Saturday, June 13, 2009

Chapter 2: What Really Matters in Teaching? (Students)

As a note, each chapter poses several questions. Please do not feel obligated to answer each question by number; rather, use them as a guide for you to respond to the reading and share your thinking about the ideas in the book.

1. How do the lives of Elisa, Jason, Yana, and Noah shape their school experiences? Use Figure 2.1 and the vignettes about these real students to develop your explanation.
2. Think about several students in your school or class whose biology, degree of privilege, positioning for learning, and or preferences shape experiences with school. Describe some of the specific factors in their lives that you feel cause them to embrace school as it now exists or cause them to have difficulty with it.
3. Based on your experience and ideas in this chapter, what arguments would you propose to support the idea that effective teaching responds to factors in students' lives. Explain and illustrate your thinking.
4. This chapter suggests ten approaches to teaching or patterns of instruction that should be helping in developing a classroom that is more responsive to a broad range of learners.
a. Which of the patterns seems useful in your setting? To what sorts of students would they be useful in promoting success?
b. Which of the patterns seem less likely to be effective in your setting? Why would they not benefit students?
5. The chapter concludes with 7 questions. What might change in our teaching if we persistently planned and taught with these questions in the forefront of our thinking?


Chelsea said...

The life of a student shapes his/her experiences in and out of the classroom. Students come to us with "baggage" we may or may not know about. It is our job to "unpack" and help the students sift through their previous experiences. So many variables play a part in a student's motivation, and how and where he/she uses it. Some of the factors in students' lives that cause them to embrace the experience of school are parent encouragement, support, and expectations; how well a student relates to her/his teacher(s); and previously perceived positive experiences. On the other hand, we need to be more aware of or try to minimize the discrepenacy of these factors that may cause a student to experience difficulty in school: differences in "degrees of priviledge," lack of support or encouragement from parents; learning disabilities; learning preferences; learning rates; subject matter or content; and student self-confidence. When a student's self-concept is high she/he is more willing to try and learn new ideas and persevere through challenges. Effective teaching responds to varying factors in students' lives. When teachers take the time to get to know and understand students as learners, as well as their lives outside of school, teachers are telling students they value them as people. This, in turn, encourages a student to be more willing to take risks, be open to new knowledge, and work more productively with classmates. It also models appropriate and caring human relationships, which students need to work productively with their classmates and peers. This is similar to Stephen Covey's metaphor of the "emotional bank account". When we make regular deposits in others' "emotional bank accounts" we will be able to make withdrawls when needed. We are unable to to make successful withdrawls from accounts if they are overdrawn. Understanding the value of a student's "emotional bank account" and how to make deposits helps the student to build up the value of his/her account.
Of the ten given approaches to teaching, I feel I already practice or would like to implement about four of them. I feel I already make a genuine effort to get to know my students as individuals. This helps all students, but is very effective with reluctant learners. I also formally assess my students regularly, and have begun to informally assess students' understanding and skills through warm-ups and exit slips. This has allowed me to identify the students who are "not getting it" before the quizzes and unit tests. I would like to incorporate more reading strategies in math class through vocabulary-building activities and how to read a math problem for understanding. This will help the reluctant learners and readers. A professional goal of mine for the upcoming year is directly related to the last approach, "cultivate a taste for diversity". I want to encourage and support the variety of strategies my astudents come up with to solve problems more effectivley this year. This will foster an understanding of diversity in the classroom. We do not all think alike, thank goodness. I feel all the approaches or patterns would benefit the diverse population of students. However, it is difficult to implement all effective practices. As teachers we need to be able to choose which practices resinate in us and focus on a few each year.
When planning intentionally we need to use questions like the ones provided at the end of chapter two. These questions force us to examine learning "within the student", rather than "to the student". If we want the content to become a part of the learners, so they may carry it with them and apply to future experiences, we must make it valuable and relevant. Questions such as the ones in chapter two help us create and make these experiences happen.

charley said...

