Maintaining perspective

It’s been awhile since I posted, and I haven’t really thought through in advance what I’m writing but it feels like it’s time to write again, so here goes!

Recently in my department we had the opportunity to take a professional day as a group of high school Spanish teachers to discuss philosophy, articulation of curriculum, and other issues. This was a rare and valuable opportunity to hash out differences that may have been lingering for years and start dialogue moving in a direction that was solution-focused rather than problem-based.

I was so thankful for this day. Recently, although I love what I do in the classroom, the politics of teaching have been weighing on me. These politics seem present at every level – nationally, state-wide, locally, in our building, and even down to our very department and language groups. Politics, I remember, were something I was warned about as a pre-service teacher. I remember kind of naively thinking “I won’t get sucked into those! That’s not helpful to kids! I’ll stay positive and out of the teacher’s lounge forever!” While these thoughts may have been admirable, I now realize how real politics are in the teaching profession. And while I am still convinced it’s important to try to avoid getting too “sucked in” to them, I admit that they sometimes need to be addressed.

Last week, I am happy to report, we were able to work through some of the politics that have historically interfered with our ability, as a spanish department, to collaborate effectively. We came together, communicated effectively, and compromised openly about curriculum and what we believe is best for kids. It was such a relief to leave this day – a weight had been lifted.

We still have a long ways to go…but we’re finally moving in the right direction. And it’s fantastic to be able to look all of my colleagues in the eye as we cross each other’s paths during the day, ask how they are, and really want to know rather than avoid interaction. I also, for the first time in a long time, can picture myself working in this setting for longer than I have before. I still don’t know how long K-12 Education will be for me, but, 5 years in, I don’t see myself leaving any time soon.

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Home-School Connection

My level 2 Spanish students are presenting the culmination of a month’s worth of hard work this week. About a month ago I introduced an IBMYP unit on backpacking. Since then students have worked to research and create a 6-day itinerary to 3 different destinations of their choice, one of which had to be outside of the United States.

Although I provided two days in the computer lab for students to conduct initial trip research and later work on their visuals for their presentations, and about 3 days of in-class time for preparation prior to the presentations, the majority of the work was done outside of class.

As a result, students had to be very self directed and work through many issues using critical thinking. These 21st century skills were one of my goals of the unit.

Today I was absolutely blown away by the quality of their end products. The visuals they created, the hooks they brainstormed, the outlines they worked on boiling down into just 2-5 phrases on 3-5 notecards, together with days of rehearsal resulted in some absolutely phenomenal presentations.

So great, in fact, that I found myself emailing every single parent to let them know what a fantastic job their child had done. I had initially planned to email only a few parents but once I started the positive energy was infectious and I just wanted those parents to hear good news. It was then that I started to think about what parents typically hear – and I fear that it’s all too often something negative, or, potentially worse, nothing at all.

In sending out positive messages to parents now, I am building a rapport not only with my students (who will likely hear through the grapevine how proud I am of them) but also with their parents, who will appreciate the effort taken to reach out. In addition, if later in the year I need to contact with negative news, we will have a working foundation laid and they may be more likely to listen to what I have to say and take it more seriously.

Too often I forget how important the home-school connection is. Parents tell me all the time how their teenagers “don’t tell them anything” – as their teacher, I am lucky that this is not the case for me! I talk with these kids every day and get to know them well, from their strengths to what causes them anxiety. I also see students’ work ethic up close every single day and have insight into how much effort they are putting into Spanish class. Every so often, I need to remember to let parents in on this valuable insight I have into their children. I hope that in return, at some point, parents may provide me with valuable insight from home that can help inform what I do to help their children be successful in my classroom.

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My Classroom-Based Inquiry Proposal

This fall my graduate course has been on the topic of teacher classroom-based inquiry, often also referred to as teacher action research. The goal of the class was to help its students become very comfortable with APA style and to create a formal classroom-based inquiry research proposal. As a high school Spanish teacher, I decided to focus on a subject that joins together two topics of great interest to me: feedback in the classroom and student motivation. My inquiry posed the question:

How does my use of different forms of feedback affect motivation for high achievement in Spanish of my middle-class suburban high school students?

To explore our topics we were led through all of the essential steps of creating a quality research proposal. First, we were taught how to recognize and locate teacher inquiry studies and we were required to find websites or organizations which publish teacher research as well as existing examples of teacher research projects to share with our cohort. Next, we were to come up with our inquiry question and subquestions and back up our wonderings with a sound rationale. After this, it was time to see what already existed on our topics, so we hit the library and conducted a preliminary lit review on our topics. After the lit review we had to project forward to discuss the ways and frequencies with which we planned to collect data as well as our future plans for data analysis. Finally we projected even further into the future to discuss the following: collaboration, financial support, sharing of results, and implications.

Afterwards all of these weekly tasks (during which I must say, my professor did an excellent job providing us with timely, usable feedback for improvement), we refreshed what we had learned about the tenants of quality teacher research and self-assessed our work before putting it all together into one, polished final proposal.

So, this proposal is the cumulative result of the past several weeks of my graduate learning and I would love any feedback that you may have. I understand if you just don’t have it in you to read the whole thing but if you happen to skim it over and want to add your two cents, know that your comments will not only be welcomed but seriously considered in my final revisions.

I hope to carry out this research project next school year (2012-2013), and in the meantime will work on revising and improving the final proposal and perhaps piloting certain aspects of it (e.g. the motivation survey and student discussion pieces- see appendices A and B, accordingly).

