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.