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Category Archive for 'Lessons Learned'

Reflecting on NECC 2008

Normally, I write posts like this on my own blog, but this was the blog I was thinking of in many of the conversations that led to this post, so I’m putting it here. I am now in the midst of NECC, an international education technology conference.

Last night was fantastic, I was out on the river walk with a small group. We started out at the Discovery Anniversary event which was a zoo, but had great food and drinks. In an effort to be somewhere quieter, we moved on down to meet some others at an Irish Pub that had singing. I know that doesn’t sound like it would be quieter, but we were outside, and it was.

An interesting point was made about “well known” edubloggers, and how being out of the classroom affects your perspective. Someone who had moved from classroom, to resource, and back-and-forth between them shared that they thought moving out of the classroom was when their blogging really grew, and they started getting on the whole “change” bandwagon, but they began to forget some essential parts of classroom teaching that can make that difficult and still need to be addressed. Another member piped in that they felt leaving the self-contained elementary class for a P.E./Computer position made going back like starting over from scratch as a teacher. That made me think, have I lost some essential truths of teaching by moving to the lab? Do I need to try to get back in a self-contained class at some point to keep that perspective?

We left some folks behind and moved onto a place for dinner. I had some really stellar conversations there. The question was asked, about who you have in your reader that you disagree with. I shared that some edubloggers do NOT understand why practicing elementary teachers have no patience with some Web 2.0/constructivist/collaborative “critics” because of our experiences with them on discussions around Reading First/What Works, etc. and that this is where we live, in the curriculum areas, and a lot of this has been really problematic for us (there are some really great bloggers like Doug Noon who know those folks and read them thoughtfully, if critically). I’m going to be taking a diet and sculpting my RSS feed soon, so I will need to keep this in mind.

The party added some more folks via twitter, and we moved on for drinks at a bar (I was sticking to soda at this point, in case you were wondering). One member of the party asked me what I was going to use in the classroom, and what I had learned. I told them honestly, I’m still processing my school year, and what I need to change from how I did it. I have to tell you that in talking to all sorts of folks from newbies, to established “names”, the thing I’m hearing is that they are getting a lot socially from this conference, but not so much about pedagogy. I hear things like, the session were mostly already at the level I’m at, but it was nice to see that I’m on the right track, and, this has been the best conference I’ve attend from a social networking perspective, but the worst for learning.

There was a discussion at one point that night about a session in particular, School 2.0: Combining Progressive Pedagogy and 21st-Century Tools, where someone pointed out how a lot of the attendees are not aware of the theory and learning theory, and that we need to be out at the curriculum conferences (like NCTE, etc.) discussing these tools, but there also needs to be more about learning, and theory, and less about tools in the sessions here. We really need to bring them both together. I think this would help edubloggers understand the real boundaries that we live in, in our classrooms. I was discussing that with a primary teacher at a Title One school like my own. There is a very real concern about how to fit things in given the curriculum demands. I didn’t point that person to David Warlick, or Will Richardson for answers, but instead suggested peers like Brian Crosby, Mathew Needleman, and Doug Noon, the first two of whom are working in scripted curriculum schools, but still doing projects. No knock on the first two, but that’s not where the answer to her question is going to be. Who do I rely on for my answers? Are they practioners? Who do I rely on for my ideas? Are they both thinks and practioners?

I spent a lot of time that night in various places talking about my perspective. Now part of it is nice to have people listening to me, but when I have that discussion with “famous” blogger/Web 2.0 personality, it’s for a reason. I am an ambassador for my kids, and my school. That is why I started In Practice, because we need to talk about the specific context of teaching in this environment. I want them to know that. So when I saw someone who is well known and found out that their school is a Title One school I asked them if someone there would be willing to join us at In Practice. I didn’t do it just to have a “famous” name on the author list, but because that name will mean something, and may carry some weight. It’s about being the New Yorker, not People magazine.

This ties into another interesting discussion I had on politics and edublogging. We were discussing the whole Will Richardson teleconference with Lamar Alexander. I discussed my own background which involved a lot of work on politics and especially lobbying and campaigning for libraries, etc. and how I found some efforts that are made in edublogging to be naïve, and that was an example. I was not surprised that Will experienced was used, what I was disappointed about was that he and we were not able to “use” the Senator back, and THAT is what you need to do. Yeah, they are getting your “name” in their conference, but how do you leverage that to get your message out?

