Tag Archives: how-to-do-it-ive-ness

Deep or Wide?

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It pains me whenever I read or hear someone say, “I was never taught __(insert information here)__ in school”. Or “Twenty Things You Were Never Taught about __ (insert issue here)__”.  And I have to be honest here, I feel pained because I am fiercely proud of my former profession, my colleagues who are still fighting the good fight, my former students, and the schools in which I have taught. But, beyond my own ego, there is a very good reason why educators need to reflect on these statements. It might go a long way towards helping with what my spouse calls “client education” so that people have a more realistic understanding of what goes into creating curricula for the classroom and across grades.

In educational circles curriculum developers try to straddle the gulf between “survey courses” and “in-depth courses”.  A survey course is one where you cover a lot of information in a short amount of time.  They are often introductory courses which are meant to give the students the big picture of a field of study, and the expectation is, generally, that the student will go on to study the topic in more detail later.

Students of survey courses are expected to handle a lot of information quickly and are expected to regurgitate said information on demand or on tests designed to measure how much of the information stuck. Their grades, often, are tied to tests and possibly a term paper which employs a limited number of learning modalities that can be difficult for students who find traditional learning difficult. (I’d use the word Medieval, but this type of learning was proliferated by Queen Elizabeth I, which means it really falls in the English Renaissance.)

This mode of delivering curriculum generally requires from students a proficiency at note taking, textbook reading, memorization, and fluency with the writing process.  Teachers and professors who lead survey courses rarely have time in class to allow for in-depth questions, work on papers, and textbook reading, putting the entire responsibility of the learning onto the student.  It is what is called “teacher centered” as opposed to “student centered”.  As in, the onus is on the student to react positively to the professor, as opposed to the teacher learning the ways of and responding to the needs of the students.  So, interestingly enough, a survey course which is meant to be an introduction, requires more from students in terms of learning proficiency because the teacher has so much material to get through that the best they can do is get through the material. This methodology leaves the bodies of students on the side of the educational highway, which is why they are also often considered “gate-keeping” classes, weeding out those students who struggle.

An in-depth course is one where the teacher or professor picks a few seminal items to create the curriculum and requires students to use Bloom’s Taxonomy (or something in that line) to get a deeper understanding of the topic.  Students also generally have many different ways to prove that they have grasped the material. Often the teacher will use one learned item to build upon the next item.  This takes a lot more time than a survey course, which is why you cannot dispense as much information in them.

In my experience, students prefer an in-depth approach to curriculum than a survey approach, which is why many of us use this model if we can, even though it is more work (far, far more work).  (It’s also why I often feel the need to kick survey course professors in the teeth when they complain about their students.  These people are not teachers; they do little but profess.)

So, let’s do the math.  Let’s say you’re a teacher. You see 35 students in one 50 minute class per day.  You know it takes 4-5 minutes to settle the class down at the beginning, and at least 4-5 minutes to get students packed up and out the door.  You are now at 40 minutes.  In that time, you need to pick up and/or hand back work, you need to hand out new assignments, answer questions, and get students started on new tasks, which may or may not include the amount of time it takes for a class of 35 students to get into small groups or pairs.  You may need to go over the homework due that day.  You will give a lecture or mini-lecture to help students grasp the material.  You will tell students what they are going to do.  You will show students what they are going to do.  You are going to help students do what they are going to do.  You are going to let the students do what they are going to do.  You will make corrections and suggestions and let them do what they are going to do.  You will ask them to demonstrate proficiency.

In my experience, students enjoy this learning modality more than one where they come in, sit down, listen to a professor profess for 40 minutes, maybe take notes, and leave.

Research also indicates that in-depth learning has more staying power for long-term learning, because it has more opportunities to make connections with past learning, or at least it stays with the learner for longer than the memorize-and-regurgitate model.

So why the hell are you blaming me for the fact that I didn’t teach you frickin’ everything there ever is to know in the whole frickin’ universe? (Pardon my Klatchian.)

