Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Starting a New Year

It is that time again- Me I only have a week, we go back Aug 7. I am sitting here thinking on how to begin my new year. I was lucky enough to receive several files from a teacher who is becoming an administrator. With these files I am revamping how I begin my year. I now have a PowerPoint to introduce myself, to introduce my rules, to introduce my procedures, and to outline my expectations. I am starting with teaching units within a few days to ensure that my students take school seriously in a hurry. I've also created a blog for my classes. This will allow my students to ask questions and parents can read instructions and find due dates for assignments.

Other thoughts- I learned last year that it is a bad idea to put a signature page on the same page as the syllabus. I ended up with signed syllabi and my students did not have a copy of their own. So this year I am making it a separate page. I also doubled the length of my syllabus to address my policies on several things that come up like tardies, late work, being absent, and plagarism. It is better to have decided how to handle these and inform students ahead of time what will happen.

I am also adding a new requiremnet to my classes- an end of class activty. We have bellwork everyday but at the end of class my students start packing up and I lose 2 minutes. So my plan is to take back those 2 minutes. During their final few minutes of class students will write a 4-6 sentence summary of what they learned or did that day.

Each day their journal will include the date, the agenda, their bellwork, and a summary. I believe this will cut down on the number of students who are confused after being absent. They can now ask any classmate what they missed. I'm also expecting my students to have a clearer vision of what we are accomplishing and what our goals are.

I need more ideas on team building lessons and get to know you activities. Any thoughts?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

AVID Training in Atlanta, GA

AVID training, well some of it was great. I was able to get some answers to questions I had raised over the last year.

Question #1 I had my students take notes called a double entry reading log- basically a modification of Cornell Notes. What on earth do I do with the question section when my student has no question?

Answer #1 Have students formulate a question that might appear on a test that relates to their notes. Make sure you instruct your students on higher order thinking skills. Consider using the Costa three levels of thinking or Bloom’s Taxonomy. Try making a poster of the key words that address each level and post it for students to refer to. The thinking here is students will begin to look at notes and begin to imagine what type of questions could be on a test and study appropriately.

Question #2 How can I conduct class discussions so my students are actively participating and those who are silent are still interacting?

Answer #2 This will take some time- Socratic Seminar is one method you can use. The key here is not what method you use, but conducting short discussions and work your way up to longer discussions. Some key tips I will use- have students evaluate the statements each other make. Give them evaluation sheets to fill out. Tell your students what you do and don’t like about a discussion. Also have each student create 2 discussion questions and copy them over onto a class list for you the teacher. This way even your shy students could have their questions posed. Redirect students as needed. (We’ll talk about this more later.)

Question #3 How do I get my students really comfortable with timed writing?

Answer #3 First, take a sample cold timed essay writing prompt from the first week as a baseline. Revisit the essay later to compare and see growth. Second, teach them to create three bullet points before formulating a thesis and writing an essay. Third, have students practice outlining many essays and choose to write only one once in a while through all the drafting stages.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Differentiating Instruction: Centers

I sat in on a seminar at the NCTE conference in Nashville. There were three presenters- one author and two teachers who were applying differentiation techniques. Here is a sample chapter from the book the author wrote. http://books.heinemann.com/shared/onlineresources/E00577/chapter4.pdf

I was really excited seeing models of how to create and implement centers with students. The presenters focused on using each center around a mulitple intelligence if possible, around standards, and around specific skills or concepts.

So I tried creating a center activity for my 10th grade ENG students. They needed a way to engage in the novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" and a chance to review key themes and events from the novel. I found a website with several ideas for activities for the novel and adapted them into 8 centers. Now my instructions weren't the best on paper but the kids helped each other after I explained any confusion to two or three students. I required them to complete 5 out of 8 over two days. I also allowed extra credit for any centers completed beyond five.

Nearly all my students finished the centers... and more importantly I saw high marks on the exam for the novel as well. I took high order concepts from the centers and included them on the exam. (Because only 5 were required I took the questions from the centers that a majority of the students attempted.) These concepts were also discussed during the unit.

This year I am going to have my seniors read four or six different novels together in small groups. So while group 'a' is reading "Frankenstein" another group is reading "The Count of Monte Cristo" and so on. This way students are working in little reading clubs and supporting each other as they proceed forward. In both the NCTE seminar and the COMP training I got this summer any group work like this requires you create jobs or roles for group members to fulfill each day. Additionaly it is important to ensure that the groups rotate the roles and keep a log. I saw a teacher implement this concept, however, I didn't want to apply it as she had many failing groups. So why now? The seminar taught me how to make it work- it all boils down to a check system and mobility. I watched the instructor that tried this and she sat at her desk- she didn't join in any group at any time. Imagine joining each group for 3 minutes to keep them focused, on task, and check progress.

I found a website that has book club reading guides- I plan to print them out and ask one question to each group each day. Get them going on an angle that perhaps they would not have come up with on their own.

We want our students to enjoy reading- adults I know talk about what they read- they talk about the movies they watch. I truly believe that this can give our kids the opportunity to engage in reading in a meaningful way.

Another idea- is having the groups break out to discuss standards/concepts. A new group would form composed of one member from each group. So Group #1 would have one member from Groups A - E. Group #2 would have have one member from the Groups A - E. These groups could then discuss concepts such as: plot development, character development, artistic devices, and so on. The students would have already discussed these concepts about their book and would now be able to compare and contrast the concepts across the different books. Each student would be an expert on their one book and learn a little about the other novels. They will also become familiar with key concepts manifested in multiple ways.
EX: The students in Group #1 are discussing the protagonist vs. antagonist in each of their respective novels. They should share the characteristics of their respective characters and will become a teacher of the concept to their peers.

I know it sounds complex but I am bought on the concept. I am going to attempt this style of grouping andd trading off with a simple concept to start. The plan is to make my students experts in writing and will break them up into groups on the DWM. I think this would work for grammar concepts as well.

- any thoughts?