Saturday, October 10, 2009

Getting Students Involved

To enliven a presentation on the history of the English language and how Old English was formed for my British Literature class, I got all student involved. As they entered the classroom, I gave each student a card with a role: Saxon, Celt, Roman, Christian monk, etc. I told students that I was playing the role of the scop, the Anglo Saxon storyteller, and they would be various characters in my production. I began the story of the "Birth of the Little Baby English Language" and throughout various students entered the "stage" and participated as everyone listened and waited for their part.

When my story was finished, I asked everyone to open a new blog post on their class blogs and record the same story for themselves. In this way they too became the scop. Here are some of their posts:
Their stories aren't elegant, but the facts are there and they are all pretty consistent. Getting students involved as active participants in their learning instead of passive listeners makes learning more fun and ultimately more meaningful.

Stepping Out of the Way

One of the best conferences that I went to last year was not a technology conference. The speaker spent the day reviewing recent brain research and how it applies to teaching and learning. This school year I have been consciously applying some of the lessons learned with great results in my classroom.

Friday was Spirit Day, the culmination of a week of dressing up, competing for class spirit points, and general chaos. Class periods were shortened for the end of the day parade and pep rally. Here is a picture of my class that day:All students were actively engaged in a task that involved reviewing dates in American history. It certainly wasn't the task that was so engaging, but how it was framed and presented. After a quick review of our last unit, Puritanism, I told the class that the rest of the period would be spent in a class challenge. My next class period would do the same task and the groups would be timed. Their task was to match dates to important events in American history, but I also told them that it was not important to know the date but instead to understand the overall chronology. I then gave a stack of dates to one half of the class and a stack of events to the other half. No one moved at first so I asked if anyone had a strategy for tackling this task. Students jumped up and started posting the dates in chronological order on the board while other students sifted through the events.

Whenever the students reached a stumbling block I threw out a question, not about the task but about how they could solve the problems they encountered. At one point everyone was standing around the table looking at the cards. I said "are these all of the resources that you have available?" and looked pointedly at each of them. Someone tentatively suggested that they could use their history books. I said "why not!" Then they pulled out the computers too. When the same thing happened in the second class, I showed one student this picture of the first class as a hint. "We can use our books and laptops," he announced to the rest of the class, and they opened notes from a Power Point used in their history class. This was a curious point for me, why did they wait until I gave them "permission" to use their outside resources?

In the end, it was a tie between the two classes, which was also interesting because one of the classes has twice as many students. Instead of having everyone copy down the dates, I'll send them digital pictures of the board.It's not the task, but how you frame it that helps create a productive learning environment. Students now have a sense of how different the time period was between the Puritans and the Revolutionary writers, like Thomas Paine. They are now prepared to tackle their reading, "The Crisis, No. 1," with a general understanding of who he was, what he was writing about and why, and how all of this makes him so different from his Puritan predecessors.