If there’s one thing I’ll take away from this course it’s that teacher voice is largely missing in the research of our profession – this is, of course, silly considering we are the ones in the trenches day in and out and the most familiar with what students need to be successful. I’m starting to add my voice to the discussion – I hope you’ll consider joining in too!

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9/11 Lesson & Reflection

Bagley Image

Image from Salt Lake City Tribune: http://bit.ly/oSvgpX

Today I did a reading lesson that went really well and wanted to share it with others who may be able to make use of it.

Last weekend, @Larryferlazzo posted a helpful link on Twitter to a resource on how to teach multi-level ESL classes. As a high school Spanish teacher, I always find that I get some of my best ideas from ESL teachers. I borrowed the “Jigsaw Reading” activity described about half-way down the page. Here’s what I did:

BEFORE CLASS:

1) Located an authentic text that was comprehensible enough for my level 3 Spanish students to figure out even with quite a few unfamiliar vocabulary words (How? I used a topic with which they have a lot of prior knowledge: 9/11. Here is a link to where I found the article that I used – it’s over at the History Channel en español in the “Hoy en la historía” section, for 9/11, at the bottom of the page.

2) Split up the article into 8 sections. Labelled each section with a letter to later be able to easily go over the correct order with students. (See here) Mixed up the 8 pieces and put them in an envelope. Repeated 5 times for 5 groups.

3) Planned for what to do when some groups finished earlier than others (always inevitable with this type of activity). My solution? When a group had figured out the order I assigned them 2 of the pieces to summarize for the class in English. This way, once everyone had finished we were able to go over the whole text together in a way that was student-led instead of me just telling them the meaning.

IN CLASS:

1) Told students to think for a minute about what they already knew about 9/11 and raise their prior knowledge. Had them chat with their groups to get ideas going. Then asked several students “When you think of 9/11, what’s one word or phrase that comes to mind?” – wrote down what they said on the board (“terrorism” “world trade centers” “airplanes” etc.)

2. Told students to keep these ideas in mind as they would likely help them figure out what was going on when they got “stuck” on authentic phrasing in the article.

3. Gave each group of students (3-5 students/group worked well) 1 envelope with the following instructions:

“You have a deconstructed article about 9/11. Your task is to put it back in the correct order using what you know of the event and the wording of the pieces you’ve been given”

4. At this point, I sat back and gave them time to get to work – in order to put the pieces in order (a “literal” jigsaw of sorts) students had to read them, get the gist of what was going on, and look for cues as to the sequence of events (also draw on prior knowledge often when the text itself was inaccessible).

5. In advance I had planned what to do when they finished up (see #3 above in “before class section”) so as they finished I gave them their sections to summarize and then we went over it by 1) me revealing the order one piece at a time and 2) the student group that had been assigned that piece summarizing its meaning for the class in English.

6. At the end I just asked a few students about their own experiences on 9/11. Most of my students were in Kindergarten and didn’t remember much but some had some memories to share.

POSSIBLE FOLLOW-UP:

My students are learning the imperfect tense right now, which is used to talk about how things were or what people used to be like. Tomorrow, to follow up on the reading they did today, I’m going to show this image (shown at top of post) and ask them a few questions that they will write about in the imperfect:

  • ¿Cuántos años tenías en 9/11?
  • ¿Dónde estabas en el momento del atentado?
  • ¿Estabas nervioso/a? ¿Comprendías la situación?
  • ¿Qué te decían tus padres sobre el ataque?

REFLECTIONS:

I was really impressed with my students’ maturity with this activity. They were engaged, respectful, and seemed to take it quite seriously. A couple of elements went into making this particular article a successful one, I think, including:

  • the text was pretty comprehensible because they had so much prior knowledge about 9/11.
  • the article was fairly short and highly sequential (first the plane hit, next the towers were brought down, then the pentagon, etc.)

I will be using the activity again in the future, perhaps with modifications as the years pass and students have fewer memories of the actual date, or, maybe with a different text altogether. It was much more engaging than simply reading and answering questions about a text, and I think they may have gotten more out of it too! How do you teach reading in engaging and interactive ways?

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Flipped Classroom InfoGraphic

The Flipped Classroom

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First Day Reflections 2011

Today was my first full day with my Spanish students and it went really well!! Here’s what I did:

Level 2 Spanish:

  • started with seating charts as they walked in
  • handed back name cards to students who attended freshman orientation yesterday to get to practice names; asked upperclassmen to make name cards
  • Wrote inquiry question on board: “What is normal?” / invited students to consider what they thought and then handed out slips of paper to each students & played United Nations Cocktail Party – a great way to start a language class!!
  • debriefed UN cocktail party in small groups; then as a classs – discussed what it felt like to have to do something that may not feel “normal” to them & what it felt like to be on the receiving end of seemingly abnormal actions; how they coped; the relevance of the activity for a language class.
  • handed out syllabus & parent letter and told them a few details but mostly just directed them to take it home, look it over & get a parent signature on the letter to bring back tomorrow. I will give a formative quiz over the syllabus on Friday which students self-assess; this will give me an opportunity to go over the specifics with them in more detail without just talking at them.
  • Played 2 truths & a lie – I modeled with a presentation about myself first in Spanish and students then played in small groups of 3-4. Today I let them choose to use English or Spanish and all went for English but I was ok with that, because my goal this week is mostly just to get comfortable with each other & learn who is in the class.
  • That was it!

