What I’ve Been Reading

Here in Canandaigua, there are less than 25 days of school. While I’ve been busy with planning and managing IB exams, a professional development session for Regents exam week, preparing end of year technology integration documents, writing a presentation on blogging and personalized learning, and final units and projects for IB 12 and English 103, I’ve managed to squeeze in a few new books that I thought I’d share.

While there’s a great deal of energy spent in the taking care of all the end-of-year stuff, there’s also some time when I’m saying, “Next year…” As we reflect on what’s happening right now in our classrooms and schools, those moments come when we start to lay the ground work for changes we’ll make when September comes around. With that in mind, these books gave footholds for things that I want to be experimenting with as I move into the summer, and fall.

Below are several loose goals that I’m thinking will drive my work next year and the books that will help.

  1. Teaching composition through the design thinking process:

Read Gamestorming.

gamestorming

This is definitely not a cover-to-cover read. Take a look at the first chapters, and then surf the activities that come after. There’s lots here.

Gamestorming is a book of games and activities facilitators can use for individuals and groups to get them thinking. It’s a simple as that.

Games are grouped into different categories, such as opening, exploring, and closing. All are shaped around design thinking. For the English and composition teacher, there are lots of potentials for helping students to generate topics and to spend time iterating on these ideas.

Last week, I passed the book along to my wife because she does work in human resources, leadership coaching and professional development. This isn’t just an educational book, it’s a book for anyone who wants to create participant-centered thinking spaces in classrooms, in training, or in strategic planning.

2. Asking what we really mean by engagement, how to get kids producing evidence of their engagement, and building a culture of engagement in the classroom.

Our professional development coordinator connected me with Fisher, Frey and Quaglia’s Engagement by Design. Fortunately, she also was able to connect several of us through a Zoom meeting last week with Doug Fisher.

engagement

This books prompts readers to think beyond behavioral engagement and consider how we cognitively engage behavior in learning spaces.

The other book with tie-ins to engagement and classroom culture is The EduProtocol Field Guide: 16 Student-Centered Lesson Frames for Infinite Possibilities.

eduprotocol

Teachers, if you are going to read one book this summer about creating culture and getting students to engage in the work, this is the book for you. The protocols are simple, straightforward and with clear steps for how to do them in the classroom.

3. Technology integration to have students become creators (and really practice the whole 4C thing):

Another book that gives some detailed processes and protocols for thinking about integrating technology paired with the four-Cs, look to Cultivating Communication in the Classroom by Lisa Johnson (@TechChef4U). Because I’m hoping to sharpen instruction around presentation, use of social media, portfolios and curation, this book explores each of these areas with guiding questions for teachers to consider what skills are needed for each area and clear how-tos for a range of ways we build digital communication skills in our students.

Final thoughts:

Each of these books provide ample meat to drive summer thinking and planning. I’m looking forward to looping back through these books in late July and August as I start planning the next school year.

Inform CA!

Introduction

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in English 103. Kids have been making Google Sites to inform on issues, creating ads to bring traffic to those sites, and building surveys to collect information from peers on those issues. Yesterday, the project went live and public. Ads were posted in our school’s central atrium, for ease of access for the eighty-plus students in this class, and at the same time, opened these sites and surveys to the entire faculty and student body.


My motivation for this project

tweet


Details About the Process

At the start, we told students that they had to create a web-site to inform peers about an important problem within the issues they were researching, that they would have to make an ad, and develop a survey to collect opinions of the peers on these issues. I’ve found in this project, those first days are the challenge as there are a lot of pieces for students to digest.

To keep things organized, all of the content and resource material are housed in Schoology. While we put these materials in as a series of steps, students jumped around between tasks and steps as they needed to. Little direction instruction was given. Instead, students watch videos, completed readings, and as teacher, I walked around to provide assistance and answer questions. If you look below, you’ll see the layout.

informca schoology

This project was done by students over the course of 2 weeks. We originally aimed for a week and a half, but students needed time.

Outcome

Below are some pictures of ads that students created.

IMG_2025

IMG_2026

Reflections and Future

 

How & Not What

Part 1: The Request:

The following hit my Outlook in-box yesterday morning from our district Public Relation specialist:

Hi,

I have a tough ask, but I hope that you can help.

Due to the concerns of our students, staff and community around school safety and security, Jamie [Canandaigua District Superintendent] has authorized me to draft a Digest [Our District Community Newsletter] publication that will focus on the District’s response to the tragedy in Parkland, Florida and the difficult issues brought to the public debate in the wake of that crime. We know this is a very sensitive issue that requires real care from us.

Thus, the theme of the publication is that the Canandaigua City School District’s mission is to “teach kids how to think, not what to think”.

I want to develop a central article entitled “How, not What”, so I’d like to gather your perspectives on what “How, not What” looks like in the classroom. What are your thoughts on how skills such as research, inquiry, argumentation supported by evidence, etc. are taught as they relate to how to think, not what to think?

To help you, maybe you could include some concrete examples around such items as [And you’ll see these in the questions below]:

Part 2: The Q& A:

Andy’s questions gave me a lot to think about, and helped me to reflect on my practice. I’ve put his questions below and my responses to his request in red.

How appropriate research technique is actually taught?

