BE MINDFUL

Teaching is complex work and doing it with deliberateness takes care. When we open our practice, we open potential. This honest, and vulnerable blog will tackle our most attentive topics.

 

From the Archives: Concept Attainment

This lesson is part of my “From the Archives” series: 20 lessons in 20 weeks from 20 years of teaching. Enjoy!

Context & History

I originally taught this lesson in my first year of teaching to 10th grade students. As part of a longer investigation into a “Teaching Tolerance” unit, I found my students were interchangeably using the words: “stereotype,” “prejudice,” and “discrimination.” This lesson was designed to help them build a conceptual framework around these words so that they could pay attention to and account for nuanced differences in language. Perhaps most importantly, I love the way this lesson is inductive. Rather than asking students to deduce a definition, it helps them learn how to construct a conceptual understanding about a word.

All that said, explaining this lesson on paper is kind of tricky, so I opted for a video version this week to show how the lesson evolves. If you listen to the video, you’ll also hear me talk about a lot of the “instructional moves” going on in my head when I use concept attainment lessons. I hope that “transparent talk” is helpful as you think about creating a concept attainment lesson of your own!

How I Used It Then

Originally, I used this lesson strictly to help students understand these words so they could start to apply them more effectively to the other work we were doing. Following this lesson, I expected to see these words in their writing and to hear them in discussion. It absolutely served that purpose!

NOTE: As it happens when you handwrite instead of word process, I misspelled the word “ageism” in the video. Please accept my apologies. It has been corrected in the downloadable handouts. Thanks for understanding!

How I’d Use it Now

In addition to the variations I offer at the end of the video, here are a few other ways I’d think about using this kind of a lesson in a sequence of learning.

  • Variation PRE-READING: I can see so many applications for this kind of a lesson as part of a pre-reading strategy, especially for complex texts. It resonates as a pre-reading lesson because so rarely do the vocabulary lists of “words you’re about to encounter in the reading” actually work for me or my students. What they really need is a reservoir of background knowledge to become more careful readers. If this lesson is done slowly and with lots of conversation and examples, readers can certainly build that background.
  • Variation WRITING PROMPT. Usually after the days when we do these kinds of lessons, students have a lot to say. They’ve just spent an entire class period working through some pretty interesting ideas and I often want them to capture that thinking before it leaves them. How about turning this into a writing prompt? Maybe something like…
    • Write a letter to your parents explaining the difference between these three concepts.
    • Write a letter to someone you’ve personally seen has being impacted by stereotype, prejudice or discrimination. What what would you say to that person today?
    • Take one of the texts we’ve read so far this year (your choice!) and respond to a moment in it, using your new understanding of stereotype, prejudice or discrimination. What new insights do you have about the text today?
  • Variation PRODUCTIVE GROUP WORK. Instead of making this a whole class lesson, create enough sets of “cards” for students to do a lot of this together in their small groups. Yes, you’ll still do the think alouds and I would probably have a version on our whiteboard that we’re coming back to as a whole class. HOWEVER, I think it’s far more powerful to have students be able to manipulate and move the cards into columns with a small team where they can delve more deeply into discussion and have more opportunities to verbalize their rationales and thinking.

 

 

What ideas do you have? Be sure to add them in the comments below!

If you’d like a PDF of the cards I used in this lesson, you can DOWNLOAD them here. Enjoy!

Teach openly,

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From the Archives: “Mirror” Choral Reading

This lesson is part of my “From the Archives” series: 20 lessons in 20 weeks from 20 years of teaching. Enjoy!

Context & History

I first taught this lesson when I interviewed for my first teaching job. (I know. Who teaches a lesson they’ve never taught before on a job interview?) They gave me a couple of directions: 1) teach Sylvia Plath’s “Mirror” to 10th graders and 2) you have 35 minutes.

Going into that experience, I had one goal in mind: actually teach something. I had this sense it would be really easy to go into a classroom and present something to students and hopefully prove I was a strong candidate for the job. But somehow I also understood that would be me doing the learning instead of the students. I knew I had to get students to interact with the poem as much as possible before I started to ask them questions about its meaning. That’s when I thought about this idea of a choral reading. I knew they would have to read it several times in order for us to have this “performance” and I hoped that would help give us an entrance into discussing the poem.

 

Here’s what I did. (In case you’re curious, I ended up getting the job and making Cedar Falls High School my home for my first year of teaching.)

How I Used It Then

Let me just say, there are definitely details about this lesson I don’t remember, but here are the broad strokes I do.