Spanish 3

  • made name cards
  • played BARNGA; similar in end goals and discussion to UN cocktail party above but extremely different in that students play the game silently and it is much more involved because it involves a card game with quite a few rules. It also takes significantly longer to play (20-30 minutes versus 3-4 for UN cocktail party).
  • debriefed BARNGA; discussed the relevance of the activity for a language class
  • began to have students read an article sharing benefits to studying a second language – very long article so it was a jigsaw where they were going to become experts on one category of reasons (e.g. studying a second language can help develop cultural awareness & sensitivity; studying a language can lead to a wider variety of career opportunities, etc.) and then re-form different groups with 1 individual from each of the previous group’s categories to share what they learned — BARNGA took longer than expected, however, so I will have to push this to tomorrow.
  • My homework for Level 3 was going to be to register for moodle & complete a student info form (email addresses, contact info, interests, etc) but the bell rang and I forgot to announce it, so that too will wait.

+/-

Things that I liked about how I started this year included:

  • it was engaging & student-centered
  • students were more active than me (I was facilitating; they were doing)
  • i kept administrative hoo-ha to a minimum
  • the activities encouraged reflection from the start and emphasized that they will work together daily and communicate often

Things I can improve upon include:

  • time management – try to come to a close the first day and give the planned assignment so that they do not have 2 tasks on subsequent evenings
  • my questions during debriefing of activities
  • allowing sufficient wait time before I answer questions for students – getting more comfortable with silence.
  • starting a little less awkwardly – there wasn’t a real “we’re beginning” moment to cue students to start; however I am trying to be a little less structured in this way this year since I have been known to go overboard with bell work activities.
I can’t wait until I know all of my students’ names and more about them. Tomorrow I’m doing name games with Spanish 3 and some active dramatic approaches with level 2 centered around the inquiry question “What do you want to know about the people in this room?” – I am using a lot of English this week to encourage a focus on getting to know each other well but I will need to transition next week into more Spanish too, so I may try to do a few of my activities in Spanish to let them get their feet wet. What did you do on your first day??
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Back to School 2010-2011: Brainstorm

So many thoughts are jumbled together in my head as the start of the 2010-2011 school year approaches. I am reading Alfie Kohn’s book Punished by Rewards which is a great way of building on what I started to explore in Dan Pink’s Drive last March. I’m also coming off of a 10-day vacation to Jamaica which was ridiculously relaxing and I’m starting to trade inspirations and ideas with colleagues for the year ahead in person and via Twitter. Just a few of the thoughts I’m tossing around in my head right now include:

  • Flipping my classroom (i.e. making homework the ‘self-teaching’ of a lesson and class time the focused putting-into-practice of that concept.)
  • Connecting with an English classroom of Spanish-speaking Colombian students via Skype and/or Blogs.
  • Getting rid of extrinsic rewards in my classroom (including candy, extra credit points, and certificates that single out students….and trying to reduce the amount of praise I offer and replace it with acknowledgement of students’  work and positive feedback instead).
  • Lesson Planning with my iPad using the SimpleNote app
  • Getting to know my new student teacher and building a positive, cooperative relationship with her.
  • Getting to know my new students and their interests and needs, and of course also building a positive cooperative relationship with them!
  • Replacing my retake procedure with a procedure to accelerate student learning and give them a boost for the next time a skill is assessed.
  • Examining my assessment practices more thoroughly – including a push for more formative assessment with meaningful feedback, a critique of using grades, and examining more carefully the purpose, frequency, and value of homework in my classroom (which will relate to the first bullet point)
  • Changing my classroom setup to pods of 4-5 students to (hopefully) encourage collaboration and cooperation and discourage me from lecturing up front.
  • A sub-point here: reducing the # of minutes I talk so that it is at least 50-50 compared with the # of minutes students are talking, if not less.

I know from experience that summer is a great time to have all of these thoughts and that come fall most of them slip to the sidelines as I scramble to keep up with all of the demands on my time, including lesson planning, grading, and contacting parents, among other administrative duties. But one thing that encourages me this year is that while I have a lot of ideas tumbling around in my mind, they are at least all somewhat inter-related. For example, flipping my classroom from time to time would make my homework more meaningful and give it a real purpose; it would also result in using class time to jump into useful activities that help students grasp the ins and outs of the concept they learned for homework the night before – this will be facilitated by seating them in pods so that they work cooperatively with more ease. And because they will be working in groups more and seated in pods, I will hopefully keep in mind the # of minutes I talk vs. the # of minutes they talk while I plan. Lesson planning on my iPad will allow me to access my plans from home or school on multiple devices and to share them with my student teacher to help her begin to explore her own approach to lesson planning.  The assessment piece will likely need to wait a bit or be explored more thoroughly as the year goes on, as I won’t be ready to overhaul anything by this Thursday – when I have to set up my electronic grade book – but, that’s OK. I think I’ll have plenty to be thinking about. Any thoughts or suggestions, please share!!

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Teaching & Learning with Drama: A Collection of Quotes & Reflections

During the first week of my summer vacation I took an intensive week-long course at OSU on active dramatic inquiry in the classroom as a teaching and learning approach. I got a lot  out of this course and have written 30 pages to flesh out my reaction to the readings and ideas for implementing some of the practices in my classroom! I hope to post some of that piecemeal on the blog over the next few days or weeks to share my learning with others who are interesting in making their classrooms more active places that engage students more deeply in their learning. My first post will be a collection of the quotes I selected from our in-course readings and my reactions to them. Full Disclosure: this is a looooong post but a good introduction to basic principles of using drama in the classroom as an active inquiry method. Some parts may have also showed up during my reflections here here here and here – sorry for the possible overlap! Enjoy and post any questions and/or feedback you may have for me in the comments section!