If we are really going to emphasize “How, not What” then classroom spaces need to start with questions. Questions that come from teachers to model what good questions look like and then working with student’s to foster curiosity around topics, and develop questions that they want to seek answers to. This is the foundation of the curriculum in the IB, where all courses are driven by inquiry approaches where students are expected to ask questions, and work together to find answers. It culminates in the capstone project, the Extended Essay, which is supposed to expose the student’s ability to engage in sustained, independent research, and reflect what the student has learned about asking important questions and finding answers.

In English 103, students engage in semester long research projects developed around topics they are passionate about, and perhaps more importantly, we ask that these students take their research and work to make it authentic by sharing through creating informative websites, and then ultimately developing arguments written as, again, authentic texts: blogs, wikis, editorials, op-eds, speeches, problem-solving proposals. In this course, students are guided through research—preliminary phases, information collection, evaluation (more below), synthesis, creation. These students get something very similar in approach to what the IB students get. A course in how to conduct college-level research.

In “Media Maker,” student generation of topics and writing is at the center. There is no “content” in the course other than what the students bring. They are asked to ask questions, and then answer them in their blogs and 20-time projects. All of what students create in the course is driven by their own interests. Thus, they are “researching” all the time—through listening to podcasts, reading others blogs, newspapers, articles, following You-tubers.

Another important part of this, and one that I don’t think we do a good job at, is modeling our own curiosity, learning and research. Teachers need to show their students how they authentically learn.

  • how we have students learn about and develop primary and secondary sources?

I think we do a lot of damage with students when all we focus on is primary and secondary and tertiary.  These distinctions are only somewhat helpful to students when we are trying to get them to think about collecting information. Another damage we do is when we get students to think about sources as objects—when a teacher says I want you to collect 5 sources—an article, a website, a newspaper source—we’re having students think about information only in terms of where the information resides.

We need to get kids to think about sources as PEOPLE. Who is giving us this information? What is the person’s bias or perspective? Who does this person work for? What platform is this person publishing on? Who asked this person to create?

Additionally, we need to get students to think about sources not as primary or secondary or article or database, but in terms of their functionality. How is this source being used? How can I or how should I use this source? What about this source must be included or discarded from my work?

Tomorrow Jamie will be talking to all English 103 classes about his recent encounter with Channel 13. We want our students, who are currently working with evaluation of sources and thinking about fake news, to see what happened between what information he had and how it was portrayed. Their story changed the reality of the situation—they created something that is different from what is actually.

  • what we require in the way of “papers” and where those fall on the developmental scale?

Certainly, for many of our students, the academic essay is an important document to learn how to produce. However, we do a disservice to students when all we ask them to produce is a “paper.” When was the last time you wrote an “academic essay” or a paper. Your writing for Gradudates of Distinction, the article you are producing for the digest move outside of the boundaries of this genre. The pieces that Jeanie writes for the first day of school, the BOE presentations that Matt or Jamie create, the emails that come from Jamie—none of these are academic essays or papers. Many of our students are going to need to write leaving CA, and they’ll make arguments—in editorials, presentations, cover letters, blogs…when we think about the product of research only as a “paper” we’re doing damage.

  • how assignments/projects build to mastery and how that skill is reflected/assessed in subject examinations and short answer essays?
  • How we handle the specifics of the Bill of Rights?
  • How we handle discussion of current events in class?

I didn’t answer these questions. I won’t go into that here, but perhaps there’s another blog post in thinking about making some responses as these questions apply to the English classroom. 

Reflection & Resources

With less than two weeks to go until my presentation on “Media Maker” at the New York State Second English Council conference (@nysec_tweets; #nysec), I’m in full revision and presentation making mode. This work has forced me back into the reading, research and inspiration that I drew on when first making the course two years ago.

This reflection and walking back through the history of my own thinking has been really powerful in reconnecting me to the core of what I hoped, and still hope, to accomplish. Mainly, student blogging provides a powerful tool for students to write to real-world audiences, and a student blog is a powerful tool for showcasing student-centered learning.

Since that time, Jennifer Casa-Todd’s (@JCasaToddSociaLeadia has made concrete for me the need to have students create positive digital identities.

As I’m rereading and surfing my digital, cyber ripcurl, several great resources have emerged:

The good folks at Edublogs, namely Ronnie Burt, Sue Waters and Kathleen Morris, put together a great post “100+ Ideas and Prompts for Student Blogging”. I’ve now got this bookmarked and will use it as a reference for when I’m looking for something fresh to throw to my students. It’s also got great tips for educators who are considering starting blogging in the classroom or creating their own blogs.

Another Edublog’s resource comes from Sue Waters, and it’s part of this year’s Student Blogging Challenge. Her post, “Let’s Learn to Comment,” helps students to have the knowledge of the form and the tools to make substantive comments on other’s writing. It got me thinking about the value in blogging for students as a means to teach how to participate in conversations, both on and off-line.

Through reexamining Troy Hick’s wikispace, I came across Bud Hunt’s “Teaching Blogging Not Blogs,” published on October 19, 2010 and found here. Go deep into his article and read the original post from 2005. Doing so will connect you with Will Richard’s comments on the value of blogs for both student and teacher.

Looking forward to sharing this thinking, and discussing these resources further at NYSEC.