Friday, February 24, 2006

A Constructivism Moment

This book opens up with students getting a tour of the laboratory where life begins. Students follow the top leader writing voraciously notes, direct quotes the teacher said, yet never questioning what they were writing. At times I have felt in teaching, we want our students to be respectful, have pen and paper in hand, take notes, and move through a lesson "quietly." Yet, the days that students are leaning forward, hardly able to contain their comments, stepping on each other's words, are the days that I see they are engaged and empowered by their own learning.

In my senior English/World Literature class, I had my students looking at 8 school of literary theory: historical/biological, mythological/symbolic, mimetic, moralistic, formalist/new criticism, psychological, feminist, and reader response, then applied it to Brave New World. Reading the last chapter of the book, I had students make observations they thought their critics would make regarding the characters, action, etc. They also had to create a poster of images that represent how they think their critic would interpret the book. With this they had to come up with thought-provoking questions using the top 2 levels of questioning (see the side bar and click on Levels of Questioning) for 2 other critics. This past Wednesday, we looked at their images, questions, and then discussed the end of the book.

Wow! The students had such a great conversation and really stayed true to what they thought their critic would say. Their questions for each other were so challenging. Here was one from the moralist group: John is the moral voice throughout the book, yet at the end he succombs to violence, drug use and sexuality, what would your critic say about his fall? Another powerful question from the reader response group was: I read the part with John going out into the wilderness as a Christ figure. My upbringing is Christian, so I could identify John with this figure who was ostracized by society, yet still stayed true to his beliefs. As a mythological, symbolic critic, how do you categorize John?

We talked to the end of the period, not realizing class was over until the bell rang and we were still in a circle. Their comments, questions, answers were so powerful and really showed me their understanding of both the book and the critic.

This experience made me feel so thankful for collaboration within my department, for new teachers that bring fresh ideas, and for the CIT group challenging me to ask myself why I do what I do...and to create lessons that are rich and student-centered. What a wonderful constructivism moment.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Professional Learning Communities...really working

Here is Rick DuFour himself (I'm not sure why I put him on my blog, but I did.)
After attending the DuFour conference, I saw that the district was invested in Professional Learning Communities. Rick DuFour explained how his school, as well as others, handled such communities and made it valuable to their teachers, ultimately strengthening their teaching. Many at my table were skeptical wondering how many more meetings would be added to our plates, how many more grumbles would arise from the masses, and how would we possibly do more than we already are.

Several points impacted me:
* teachers need more time and that means that the district must give teachers time to work
with their communities
* teachers must be able to start with professional communities relating to content
* common assessments must be the staff...not as finals, but to assess what our
students need and how we as teachers can help each other get stronger at what we're teach

I am the team leader for English 9 as well as sharing the position with Anne for English World Lit. I decided to put together an agenda to try out some of the DuFour concepts. I listed the skills we wanted our students to have leaving 9th grade (or 12th grade) and then had a place for our team to figure out how to "get there." We discussed norms--ideals and agreements we would all make in order to reach our goals. The team was amazing. Once we realized the common assessment was coming down the line and yet, that it wouldn't be forced, nor would it be a final, but a "test" to give our students 3 weeks into class and again at the end of the semester, the team was on board. We excitedly discussed how we all could benefit from each others' strengths. We agreed to meet every 3-4 weeks to "attack" a specific goal and define it further in terms of pacing (how long we should spend on it), terms of importance, writing, and reading strategies. How empowering!

I feel that our 2 development pieces this year: the grading conference and the collaboration conference immediately impacted my teaching and have improved what I do with students. How cool.