 

Principle 1:  Be active, be dramatic, and have authentic conversations

 “As teachers, we’re not destined to teach like other teachers, even when we admire their approaches.”

This is a reminder that I think I often need, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s true of a lot of teachers. Somehow when I attend new classes or professional development sessions I walk away with the message that I need a complete overhaul of everything I do in my classroom and I should replace all of my standbys with the new things I’ve been exposed to.

While it’s great to challenge myself to try out new strategies and methodologies with my students, the quote above goes a long way in reassuring me that it’s O.K. to be true to myself as a teacher and to do the things that work for me.

The important thing is not to confuse having confidence in who you are as a teacher with becoming rigid and inflexible, or someone who is incapable of entertaining the possibility of doing something in another way.

“Dramatic playing is essential for children’s learning empathy and self-control. Children learn to empathize as they view the world from other people’s perspectives including those of peers, adults, and people in stories.”

 In addition to being active in our learning, we discussed how learning should be dramatic. I had never really considered before how dramatic playing is helpful for children to learn empathy and self-control.

As children role-play they view the world from new perspectives and “try on” ways of being and acting that are different from their own experiences. This is critical in helping children understand the feelings of others in a variety of contexts and acting in ways that are compassionate in response.

Self-control might also be developed through the use of dramatic approaches. It is possible students will try to use drama as a justification to be silly and will need to be re-directed to keep their actions consistent with the context that has been set up.

For example, when we worked with Dominion students we had to redirect them away from using shotguns in a fight that took place in medieval times and instead suggest that they use a sword and shield to remain in line with the story.

Principle 2:  Build an ensemble community

 “In an ensemble community students encounter possibilities and create understandings that go beyond what individuals can do alone”

This quote supports everything we did in class. The most important thing is to create a respectful, emotionally safe community of learners so that everyone will feel comfortable working and growing together.

Perhaps one reason this quote speaks so strongly to me is that it convicts me of what I say I do versus the reality of what I really do in a classroom. I say that community is important to me, yet I don’t even engage students in enough community building at the start of the year to ensure that they know each others’ names before delving into the content. I say that a language classroom must be a safe place to take risks and grow, but I mark down for grammatical errors that are a normal part of the process of language acquisition.  This quote reminds me that it is worthwhile to take the time away from the content at the start of the school year to get to know one another deeply, because if you take the time to build the community first, the potential for learning together later grows exponentially.

In class, we really, authentically built a community of learners together. I think a hallmark of a true ensemble community is that students, as individuals, begin to feel protective of the group, as a whole. They begin to say nurturing things to one another, even while the teacher isn’t looking; they consistently build one another up rather than (even jokingly) making fun. They find themselves thinking, “How did I get so lucky to be in this class?” because they assume that maybe it’s going so well because of the specific individuals that make up the group. And while it’s possible that the mix of students in a class are the reason things go well, I think it’s also possible for any group of individuals to build a true community and grow together if the teacher sets the tone for it.

Plus, it’s possible with a little creativity on the teacher’s part to engage students in community-building exercises that also get into the content right away.  For, example, I could do a variation of the name game we did in class in Spanish and students would review both how to say “my name is” and “I like” in the target language while learning each others’ names.

“Particular students in every group enter the classroom already more competent in one or more dimensions than in others.”

It’s important to remember that children are no more blank slates when it comes to learning than are adults. This quote reminds me that even very young students come to situations with prior knowledge and experiences that affect their understandings and can contribute to my and others’ understanding.

I know I have been in several classes where I find myself thinking, “why isn’t the professor trying to figure out what we already know so we don’t keep repeating this theory over and over again?” From the student perspective, this is such an obvious thing to do – nobody likes to sit in a class bored by lectures or activities the lead them through practice of skills or content they have already learned; in fact, it’s possible that these are the very things that end up leading students to disengage from the education process. From the teacher perspective, however, it’s so easy to overlook the importance of uncovering what students already know and just assume that “a little review” won’t hurt anyone. In reality, we probably review far more than we need to, which comes at the cost of not having as much time left to actively engage students in creating new understandings together. In the process, I’m afraid that we lose many students.

It’s my job as the teacher to help uncover students’ prior and emergent knowledge – the “old” knowledge already there in the classroom—and then to encourage student to move towards creating “new” knowledge together as a group.

“People’s reflection on process affects subsequent behavior. In other words, if people agree to do something they do it.”

This quote speaks to the importance of establishing community norms and practices that are understood and followed by all members of a group of teachers and learners. In class, we discussed how creating norms could be done in a variety of ways (explicitly or implicitly).

Regardless of how they are agreed upon, having norms in place helps students buy in to what you are doing in the classroom, allows them a say in their own learning, and lets them contribute to the tone of the community they are creating. Depending upon the age and maturity of the students in a room, they may even be permitted to write up the norms, which could bring an even greater sense of ownership.

Creating norms with your students rather than dictating rules to them will build trust and a sense of safety and mutual respect which may lead to students feeling more comfortable and participating more readily.

Principle 3: Stand up texts to explore fictional worlds

“To be able to stand up and explore fictional worlds…all students must agree to imagine actively that they have encountered, or that they are encountering, an imagined person. However, this does not mean that you or the students have to become actors.”

