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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

PD-- Structure

I was asked by our support staff last year to lead a professional development workshop on how to make my room a place that allows all learners to succeed.  I asked my students these two questions and prepared my professional development seminar based on their responses.

1.     How do teachers structure their classroom to make it safer for students to share?
a.     Expectations—what is acceptable and not.  What are the non-negotiables?
b.     Make the connections to the our lives about the topics
c.     Teachers need to share
d.     Discussions—“what did you take away from this?”
e.     When reading a novel, not so much about the story, but instead the connection with the story
f.      Desk setup—conducive to the class activity, be sure to see everyone in the room
g.     No laughing, no ridiculing, no personal attacks, no option to not do or act a certain way
h.     Don’t be strict
i.      Question of the day?
j.      Teacher’s job is to defend when it becomes a personal attack
k.     Objectiveness of the teachers, but tell us what you think
l.      Wait time—silence!
m.   Act like a student, but be a teacher
n.     Share opinions
o.     Show that you are not perfect
p.     Relationships—be on our level
q.     Just talking with discussions—we do not need formal structure all the time
r.      … but structure it to start the year, then have less structure
s.      Teachers explain who/what they are make boundaries clear
t.      Students direct the instruction
u.     Have open-ended projects, assignments, but not too open-ended
v.     Know when someone is “not themselves” and care about it
w.    What’s on the walls 
2.     How do teachers reduce stress levels for students and help to alleviate anxiety?
a.     Work with teachers on homework, help us see what you see and why you see it
b.     Work into schedules, set up time to sit down with each student
c.     Go over the “hard parts”
d.     Structure—give us deadlines that some of us need, but do not give some of us deadlines-- individualize
e.     Personal assignments
f.      Big assignments—give us time
g.     Tell us the homework for the week!
h.     Assignments on blog
i.      Make sure we know when you are kidding

Just reminds me of how important it is to keep our students in mind.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Student Choice

For my graduate school program, our first course was on student choice and voice in schools.  Below is a response to a reading we completed at the beginning of the course.  I will be including a piece I am working on in the coming weeks to this blog--

Choices for Children: Why and How to Let Students Decide by Alfie Kohn

In my sociology course right now we are discussing how schools are agents of socialization and the impact that education can have on an individual and our larger social group.  I gave them a piece from Alfie Kohn and we have spent some time discussing what it means to be well-educated, what all students should know, what are the best practices teachers have, what are the not-so best practices that teachers have, etc.  When I ask my students what makes a great teacher, they often do not mention knowing your content, but instead say these common things:
1. Treat us with respect
2. Be laid back and fun, but strict when needed (my favorite one)
3. Be fair
4. Prepare us for the SAT, senior year, college, etc.

The reason I bring these ideas up after reading this article is because much of what Kohn is saying is what my students say to me at the beginning of every year.  I believe that if I live up to the four expectations my students set up for me, I can easily bring in more student choice to my classroom.

What I greatly appreciated about Kohn's article was that he mentioned you do not always have to involve student choice.  Choice can rotate from the teacher, to an individual student, to a small learning group and it can still work and help be a productive part of your course.  One of the points that I found really solidified his argument to me was not only how this help to engage students in their learning, but he hit home at my pedagogy.  On page nine he says "School is about more than intellectual development; it is about learning to become a responsible, caring person who can make good choices and solve problems effectively.  Thus educators must think about ways of helping students to take an active part in decisions that are only indirectly related to academics." When asked to write our philosophy of education in college, I turned most to the book that I thought I would least reference.  I remember seeing Nel Nodding's book about ethics and teaching caring in school.  I remember being a young undergraduate thinking that this book was a "fluff" education book that would not lead me to any "real" learning.  After finishing the book and reflecting on my best teachers and the adults in my life that have had the greatest impact, I realized that Nodding's ideas about education would become the cornerstone of my pedagogy.  Teaching students to respect and have responsibility for each other (Thomas Lickona) will ultimately lead you to helping your students learn to care for one another.  If our students can respect and care for one another, they can ultimately develop the sense of responsibility not only to themselves, but to others around them and to our greater society.

Another part of this text that I greatly appreciated was the solutions and questions that Kohn presents teachers to use in their classroom.  On page ten he says, "What do you think we can do about this?"  Whenever a student asks a question in class that I think can lead us to a greater depth of learning, regardless of it is directly connected with what we are discussing in class, I ask "What do you think about that?"  This allows students to think out loud and share their thoughts with the class.  Often times I will have students question each other's ideas and point out the areas where their argument does not work.  Kohn's question "What do you think we can do about this?" has led me to some great projects that engaged every one of my students.  At the end of last year, I ran out of time and did not create the project expectations and guidelines sheet, so I walked into class, worked with my students, and we created it together.  I had my expectations, they had theirs, and we met somewhere in the middle (quiet honestly, more towards their side) and I saw some of the best products from them.  This can work!  It is hard to do, and challenging to give up the control, but our students can create their own guidelines, deadlines, and expectations.  Not only will they meet those expectations, but they will far exceed them. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Let's make our schools safer

