Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Teaching the Academic Essentials - Part 1

I'm lucky enough to be spending the next three days re-charging by attending the 3rd Annual Reading Institute in Jamestown, N.Y. First - I need to say kudos to the folks who have organized this - it is impressive!! And an even louder round of applause for the over 200 teachers who are attending this session in the "shadow" of their school year (we just ended last Friday!)

The speaker that I was originally going to be spending time with had a family emergency and so I was cast adrift. Fortunately - my dear friend David charted a course for me. So I will spend the rest of the week with Jim Burke.

I hope this doesn't offend him but to this point, he has presented in much the same way that I do. If we are going to be spending time writing - we best be writing!! Too often - we want to sit and absorb information. If our brains click with it - we use it. If they don't - we discard it. But if we really engage in the activities, then we can determine how to make it our own, to make it work inside our own classrooms. I can understand how my participants feel when I make them do this - so I took some notes about what I can tweak in my own work - but I loved that I got to write, write, write today!!

Top Five from the session today:

1. "Graphic organizer" can be too limiting a term. Instead - we should be providing students with "tools for thought." I liked this idea - it was really about setting up a simple tool for students to organize thoughts and some guiding questions/prompts to start them on their way. We folded a piece of paper into thirds and simply labeled them to guide our reflections. Jim then led us in narrowing down what we had written about to reflect further - and then share with colleagues. For this exercise, we reflected upon what worked this year (or what didn't!)

2. Weekly poems. This was something that worked for Jim last year (yes, Virgina - even presenters share!!) He selected short poems (less than 30 lines) that students read each day for a week. Each time they read the poem - they reflected or reacted to something different (initial reactions, imagery, tone, etc.) so that at the end of the week, they had notes to use to write an analytical piece. These poetry pieces could be done in just 10 minutes of class time but certainly packed a punch.

3. "Well Words" These words come from Jim's Teacher's DayBook. We selected five words from the list of 52 that would have made an impact on our personal/professional lives if we paid a bit more attention to them. We then narrowed it down to one word and then developed 2-3 questions we might ask to prompt writing around that word. Finally - we wrote. GREAT STRATEGY that followed his "Academic Essentials Matrix" and had us "Bloomin' upward!" Careful! This strategy will be coming to a workshop near you soon!!

4. The emphasis on connecting to students!! And that without connecting to students - we'll never get them to learn (or see themselves as learners.) This was especially powerful to me - as I have spent a great deal of time thinking about this since last year's High School's New Face Conference. Jim read to us from my favorite coffee table book and had us reflect upon the connections we have made (or not made!) in the past year. Very powerful community building exercise for us!!

5. The idea of teaching and expecting students to be generative thinkers. The premise comes from the work of Judith Langer and seems to fit what I have felt all along. Students need to create their own knowledge - to seek out different viewpoints, to search to make their own meanings and connections. Much of what we did today modeled how to scaffold instruction so that students could practice this important life-long skill.

I left re-energized and with a million thoughts floating through my head. I can't wait for tomorrow!!

Cross-posted on Grand Rounds.

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