Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Where Will You Be In Two Years?

This was me two years ago.




This is me today.


Where will I be two years from now?





Images from flickr user Courosa: http://www.flickr.com/photos/courosa/

Friday, August 22, 2008

Is This Too Good To Be True?

What instructional strategy helps promote active learning and deep processing of information?

What instructional strategy will improve reading comprehension, communication skills, promote Habits of Mind, and build a community of learners?

What instructional strategy will combat apathy, engage instead of enrage, provide choice, allow for creativity, and strum the heart strings of all students?

Interestingly enough it has nothing to do with technology - the answer to the questions above is:

Socratic Seminar


Socratic Seminar by definition is an authentic dialogue centered around an essential or content essential question.

Let's break that down a bit and sort through the language here.

Dialogue by Definition:
Dialogue is not a discussion and it's the exact opposite of a debate. According to Daniel Yankelovich, dialogue has three distinctive features that differentiate it from a discussion or other forms of talk. They are:

1. Equality and the absence of coercive influences.
2. Listening with empathy.

3. Bringing assumptions into the open.


Senge suggests that the "practice of dialogue consists of a free flow of meaning between people, where the group accesses a pool of common understanding such that the whole organizes the parts. What is promised is that dialogue can enable people to go beyond their individual understanding by exploring issues from different perspectives, suspending assumptions, and communicating freely."

Now for a bit more of the abstract...the essential questions.

Essential Questions
  • Have no right answers
  • are open ended
  • require you to take a stand
  • require higher level thought processes
  • universal
  • divergent
  • require introspection
  • involve meta-cognition
  • are thought provoking
  • are haunting
Examples of Essential Questions
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Are leaders made?
  • Are we really free?
  • What is truth?
If you have never experienced a Socratic Seminar it is incredibly enlightening. In an effort to gain a true meaning of the power of such a strategy we actually practiced during the Socratic Seminar Workshop I was a part of. The group took some time to read through a short poem by Maya Angelou called Song for the Old Ones, which I was not familiar with.

The inner and outer circles were formed. The inner circle participated in the "dialogue" while the outer circle listened and took notes using a graphic organizer that was handed out. After 15 minutes of great dialogue the outer circle took the time to report our observations. Then we reversed roles and I had the grand opportunity to be sitting in the inner circle.

Here I am now entering the dialogue after 15 minutes of already intense intellectual questioning and reasoning from the first group...what depth could we possibly add? Low and behold the second inner circle was able to take the dialogue in another direction, go deeper in our understanding of the poem, and the group as a whole felt as if we knew the poem so much better after this session.

Honestly, this was a fantastic experience and worth the price of admission. I am hooked and will frame this in a way where I can make effective use of this strategy at a fifth grade level. Oh, sure there will have to be a great deal of back work and explicit teaching to really get to a point where the kids are going "deep."

I wonder though as we see more and more people, kids especially, text messaging and spending their days in the virtual world if this puts the art of reading body language, the art of conversation, or in this case the art of dialogue in serious jeopardy? This strategy requires students to make eye contact, restrain impulsivity, and find the right moment to interject. Socratic Seminar puts the human touch so much into play where we can see the face and read the body. This strategy forces us to pause and ponder and wonder and continue to ask questions where ultimately there may be no answers.


Further Reading:


Lambright, Leslie. "Creating a Dialogue. Socratic Seminars and Educational Reform." Community College Journal Feb/Mar 1995: page 30-34.

Metzger, Margaret. "Teaching Reading Beyond the Plot." Phi Delta Kappan v80 1998.

Tredway, Lynda. "Socratic Seminars: Engaging Students in Intellectual Discourse." Educational Leadership September 1995: page 65.



Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Understanding by Design ~ Stage 3



I don't think Father Sarducci has experience with Understanding by Design where his goal was on those Enduring Understandings.

Best Designs for Learning
In our third and final day at the UbD workshop we were asked to think back on our personal experiences as a learner either inside or outside the classroom and describe the characteristics that made the lesson engaging.

1. What was the most well designed learning experience you have encountered as a learner?
2. What features of the task made the learning engaging, effective, or enduring?

The catch however is you cannot focus on the teachers style or your personal interests.

My List of Engaging Learning Experiences (in no particular order)
  • time to "play"
  • immediate feedback
  • expectations were clear
  • support along the way
  • There was a sense that I was able to accomplish the task
  • Choice
  • Authentic
  • Hands-On

I twittered this question "What do you think makes a lesson engaging for students?" and Jeff Lewis, a fourth grade teacher from Colorado responded:





So I ask you, what else would you include in the list for engaging learning experiences?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Understanding by Design ~ Stage 2

Day 2
Understanding by Design

We walked into this Entrance Task and the conversation ensued

Do grades predict level of understanding?

My thoughts: First of all, assessment has to match what was taught and the students learning style should really be taken into consideration. There should be as many different types of assessments to be able to gather as much evidence as possible to show that student learning and understanding has taken place.

