Writing a New Story

Do authors intentionally add all the metaphors, symbolism, and big-idea meaning that we attach to their work as readers?  Do poets actually strive to layer meaning upon meaning?  I would say no.  I would follow with a qualifying, ‘most of the time’.  I would argue that writers write what comes up through their consciousness, percolating through their awareness.  Their ideas become shaped by their experiences, and polished by language to emerge as an articulated thought, complete with a meaning unique to the author.  The reader, then, does the opposite.  He/she ingests the language, chews it around a bit, forming a new meaning based on his/her experiences and consciousness and eventually produces a NEW story.  The overall meaning remains the same, but its effect is unique to the individual reader, thus a ‘new’ story.

Take the western novel Shane, for example.  I used to have my 7th graders read it as a novel study.  Let me clarify:  a teacher who grew up in rural, 1970s Montana required his 21st century midwestern suburban 12- and 13-year olds to read a novel written in 1949, but which takes place in 1889.  Clearly, my version of the story is different than my students’.  And my version is, I have no doubt, different than that of Jack Schaefer, the author.  I understand that the novel is really about change, generational differences, problem-solving, etc., but did Mr. Schaefer really intend for that fool stump to be the huge symbol and metaphor it’s made out to be?

Carmen Medina

Dr. Carmen Medina

The last two days have been spent in a Workshop at the University of Missouri St. Louis (UMSL) designed to introduce the concept of the ‘InnoLab‘.  Carmen Medina, a visiting professor from Indiana University, led us through an exercise exploring big ideas (in this case, immigration) through children’s literature.  Her statement resonated with me so much that it became my main takeaway from the event:  “Story interpretation is always the creation of a new story.”  Her lesson’s text, Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh, outlined the story of the Mendez family and the landmark Supreme Court decision.  The experience (story), of Dr. Medina, a native Spanish-speaker, has to be completely different than my takeaway, even though we both experienced the story at the same time in the same conditions.

So, if every time we read text, each reader creates a slightly NEW version, how can we teach author’s purpose?  We can discuss the author, guess at the effect of a unique set of life experiences, and surmise their language’s contribution to come up with a pretty good idea of their purpose, but I believe we have to understand the caveat:  no one really knows for sure.  I suppose one could argue that the closer we read, the closer we come to understanding author intent.  But if the author writes in a flurry of creativity, putting to paper what sounds good in the moment, perhaps reading too closely broadens the intent, reshaping it into something more than originally intended.

I’ll save you (for now) from a rant on close reading.  But let me say just this:  Language allows us to make visible the invisible, but beware of assuming my vision as your vision.

Thoughts?

Bridging the Classroom-Library Divide

bridging

The purpose of this presentation is to explain our rationale and to kick start ideas for you to use in your school.  This is definitely not the only way to do things, and in constant tweaking here in our District.  This multi-year project is the result of collaboration among classroom teachers, the media specialist, and the technology department.  As will most everything else in life, relationships are key to successful outcomes.  Links to resources to start your own program is available here.

In short, I collaborated with the Library Media Specialist (Alayna Davies-Smith), the National Junior Honors Society, the Student Council, and the two eighth grade Advanced ELA teachers at our junior highs.  We identified a need for additional resources to cover Common Core standards, including digital literacy.  We created audio books for the elementary classrooms, and added augmented reality (using Aurasma) reviews onto books in the junior high libraries.  Students then created websites using Google Sites that highlighted a book’s author, theme, plot, characters, etc., and we put QR codes to those sites on the appropriate book.  Students with mobile devices can then access a video review by their peers as well as an in-depth analysis of the text, also by their peers.

This is the presentation for the upcoming Midwest Educational Technology Conference.  It was created with Haiku Deck, and to find the nitty-gritty, you need to read the notes.

https://www.haikudeck.com/p/DqlAgjnHLQ/bridging-classroom-library-divide

2014 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.  Looks like #NoWorksheetWeek was the most popular post.  Stay tuned and join us for NWW 2015!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,100 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 35 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

You Bet I’m Creative!

QueticoPainting

“Sunrise in Quetico” Pastel on Board, 2008

As part of the EdCamp St. Louis Planning Team, we have taken on a blogging challenge. A new topic will come up every week, and we’ll do some cross-posting, commenting, and discussing in preparation for the big day. The idea is that we will have fodder for meaningful discussions, conversation starters when we meet face-to-face (sometimes for the first time), and for many of us (me included!) it will push us back into blogging. I know. I’m guilty. But I have been creating other things.