Well, if you are going to blame me (and by me, I mean us teachers, professors, administrators, state legislators, curriculum developers, textbook writers, bus drivers, lunch staff, crossing-guards, secretaries, custodians, and all the others who go neatly into the category known as “school”), then blame me for not teaching you how to educate yourself.

There is no way, none, to teach a person absolutely everything that he or she will need, will want to know, or will find interesting enough to put in a Buzzfeed list, in his or her life.  In fact, the very teaching modality that reaches the most learners will by its very nature require that not everything can be taught.

The only way to solve this problem is to create learning environments where students are taught how to teach themselves. That, we can do.

We can teach how to research, how to sift and mine for useful information, how to ask the kind of questions which lead to answers (or better yet, more and better questions).  We can praise and provide a place for independent learning.  In this way, we may see more articles called What I Taught Myself about the Senegalese Boat People Because My Teachers Were So Busy Teaching Me How to Teach Myself That They Didn’t Have Time to Teach Me Themselves about the Senegalese Boat People, And What a Cool List It Is, Too.

A girl can dream.

 

 

 

 

 

Week 38 – Can the Training Wheels Miss the Bike?

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We were on our last week of school.  Tuesday was our last day of regular classes.  Wednesday students watch the Upper School Performance (which was wonderful) and had two Humanities classes.  We finished up our last essay which students presented as a speech. The 6th had a math class, but then, that’s it.  Thursday was a half day and that was all about cleaning up, gathering up, signing year books, and saying good-bye.  We also finished watching most of The Holy Grail, skipping Castle Anthrax.

The speech writing used the same pattern as any other expository writing.  Brainstorming, outlining, writing, and for some of the faster students, a chance to revise.  The main difference was that I wouldn’t help them.

One student was not about to be put off.  She kept asking me to check her work.  Now this is a student who was writing her 14th essay for me.  I knew, really knew, that she didn’t really need my help. I had her previous 13 papers in her portfolio in the back room.  Every time she asked for help I referred her to her Tools folder, or the rubric, or the book, or a classmate.  Still, she kept asking questions that I knew she knew the answer to.

I finally stopped her and asked if she knew how hard it was for me not to help her?  Everybody thinks that the teacher is there to guide and help students, but the teacher is also there to help students do it themselves.  Once the how-to-do-it-ive-ness has been established, the teacher needs to step back and let the students do it.  I think they had noticed by now, as it was the end of the year, that I am both nosy and bossy.  I find it very, very difficult not to look over their shoulders and point out places where they could be doing it the way I would be doing it, even when there is no guarantee that their way isn’t better.  It is why I make myself sit at my desk and often knit or write blog entries until one of them needs help.

The student looked at me and said, “So, you are kind of like training wheels?”  Yes.  I am the human equivalent of training wheels.  My job is to make myself superfluous.  Then I asked her if she ever considered that the training wheels might miss the bike.

There was a moment of reflective silence in the room.

Week 36 – A Pop Essay to Make You Foam at the Mouth

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As the year is winding down, I’ve been wanting to assess my students on the writing process when left totally up to them.  I also wanted to know what they took from the movie “A Knight’s Tale” that we watched in class as part of our unit on the middle ages.  (We watched a safer, denuded, and cleaned up “airplane” version.)   So when they came back from recess, I said, “Okay, Pop Essay!  Get out binder paper and your notes.”

POP ESSAY!

Using your notes and the True/False list you made while viewing the A Knight’s Tale, outline and write a first draft of an expository essay.  You have one class period only.

 Here is your prompt:  How historically accurate is the movie “A Knight’s Tale”?  Describe the most important moments that are accurate and explain why, and then describe the most interesting  moments that are inaccurate and explain why.  What conclusions can you draw about our popular notion of the middle ages based on the film?

Do your outline here.

Go!

The students never batted an eye.  They all got out paper and their notes, and we looked at the prompt.

We took a minute to “deconstruct” the prompt.  First I asked them where we would find our thesis statement.  We underlined the first question.  I explained that they would need to turn it into a statement, but clearly I need to go over it again because one student used the question as it was written.

