Monday, March 7, 2011

Technology Professional Day: Blended Learning

Today 8 teachers from our school are attending a full-day professional day on using technology in the classroom. Our topic is blended learning, the mixing of classroom instruction that continues the same conversations after hours online. We are ready to hear how we can use both channels of instruction most effectively.

Stay tuned! I'll post throughout the day.
Wow! What a day of learning! I wish all professional development was this good!
We previewed lots of teachnology: Haiku, chatzy, google docs, blogs, voice thread, jing, Ted conferences, protagonize, wikispaces, etc.--too much to digest. But we were always asking about student learning first, not technology first, and that seemed right. We learned about reverse learning--or flipping classtime with homework--so that introductory lessons happen at home, then applied use of that learning in critical thinking groups in class. We got a taste of so much that our heads are swimming.

At the end of the day, in the parking lot, one teacher was asking 'What should students learn?' This question had been asked before all the technology barage was unleashed, and it should guide us. Digital literacy is one more skill for us to include, but it seems a useful one, not to crowd out others, but to integrate. The effort to integrate takes prep time, which is overwhelming at first. But this feels like the future, like the path toward reinventing education. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Education leads to Conformity

I am trying to amp up my seniors' critical thinking skills (and their ability to critique society and institutions) before sending them off to college. Last night, they read short articles by Foucault and Paolo Freire on education's tendency to demand conformity rather than individuality. In class today, they read a series of quotes about conformity in education, then wrote a paragraph for ten minutes, and then I had them discuss in a free-form way without much guidance or traffic control by the instructor. The conversations were interesting to me and to the students. Some blamed education for making them conform, others explored how students tend to conform to peer groups to fit in. Others accepted the conformity expectations so they could succeed in college.

Tonight they are to post to their blogs a response to the conversation. Here's an excerpt from the first blog response, which seems thoughtful:
There is a large tendency among poor teachers to let students deny responsibility instead of accept consequences for their actions. Those who teach with with the opposite goal in mind encourage individual growth. The idea that success is defined as earning a high-powered job is something that schools and society are also inserting into the goals of students. . . . So to give a person freedom by trusting them with the accountability of their own actions, causes them to conform to the expectations put on them by their society-imposed goal.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Graphic Novels

Today we used two different graphic novel versions of Kafka's Metamorphosis to analyze visual representations of the classic. One is illustrated by R. Crumb (of Fritz the Cat) and the other by Peter Kuper. Both are included in my new textbook by Carol Jago et al., Literature & Composition (Bedford 2011). You can find one of the graphic novels through this link:

Our purpose was to have seniors who have acquired many close reading skills and the ability to interpret details of language apply those same skills to graphics. It was not as easy for this visual generation as I supposed, and I had to help them look carefully at and interpret the following; typography, composition on the page, graphic frames, and representations of the father, mother, sister, boss, and Gregor himself. Slowly, they caught on, and are now in a position to extend their close analysis of details to other genres, such as graphics.

In the end, it was a lesson for me in how to facilitate the transferability of skills, how to walk students through applying analysis to images, and how not to make too many assumptions about this generation of students.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Preparing Seniors for Independent Thinking through Leaderless Discussion

Last week, I had my students engage in a Leaderless (Student-Led) Discussion. I prepared the series of questions concerning the work we've been doing this year with Freud, Heart of Darkness, and most recently Kafka's Metamorphosis. When students arrived in class, I had desks arranged in two concentric circles, one inside the other, and I directed students to sit in either. At the start of class, I explained the ground rules and purpose of the exercise: Everyone speaks, listen first, ask interesting questions, keep the conversation going. All students prepped for five minutes by annotating questions from the list that interested them and finding one quote in Freud, Kafka, or Conrad that they could read aloud to the group for discussion. Students in the outside circle were given a grid to keep track of which students in the inner circle initiated topics, responded, or asked questions. After fifteen minutes, students on the inside would switch with those on the outside and continue. The teacher and those in the outer circle were to remain silent. At the end of class, we would all debrief and students were to use their individual class blogs that night to respond to any topic discussed or to comment on the process itself.
  The excercise went well, though always unpredictably, and students were lively and engaged, with only a few awkward pauses. Afterwards, students were enthusiastic about the process and quite articulate about the implications for independence from the teacher and peer-to-peer learning. Many of the student blogs explored the philosophy of letting students self-direct their own discussions and learning, with some worrying about the open-endedness and directionlessness of such conversations. Overall, everyone agreed we would experiment further as second semester seniors moved toward graduation.
    This is the third year I have used such discussions and they continue to energize second semester seniors and give them a new measure of freedom from teacher-dominated Socratic discussions. I hope to drive home the points that they have a growing ability to self-regulate, self-direct, and share learning in their own student community. I emphasize, and hope they remember, to help actualize such learning experiences next year in college and to shift from receptive-regurgition models to self-directed, constructivist ones.

Meet me in the BLOGOSPHERE!

WELCOME to a new blog about teaching English, inspired by a new project, 101 English Blogs. In this space I will share my observations about teaching English, the ups and downs, and will connect with others in the online community of English teachers, especially as represented on 101 English Blogs and on Jim Burke's English Companion Ning (which is a tremendous resource for English teachers!).