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Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Power of a Teacher

"Knowing how to read changes a person's life, and you make that happen every day!Barbara Teter, International Reading Association

I received this e-mail this week and was impressed by the simplicity and the truth of the statement.  As we move forward, trying to reach all students in all content areas, we need to keep this in mind.  We often get overwhelmed by all of the demands on us.

Here is a link to English Companion created by Jim Burke, renowned author and literacy expert.  It is free.   

I hope you will find it is a place you can ask questions, share ideas and receive support from a larger community that shares the common goal of literacy for all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Purposeful Language

   Last week, I concluded my second week of coaching for EDU 590 and 591.  All of the teachers demonstrated excellent teaching.  However, what impressed me the most, was the level of purposeful language I observed students using automatically.  Students were able to trace their thinking, give rationales for opinions, make connections, and collaborate to problem solve.  Students acquire this language as teachers model it - soooo - thank you all for doing such a fine job!

Meadow S., English Teacher at Mt. Blue, November 20, 2009

   The last teacher I visited on Friday, was Meadow.  She was reading MacBeth with her students.  This was the same group I had observed earlier.

   Students had been asked to read a meaningful section of text the night before and come up with three questions to bring to class.  Meadow began the class by passing out large note cards for the  students to write their questions on.  Next she divided the students into pairs.  Students then met and shared questions by: 1. swapping note cards, 2. writing answers to each others' questions, and 3. discussing answers and rationale for answers.  Part of this discussion included what the author of the question was thinking of when writing the question.  Meadow circulated around the room and listened, offering direction where needed.  The level of conversation was high.  This group had been working on interpretation and inference for some time and were doing a great job!
   At the end of the discussion, Meadow asked each pair to write three new questions based on their discussion.  Due to the nature of the conversations, the questions were higher level.  Students were then regrouped and followed the same process.
   Finally, the group shared their understandings - sometimes challenging, sometimes agreeing, sometimes adding.
   The level of meta-cognition was excellent.  Students were able to explain clearly and concisely what their thinking was around the text, the questions, and the answers.  What a difference in just a few months!  Bravo!

Jim B., Social Studies Teacher at Mt. Blue, November 20, 2009

   On Friday, I visited Jim's history class.  I had observed this class before as they made their way through the dark ages.  They are a good group - engaged, inquisitive, cooperative.  Jim opened the lesson by asking the students to remove a shoe and place it on the desks he had grouped together.  Next, he asked them to categorize - making at least 20 separate groups.  The group were enthusiastic and they soon had exceeded the number of categories - analyzing, regrouping, rephrasing, rethinking (the categories were recorded on the LCD - over 30) .  The students enjoyed this process and talked back and forth, problem-solving and clarifying the process.  Jim summarized the process and then explained to the students that this process would be used throughout the new unit.
   Students then moved to clarifying definitions of words they had already used.  Definitions were located using the dictionary on their laptops and then used their own wording.  Jim moved among the group offering students help where needed.
   The rationale for this lesson was excellent.  During this unit, students will need to categorize information.  Jim decided to take the time to have them categorize - practice - with something fairly easy - a test run.  We often overlook this step when working with our higher level students.  This is unfortunate.  As teachers we know we can never assume anything - regardless of the level of the group!  Thanks to Jim, these students will be able to apply this process to the new concepts they will be learning.  Bravo!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Jo W., Math Teacher at Mt. Blue, November 20, 2009

On Friday, I visited Jo during her Geometry class.  I enjoy being in her classroom. 

She always has a seasonal bulletin board with jokes that require reading closely - usually a double meaning - just like math terms

...and visual aids posted focusing on recent concepts with accompanying formulas - a succinct GIST.

Jo began by explaining the students would begin a new concept and she wanted them to preview the chapter.  She walked them through, looking at the text features first.  As they looked at the text features, Jo had students summarize what they understood from the specific text feature.  She then had them read meaningful chunks and select the most important words.  Individually and then together, students created brief sentences to summarize the chunks of text.  While students reported out, Jo guided this process by doing a think aloud on the summarizing process.  Bravo!  This is a strategy they will need to use when they are reading problems.

