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June 18, 2011 Leave a comment

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Categories: education

Just the Facts

May 13, 2011 1 comment

A tweet by Silvia Tosiano @langwitches the other day got me thinking about research and the purpose of information.  Like most Language Arts teachers,  covering the research process is part of my curriculum.  I’m always looking for a way to make this more meaningful.   Usually I use an adaptation of Ken Macrorie’s I-Search model.   The papers are based on topics that students select and integrate personal opinions as well as facts discovered during research.   To me, this is the essence of research–to select what you want to learn about and then analyze any misconceptions you have uncovered in your own thinking.  I also like Macrorie’s model because it integrates metacognitive processes.   In addition to writing about what they have researched, students are also asked to write about their learning and the research process.

After reading Silvia’s tweet, I got to thinking about how I might integrate infographics when I teach research.   I want to see how I can make facts and statistics meaningful, and help students understand how “facts” aren’t always necessarily set in stone.   I did some exploring and found a few resources that will be helpful when we get started.

Make your own infographic

Ten Awesome tools for making infographics

And thanks to Twitter, I also have a student model to share with my class.

Me in Statistics

I’m excited to see how this comes together.

Off the Back Burner

April 9, 2011 1 comment

Serendipity–the lovely coincidences in life where things seem to connect and build on each other.  But do these connections really happen randomly, or is it because our minds are focused on an idea that we are able to see things with different eyes?

Here’s a perfect example.  Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity and risk taking.  As a writing teacher I want to foster opportunities in my classroom for students to take risks without fear of failure.  Ideally I’d like students to leave my classroom unafraid to do something different, because they will know that it leads to greater learning.  Then, thanks to Brian, I came across this article: “Teaching Risk Taking in the College Classroom.” In it author E. Shelley Reid identifies the inherent contradictions present in education that prevent students from taking risks.   According to Reid, students today, “are conservative learners: they worry about grades and want to “play it safe,” they don’t take time to imagine alternatives, or they have low skill or confidence levels that reduce their abilities to try new things. And sometimes my own teaching or grading practices undermine my invitations to take the intellectual risks that are crucial to student learning” (Reid, 2010).  However, instead of going on to bemoan this fact, Reid provides several strategies that teachers can use in order to develop risk taking among students.   While I found many of the suggestions useful, the one that stands out for me is giving credit to students who are willing to take risks, even if the final product is imperfect.   This was a forehead smacking moment.  How perfectly simple and effective, reward the risk takers!

A few days later this post, 10 Ways to Help Students Ask Better Questions was retweeted.    In it teacher John T. Spencer describes the practices he has adopted to help his students become critical thinkers and risk takers. “Question everything has become a mantra in our class and it extends all the way to me,” he explains, providing the important caveat that the questions must always be respectful.    Again, there were many ideas that I can implement into my classroom, but the most important thing I walked away with was the affirmation that if I want my students to learn these skills, they need to practice them.  This is a challenge as I often fall back into previously established habits and routines,  and I am working with students who are reluctant to be wrong.  Still, these ideas, along with the thought of how I can “flip” my classroom have really got my brain bubbling.

At this point I’m not sure what these ideas will look like in practice in my classroom, but one thing I do know.  If I really want to prepare my students for the future I need to help them move away from the need for perfection because it limits their learning and growth.  I also know that initially it will be difficult for my students to let go of their dependency on the right answer, the clean copy and the perfect score, but the benefits of making this shift will be enormous.

Kindling the Flame

February 12, 2011 Leave a comment

The night before the school librarian was to give a book talk to my class she brought the books home.  The next day, she was out sick.  Five years ago this would have meant a total change in lesson plans.  Not anymore.  Instead of a back-up activity, my class participated in a typical 21st century task, they Googled the titles and read the reviews.  I watched as my students browsed sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and viewed blogs and author pages in order to make decisions about what to read.  I listened as they shared a book’s “rating” with each other; making the connection to skills they had learned writing their own reviews.  They were engaged, enthusiastic, and totally on task.  We talked about how to reserve books using the public library’s website and their library card.  Then came the big question, “If I have a Kindle, can I use that?”

