Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Portfolios and Confidence

I've just finished skimming/reading Richard Kent's book, Room 109. The book is about portfolio assessed, student centered classrooms. He has an amazing format set up, supervises a high school Writing Center, and allows his students a lot of freedom, but comes across much more humble and honest than most education authors. I would definitely recommend the book.

I read Room 109 because I want to assess students using portfolios while student teaching next semester. Over the past week and a half, I've experienced varying degrees of confidence and concern. Yesterday I couldn't remember learning one thing about how to teach the same book to an entire class, all I could remember was book clubs. Pulling When Students Can't Read, What Teachers Can Do by Kylene Beers refreshed my memory, but how could I forget tools like anticipation guides so quickly?

I've been over confident too. If you checked the blog a few days ago, you'd find a rant about how I think vocabulary should be taught in schools and how not to teach it. My naive complaining made me so sick I deleted the post before too many readers could judge me by it.

Despite by three and a half years of college education and three semesters in smaller student teaching roles, I feel now as if I still don't know what I'm doing. But I also have all these ideas I want to bring into the classroom. It's hard to describe - I have the theory, but not the practice.

Professor Chance Lewis had two phrases last semester: "Never think you're good, 'cause that's when you're not," and have confidence in front of your students or they'll eat you alive.

Where's the line that I need to walk?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Pilot Podcast

Well, the first podcast is here. In this first one, I interview a fellow student teacher, Cherie Hanavan, who's moving to the inner city of Minneapolis to do her semester of student teaching. I also reflect a little bit on my hopes and fears. The volume is a little piecemeal on this one, you may be playing with your speaker volume a little bit throughout, just to warn you. Hope you enjoy it and please feel free to drop any comments or suggestions.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Teacher Webpages

Here's a question for discussion:

In a school where there is a percentage of students on free or reduced lunch, who probably don't have a computer at home, is it fair to have a teacher webpage for students with computers to download assignments they forgot at home IF the teacher doesn't hold students accountable for retriving information from the webpage? Does it just offer an additional resource, or does it give more affluent students an advantage?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Book Club / Literature Cirlces

One more post, then I need to go pack my wife's lunch so she can go to work:

I had this idea a couple weeks ago that maybe if students had to read a required text, they could still use book clubs but analyze the book using different literary theories or different approaches. One group could approach the book from a predominately topical standpoint. Another group from a cultural, another from social.

1. Would this work?
2. Does this preserve any of the advantages of book clubs? Students would still have some choice in their study, and they would be working in groups . . . the real question is would this kind of book club benefit the student, or am I just trying to do book clubs for the sake of doing them?

Reply E-mail

I was almost done with the last post when I got a reply from my mentor teacher, saying that Night is required reading for all eighth graders - which is totally cool and something I partially expected.

I bombarded her with another three questions in my reply (I hope I'm not coming across as too much of a boat rocker).

In Cindy O'Donnell-Allen's Methods for Teaching Language Arts we discussed a study she did while working on her doctorate (I think?) where they trained educators and then met up with them again after one year. The majority of the teachers implimented traditional pedagogies in their classrooms instead of new strategies they had been taught in college. I don't want to lose what I've been taught.

At the same time, in his book Teaching English through Principled Practice (the main text for the same class), Peter Smagorinsky talks about how many teachers lose their jobs after their first year because they go into schools and alienate themselves from the other teachers by trying to impliment entirely different teaching methods - and are very vocal about it.

I know I have a lot to learn. I know that many of the teachers I'll be working with next semester can teach me a great deal. I also think that because I've just spent four years reading about all the "radical" new pedagogies that maybe I can show them a trick or two as well.

So how fine is the line that I need to walk? Or is it really three lanes wide and I'm just freaking out?

Student Teaching Experience

This week I met with my mentor teacher at Boltz Junior High here in Fort Collins. I was able to convince her to let me start teaching four sections of her 8th grade English and a 7th grade Study Skills class. Needless to say, I'm very excited and at the same time scared out of my skin.

I'm already running into questions within myself as to how much I should try to impliment the sometimes radical pedagogies I've learned at CSU. Even while being diplomatic, I don't want to stick my neck out there as someone who doesn't think the way things are being done now are good enough.

Maybe I should give an example:

I am a huge supporter of book clubs; I think they're the best thing in the world. Students who get to choose what they read are going to read the book. If a teacher assigns one book and has students read it, how many will read it, and how many will really read it and enjoy it and see some need to read it beyond the test? (I don't know the answers to these questions, but my opinion is that there is some percentage of the average class at each end of this field). Book clubs are the closest things that I've found that come near Daniel Pennac's Bill of Reader's Rights (there's another thing, I always wanted to put those on a big poster up on the wall in my room - can I do that here if I get permission to change the room? Where's the line?)

So right now I'm asking my mentor teacher if Night by Elie Wesel is required reading for all eighth graders, or if I could let groups choose from 6 different books about the holocaust like The Diary of Anne Frank or Maus. When do my questions stop being ways for me to make my teaching my own and start interfearing with the way the department and school want to teach their curriculum?

Friday, December 2, 2005

Podcast Cometh

I have gotten Our Media to work and will be posting the first podcast by the end of December, at the latest.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Teaching Grammar

It's been a while since my last post; we're in the final weeks of the semester at CSU, and I'm finishing up projects (mostly starting and finishing) for all my classes. Busy days and nights here.

We did have an amazing discussion in Teaching Composition Wednesday though. Check out these two excerpts from a student paper:

"I couldn't go to the party last Friday. Which really was too bad since everyone I knew was going to be there."


"I think the Beatles had it right when they said there is a time for everything. A time to laugh. A time to cry. So true."

As English teachers, which do we mark wrong. If both, what message do we send to students about playing with language and the stylistic use of sentence fragments? If neither, do we do them a disservice in that they will continue to use sentences like the first example? If the first and not the second, how do we explain to them the difference?

Futhermore, how do we as educators explain to our students the varying expectations English teachers hold to their students? I may let my students experiment with sentence fragments, but I know there are teacher who would not approve. Aren't we telling our students that they need to judge the grammar they use for every audience they ever write for? And should our stuents think that they'll know wider audiences as intimately as their English teachers?

Our class, I believe, reached a concensus. We do need to mark sentence fragments, at least in the first case, but not fix them for the student. A margin note (in pencil, or at least a different color pen than red) asking "These ideas seem disjointed, can you phrase this differently?" (I don't know if disjointed is a word, but that's why I am a descriptive grammarist.)

This begins to raise some other questions I have regarding grammar and grammar instruction. Reserach shows that traditional grammar instruction, like in workbooks and sentence diagraming, is not only ineffective, but damaging to students.

So, should I teach prescriptive grammar to my students so that they know, for example, what a sentence fragment is? Is this important? Does it help the students? Or is this more subvert approach the best and only tool I should use?