When students are not successful with the curriculum teachers need to look closely at how the child is interacting or not interacting with the curriculum and begin seeking answers to assist the child in learning. Often this begins with the teacher having a conference with the student, which may or may not be fruitful. The same is true when interviewing the parent about the child’s lack of success. Still, this is the place to start and gives some insight into the learning difficulty. Figure 2.1 is a great reminder that we work with fragile creatures and their personal lives and preferences often overwhelm their school lives. We need to help them bring these areas closer in alignment. This past year, I have been involved in the development of the RTI process for Powell. As we have looked at individual students, I have found that Degree of privilege and Positioning for learning have been significant factors in the students we have studied.
The teaching pattern that concerns me the most is, “Learn to teach to the high end”. This bothers me because it is common practice to give “easy” assignments to the perceived less capable and more involved, creative assignments to the more capable. In my mind the assignment should be the same for all and the perception of how to approach the assignment is between the teacher and the learners. I am reminded of a mentor of mine, Susan Kovalik, a teacher of gifted students, whose son, a struggling learner, took her to task about gifted kids getting all the cool assignments while he was given “drill and kill” activities for his learning. Susan began her life’s work based on this upbraiding and created Integrated Thematic Instruction, a curriculum and instructional process that combines essential questions with individual student approaches to addressing the essential questions.
Of the seven questions at the end of the chapter, I find that all of the questions are significant in ongoing dynamic ways. First, we need to know the curriculum. Second, we need to make our best guess as to how the students will interact with the curriculum. Finally, we need to continually revise as we observe how students interact with the curriculum. I once observed a master 3rd grade teacher teach students how to write a paragraph. Her methodology was honed by the experiences she had had with 8 year-old learners and she seemed to anticipate their every need. A post observation conference revealed that her skill came from knowing what she wanted the children to learn and then working with them to develop an effective instructional sequence.
All of us want our students to enrich their lives by learning important concepts that we are teaching. We need to keep in mind that they need to integrate it with their experiences in a way that is meaningful to them. Because I teach adult learners, they are usually not shy about trying to make this happen for themselves. In that sense I just need to be flexible. When working with the unsophisticated learner, teachers have to be more circumspect in how they can make the learning important and relevant to learners.

charley said...


You stated: These questions force us to examine learning "within the student", rather than "to the student". If we want the content to become a part of the learners, so they may carry it with them and apply to future experiences, we must make it valuable and relevant.

I really like this comment because it drives us to constantly seek to understand what the student is thinking about their learning.

K Blake said...

As I read this book the first time a few years ago, what struck me most was the fact that I was able to match one of my current students (at that time) with each of the descriptions of the students in the chapter. I had written the initials of these students in the margins of the book and as I read, I could still picture that student and all of the background they brought to my classroom as well as all of the ways I tried to facilitate the learning “within” (as Chelsea so eloquently said) these students. It provided a true trip down memory lane, but also a fabulous opportunity to reflect on my teaching and how it has changed over the last few years.

I believe strongly in what Charley said that we need to provide all of our students with the creative, critical thinking activities and assignments in our classrooms. This is one of the ways that I believe my teaching has changed over the years. I was lucky enough to take a class with Gwen Rosentrater, at that time the GT Coordinator for the district. She made a statement that has stuck with me to this day. Gwen believed that GT students should not be given more work, but rather “extension” work that would lead them to higher level thinking. I believe that when I mix this with the ideas I have learned from Tony Winger my teaching style becomes one where all students are given more application assignments (with very specific expectations for achievement). I still have a lot of growth left to do in my profession, but it is amazing to me how much more I get from the students who are perceived to be less capable when I take this approach. Sometimes the “kill and drill” is truly killing my opportunity to see growth in these students. While they may not be able to quickly regurgitate an answer, they may have a more genuine understanding of their relationship to the content than I was giving them a chance to demonstrate.

To me this is the crux of how to make the learning relevant to the student. While the basic skills are needed, what our world needs more is critical thinkers with the ability to dive into a problem from a different view point, not learners who have mastered the “kill and drill”. All of us can probably give anecdotal evidence of students who did school well but wallowed in real life and to the contrary students who struggled with school but invented, discovered, or created something extraordinary. It is mind boggling to think of the potential missed in some who felt too stifled in the “old school” way. By keeping the seven questions more at the forefront of my planning, I hope to continue to be a more effective facilitator for the learning “within” my students.

BigSal said...

There is really only one focal point of this chapter: Until we remember that as teachers we are public servants, and our only and most precious clients are our students -- all 130+ of them -- for nine months, seeking and thriving under our undivided and genuine attention, it won't matter how strong the subject matter/essentials are. Getting to know each student as soon as possible is key to designing creative, energetic, meaningful lesson plans and delivering them with eyes wide open, flexibility, and a willingness to vary the pace.

The four students in the chapter represent a small fraction of the many variables teachers and students work with each day. It isn't right anymore to "work around" these factors; we must wholeheartedly accept real circumstances and incorporate what IS with what COULD BE in our teaching, assignments, and expectations.

A few of my favorite concepts from this chapter:
a) sometimes teachers have to let go of a planned sequence of events
b) affirmation (huge), affiliation (also huge), accomplishment (oh yeah), and autonomy (that would be ideal)
c) it is the teacher's job to be the link between basic human needs of students and the curriculum
d) many teachers see the students who "fit" into their style as "successful"
e) differentiation does not advocate individualization (that would be nearly impossible)
f) don't mistake the edge of one's rut for the horizon
g) the potential of students to develop power through knowledge

As I reflect on students from this past year, who mirror so many former students throughout the last 30 years, and with regard to Figure 2.1, I see how their successes and struggles fit under the Categories of Student Variance: biology, privilege, positioning, and preferences. This is why it's crucial to get information ASAP from the students themselves, parents, former teachers, test scores, and the counselor within the first few weeks of school.

