Thursday, January 27, 2011

Teaching vs. Assigning

from John Holly's Compendium of of Strategies
What is the gradual release of responsibility? An instructional model developed by P. David Pearson, the gradual release of responsibility means that I show students how to do something before I ask them to do it on their own. Ultimately, "the reading goals are comprehension, understanding, enjoyment and insight for every child."

In my mind it's the difference between teaching and assigning. The model assumes teachers are the master craftsmen and students the apprentice. The master or expert in the room shows the apprentice how things are done. Gradual release in terms of reading means that the teacher takes on the responsibility first (for decoding or making meaning) then slowly releases the responsibility to the students. In my own high-school, English teacher mind, the gradual release of responsibility means what Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher call: I do, we do and you do.

Do you show students how to do something before asking them to do it by themselves. If I'm teaching my students how to analyze the rhetoric of fast food advertising (something we're doing in my A.P. language class this week), I can't just say, "choose a tray liner from a fast food restaurant and analyze the rhetoric in terms of purpose, audience and context." Well, I can say that, but chances are if I haven't demonstrated the process or taught the  "how to" lessons that the assignment assumes,  students will not understand the task or concepts involved.

When Kelly Gallagher plans reading lessons he asks himself several questions:
  1. Without my assistance, what will students take from this reading?
  2. With my assistance, what do  I want my students to take from this reading?
  3. What can I do to bridge the gap between what my students would learn on their own and what I want them to learn? What support should I offer ...?
  4. How will I know if my students "got it"? (Deeper Reading 215)
My mentor, Janet Allen, says "you've got to be the bridge." Whether I am teaching a strategy for reading or  writing, a genre, or a content concept such idioms or figurative language, there is a difference between teaching (modeling, demonstrating, showing how to) and assigning (telling students to read and answer questions, giving students a task without any help). Does that make sense? I like how one of the boy's in Jeff Wilhelm's study put it, "teachers give you hard things to do and then they don't help you." Modeling is the tool that helps students as  Wilhelm describes in this video clip which examines the gradual release model from a Vygotskian perspective.

This year my district asked to film me teaching and to use the video to teach administrators about the gradual release of responsibility.  Here's a copy compressed for the blog:

On Monday, 1/31 at 7 p.m., I'll be hosting a discussion of the gradual release of responsibility model on #engchat, a weekly English chat on Twitter. Selfishly, I'd love to talk about my questions.  How do you know when to "release" students--it's sort of scary, isn't it.  The Giver allusion aside, how do you decide? How much modeling do students need? How do we discover what students know so that we can maximize our time with them? These are few things I'm thinking about as Monday approaches.

If you'd like to join the conversation, sign in to twitter and follow the hashtag #engchat. Get more details and a "how to" join the conversation using Twitter tools here

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

6 Word Memoirs

For Christmas a friend gave me I Can't Keep My Own Secrets: 6 Word Memoirs by Teens Famous and Obscure. I made reading and writing 6 word memoirs our back to school community builder. We also need a transition day coming back to school after vacation and I planned to connect the memoirs to what we were discussing before we left.

In my AP class, students had just started to read Fast Food Nation. We're talking about obesity and health care and food. Before break we applied literary theory to Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. I used handouts from Tim Gillespie's Doing Literary Criticism and had students in groups teach the theory by presenting an interpretation of the novel to the class. So using the 6 word memoir in AP looked different from using the 6 word memoir in my ninth grade classes. Here's the sequence I used in AP:

  1. Introduce 6 word memoirs with the video clip I Can't Keep My Own Secrets.
  2. Model applying 1 of the literary theories we studied to the 6 word memoir.
  3. Give students time to interpret a memoir from 2 theoretical perspectives.
  4. Read/watch additional 6 word memoirs from NPR's Six Word Memoirs: Life Stories Distilled.
  5. Brainstorm details and ideas using photographs and 5Ws and an H chart.
  6. Model altering a photograph and writing my own 6 word memoir using Photoshop.
  7. Give students time to write their own (one about food and one about a topic of their choice).
  8. Share out.
I asked students to post their memoirs, once they added altered art, to our Ning, Bear English. I'm struggling with how many students did and did not post them. I know each student wrote at least 2 in class. The breakdown seems to come with the computer. Is it access? Is it skill? What's holding more than half of my students back when it comes to using technology? I've got quite a divide in my classroom between students who can and will follow through with something on the computer and those that either cannot or will not.

PS: Be sure to check out the discussion of 6 word memoirs on the English Companion Ning! Lots of resources and good conversation.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Six Take-Aways from Lesson Study

The research team. I'm taking the picture
but you can see my laptop, back right.

Ninth grade English teachers are participating in Lesson Study again this school year. The Developmental Studies Center (DSC) contracted with Orange County to facilitate lesson study for the district. This is my second year participating. If you're not familiar with lesson study, let me sum it up.
During lesson study, a team of teachers meets for 2 days. In those 2 days, we plan, deliver, collect data and reflect on a research lesson we design and teach. On the first day we review and adapt a lesson plan. Currently we are using a lesson created by DSC

The point of the process is not the lesson, not having the perfect lesson. The point is collaborating and seeing how the instruction actual works in terms of student learning. The point is the messiness of working together to figure out if students are actually learning and doing what we intend. The first day is all about building consensus. As a teaching team we have to agree to each part of the lesson, down to what the teacher will say. 