I received this email from a listserv that I am a part of regarding GLBT issues in schools and America.  I am copy and pasting this below as I think everyone should think about this as we go into this next month:

Dear Safe Schools Coalition Members and Friends:
If Ever There Was a Time to Talk … Five Teens Have Killed Themselves in September
Five teens in the last three weeks had been so severely brutalized by peers for being gay that they felt the only answer was suicide.
First, Billy Lucas, age 15, hung himself in his grandmother’s barn in Greensburg, Indiana. Billy wasn’t out if he was even gay – you don’t have to be gay to be harassed about it. Then came middle school student 13 year-old Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, California. Then 18-year old college student and violinist Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge (between New Jersey and New York). The next day, in Houston, Texas, straight-A student Asher Brown, age 13, shot himself. Less than a week later, 19-year old Raymond Chase hung himself in Providence, Rhode Island.
We have to talk about it!!! Talking about suicide doesn’t make people commit suicide. Talking about bullying doesn’t make people bully. And talking about gay people doesn’t make people gay. Please, please take some time this week to talk with your classes about both.
What your students need to know about suicide and self-harm:
  • People who are considering suicide usually give signals.
  • There are concrete things you can do if you see what might be signals:
  • ~ Show you care. Something like, “I’m here if you feel like talking.”  ~ Bring it up. Something like, “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?” ~ Get help. Something like, “Let’s talk to someone. I’ll be there, too, if you want.” ~ If they won’t talk with a parent or someone at school, do it yourself.
What your students need to know about bullying:
  • Bullying, harassment, cyber-bullying and assault can lead to suicide.
  • You don’t want to live with knowing that what you did or allowed a friend to do led someone to take their life.
  • Bullies need an audience. Refuse to participate.
  • Bullies often fly under adults’ radar. Make sure adults know what’s happening.
  • Harassment is illegal. The students who broadcast footage of Tyler Clementi before he killed himself may get as much as 5-10 years in jail.
What your students need to know about gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender (GLBT) people:
  • Who you like – whether you are GLB or Straight – has nothing to do with whether you’re a good person.
  • How masculine or feminine you are – whether or not you’re the way people expect you to be – has nothing to do with whether you’re a good person.
  • GLBT people can be as mentally healthyhappy, and loved as anyone else.
  • GLBT people have made awesome contributions to the world we all share.
    The Youth Suicide Prevention Project suggests that you don’t want to glamorize or dramatize events like these recent suicides. But you DO need to talk with your students. Discussion questions might include these:
    • What kinds of things stress you and your friends?
    • What can you – or your friends -- do about the stress? What are some options?
    • If your friend was considering suicide, what could you do? What would you do?
    • What kinds of things do people in our school get harassed about?
    • What can you do if you see it happening? What are some options?
    • What if it happens to you? What are some options?
    • What do you already know about lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people? What stereotypes have you heard that you know aren’t true?
    • What good things have lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people done for the world?
    • If you – or your friend – were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender where could you go to find friends and support?
Resources for adults:
Youth Suicide Prevention Project
Bullying & Harassment Background, from Seattle Public Schools
Maine’s Best Practices in Bullying and Harassment Prevention: A Guide for Schools and Communities
Safe Schools Coalition, addressing LGBT Issues in schools, headquartered in Washington, serving schools everywhere
Safe at School, a new report from the Williams Institute at UCLA addressing the school environment and LGBT safety through policy and legislation
Resources for the classroom:
Look, Listen, Link and Help Every Living Person, suicide prevention curricula for middle and high school, respectively, from the Youth Suicide Prevention Project
Let’s Get Real and Straightlaced ... films and discussion guides from Groundspark about bullying for middle school and gender for high school, respectively
Lipstick and Who I Am … films and discussion guides from Scenarios USA written by youth, performed by pros & discussion guides, about friendship, coming out, and more for middle and high school
Lesson planning guides for integrating LGBT issues into the fabric of the classroom, from the Safe Schools Coalition
Resources for youth: … Get Through Tough Times
Raven Days
Teens Against Bullying
Safe Schools Coalition’s YOUTH page

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The KKK in America

In my humanities class right now, we are studying reconstruction time period after the Civil War and racial issues in America at the turn of the 20th century and then at the turn of the 21st century.  An organization that has had an extremely negative impact on race relations in the United States is the Ku Klux Klan.

