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?
Definitely, that makes sense. I've spent so much of my teaching career looking for activities that will involve kids so that they'll lose themselves and think deeply enough about what they are doing that they will ask that fourth question, and maybe more. Every once in awhile it happens, but it is rare.
Thank you, to all who are participating in the SSchat Book Club it is providing me with an outstanding opportunity to learn from experienced educators. I am currently seeking a full-time teaching position in Social Studies after an accomplished career in human resources. I have become increasingly incorporated in my school system over the past three school years. Over the duration my role has increased from that as a substitute teacher to positions of replacement teaching in which I have had the opportunity to lead students in classroom settings. My journey has allowed me to be active observer of many teachers and learn from their various approaches to teaching. I find the best teachers are the ones who can balance the “long string of explanations” with student evolvement. Presentation is always a critical factor and a mixture of brief visual aids (smart boards, video, handout, etc.) in conjunction with concise explanation seems to work best. I have seen this done well by planning a do now at the beginning of class and students handing in a take away question at the conclusion of class.
A strong take-away for me in the first chapter was actually a reinforcement of something I have witness all of my career, including HR training and policy implementation as well as teaching, people and/or students will generally follow the path of least resistance. Like water seeking its level it will travel the quickest route - people will almost always try to find the quickest way to a solution, sometimes ignoring if it is the best way. I see Willingham’s reinforcement of this in our tendency to avoid the effort to think.
A2. I'm not sure I agree with the premise that the well-traveled (well-off?) students are more interested, and for most of us our students are not so well traveled as to have it matter. As building background knowledge with my 11th grade US History students, half special ed, half gen ed, I like to use something that will pique their interest in the period we are studying--usually something gross, hard to believe, or little known. Day in the life kind of stuff--how people ate, did laundry, got to work, cleaned, etc. Then I can start attaching that information to some bigger questions of the lesson/unit/course. I'm also a firm believer that an entertaining but brief lecture can be of service, so long as students must use that information to solve problems/answer questions/prove a point.
As an example, and I wish I knew the name of the video I'm going to reference, I had this absolutely horrendously acted and produced video about Andrew Jackson. God awful and really funny in its awfulness. I told students how horrible this thing is, how ridiculously overacted, but the facts were there. And we moved on to make further suggestions for how this might be done better, what information should be included, accuracy ratings etc. I got them the background they needed to start the process in a way they found interesting for reasons we don't normally think of.
B. My take away I suppose was confirmation of thinking as hard. I was reminded of times that I really didn't want to think about the complexities of a task, especially without helpful instructions (just recently with a pair of barstools and the worst instructions ever) and how working with students on their cognitive skills can make some thinking easier. I thought of a student who struggled with reading comprehension and the many many think aloud modeling sessions I had with him, before he finally said "you do all that thinking while reading? I just say the words in my head."
Kimberly, your idea to use something gross/hard to believe etc reminded me that I had heard of a middle school social studies teacher that taught the whole year around the theme of the toilet and bathroom habits of each period of history they were studying (Ancient History curriculum). He even crowned himself King of the Throne. Apparently he had the personality to pull it off and kept the kids interested. I was in the library yesterday looking at travel books to use in my geography class when I remembered a book my parents had on Haunted Wisconsin. It was an interesting way to look at some of the history of Wisconsin and got me thinking about using the odd and unusual as you mentioned.
Lisa and Kimberly, thanks for bringing this topic into the discussion. I too have found that focusing on things not normally discussed in secondary classrooms can be an effective method of drawing students into classroom activities. However, it doesn't always have to be gross, sensational or taboo. If one can make the familiar strange, or the strange familiar, regardless of the subject, a teacher can achieve the same result. Here is my explanation for why this works, along with some examples of how to do so. http://www.classroomtools.com/strange.htm
Wow--I am completely overwhelmed with the amazing reflections that the participants have added so far. I love Robert's analogy to water in the previous post. Thank you all for your well thought out and meaningful post. What you have added will be of tremendous help to educators all over which will trickle down to our V.I.Ps--our kids!
Q2: Bridging the gap for students has been a constant struggle. I teach in a town where most students will rarely leave the county they were born in. I teach Medieval World History and I have found that it is an incredibly difficult topic for my students to connect with. I was not surprised by Willingham's statement about lack of background knowledge. In the past I have tried using documentaries from National Geographic to help a little bit. In the future I would like to try to connect to some of the place I teach about through Skype or possibly bring in guest speakers from the community. I am also working on developing a humanities curriculum with my teammate. Novels are a great way to deepen understanding and develop the much needed background knowledge that some of my students are lacking. By the way, does anyone have any ideas for young adult novels based in Medieval China, Africa, and Europe?
B: My ah-ha moment was similar to Dan's. I was surprised that the brain does not like to think. It made me think back to the countless times that I have enjoyed and was satisfied by the challenge of learning about a new topic. However, when I think about some of my students I can see how Willingham's description is true. It will be my challenge in the future to think of ways to engage my students by activating prior knowledge and to help develop the much needed background knowledge.
Carla, I do believe that we like to think, and that our brains have evolved to do so. The question is, what constitutes thought? If by thinking we mean logical analysis and reasoning, that is what is difficult, and perhaps unnatural. However, most of us, including our students, believe we think. And, when we reach conclusions similar to another's, we believe we have thought logically and correctly. Most of the time however, the process by which we reach those conclusions is neither rational nor logical. In our culture, it is usually emotional, triggered by the tidal wave of advertising and other forms of propaganda in which we live 24/7, and to which most of us believe ourselves immune.
To show your students what logical thought entails, and why it is so difficult, try this:
Carla, these aren't novels, but Smelly Old History is a series of books written for middle schoolers that could be really useful with your students. You can explore the available titles at Amazon:
Thanks! I will take a look!
After reading your reply I just kept thinking, "I think she should Skype with classrooms all over the world." Especially for students who don't expect to go far beyond their local community, the twitter community is making those connections. My classes have skyped with Massachusetts, Pakistan, California, and schools just a few miles away. It is one of my favorite things about my PLN.