Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Writing for Real Audiences

While we English teachers can't always make every writing assignment available to a real, outside audience (nor do we always want to), we can strive to offer a variety of writing assignments that introduce types of writings which are common in real jobs and academia. My juniors are writing proposals for an imaginary research grant to the Smithsonian. We discussed the wide variety of proposals including research grants in graduate school, building business opportunities and seeking new clients, and even my husband's sponsorship proposal for his road racing team. For my assignment, they are required to write a formal business cover letter and a proposal that is at least one page, including a concise proposal statement, details from their research and a bibliography.
One student has already talked with me about finally understanding why business letter format is so picky and precise, even though he wrote them all summer for his father's business.
Another student recently told me that she will have the opportunity to use her new skills in writing a grant for money and supplies needed to start up an art therapy program for refugee children that she has been working with.
As I was creating this project and working through stages of writing it with the class, there was a lot of push back. I even joked one day and suggested that they would just prefer writing another essay, but to my surprise several of them said "yes!" It's hard to try new things, sometimes they don't work and sometimes it's a rocky road trying to communicate and form expectations, but as I told my students that day, it's important to be flexible and work through the problems. "Come on you 21st century learners, show me what you've got." And they have. Now they have a deeper appreciation and understanding of picky editing requirements as well as the confidence to succeed in this real world type of writing.

Publishing Web 2.0 Style

One of the most interesting conversations that I have with my students each year is about the quality of sources they can/should use for their research papers. The most valuable part is when we discuss the differences between print and non-print sources. No longer can we say print vs. online sources, as many credible databases make both available online. So, how to explain the value of the print sources? I read this in a recent Tweet by bernardlunn
Shirky: "the filter for quality has moved from publisher to subscriber" 08:50 AM September 18, 2008 from TwitterBerry

As we educate our next generation, the emphasis should be on teaching them to become automatic evaluators of sources of information: educated and informed subscribers. I am fascinated by sites like Digg where subscribers validate and recommend news and can set up accounts which direct them to articles that others like themselves recommend.
I am most interested in considering how we ensure a variety in our sources of information and avoid developing sources that take us down one slanted path consistently. I suppose traditional news sources have always done this as newspapers and major TV networks certainly have their own agendas. I hope that now is a time when we can break down these hidden barriers and develop networks of information that offer a broader perspective.
I guess this means helping students understand the value of seeing issues from a variety of perspectives. And, we've been doing that for a long time in education. So, how do you help your students broaden their perspectives and what online resources help you do this?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

For Presentations

I'm going to share this with my students who will be making visual presentations in a couple of weeks. A different way of thinking about and using PPT.
Presenting with text
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: presentation design)

Videos in the classroom

I've enjoyed using YouTube videos this year as an introduction to the lesson as suggested by S. Nobles. We've watched Leonard Bernstein's "Let your garden grow" while discussing Candide. A trailer for the movie Beowulf and Grendel and compared it to the poem. I just found an interview with Khaled Housseini discussing A Thousand Splendid Suns. Great!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Back to School Night

Tonight is Back to School night, and I am excited to share my class goals with parents. I hope to also be able to use a projector during my talk and show them our online work.

A New Kind of Wiki

I am trying out the wiki with my juniors this month during their class study of Black Ice by Lorene Cary. It is different than wikispaces in form and a little in function. For the most part, I like it. I can't leave a comment on a particular page unless I do so directly on the page itself, which takes away a bit of the ownership. That's my only criticism at this point.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Removing the Deadline

As I explore education in the 21st century I am frequently reminded that it is not about the tool but the methods. It's time that we rethink how we teach so that our students can learn to teach themselves as this is the most important lesson they can learn to prepare themselves for an unknown future.
So I threw the deadline out the window. I gave my senior level World Cultures a project intended to give them the opportunity to creatively explore the main theme of the novel and apply it to themselves. The initial two weeks of school for us were more than normally chaotic as my school has switched to a new type of schedule (a different order of classes each day) and we had an Upper School retreat at the end of last week. The day before the project was due I realized that I hadn't spent much class time reminding them to work on the project or asking about their out of class project. I made the executive decision to scrap the deadline when I realized that I would rather get a great final product than a rush job.
As I considered what to adjust the deadline to I realized that a more valuable lesson could be learned. The work that we are now doing in class is not contingent on them having completed the project so there really was no reason to have a deadline. When I initially announced my inclination to extend the deadline, I was a bit surprised that none of my students jumped on this. Not one of them asked for the extension. In talking more with them I found that this hesitation was not due to their prior organization and readiness to actually turn in the project on time. The hesitation was actually a fear. They wondered: Is this some kind of test? Is she trying to catch the ones who haven't even started yet?
Finally after a bit of a one-sided conversation on my part, my students began to warm up to the idea of this kind of freedom. When I said that they were so used to being told what to do and when to do it by teachers, several sighed and laughed a little. I was touching on some chord that these students had not encountered in their educations (remember: they're seniors). We realized that there was no need for a deadline on this project, and talked about why there was a deadline on the reading assignment. The only final deadline we could come up with is the end of the marking period because the grade will be on this term.
After all of this thought about the unimportance of an actual deadline it is interesting to consider if the assignment itself is worthwhile. I still think so and now more than ever. Now it's really about working for yourself and being completely responsible for yourself.
Today (the original deadline) we went around the room and each person explained their idea and how they were (or were going to) execute it. Yes, some still haven't started yet! I pointed out the blank wall in the back of my classroom where I am going to hang all of the projects as they are completed and I do have one all ready to hang. So we'll all know who and when these projects are completed.
I'll keep you posted. And I'll keep asking them to reflect on this and hopefully learn even more than the original intended lesson. I'm open to exploring new avenues.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Being a student

Today I participated in the PLP (Powerful Learning Practices) F2F at Fredericksburg Academy led by Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. My school is the host school and I was released from classes today to participate in the conference. After the second break out session I left the classroom in a daze and came to face-to-face with some of my own students. As I slowly came to reality I realized that they were laughing and one had spoken to me. I felt like they sometimes look when they come into my classroom from a different class. Dazed, out of it, and not ready for any new information. They were forgiving and repeated what they had been trying to tell me.
"Our class had a good discussion too"
Today while I was away learning, I confidently left my students to learn on their own. Having set up a wiki and class norms for book discussions, my students decided that they could conduct the second discussion of Black Ice on their own. The sub's report: "They had a GREAT discussion on the book" and the other class' assessment of themselves reassure me that:
1. I am not the only expert in the room.
2. Students want to learn.
3. I work at a great school that allows me the freedom to explore these new tools to enhance the learning environment in my classroom.
I don't think that I ever felt so good about taking a day off and leaving sub plans.