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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mike Henry, Social Studies Class at Jay H.S.

On Tuesday, I visited Mike in one of his college prep classes.  He is a reflective teacher with 39 years of experience.  He has been concerned with his students' focus on "learning to the test," their use of memorization to learn, and with the limitations of the textbooks he uses.  During our last class meeting he reviewed one of Janet Allen's triple entry journals and decided to give it a try.

He introduced the lesson by explaining the concern he has for them and their style of studying; memorization is the lowest form of learning.  He went on to explain he wants them to think about and develop an understanding of history and this can not be accomplished with rote memorization of isolated items.  Next he explained chapter 11 was one of the tougher chapters and he wanted to give them a thought process to try on this text.  He introduced the following template and then modeled a few examples for them.

Mike modeled thinking regarding:

The significance of  the 5 pillars for Moslems.
It made him wonder: He chose the pillar regarding giving to the poor and then connected to his own knowledge of tithing in other religions.
Next he decided to google the information on the internet and see if he could find an answer.
Now he thinks:  He did and shared it with the class.  Answer: 40th of their income.

The students were engaged and focused.  He reiterated he wanted them to just try this and consider the process for their learning.  They began working and he circulated around the room, supporting them as needed.

Shortly, the students debriefed.  This was the first time they had tried this exercise and their questions were not bad.  They were personal.  Mike commented on the questions suggesting why it was important information for them to have.  There were all levels.

After the discussion, Mike asked the students what they thought about the process.  The answers were surprising and telling.  One student said memorizing was not learning.  She had learned that in a previous school and much preferred this method.  Other students felt they enjoyed the exercise, but it took time away from time to prepare for the test.  Interestingly enough, Mike gives mostly essay tests.  Another student suggested she would use this activity as a pre-reading process at the beginning of a unit.  She found it interesting.

Mike is planning to use this exercise as she suggested, allowing students to share the new material (it must be outside of the textbook) with the class periodically and then providing extra points on the test at the end of the unit for those who can answer questions regarding the extra info.

During the final discussion, the question of the validity of information was raised.  Several students wondered if they should rely on peers to locate and share information or if they would prefer finding it themselves.  Mike guided them during the discussion to consider how to validate information on the internet as well as information presented by professors and colleagues once they enter college.

Students were engaged and enthusiastic during this portion of the lesson.  They seemed eager to hear about college and learn some strategies for preparing them for the next big step in their lives.

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