Monday, January 18, 2010

Back to the drawing board - again!

I love this MAT class - they really make me think and they ask the best questions. Frequently, though, the questions they ask are ones I wish I had considered before planning our lessons. Today, I probably pushed them over the edge and it wasn't my intention. Had I planned my lesson differently, it would have been much more effective. Some candidates had been in class yesterday for 9 hours - I can't even imagine, except that I remember working in professional development in Eastern Europe, and the Latvians would push for sessions from 8 AM to 11 at night – grueling, but still and all, I was presenting not having to absorb 9 hours worth of information – a very different proposition. Today's class was OK, but not great. Disappointing [for me and for the 867 candidates]. I know I missed the mark. I went through the fundamentals of vocabulary instruction, including introducing vocabulary and then teaching strategies to help students refine their understanding of the vocabulary terms. What I had not considered was the conditional knowledge I needed to supply. Why didn't I? Have I suddenly become senile? I wrote an article on this very thing - and it's so important. But I was so busy focusing on the declarative [what the strategy is called] and the procedural [how to do the strategy] that I neglected the when and why [conditional] knowledge that is crucial. Fortunately, Darryl asked the all important question: when do we do this? So, here is what I need to remember to do next time I teach this topic:

First, I need to use some of the preactive strategies [knowledge rating, morphology, graphic organizers] as I'm teaching the lessons - then I can refer back to the activity when I discuss preactive strategies. I did use a graphic organizer with them, and later labeled it as a strategy I had used, but I needed to take the opportunity to be more explicit and use knowledge rating, for example, because that would have helped the 867 candidates understand where I was going. Then I need to use the interactive strategies [Four Square, Frayer Model, and Word Map] to help students refine their knowledge of terminology we have covered [like ZPD, cognitive flexibility, efferent, and aesthetic] and I need to show them [rather than tell them] how to do it. Specifically, I could show them a Four Square, for example, using one of the terms we have already studied [say, schema theory or semantic knowledge, or syntactic knowledge], then have them collaboratively complete a Four Square on ZPD, for example. Then they could complete a Four Square on aesthetic and efferent stance/purpose -- and we could then unpack the process. That way, they would have experienced the use of these strategies - DARN!! That would have been perfect today. Rats. Well, next time class meets, that's what I'll do - we will refine our understanding of those terms - and I may even use a knowledge rating sheet, too. Hmmmmm - I'd better get busy and do the power point now before I forget all this!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The thousandth time is the charm!

I felt really, really good about today's class. I guess it only takes teaching for nearly a half century to get some things right! The awesome thing about today was that I was able to have the MAT students experience the learning cycle one more time with the Columbus lesson, and experience how sometimes the learning cycle begins at the end of a class period and continues the next day. I hope they realized that comparing the "homework" they did last night with a partner served as a preactive strategy today.

For the first time, the theory lesson went well for all of the theories. I've always been pleased with the schema theory sections with all the experiments - gets students involved and makes clear the connections between schema and instruction. But I've never quite liked doing the kind of activities I've done in the past with the other theories. But today, I was able to illustrate the other theories [Vygotsky, cognitive flexibility, and reader response] by refering to the lessons students had just experienced - and it worked so much better and was more efficient, too. Makes me wonder why it took me so long to figure this out. I've only been teaching a version of this stuff since 1975. DUH!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Through the looking glass: Seeing and seeing again

Every now and again, my experience helps me to not make mistakes while I am teaching. Weird, I guess, when classes that are planned on the fly go better than classes planned to the last detail. Maybe I pay attention to the students more closely when I am flying “by the seat of my pants” – I don’t know. But class last night went so well, and I learned so much, that I need to hold my thinking [not to mention hold my memory of a good class experience] that I need to think through my fingers about the class.

