Thursday, February 15, 2007

Experiments with Wordie

A few months ago I wrote a short post about Wordie, a site "like Flickr, without the photos." It was shortly after I posted about some vocabulary pedagogy I had researched.

Today I substituted again in Poudre School District for a 4th grade class. The teacher pretty much let me decide what I was going to teach, which was pretty cool (at least, for me). She asked me what I enjoyed teaching, and when I said poetry, she felt that would be a good thing to touch on before CSAPs (the Colorado standardized test) coming up in March.

Anyway, long story short, I got to lesson plan significant pieces of the rest of the day using the 30 minutes I had while students were in P.E. And after keyboarding, we did some spelling/vocabulary practice using Wordie. You can see the spelling list and (by clicking on individual words) the semantic mapping students did using comments here.

Some students got it, and some didn't. And I think it would work better with some sort of self collection of unknown words during silent reading. And some more modeling on my part. I secretly hope the teacher will consider continuing it with additional lists, but that's asking too much. I really lucked out getting the chance to experiment, but I think it was constructive; the students were way more interested in their words once they took on a virtual landscape.

I'm going to look into this some more, see if I can put together some lesson plans, handouts, and maybe post a video tutorial. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Finally a Chance to Subsitute and Control Theory

Well, after being on the substitute list for two months, I finally got a call on Monday to take over for a 4-5 grade teacher out at Timnath Elementary School who was feeling a little under the weather. It's a bit of a bike ride from my house, but I did end up making it in time. The students were awesome, very helpful and hard working. I was very impressed and a fun time was had by all.

Either my classroom management has improved, or I was a much better teacher when I didn't have to worry about classroom management (confirming what my supervising teacher believed during my student teaching).

Tuesday, to my surprise, I got another chance to sub for a kindergarten teacher during the second half of her day at Dunn Elementary School. This did not go as well. It could be because I just don't do as well with small children and I have more practice with the middle years. I have another theory, however.

I recently read and wrote about control theory. The 4-5 grade teacher gave his trouble makers specific tasks while he was not in the classroom. One particular student who seemed to be of concern to the classroom instructor received the task of making sure students who had to go to study hall during recess got there, among a bunch of other things. The student was given power, and therefore didn't have to act goofy in class in order to try to get it (and the recognition from other students that comes with it).

In the kindergarten class, students who acted inappropriately were given less freedom, as is consistent with the traditional classroom model. These students then got in more trouble by trying to gain power over the other students and me, spiraling downward.

So that's what I think. It's too bad though, because kindergarteners are pretty cute.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Control Theory in the Classroom

In the interest of improving my young and inexperienced use of classroom management methods, I recently read about William Glasser's control theory in his book (so cleverly titled) Control Theory in the Classroom.

Control theory, for those who are unfamiliar with it, basically states that all people are driven by five primal needs:
  1. to survive and reproduce
  2. to belong and love
  3. to gain power
  4. to be free
  5. to have fun
Glasser points out that students hold very little power in the traditional classroom environment. They are forced to work on assignments they may sometimes not enjoy, and then are assigned grades on these assignments. The outcome is based solely on the teacher's assessment. While roughly half of students follow the stimulus response model most traditional classrooms utilize, Glasser points out that 50 or 60 percent success is hardly satisfactory.

His solution in this book is to use "learning-teams" based on the cooperative learning model of Johnson and Johnson. This is group work where each member is given a specific task in the group. The students work together to complete a task - preferably one that lends itself to group work (ie not memorizing vocabulary words as a group, rather, each group taking one vocabulary word and developing and presenting a visual mnemonic and semantic map that links the new word to familiar ones). The goal is for the teacher to provide structure the students can build upon, giving them some power to decide where they will go with it.

I am all about group work. Group work is the foundation of my educational philosophy. But if there's one thing that always made me feel silly as a student, it was being given the title "Encourager" in group work. That may sound like a trifle of a thing to be concerned about, but I don't think students need titles to complete specific tasks. I think it is belittling.

One way around this is to give titles that relate somehow to the assignment. One educator had an assignment where students participated in a computer simulation of 15th century sea exploration. In the group there was a captain, quartermaster, mate, and (unfortunately) encourager. The first three titles make better sense.

Control theory can be applied more widely, and that's how I intend to use it the most. While it is certainly a balancing act, I think that there is a group of students who act up because they don't have enough control over their own actions and grades in class. Traditional forms of assessment not only focus too much on the lower three levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, but in them the teacher chooses the questions and decides how the student will be graded. Students assessed with traditional methods shut down - they don't have power over their destiny and so they think "why bother?" Alternative forms of assessment, where a student can pick large parts of their assignment from a list, or create their own final project, assess a student's ability to apply, synthesize, and evaluate knowledge, and gives them greater control and power over their learning and their grade.