Friday, October 15, 2010

Backward Design: Understanding

Knowledge v Understanding

Why, after several days of modeling and practicing, can my students not solve this problem?

Joe works at Pilgram’s Pride making $8.20 hour. He gets time and half for overtime. What is his total salary for the week?

My math class has been working on problems similar to this one since school began in August. Even the students are asking why I still bring up these problems when we have moved on to yearly wages, commission, budgeting, etc. My answer: “Well, first and foremost, this is a real life problem. Second, life is made up of reading problems. People rarely walk up to you and ask, what is 40 time $8.20. You live your life solving problems.”

Now, what I have discovered as I muddled with the concept of Understanding from Chapter 3 of Backward Design is that I am working with many students whose parents do not work, or only work part time. Most of my students had no concept of what a “normal” work week even meant, much less “overtime”. For years they have seen math reading problems as something difficult and something that had no place in their lives. They do not have the necessary background knowledge necessary to understand the problems.

How did I turn this around? My students, many who are now in Jag, became the characters in the math problems. As students begin to look forward to their first real pay check, suddenly, number of hours took on a new meaning. When they discovered they could only work 15 hours a week, the 40 hour week also took on a new meaning. As one of the students who does work at Townsends and works full time (40 hours) began looking at a new truck, overtime looked really good.

Now, that I had their attention, and they seemed to understand the many problems created in class, I turned the tables. The students had to create the problems, and then introduce their problems to the class. What I discovered in my observation: All but one student proficiently understands how to calculate salary based on hourly pay and time and half for overtime over 40 hours. The students are still not ready to introduce problems involving commission, but we will get there. They now have more than a basic knowledge of the process which can be forgotten; they understand the process and its’ purpose in their own lives.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Work Begins

The young man I began working with on Thursday afternoon would not fit Allen’s criteria for her literacy intervention classroom, and that disturbs me. I understand that she needed to prove the program could be successful; however, I question the motives. It seems to me that the school addressed the immediate needs of fourteen students who would be borderline in passing the state test. Sad but probably true.

Only years of teaching helped me get through my experience on Thursday. Don’t get me wrong, Billy is an adorable, intelligent, interesting young man. But, I realized within sixty seconds of meeting Billy that he was well below his 3rd grade placement, when I handed him the map of the building so he could help find our classroom. As I ask him to find the library, he pointed to the lounge on the map. Being over prepared paid-off; as I was unable to give all of the tests I planned, due to Billy’s inability to read. Looking back, I really do not know how I could have planned any differently, with so little information. I learned more from sharing a read aloud, asking questions, and listening, than from my assessments. Of course, observation is assessment, right? Now, I really move out of my comfort zone into assessing phonics skills. As many classes as I have taken, the fact that I was not taught to read using phonics has forever plagued me in my teaching. At this point, I really think it is more apprehension with unpracticed strategies, than lack of knowledge. I am concerned about our space, as Billy speaks loudly, not in a whisper, and two other students are in the room working. I did not hear them, and Billy seemed unphased by their presence, however, we may have disturbed them. As we talked in our groups after the students left, I listened to the frustrations and fears of new teachers, realizing the importance of collaboration among colleagues. What each of them must realize is they bring something to the table also, fresh ideas, a desire for success, and undoubtedly, knowledge of phonics!

Book Studies and Bubble Kids!

In “Becoming a Literacy Leader”, Jennifer Allen indicates that as a teacher she often found that her needs and interests were not met within the professional development time each year. I certainly can relate to these feelings; often resulting in frustration over wasted hours and a continual need for new ideas and strategies. Just as Allen began meeting the needs of her teachers through voluntary book studies, so has a small group of teachers I work with at BHS. Her perception of the need for study groups and not a “teaching” situation with one person being the expert reflects her ability to release control and provide teachers with a format that allows growth and sharing of ideas and strategies. I continue to wonder at their choice to continue with one book study for more than a year. As I reflect on our own book study over Strategies That Work by Harvey Daniels and Anne Goudvis last year, I realize that maybe we should have spent more time with the strategies as a group, implementing more of them in our classrooms and discussing outcomes with one another as Allen’s teachers did in their book study. This would enable us to become more proficient with the strategies before moving on to another study.

