From my Diigo List: For English Teachers

I’ve been compiling resources aimed at what I believe to be a big shift in how we “do Language Arts” at the middle and high school level.  Several of the teachers I work with are in the midst of looking closely at their own curriculum and overall structure of their classes and we are finding that we need to make some serious decisions about what is we do, and how we go about doing it.

To that end, I went back into my bookmarks and pulled several that I had moved to a list called “For English Teachers” and published them here.  This is part sharing, but also part expectation of sharing back with your own ideas and resources.  What resources are out there that will help a group of professionals re-structure their curriculum and pedagogy to more accurately meet the needs of their students?

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Heidi Hayes Jacobs: Curriculum 21 Essential Education for a Changing World

On my desk yesterday sat an unwrapped copy from of Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ latest book “Curriculum 21 Essential Education for a Changing World” my monthly gift from ASCD. In all honesty, I immediately balk at most things labeled with the ordinal number “21” as a result of its saturated use in educational circles these days. Rarely does a memo leave the offices in Trenton without mention of this initiative or that program designed to incorporate the 21st Century in some manner.

I am just a little over the term, that’s all.

Being that today is a day of airports and the requisite time-suck that they, and the airlines, put you through, I knew that I’d have time to get through some of the book on the way down. My intent was to use some of it as a springboard for FETC, as some of the themes presented are concurrent with some of my aims at the conference.

The book is laid out in an interesting format, in that Jacobs is the editor, but the first four chapters are hers. Following her are chapters from: Stephen Wilmarth, Vivien Stewart, Tim Tyson (of Mabry Middle School fame), Frank W. Baker (who is also creating a ton of great content over that the Making Curriculum Pop Ning), Daivd Niguidula, Jaimie Cloud, Alan November, Bill Sheskey, Aurther Costa and Bena Kallick.

Since this is mid-flight, and I am nowhere near through the entire book, I thought I’d start with some reactions to the first chapter authored by Jacobs. The thrid through fourth chapters dealing with the structural change to schools and curriculum at the systems level, also Jacobs’ chapters, I’d like to treat on their own, especially after some of the sessions I plan on attending tomorrow.

“The good old days are still good enough.”

In chapter one, I enjoyed the three myths that she believes need addressing when talking about school reform, especially curricular reform. The first myth is a sentiment anyone involved in moving schools and districts forward encounters on a daily basis. Very much the same as the TTWWADI mentality, this one extends beyond schools typically and into the community that surrounds it. There are methodologies that are timeless in education, and there are those that are fleeting. Without careful examination and experimentation with these ideas, we lose the ability to know what works best in given situations. Schools or communities, Jacobs states, are “shackled by memories,” and many times paralyzed by the insecurity of change.

“We’re better off if we all think alike–and not too much.”

The second myth addresses what Jacobs calls “America’s love/hate relationship with being educated.” The myth, is as unsettling as it is hilarious. The glorification of the self-made man who rises out of poverty with little or no formal education to millionaire status is revered among the general population of the United States. Jacobs points to Susan Jacoby’s “The Age of American Unreason,” here with its examination of the fracturing of American discourse into factional discord, whereby thinkers surround themselves with those who share their own ideas. This for is evidenced by the consistent battle between the viewers of Fox News and those of every other major media outlet. We now have the ability and what’s worse, the desire to surround ourselves, rather insulate ourselves with those who think like us. What is missing and necessary in any future of curricular change, according to Jacobs, is a return to active, open discourse between factional thinkers. We were founded amid chaos, and our students need to understand that disagreement is not disloyalty.

“Too much creativity is dangerous–and the arts are frills”

Even though we have much data showing the correlation between study of the arts and music and future academic success, as a society we marginalize the study of these disciplines in times of extreme panic or budget shortfall. Jacobs looks to Dan Pink to help characterize the future skill-set of the 21st Century worker (ugh, I used it as an adjective). Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity as this: an original thought or idea that has merit. In that capacity it cannot be limited to the realm of arts and music. We don’t have innovation fields like accounting unless there is someone who sits in his or her chair and conceives of a whole new way to crunch numbers and manipulate their trade. Eliminating or denigrating arts as “frills” does a complete disservice to the students we teach today who will become tomorrow’s leaders.

