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

(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

EdCampSTL – My First Brush With an UNconference

Twitter Feed EdCampSTL

TRUTH:  True learning comes when you want (feel you NEED) to learn something.

TRUTH:  Collaboration takes your places you never dreamed you could go on your own.

TRUTH:  Satisfaction comes from stretching yourself, pushing boundaries, and coming away invigorated.

Today was my first EdCamp.  Apparently, they occur all over the country in large cities.  Chicago had one today, too, and the official Dallas EdCamp Twitter member checked in online.  The best part about an EdCamp?  It’s an UNconference.

An unconference at it’s beginning is just a place with meeting spaces – some are smaller and more intimate for smaller conversations, some are larger to accommodate large audiences.  There is tech support, coffee and bagels, and a roster of people who have signed up (for FREE!) to attend.  That’s it.  No keynote speaker, no multi-page handout of breakout sessions with their descriptions.  No formality of sign-up sheets and stuck-in-the-boring-meetings.

Attendees check in, have an hour or so to mingle, and (most importantly) sign up to conduct the sessions.

Signing Up to Facilitate/Present

That means (gulp!) that if no one is willing to present something they are proud of or wanting to share, then there won’t be any sessions.

Fortunately, plenty of people signed up to present.  After much internal struggle, I, too, signed up.  I figured that if I weren’t going to expand out of my comfort zone of just watching, my experience would be lacking.  And what an experience it turned out to be!  We had a great discussion of what schools will have to look like as they evolve to meet the needs of the students, the teachers, and the community.

We started with literacy.  What will it mean to be ‘literate’ in 1, 5, or 10 years?  What is the future of textbooks?  That, of course, led to a discussion on authentic lessons, what the purpose of schools will be (training for jobs?  college prep?  education as a requirement for citizenship in a democracy?).  As with all discussions, the end point was not where I expected it to be, but it was the journey that mattered.

Thanks to all who participated in my session, more thanks to the organizers of EdCampSTL, and for everyone else, I hope you are able to attend an UNconference soon.

TRUTH: Professional Development should be inspirational and meaningful on a personal level – just like education.

~Matt