Allen’s literacy intervention classrooms created to address students on the “bubble” stirred mixed feelings. The strategies implemented in these classrooms were obviously successful, based on test results; however, I find it obvious, and a little disturbing, that the school targeted the very students that might score just a few points below proficient on state testing. It is not that I think these students did not need the extra interventions, but I do wonder at the school’s motives? As I read Allen’s strategies on weeding out who would and would not be in the literacy intervention classrooms, it concerned me that the young boy I began working with last week would not have been one of the chosen. What happens to those not receiving special education services and not in the literacy intervention classrooms? Reading Recovery? Title I? As a high school special education teacher, I often ask myself how a child gets to tenth grade that cannot read on a 2nd grade level. Thursday, I found myself asking, how does an intelligent child get to third grade reading below 1st grade level? I hope I can find the missing link. I don’t want to see this young man in my classroom when he is in tenth grade.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pre Reading Camp Reflections

August 29, 2010

As my journey begins with my final graduate reading class, Reading 633, better known as “Reading Camp”, I find myself apprehensive about meeting two young students who I know absolutely nothing about and beginning our relationship with assessment. As a high school teacher, the apprehension doubles due to years of experience with teenagers, and very little experience with fourth grade and under other than my own grandchildren. There is one connection to my high school students however; due to their reading disabilities, most of them usually read within the same range as the students coming to reading camp. As I consider my first lesson plan, my first objective must be to get to know my student’s interest and ability so we can proceed with a positive, successful learning experience.

Jennifer Allen’s “Becoming a Literacy Leader: Supporting Learning and Change”, offers a very positive outlook on reading growth in the school. As we have two new literacy leaders at BHS, I can’t help but wish to share this book and the possibilities for our own staff. Allen offers many ideas and resources, as she explicitly talks about her growth as a literacy coach, beginning from scratch with little money and a very bare room. Allen’s beginning struggle with professional development workshops where the teachers sat as observers rather than willing participates reminds me of many workshops I have attended. I must confess that I plan to borrow her idea “My Life in Seven Stories” for my own English classes. Of course, I must get busy with my own “first story” so I have a model for my students.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Authentic Projects

Are you looking for new, authentic reasons for students to talk about their reading?  Check out this website where students tell "Whyy I Like This Book".  This is a reading promotion project of the public television station WHYY in Philadelphis that won this year's Internation Reading Association Broadcast Media Award for Television.  Students of all ages describe why they like a particular book.  Students submit an application, and those chosen participate in a videotaped audition.  Not only could some of our students participate on WHYY, but we might borrow their idea for our school website. Browse these authentic booktalks.  I read "Paper Towns" by John Green this summer.  It really is an awesome read.  What do you think?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Thing 6: Ning

Within minutes of connecting to Ning I found individuals working with special needs students, students at risk, and web2.0 tools. I had never explored Ning, but immediately found it more useful for collaboration than blogging.  Blogs are a useful place to reflect, but often sit idle if you are new to the blog world, waiting on collaboration.  Nings are like magnets for sharing knowledge! I will explore this tool further.

Thing 12: Delicious

I created my Delicious account last year, but used it very little.  I prefer Internet Explorer to Firefox and assumed Firefox was a requirement to having a Delicious toolbar.  However, the first thing I noticed today when I explored Delicious was the button for Internet Explorer.  That accomplished, I am now ready to expand my use of Delicious as an organzational tool rather than copying and pasting everything into my Photopage.

Readiness for Teamwork

As I toured the Blogosphere reviewing several projects, I must say I felt overwhelmed. I was relieved to be granted permission, even encouraged, to join a well designed project that is already underway. Since I have not been present at this workshop, I suspect we will be joining a collaborative effort with colleagues on our first project. When I explored Krauss and Boss' blog, Reinventing Pbl, I was excited to find Project Based Learning on Edutopia where members can learn along with a group, online, discussing, and collaborating on the process, sharing ideas, not just viewing a finished project.  I truly see the need for project based learning to provide students, especially unmotivated students, with an authentic reason to learn. As also indicated, however, creating project based learning units is a time consuming endeavor. I have a need to restructure my interactions with my fellow colleagues as recommended. By nature and years of habit, I am reserved, but a very willing learner. During my journey at Harding University seeking my graduate degree in reading, Lit Lab, and Young Adult Author Series, as well as, my adventure with 21st Century learning, new doors have opened for my students as my teaching methods changed. Further experience with Huff’s 21Things continues to alter the mold of my teaching strategies. PBL requires a teacher willing to learn. That I am. Becoming more open with colleagues will take more work. But there again, I am open to anything that opens new opportunities for my students.

