Greetings from Italy! I am literally typing this as my mother-in-law makes pasta from scratch behind me. I suppose that next week I will be saying greetings from hot and humid Florida as I will be home!
Thank you for your participation in this summer's #sschatbook talk! I usually go for history books but I read this for a work related book study and thought it would lend well to a summer chat--short chapters, nine of them (perfect for summer break), and most importantly, useful for immediate classroom application.
I am looking forward to your comments on the questions posed. I hope that this book will challenge your thinking and allow for some inner reflection that will make a positive impact on students in the coming school year.
What I love most about our PLN is that it is very organic--teacher driven not district. I know that we have the best of the best here who are willing to take the time to improve their craft. Questions will be posted each Sunday....chat away!
Part A (Choose 1 question)
Please respond to one of the following questions:
1. On page 15 Willingham writes, "[b]ut without some attention, a lesson plan can become a long string of teacher explanations, with little opportunity for students to solve problems." What are some ways that you can avoid this type of planning. For "seasoned" teachers", how have seen your planning "grow" as you became more experienced? For new teachers, what can you learn from seasoned teachers in your approach to lesson planning?
2. On page 15 Willingham writes on background knowledge, "[i]f they lack background knowledge, the question you pose will quickly be judged as "boring." In the social studies (especially), this is often tied to socio-economics. The kids that are well traveled tend to be more interested in matters of history, geography, government, etc. How do you help to bridge this gap for students in your attempt to build background knowledge?
Part B (ALL)
What did you take away from this chapter or what was your "ah ha" moment?
A1: It seems to me that the best way to make sure that students get to solve problems is to give them some. I have developed into a teacher who tends to stay as far away as possible from a text book and direct lecture as possible. Typically, my students are given some kind of primary source document that goes along with our question/discussion of the day. I have found it much more beneficial to let them decide for themselves what the answers to history are based on the people that experienced it. I will say that it took a number of years for me to get to this point. Up until a few years ago, I really believed that I had to be the "sage on the stage" in order to guarantee that all my students got the information that I believed they needed to know (based on national and/or state standards) rather than give them credit for having the ability to answer the questions of history on their own. There was also a control question on my part, which led me to believe that a noisy classroom meant very little learning was going on. Now, I am much more likely to sit back and have the students ask questions of the documents in an effort to work the problem. I have found that the lesson plans from edsitement.neh.gov often have good questions with which students can start examining primary source documents.
B: The big take away for me was the idea that our brain does not want to think on its own, that it would prefer to avoid thinking. I suppose that this makes sense, given everything that our brain has to "make sure" we are doing all the time, the idea that it would not want "to waste" energy on thinking about/learning something new. Therefore, the point that Willingham makes about essentially differentiating instruction is a good one and one that we should keep in mind in our classrooms.
Dan, I like to have students work with primary source documents too; however, I've learned that they are often difficult for them to understand. Vocabulary, complicated syntax, etc. can make them very difficult for students to engage. Here is a way I've found to let students connect to a primary source starting with whatever skills and knowledge they possess coming in. http://www.classroomtools.com/briefe.htm
I absolutely agree with your statement about the difficulty some students have in deciphering primary sources. I am getting better at fleshing out the difficult vocabulary for them at the beginning or along the side of the page, but there is something to be said for Willingham's thoughts about the clues to a puzzle. If we get too many clues, we never feel as if we solved something. I know that if students see things as too difficult, and so I do try to help them through that as best as I can, still leaving a little bit of the challenge behind.
Thank you for both links.
When Merriam-Webster first put its Collegiate Dictionary on the web, I discovered that one could link directly into it. I began doing so for words with which I thought my students my students might have difficulty when posting documents and assignments in HTML. Here is one such. http://www.classroomtools.com/trnvocab.htm The advantage is that students need not be distracted by information on the page that they might not need, and are free to follow only those links for words with which they are unfamiliar.
I certainly agree with both you and Willingham about the desirability of leaving students with puzzles to solve. One of the things I always tried to do when designing a lesson was to, whenever possible, present things so as to make the strange familiar or the familiar strange. Doing so creates a type of cognitive dissonance that leaves students with the feeling that something is just out of reach, but is very reachable. This causes them to involuntarily change their focus to the lesson, if it was not there to begin with, in an effort to make the connection they feel is just a step away. Here is a little fuller explanation of what I mean: http://www.classroomtools.com/strange.htm
Bill, last year we started teaching our fourth and eighth graders about hyperlinked writing so that when they write they can focus on answering the larger question rather than providing lots of details for the readers. The readers can just click on the link if they need more background information similar to your use of the dictionary links. This also helps avoid plagiarizing to some extent because they can just link to the information. Summarizing is still a needed skill, but the hyperlinked writing worked out well.
I love the idea of making the strange familiar and the familiar strange. It is something I have been doing all along but never put it into such a nice phrase. I'm going to "borrow" that and put a sign up in my classroom. I love it Bill.
Shawn, here is the link to an image of the first page of the Introduction to William JJ Gordon and Tony Poze's fabulous 1972 Strange and Familiar. Enjoy!!
Dan, the Schrank slideshare that I linked to in my reply to Allison below, is also great in fleshing out your point that about our brains and thinking. http://www.slideshare.net/jeffschrank
1. I am a middle school social studies teacher, so it is imperative that I find activities for students to problem solve and get up and move around as much as possible. One of the things I like to do is have students look a graphic organizer or a picture and have them hypothesize about what they think the pictures might mean, how they relate to the chapter, etc. Other times, I have students work in groups to work through a problem: Was ancient Sumer a civilization? Why or why not? Use evidence from the text... and, using pictures of artifacts as well as the text, students create some persuasive item (movie, digital poster, Keynote presentation) that answers the questions. In this way, students are engaged, they are thinking, and the product they are being asked to make is directly related to the problem. Sometimes the activity we design isn't quite aligned with the learning outcomes, and the students remember eating hardtack (or whatever) instead of remembering the difficulties of the Valley Forge campaign.
B. My main takeaway from the book is that, like most people, we try to avoid deep thinking. Mostly we do this because it is hard! Unless we can see a direct benefit and the problem is relevant for us, we try to find the easy way out. We do this, our students do this. So, if we want our students to become good, critical problem solvers, we need to find problems for them to solve that they find challenging (but not too hard) and interesting. In order to do this, we must know our students, which has been my mantra (and most educational programs' mantras) for many years.
Allison, I agree with your experience and Willingham's point that logical, rational thought is difficult and not something most of us practice. I think that this slideshare presentation, created by Jeff Schrank, explains why that is - our brains evolved to help us survive in the world, not necessarily to show us what is actually "out there". http://www.slideshare.net/jeffschrank
I learned the lesson Willingham teaches in chapter one on the very first day I student taught in January 1970. I was given a low track 11th grade US History class to teach on my own by my master teacher, who left the room and didn't return until graduation in the spring. My first day's lesson was completely ignored by most students who preferred to chat, pull hair, etc. After my initial thoughts about whether or not I had chosen the right profession to pursue, I began a lifelong quest for activities that would engage students in the study of history, and other social studies. It led me pretty quickly to finding activities that let students use knowledge and skills they have already developed as a jumping off place to move forward. Here is the link to one that has always worked well. http://www.classroomtools.com/dearabby.htm