Friday, December 15, 2006

A Glimmer of Hope

Finals began yesterday.

I like finals. I like the idea that my students have an opportunity to put all they've learned to work for them. I'm not so fond of the results, sometimes, but them's the breaks.

Thursday's finals were something altogether different.

My final is simple, students receive 10 possible writing prompts and must choose one. They brainstorm, plan an essay, write a rough draft, revise that draft and write a final copy. It sounds more tedious than it is. I try to select prompts that are interesting and the fact that there are ten choices is helpful.

Yesterday's results were astounding. I was walking on air. A student who has, thus far, sat through timed writings and ended up with a barely legible third of his page filled up gave me a full page including 3 similes. I don't know if I was more excited about that or about the fact he FILLED an entire sheet with his brainstorming. It was tremendous.

Many other students who have heretofore done little or nothing when it comes to planning and brainstorming filled pages with webs and outlines. There was drive, effort and ability.

"Look at mine," was not an infrequent thing to overhear. I am proud.

I announced Wednesday when we were finishing our review for the test that the top essays from each class would be posted here on the blog. It's going to be a tight race.

More later.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What I Learned

Yesterday was the first day of my experiement with having my students teach their peers. While it was not a shining success serving as a beacon to the way education should be, it did offere a glimmer of hope of things to come.

I will use my last period class as an example. Two students were in the group that taught yesterday afternoon. They were a good pair who are also friends. Now, this can mean two things. Friends in group work can lead to no work or it can lead to good work. In this case,  it led to the latter.

Of the two students, one is a frequent challenge. By the time this student ends the day in my classroom, I frequently wish my walls were padded in rubber. Monday, though, something else happened. These two students who had communicated over the weekend, who had sacrificed their lunch and wheel classes to work on their presentation brought their A Game.

From the top of the class, they had something for the students to do. They modeled, practiced and then assigned - taking questions as they went. What's more, they showed patience and understanding of those students who were off-task. Their re-direction was not loud or threatening, but quiet prodding of the "So, what are you writing down? Can I help?" ilk.

I was impressed. The cap was when theses student teachers had one of their class share a paragraph he had written. About the most difficult decision he'd ever had to face, the sharing students paragraph outlined his decision of whether or not to go skydiving. Without missing a beat, not a beat, the usually bouyant student said, "I can relate to that. When my mom went skydiving, I went up in the plane with her, and just being up there was scary."

He offered clear, relative feedback. He connected with his students.

I'll be doing this again when we return for second semester. It's a trial and error thing. Now that I know they can do it, I'm excited to see them do it better.

More later.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Students Teaching

We're heading in to finals week next week. Because Phoenix is an 8th and 9th grade school, our 8th graders will also be taking finals. This is a first for many of them. It was a first for me last year. Earlier this week, I was pondering how I would prepare my students for their final. What review would work best? I feel I've dowsed them in the steps of the writing process for the past 18 weeks; one more time and they might drown.

Luckily, the idea came to me in the shower, as many good ideas do.

I'm not teaching anything. It's a tough on to grasp and looks like loafing at first glance.

It's not loafing, it's learning. If William Glasser is correct and we learn 90% of what we teach, then why not turn the teaching over to my students.

And so, for three days now, my students have been creating lesson plans, using computers, and working in groups to teach the steps of the writing process.

Let there be no confusion, it was painful at first. Many of my students claimed they had no idea how to plan for an essay, though my memory recalls planning being the chief concern of at least a dozen lessons. They looked like they were listening, even answered questions.

So, the learning's on them. The teaching's on them.

My job is to buzz from group to group and say things like, "If you're working on conclusion paragraphs and the group before you is working on introduction and body paragraphs, why not ask what the topic of their essay is and feed off of them?"

Last night, in an attempt to settle some concerns that continue to come up in each class, I built this. Hopefully, it will serve as a guide to the misguided. Either way, they're taking ownership...if somewhat reluctantly.

The Superintendent is doing a whirlwind tour of schools this week and next with a reporter from the Herald-Tribune. Mine is the class at Phoenix they'll be visiting. Sixth and seventh periods (two in which there is the most controlled chaos) have been told we'll have visitors. I'm excited because I think they will be proud of themselves after the visit. They are ready to answer questions (I hope) and they are owning the project so they should be fairly articulate. Of course, that's with me. Who knows what will happen when they are approached by total strangers who want to know "What are you doing?"

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