Where Am I Starting?

As I begin my journey through Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss’, Reinventing Project-Based Learning, I realize I have not set aside the time to reflect on my learning through the last three years of graduate classes and professional development. Time is a major factor, of course, as it will be a factor as we begin our journey into project based learning. During our previous school year my students and I played with a variety of technology tools, integrating them into our literacy learning. Though we called our units “projects” they were in truth, literacy units incorporating technology tools. Most students loved the new tools, embracing the new power they felt when posting on our class blog or wiki for the first time. The technology tools opened the door to the 21st Century and served as motivators. However, I have not yet grasped the ability or confidence to transform my classroom into a project based learning center. The literacy units, technology tools, and the understanding of the need for authentic real life experiences are all present. Now, how do I turn this knowledge into project based learning?

Assessments versus 21st Century Learning

While searching the internet to locate Will Richardson’s “10 Big Shifts” I found a question on his Blog that is on all of our minds as we begin this new school year. How do we address the skills needed to enable our students to pass required assessments and prepare them for the 21st Century? As willing learners, many of our teachers are taking on the challenge by learning new skills and integrating them into our classroom. On Thursday our high school campus will collaborate on project based learning. Our enemy is time. We continue to take our students back, attempting to cram basic knowledge into their "turned off" brains, rather than moving forward with new tools and opportunities to "awaken their brain" and begin a new thinking process. Why do we do this? Fear. Fear of test failure. Fear of looking like failures ourselves. I spent two long weeks this summer cramming information into my brain so that I could pass a test each day. The only thing that got me through this process was the fact that it would all be over in two weeks. Imagine how our students feel each day, of each week, of each month, of each year for twelve years, if all we ask of them is to memorize facts. Facts that will be forgotten in a few days. As a special education teacher, I have always believed that if I could just get my students to think for themselves, they could survive this world. By the tenth grade, many of our students are "turned off" to learning. Learning has no meaning. Children are born inquisitive. Listen to all of the “why” questions of a young child. If we can revive their thinking, we can create 21st century learners. As for the state assessments, anyone who has taught for many years realizes, this too will pass.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thing 10, SlideShows

I plan to incorporate the use of slideshows to enable students to visualize the author's use of similes and metaphors in the book Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.  The activity will enable the students to experience more empathy for the characters in the story and to realize the author's point of using this writing strategy which in turn may encourage them to do the same in their own writing. I used RockYou, which is published on this blog,however, I did not find it very user friendly when there was a need to rearrange the photos in a specific order.  Since this was my first experience with this site, I will reserve judgement for the time. However, after a very positive experience with PhotoPeach, I highly recommend the site. The slideshow with PhotoPeach is on our classroom wiki. complete with music, and the photos, including an additional photo for a metaphor, are in the correct order according to the paragraph I chose. Please visit this awesome slideshow to see what you can do with a very user friendly site.  I highly recommend PhotoPeach.  Providing my students who struggle with reading comprehension and writing skills with visuals increase their understanding and I know they will love this activity.  The Similes for the slideshow are taken from a paragraph on pages eleven and twelve of Chains.

Attributes for above photos from Flickr.

Tree by JPCTalbot from Flickr CC
Sheep from National Archives and Rocrds Administration from Flickr CC
Pig by Vicy TGAW from Flickr CC
Bowl by Brett Arnett from Flickr CC
Lion by Tambako from Flickr CC
Earth by eye2eye from Flickr CC

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Thing 9

Visual prompts using Flickr provides my students with the extra stimulus necessary to motivate their writing responses. By posting a photo on our class blog, I was then able to differentiate instruction around the response by providing simple access with instructions on the blog for the more proficient students then modeling with group and individual prompting for less proficient students. Responses ranged from the obvious to the more in depth inferences behind the scene. Student response to this activity reminded me of the importance of diversity for motivation and learning.  However, I found my students frustrated when they searched Flick for photos. Students need time and access to become familiar with Flickr before beginning class projects.  The above Chipmunk is from Flickr's Creative Commons by Andrea.  Notice the chipmunks fingers? Do you think he is posing? / CC BY 2.0
After spring break we plan to explore storytelling with photos on Flickr.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

26 Keys to Student Engagement

Angela Maiers’ 26 Keys to Student Engagement follows the lead of David Zinger’s Employee Engagement alphabet. As we research ways to engage our students and better prepare them for the 21st century, a review of Maiers’ key factors may be beneficial. Angela Maiers conducts workshops and training sessions helping learners of all ages develop their skills in critical thinking, reading, and communication.

