Sunday, February 25, 2007

Saturday, February 24, 2007

conversations on leadership

I've been thinking about the ways that blogging encourages communication. Louann's post brought this question into focus for me. As I continue to explore teacher blogs, I've been focusing on how people communicate with each other and how effective I feel these communications have been. I came across a few examples of what I thought were interesting conversations happening through a variety of blogs. Here's one. Here's another. Both posts deal with qualities of leadership. What I liked is that people "tag" others (not sure how this works yet - help anyone?) and have them create a list that shows how they are leaders. What other examples have people seen of successful (or unsuccessful) conversations?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Successful? Standardized Practice Part 3

I completed the third of four weeks of "Beat SAP" , and as I planned, I followed Gee's principles on video games and learning. This meant that today's round was more challenging than the last. Both classes lost today's game, meaning that they have to win next week. I was worried that they'd be discouraged after loosing, even though last week's win was by a smaller margin. They still came up with good answers and were on task 99% of the time, but they were unable to win due in part to more difficult prompts and to less time. They were eerily quiet at the end of the game, but one (usually cynical) student said, "We'll get him next time." Some others responded by stating something along the lines of "he'll go down" next week. This made me think of a few things - first, they are still motivated (at least some of them) and second, they personalized the "enemy" and are taking the mission to beat "him" seriously. Another student, who was the last left in class after the bell, stated "I still like Fridays in this class, but I wish we would have won." So, they do have some investment in this four part activity, and that investment (as far as I can tell) has not waned. The big question is: will they be motivated to use their creativity as strongly on the tests which are coming up in two weeks?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

SSR and blogs!

I was exploring some teacher blogs and came across this post. I find it interesting to see SSR time spend reading blogs. The last comment (as of today) by rolandod mentioned seeing where students are lead as a result of viewing blogs. The idea of an endless text is interesting. It is equally interesting to me to think about how our interests intertwine and how they can be explored in thie medium.

...another thought...
It is great that blogging has lead me to these wonderful ideas, can't it do this for our students too? What kind of modeling, if any would they need?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Graphic Novels in the Classroom

I found an article on Education World which included several links for teaching graphic novels. I liked seeing my thoughts on using comics to teach inference skills (read between the lines/panels). But, I was especially interested in the following quote:" Nancy Frey added, "We'd also like to acknowledge the importance of critical literacy -- the ability of a reader to understand his or her role in the transaction that occurs between the reader and the text." Critical literacy has always been important, but educators need to expand their definition of literacy. There is power in the "visual transaction" that occurs in graphic novels, advertisements, as well as local and national news. I've heard many students in the past say that there is no transaction when they read or even view texts. Graphic novels or shorter comics could be a stepping stone to this. The literacy of reading images juxtaposed with words and the literacy of reading images alone is crucial in our current and future world. I'm interested in hearing what others may find in this article and/or links.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Successful Standardized Test Practice Part 2

This was my second week of the "beat sap" game. I wasn't sure going in how students would react to the same game for the second week. I continued to think of what Gee's says in What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Literacy and Learning about why video games are educational. One emphasis he makes is the increasing difficulty as the player's proficiency increases. So, this week, since my students were familiar with the game, I changed a few minor rules. I allowed a few less points possible per group per prompt and as we went through each prompt, I decreased their allotted time by 30 seconds.

Students were excited to play it again, and I saw some advancement in their answers. They were not happy when I said it would be harder, but judging from their actions when they played, it was not a bad thing in their eyes. They were ready to go, and as the time decreased, their energy did as well. The first two rounds left the students just off pace to reach their goal points, and when they noticed this, they stepped up. I heard wonderful details and answers for some boring prompts. While students did not "beat sap" by as many points as last week, they were proud of their work. One student asked if I would make it harder next week. I replied "yes" and he left the room saying they'd still be able to win. Not bad for a group who was discouraged by the thought of having to come up with responses to prompts. Next week is week three of four. They need to win three out of the four games. I'll report again next week. In the meantime, I welcome any comments, suggestions, or questions.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Movies as Writing Tools Part 2

I created a lesson using movie clips to help students focus on important details for description. I received the descriptive writing papers today. While I have not explored most of their writing, I have reviewed the writer memos that I have my students attach. Two of my questions (What helped you in your revision? What class activity helped you understand the genre the best?) sparked answers that related to the movies - some direct and some indirect. One student stated how she didn't understand how to "zoom in on an object and explain it with more detail than just telling about it." She stated, "The movie scenes and discussion showed how I can look at something from a different angle and from a different distance." I had another student share that he enjoyed the conversations around the movies because they helped him think of ways to improve his piece. Others stated that they were able to take boring sentences and look at what specifically needed to be changed - using movie terminology was more helpful because "I'm used to that type of talk."

I'm interested in other ways that teachers have used movies to help with specific writing skills.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Successful Standarized Test Practice

While I'm not a supporter of teaching to the test, there is some value in preparing students for standardized tests such as CSAP. We are encouraged to do some work to prepare students and despite teacher opinion on the test, it is a reality that we are judged by the test.