This is the first time I have taught reconstruction as in-depth as I have in the past and I am going to ask my students their thoughts on the subject, content, depth covered, etc. in an evaluation soon (I will have that information available), but it seems to be going quite well.  Yesterday in class, we spent some time watching Birth of a Nation (1915) [Remastered Edition] which you can also access as live stream on Netflix.  We spent most of the period looking at different parts of the film.  While the film is three hours long and has little value to watch the film in its entirety, I would suggest a few clips to watch in class with your students.

The essential question we looked at in class, and throughout most of the year, is "What role does the media play in our society?"  We can argue that film is a part of media and it clearly has an impact on America.  While there are many different events and incidents in history one can point to for this rise in the KKK in the early 1900s, the membership jumped from 400,000 to over 4 million in 1920.  While we can point to the end of WWI and other issues of race in the different parts of the country, Birth of a Nation had an impact.

If using the live stream on Netflix, here are the times for the scenes--
1hour:10 mins

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lighting a Fire

I just finished reading Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery by Kathleen Cushman and her students as a part of my graduate school work.  While I found the book interesting, I would like to point out one of the key pieces I am walking away from the book with.  For those of you who love project based learning, this is something to keep in mind.  [My apologies as I feel like I am cheating using a post for my graduate school blog as my Don't Just Put a Movie On blog, but oh well!]

There were many sections of this book that spoke to me as an educator, but one that I believe directly connects to my practice was the criteria for a first-rate project on page 144.  At High Tech High we talk a great deal about the six a's of project planning.  While I like to keep those in my mind when creating a project, I believe that this list should be added to every person's checklist when crafting a project.

1. We clearly state the central question that our project addresses.
Without a central question, a project cannot succeed.  Last year for our festival project, our students worked on an interdisciplinary biology and humanities project.  When you go back and look at the project, we did not satisfy the six a's; however, I believe that the project was still a success because the students created their own central questions, completed their own research, and then displayed their learning.  We had a clearly stated overarching question that each group had to answer, but then students created their own individual essential questions for their own work.  They were motivated to answer their questions because they created them and decided what they wanted to learn about a topic.

2. We collaborate on planning and carrying out the project.
Every good project allows for student input in the different stages of a project.  From the planning, the day-to-day of the project, and the reflection, students needs to have time to voice how they are doing with the project and their opinions of it.  When we sit in our classrooms and create projects without asking students what they think about it, we forget one of our most important audiences.

3. We gather evidence from several primary and secondary sources, including at least one interview with an expert in the field.
As a student with a history background, I live and breathe primary and secondary sources.  I always include them in my teaching because I think too often students are afraid of "really old" documents or language that they cannot understand.  The sense of accomplishment that comes from analyzing and spending time with this material, questioning it and getting it wrong, then going back and finally understanding and mastering it is indescribable.  I had a student who came to me with a question about James Baldwin's essay titled "Stranger in a Village." She stayed up a few hours past her bedtime not because the assignment was due the next day (because it wasn't) but because she did not want to go to bed until she had figured out what he was trying to say.  In our discussion on the essay after school, she realized she had it all wrong, but was even more excited to go back and find out what she could from the piece and master it.  This is why primary and secondary sources are important and not those dreaded textbooks.

4. We set deadlines for all project tasks and meet them.
I partly agree with this.  For one project I had students complete all the deadlines themselves, and it worked.  For another project, I created "check-ins" or "benchmarks" for students to follow.  They did not have to, but many of them did, and it worked as well.  As long as student choice in the deadlines is involved, whether they create them, or they can decide to meet them or not, then it will be successful.

5. We seek out critique along the way and revise our work as needed.

6. We deliver a product or performance that throughly addresses the project's central question.
A student asked me in class the other day, "How do you know you have an impact on your students?"  My response to him was that I don't know in the moment if I do, but I can see it when I look at interactions I have with my students.  I can also see it when they bring their parent or friend to school and show them what they worked on.  When they perform their product to their audience and they are excited about it.  That is always when I know I have had an impact on my students.

7. We give evidence that our project had a positive impact.
One of my professional goals this year is to work on this component.  This has always been a challenge for me because how do we measure whether this has happened or not.  If one outsider experienced the project, is that enough?  If a student has changed his/her ideas and has become a more knowledgeable citizen for it, is that enough?  This is an area that I am still exploring and trying to figure out.

8. We reflect on our process and our product.
I think this piece is important especially when as a teacher we care more about the process and less about the product.  I was working with a group of students and even with critique after critique and meetings with the instructors and others, they still had not produced a piece of beautiful work.  It was not a piece of beautiful work in the eyes of the instructor, but also in the eyes of the students.  They learned more from that experience than they would have if their piece had been exhibited.  This is why the process of a project is important and figuring out ways to assess that process is something we as educators must continuously work on.
I am reminded of a comment a colleague of mine made years ago at a meeting with a group of students. He was referencing Plato's Allegory of the Cave and was making the claim to our students that they are all the light atop of a candlestick.  If you walk too fast, you can easily be blown out.  If you walk too slow, you won't be able to light up the room.  You must find the pace for yourself in order to light up the world around you, and in doing so, you will ignite the fire in your mind.  As educators, that is what we must to with and for our students.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Listening Project Follow Up

As I promised over the summer (see my earlier post Teaching About Various Viewpoints in America) I planned on making use of The Listening Project in my introductory unit to my American humanities class.  I found great success with it and my students seemed to take away a great deal from watching the film.