A summary of Maiers’ 26 Keys to Student Engagement:

• Authenticity: The work must be significant, valuable, and real

• Brain: Teachers must understand the way the brain learns and act accordingly.

• Collaborative: Provide students with opportunities to engage and explore topics, assignments, and content.

• Disengagement: Learning must involve wondering, dreaming, playing, interacting, communicating, exploring, discovering, questioning, investigating, and creative to engage the disengaged.

• Environment: Teachers create the place and space that become home to learning.

• Feedback: Feedback must be specific, non threatening, and frequent.

• Generative: Encourage learners to construct and produce knowledge in meaningful ways promoting active, collaborative learning.

• Habitudes: Teach the specific habits of preparedness, mindfulness, persistence to use and apply in any task.

• Joy: Bring FUN back into our classrooms.

• Kaizen: Japanese term for “continuous improvement”. Continuous reflection for growth and learning.

• Listening: Listening first will earn the right to be listened to.

• Motivation: Student and teachers must own their own learning

• Networks: Maiers’ mantra, “Together We Are Smarter”. Use tools like blogs, wikis, and YouthTwitter, to network in school

• Outside: Bring some of their outside into the classroom. Identify the engaging and creative ways students to their work outside of school and find ways to bring that into the classroom.

• Participatory: Engaged learning is active, hands-on, minds on, eyes on, and demands participation at all levels.

• Questions: Stretch minds, invite curiosity, provoke thinking, instill a sense of wonder, and keep students engaged.

• Relationships: Know your students. Students need to fell valued, honored, respected to create an interest and energy in the learning process.

• Self-efficacy: Build students ‘beliefs in their own capabilities. Self-efficacious students recover quickly from setbacks, and are more likely to achieve their goals.

• Teacher: “Teachers who stand before their class as learners first, are more successful teachers because of it.”

• Understanding: Demonstrate to our students that we understand and value them through our words, our actions, and our expectations.

• Variety: Variety adds spice.

• WWW: This super highway is the pathway of the 21st century; where creation and co-creation of content and understanding takes place.

• Xtra: Turn “Xtra” into “Xpectation”, so engagement is no longer an option, it becomes an expectation.

• You: Engaged learning requires leadership. It requires U!

• Zeal: “Love what you do, and present it with zeal everyday!”

Angela Maiers believes student engagement is as simple as ABC. I believe she may be right. I welcome you to reflect on her ideas, and to help us create our own Student Engagement Alphabet.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reading Strategies: Inferring and Visualizing

The Reading Lady provides a useful summary of explanations, examples, and graphic organizers to understand and teach inferring and visualizing in the classroom.  Utilizing information and strategies from Harvey's Reading Strategies That Work, Miller's Reading with Meaning, Keene's Mosaic of Thought, and Cunningham's Guided Reading the Four Blocks Way, this link is a great refresher resource for addressing inferring and visualizing strategies in the classroom. 

The Reading Lady was created by Laura Kump to provide support to teachers throughout the country.  Providing free resources and access to discussion groups, it is an invaluable tool in this 21st Century. 

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ann's Thing 8

Until this task I must say I had never heard of Creative Commons nor noticed “CC” on any websites. There is a huge potential here for students and teachers to use digital images, audio or video clips, and other content to further learning in the classroom without the danger of breaking copyright rules. The educator who owns one of the blogs I read for Thing 6 openly told her readers to use material from her blog. As I publish and post material on the web in my wikis and blogs, I welcome others to use the material to their greatest potential. As with the material I often find on the internet, remixing the material provides each user with a degree of personal ownership, and giving credit where credit is due, prevents the original owner from losing ownership completely.

Creative Commons provides users, my students, with alternatives to breaking copyright laws. As I shared the information from Thing 8 with my students prior to a class project, the change in their attitude about copyright laws was quite noticable. My students worked to locate digital images and video clips on the web with the CC logo. For the first time, they understood the difference in what was protected by copyright laws and what was available for their use. As we played with Flickr it was also easy for them to comprehend that as publishers, they may also want to share some photos and protect others from public use. I found, as did my students, Creative Commons the most user friendly for locating material.  Creative Commons sheds a whole new light on sharing.  Even Kermit the Frog can be successful and never break a copyright law.