Recently e-readers have become widely popular, especially with the event of the iPad. This popularity, along with the Millennial Generation’s affinity for all things technical, has brought about a shift in the market, with adolescents representing a large number of eReader sales, and resulting in a surge in YA downloads.  As a teacher, I want to promote access to tools like this that encourage reading and help students develop critical literacy skills.  But policies designed to protect students, often restrict this.  While there is a movement to lift restrictions and provide students with access to personal devices in school, fear of negative backlash is holding many school districts back.  What does this mean with regard to the digital divide?  Recent studies by the PEW Research Center have found that when it came to broadband access at home, Whites far outranked their minority counterparts, however, Latino’s are more likely to access the internet on a cell phone “in lieu of a home internet connection” (2011).  Providing access to such devices and teaching students to use them as an educational tool could level the playing field in a country where minorities are more often connected to the Internet through their cellphones than on a home computer.

Who wags the dog?

June 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Right now I’m playing a little hookey from my break-out session at the New Literacies Institute. We just finished listening to keynote Yong Zhao speak to us about education and the importance of fostering creativity and difference. His concern is that with our country’s move toward standardization in education, we are actually moving away from the things that set us apart globally.

According to Zhao, one of the strengths of American education is that it allows for diversity and it tolerates difference. He tells us that American schools should be teaching students to be entrepreneurs, because this is the talent that will help them be successful. Our ability to be creative is the one product that continues to set the United States apart. “You can’t teach creativity,” Zhao states. Sadly, we can kill it. Education in the United States needs to continue to provide room for difference, so that students can maintain some of their creative, individual thought. But this isn’t the message that is saturating the media right now. Instead, we are shown a view of education that is failing, and students who are ill-prepared for the workplace. This is the image that is driving the need for greater accountabilty. Yet as I sit here in a room full of forward thinking teachers, and through my interactions with my PLN, I know this is not an accurate picture of American education at all. Perhaps we are right to be worried, because if we continue to move along the route of standardization and move away from what we do best we will most certainly fall behind.

Still, as I walk away from Zhao presentation I felt energized and excited. I know that regardless of what reforms may come, teachers will continue to infuse their work with the desire to foster passion, creativity and the ability to think differently.

Categories: creativity, education

Here’s to you Marshall McLuhan

June 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Today at the New Literacies Institute our keynote, Donald Leu, spoke to us about his work with literacy and technology. Afterword we broke into groups where we generated our own definition of “new” literacies, and were asked to come up with a visual representation of our definition. Although it was meant to generate some conversation around the topic of the institute, I found myself wondering if there really is such a thing as new literacy. Isn’t literacy just literacy?

Kevin H in his post to our Ning stated some things that are helping me to make the distinction. According to him, new literacies allow for more interaction between the reader and the writer, or at least more visible interaction. Now, readers can respond directly to the writer. I also think that new literacy involves understanding this interaction, and recognizing how one viewer’s perspective can be dramatically different from another. There is no truth, just our interpretation of events. Just look at the tweets from today’s session to see what I mean. (#nli10)

Perhaps it comes down to this, digital literacy is media literacy, but it is an evolving media, one that is no longer static and easy to categorize by simple definitions. If we want our students to be critical users rather than merely consumers of information we need to teach them to recognize the layers of meaning inherent in all messages, regardless of the medium.

After reading Larry Ferlazzo and thinking about the Buddha

June 21, 2010 1 comment

I was talking this week with a colleague about creating a classroom climate where students were willing to take risks, one that focused on positive behaviors rather than rules and procedures. I can’t take credit for this idea, it came to me via an elluminate session on teaching with the Buddha. One of the presenters was explaining how her students begin the year identifying the type classroom environment they want by focusing on what they would need to do to achieve that kind of environment. My colleague mentioned that she and her team had been talking about something similar. They had noticed that their students could identify positive behaviors, but they weren’t able to talk about what those behaviors looked like. For example, they knew it was important to be nice, but what would nice look like? That got me to thinking, how do I get students to think about what cooperative and collaborative behavior looks like? And how do I help them own these behaviors?

Today as I was reading Larry Ferlazzo’s blog he was writing about having students create videos that model right behavior, a sort of student generated training video. I really like this idea and I’m planning on running with it for the start of next school year. It combines the idea of having students come up with their view for a cooperative classroom environment and identifying what it looks like. I think that making videos will help them think about concrete ways to demonstrate the behaviors they identify. These videos could be uploaded and saved to our class blog to share with others. What a great way to give students voice in the classroom.