My Last PD Books: on Learning and Writing

I plan to teach new material in the final couple of months of my career as an ELL classroom teacher.  To this end I ordered 2 books.

1. So much has been written lately on learning how to learn and how to revise: the myth of the ubiquitous yellow highlighter and simply rereading the texts.  I will present my ELLs as well as my 9th grade Skills class with a compilation of revision suggestions.  In order to create a list of all lists, I have begun reading make it stick: The Science of Successful Learning.

2.  My ELL Writing Workshop includes assignments such as composing a rambling autobiography, a poem to a friend, the perfect focused paragraph,  as well as creating a compelling P.S.A.  I decided that both my students and I need a new challenge – to write an essay.  To help me with this I bought The Journey is Everything – Teaching Essays that Students Want to Write for People who want to Read Them.  I look forward to our journey.

 

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Remember the Reader: a note to our student writers

Many years ago, I heard a talk given by Heidi Jacobs at a NESA Conference in Bangkok.  Before she began, Heidi introduced us to 2 empty cream colored padded dining room chairs behind her on the stage.  Heidi went on to explain that those chairs were there to remind us that our target audience is always our students.  (Today I’d put out a row of them.)

I was reminded of Heidi when I viewed  Daniel Pink’s Pinkast on the empty chair.  He explains that the empty chair represents the “most important person in the room who is not in the room.”  In Heidi’s case it was the student, of course.  Pink then goes on to explain that an empty chair can be useful in our work, especially when we write.

I was intrigued.

So I went online and ordered a  box of plastic miniature chairs.

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The next writing class, I viewed the video with my ELLs but paused it after Pink talks about the empty chair in meetings.  It did not take long for my ELls to understand  that the empty chair represented their reader.

Next, they eagerly and energetically chose a chair and got back to work.

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So now, when conferencing, all I need to do is point to a chair if I am confused or need clarification.

By the way, pease notice one student’s reader, rubber duck , strategically perched on his chair.

Using Art to Teach Theme

I was always very proud of my hanging files of laminated images of clothing, climate, and food which I used when I taught French as a foreign language.  Back in the day.    I never thought twice about showing a print of a Matisse painting to practice creating dialogues on hobbies.

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However, although I decorate my class room with various prints, postcards and original student art and photographs; I hardly ever use them as a springboard to discussion in my intermediate to advanced ELL courses.

Until I read the following:

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By the way, over the years Jeff Wilhelm’s ideas have greatly inspired my teaching which, of course, benefit my students’ learning.

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We are currently reading American Born Chinese by G.L.Yang,  and Wilhelm’s lesson plan on visuals and identity seemed taylor-made for our discussions on growing up.  The  students completed a see, think, wonder chart,  and I was surprised at how much guidance they needed in ‘close’ reading of an image even though we’d already practiced noticing detail in photographs.

My takeaway was obvious.  There is a need for more analysis of visuals.  I have chosen several images to promote thinking and writing on how culture shapes who we are.  I am looking forward to a lively discussion. My students from countries such as France, Spain, Angola, Russia and South Korea are well aware of the small changes they have had to make in order to fit in to an American international school.

Test Prep and a Rubber Duck

I always embed study strategies and skills into my ELL Reading and Writing courses.

One of the best ways to consolidate reviewing for tests etc. is to explain the material to a younger person.  Well, thanks to Daniel Pink, I upgraded this strategy.  After listening to his PInkcast on how talking to a simple bath toy can help you solve problems; I rushed out to buy miniature rubber ducks.

In class we viewed the Pinkcast and discussed the benefits of thinking aloud to a duck when there are no younger siblings around.  I then handed out the bath toys.

Needless to say we all had to listen to the Rubber Duck Symphony for a few minutes before moving on with the lesson.

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3 Activities for the begining of the Year: setting the tone, building confidence

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Rather than hand out rubrics for expected student behaviors, the students themselves create a list of habits that make a good class.

Activity #1 Setting the tone of the class.

A few years ago I came across a handout with an important purpose question:  What makes a good class?  (Unfortunately,  I have no idea where I got this from).  The students complete this from two perspectives: theirs and the teacher’s. In order to help the students clarify their ideas they list  3-5 things a teacher and student must be, say or do to create a safe environment for students to succeed.  They worked in pairs and then in groups of four.  One student from each group reported out.  After listing the behaviors, we analyzed what habits a teacher and student share.