Class had not met for several weeks – it is a class taught through the Center of Excellence for Adolescent Literacy and Learning, and we meet about every two weeks but took off between Thanksgiving and New Years. Anyway, I knew that after so long a time we would all need a refresher – a review – of what we had experienced and learned, so I planned a few strategies that would accomplish that task: a content-focused People Search, List-Group-Label [LGL] and Semantic Feature Analysis [SFA]. Three strategies for three hours of class: OK – we could go early, I reasoned, if it didn’t take the entire three hour class period. First, though, I had to figure out just what I had done with this group of teachers. Trouble was, with my senility I couldn’t remember!

So I had to take some time to dig up every lesson plan/power point I had used, then go through them to figure out the strategies we had experienced. Good thing, too, because I needed to do that in any case – just for record keeping with the grant, but I digress. OK – so, after figuring out the list of strategies we had experienced and/or talked about, I designed a People Search that asked teachers to find someone who had used several of the strategies and ideas we had discussed. Next, I drew up the list for a “word sort” aka List-Group-Label activity. Then I put the same strategies in a Semantic Feature Analysis grid and created descriptors to use in the SFA activity. A word here about the SFA might be needed: In the past, I had always gotten into trouble with this particular strategy because there are many ways to use the strategies we have learned, and there are NO RIGHT ANSWERS to either of the activities – so discussions and disagreements have often broken out as I have used these strategies in the past. Not to worry – I was trying to review with them and remind the teachers of what they had learned. I trusted that I could figure out a way to handle this – and so I plunged ahead.

The People Search was a good “ice breaker” and helped teachers clear their minds of all the stuff from the day’s teaching; it didn’t take too much time, and served as a way to get them up and moving initially, and talking about the ideas and strategies we have been learning. Next, we moved on to the List-Group-Label. While giving directions for the List-Group-Label, I mentioned that they could sort the strategies listed in any number of ways, that there was no one right way to do it, just that however they came up with the groups had to make sense to them and they had to be able to defend their groupings and the labels they used. I gave a few examples [preactive, interactive, reflective, writing, discussion, vocabulary, etc.]. The teachers got into small groups of three to four for the List-Group-Label activity, and took 20-30 minutes to discuss each of the strategies, and decide how to sort them into groups. Meanwhile, I circulated among the groups, listening to their conversations – asking questions when they needed to clarify an idea or answering their questions about different strategies. Once I had seen that teachers had just about completed the grouping and labeling task, I asked for a representative from each group to come up and write just the group labels on the chart paper [a better way to approach the collating of data than I had tried before]. We then took a look at the labels and discussed their similarities and differences – ultimately coming up with a set of labels that we could all agree on. Thus, we pulled the big ideas together [that strategies can be used before, during, and after reading to help students learn, and that some strategies can be used in more than one phase of the lesson] and I was able to make the point that when you find a strategy that is flexible enough to be used in several lesson phases [i.e, KWL, graphic organizers, Think Writes] they are very powerful tools for fostering student learning.

Once we had completed discussion of the LGL activity, I handed out the SFA sheet. First we completed several of the rows together, discussing the fact that some strategies will have checks in more than one block, and some won’t. Once the group had discussed the three examples we had done together, I let them work in their groups again to complete checking the characteristics of the strategies [I used preactive, interactive, reflective; Assessment for learning: affective, Assessment for learning: cognitive; associated with prior knowledge, develops disciplinary thinking, vocabulary, discussion, writing to learn, study strategy – the last few were added just to help them think of the features of the strategies]. I was most interested in the first three items drawn from the Learning Cycle – an idea that is foundational to the Center’s professional development program. Teachers worked diligently on the SFA, which required a lot of thinking and talking in order to complete it. After teachers had completed the SFA, we began talking about the strategy and how to use it. As I heard myself say, “the real value of SFA is not just filling out the chart – it’s the rich discussion about the terms and characteristics that occurs after students complete the chart.” I realized that I needed to model this – so I selected just the three initial characteristics listed and asked them to look down the chart and come up with the things they noticed about all the strategies tagged as “preactive” – and as we talked about the characteristics of preactive strategies, I was able to guide the discussion to the idea that some preactive strategies are dependent on students having some prior knowledge, whereas others are less dependent on students’ prior knowledge. This characteristic is very useful when selecting an appropriate preactive strategy. If you don’t think students will have much prior knowledge about a topic, best to choose a strategy that does not require a lot of prior knowledge [i.e., one that is not based on brainstorming] OR you better have a way to provide some additional prior knowledge if their prior knowledge level is so low that a brainstorming session falls flat – something like previewing the text, for example.

