Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Living within Sci-Fi

We are currently in the midst of a Science Fiction genre study unit in Language Arts. While this is happening, we are taking a close look at what makes Sci-Fi different from other genres; how we see these elements playing out in the world around us, all while using 3 different novels as the lens to look through.
The books we are reading are The White Mountains by John Christopher, Memory Boy by Will Weaver, and The Power of Un by Nancy Etchemendy.
Each novel is unique in its own way - different characters solving unique problems in various plot lines - yet share some common Sci-Fi traits. One element many students struggle with is how the science in Sci-Fi doesn't have to be "out of this world" all the time. To illustrate this point, I gave the students the example of someone telling me as a 6th grader there would be things like texting, IMing, On-Line homework and grade update websites, and of course, blogs.

Extending the thought, I continually find it amazing how much new technology is incorporated into teaching and learning. Even better, many people aren't just doing this for the sake of doing it; these individuals are finding creative, useful and productive ways to use technology in their classrooms to broaden student learning. Living within the current Sci-Fi context of our world is pretty exciting. Hopefully our effective teaching will prepare the students for the Sci-Fi technologies of tomorrow - and also the problems that will come along with them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ode to Protocol

More and more, I feel like what we do as teachers is becoming more and more clinical. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Being able to analyze student data in a sensible way can be a powerful tool for helping kids learn at their level.

However, there seems to be a fine line that is easy to cross when it comes to this approach. Too often, too much importance is placed on a single standardized test score. A snapshot of a child's ability, taken one afternoon on a computer, shouldn't be the only piece of evidence used for placement and teaching practices. Our district is good at trying its best to avoid this, but sometimes it can just happen. High or low, good or bad, these scores need to be coupled with past performance, teacher observation, and different standard scores to help find the best fit for students. Sometimes, I feel teacher/classroom input can be neglected, even though it is the teacher offering the professional observations.

This brings up the next point...protocol for student discussion at team meetings. It is probably a healthy thing to have some type of established pattern, or set of norms, for talking about students in a constructive manner. That said, the impression given at times is that certain things discussed are irrelevant, when it could be argued that these factors are indeed very relevant. If a student's parents are going through a rough divorce; if a family member passed away; if the student has attendance issues/shows up late/always wears the same clothes/falls asleep in class/seems unhappy/had older siblings with similar patterns...these variables all seem like they are important enough to include with student dialgue.

We can't narrow our focus so much that we lose sight of some very important things: teacher-student connection/relationship, professional observations, and constructive dialogue. Coupling these practices with effective data use can be a great way to serve kids better moving forward.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Whose Ownership?

With the first quarter of the school year already half over, I feel like I have a much better grasp of who my students are as individuals and, well, students. An incredible thing to come across in teaching is how every class - as in class of 08, 09, etc. - can have its own identity: 'studious,' 'hard-working,' 'talkative,' 'unmotivated,' etc. From year to year, it seems as though with each new class, there's a new identity.

One constant, however, is in every group there are plenty of students who are either incapable of or refuse to accept ownership. let alone the slightest role, in the learning process. While this is no doubt normal for many students and a part of growing up, it can create plenty of headaches for the other stakeholders in the situation - parents and teachers.

Although I (and all of the students' teachers here) have and will continue to do everything we can to help students succeed, there comes a point where you have to realize something very, very profound: "I can't care more than they can in order for them to succeed."

As soon as I realized that, I adopted a healthier approach to working with those students. I know miracles can't occur on a daily basis. Instead, I try and help students take ownership of their learning and understand the importance and long-term effects of their decisions and habits now.

We'll see where it goes with this group...it has been a very positive year so far; I look forward to more growth as the year goes on.