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.