This quote comforts me! I really love the active approach to exploring a text, but I was instantly thinking of how resistant my high school Spanish students would be to acting (with the exception of those who love drama). So, when I read this quote from Principle 3, I felt reassured that it’s possible to engage students in active dramatic approaches without necessarily making students become a character themselves with a crazy voice or strange actions. While some students may want to do this and it may at times be appropriate, it is not a prerequisite for many of the activities we discussed in class to work.

In some ways, the idea that you don’t need to be creative to be dramatic in your learning reminds me of how so many people are concerned with their lack of creativity when it comes to doing anything related to art.

In my experience, however, it’s always so interesting to see how students who claim to be uncreative will produce some of the more interesting pieces when they are reassured that they will not be graded on their artistic ability. I bet that when I try to use these active dramatic approaches to teach about fictional worlds, some of the most meaningful “breakthrough” moments of understanding will come from an idea voiced by students who are very down-to-earth.

“The more dialogue you can get going between the questioner and the character as well as among students the less superficial and more complex the students’ understandings of the [text] will become.”

When students all agree to encounter an imagined character, for example in a hotseating activity, they are able to dialogue with him or her in order to learn more about the character’s motivations, thoughts, and feelings. This extra, inferred information is not directly spelled out for students in the text and is often the sticking point in students deeply comprehending why events in stories take place. So, by engaging in dialogue with key characters, students can often move forward in their understanding and be more successful with the text as a whole.

This quote speaks to the importance not just of engaging students in such dialogues, but also of the need to keep them going for as long as possible. The longer you can keep students engaged in conversing with a character, the deeper they are likely to go with their questions and the closer they will get to authentic inquiry. It’s even possible that as a result of engaging in these questions with characters, students will uncover something that will change their previously held assumptions and allow them to transform their understanding. In fact, one way the teacher can use power in these dialogues is in the statements they make while in-character. For example, I can play devil’s advocate and make provocative statements that challenge students’ views that I might not make as their teacher but which are appropriate from the perspective of the character.

One reason this quote is so powerful to me is that it assumes the teacher is willing to give power over to her students to allow them to shape their own understanding. The tips for how to extend dialogue provided in principle three all demonstrate that the teacher must share power with her students in order to draw them into these extended dialogues. For example, teachers who are playing the role of a character in a hotseating activity may ask for clarification from students, which will cause students to extend and/or explain their question by clarifying in some way. Or a teacher may turn a question back on a student by asking him or her for their evaluation of a situation (e.g. “what do you think I should have done?”)

Using these questioning strategies to promote extended dialogue sends the message that students are responsible for creating their own understanding and gives them the power to continue to explore the possibilities in the texts they are reading, and thus walk away with more complex understandings of those texts.

Principle 4: share power

“As teachers we may choose to regard young people as subjects with individual lives rather than as statistics or objects to be managed, to treat them with dignity rather than as problems, and to value them as equals rather than as inferiors. More challenging, we have the power to treat youngsters with respect even when they may disrespect us or devalue their peers.”

Every child is an individual deserving of dignity – that is the message in this quote. While it’s easy to lose sight of this in the day-in, day-out process of teaching, it’s important to remember that all students’ voices are equal and should be heard.

Just as age should not determine who has the power, neither should personality. It is a constant challenge to encourage all students to participate in the dialogue of a class. All teachers have had the experience of trying to draw out and engage the shy, reserved student while downplaying the over-eager contributions of students who often have louder voices and are less inhibited.

I’m ashamed to admit that over time, I am sometimes guilty of going straight to my eager participants to arrive at the correct answer more quickly and move forward with instruction rather than taking the time to encourage equality among all voices in my classroom.

This is problematic in two ways: first, I am overlooking the possibly insightful contributions of my more timid (or poorly behaving) students and second, I’m teaching in a way that doesn’t promote authentic conversations if I am asking questions that have a predetermined answer.

This ties back to the first principle of teaching & learning with drama: Have authentic conversations. One characteristic of authentic conversations is that a large majority of the questions that are asked by the teacher are ones that she doesn’t know the answers to. Clearly if I am so rushed to have a student identify the “right answer” and move on, something is missing at a deeper level.

“Paradoxically, the person in the room who may have to change the most is the teacher: using dramatic approaches means that when children participate in new activities they also become visible to use in ways that we have not previously encountered”

Creating a respectful, emotionally safe community of learners is essential to level the playing field among the students in a class and encourage the active participation of all. When typically shy or unengaged students sense that their ideas will be accepted, they are more likely to voice them. This shift in who participates in the classroom can even help teachers to see their students in a new light and change previously-held ambivalent or negative assumptions about their abilities or attitudes towards learning.

This quote speaks to me because it shows me that in order to see my students in new ways, I first have to be willing to change the ways I do things. So many of the procedures I have in place show my need for control in my classroom. I always start class with a bellwork activity because it is a way to make sure they are quiet and working while I go around to check their homework and ensure that they are obediently completing the work I assign for them each night. While these are not necessarily bad procedures, they definitely don’t send a message of trust or nurturing to my students.

What if my “bellwork” each day was a question on the board that they were to think about? Or what if we came up with those questions together, for example in a way similar to how we began our first class (e.g. What do you want to know about the people in this class? – I could adapt this to “What do you want to know about Don Quijote?”) And what if homework just became an extension of the classroom conversation online so that I didn’t have anything physical to check each day but instead was encouraging authentic conversations in and out of my classroom?