The Embedded Curriculum

(Caveat: I haven’t written anything worthwhile in some time, so I apologize for this post’s and any subsequent posts’ inherent lack of quality voice.  These writing muscles are near atrophied.)

This phrase has often been spoken of as the aspects of your curriculum you don’t explicitly state as your objectives: socialization, team-building, self-expression, etc.  These are the words that don’t fit neatly into state standards documents.

After spending my spring and summer of this past year creating and editing new curriculum for over twenty new courses, I am noticing something else in regards to the term “embedded curriculum.”  It’s the ability to get students the tools they need.  It’s not an add-on anymore.  It’s necessary and vital to the success of not only the programs we create for them, but to their success after they leave us.

In our district, every teacher from grades six through twelve has a laptop (either a tablet PC, a MacBook, or a standard laptop), so at that level we have put tools in the hands of the teachers.  We’ve automated and digitized much of their administrative tasks: our SIS handles all grading, scheduling, attendance, conduct, and record-keeping, all lesson plans are done via our online lesson planner, we have more than half of our K-12 population with Moodle accounts, our Google Apps will be up and running in days, and I could go on.

But what does it all mean?

Our teachers are very wired, but our kids don’t have the same access.

For the most part.

We’ve begun the “Great Netbook Experiment,” in twelve of our classrooms at the middle school.  Initial returns are positive, but I haven’t seen the dynamic change yet.  What does your classroom look like when you have ten laptops that are always available?  How does your teaching change?  How can your students learn differently?  These are questions I need answers to before I go heavy in that direction.

Recently, we’ve been interviewing for another position in the district, and one of the candidates really hooked me when he stated that the next big hurdle for schools was to put the power to learn back into the hands of students.  For me, that means moving the focus from giving the teachers the technology towards putting it in the hands of the students.

So when I sit down this year to re-create our Journalism class, my focus is going to be on giving these students the tools of new media specialists, the kind that Mark S. Luckie speaks about in his new book, “The Digital Journalist’s Handbook.” When I sit down to work with our Mandarin Chinese teacher to formalize his curriculum from 6-12, I’ll ask him which tools he’ll need to make his student successful.  Wacom Tablets?  Headsets for conversing?  We have to start tipping the scales in favor of the question “what could they do if they had…” and go from there.  If there is no money for it, fine.  But at least let’s start there.

Do Something That’s Worth It.

From Jim Moulton over at The Future of Education:

I think Cisco is on target with their ad campaign that celebrates the human network. I was reminded of just how important the people side of things is when I had the opportunity to sit next to  Walt Ratterman on a recent flight from Atlanta to Portland, OR. He is the power behind SunEnergy Power International, described this way on its web site: “SEPI [as a 501(c)(3)]develops and implements humanitarian renewable energy projects in remote, rural parts of the world. It is the mission of SunEnergy Power International to promote an increased quality of life in remote, rural regions of the world through the use of renewable energy.”

He was on his way home from Senegal where he had been working with local folks to install solar power generating equipment for schools across that nation. Beyond the details, I met a man who has great technical skills and knowledge.  In and of itself, the technical conversation around solar was interesting. But it was what he was doing with his knowledge and skills to help real people do real things that made his story so powerfully fascinating.

So – how are learners using their knowledge and skills where you and yours live and learn?  I sure hope it is for more than getting good scores on tests and passing from grade to grade. They need to do more, and the world needs them to do more.

The emphasis is mine.  I really like Jim’s thinking, and it dovetails nicely with the thinking that I have been doing lately on the types of things we should be learning and teaching with our students.  It’s key here, too, that Jim mentions the brilliance of this man within his solitary discipline, but then expands upon it by showing that it’s simply not enough to just be good at that.

The question he asks is perhaps the most important idea driving me right now.

Some Raw Ideas

We are in the middle of a huge curriculum writing season here, if there is such a thing.  The list of courses we are either writing anew or creating from scratch is mind-boggling.  One of the newer course we are adding to our high school Social Studies offerings is Contemporary Issues.  Today was the first day we really got down to discussing what we want to do with the class.

Our idea was to marry a few areas together into this class:

  • applying the lens of historical inquiry to the flow of information we call news
  • learning how to recognize how media is manipulated
  • manage to trim the deluge of information present in the media to a manageable and intelligible framework so that it “works” for you.