    • I began by showing students (on an overhead projector of course) a copy of this old woman/young woman illusion. I asked them what they saw. Then I pushed them to see both women and asked students to think about the intersection of both of them. I asked them if these women were entirely separate from each other or somehow connected. This brief conversation got them ready to engage with the poem.
    • I handed out color coordinated copies of the poem (see below) and read it aloud to them once. As I read to them, I talked out loud about reading a poem fluently by paying attention to pauses marked by punctuation instead of line breaks. (If I would have had more time, this would have been a perfect time to introduce words like enjambment and caesura.)
    • Then I asked them to read it aloud to themselves to get comfortable with the language. I still haven’t talked about the color-coordination.
    • Once I sensed they were pretty comfortable, I asked them to find the other people in the class who had the same color-coded copy they did. In other words, yellows find yellows, pinks finds pinks, etc. I gave them several minutes to practice just the lines that were marked for them.
    • Then, we pushed the desks back, got in a large circle and did the choral reading based on the color-coding. I told them we’d practice once and then perform the second time. We did and they did and it was awesome! I remember being so proud of these students I’d only met 25 minutes earlier!
    • They were smiling and we all were feeling pretty good about our work, but I also knew it didn’t matter if it didn’t give us a pathway into the poem. Although I can’t recall the discussion, I know these are most likely some of the questions I asked them after the reading:
      • What did you learn about the poem from reading it so many times? What changed for you from the first time you read it until this last time?
      • What do you think this poem is about? How do you know? Which words make you think so?
      • Why do you think I shared the picture of the old woman/young woman at the beginning of class with you? What does it have to do with the poem?
      • What questions does the poem raise for you?
      • Is the poem actually about a mirror? If not, what is it actually about?

How I’d Use it Now

Truthfully, I would probably use it very similarly. But with some variations. Here are some ideas:

  • Variation CHORAL READING: If there would be enough time, I would ask small groups to create their own version of a choral reading and then be able to describe HOW that choral reading underscores their understanding of the poem. Then, we’d pick at least 2-3 to perform as a class within a day or so and discuss how the choral readings demonstrated different interpretations of the poem.
  • Variation HIDDEN TITLE. Another way to approach this poem would be to process with the lesson the way I’d described EXCEPT by removing the title from the poem. Then, part of their work throughout the choral reading experience would be to try and figure out the title. (These are the kinds of little challenges and inquiries that often force readers into more details of poems without a heavy hand.)
  • Variation ANALYSIS. Students could certainly work on a careful analysis of this poem that would cumulate into a written analysis. They could analyze the imagery for its impact on meaning. They could analyze “opposite words” (e.g. love vs. dislike, liars vs. truthful, agitation vs. faithfully) and see how their use creates meaning in the poem. Of course, any kind of analysis that gets students deeper into the poem works here!

 

 

What ideas do you have? Be sure to add them in the comments below!

Also, here’s a PDF of all the HANDOUTS. Enjoy!

 

 

Teach openly,

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Wessling Writing Tips: A Video Message to My Students

In honor of the final day of this year’s NaNoWriMo (which I vow to complete some year), I thought it would be fun to share this video post from a few months ago. Through some class discussions and explorations of both common and uncommon college application essays, my students came up with several “tips for writing the college essay.” I turned those (and added a few of my own insights) into this video summary for them to continue to use throughout the semester (because what they really came up with was a compass for strong writing in most scenarios). I hope you and/or your students find our work helpful!

Open Teaching: Seeing the Invisible

Open. Not closed down. Raised up. Cease to be secretive. Manifest.

Teaching. Show. Guide. Give. To lead forth from.

A confession. The year I started teaching (18 of them ago), I started a simultaneous infatuation with Inside the Actor’s Studio, a series where host, James Lipton, invites actors, writers and directors to an interview for students attending the Actors Studio Drama School. Uniquely, he wouldn’t interview these stars about their celebrity, he wouldn’t give them a platform to promote their next work; rather, through his copious interview style, he reveals their craft. Guest after guest would show up and I would be fascinated by the intricacies of their work, the deliberateness of their preparation, the plethora of ways different actors would come to understand character. In short, these interviews precluded what we see on the screen in order to reveal the craft that got them there.

This is the confession: I learned as much about being a teacher in my first few years from watching Inside the Actor’s Studio as I did from anything other than my students. Here’s why.

Most of great teaching is invisible. It’s true. What we usually see and talk about are the artifacts of great teaching. It’s the lesson, the strategy, the student performance, the piece of work, the look on the child’s face when he “gets it.” There’s no doubt, these are the outward expressions of teaching and learning. It’s what we see.

Yet, what we most need to understand are the invisible moves of instruction that teachers work from all the time, the ones that often go unrecognized. It’s the way a teacher has learned to ask a question before she gives an answer. It’s the way a teacher has decided it’s this precise example that will meet his learner where he is. It’s the way a teacher knows how to leave the front of the room and work beside her students. It’s, as James Lipton taught me, the difference between craft and following scripts.

Seeing the invisible allows us to repeat it. Just yesterday I was doing learning walks in a nearby elementary with some of their teacher leaders. As we left one of the classrooms and talked about the moments of student learning we saw and the teacher moves that created those moments, I asked, “Do you think the teacher really knows how precise her instruction is? I wonder if she realizes how her questions make the difference in the way her students are learning.” We all looked at each other and Melissa, the instructional coach said, “Probably not, but that’s what I can do, help her see.” Exactly. We can help each other see the invisible when we get underneath our scripts.

To open is to empower. When we learn what those invisible moves are we can repeat them. When we repeat them we become strategic, not just teachers with a lot of strategies. When we become strategic, we become deliberate and deliberateness is what opens. It’s the lever that takes the invisible and makes it visible, takes the implicit and makes it explicit. It’s the pathway to empowerment.

 

As you come to Open Teaching, I hope you see yourself coming to a place and to people who are ready to see differently in order to share widely. I hope you recognize yourself in the work of an emerging community who understands we’ll do this better when we do it together.

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