I have a lot of thinking to do about how I have been doing things in my classroom, which of those procedures have merit and are worth keeping and which might need to change. I want to move away from my authoritarian teacher-centered orientation towards a nurturing, student-centered position that asks, “what have we created together?” and “what might we explore today?”

Of course, every shift in power must be approached with balance. There’s no use in simply shifting all of my teacher power to them as students – the result would be chaotic! Instead, the key is to focus on negotiating with students to notice and hear their thoughts about what they are learning and to accommodate their interests as much as possible; in doing this, it is also possible to further reveal to students the givens at play that I am held to as their teacher: the curriculum that must be covered, the commitment to proficiency in our district, and other elements of our Spanish class that are pretty much non-negotiable in that we must do them but might be negotiable as far as how we get them done. 

Principle 5: Teach Through Dramatic Inquiry 

“New knowledge is understanding and knowledge of skills that is authored by participants – actually created and produced in the classroom by the students –or coauthored —as they work collaboratively with one another alongside the teacher.” 

 Too much of what we do in our classrooms focuses on “old knowledge” – the stuff that’s already known by someone, somewhere. This type of learning values students’ ability to learn and spit back “old” knowledge while devaluing their ability to create “new” knowledge by collaborating effectively with others. While it is important that students learn skills and factual information, it is even more necessary that they learn to be flexible and creative in their thought processes so that when they do not know a correct answer, they are equipped with strategies to explore ways of finding out what they need to know and making new meaning.

In other words, we ought to encourage students to go past simple comprehension and even what turns out to be simple synthesis of already-existing information and push them to instead have authentic conversations and interpret the possibilities that exist in a text, factual or otherwise. Even if students create new meaning that is not factually accurate, they may at the same time deepen their understanding of the context of a story and the characters’ possible motivations. Of course, as the teacher I can also intervene at any time necessary to correct misinterpretations that are very important and redirect the learning of the class. All of this will, at the very least, help students realize that understanding a text goes beyond literal comprehension of what is on a page and requires a constant, active conversation with the text.

Plus, students can easily be clued into the difference between socially-constructed meaning that may not be exactly what is contained in a text and literal factual information that is; in fact, the socially-constructed inferences that students figure out together have to be different from the literal words on the page – that’s the very essence of inferencing! But, just in case not all students grasp this, it’s important to remind them of the difference between the factual and the inferred information gleaned from a text.

“In each case, of course, every dramatic experience or performance can be followed by our analysis using an inquiry question”

This quote helps me to remember that the purpose of dramatic inquiry is not to simply be active and dramatic. It ties back to the all-important having authentic conversations to facilitate reflection and analysis of what has been learned through the active, dramatic process.

Drama for drama’s sake is not the purpose of drama in education. Drama must be accompanied by an element of reflection and deepened understanding to be relevant and useful in the classroom.

The best way, perhaps, to facilitate the reflection piece of dramatic inquiry is to tie back what we have learned or experienced to an essential inquiry question that has organically developed through the group’s explorations together. For example, when we worked with the Dominion middle-school students on the story Brave Margaret, every time we learned more about the plot or characters we would revisit the question “What does it mean to be brave?” to determine whether the character under discussion was brave or not. We also then pushed them to provide examples of the bravery from the dramatic experience they had just participated in and what their interpretations of those actions were.

Principle 6: Assess what and how you want students to learn 

“An inauthentic assessment turns the teacher into a judge, separates him or her from the group, and actually interrupts learning and teaching.”  

~

“If the only types of assessment are preparations for (end –of-year) tests the implicit classroom values are that we value inauthentic experiences over authentic achievements”

I have felt the above quotes to be true over and over in my four years of teaching. There are times when I feel like all I do is to prepare students for assessment, assess them, grade their assessments, and go over their results with them and parents. I work in a proficiency-based language program and while the philosophy behind the program is sound –that students ought to leave each level of language study with a clearly defined ability to speak, read, listen, and write at their current level of Spanish proficiency, and be prepared to succeed at the next level –somehow that philosophy gets practically interpreted as “students have to have an 80% in all four skills before they can move on to the next level.” As a result, we have all sorts of disagreements with students and parents alike about the importance of 1% or 2% at the end of the year when a student ends up with a 78% in speaking, for example. It’s awful to have to be the judge, the bad guy, justifying why a 78% means a child cannot continue to the next level of Spanish.

At a more basic, day-to-day level, assessment interrupts my teaching all of the time. I am constantly keeping in mind which skills students will be tested in and, as a result, I limit our in-class activities to practice those skills only.  For example, if I know I am only assessing students in reading and speaking in a given chapter, I will not spend class time practicing writing and listening because I just don’t feel I have time to. This narrowing of my curriculum ignores other, valuable skills in favor of teaching to a test, and leads to students learning rather quickly that assessment is the most important thing and their grades matter.

This is really not the message I want to send as a teacher. I want to send the message that students in my class will be expected acquire Spanish and communicate with native speakers effectively at their level. Authentic assessments that would allow me to ascertain whether or not this is the case, however, seem hard to come by. Even worse, even if they don’t like them, many students expect inauthentic assessment of their learning by the time they reach high school. Some students resist informal assessment because they have become so grade-oriented that they are not comfortable going through a course without a strong sense of whether they have an A or B.

While this is not an excuse to avoid authentic, informal assessment of student learning, it is an observation that demonstrates just how often we must be assessing children in ways that are inauthentic if they eventually crave that sort of feedback from us in order to know how they are doing.