I am not one to use worksheets at all, and so before we started the film, I introduced the students to three questions I wanted them to take notes on throughout the film:
1. What did you learn about your view on America by viewing/hearing the viewpoint of foreigners?
2. Were there any parts in the film where you thought those interviewed were wrong?
3. What questions would you have asked if you had the opportunity?

I asked students to respond to these questions and be prepared to discuss the film when we finished it.  The conversation was not very structured, we started off with what struck us the most from the film and then moved on to talk about the three questions they responded to.

At the end of the discussion, I asked them to write down on an exit card one idea they think every person who watches this film should leave knowing.  Here are some of their thoughts:

  • "America always wants to say something, but we don't listen to what other people say."
  • "It is easy for America to speak, but not listen to what everyone else has to say."
  • "You don't really know about other people and their countries until you have gone and seen for yourself, and see what they have to go through."
  • "God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we could listen more.  I think that it is important to have opinions but to also have perspective."
  • "The U.S. isn't the only country in the world.  There are other people out there.  Make a change, offer your help."
  • "A lot of American have suffered because of Americans, what we do has an impact on everyone else."
  • "I think that everyone who watches this video should know that people have opinions, some may be kind but others are rough, but either way have an open mind."
  • "People from other countries know a lot more about us than we know about them."
  • "We're not citizens of a country, we're citizens of the world."
  • "One thing that really struck me was that most people in Iraq didn't want us to be there fighting and most of us don't want to be there either.  So why are we fighting?  It is becoming pointless."
  • "Why is it the world knows so much about America and yet we know so little about the world?"
  • "We should realize that to help others, we have to listen first."
  • "A lot of our country's freedoms and items we take for granted were established at the cost of others."
  • "I think people should know that America has a lot of power, but we have been using that power in wrong ways."
  • "You need to know your neighboring countries as much as they know you."
  • "Most people just need help from the American people.  They are disappointed that most citizens are turning a blind eye to the needs around the world."
  • "Not everyone hates America.  We are all family."
  • "Even though we've made some bad decisions and have hurt a lot of people, some people are still very open and kind with us."
  • "An unbiased opinion has little to no effect for change."
  • "People, especially Americans, shouldn't believe everything they hear; they should take the to visit, research, and understand themselves before they come to conclusions."
  • "America somewhat controls more than they know."
  • "Americans are generally good people with good intentions.  We just tend not to do the best things."
  • "People want more respect from America."
  • "Be grateful of where you come from and get to know those who are around you."
  • "America need to be careful with the amount of power they have because when America falls no one is going to be there to help them."
  • "Know that your views will change, know to be open minded."
  • "America is not perfect."
  • "Stop, think, listen.  Other countries matter as well."

As you can see, this film, discussion, and activity was a success.  It only took two class periods!


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Keep a Class Website!

My apologies for not posting last week.  We were back to school and the first week was even more draining than I thought it would be.  It is amazing that even after doing this for a number of years, the first week is still extremely difficult.

This week I am going to step away from films and curriculum and work on posting why you should keep a class website and the importance of being transparent with students and parents/guardians about our work in our classrooms.

I first saw a post about how vitally important this topic is over the summer and thought to myself how silly the post was because it is just an expectation at my school.  However, I recognize that at other schools teachers are not expected to do this, and this may seem like a great deal of work, but I can tell you it is very easy.  Some districts have begun to use websites like Moodle and other blackboard type sites, but I would suggest you take a look at Google Sites.  It is extremely easy to use, and it also allows you to have a website with professional appearance using very little time.  All you need is a gmail account (which you can get for free), one hour of free time, a computer and you are set up with a great communication tool.  A friend of mine has a post about it on his blog, here is the link.

Here is the website I keep for my courses.

What can you do?
Course Resources-- I have a portion of my site that is dedicated to keeping a collection of resources, files and readings for class.  Whenever I copy something to give to my students, I make use of the "send pdf" function on our school's copier.  I think most copiers have this option and you should check on it with your school's IT person.  You can send the handout to your email address and easily upload it on your website.  If your students have the problem of eating handouts (mine do, they seem to disappear moments after I give them out) they can get a copy of it online.

Course Announcements-- Need to make sure people outside of school know the homework?  Google sites allows you to have announcements that the world can see.  You can even link to the homework on your site so parents/guardians and students can access it.

Document your work-- Show off what you do with your students using Google sites.  It is really easy!