Chris at Practical Theory has links to the One Laptop Per Child project. Click through and explore this exciting project. See pictures of the prototypes on OLPC's Flickr site.
For the past couple of months, I've really been focusing on helping my students identify the audience and purpose of what they are reading (as well as what they are writing). I'm beginning to see the fruits of this labor.
We started a two-week unit on the persuasive power of poetry yesterday. Students were supposed to give a personal reader response to what they read and then consider the audience and purpose of the writing. It really led students to do analysis much deeper than they had been able to do at the begin of the year. There were some students who were still stuck on "The audience of this piece is everyone" or "The audience of this piece is the world." So, we talked about the difference between the author of a piece having an intended audience and a piece being thematically universal so that everyone could relate to it.
Examining audience and purpose for writing helps increase their analytic skills because it causes them to get out of their own head (so difficult!) and get into the head of the author. This is an important first step in literary analysis. The author must be considered. Now, I'm not saying that reader's response is not important - I think that is necessary in order to get in the author's head. I was raised on Rosenblatt, you know. The reader can't discount her own response. But, at the same time, the reader needs to identify her own response in order to lead her in the right direction toward thinking about authorial intent.
What was even more interesting was that my students had different views on the poets' intents. I still haven't gotten them to the point where they will automatically refer to the text (their 10th grade teacher needs something!). But, I was proud that they were really considering what the author may have been trying to say rather than just stating their own opinion over and over. So often, my students started off a class discussion by talking about why they did or did not like a piece (important, yes, but not an end point). Yesterday, they started off by saying what they thought the author's message was.
The Teachers Network Leadership Institute MetLife Fellows worked together this year to write a K-12 curriculum for teachers to use to help students learn about the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit . This lawsuit (and all the court decisions associated with it) is poised to give New York City public schools an equal share of the New York State education budget. Read more about the lawsuit on Wikipedia.
For years - decades, really - the archaic budget formula has short changed NYC schools. The most funded schools are those schools from wealthier districts. The least funded - the poorest, including New York City. The CFE lawsuit aimed at ending that inequality.
This curriculum is meant to help students understand the lawsuit and the inequalities their schools face. It was made by teachers, for teachers. You can see it all right here.
To learn more about the issues, you can also visit the Alliance for Quality Education.
The real highlight for me of the NYC Writing Project's Teacher to Teacher Conference last Saturday was the keynote address by Michael Smith. I have been familiar with his work with Jeffrey Wilhelm - Reading Don't Fix No Chevys - when doing my action research project on how to help the boys in my class. Smith spoke on their latest book together - Going with the Flow.
On Saturday, May 6, I attended the New York City Writing Project's 8th Annual Teacher to Teacher Conference. It was a great experience, so this week I will be sharing some of the highlights.
I presented a workshop called "Using graphic organizers to improve reading comprehension and retention in the secondary classroom". What I had hoped to get across was that graphic organizers are an easy tool to use with students, but we aren't always using them in the right way.
There are a lot of graphic organizers on the web and they are easy to just print out and assign. Teachers like them because they are easy and students like them because they can be "filled out" (what a sense of accomplishment!). But, they are boxes and teachers should be wary of boxes. Here are some reasons we should be wary:
This leads me to the solution to this problem. I am not saying that we should not use graphic organizers in the classroom. In fact, I think we should - but we should do it with flexibility and intelligence. Printing out ready-made graphic organizers and giving them to students to fill out may produce a nice result, but it doesn't make sense in terms of the process.
What I advocate for is teaching students how graphic organizers are made and teaching them to make them on their own. I started on this experiment because students were having a lot of trouble reading their textbooks (which are written above grade level and my students read below grade level). I felt that using a graphic organizer would help them process the information better, but their teachers would not give out organizers. I wanted to teach them how to read something and figure out how to best graphically represent the information.
Just giving them blank graphic organizers to fill out isn't going to teach them how to figure out what type of graphic organizer to use for a particular text. We have to teach students about different graphic organizers, what kinds of texts to use them for, and how to draw them to suit the text. This is a lot more than just filling out a chart. It is recognizing text structures and forms. It is evaluating the best way to represent information - which helps students process the information.