Then we numbered the jobs that the prompt was asking to be answered.   We put a 1 at “describe” and drew an arrow to what we were to describe and circled it: the important moments.  Then we put a 1a at the word “why” to remind us to give examples and reasons.  Then we put a 2 at the second “describe” drew a circle around the words “interesting moments” and drew a squiggly line under the word “interesting” to make it clear that “important” and “interesting” are two different concepts.  Then we put a 2a at the word, “why”.

Then we looked at the last sentence, and students were relieved to see the word “conclusions”. They accurately connected the word to a conclusion paragraph.  You don’t need to do it that way, but it does make a nice way to wrap up your thoughts.

Then I introduced the idea of the magic number 3.  They need two sets of moments.  Emphasis on the plural.  I told them that it is always useful to pick three ideas to support their thesis.  This meant that with a topic sentence they would be looking at about seven sentences for their body paragraphs.  Each moment must be supported.  The three moments plus three examples plus one topic sentence equals about seven sentences.  That gave them an idea of the length of the paper.

I wanted them to give me strong outlines, and so I told them that they needed to make the outline specific enough that if they didn’t finish the paper, I could still give them credit based on what they were planning to say as shown in their outline.  One the other hand, I warned them that they didn’t want to make the outline so specific that they didn’t have time to write it.  Only one didn’t get to write.  But his outline is amazing.  (We’ll work on it.)  Some finished early.  I told them that in this case, they need to check that they were on topic, then do as much revision as possible before the essays are picked up.  They needed to think about legibility, grammar and mechanics, idea and content, organization, word choice, and voice.

It takes time to master timed writing. They should not beat themselves up because they didn’t finish, but to consider why they hadn’t.

Instead of posting several essays, I thought I could get more student’s work up if I cherry picked some paragraphs and moments that I found to be most interesting.

Here are some openings:

The movie “A Knight’s Tale” focuses on medieval times.  But is the movie accurate to history?  In this paper:  What is accurate?  What is inaccurate? and why?

How accurate is the movie “A Knight’s Tale”? This movie is about a squire, the helper of a knight, named William, and how he changed his stars.  Which means that he went from squire to knight.

Is “A Knight’s Tale” historically inaccurate? Or is it both?  Let us find out.

And some 1st body paragraphs:

This will be the accurate section of my paper.  Training daily is a huge part of a knight’s  life.  That is how they have lots of power to hold these huge swords (not always big swords, but heavy).  Courtly love is love in the nobility.  One of the rules is when you speak to your lover, you will foam at the mouth.  The Black Prince is a real character.  His real name is Prince Edward.  He is famous for his victories.  He does help other kings and, yes, he does tournaments.  There is still many more. 

First of all, this movie had a lot of accuracies, some unexpected.  There was, in fact, daily training for all knights.  William wasn’t doing a lot of extra training. All the rules of jousting and the stuff that happened (including getting hurt) did happen.  This is important because it was actually unwarped despite how silly it sometimes seemed.  William also followed the rules of courtly love.  That is very important because to some people could see that it would be crazy how one would follow and constantly think about another.

Now I will describe a few accurate parts.  Most of the dances were accurate, but not all of them were.  This was important because William got closer to the girl he liked.  Only widows having men’s job (blacksmithing) was accurate.  William needed a good blacksmith.  People were hanged.  Roland uses this to show William what could happen to him.

First, I will discuss the accuracies of this movie. First on accuracies is Knights.  Knights had to have people pay them taxes so they can go to a tournament.  Also, in Europe, if you are not of noble birth, you cannot be a knight.  Next is Ulric von Lichtenstein.  Ulric was an actual character from history who was a knight.  Next is apprentices.  Most children were apprenticed around the age of 7.

And some 2nd body paragraphs (I didn’t give the whole paragraphs for some of these because there was a lot of repetition.)

This next paragraph is about how inaccurate it is.  They filled the lances with pasta.  The makers did that so they could have an effect.  The blacksmith put a Nike symbol on the armor.  First, they didn’t have Nike, and second the blacksmiths did not put a symbol on armor (as far as we know).  They did not know what people looked like back then.  For example, the Black Prince, we don’t know what he looks like.