Here is what we came up with for our introductory unit:

contissues

The idea of creating a “current events” class kind of turned us off.  We didn’t want the class to turn into an academic version of TMZ every day (although that idea will rear it’s head somewhere in the design), so we we’ll begin this class withe the election of 2000.  A watershed event to help the students understand the true workings of a contested election.  It’s also a great jumping off point for the discussion of the role of modern media propaganda.  We want to walk the thin line between historical analysis and modern themes.

We haven’t really begun to forge our assessments yet, nor have we ironed out the tech backbone for this class, but a good deal of that will depend on the comfort level of the teacher I am working with.  Thoughts?

ASCD: From Two Angles

ascd1

I just stopped into the Convention Center here to pick up my media kit, and I immediately noticed a big shift from last year’s conference in New Orleans: tech.  Flat screens, laptops, live streaming of sessions, and a dedicated Technology Corridor (that’s going to be a separate post).  All things that had they been here last year, I wouldn’t have stuck out so much sitting all by myself in session rooms because the only viable electrical outlets for people with laptops were on the fringes of sessions.

Seriously, there is a decided effort on the part of ASCD to be visible, to pull in “21st Century Skills,” a word that the world has claimed as its buzzword du jour, and if you look through the session descriptions, there is a huge focus on these topics:

  • Visual Literacy and infusion of Visual Art into the classroom
  • Using assessment wisely to allow students to show they understand
  • Web 2.0 and its use in the classroom
  • 21st Century Skills and their broad definition

Over the last few days, I’ve spent some time looking at the sessions that immediately call out to me as valuable in what I do on a daily basis.  If you’ve been following some of the thoughts here lately, especially the dialogue between Scott McLeod and on a recent links post, you’ll understand that there has to be a marriage between teaching “soft skills,” and making sure content knowledge is sufficiently understood.  There is a balance we need to strive for in our work over the next few years in curriculum writing.  Scott really hit it here in this reference:

In Built to Last, Collins & Porras describe how visionary organizations do not “oppress themselves with … the ‘Tyranny of the OR'” (i.e., citizenship preparation v. employment preparation) but instead “liberate themselves with the ‘Genius of the AND.'” As they note, yin and yang are “both at the same time, all of the time.” Why is this so hard for educators to do?

I’d like to find some examples here at ASCD that show me this is happening, or at least show ways in which I can move forward to help teachers create learning environments that are innovative for students and teachers alike, yet provide a solid academic foundation for the future.  As I have said before, it never was an Either/Or.

The second major focus I have this weekend is to leave here with more actionable content which I am taking to mean both teaching strategy and assessment strategy.  When I work with teachers, especially in light of all the buzz about the influx of creativity and innovation ideas into the NJCCCS, they often ask me how they are supposed to teach these skills.  The sessions I have chosen center around giving teachers strategies for stretching student minds within their content areas.  In my own personal practice, I always fall back on the Kagan Structures and other forms of cooperative learning (and it just so happens, Kagan is presenting on Sunday).  With that creativity in how we approach teaching, I’d like to explore some innovation in how we assess our students.

Be sure to pick up the twitter feed also, which you can find here and here.

ASCD Bound

Later on this week, I will be leaving for the ASCD Conference in Orlando, and thanks to Scott McLeod and the generous group over at ASCD, I will be covering the conference through this medium.  With that responsibility comes some pretty cool benefits, one being that I can pop into ticketed sessions that I otherwise would not have been able to get into.

In that light, I thought I might throw it out there to the readership here (whatever that number might be) and ask if there were any topics that might be of specific interest to you.  I am sitting down to plan my conference over the next two days, so here are the main headings that ASCD gives out:

  • Creativity and 21st Century Skills
  • From Research to Practice
  • Networking Opportunities
  • Urban Education

Navigating the ASCD website is proving to be a little tricky, but the sessions are all available for browsing if you are so inclined.  On a personal level, my focus is going to be on visual literacy, critical thinking, assessment, and reading strategies.  Yes, I know, rather narrow. If there is a session you see that might fit that bill, or something you would like some firsthand knowledge of, drop a comment and I’ll do my best to gather some firsthand info for you.