Finally, there has been a lot of discussion about social politics and hierarchy here at NECC and in the virtual NECC that I’ve been out of the loop on for a variety of reasons (like attending sessions, and meeting people, hey it’s a convention folks). Let me go back to another discussion I had last night. It was about anonymous blogging, and there was a strong position against it. They said that there were only limited circumstances where that type of blogging is acceptable, when you understand that eventually, names might be revealed, and you have a specific purpose. This is not an anonymous blog, but I’ve left ALL the names out from these conversations for a couple reasons. If I put them in, I would be name dropping, and the focus would be on the personalities, NOT the interesting discussion points. If you recognize yourself in these conversations, thank you. If you don’t like what I said, or have a correction, drop a comment.

I spent today in a Lesson Study.  My school district has adopted this model for Professional Development. I am not exactly sure how it relates to Japanese Lesson Study.  Most of our training has centered around curricular programs and how they are implemented.  One of the ideas that we have experimented with in our school is Cognitive Planning.  I still feel that I am at the initial stages of understanding the difference between this and just planning a lesson in a traditional format.  The main difference that I see is that in the models proposed, there is a higher level of collaboration.

Today I was introduced to a new concept to me; Gradual Release Instruction.   This seems to be the “missing link” in my development as a teacher.  I have been able to implement curricular programs with fair success.  Nevertheless, I have felt some frustration in engaging my students in the learning process.  Working in a Title one school with a high English Learner population, there are certain things you cannot take for granted.  I would normally expect my students to come prepared to school with a rich background and school readiness.  I would expect them to have a natural disposition towards learning and school work.  I quickly found out that this is not the case.

In teaching, I am constantly looking for ways to engage my students in learning and building their responsibility in this process.  Right now we are learning how to blog to encourage reading and writing.  We are using VoiceThreads to respond to our new learning.  So, technology has a role to play.  I think that the possibilities in  connecting learning to engagement is increased when students are provided with the appropriate use of these tools.  It empowers them to build on their own learning.  It is even better when they are able connect with the global community to share their learning.  I have to find a bridge between the analog world of teaching new concepts to a digital representation of the learning process.  I go back to my classroom tomorrow morning with a different perspective.  It’s time to roll up my sleeves and immerse myself in a new way of teaching.

I’m a big fan of technology and web 2.0 opportunities. My students have their own blogs and we have several class wikis (all in Blackboard because that’s our county’s system). We have a class delicious site with a growing number of links, some of which relate to our curriculum and some that don’t. They’re learning how to use Movie Maker, Photo Story, Audacity, and more this year. I find all of this very exciting.

On the down side, I just came face to face with one of the challenges of online activity. About half of my class spends time on a social-networking site (for which you have to be 13 to register; my students are not 13). One student received threatening messages through the site including references to a recent assault in our area and personal information. We suspected these messages came from another student at our school, but couldn’t be sure and turned the matter over to the police. The police did a fantastic job and traced the messages to the home of a student. Fortunately, we could rule out the possibility of a stranger lurking around the school and homes of students. Sadly, it means another fifth grader felt a need to anonymously terrify a classmate.

I teach in a title one school, I don’t expect most of my students to have consistent access to the internet. It’s clear to me that I have relied on that as a safety net. The majority of our students don’t have access at home. However, plenty do and we’ve done precious little to educate them about being safe online. In this instance, of which we are aware of the specifics, there wasn’t really any danger. But it did show me that they are online and in places they shouldn’t be. It seems I have a responsibility here.

Therein lies my question about it all. What is my responsibility? I consider myself to be fairly savvy about the online world, certainly more so than the parents of our students. I can, and will, teach my students more about internet safety. However, I think their parents need to be educated as well. If students have computers with internet access in their bedrooms or in basements isolated from the family, they will push the boundaries. Parents need to be watching, talking, and aware of their children’s activities. How do we help ensure that or at least promote it?