Pulling these sorts of characteristics out of the discussion of all preactive strategies was a much better way to help teachers see these big ideas than what I have done in the past [an interactive lecture on preactive strategies – yuck!]. We moved on to interactive strategies and I was able to discuss scaffolding and organizing features of strategies and able to point out that some interactive strategies are ones that students can become independent users of [2-column notes, INSERT, and chapter mapping] whereas others will remain those that teachers will use [structured notes, some graphic organizers]. When we turned to a discussion of reflective strategies, we discussed using a balance of discussion and writing and having students use a variety of forms of writing [i.e., drawing or graphing, for example] as they select reflective strategies. We also discussed different vocabulary strategies that promote refining vocabulary knowedge [four square, Frayer model, and concept of definition map] vs. those that promote reflection on larger chunks of content [i.e. LGL and SFA, categories, and analogies].

All in all, the class was much more successful that I had ever dreamed – and I learned a lesson all over again – structuring activities that enable participants to construct their own understandings is much much better than a lecture – even an interactive lecture! This will influence the way I teach the middle school reading class this semester – I’ve found a way to focus on teaching lessons in which strategies have been embedded, then using reflective strategies to help participants see common characteristics of strategies that will aid in selecting strategies for lessons. What a rush this experience was!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Overwhelmed? 1-06-10

Well, I may really have pushed the class over the edge today. I thought there would be a general revolt when Lisa started her Twitter introduction. Perhaps I have overwhelmed them with all the technology, but the MAT candidates need to learn about the technology their students use today and it doesn’t seem like there has been a lot of technology built into their program. Maybe I should have delayed the Twitter deal until next week – but with 3 hours of class every day, and having to be at mid-term by next Friday, I’m not sure they wouldn’t be overwhelmed anyway. Oh well, I seem to leave out increasingly more of the topics every year, and I’ll have to carve out even more after today, so it becomes a juggling act to include the most important topics and at the same time provide them with experience using a wide variety of strategies in class. What could I have done to lessen the impact of so much information?

I could have delayed the Twitter introduction until next week [but Lisa was only available up until Wednesday of next week, so that might have been problematic]. I suppose I could have eliminated the Twitter information altogether. But that feels like cheating them out of experiences and knowledge they need – or will in the future. If I had delayed or eliminated the Twitter information, I might have gotten the topics scheduled for today “covered” – but what then? I hate feeling that old “cover the curriculum” urge, but at the same time appreciate that there are topics that must be addressed in this one and only literacy course. I know I tend to plan more than I can possibly do, but in all honesty I’d rather have topics and activities I change during class [to model what happens in the “real world of a middle school classroom” when time runs short] than to short change them on a sound foundation in literacy. Trouble is, many of the MAT candidates have developed a “hard copy” view of literacy – they have never heard of the New Literacy Studies, or of the ideas and concepts that accompany NLS. I can only hope that as the semester progresses, they begin to see the place of literacy in their disciplines, and in their own classrooms.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Here We Go Again

Another spring semester begins tomorrow - and this time around got smarter and read the initial blog entries from last spring, thus saving me from making the same mistakes I made last spring - or at least saving me from making the ones I blogged about! We'll see how this goes.

I am going to teach this semester without a book and that feels good to me right now. I'll use current articles from the major content focused journals on the various topics we will be exploring. Hopefully, this will establish a habit of professional reading for the students.

I've planned several activities for tomorrow's class, and hopefully will have planned so that I don't have too much crammed into the class, but will provide a good overview of the course for students. Sure glad I looked at the earlier blog entries!