Stage 2 of UbD ~ Determine Acceptable Evidence

In order to make the determination that a deep understanding of the "content" has taken place we as educators need to have a "photo album" of assessments rather than a snap shot. A huge focus in today's workshop was the design of a Performance Task and a corresponding rubric. Before we even jump in this stage however let's take a moment to reflect on this idea of "understanding" and what this really means.

What is Understanding? ~ Understanding is revealed or uncovered when students are able to transfer their learning through authentic applications. Read here to see how wikipedia has framed the definition of understanding.

Revealed or uncovered are two words that are screaming at me because when I think of myself as a learner its during those "ah ha" moments through conversations or contemplations where my understanding is indeed revealed. I get it...but this is no easy task to accomplish in a classroom. What are the conditions necessary to provide students with these "ah ha" moments of understanding?

UbD has designed the Six Facets of Understanding which help shape the construction of an authentic Performance Task.

Facet 1 ~ Explanation
Facet 2 ~ Interpretation
Facet 3 ~ Application

Facet 4 ~ Perspective

Facet 5 ~ Empathy

Facet 6 ~ Self Knowledge


Unlike Blooms Taxonomy, the 6 Facets of Understanding do not follow an increased progression of difficulty. They can be used equally as a way to begin to recognize if the learner understands and has thoughtfully considered the questions. The 6 Facets provide a way of providing evidence of a deeper level of understanding as well as helping teachers craft meaningful assessments to determine if the desired level of understanding has taken place. This is really a challenging way to design a unit and has pushed my own level of thinking. I find myself asking the "big questions" constantly during today's work




UbD has hooked me because the entire focus has been to take kids to that deep level of understanding that can be transferred and utilized outside of the particular content it is being presented in. Designing Performance Tasks are not easy but such an important piece to this process.

For me it's when the head and the heart have been inspired despite an enthusiastic teacher or love for a particular topic but a genuine interest in the task at hand...Good stuff.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Understanding by Design ~ Stage 1

"To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination." Gotta love Stephen Covey and those 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Today was the first of a three day workshop, Understanding by Design, that our District is providing during the off time of our summer months. I walked to the top floor and into our Staff Development room with my laptop over my shoulder and received Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins Professional Development Workbook and a neatly organized three ring binder to boot. I was joined at my table by our new principal and fellow fifth grade teacher for the day and was honored to have the opportunity to work with both.

UbD (which is just a lot easier to type) is a unit model that uses content as a vehicle for higher order thinking, and according to Jay McTighe, "UbD is a way of thinking, not a program."

Basically, there is a three stage planning process that really is backward to much of my planning in the past.

Stage 1: Identify the Desired Results
Stage 2: Determine Acceptable Evidence
Stage 3: Create a Learning Plan




Today's main focus was Stage 1, Identify Desired Results, and the workshop was setup in such a way to scaffold our thinking through these first few steps. Our group quickly chose Government as our topic and began our brainstorming session on what the Factual Knowledge and Discrete Skills were at a fifth grade level.

UbD's main premise seems to be enabling students to go deep deep in their thinking by the teachers developing Essential Questions and Understandings that guide the lessons of the content that can then be transferred among other disciplines. Examples of Essential Questions could be:
  • Why is it important to have rights?
  • How is an individual responsible to himself or herself and others?

Examples of Understanding could be:
  • Citizens have rights and responsibilities in a Democracy
  • Democracy provides for the opportunity to have have different perspectives
  • Democracy functions as an effective system when there is order

What I find fascinating with Essential Questions and Understanding like this is that they can be applied in so many settings and are simply not limited to the study of government. They can be applied to a classroom community, personal citizenship, any club or organization, church, or even on sports teams.

What led our group to identify these essential questions and understandings about our topic of government was a set of very specific questions that I have listed below.
  • Why study government? So what?
  • What makes the study of government universal?
  • If the unit on government is a story, what's the moral of the story?
  • What's the Big Idea implied in the skill or process of government?
  • What larger concepts, issue, or problem underlies government?
  • What couldn't we do if we didn't understand government?
  • How is government used and applied in the larger world?
  • What is a real-world insight about government?
  • What is the value of studying government?
Take a moment and look at the questions above as a way for you to gauge the lessons you are already teaching. Wherever you see the word government insert the particular concept you are teaching. These questions bring to light what it is we really want the children to be able to walk away with after a lesson or unit of study.



It's the meat and potatoes of the learning that touches the head and the heart.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Tasty Nuggets

Things that Make You Go Hmmm

1. Louis Landon ~ piano player that I stumbed upon while digging through UStream. Fantastic and great to work to.

2. Scribd ~ wonderful little Web2.0 tool that converts common documents into embeddable files and much more.

3. Conversion Blogging ~ Yaro Starak blogger extraordinaire

4. Powers of 10 ~ Youtube video that makes you feel very small.

5. Mygazines ~ browse through and read magazines... for free. Hmm? Sounds fishy to me but I was able to read this months Macworld.