In trying to do this, I realized that it was a lot harder than it seems. Students were good at "filling out" but they didn't understand the relationships in the text. I learned that the "fill-it-out" graphic organizers were masking the fact that students did not understand what they were reading.
That's me presenting in the photo, which was taken by NaniRolls.
On Saturday May 6, I attended the NYC Writing Project Teacher to Teacher Conference at Lehman College. As with anything I've experienced done by the NYCWP, it was one of the most valuable teacher experiences. I came away inspired and with a lot of ideas. For the next few days, I'll be posting about the conference and what I learned.
In the morning, I attended a workshop done by Nancy (from Se Hace Camino Al Andar) and Ken on using Flickr in the writing classroom. You can see the NYCWP group on Flickr here. Students can take and use their own photos, but they can also use other people's photos to write about. You can add notes directly onto photo, as well as write comments. Another possibility is the photographer adding writing to their own photographs almost like a caption.
We looked at a lot of photographs. I particularly liked this photo from one of the NYCWP Walkabouts. The sense of motion - leaving something behind- is very strong with me. I would love to use this in a classroom and have students write about what happened to lead up to this photo. What are they walking away from? What are each of them thinking about? Students could put their writing as comments and then have a class discussion comparing their accounts.
There is also a group on Flickr that I discovered yesterday for telling a story in five frames or less. Some of the "stories" are very interesting. It would be a great exercise for teaching plot.
Personally, I prefer 23 for photosharing. I think the interface is much more visually appealing and user-friendly - and you can do all the same things as on Flickr.
Photo by NaniRolls
I always avoided using debates in my classroom. In part because of a bad experience doing a debate as a student teacher. I also feel that debates might be overused in the classroom (like memoir-writing) and kids might be bored of them by high school. But, searching for what to do next in my semester long course on persuasion, I decided a debate might be appropriate.
I found some good resources on the internet. You can see some of them here on my del.icio.us. There are a lot of different formats available that will make variety the spice of the classroom. So, I decided on three topics that groups would debate: the roving metal detectors announced in NYC right before break, reparations for African Americans, and the national anthem being sung in Spanish.
Students read articles about the three issues and we discussed them as a class. I then put students into groups (one affirmative and one negative for each topic, winding up with six groups). I knew that one of my biggest obstacles would be closed-mindedness. Many students have difficulty arguing on the side of an issue that they don't necessarily agree with. They throw up their hands and exclaim, "I don't agree so I don't know what to say." So, on the day when they found out their groups, I had the do now of "How can it benefit you to argue a side of an issue that you don't agree with?" When we began discussing the do now, you could hear crickets. Most students honestly could not think of how it could benefit them. Luckily for me, there were a few who could and we brought out two benefits: (1) It makes you more open minded. I asked students if they liked having friends who were really closed minded and could never see their point of view. They said no. Point made! (2) It makes your opinion stronger. When you can completely understand the other point of view, you are better able to defend your own. So, when students got their groups there was minimal complaining/whining. Thank goodness!
I listed out the steps for preparing for the debate. I tried to make them as simple as possible since the debate process is a bit complex (it has opening statements, cross examinations, rebuttals, and closings). They are preparing today and a bit next week.
Here are a few troubles I'm having:
I'm surprised that I'm actually enjoying this unit more than I expected. Many students seem excited and there are a lot of students in one of my classes on the debate team. I'm going to video record the debates and I'll try to upload the video on my computer.
My blog posting has become very erratic. We are getting to that time of the year, I fear -- I've noticed that many other blogs are posting erratically too. But, that doesn't mean I'm not thinking about posting ... that counts, right?
I think, after this presentation is over, I will be posting more regularly. Only because I need to work on my current research about helping students speak more reflectively about their portfolios. I've come up with a title: "Looking in the mirror: Teacher students to be more reflective about their portfolios". I think posting about my research will definitely help me finish the writing of the research.
In the meantime, I've been spending loads of time getting into Web 2.0. A lot of the applications have many possibilities for the classroom. I found a list of award-winning Web 2.0 applications. Many are just cool, but have no relevance to the classroom. Some of my favorites are on here. Go check it out and report back your ideas about using these apps in the classroom.