All 10 teaching patterns are valuable. I would say that Powell teachers use most or all of them at different times, with varying comfort levels. The curriculum sometimes helps; for example, #10 - cultivating a taste for diversity - comes up at holidays, while studying literature, dissecting world history, and so many more. Since our student population is changing, this pattern is more important than ever. For me, #2 - small group teaching - will be the most difficult to arrange regularly, as it calls for the biggest change in my teaching methods and puts classroom management in a new light!

Finally, if we teachers persistently planned and taught with the 6 questions at the end of the chapter in our minds, our teaching would change in the areas of: energy level, creative use of time, personality, and pacing.

MABrown said...

We see middle school students at a crucial time in their development as young adults. It is a most vulnerable time in an individual’s life, when the desire to act and think like an emerging adult will switch to childish actions. This emotional struggle is compounded by whatever situations are occurring in their personal lives. As teachers, we need to get to know as much as possible about our students in order to facilitate learning. The four profiles described in Chapter 2 are just a few of the typical situational and emotional factors that can inhibit learning. I agree with Sally about the importance of our realizing that the young people we see are “first looking for things like affirmation, affiliation, accomplishment, and autonomy.” As a teacher-librarian, I do not have classes of students assigned to me, but for the students who come to the library media center I can strive to “represent for them what it means to be a competent and caring adult.”
I admit I was feeling a bit overwhelmed thinking about all the variables we encounter with 850+ young people’s learning at stake. Thankfully, the ten approaches to responsive teaching put it all in perspective. I have seen many of these strategies in place at Powell and, in my opinion, we are getting better at refining instruction to meet multiple needs through our PLC work. We are also getting better at reflecting as teachers, or maybe it is just being discussed more as we collaborate. The seven questions at the end of the chapter are most helpful to keep in mind as we plan, especially as they relate to authentic learning experiences. In my MLS program, as we read research and other articles we got into the habit of asking “So what for libraries?” The questions help us realize our students are silently asking “So what for me?” as they try to make sense of the curriculum.

Wallis said...

I love Chelsea’s metaphor about “unpacking” “baggage”. It is funny to think of pre-existing notions or schema students have of our content area, academics as a whole, or even us personally as “baggage”. Her statement is all the more powerful when we think of what personal factors in the students’ lives can and do affect their ability to learn. It makes me really think back to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (you might recall this from your college days's_hierarchy_of_needs ) .
How could a student who is undergoing emotional turmoil from family problems even begin to focus on a random lesson on atomic theory? What 13 year old boy who was just embarrassed in front of a girl he likes can perform at a high level on a test I give? The students’ personal and family lives will always affect how they perform in the classroom on any given day.
Much as Kendy had referenced the scenarios listed as reminding her of actual students, I also started thinking of kids I have had who came to me with troubles. Yet, I then started to think more about the kids whom I didn’t connect with over the years. Perhaps some of my most difficult former students had personal problems I was never aware of. I am certain I have lectured and upbraided a kid for effort before when I was oblivious to the underlying issues behind the perceived lack of effort. OR perhaps they were just lazy! I suppose it really is vital we try to continuously connect to each student at some level to better assess these things. Relationships are dynamic and take continued work. I also really love Sally’s statements about whom we really are accountable to. These little humans deserve our best and I am not certain I am always giving it. I lamented quite a bit this past year about how “low and lazy” my 8th graders were. Compared to past students, they seemed to lack the work ethic and higher level thinking skills I had grown accustomed to. So, rather than only thinking of how to better model my expectations, or even trying more focused activities to help grow and foster these traits, I believe I regressed. I spent much of the year badgering and harassing them into doing quality work rather than better analyzing the situation and creating opportunities for them to feel successful and building off of those. I allowed myself to become judgmental and at times emotional, so really must have pushed some of the kids I was trying to help further away. I still am not sure what the heck to do with a kid who simply refuses to do work out of the classroom, but I am pretty certain being a butthead isn’t the best approach. For, even though I can usually get such kids to pass my class, I am not certain I helped them grow. I am not certain I helped them reflect on themselves as to why they were not trying. So, though they may produce work to shut me up, they haven’t made a lasting change to who they are as a student and a learner.
So to sum up my babbling,” we identify those students whose attributes are a good fit for the structures of our classrooms and pronounce them “successful”, while assigning other students to the category of “unsuccessful”. I need to lighten up a bit, realize my content is not the world, and realize my Wally notions of what work ethic, self-betterment, and determination entail are not universal virtues with universal meaning. I really do feel I use most the ten strategies listed on pages 20-22 pretty darn well, but really have room for growth in getting to know ALL my students more intentionally and regularly. This is continuous and ongoing as the kids are developing and growing continuously. I will accomplish this by doing two other of the ten where I can grow: more small group instruction and more in-class work time. I tend to Bogart the time in class.