We don’t know who will teach the lesson nor to whom (which students) until the end of the first day when names are drawn from a hat. Why draw names? The teacher is chosen last in order to keep everyone on the team invested in the process. 

On the second day, we meet for an hour to discuss data collection points. The facilitator reviews each step of the lesson and asks the team what data we would expect to collect if the student understood the concept or did not understand the concept. We review the data collection instruments, arm ourselves with pens and paper and set off to the research classroom. Then the chosen teacher teaches the lesson  while the research team collects data on the students during the lesson. Today we also had visitors at school observing the process. After the lesson we reconvene to review the data in order to see if the lesson met the academic and social goals we set for it. Part of data processing is transferring the data collected onto sticky notes which we then post in yes/no columns on charts showing the goals of the lesson.  We collected data on two goals, one academic (identifying pros and cons) and one social (effective oral communication). We wrap up our debrief by reflecting on what we learned about the qualities of a good lesson and what we learned about the lesson study process.
We do 3 cycles of lesson study per school year (so that’s 6 days of teachers learning together). We are in cycle 2. This time around, I was chosen to be the research teacher. Fourteen educators visited our school to observe the process; we had 3 facilitators (district and DSC personnel) and 6 research teachers. It’s a crowded room. I taught a 10th grade class of 25 students who were sitting in small groups of 4-5. 

How did the research lesson go?

In a word, fine. It went fine.  The students seemed to be doing what we asked them to do from my perspective. We planned too much to complete on a short Wednesday bell schedule, even if the initial computer set up had not eaten 5 minutes we would have run short on time. Computer problems at the start aside,  I felt as if I recovered well and was still able to do the lesson as planned. I just felt awkward with my back to the class as I recorded student’s observations on the white board. I don’t like to present a lesson that way, but that’s the difference between being in the teacher’s environment and being the students’ environment. When we teach a research lesson the research teacher goes to the students’ class—the research teacher does not teach his or her own students.

Had that been my classroom, I would have just slid the paper copy of the organizer under the document camera and proceeded that way. I was in unfamiliar territory, but it's not about me, right? It's about the learning. So, what did I learn? There were many light bulb moments. One, concerned student talk. I was surprised at  how even though I felt as if I was talking/reading too much, I talked 20 min. and the students talked 19, but that reflection came later.  My initial take-aways are below.

Take-away  #1: Never turn the computer off. My laptop has been ill of late and  booting up sometimes takes 5 minutes. My fault, I know, but jeez do I hate it when the computer crashes.

Take-away  #2:  Get set up ahead of time. Krystin and I should have just dashed out of the pre-meeting early and gotten set up. We can’t run during the 6 minute class change bell and expect to be set up and ready to go at the start of the period. We lost 5 minutes there and that’s preparation, I think.

Take-away  #3: Kids are willing. The students went with the program. Of course, with so many visitors in the room they won’t act up, but it’s still delightful to see kids choose to engage with contact as these kids did.

Take-away # 4: Things are not always what they seem. For me as a teacher, that’s the bang of lesson study’s buck. I get to see and hear what students were actually doing and saying because the research team collects the data.

There is a big difference between what we think we’re teaching and what students are actually learning. It’s difficult for a teacher to see just exactly what the students are willingly doing. For instance, during this lesson students were discussing the pros and cons of genetically modified foods. We read “Techno Foods” and students would turn and talk, then highlight pros and cons, then turn and share the pros and cons with their partners before sharing out to the group. As I circulated listening for on-task student talk, I came across a quiet group. Not knowing if they’d already talked about the article, I paused and asked: “Did you talk to each other?” The students responded, “yes.” It wasn’t until we got back to the debriefing room that I actually saw what the students had said. One of the research teachers captured their conversation:

Boy 2: “What we said before.”
Girl 1: “I know.”
Girl 2: “This is difficult.”
Girl 1: “Can we write it down?”
The group laughs.
Girl 2 to Boy 2: “Want to sharpen my pencil for me?”
Teacher: Did you all talk to each other?
Girl 1: “Yep!”

image from Shutter Stock
Take-away #5: Visual support matters. Kids need something to look at, something with directions on it or engaging pictures. Though students were able to follow my directions, and what I wrote on the white-board,  I missed the visual support my computer offers. We had this great image to kick off our discussion of genetically modified foods (see the orange in the apple skin), but instead I did a guided visualization to get kids to picture it themselves. Still, I couldn't resist later showing them the picture on the laptop once it had recovered. 

Take-away  #6: Always bring back-up. I had shut my laptop down before we left the room, but I guess I closed the computer before Windows finished that process. My laptop doesn’t like it when I do that. Fortunately, I had my Beth back-up (a colleague on the study team). Unfortunately, I had not emailed her or the team the power point I'd created with the directions. Fortunately, I knew the lesson and had a clean white board at my disposal. Unfortunately, using just the white board for the organizer meant I had my back to the class and couldn’t use the great apple/orange picture we planned to us.