My question has always been: how can I make this preparation applicable to learning beyond the test? I've been thinking about what Gee has said in his book What Video games Have to Teach us about Literacy and Learning. Specifically, I'm trying to incorporate his learning principles (based on what he has observed on learning and video games) into my classroom. I like what he says about having a challenge that is obtainable yet takes thought. Also, he states that video games have increasingly more difficult tasks as the player becomes proficient. One of the biggest challenges in our school has been the scores on the extended written response section of the CSAP. I talked with my students about this and the majority say that they are bored with the prompt so they don't care to write much on it. My students are used to writing on their own topics, and often in a genre of their choice, so they feel constrained when they are given a prompt in a situation that they have to sit in silence, not confer with peers or their teacher, and answer a question they don't care about. Here is my attempt at helping students be a bit more motivated on this section of the test AND learn more about authentic writing:

Beat SAP...(cheesy pun I know....see sap give you a test, see sap give you a boring prompt)
Students are grouped into four teams per class. They work as both small teams and as a whole class team. Their goal is to beat SAP for 3 out 4 weeks. In order to beet SAP the class has to earn 100 points each week.
The class is given four prompts that I have either found on CDE's assessment page or on other prompt resources. Each group needs to think of details to answer the prompt. I encourage "creative elaboration" (Lying). After a certain time (I will shorten this as the weeks progress) the teams share out four of their best details. I give them a score for each details from 1-3 depending on originality, use of sensory or figurative details (which are listed on the rubric as an advanced skill). Teams cannot repeat details and will lose points if they go off topic. After four prompts, I tally the class score and the individual team scores. The winning team gets some candy (I know...I know...internal motivation should be enough, but they get excited about a simple piece of candy....) We are discussing a reward if they beat SAP for three weeks.

Here's what I observed:
First, when my fourth hour came in they all asked "Are we going to play the game that 2nd hour played?" This let me know that there was some conversation in the hallways about what I had done during class, and that they were wanting to give it a try. Now, the academic observations. By not leaving the students "alone" with the prompt, and by encouraging them to be creative, they were motivated even after they released a collective groan when I revealed each prompt. Their ideas were creative, on topic, and showed an application of writing skills that we have explored this school year. They were showing pride in their individual teams, but what I enjoyed most was seeing them encourage other teams since they are all the battle to beat a single foe together.

What I plan to do next week for round two:
I'm going to shorted the amount of time they have for each prompt to make it a bit more challenging. For the following week (depending on their level in week two) I will make the scoring a bit more difficult. We'll see if their motivation stays strong the next few weeks. I know I'm enjoying this more than other prep work I have done with students.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

poetry comics

After reading some more of Scott McCloud's book Understanding Comics I decided to explore his website a bit more. I came across a comic that he created based on Robert Browning's poem "Porphyria". I was looking at how the simple images work harmoniously with the poem. As I look at some other ways to write and explore poetry with my class, I'm going to bring this in and open it to student experimentation. I have enjoyed seeing my students challenge themselves with different ways to write and respond to poetry.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Transferring skills from visual to writing

I have been very interested in Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. My main question, and one of my near future classroom applications, is how to transfer knowledge of writing skills (such as organization or style) from observing less threatening genres (comics, for example) into writing. I started this with the movie - see my last post - and working with content. Here's my idea. I want to discuss the art and literature of comics with students. Specifically, I'd like to focus on organization to start. With organization, I don't just mean beginning, middle, and end, I'm looking more at the idea of pacing and transitions. If we study the organization of comics, looking at pacing and transition, could we transfer some of that knowledge to prose writing? I'm noticing the difficulty with organization to be especially prominent the past few years. Our district scores show this to be more prevalent with boys. I'm curious about the response to this - both in class discussion and in their writing. Has anyone tried this? Any ideas on transferring these skills from the different genres? I will be looking for articles on this topic - hopefully I can include information on this in future posts.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Movies as writing tools

I just finished one of those successful teaching days! I worked with my 9th grade English class on enhancing description. After some discussion on tools that movies use to "describe" (or show) their setting, we watched a few scenes from A River Runs Through It and Big Fish. We had great conversations on what the mood of the setting was and how the movie brought out that mood. We discussed issues as lighting, camera angle, sound, repeated images, and time spent on images. Then, using Barry Lane's magic camera technique, we discussed what important images were zoomed in on and why. After showing four scenes, students worked in small groups to determine which details should be enhanced in their own descriptive writing. Some conversations included the addition of light (or lack there of), others offered suggestions about what images could be repeated. I enjoyed walking around and hearing "This is important, zoom in on this." I think their intimidation level was reduced after the discussion. They will be turning in their second draft of their place description on Tuesday. Their task is to think like the movie makers and make revisions. I'm excited to see what improvements are made.