Greetings from my adopted home state of Florida. I was glad to come back to a house that was not flooded or damaged by any wind--I guess that I dodged the bullet on this storm but I also know what August and September are capable of bringing. After an eleven hour trans-Atlantic flight from Rome (and then a connecting flight) with a restless one year old and an energetic five year old I am joyful to be back home. Although shopping at a big box store after being overseas was a bit of a disappointment yesterday, I was grateful for the wonderful customer service that the Stars and Stripes typically has to offer us.
I hope that you all have a wonderful week of the 4th and that you have some time to reflect on all of the great things that our nation has to offer--no matter what side of the aisle you are on. For our Canadian friends, Happy Canada Day! If you are somewhere else on planet have a super one as well.
Part A (Choose 1 question)
Please respond to one of the following questions:
1. On page 35 Willingham writes, "[i]f you want to be exposed to new vocabulary and new ideas, the places to go are books, magazines, and newspapers. Television, video games, and the sorts of Internet content that students lean towards (for example, social networking sites, music sites, and the like) are for the most part unhelpful...Books, newspaper, and magazines are singularly helpful in introducing new ideas and new vocabulary to students."
What are you doing in your classroom to address this issue? In addition, how would you define your role and responsibility as a teacher of digital literacy?
2. One thing that particularly caught my attention was at the top of page 38 where Willingham writes about the school librarian. I have always had a cordial relationship with the school librarian/media specialist but I believe that I guilty of not leaning on her expertise in a manner that would best help my students. In addition, I have seen her role shift from more of a research librarian to that of a tech person.
"The school librarian should be a tremendous and ally in helping children learn to love reading, and she is arguably the most important person in any school when it comes to reading."
In what ways are you working with your school librarian/media specialist to assist your students with literacy? What is the role of the librarian/media specialist at your school?
Part B (ALL)
Based on your reading of this chapter (which focuses heavily on building background knowledge) what is one new thing that you will try with your students in the coming school year or what will you fine tune or tweak to foster student learning?
I really like your unit mind map idea, Shawn! Why not do it virtually with an online tool like Webspiration Classroom? http://www.mywebspiration.com/
I really like that idea too. I just love the idea of recording all of the connections so that when the students enter the room they immediately remember where we left off and all of the connections we have made.
Well, if you decide to try Webspiration Classroom (or something like it) next year, save at least one of the maps you create, and post a link to it so that the rest of us can see how it turns out.
Will do Bill. It is now officially on my summer list of things to do next year.
I like the more organic approach myself Shawn for the reasons you stated. Would you mind to snap a photo of one once school starts. I am going to steal I mean borrow your idea. It is such an excellent way to engage learners from the ground up on a personal level. It also helps you as the teacher to see what kinds of connections they are making to the material.
For middle school you could even make this sort of 'cutsie'--a tree with leaves for the fall, a Christmas tree with student additions for the winter season, etc.
Long before the WWW, I used to do the Global Perspectives Candy Bar activity. You give each student the list of ingredients from the wrapper of a popular candy bar. Then you assign each student one of the ingredients to research. They are to find out primarily where in the world it comes from, as well as any other information you may want them to secure about it (i.e. how much is imported to the US each year, nutritional value, etc.). With a world map on the wall and plenty of string, each student gets a strand and a card with the name of his/her ingredient on it. S/he then attaches the card to the map on the country where the ingredient originates, and runs a string to the location of your city in the US. When everyone is finished, you have a terrific visual example of globalization to discuss. If I were still teaching, I could use Webspiration with a world map as background image to do the same thing. Each student would place a virtual card containing an image of his/her ingredient on its appropriate location, then run a connecting line to our city's location.
Such a fantastic geography lesson. I love it!
I think that I am going to do this with tests and DBQs this year in my AP class. As part of their grade I am going to have students highlight any unfamiliar terms and make sure that they are addressed.
Before I take a shot at answering this week’s questions (thank you again, Shauna!), I wanted to comment on two points that made me really pause in Chapter 2.
First, I feel Willingham does a good job presenting examples/data to demonstrate his points. By the time I reached the ‘Implications for the Classroom’ section, however, I felt that he didn’t give enough weight to the issue of students who come to school without any home support.