Untitled-2 : Page 1 @ 100%*Reading comprehension tends to be an area in need of improvement in many schools with high concentrations of English Language Learners, Standard English Learners, and even some “high performing” schools admit that students can read but they don’t know what they’re reading. We tend to teach the same way we’ve been taught. However, there are new tools and research available today. If we’re still teaching how we were taught, it’s no wonder students are not understanding what they read. Here are four things I’ve been doing in a effort to increase reading comprehension…

  1. Fill in background knowledge with visuals. To borrow a film making adage, “Show, don’t tell.” Find something visual, auditory, or some realia that grabs students’ interest and helps them to understand the story. If you’re reading about Martin Luther King, don’t just tell them what a great speaker he was. Show them a video, play them the speech…it’s too easy to find these and download them now not to do it.

    Pictures work too. You don’t have to make a powerpoint, just print out a picture! Mount it to construction paper, label it, and hold it up. If you’re reading about the city of Parmele, show them pictures of Parmele and locate it on a map. Reading about a guinea fowl?…show them a picture of a guinea fowl (or present a feather).

    Where do you find these pictures? As long as you’re just using the pictures in your classroom, use Google Image Search. If you need to repost the pictures, then try these royalty free image sites. Don’t just open the book and start reading.

  2. Everybody reads, all the time. If you didn’t get the memo, popcorn reading is out (see: Goodbye Round Robin by Opitz and Rasinski). When one student reads, notice what the other students are doing. Most are probably not paying attention. If you have students read in a predictable group pattern, then they anticipate when they’re going to read, get ready, and then tune out again when their turn is finished You will see increased participation if everyone reads the story aloud at the same time.
  3. Have students discuss…not with you, with each other. Typical teaching involves a teacher asking questions to which the teacher already has an answer in mind. The teacher calls on the first student who raises their hand, hears the right answer, and then rephrases it further.Everyone who isn’t that one student answering is bored or not listening and all the students get the message that there is one right answer. Then we wonder why students aren’t capable of higher level thinking. We don’t expect it or even allow it in most classrooms.

    Instead, ask authentic questions…ones that have no right answer, questions that really ask for an opinion or something that you really want to know an answer to. Lower level thinking questions are fine to begin with but don’t stay there forever.

    Give students a chance to pair share or talk in groups. Sometimes they can share out to the whole group but they don’t have to. Resist the urge to rephrase everything students say as if we know more than they do. We don’t always.

    The goal of having them discuss is to involve more students in the conversation and to ask them to think on their own in a safe environment but without the safety net of the teacher stepping in with “right answers” when things get tough.While students are talking, you walk around and monitor. Sometimes encouraging students to share what they’ve said in small groups with the whole class, sometimes asking followup questions to stimulate further conversation.

    Note: If you’ve never done this before, the first few times you do it will be hard…pulling teeth hard. Don’t give up, it gets better.

  4. Explicitly teach comprehension strategies before and after beginning the lesson. Particularly if you are working from a reading anthology, the point of the reading is to practice using comprehension strategies, particularly ones which involve clarifying and lead to inference (these are the spots that tend to tie students up when they’re reading on their own).

    I teach students that they’re not going to like everything they’re going to be reading. Sometimes I even tell them (when we’re done reading and already discussed it) that I don’t like a particular selection. However, the point is that even a story we don’t like is an excuse to practice our reading strategies.

    By explicitly I mean you can’t just use the strategies and expect students to absorb them through osmosis. You need to emphasize the strategies you’re using by naming them and drawing attention to them.

What to do?

Revisiting posts by myself and others about teaching using scripts, and teaching general, Doug Noon fleshes out my arguments (not original) that no script can take the place of a professional educator in Borderland » Blog Archive » The Right Way to Teach

It reminded me of an earlier post here by Mathew Needleman: » Letter to a First Year Teacher Regarding Using Technology In Practice and this piece on teacher training by Jennifer Orr.

There are two competing things that I worry about with new teachers, that they will not do enough of their own work on their curriculum, and that they will do to much. The first worry is more about how they teach over time (not in their first year or even three). I think Mathew’s advice of looking at the curriculum and figuring out where you can add your own input is wise, but you have to do it, and not just teach the script. Take it in small, manageable pieces, although little enough of teaching will be small and manageable.

I’ll come back to this advice that Doug picked out from my post on this: Be clear in what the program (text book/publisher based curriculum) is doing, what you are doing, and what needs to be done. Don’t do it all at once, but take on what you can adding in a little each year.

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