Wednesday, January 26, 2011

WOW! This just gets better and better

I need to do this before heading home tonight - I'll probably add to it when I arrive there, but lack of sleep might catch up with me.

I am in awe of these MAT students - this class is, well, WOW! Great thinkers, wonderful discussions, insightful questions; a joy to teach. I didn't even mind having to teach tonight after being up nearly all night waiting on my first granddaughter to make her grand entrance into the world.

I have always thought that this class [middle school reading] should be taught at the end of the program, but after two classes with these wonderful pre-service teachers I'm beginning to see that perhaps taking the course early on might be a better idea. I am so enjoying this group - and learning so much from them. Their questions and comments are right on target and help me [and hopefully everyone in the class] to clarify my thinking.

How can it be that after 42 years in this business, I'm still as enthusiastic as I was on my very first day of teaching? I leave class less tired than I arrive - amazing. It's like the CEALL workshops were; I'd arrive on Friday nights dragging, but by Saturday afternoon at 5PM, I was rejuvenated - I feel the same energy at the end of this class every Wednesday night. I just need to remember to begin closure a bit earlier because it seems we always run over about 5-10 minutes. Just because I could stay another hour or so doesn't mean they can or even want to!! Well, enough tonight - I'm headed home. A great day all the way around.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Flying without technology

Finally, the first class of this semester with the "regular" section of middle school reading - we missed last week because of the ice and snow and are now playing catch up. I felt that class went well in spite of a few glitches and technology problems [once again -- is this something to do with me? I've had tech problems for the past two beginning classes]. It's always something! But it could have been better so I need to think about what happened, how things worked and didn't work based on the evidence at hand, what I might have done instead - and how this will influence what we do next week.

I arrived at UCG well ahead of time to make sure I had everything I needed for class and decided [thank goodness] to duplicate my power point slides in a handout. That turned out to be fortuitous because when I was preparing my laptop to interface with the projector, the bulb blew. I did not have a spare projector [but I'll be sure to bring one and keep it at UCG from now on!]. It was 5 pm, and although there were tech people available, David couldn't do anything about replacing the bulb and all the other rooms were just too small for the nearly 30 students I had in class. Oh well, a chance to model how teachers must roll with the punches - if you aren't flexible, you'd better not choose teaching as a career!

Anyway, in spite of the blown projector bulb we went right on with class, but I couldn't show students blackboard or my Blog, or the Wiki - so I'm sure those who are not tech savvy are wondering what level of Dante's hell they've entered. It has been five years since I taught this particular section of middle school reading, another thing that I should have thought more about in terms of what we did in class. For five years I've dealt exclusively with inservice teachers, senior undergraduates, doctoral candidates, and graduating MAT students - all of whom have lots of prior knowledge and experience with educational jargon, text, philosophy, and theory. The majority of these students are in their first semester of the MAT program, and several have returned to graduate studies after ten or more years out in what people like to call the "real world." Translation: I probably put them all in shock because I did a lot of assumptive teaching last night - not good. Goodness only knows how many jargon words and phrases I used that left them completely in the dark - my only hope is that I will be able to remedy this as the semester progresses.

We did get to almost all the activities I had planned and the eliminated activity is one that will probably work better later in the semester, given the experience level of this group of students. I think students experienced the power of small group discussions, and several commented on that very thing in their exit slips, which I am very glad I did even though it kept them past the 7:45 target end of class. These are really sharp folks and their exit slips evidenced their powerful thinking and will help me to shape a more effective class for next week, I hope. I think my "think aloud" strategy of stopping the lesson and doing a little bit of thinking aloud about my decision making process as a teacher helped them see what it's like inside the head of a teacher.

Speaking of exit slips, they really were eye opening. I felt better about class after reading through them last night - students did understand the big ideas I was trying to get across to them. I am also pleased that I provided sufficient scaffolding for them with respect to the readings for next week. I gave a map for the Moje (2000) article and had them do 2-column notes for the first part of chapter 1. Next week I can go back and point out how that particular scaffolding worked to make the readings easier to comprehend, and talk about gradual release of responsibility. The 2-column note making was actually a spur of the moment decision in class - I was just going to have them read the text, but as I listened to their discussions about the position papers and paid attention to the kinds of questions they asked in class, I realized that I had not factored in their lack of prior knowledge - they are just beginning in the education field and many of them are coming from business or manufacturing backgrounds - the kind of reading that Moje requires I knew to prepare them for, but they also needed some scaffolding for the chapter reading as well.