I’ve always heard the saying “assess what you value” but I think that principle six above is a more specific and useful framework to practice by. Assess what I want students to learn and how I want them to learn it. Or, in other words, assess what students produce but also the process that they use to arrive at that product.

“Interpreting the results of a summative assessment is a way of saying “This is what the children know at this moment.”

 Although I know the above quote to be true, I unfortunately don’t express this idea to my students often enough.  I, of course, know when I give an assessment that the results of it are just one snapshot in time that tell me a story at that moment of what a child knows or can do. I have, however, on occasion received e-mails from parents who tell me that upon getting back a non-proficient assessment, their child came home crying and upset about what would happen next. I think that because of our proficiency program, everything feels very high-stakes to my students (as I suppose it probably should given that several non-proficient assessments over the course of the year often do result in a non-proficient status and inability to move on to the next level of language study).

As I reflect on how my program works, the message it sends is not a very positive one. Instead of the philosophical ideal of “you will be able to communicate in Spanish!” students and parents hear “you won’t be able to move forward!” I feel like I often have to resort to threatening students with this possibility in order to motivate them to do the work that needs to be done to become proficient.

What if, instead of focusing so heavily on a single assessment’s results, I focused on the feedback I gave to students about what those results mean? Perhaps if I helped students to understand that a 75% corresponds to the descriptor – “progressing towards proficiency” on our rubric it would be clearer to students and they would be more motivated to move up the rubric to an 80% which “clearly demonstrates proficiency.”

Principle 7: Make Learning Dialogic

 “When we develop a dialogic attitude toward learning we embrace dialogue with new perspectives, remain open to new possible interpretations, and expect to encounter other viewpoints on events. At the same time, we resist the closure, certainty, tidy conclusions, and finalizing solutions that are the hallmarks of the outcomes of “monologic” learning”

 Principle seven is the most important of all of the principles I’ve explored in class this week because, as Edmiston writes, “it is at the core of the transformation of understanding” (p.1). Learning becomes “dialogic” when we engage in dialogue to, possibly, change our views from a previously held understanding or opinion.

Dialogizing learning is the fourth quadrant of teaching and learning with drama which is both the most challenging to address and the least common to reach. It’s easier to remain in the first three quadrants of directing/instructing, facilitating, and collaborating. But it’s important to engage students in critical dialogue to challenge their perspectives and, perhaps, to allow for transformation to take place.

In fact, dialogizing learning is probably one of the only effective means of helping people to view others’ opinions as having the potential to allow them to let go of their own ideas, something that I often struggle with. Only when people can reframe the issues they are studying and see them from new and diverse perspectives can they be expected to abandon some of the inflexibility that accompanies otherwise usually rigid, single-minded views.

“In everyday life imagining from other people’s positions is often more difficult than when participating in dramatized encounters. First we usually have to imagine shifting positions without actually speaking or acting as if we are another person…Second, dramatizing allows you to slow down or “rewind” and repeat interactions for deeper analysis….Third, fictional worlds are emotionally more protected spaces for young people to imagine taking intense extreme actions very different from those they would likely ever do or even contemplate e.g. kill a brother (like Claudius)…or commit suicide (like Ophelia)  [in Hamlet]”

I have to agree with this. There are so many times in teaching at the secondary level when it seems like we have to use so many words just to express an idea that could have been acted out in seconds and been completely clear to everyone. Although sometimes it’s good to engage in whole-class discussion for the express purpose of encouraging students to be clear, concise and articulate, often I think we do students a disservice when we continue to have roundabout conversations that result in at best cloudy understanding where an active approach could lead to deep comprehension and shared meaning-making.

Dialogizing learning allows the teacher to play “devil’s advocate” in order to challenge students’ pre-suppositions and push them to justify their positions. If they are unable to do so, or waver in their reasoning, these pockets of uncertainty provide windows of opportunity for transformation. While some learners take this more seriously than others, by constantly engaging in these types of active approaches and then following up such activities with asking students questions about their points of view to spur reflection and analysis, more students will likely begin to take their thought processes more seriously. I really think after my experience in class this week that many students will welcome thinking on a deeper level than they do in the majority of their classes.

It could be that students are largely bored because we don’t dialogize learning with them. Likely, many would be okay with a change of pace, particularly one that is mentally stimulating and exciting without the constant use of edutainment or technology.

Indeed, one of the most refreshing aspects of this course for me as a teacher has been the realization that, although technology is a valuable way of extending learning past the walls of the classroom, within the classroom itself, social interaction and building a community are the most important thing.

Posted in MA, reflection, world language teaching | 2 Comments

Dear World Language Educator, If you were on Twitter…

Click Here!

This Image links to a pretty great slideshow of websites and online tools available for language teachers.

Although it was posted by a french teacher, keep in mind that a large number of language sites provide their content in Spanish and German as well.

This will get any language teacher going planning some ways to spice up your content delivery for sure for the upcoming school year!

I’m thinking it will be especially useful as I continue to explore the idea of flipping my classroom for some units of study next year. These links will be a great jumping-off point for me to begin to explore resources that allow students to “teach themselves” the content at home and come into class ready to practice using the language. Thanks for creating the slideshow, @sylviaduckworth!

An added bonus? Sylvia gives credit to who initially shared or re-tweeted each resource, which I’m hoping will be a great way for me to begin narrowing my Personal Learning Network (PLN) from “ed tech” in general to “ed tech: language educator” specifically.

