Thursday, October 30, 2008

Walking on broken glass . . .

It's that time of semester when everything feels like too much: classes, grading, committees, advising. I'm sure students feel the same way.  I'm sitting here, listening to Annie Lennox and wondering if what I do makes any difference at all. 

I was reading the wiki postings of students from one of the sections of content area reading that I teach. For the entire semester I have pushed the idea of a Learning Cycle - a three-part way to plan lessons that is congruent with workshop-style classes, inquiry and discovery lessons, and direct instruction. Every lesson I have taught has been organized according to this three-part pattern. A requirement of my course is that my students review and comment on lesson plans created by students from another university and posted on a shared Wiki. One of my students posted a comment about another students' lesson, one that was crafted according to this three part learning cycle [although it was described using the terminology from Laura Robb's book, before-during-after, terminology I have used as well]. My student was impressed by the lesson because she claimed never to have seen this three-part way to plan a lesson. How can this be? I felt like screaming. 

What scares me is that if pre-service teachers cannot make connections between what they have experienced, been taught, and read about and the same concept couched in other terms, how are they going to make connections between student responses to what they are doing instructionally and their own teaching decisions made on the fly when data from 20-30 students is coming at them at the speed of light?

Well, I've whined enough - maybe after fall break things will look up. So many of these students show such potential - I know that they will go out and truly change their students' lives. Their analyses of student responses to their strategic content area literacy assessment were thoughtful - and many were at a level I would have expected only from practicing teachers with several years of experience. Their assessments were so well done, I should probably think about those students who are already showing insight beyond their own experience and realize that what I've told my own students is true: you won't ever stop trying to reach all your students, but you can't beat yourself up if you don't reach all of them.



That is scary that a pre-service teacher had never heard of the learning cycle but it doesn’t surprise me. I went to a very small high school that was in a very low socio-economical area and it was hard to even get a lesson in due to crowd control classes. Plus the district could not afford to split up to many classes because AP classes would only have around 4 or 5 students while CP courses would only benefit around half of the students (which is not many because I graduated with 39 people. Learning anything at my school was hard but I believe if my teachers would have used the learning cycle then I may have learned more.
I just want to start by saying that the learning cycle is the BEST thing I have ever learned in an education class. It makes me think back to my high school years when I had no idea why this information was beneficial to me other than to graduate. I never felt connected to my school work (unless it dealt with sports). I believe that if my teachers tried the learning cycle and connected their instruction to my prior knowledge, then I would have been more motivated to do school work at task which lead to working twice as hard in college to catch up with what was most students Prior Knowledge. I believe in the learning cycle and will try to develop my lessons within that cycle. I am a firm believer in a hook to get students motivated because if you do not activate Prior Knowledge, you are just wasting your time. Motivation is also very important. I will strive to help my students understand why this information is important because I do not want students to end up the same way I did and always have to play catch-up in college or in life.
In conclusion, what you say in class reach more people than you think. I know I have learned many things about teaching that I had never thought of before. I believe in the things you teach (though I may only choose to use a few). The learning cycle is the best teaching tool out there and I will form my lessons around it.

Shannon Bagwell said...

This time of year is crazy for students and teachers, and with the stress of papers, finals, projects and student teaching a student cannot help but to feel rushed, stressed, frustrated and pressed for time, so maybe the student who made the comment on Wiki didn't take time to think about what they were posting. The student could have been in a hurry to start work on a paper or delirious from finishing a test and just simply didn't take the time to recognize that three part cycle they were saying they had never heard of was the learning cycle.

Believe me what you teach us does make a difference, I used some of the strategies from your class in the lesson I taught my US History class and they worked wonderfully. The learning cycle is important for teachers to use, and before taking Read I had no idea what it was. I always knew that making the lesson connect to students was important but I never would have thought to use some of the steps in the learning cycle until you showed us how useful and impactful they were.

I think you should feel positive about what you are teaching rather than frustrated that your students aren't listening it or grasping the information. Even though I occasionally drift off I always come out of the classroom feeling like I've learned something that will better me as a teacher.

As far as using student feedback and applying it to instruction I think that will be a simple task now that I know all these neat new tricks!

Cheynna Zygmunt said...

I completely agree with your feelings about students. I think its really interesting to sit here and read this and put it into context in my own teaching experiences this semester; but at the same time you are reflecting on the class that you teach me. I see the learning cycle as something that is extremely important in teaching as well as learning and fortunately, I have been introduced to this idea before entering your class. I am petrified by the idea that my students will walk out of class and not have learned anything. So I can definitely see where your frustration comes into play. However, a little bit of my nervousness wore off when I took the advice you gave me earlier in the semester and made my students complete a KWL chart about a movie they were watching in class. It worked great and quelled my fears on them learning nothing from me. There were so many students who in the "what I know" column put things that I had taught in the first part of class! So I think that sometimes there are going to be students who don't pick up on everything and those who will always hand in a paper that says "I learned nothing." But I hope that its not every student.