Before we can have a decent conversation about background knowledge, I feel we have to first discuss whether a student (or possibly the majority of the class) has the infrastructure, or supports, in place to accumulate the appropriate background knowledge. I think Willingham touched on this in the ‘Start Early’ section when he talked about home environments, vocabulary used at home, books available outside of school, etc. To me, these factors provide a base from which students can acquire background knowledge. If a student doesn’t have these supports, s/he is not just ‘far behind’ on the first day of school, they lack a major part of the structure needed to hold onto any background knowledge. I would even go further and say that they may not even have a good grasp of the importance of school. I don’t know the general type of students being taught by those on this book chat - but I would like to hear from you and get a better grasp of that. For myself, I teach inner-city kids in Boston Public Schools. Many (75 - 80%) of my 7th and 8th grade students come to me without MOST of the supports Willingham mentions. They don’t read (or if they do, it’s fake reading), they have an almost microscopic view of world events (at least those that don’t involve sports figures, movie stars or musicians) and contact with home is limited at best. Add to that English not being the primary language - especially for the parents - and you have more than just a deficit in background knowledge. You have a child who is really cast adrift and, when they can, tries their best to pick up bits and pieces, knowing that they are ‘behind’.
(In case you’re wondering - no, the solution to this issue isn’t coming up in the next paragraph!)
I just point this out because, in my experience, when a student is in this situation, I feel like my efforts should be placed in getting them some of these supports. I do think Willingham hits it perfectly when he says Do Whatever You Can to Get Kids to Read. That, to me, gets them in the game. It just kills me to see so many of these kids do nothing - not even read - once they walk out of the school.
Second point (hope you’re still awake!): Right before Table 2 (on pg. 35), Willingham comments on ‘great thinkers who denigrate schools’. He categorizes these statements as ‘ironic’ and goes on to say “I don’t need brilliant, highly capable minds telling me...how silly it is to know things.”
When I read these quotes, I got a different sense of what is being implied. I am reading these to mean “When I was in school, the so-called teachers I had did little to inspire me so I either tuned out or acted up. Any real learning I did was on my own, outside of school.” I guess I was reminded of my favorite Yeats quote “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Perhaps a minor point amidst all the technical background knowledge discussion, but I had to get that out there...!
OK, now on to the questions: [2A + B] I have been inspired by my latest Twitter connection, Phil Puzzanchera (@philpuzz), to look into weaving a formal current events component into my classes. In the past, I’ve stopped and discussed big events as they came up, but I have never constructed a set way to roll this out. Many emails and examples from Phil have given me confidence. That’s my goal for next year and I hope it will start providing a new venue for background knowledge. (Yaaay for my #sschat PLN!!)
Still awake here, John; and I agree with just about all you've written above. Like you, most of the students I've taught over the decades come from impoverished backgrounds of one sort or another. Even if I managed to engage them for a period, they returned the next day suffering from environmentally induced amnesia of one sort or another, and it seemed that we were right back to square one. I often felt like Sisyphus, spending each day pushing that rock to the top of the hill, only to wake up the next morning to see it back at the bottom again. The crisis of education in the US seems to me mostly a socio-economic crisis, but it is not that students are unable to learn. As you correctly point out, even the students most troubled academically know, often in minute detail, information from popular culture. I think we as educators need to study hard what it is that advertisers and TV/movie programmers do to capture attention, transfer information and skills, and create retention; then begin to duplicate that in the classroom. Perhaps if we can do that, we won't see polls like the one this week that showed that nearly half the nation did not know (or incorrectly) knew, what the SCOTUS decided in the Health Care case; and more than 12% of high school seniors will score proficient or better on the NAEP US History report card.
I teach in an affluent suburb where our high school is dubbed "The University of Arrowhead". While we do have some non-involved parents, we also have the problem where sports and extra-curricular activities are seen as more important by the parents, because you know that middle school grades don't count! As I talked to all the middle school teachers I will be working with next year and asked for advice, they said that there was little support from the parents to do homework. Our new superintendent wants the standard ten minutes per grade of homework each night and the teacher's flat out told him it won't happen. We have to do what we can from 9-4 to engage and reinforce. So even in the burbs, we have our challenges :)
John, great points! I'm not a teacher anymore (professional development for ss) but I taught in a classroom with a 50/50 special ed/gen ed split with a co-teacher. Pretty middle of the road subburban, but a group who found making connections and retaining information challenging. Not to mention trying to keep everything moving forward for my gen eds. What we found with implementing routines (like the essential question thing from another post or word wall from another post) was that ALL of our students appreciated knowing what to expect from the class. The mysteries were the content not the structure, not the directions, not the format for homework or notes or tests. We often got comments about how low stress US history was for them because they knew the pattern for our classes.
Of course, for all the kids who caught on to our structure, there was always a couple (and usually they weren't special ed) who would finally figure out in March that every day we did X or Y and act like he'd just let everyone in on a big secret.