So what worked last night included having the power point notes for them to see what I was talking about and to hold their thinking, the thinking aloud that I did throughout class, the small group discussions, and the People Search. I have to create a collaborative learning community out of this group of folks who don't know each other. When I teach the Bookend class of MAT students who have been together in classes for a year, I inherit a collaborative caring community of educators. This go round I have to create that -- so the power of the strategies I use to establish this trust and collaboration will be evident. In the Bookend class I often feel we are wasting time doing the get-to-know-you strategies since I am the only stranger in the group there - but even the Bookend students need to experience strategies they can use in class to create their own communities of learners. So, a lot did work, and I think my decision to eliminate the paired reading was a good one - there were more important things to accomplish and there is time later in the semester to model that. The assessment activity likewise will wait and will probably be more effective if we complete it when we are discussing the topic of assessment. So even though students are feeling a bit confused, class as a whole wasn't a disaster - just the technology part!

So, next week we need to discuss the Moje and the first part of Chapter 1 - and then I can have them develop their list of "Fabulous Five" or whatever I end up calling the principles and guidelines to keep in mind when they are teaching. Actually, as I think about this right now, I realize that without reading chapter 1 and Moje, these students are probably totally unprepared to come up with instructional ideas on their own, just based on the position papers. DUH!! Another instance of my not taking into account just where these students are in their journey in the MAT program. So, it was a good thing that we ran short of time and that I decided to skip the culminating activity associated with their small group discussion. Well, well . . . I finally got something right for a change!! After 100 years of teaching, it's about time.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

This is retirement????

Retirement doesn’t feel much different than working so far! Two days into the semester and I'm working just as hard as I always do - even though I've taught this course for years and years. Of course, the first day was a total technological meltdown [couldn't go smoothly, could it?]. First, I couldn’t get the podium screen to respond – had to call a technical person to come help – but at least I had an opportunity to model what you do when technology doesn’t work. Then, my computer went completely black screen – nothing. Idiot that I am, I called the tech guy again – only to discover that I had plugged into a “plug with no electricity so my battery was dead. DUH! So, at last we got the computer plugged in and the projector going, and class went along pretty well – had to jettison the last activity, but that’s not too bad. I won’t do it right now [reading and discussing the information about struggling readers in the syllabus] but might return to it if I can remember later in the semester.

Today, technology worked fine . . . BUT - I had left my iPhone at home [felt absolutely naked without it!], so I didn’t have my trusty timer with me [thank goodness there was one in the classroom] AND I forgot my watch. Must be senility – I remember thinking clearly “I feel like I’m forgetting something this morning” as I pulled out of the driveway, but it was just a brief thought that didn’t stay long enough to be examined to any degree and off I drove sans iPhone and watch. In any case, students were pretty good about keeping me on track with time, and I did have the other timer.Last night, I didn't get home until nearly 7pm, and I was so tired that I just chose not to do any more work on today's lesson. I guess it's really true that the mind continues to work while you sleep, because I tried all yesterday afternoon to figure out how to present the assessment data from PASS, NAEP, and PISA. It would have taken HOURS to construct graphs and charts to represent the data and convey to the students my summary of what is going on with it . . . when I woke up this morning, I realized that rather than boiling the data down for students, I might be better off giving them print outs of data summaries and have them discuss and analyze the data themselves. Worked much better than I could have predicted, and was less time consuming for me. Once again, less is more!

Miracle of miracles, we got everything done in class today, even though I added a couple of reflection pieces focused on the strategies we were using [the first group work activity, having Book Clubs create a Coat of Arms for themselves, and QQTT for the position statements].One of the [perceptive] students mentioned how dated the position statements are, making the point that we've focused on adolescent literacy for over a decade with little to show for it. Now we are primed and ready for a discussion about disciplinary literacy, which comes tomorrow! So, my original goals, set mentally for this semester, of emphasizing the essential questions considered in each class session and increasing the time spend on reflection about strategy use [thus putting more emphasis on self-evaluation] have been met – so far so good. I just hope I don’t let them wane as the semester moves forward.

While I’m thinking along these lines, what are my goals – the changes I want to make – for this semester? Here goes:
1. Be more overt about essential questions guiding our work each class session
2. Do more with less: that is, throw fewer strategies at the students but spend more time on the practices and strategies we do focus on
3. Increase the emphasis on reflection on strategies and practices
4. Use a Capacity Matrix more consistently.
It’s the last one I am struggling with right now. Well, I have one ready for the topics of assessment and vocabulary, but haven’t developed one for all the other ideas – so I’d better get busy. Speaking of busy, I have to decide how I’m going to run the other section of Middle School Reading – the French students have recently posted more information on the Wiki, so I think I’ll employ a Wiki project, but perhaps I need to make that an option – so I need to figure out what other options might “go with” this sort of Web 2.0 project.