This week’s topic: HOW DO YOU PERSONALLY EXPRESS CREATIVITY?

How much time do you have? I don’t think there’s a limit to blog lengths.

When I entered college, I wanted to register for an art class. I’d always been making things, and my Mom had always been supportive. Until now. “Art is dessert. You are on salad,” is what she said to me when I showed her my proposed schedule. Her voice had that finality in it that defied retort. I turned around, walked away, and ended up majoring in biology.

My Entryway floor December, 2014

My Entryway floor December, 2014

When I look back, I regret that. Actually, no, I don’t regret having studied biology, after all, plants are my other obsession. I regret not sticking to my guns and pursuing art. I should be in design or a studio artist. Nothing makes my adrenaline flow like the satisfaction of making something from scratch. However, biology it was, even into graduate school. I work in a mostly non-creative field by day, and fuel my creative side on weekends. Because I have never really had any formal training, and because it’s strictly an avocation, I probably have a fairly unique outlook on creativity as an idea.

I always have to have some sort of project. I’ve taught myself calligraphy, oil painting, watercolors, pastels, pen/ink, photography, knitting, crocheting, sewing, woodworking, silversmithing, glass beadmaking, and stained glass. I love to design landscapes and interiors, and to cook. I am a huge DIY-er around the house. If it’s something that can be made from a design or pattern in my head, I’m all about it.  In fact, my first blog was an Artist’s Blog.

I don’t think creativity can be taught.  It can be nurtured, but I believe that some people are full of ideas, and others are not. What we can teach, however, is to not be scared.  The only thing that’s between the idea that’s in your head and it’s realization?  The courage to try and do.  Allow creative people to be expressive, and don’t judge those who are not.

Do you think creativity can be taught?  Comment below!

See Robert Dillon’s Creative self.

See Danielle Zuroweste’s post on personal creativity.

The Shifting Target of Creativity by Amy Peach

(Wûrk’ shēt)

Wassup With the Worksheets?!

It is time for the 2nd annual No Worksheet Week! This movement started as a blog post, and quickly went global, thanks to the help of Rae Fearing in California.  To read more about the development of the No Worksheet Week Teacher Challenge you can read here, here or here. Rae and I are collaborating on this post so we can help teachers interested in taking the challenge learn how to to go worksheet free and discover the benefits for their students as well as providing support and new ideas for past participants.

 

What is a Worksheet?

 

Going worksheet free is about much more than not using paper.  A worksheet-free week is not necessarily paper-free.  Remember that both technology and paper are tools for learning.  What we are working toward is real learning, and worksheets do not promote real learning. Think about the last time you learned something.  Did you have to answer a bunch of true/false questions, or did you have to DO it – demonstrate mastery – in order to prove your learning? In order to move away from the dreaded worksheet, we first need a common definition:

  • Worksheets are mass-printed, either by the teacher at the copier, or by a publisher in a workbook.
  • Worksheets are given to every student in the classroom.
  • Worksheets contain questions with black & white, right or wrong answers.  For example, they may be fill-in-the-blank, true/false, multiple choice, or math computational problems.

 

Why Do We Need No Worksheet Week?

 

Worksheets do not support deep thinking or reflection.  If the answer to a problem is only found in the textbook and must be copied or paraphrased on a worksheet, it only demonstrates the student’s ability to copy down information.  A completed worksheet, or getting an answer right on a worksheet, does not demonstrate understanding of the material. When I was in the classroom I used to ask my students three open ended questions about a topic; if they could answer those questions verbally and discuss the topic with me then I knew they were ready for assessment.  Try asking a student to explain and discuss material after completing a worksheet, and you will be surprised by the lack of understanding they have obtained.  According to Best Practice (Zemelman, Daniels & Hyde, 2012) meaningful and useful assessment “involves students in developing meaningful responses, and calls on them to keep track of and judge their own work.” To achieve this, we need to change the way classrooms work and we also need to involve students in activities and collaborative projects that foster discussion and deeper thinking.

 

There are many ways to guide students to deeper learning as you ditch those worksheets.  Take a look at Matt’s Autopsy of a Worksheet post or Rae’s Thinglink image that takes on a 4th grade worksheet about sentence rules. You can see more examples of #NoWorksheetWeek ideas or share your own on our collaborative Padlet wall.