Now I will explain three false moments.  One of them is that David Bowie did not exist then.  He was born very recently.  The outfits for women were very inaccurate. They looked like “Star Wars” clothes!  The lances broke.  They wouldn’t have been able to afford so many.

Next,  the inaccurate moments.  They had no trial for criminals.  When William got arrested, he went straight to public humiliation.  They also filled the lances with linguini.  I would not expect to see that in the middle ages, but it did add pop to the jousting.  Finally, the women used hair dye.  We know that women would dress their hair elaborately, but did not color their hair. 

Finally, roses were pink and white, not deep red.

They did not eat turkey legs.

First, in the middle ages, there was no hair dye and women would have worn their hair up and covered.  I know this because we have watched many middle ages documentaries and they said exactly that.

And for some conclusions:

Not thinking historically, this movie was funny and exciting.  If we had not learned about the middle ages, everyone in the class would think that the middle ages wasn’t all that bad.  They also would think most knights were mostly too snobby and proud to congratulate anyone else.  If everyone had thought these things, they would be totally wrong.

I learned that some movies are accurate and some aren’t.  Example, this one was more accurate.  I learned and saw some of the rules of courtly love. Like when the two lovers, William and Jocelyn, are talking and William is tripping over his words and you can hear him.

I am very pleased with the results.  The students’ voices come out loud and clear while strongly reflecting what we learned in class.  They also had little problem transferring the writing process to a quick essay test.  So, yay, yay, and yay.

So, here’s to Heath Ledger (god rest his soul), people having fun with History, and whoever created the essay.  Add them all up, and you get statements like “when you speak to your lover, you foam at the mouth.”

Cheers!

Week 35 – Extra Credit? My Eye!*

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Read this first: Logic fails her | oldfangled.

So, below is my massively long response to this question which I believe is at the heart of teaching at the middle school level. Again, I need to apologize to oldfangled for my long response.

Her frustration is with a student who wants extra credit work to make a grade better when she wasn’t doing the work assigned. Serious grrr.

Oi. How frustrating. This behavior makes me wonder what is really going on. I have found a few things that help me find patience in this situation.

1) I believe that for middle school age students doing the work and turning it in are two separate and distinct skill sets. I only know this from personal experience, but since I have started treating doing the work and turning it in as two separate grades, I have seen a significant upswing in students’ ability to manage. So, a student gets a grade for turning it in on time, and they get a grade for the work done. This allows students (particularly the ones who are teetering on the brink) to not be turned off from school completely.

2) I have also instituted separate organization for different types of work. Explicit instruction is not something many students get at home when it comes to organization. Seriously, I have had a drop in lost papers of about 90%. The work being done goes in the orange folder, when the work is done, it goes in the blue folder.

3) Then I started pulling kids out of their lunch, PE, or whatever breaks and recesses they have in order to sit them down to do the work. I checked to see if they came early or stayed late. (Even pulling some kids out of detention, and trust me, they would have rather been in yard crew.) At first this is onerous and a real pain in the butt, but students soon learn that after the first infraction, they will do it under my eye. What I learned is that most students have a real reason for not doing the work. 1) They didn’t understand the instructions (even though I explained it 1 million times.) 2) They have no time after school or home is unsafe or too chaotic to do the work. 3) They don’t have the materials at home and are too embarrassed to ask for help. These are just the most common.

4) I also give as little homework as possible because of the above. Students do not *need* homework. Homework happens because we didn’t finish it in class and/or they need it for the next day’s lesson.

5) Then on the rare occasion when a student really does mess up, I still know what they are mastering from the curriculum. I currently have a student who went and asked the school secretary to edit a paper for him because he knew that I would not let him off the hook. He may be turning it in late, but he will turn it in or spend every lunch with me until the end of the year.

6) And no. I don’t give extra-credit either. Only if a student has proven that they have mastered the content, and that takes up all their time.

