly, this shows how great it is to have colleagues to collaborate with!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A hard habit to form

We always think about how hard habits are to break . . . but after several e-mails from students who have forgotten their Blog URL, or their user name, or [heaven forbid because on this one I can't help] their password -- I realize that although I write regularly [in a personal journal, as well as in this Blog - OK, irregularly, but I do write in it!] many of my students don't. Blogging or writing reflectively about one's practice is really a habit you have to develop. Here's why I think it is important -- I'm a perfect example right now of what can happen if you don't think of your teaching objectively and on a regular basis.

Our last class was on 12 January - a week and a half ago. If even I have difficulty remembering what we did in class and the assignments I gave students, I can't imagine the difficulty of the students, immersed in their most immediate tasks of surviving student teaching every day. In the meantime, I've also had things to occupy my mind - we held our fourth workshop for the Center of Excellence for Adolescent Literacy and Learning [CEALL] this past weekend so I worked feverishly for the week before to get ready, then worked Friday evening and all day Saturday - I was exhausted by Sunday and didn't do any school work - just couldn't face it. The workshop went really well, but one of the questions that kept occurring for the Apprentices [and that I kept thinking about, too] was the question of differentiated instruction for students who are at vastly different places in their learning and coupled with that, the question of how to assess these students' learning. Of course, the answer I have probably seems like the proverbial "pat" answer from a so-called Ivory tower: give students a variety of assessments and always build in choice for them so that they can decide how best to show what they've learned. Easy to say, but hard to conceptualize and some teachers can't seem to get their minds around how that would work. I thought about that as I considered the teachers we have participating in CEALL this go 'round. Some are trying strategies and thinking about them - others seem to be caught like deer in the headlights, frozen or paralyzed by fear of trying something new and failing or not "doing it right" -- in reality, there is no one right way to accomplish any of the strategies, and the only thing I've found to be almost fool-proof is using the Learning Cycle for planning purposes. So, I'm wondering how to handle participants in the program with vastly different degrees of implementation - the different pace with which the teachers implement the ideas depends on a number of factors, and I'm not even sure I know what those factors are. Certainly, risk taking and feelings of efficacy are factors -- but so are administrative support and administrative willingness to tolerate teachers' risk taking. All in all, having a much bigger group [we've got double the number] makes things quite different this year.

So back to my train of thought about Blogging. Here I am, trying to remember what in Thunder we did on Friday the 12th of January, and I had to go back to my PowerPoint for that class to see what I did and did not get to -- I've also got notes scribbled on the printout of the slides but can't seem to find them at the moment. I always have so much planned, and never get to it all -- but I have planned in sort of a module kind of way, so that there are parts of the lessons I can eliminate or defer to later - and so I was actually pleased with our classes during Bookend, not because I did such a great job but because it all seemed to work. The one thing I really wanted to get to during those six days was creating criteria - but in reality that can be done on our next class period. In fact, it may be better to do it then, when students have their own Think Writes from their students and can physically go through the assessment process. I had planned to teach a lesson each week but now realize that the next class meeting, which is coming up fast, I need to focus on assessment again and create the criteria for not only the Young Adult Literature project [YALIT], but show how criteria in general are created both with and without student input. So, rather than teach a lesson, we will discuss the Web site assessment activity, go through the think write assessment activity [I am excited about that one - it can be the precursor to the creation of criteria for YALIT] and do the criteria for YALIT - still leaving time to "sit around the table" and talk about the beginning weeks of student teaching. So, over the weekend I will need to cobble together the PowerPoint for class -- that's how I keep myself straight, having an interactive PowerPoint that guides me through class. Helps hold my thinking and planning so that I don't forget anything. Good think I do this - or I'd be sunk right now!!

So, I need to get in the habit of Blogging at the end of every class we have. I couldn't possibly do this in a K-12 setting, but could set aside 30 minutes or so each week to write and reflect about the way things went during the week. I'm hoping this will become a habit with at least some of my students. We'll see . . .

Monday, January 01, 2007

Ready or not, a new semester

Well, ready or not, here is a new semester. I love teaching the MAT students, perhaps because I think that a middle school reading course [or more accurately, a content area reading course] is what my own MAT program at Emory lacked. I even sent the director of the Emory MAT program an e-mail to that effect last year and got a good response from him - of course, I don't know whether they have decided to do anything about it.

I especially enjoy teaching the MAT group who are student teaching. The ideas and strategies in READ 867 are so applicable - and it is easy to tie assignments to what they have to do anyway in the classroom. So, spring semesters are favorites of mine -- almost makes up for not having college football in the spring. I'm currently watching Tennesee lose to Penn State - and hoping that in the next three minutes things will change, but I doubt it.

I am still not finished with the syllabus for 867, but will work on it tomorrow. Today, hopefully before the Rose Bowl game, I have to get all the Christmas decorations packed away - they are down, and ready to be stored for yet another year, but it is always such an easy task to put off -- except that this year, I have boxes everywhere -- and have to clean them up so I can walk around the house. When even my clutter limit is reached, I know things must be bad! I also have to clean off my desk at some point -- I've got about 5 layers of papers, journals, folders, books, and articles stacked up on the desk. Hopefully, I'll be able to see the desktop surface in the next few days. Oh well, another year and I'm not dead yet -- I guess that's a good sign.