Thursday, February 10, 2011

Responding to student input - an important lesson for me!

Sitting in the airport, waiting on the flight to DC - it will be a long day. Last night's class was, in a word, fabulous - and due solely to the students! They are amazing - sharp, thoughtful, curious. Just what we need in our classrooms. They ask wonderful questions - necessary questions. I hope they learn half as much from me as I learn from them. Here's an example:

Last night, I taught a model lesson [the Columbus lesson, one I've taught all over the world, including Guatemala and Latvia] and as we were discussing the "Forced Choices" each small group of students had made with respect to the most important item exchanged between the Old World and the New when Columbus made his "discovery", a student asked about the validity of the conclusions that were being drawn. The first group had replied with a choice that was in actuality a result of one of the items exchanged [food]. I bungled the response to the group. I accepted what they said and moved on. I could have inadvertently left the class with inaccurate information - but due to the question, we stopped and discussed the issue, exploring in depth the issue of how and why slavery was brought to the New World. A fascinating discussion, and one we needed to have - I can only hope the students understood my explanation of what I did, why I had done it, and what I should have done. What I should have done was to push the reporting group of students to identify to initial item exchanged [food], making sure that they understood that we were considering only items exchanged during the "Colombian Exchange" [a term used in the standard, and one I had usually not included in the lesson] then talk about the ramifications - some of which happened hundreds of years later. I needed to help students get a sense of the time frame we were talking about - and perhaps a timeline would have helped all of us -- in fact, as I type this, I'm thinking that I might need to add that little scaffolding to the lesson. Use a timeline to graphically display the time we are talking about - that would also serve to illustrate the items that made such an impact that we still feel the effects today in our own world. The Response Heuristic is organized sort of that way [Item exchanged / immediate effect / long term effect], but it needs to be more overt - and a time line would help tremendously. Voila! I've re-visioned the lesson now, and it will be much better the next time I use it. What a great learning experience for all of us - but especially for me.

I have been grading their Literacy and Learning Autobiographies, and they are really good. It's taking much longer than normal because they are such a pleasure to read, I find myself reading them twice - and reading them for pleasure rather than to actually grade them. If only I could just provide some feedback and not have to grade anyone. This particular class is one that I look forward to every week. Remarkable - I have a renewed sense of hope for our schools.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Teaching vs. learning

Wednesday evening's class seemed a bit off to me, and I'm not sure why except that it was definitely me and not the students. The Moje article might have been too much of a stretch, or I didn't prepare them sufficiently to read it with a clear understanding, or perhaps it just was not a good idea to have them read that particular article so early in the semester. The students didn't seem to understand the part of the article that differentiated the various disciplines [English, math, science, social studies] in the way I wanted them to [and how could they understand it like I did - I've got 35 years of prior knowledge to filter the ideas through], and my worst behavior as a teacher reared its ugly head, and I tried to tell them the important ideas - what a fiasco that part of class turned out to be. They did a great job with the ideas related to the first part of the article about the barriers to infusing literacy into content area classrooms, and maybe that's the only part of the article that I should be concerned with right now. It might have been a simple as my not giving them a break after we had discussed the first two parts of the article - maybe it was, in the end, just timing that was so off that it impacted student learning.

We will return to the differences in the disciplines [content areas] several times during the semester through modeled lessons and other articles and readings from the textbook, and I need to keep that in mind - these understandings are complicated, and take time to construct. So maybe the worst part of the class was that students didn't feel as successful as I had wanted them to feel. I can see already that part of the difficulty is the discourse disconnect. That is, I am definitely a member of the educational discourse community but they are just being introduced to that community, even those students who have had several education courses. I use terms from education in my comments and lectures, many of which they are not familiar with -- I have to remember to explain those terms. I need to remember to use the students in class who have already had several education courses [the four reading masters students and the MAT student who majored in secondary English education] as a valuable resource. That might also help to model how classroom teachers might tap into students' capabilities and experiences in their own classrooms.

I think another problem on Wednesday was that I had too much planned for the evening and I couldn't seem to stop myself from trying to "cover" everything. Once again, I got ambushed by my past. The secondary teacher in me was so intent on "covering all the topics" for the night, that I didn't stop to remind myself that just because you "cover" a topic doesn't mean students learn the material. The old teaching vs. learning thing. So, I have to decide what is absolutely crucial for the students to take away from this course and what I can leave out - this is always the decision I have to make for every class I teach. Maybe I'm not willing to let go of activities and ideas I've used successfully in the past to make room for the "new" stuff. Because of the current cutting edge ideas in disciplinary literacy, there is a lot of new stuff. As I type this, it occurs to me that so far I've given them a perfect example of a curriculum that is a "mile wide and an inch deep" in this course - horrors!

I can only hope that my explanation of the YALIT project helped them to see that project more clearly. I'll go back to that this next week, too, to make sure they understand it. Speaking of projects, it always happens this way, but after giving up on the Blogging project with the middle school students, we heard from the teacher today - he really wants to continue the project. So now, I'm sure my students are wondering what the blazes is going on - and I hate to jerk them around. My first instinct was to just say to the teacher, "sorry - you should have been more attentive to the frantic e-mails we were sending you." But several of my students really wanted to do the Blog project. Well, as I told the students on Wednesday, you'll make lots of decisions in teaching and they can't all be right. I'll see if enough of them are still willing to do the Blog project and we'll go from there.

I still have to finish revising the schedule, since we missed the first day of class and I'll be away for two weeks - but that's something I need to be doing now, instead of thinking about last Wednesday. Oh well, it will all work out in the end.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Snow, Ice, and a new granddaughter - complications not foreseen

I'm prepping for a class I haven't seen all together since January 7th, and wondering how I'm going to pull off a visit to my new granddaughter in Denver, who will be a week old tomorrow. Thank goodness for doctoral students who are fabulous teachers. I have the Bookend class arranged for - Jamie [social studies] and Leigh [math] are going to teach the class on Feb. 15th, and do a better job than I could do because they will be teaching actual lessons from their own experience, then unpacking them. I know they can do this because I've seen them do just this on several occasions, so I'm not worried at all about Bookend. I had planned to ask them to come teach the class before Nora [the new granddaughter] was born, so this isn't something new. The "regular" section, though, is a bit more difficult because Leigh is taking a class on Wednesday evenings [when the "regular" class meets] and can't come in February. Maybe Jamie can come and do just her lesson - that in combination with online work [both synchronous and asynchronous?] will be fine - they [online classes] just take twice as much time to plan.

Because we [the "regular" class] missed the very first class of the semester due to the snow/ice, we are a week behind the schedule I had originally come up with - and since we meet every week, I will miss two class meetings with these students, not just one. Synchronous work is what I prefer, but I'm worried about the time difference - and frankly, worried about everyone's Internet connections as well - add to that the class size [nearly 30; really big to be online all at one time] and you have a recipe for disaster. I think maybe I'll come up with an online interactive lecture they can watch and interact with at their leisure and react to online, and some readings they have to reflect on and respond to at least one other class member. Then we can talk about differences in face2face and asynchronous classes and how those differences play out and impact learning. That might work, actually. Whatever I decide to do, it cannot negatively impact their experience of this course - or their learning in the course. I know that every professor believes his/her course is the most important one in a program, but because I also hold an MAT and my program lacked a literacy course of any kind - I know first hand how crucial this course is [whether anyone else shares that view or not!!]. So, I'd best get busy and get the interactive lectures done!