And looking at your class this semester, I have taken a lot from it. I never thought of half of the ideas that you have presented us with and I know that I'm not the only one. Several students in the class discuss ideas that we are going to use in our own classes and there are always terms that you taught us being thrown around. Sometimes you have to be able to sit back and see the things you did well as well as criticize yourself for those things that can be improved in the future. But not to fear, because people in your classes are learning things! I promise!

Adam Holland said...

First of all, I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for all of the helpful strategies you have taught us this semester. I plan on using the majority of them, and I feel like I'm building a pretty good bag of tricks. However, it can be challenging to remember all of them at any one point in time, and I can see where a student might say something on the wiki that they didn't really mean. We have learned a lot more than we realize, even if some of us wouldn't like to admit it. If we actually have students (and we probably do) that pay that little attention in class, I feel like they should never have been allowed in the Education program at Clemson.
I think this has been a really helpful semester because we share our READ class with your Science students. Sometimes I get more out of their examples than those designed for History. I think that integrating these classes is a wonderful idea because we get to see the other side of the coin. Teachers-no matter what their subject area is-should all be working together to help their students learn. What better way is there than to have us work together in class? Even though the Social Studies students outnumber the Science students, their imput is definitely appreciated. After all, we (SS teachers) will be teaching kids who like Math, English, and Science way more than History. Having class with teachers from other Content Areas helps us see into different thought processes so we will be able to better help our students. I don't think we would have learned near as much in the other READ class, although I haven't been in the class to know for sure. All I know is that I'm glad our class size is manageable and I appreciate you balancing the two sections out. I feel much more confident about student-teaching next semester since I've had your class. That is why I love our education program; everything is practical and useful.

Dru Winchester said...

I really just wanted to comment on your ability to change course with no visible discomfort. In my math section of READ, I know we've been a pain! I think it might be that we are math people and lack the creativity to see applications for things not presented in a math context. When people have addressed this with you, you have been able to stop and change your teaching, planning, etc... I think that is your biggest strength and I hope I am able to mimic it in my teaching. I aprreciate many of the strategies you have shown us and have included many of them in my unit plans for next semester. I hope that they will go as well as I plan, but mostly I hope to be able to switch gears and find something else if they don't!

I hope you don't get too frusterated with us. Sometimes when I'm tutoring, I get SO frusterated when my students don't know what I'm talking about and it's the same thing/s we have just done the last session! At times, I feel like I am wasting my breath and energy because they obviously aren't getting it. It's nice to see you feel that way as well, although it's not nice to be part of the group that makes you feel that way! It's humbling to know that we, who consider ourselves professionals, generate as much trouble for our professors as we feel generated from our students. Reading your blog shows a different side of you and it's appreciated!

Dru Winchester

Raleigh Sumner said...

I think that you have a right to be concerned about a student who doesn't show connections from one set of material to another. I would find that some sort of mental lapse a problem and a source of anger myself in your position. I must say though that perhaps it is not a complete fault of the student or yourself that brought about this lapse in cohesive thought. Maybe the student doesn't learn conducively to your style of teaching. Perhaps the student simply has not paid attention during the course of the semester and truely doesn't know what a learning cycle is. Dr. Ridgeway I must say that I am not sure that I am always sure what is going on in class and what is being taught. I find myself lost alot during group work and during activities and have to ask classmates to explain whats going on. For me it is a language issue. You use too many technical terms and expect us to use them as well when in reality what they mean is more important. I remember charts and diagrams by what they do not what they are. I think of a KWL as things you want to learn, why you want to learn them, and give me something you already know. I know thats not exactly how it goes but it helps me remember whats going on.

I also think that all of us have potential, not just those of us who make no mistakes. I don't see your student as a lost cause but a cause celibe, someone who can be helped because he or she is willing and open minded because she liked the idea when she saw it and thought about it. I think that some reflective lesson planning would go a long way in helping this student. I myself do not consider me as a wonderful student, capable of using all of these strategies we are given. SOme of them I like and will gladly use, others I won't remember when I leave the class other than what they are. Its not to sound mean or disheartening but is simply an issue of choice. Somethings we choose to remember some things we do not. I would like to think that perhaps this student doesn't know the learning cycle but in the future will have some really unique and handy ways of his/her own to engage a class. You just have to look at it through a glass of hope.

Raleigh Sumner