The Two Big Ideas of #NoWorksheetWeek

 

  1. Increase the 4C’s – Creativity, Critical thinking, Collaboration and Communication in the classroom.
  2. Bring relevance to learning through real world applications of learning and authentic assessment.

What Does a Worksheet-Free Classroom Look Like?

 

Do more of this Do less of this
communicate thinking busy work (work that’s required but which doesn’t advance learning)
sharing ideas learning about other people’s ideas
discover answers trying to put down the ‘right’ answer instead of the best one.
communicating understanding showing the teacher you can provide the answer they like/are expecting
creating authentic learning products using technology as a substitute for a worksheet
engaging students in meaningful, academic conversations asking students for the ‘right’ answer

Please participate in the No Worksheet Week Teacher Challenge and share your experiences using the hashtag #NoWorksheetWeek.  We will be sharing some of your best ideas on our blogs, so get creative!

 

You can also join our Google+ Community

International Dot Day

{Sent this out to my staff today.  Every Friday, I send out a Tech Tips/Tricks email to all faculty/staff/admin/Board.}

This is Exciting!

OK, so it’s not truly Tech related, but it could have a lot of tech components…
International Dot Day is September 15.  #DotDay is a celebration of creativity and individuality that was created by a classroom teacher, Terry Shay, when he read the book “The Dot” to his class on September 15, 2009.  Since then, the anniversary of that reading has become a huge annual event, with (as of today!) more than 1 million participants from 61 countries signed up to participate this year.  There’s even a Dot Song (and a Dot Song Video with lyrics) available this year.
I think it would be great to have everyone in D90 make their mark and sign it (you’ll have to read the book to understand) on September 15.  Take lots of pictures or videos, and then we (I or another volunteer) can make a movie of our district’s celebration to share out to parent, families, and fellow classrooms worldwide (and when you get your classroom blogs, you can put it on there).  I challenge each of you to make your own Dot, sign it, photograph it, and send me the picture.  I will then collate them in a publishable format.  We could even show the video of all the adults’ dots to the kiddos as an anticipatory activity (or we could post pictures of them and guess whose dots they are…).  Here’s mine, made with some leftover jewelry pieces:
 2014 Dot
Since collaboration is a big piece of this event, I would suggest connecting with another class in another building in the district prior to the event.  If you’re feeling brave, connect with another classroom in IL, the US, or even the world.  Then, read the story and make your dots in the morning, and then connect with your partner classroom and share your dots in the afternoon (of course, if you’re in different time zones you’ll have to plan accordingly!).  To find far-flung classes, jump onto Twitter and ask for a class using the #DotDay hashtag.  If you need me to be an intermediary, let me know.
Speaking of #DotDay, the author, Peter Reynolds, and Terry Shay, the creator of DotDay, are often on there:
OriginalTweet
photo 3.PNG
photo 1.PNG
So, check out the website www.thedotclub.org and see what’s up.  Be sure to watch the videos of what other classes have done.  Another good resource is this blog post by Terri Eichholz.  She has links to Celebrity Dots, Pinterest Boards, and an Educator’s Handbook.  Check out FableVision’s blog that has a list of 20+ educator blogs that celebrate DotDay.  For those of you with iPads, yes, we have the ColAR app mentioned in some of these blog posts (we used it at Math/Science/Tech night at EK last year), and you can use that to make 3D dots.
If you need help, let me or Durrelene, our literacy coach, know.  We have so many ideas for this day that it’s a bit ridiculous.  Stay tuned for this semester’s No Worksheet Week and the annual Hour of Code coming soon!
Enjoy your long weekend and be safe,
~Matt

Great Example of Kindergarten Math

 

 

 

 

In Kindergarten math today during #noworksheetweek, the kids had to solve a problem.  It seems that the farmyard cat made the animals mad.  They chased him, and, in the process, ruined all their pens!

FarmyardMath1

 

Students estimated how much building material would be needed to make new pens.

FarmyardMath2

 

The kids then charted their estimations, and then checked them by building new pens.

FarmyardMath3

 

Then they reviewed, charted, and discussed their findings, and fixed the farmyard!

FarmyardMath4

…and the teacher was told that her students never want to see their math workbook ever again!

***

Brilliant!