This is the anchor paper that is strategically placed in my class.

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The final step of this activity  is to complete the analogy:

A good class is like …

Here are some of the answers.

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I love the idea of a good class is like

a restaurant: you enter hungry and leave full or

a tree with many branches that grow of the teacher.

 

Activity #2 What the learners can expect to be doing in class.

Although I am obliged to read through and discuss the course guidelines with the students, they are not engaged.  However, I simplify a lesson plan created by Jim Burke  which gets them thinking, generating questions and discussing.

We look at the image of Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich.

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The students note where he is, what he is doing, and the details/objects in the image.  We then discuss how the wanderer reflects the beginning of their 9th grade journey; their hopes and fears.

Activity #3 What is success?  What does it look like?  Does it matter?

Each student drew the symbols of success on small whiteboards.  Then they read  (a jigsaw activity) an article on the habits of champions,  identified the big ideas and created a slide show.

Finally, as an exit note, they created a frozen statue of success.

This was as far as I was willing to let them go.

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The Pomodoro Technique

All of a sudden the red tomato kitchen timer has become ubiquitous.

At the moment I am in the middle of Dave Stuart’s  engaging workshop – Teaching with Articles (more of that in the next post).  One of the issues Dave addresses is grading, of course. His #1 advice  is to use the pomodoro technique.

I will discuss with my students how they can apply these tips to their study habits.  The video pairs very well with the Learning How to Learn course I blogged about a couple of weeks ago.

 

 

Learning How to Learn

I never thought I’d need my small collection of timers – especially the tomato.

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I have just completed an intriguing, well planned short MOOC on  Learning How to Learn.   Dr Oakley and Prof. Sejnowsky give clear explanations on how our brain functions while ‘chunking’ information  or tips on preparing for tests.   The course is really worth taking since there is so much basic, practical information we can teach our students about test preparation, completing assignments, memory and procrastination.

Not only are the study techniques helpful to our students, but also to ourselves.  I especially connected to the sections on how to reduce procrastination,  and I was thrilled when I realized that I possessed the low tech tool to help: the veritable pomodoro.

Several big ideas were reiterated:

the necessity for focused and diffused thinking, practice, repetition, sleep, exercise, time, study buddies and using the pen or pencil.

Oakley and Sejnowsky stress the importance of teaching others as one of the best learning strategies.  I now have some concrete, research based answers for one of the big questions students ask: How do we efficiently prepare for tests?

I will be redesigning certain units for my Skills9 course.

 

Final Review – Incredible Shrinking Notes

I don’t know where I first read about the shrinking notes strategy for summarizing.  It was our final lesson and my ELLs just wanted  finals to be over and for school to be out.  I needed an engaging activity to review the themes of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and remembered the shrinking notes.  In groups, students wrote the big ideas of the novel on a large sticky note, narrowed them down to a medium sized notes and finally chose the three most significant ideas on a small post it.  We then had a short discussion on each group’s choices, supporting ideas with textual evidence, of course.

Time Management

Is it possible to balance family, studies, friends, extra curricular activities and personal downtime?

Students are very concerned about managing their time  We keep explaining to them that balance is the key and we  insist that students schedule time for all of the above.

But how?

We tried to answer this question in my Skills9 course.

As a hook, students discussed the big ideas in this short, amusing video on single-tasking.

They then went on to compare their typical school day schedule from the time the bell rings at 3:00pm until they go to bed.

I had just listened to Dave Stuart Jr’s interview with David Conley on how teachers should prepare students for college and a career. (By the way, Stuart’s series of short, focused interviews of the top teacher leaders is well worth listening to,  with lots of tips on how to teach well tomorrow).  Conley encourages the listener to read about The Four Keys to College and Career Readiness.  One of the 4 keys is the soft skill set which includes time management.  Since I usually ‘support’ the focus of each unit  with current research, Conley provided the perfect example.

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We had an energetic class discussion about balancing completing assignments, keeping the tabs open, taking the dog for a walk, working out as well as the ever present mobile phone.

One of the solutions for keeping focused when completing assignments was to keep mobile phones far away from where they are studying.  However, the phones remained on; just in case.