I think I need to F5

I need to hit refresh.

I’ve enjoyed the Dobbs Cohort experience tremendously, and up to this point, I’ve handled it very well.  I enjoyed the firehose of information at the beginning.  I was already familiar with some of the tech elements, so I was able to dive into the pedagogical end of the pool.  I started researching rubrics and alternative assessments methods, and enjoyed doing so through September and October.  But then we introduced (and I got hooked on) some new tech elements.  As happens so often, I immediately embarked on workshopping with my department colleagues, and as happens so rarely, I actually put them into practice in my own class, to delightful results!

However, I’m nearing the end of the first semester, and I have somewhere on my hard drive, school drive, a Google Doc, a flash drive, or in a Delicious bookmark a half-dozen incomplete rubrics for everything from collaborative student projects to performance-based assessments.  And recent conversations about formative assessments in our blog chatter makes me really want to look into scaling my summative assessments with more formative ones.  But do I further fragment, or get back to rubrics.  But then again, I’m looking forward to reading the Wagner book over the holidays, and goodness only knows what delightful distractions that will bring.

And as all of this is going through my mind (I had to do something during the five hour drive from Nashville yesterday), it occurs to me that I envisioned as my main takeaway from this cohort the know-who and know-how to facilitate a PLC for the foreign language teachers next year.  And since hiring (and therefore scheduling) probably starts in the winter, I will probably want to have a substantive conversation with my Principal sooner rather than later.

So, I’d like to hit F5 and get focused on something.  Just what that something is, I’m afraid I’ll need some F1 in that area.  Hee hee!

A programming note…

“The Blind Side” premiered last night, a touching story about something or other, but that’s not really important.  What is important is that I was cast as “maintenance guy #3” in the opening sequence of the film.  In the scene I clip a hedge outside a prestigious private school set in Memphis, TN.  Since its debut on November 20, 2009, I’ve often been asked what it was like to play the part of “maintenance guy #3.”  The first thing I tell those people, other than that I prefer not to be photographed from the left side in the top half of the hour, is that I did not play the part; I lived the part of “maintenance guy #3.”  My overalls were Dickies, my shears Fiskars, and the hedge….Indian Hawthorne.  It was not difficult to get inside the head of “maintenance guy #3” because I have planted (with my own bloodied and Miracle Gro Garden Soil-stained hands) 14 Indian Hawthorne in my own yard.  I know the shrub.  And as Henry Ibsen once said, “to know the shrub is to know the man.”

I will not be signing autographs at the next Dobbs meeting, as I need to keep my hand conditioned for my next labor-oriented role, perhaps as “arborist” or “man reading newspaper.”  I will very much appreciate your restraint.

21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead

This was one of the first articles that I read from this issue.  My second reading was equally rewarding.  Some the principle points that I took from the article were the following:

Latest fad or future staple

One of the first points that Rotherham and Willingham makes is that unless educators remain faithful to the content underlying the new approach, 21CS is doomed to fad status.  We are most at risk of this in terms of the technology that is used in the implementation of these new strategies.  The first decade of the 21st century will be known as the “blog years” unless the content of the course and the core skills are held front and center above the technology used to practice those skills.  If blogs become assessment artifacts rather than vehicles for student creation and collaboration, the momentum of 21CS will peter out.

Skills and content as discrete elements

The first approach that a teacher may take in redefining the learning process is to take old lesson plans, and to adorn them with 21st century flair (e.g., a new technology, addition of a Harkness table discussion format).  Doing so prevents the skill (collaboration) and the content (topic of study) from becoming intertwined.  R&W suggest that we “must plan to teach skills in the context of particular contant and to treat both as equally important.” (19)

Get out the sledgehammer

The design of schools, even those constructed in the 21st century are all wrong.  The presence of walls encourages isolationism and fractured learning.  I don’t suggest that we all pile in the gym and sit on pillows in a circle, but there are thousands of creative mid-points between the “egg carton” and the “Brunswick stew” approaches.

Teachers training is a must

An obvious statement, but I admit that as I read this passage on p. 20:

What teachers need is much more robust training and support than they receive today, including specific lesson plans that deal with the high cognitive demands and potential classroom management problems of using student-centered methods.

my first reaction was “Hallelujah!  I need training!  Bring on the guest speaker followed by break-out groups, summarized neatly by a plenary session.”  I have actually thought that for a few weeks.  Then I realized such a PD model betrays what it is we’re talking about.  So here’s my revised statement:

Give me a small group of teachers with whom I can explore the topic, with whom I can build vital models for immediate and future use in my classroom.  Bring on the dialogue!

Make me the guest speaker, along with my fellow cohorts.  Give me access to expert voices, best practices and beta practices, and allow me to figure this stuff out for myself, BUT you must also give me time to implement, assess, and reflect on it.  Then, if it seems I’m worth all this time and money, you’ll let me take another round to try to improve on it for the next go-around.

Hence the PLC.

My October Surprise

Starting up student blogs is the best and worst thing I’ve done in a long time.

In late October I had my 7th grade Spanish students set up private blogs.  According to the ACTFL (Amer. Council for the Teaching of For. Lang.) oral proficiency standards suggest that students at this level should be able to mimic sentences and alter them to a minimal degree.  By the end of the year they should be able to manipulate the present and simple past, the future, and the present progressive tense.  They should be able to speak in basic terms utilizing a variety of vocabulary, and they should be able to handle (in the second half of the year) to create basic compound tenses.

This group of kids are in our “Intro” level, which indicates that the child has had minimal exposure to languages in elementary school.  A cynic would call it the remedial track.  This being a performance-based assessment, the goal of the activity is to achieve meaningful language, NOT grammatical purity.  At first, I wondered how I, a blue-blooded grammarian and devotee of massaged language, would handle being OK with grammatical faux pas.

So when, for the first assigned blog post, I asked my classes to describe their favorite restaurant, I’m wasn’t sure what to expect.  Actually, I did.  I expected my 2nd period to put in the minimal amount required and I expected my 4th period to put in a valiant effort that would not earn them the Medal of Cervantes.

I was stunned at the kind of entries I was reading!!  Long descriptions of food, service, ambience, etc.  They took the exercise seriously, and they were much more bold with a qwerty keyboard than they would have been with pencil and paper.  After the second blog post (this time describing what they give their family as gifts and what stores they frequent), I realized that this is a trend.  The kids write more expressively when they’re doing so on the computer.

In addition to posting entries (much like we do here at Dobbs), they are required to comment on one anothers’ blogs.  Here we see the “minimalist approach” come out, but I’m hopeful that this will pass when they are talking about authentic topics.  Admittedly, these first two are somewhat contrived, and I can see them not thinking “why are we responding to what so-and-so buys his dad for Christmas??”  I told them that these entries were meant merely to “prime the pump” for when they really get into debateable topics.

Here’s the nightmare side to this scenario.  Can you guess what I’m about to say?

I’M BURIED IN POSTS AND COMMENTS!!  I’ve given up recreational reading for the foreseeable future since Dobbs, Language Lab, and blog posts/comments have given me the equivalent of Corominas’ Etymological Dictionary to read.  However, since I’m not grading them, rather reading and responding when appropriate, I am TRULY ENJOYING engaging in the work of my students!!  This is TERRIFIC and I HATE IT!

I’m very glad that I took this step.  I just hope that I can carve it into manageable chunks of work.

Any ideas on how to give better prompts to get them to write more thoughtful comments?