Posted in edtech, world language teaching | 4 Comments

Teaching and Learning with Drama: Principle Seven

The seventh and final principle of teaching and learning with drama is to make learning dialogic.

Principle seven is the most important of all of the principles I’ve explored in class this week because, as Edmiston writes, “it is at the core of the transformation of understanding” (p.1). Learning becomes “dialogic” when we engage in dialogue to, possibly, change our views from a perviously-held understanding or opinion.

Dialogizing learning is the fourth quadrant of teaching and learning with drama which is both the most challenging to address and the least common to reach. It’s easier to remain in the first three quadrants of directing/instructing, facilitating, and collaborating. But it’s important to engage students in critical dialogue to challenge their perspectives and, perhaps, to allow for transformation to take place.

In fact, dialogizing learning is probably one of the only effective means of helping people to view others’ opinions as having the potential to allow them to let go of their own ideas, something I wrote yesterday that I often struggle with. Only when people can reframe the issues they are studying and see them from new and diverse perspectives can they be expected to abandon some of the obstinance that accompanies otherwise usually rigid, single-minded views.

There are many benefits to dialogizing learning. When we encourage dialogic learning we discourage monologic learning. This is a good thing, because monologic learning is that learning that happens too often in our schools today: test prep, memorization and regurgitation of factual information, and the like. This type of learning values students’ ability to learn and spit back “old” knowledge while devaluing their ability to create “new” knowledge by collaborating effectively with others. While it is important that students learn skills and factual information, it is even more necessary that they learn to be flexible and creative in their thought processes so that when they do not know a correct answer, they are equipped with strategies to explore ways of finding out what they need to know and making new meaning.

By dialogizing learning, we:

“resist the closure, certainty, tidy conclusions, and finalizing solutions that are the hallmarks of the outcomes of ‘monologic’ learning” (p.1).

In other words, we encourage students to go past simple comprehension and even what turns out to be simple synthesis of already-existing information and push them to instead have authentic conversations and interpret the possibililities that exist in a text, factual or otherwise. Even if students create new meaning that is not factually accurate, they may at the same time deepen their understanding of the context of a story and the characters’ possible motivations. All of this will, at the very least, help students realize that understanding a text goes beyond literal comprehension of what is on a page and requires a constant, active conversation with the text. Plus, students can easily be clued into the difference between socially-constructed meaning that may not be exactly what is contained in a text and literal factual information that is (in fact, it’s the responsible thing to do to make sure students see the difference between the two!)

The idea of having a conversation with a text reminds me of the reading professional development my school district did this year. The theme of engaging in a dialogue with whatever text you are reading was one that they touched on as well; however, their dialogue was carried out individually via written annotations in the margins of texts. Later, students were engaged in discussions about what annotations they had made to make their thoughts visible to all. While this has some similarities to what I’m learning about this week in class, there are also some clear differences. For example, in dramatic inquiry, students explore texts as a group and work together to interpret possible meaning behind passages. I think that in some ways dramatic inquiry is just plain easier than independent reading. Edmiston references this too when he says:

“In everyday life imagining from other people’s positions is often more difficult than when participating in dramatized encounters. First we usually have to imagine shifting positions without actually speaking or acting as if we are another person…Second, dramatizing allows you to slow down or “rewind” and repeat interactions for deeper analysis….Third, fictional worlds are emotionally more protected spaces for young people to imagine taking intense extreme actions very different from those they would likely ever do or even contemplate e.g. kill a brother (like Claudius)…or commit suicide (like Ophelia)  [in Hamlet]” (p. 3)

I have to agree with this. There are so many times in teaching at the secondary level when it seems like we have to use so many words just to express an idea that could have been acted out in seconds and been completely clear to everyone. Although sometimes it’s good to engage in whole-class discussion for the express purpose of encouraging students to be clear, concise and articulate, often I think we do students a disservice when we continue to have roundabout conversations that result in at best cloudy understanding where an active approach could result in deep comprehension and shared meaning-making.

Dialogizing learning allows the teacher to play “devil’s advocate” in order to challenge students’ pre-suppositions and push them to justify their positions. If they are unable to do so, or waver in their reasoning, these pockets of uncertainty provide windows of opportunity for transformation. While some learners take this more seriously than others, by constantly engaging in these types of active approaches and then following up such activities with asking students questions about their points of view that spur reflection and analysis, more students will likely begin to take their thought processes more seriously. I really think after my experience in class this week that most students welcome thinking on a deeper level than they do in most classes.

It could be that students are largely bored because we don’t dialogize learning with them. Likely, many would welcome a change of pace, particularly one that is mentally stimulating and exciting without the constant use of edutainment or technology. Perhaps one of the most refreshing aspects of this course for me as a teacher has been the realization that, although technology is a valuable way of extending learning past the walls of the classroom, within the classroom itself, social interaction and building a community are most important thing.

Focusing on building a community is, in the long run, more effective than perfecting use of flashy power-point transitional effects or incorporation of fancy SmartBoard notebook gallery items. While some visual learners may benefit from projected presentations, I think one could argue that a visual learner would benefit even more from seeing a novel come to life right in front of them. Meanwhile, we are daily losing the students who prefer a kinesthetic approach to learning when we continue to teach in ways that are teacher-centered and fail to engage students actively.

My biggest goal to take away from this class is to increase the active, physical movement of my students in class. I truly believe that in making this one change, I will be motivated to change all sorts of other aspects of my teaching as well, and move closer to the type of teacher I always dreamed I would be!

Posted in MA, reflection | 1 Comment