Jake B., Physics Teacher at Mt. Blue, November 19, 2009

   On Thursday, I visited Jake's physics class.  Dan Ryder, his coach from 591, also attended.  Jake was in the process of concept mapping a chapter in the textbook.  He did this after reviewing students' notes they had taken during an introduction he had given to this chapter.  While they had zeroed in on the key concepts, they did not see the connections between the ideas and he was concerned - how could they understand if they did not know how they ideas were related? 
   In order to address this concern, he decided to have them use the program, Inspiration.  This is an excellent program for students to help them map their thinking.  As Jake moved around the room working with individual students, I could see students were having great success.
   What impressed me the most were the conversations students were having with each other as well as with adults.  They were clear that this process of mapping (students connected ideas as they made sense to them) helped them clarify their thoughts and they could explain it in meta-cognitive terms.  Interestingly enough, the maps were all different, but correct! 
   This is key for educators to understand.  Students think differently and we need to find ways to empower them. How many students receiving extra help just need to process the information in a slightly different way? This program is something we need to take a serious look at for all of our classes. - Bravo!

Melody T., English Teacher at Mt. Blue, November 19, 2009

   On Thursday, I visited Melody during her English class.  She was introducing a new unit and was frontloading the during this lesson in order to assure her students had a common understanding of the concept they would be looking at.  Maureen, her 591 coach was also present.
   Melody began by asking students to write in their journals whatever they knew or thought about civilization.  Next, they were to pick the most important word in their writing and place it on a note card to pass into the teacher.  She displayed these terms at the front of the room and asked students to explain why these were the most important (YEAH! meta-cognition). Melody clarified concepts by asking questions, helping students make personal connections, and cleaning up misunderstandings.
   Finally, Melody moved them into the frayer model format.  This was an excellent choice, as it clarified any misconceptions left.
   This will lead to the students reading Lord of the Flies.  Bravo!

Lisa D., Foreign Language Teacher at Mt. Blue, November 19, 2009

   On Thursday, I visited Lisa's classroom.  Beth W., her coach from 591, accompanied me.  I always love to watch Lisa teach.  Although I do not always get the details of the content (this lesson was in Spanish) I can still appreciate her teaching strategies and her enthusiasm. 
   Lisa focuses on meaning in all aspects of her lesson.  She immerses students in Spanish - even the directions are given in Spanish - and often provides context, using hand gestures, etc. to help students understand.  This is a universal way to communicate (I even picked up a few words of Chinese when haggling in markets this way:) ) and students respond very well.  She creates sentences to use context clues, presents vocabulary in meaningful chunks, and within the context of a story. 
   This is not memorization.  Students use these learned phrases within the oral, written, and read contexts - varying the use slightly every time.
   Comprehension in this class was checked two ways.  1.) Lisa read a story students had studied and asked them to identify the words they were having trouble with (and think why).  Next she asked  them to hold up fingers (1-5) indicating their understanding.  This is a high level of meta-cognition .  As students described their thinking, it was obvious they were comfortable with their meta-cognitive process.  Lisa spent time clarifying confusions and then...2.) Students were asked to answer questions (given orally) by writing their answers.  Interestingly enough, the students answered slightly higher than their indicated comprehension.  Bravo!

Therese H., Science Teacher at Mt. Blue, November 19, 2009

   Last Thursday, I spent time in Therese' science class.  She was dealing with two very complex concepts - adaptation and evolution.   Therese had decided to use a scavenger hunt format for her students to introduce them to the key concepts in the text. 
   In order to do this, she had created a scavenger hunt that required her students to search the chapter and answer questions based on key text features, i.e. bold words, charts, diagrams, etc.  The class had worked on this the night before and were debriefing during this session. 
   Therese uses this format in order to assess where the students are and clarify any misunderstanding.  She does this by asking clarify questions, making clarifying comments, modeling her thinking, and helping students make personal connections to their own lives. In other words, comprehend the big ideas. 
   This is often a challenge when text books are too difficult for students to read.  Often this results in students becoming disengaged and passive.  The conversation in Therese's room was anything but!  Bravo!