Category Archives: Lesson planning

Why authentic literacy matters when it comes to student achievement

In preparing for active research project between a couple of my graduate classes, I was fortunate enough to be directed to an article that appeared in a July 2008 copy of English Journal. In the article, “Research Matters: Authentic Literacy and Student Achievement (NCTE membership required for viewing),” Rick VanDeWeghe describes how important it is for English teachers to push students to achieve authentic literacy. Using the research of Mike Schmoker, he defines authentic literacy as “the ability to read, write, and think effectively.” This is accomplished when “students engage in deep reading based on provocative questions posed before reading and then have opportunity to ‘argue and support an interpretation from one or more texts’ in writing.” I would also add that it’s possible for students to have that opportunity to argue and support interpretations through class discussion, as well. Continue reading

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Machiavelli the teacher?

This is kind of interesting.

In reading and preparing for my lessons this upcoming week on Niccolo Machiavelli‘s rules for a prince or leader, I couldn’t stop thinking about his rules as if that leader was a teacher. Call it whatever critical lens you want, but it was interesting looking at his beliefs about leaders through the eyes of a preservice teacher. Without going into the specifics about what Machiavelli believes (you know, in case my students come across this post) he does offer some interesting questions about what a leader – er, rather, a teacher if you’re using this lens – should do and how he or she should act.

If you aren’t familiar with Machiavelli, he lived during the late 1400s and early 1500s. Living during the Renaissance, he was quite the humanist. He also held some power in Italian politics. His party (used loosely in comparison to contemporary American politics) eventually lost power in Italy and he was arrested, tortured and banished – and, of course, left without any political influence. Because of this, he ended up writing The Prince, in which he outlines, through personal mental struggle, how leaders should act in power.  It’s a really interesting read, but using my “Educator Lens” I couldn’t help but apply his beliefs to the so-called leader of the classroom, a teacher.

Here are some of those characteristics and roles of a leader, as suggested by Machiavelli, to think about: Continue reading

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Links for preservice teachers

I was recently forwarded an email from ASCD that focused on supporting preservice teachers. There were four that I think are worthy of sharing:

This article focuses on the relationship between the mentor teacher and the preservice teacher. How can the mentor teacher create an environment that optimizes the preservice teacher’s lifelong potential? The article mentions that effective modeling by the mentor teacher, along with regular conversations, are crucial to success of the preservice teacher. It also mentions this idea of transformative learning that Jack Mezirow defined. It’s a theory that might hurt your head after a long week, but the gist of transformative learning is that causes, in this case the preservice teacher, to come to a deeper understanding of their beliefs and perspectives that enable them to “construct opinions that will prove more true to guide their actions.” Essentially, and I got this feeling through reading the article, the preservice teachers that do the best down the road and are most successful later in their careers are those that are able to overcome problems and issues. If they can work through those difficulties, rather than be dissuaded by them – or worse, not even address them – then they will have strong lives as teachers.
A fairly short article that is self-explanatory from the title. The suggestion thrown out there is, as a preservice teacher, to keep a journal of your time teaching. In a way, our program asks that of us through our blogs. But consider taking it a step further and sharing that with your mentor teacher.  Let them read through the posts (or journal) to see what you’re struggling with or questioning in your teaching and have your mentor teacher focus on those issues during your observations, writing comments and feedback that could help you become a successful teacher.
An research-centered article that concluded preservice teachers have ups-and-downs throughout the time at their placement. Engagement moves from high to low and back to high. When all is said and done, the preservice teachers that receive the most out of their time student teaching will be the ones where a professional relationship between mentor and preservice teacher was valued highly.

A short article that includes a 4-minute video shows the importance of asking questions in a lesson. What kind of questions to ask first? What about wait time? How many times should I repeat a question? The video deals with students in the primary levels, but I think some of the points brought up could apply to secondary level.

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The importance of planning

I’ve had about three good weeks in a row right now. I haven’t felt overwhelmed by graduate classes or teaching – and I’ve actually been able to make it to the gym 4-5 times a week. It’s a great feeling. Maybe it’s because I’m managing my time better. Maybe it’s because I’m getting more comfortable at my placement. Or maybe it’s just a mix between those two in combination with another aspect: planning.

