Sunday, November 6, 2011

Metaphorically Speaking

As teachers, we strive everyday to connect the learning to the lives of the students we are teaching, whether it be within the whole group, small group, or individual conversations.  If there is one thing we have learned the most over the past year it is, “just because we taught it doesn’t mean they learned it.”  Seems like a no-brainer, maybe even a DUH statement, but for us it has been a revelation as we use daily formative assessments to track our teaching and the students actual learning. And more and more we find the statement to be true… even when we teach a fantastic lesson, one that makes us go home and continue to text each other regarding our excitement, we sometimes come back to school and realize that what Glasser, Sprenger, and all of our other “PD book mentors” are telling us is true:  it will take more reteaching, review, and rehearsal for them to truly have the ability to RETRIEVE the information.  So with the acceptance of this fact, we have been on a mission to find metaphors that will allow the students to connect the new learning to their schema, building upon their learning structure and recode the new information alongside what they know to be true.

From a brand new read, picked up at a recent WSASCD/OSPI conference, inspiration continues.  Rick Wormeli confirms our understanding of what we know now to be true in his book, Metaphors & Analogies.  He states, “What may need to change in many of our classrooms is the purposeful pursuit of metaphors and analogies in our teaching instead of the momentary inspirations that may or may not be helpful to students’ learning. We don’t want to leave such effective strategies to chance.   Teaching through metaphors and analogies isn’t just about building personal background knowledge so students have a context for understanding…..  It’s also a conscious choice to scaffold learning by making meaningful connections among topics” (2009).  He discusses that some of us make routine and natural comparisons throughout the day, but that others will be required to adjust their thinking and curricular planning in order to use metaphors effectively.  We have relied on metaphors in many situations so far this year, and these metaphors have provided “anchors” for different topics across the content areas and within the community structure for our students. 
Wormeli goes on to quote Carol Ann Tomlinson  from her DVD, Connecting Differentiated Instruction, Understanding by Design, and What Works in Schools:  An Exploration or Research-Based Strategies (2008), using her metaphor, “Standards are not dinner.  They are the ingredients.”  We have not yet viewed this DVD, but this reference made us think of a metaphor we have been using lately to explain our differentiated approach that involves a heavy load of individualized instruction.  Teaching with a differentiated style is just like cooking.  We can extend this metaphor with:
·         Our curriculums are our cookbooks
·         The standards/targets are the ingredients (note Tomlinson's quote above!)
·         Planning for instructional groupings [from one-on-one to small group to whole group] is like planning for meals [from snacks to lunch to a Thanksgiving Dinner]
·         Individual instructional needs/goals are the similar to individual dietary needs/ aversions/ allergies
·         The novelty added to lessons is the spice
·         The resources/tools/tech in the classroom are the cooking utensils in the kitchen
You can see how this metaphor can continue to grow… We can now ask questions like:
  • Do you like to cook?
  • Are you a natural cook, or do you need a class to improve your skills?
  • Do you rely on the recipe?  Or do you focus on who is coming to dinner?
  • Do you change the recipe as needed, or do you always make it the same way because that’s the way it’s always been prepared?
  • Are you inspired to create your own dishes?
  • Are the plates being cleared, or are people leaving the table with food still on their plates?
  • Are people lingering at your table, or scurrying off to better meals?

Metaphors can help anchor learning, or even just create inspiration, but either way they allow the abstract to become concrete.   And doesn’t that make the most sense anyways?  Think of information as bugs flying, flittering, and crawling around.  The information is everywhere, coming at us every day, whether we are a child or an adult.  Do we take the time to make sense of the purpose of the bug?  Or would we rather swat it away, squash it, or run away because it annoys us or scares us?  What if we looked close enough and took a moment longer- just a little bit more patience or focus in order to observe or think- would we be able to find the beauty in such a small thing?

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