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.


Heather said...

I thoroughly enjoyed my first MAT class. I am honored to have a professor with such a widspread teaching background and a prior Science teacher at that (my content area). I already feel more equipped with just one class under my belt. I look forward to next week.

Heather Watson

woo wagner said...

As for me after 21 years away from the formal class room. It was kind of hard to get back into the feel and flow of a lecture. The group word was nice. I have been self employed for 18 years and have had to do everything on my own , its nice to be back on a team effort again. In the US military you are taught that no plan ever finishes the way you originaly pland it, but once in the battle starts no matter what happens you must work the situation out and finish the plan as best you can. I thought that was accompished last night when the projector died. The thinking out loud also was helpful because I was able to think and translate your message into military and my work line of thinking. woo

tigerrhino said...

I think I am going to really enjoy this class. I have been in the MAT program for a year now, but I still have one more year to go. I am looking forward to getting to know the cohort that I will graduate with, so I do appreciate that you are going to make an effort to foster a cooperative environment. I have had other teachers that have used designed group work in their classroom, and I found that it was an effective way to get everyone actively involved in the class work presented. I am curious to see how your implementation of this class technique varies from what I have seen modeled in the past.
I also appreciate you taking time to model how to think like a teacher. The thinking out loud technique was something that I will remember and hopefully use. I had not thought about the benefit the student gains from hearing the instructor’s thinking process. Please continue to share methods that have worked for you in the classroom.
Robin P.