This might be the biggest change I’ve noticed over the last couple months. It’s not that I wasn’t planning before – and it definitely wasn’t that I felt it was unnecessary – but it seemed like I was just stuck in a rut. My mentor would plan the lessons and I’d follow in the footsteps of those lessons. In a sense, I felt like robot that copied exactly what it saw.

But in the last few months, especially since the start of the new year, I’ve made it a goal to get more involved in the planning. Even if it’s just looking a week at a time, I’m staying focused on what I want to teach and how I want to go about doing it. I’m getting the readings done well in advance of these lessons on the weekends. And because of that, I’m able to get multiple readings in before the actual lesson. I’m more prepared and comfortable when I teach, now. So, while planning has greatly impacted how I approach my teaching, I’ve also noticed that it’s having a huge influence on my students. It’s a win-win all-around and it’s all because I took the initiative to get ahead on my planning to make a difference for me and for my students.

And because I like this feeling so much, I don’t expect to ever go back to how it was. Planning lessons is crucial to keeping my good mood and rest of my life less stressful.

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Individual accountability with collaborative learning

It’s amazing what a good day toward the end of the week can do for an intern. I’m able to look at everything in my teaching with a positive light. And even with the things that I know I need to work on or fix, I look at critically but with hope. One such thing area of focus for me that I’ve started thinking about lately is holding individual accountability in collaborative learning. Continue reading

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Overcoming Beowulf

Quite an interesting week at my placement as we started Beowulf on Monday. There’s no question that Beowulf is a difficult text – for seniors and myself. I find myself having to do quick Google searches for definitions of words, even if I’m reading a modern translation. So, it’s not uncommon for student to lack the motivation to read such a text that is so foreign to them. But the goal, here, is to get them to read these texts because they will encounter them as they move into college and later into their field of work. It’s about teaching the themes and having them gain knowledge on Beowulf and the Old English culture just as much as it’s about teaching them the skills to read, comprehend and interpret difficult texts.

As a teacher, though, that’s a hard concept to get across. So often – and I’m guilty of it as well – any time a student comes across a text that they can’t understand on the first read or even just by “judging” the text to difficult, they’ll just put it aside and claim it’s meaningless and pointless to attempt to read something like Beowulf. What my mentor teacher and I, then, have been working on is encouraging student to read it once and not to cast it aside because it seems impossible to understand. We want them to come into class the next day with questions about the text and their interpretation of certain parts of the reading. Then, as a class, we’ll work through it together. This week we focused heavily on close readings, partner conversation, small group discussion and whole group discussion to come to an understanding of the text from a comprehension standpoint as well as an investigative standpoint (the “why” is something included and “what” does it mean discussion). I’d have my students look at passage of Beowulf, read it to themselves and think about what it’s saying. Then, they might talk to a partner or other students at the their table before I’d bring it back to a whole class discussion where we could combine ideas and figure things out together.

Needless to say, we were able to get a majority of the students to do the reading and jump in on discussion. For my periods, especially, I was amazed at the amount of participation from all students in the classroom. They seemed genuinely interested to reach conclusions and find out what happened next. It makes for some good days.

Tomorrow evening, I hope to make a quick follow-up post with some activities and ideas that my mentor shared with me that do two things: checks that students are actually reading; and marks a place that can kickstart discussion.

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Filed under Education, English, Lesson, Lesson planning, Motivation, Personal, Reading, Student Teaching, Students, Teaching

Student motivation: Part I

I was going to title this something like “Who to blame when it comes to student motivation,” but the word “blame” seemed too negative. And I couldn’t think of anything creative because I thought it might take away from the seriousness of the issue: student motivation is tough thing to master. That is, if it can ever be mastered.

Note: this entire post is going to be sporadic and jumpy because I can’t even begin to grasp the concept of student motivation. This post is merely just a way for me to complicate and problematize my understanding of student motivation.

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Filed under Accessing Prior Knowledge, Classroom management, Education, English, Lesson, Lesson planning, Motivation, Personal, Prior Knowledge, Student Teaching, Teaching