Wow. I’m sorry this got so long. But it’s bothered me since I started teaching middle school, and so I’ve spent every year of the past 13 or so experimenting with ways to make sure work gets done *and* turned in. I’m not at 100%, but it’s better.

I think I’m just going to copy and paste this on my blog.

Maybe like the fact that teens need sleep in the morning, I think we will find more answers in brain research than anywhere else. That and the fact that the ages between 11 and 14 do not make up a whole lot of any research on cognitive ability. They either get thrown in with elementary or with high school. Do we really know their age appropriate norms? Are our policies taking them into account? And as any middle school denizen can tell you, this age is a different beast entirely both cognitively and emotionally. Unfortunately, it is also the age when many people decide whether or not they will (or can) succeed academically.

I’ve promised myself yearly that if I am ever in a place where I can research my hypotheses, I will. What I do know is that hard and fast rules that may work for high school or college students seem to do more damage than good when you are dealing with students who are still very young in many ways and may not have the executive functioning of the upper grades.

Are you a middle school teacher? What has worked for you? What hasn’t? I’d really like to learn from you. Yes, you.

* Will someone please tell me where this expression comes from?

Week 34 – The Sly Creation: A 6th Grade Essay

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Here is the offering of a student who read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  This student gets right to the point of the book, i.e., what does it mean to be human?  It’s a grand philosophical question, and one that, clearly, our students can grapple with in middle school.

The Sly Creation 1
The Sly Creation 2
The Sly Creation 3
The Sly Creation 4

To some extent he runs out of steam when he gets to his conclusion paragraph, but this only slightly diminishes the power of his thesis.

I feel that this student really turned a corner with this paper. It seems to me that he has “burned through the boring” of essay writing and is making the writing his own. He has become a writer of non-fiction in his own right.

Week 33 – Student C’s Offering

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Here is another student’s response to the compare and contrast prompt.

This student worked extremely hard on this paper. His willingness to do revision after revision, to listen to those who could help him, and the choices he ultimately made to improve his paper make me so very proud of him. Notice the green underlining on the outline. He never lost patience when I asked him to go back and answer reader questions. Notice the back of the third draft. He was still working on hooks and introductory thoughts. This child knows how to work. And he did so diligently, coming up with a product he can be proud of. I know I’m proud of him.

The contrast brainstorm:
maniac artemis contrast

The contrast brainstorm:
maniac artemis contrast:

The outline:
maniac artemis outline 1
maniac artemis outline 2
maniac artemis outline 3
maniac artemis outline 4

The first draft:
maniac artemis 1st 1

The second draft:
maniac artemis 2nd 1
maniac artemis 2nd 2

The third draft:
maniac artemis 3rd 1
maniac artemis 3rd 2
maniac artemis 3rd 3

PSR: For some reason we can’t find it.

The fourth draft:
maniac artemis 4th 1
maniac artemis 4th 2

And the Graded Rubric:
maniac artemis final rubric

Week 32 – Student B’s Offering

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I’ve uploaded more student papers.  This student wrote his compare and contrast paper on Sherlock Holmes and Scrooge.  It has the same rubric as before.

Let’s see what he’s done.

sherscrooge compare

And the contrast brainstorm:
sherscrooge contrast

Then the plot development chart. For some reason we are missing one of the plots.
sherscrooge plot chart

Then the outline. Notice that he has chosen to outline conclusion directly after introduction.
sherscrooge outline 1
sherscrooge outline 2
sherscrooge outline 3

Then the first draft:
sherscrooge 1st 1
sherscrooge 1st 2
sherscrooge 1st 3

Then the second draft:
sherscrooge 2nd 1
sherscrooge 2nd 2
And for some reason we are missing the final page…

Then the third draft:
sherscrooge 3rd 1
sherscrooge 3rd 2
sherscrooge 3rd 3

Then the Personal Skills Record:
sherscrooge PSR 1
sherscrooge PSR 2

Then the final draft:
sherscrooge 4th 1
sherscrooge 4th 2
sherscrooge 4th 3

And finally, the Rubric with the final grade:
sherscrooge final rubric

And there it is! A job well done. A paper I think most high school students would be proud of.