Wednesday, July 3, 2013

More Great Reading Moments

Celina, as usual, inspired me to jump on the blog and reflect on what I have read so far this summer. So far my Kindle has been my go to resource for reading, as I can stay up and read as late as I like without complaints!

My first read was the book Well Spoken by Erik Palmer about teaching speaking to all students.

This book caught my eye when I was researching the CCSS in speaking and listening anticipating where we will be going in the fall with our next shift in instruction. Our kids have done a lot of speaking this year, as we chose to work with what they are really good at: TALKING!  We consciously focused on teaching our students how to turn & talk effectively. I quickly noticed a transformation in the way kids communicated with each other. Conversations were more purposeful and students began to add on to their partner's thinking as opposed to simply telling their one-sided point of view. We used more debate in our classroom, as well as building on our work with Arts Impact to help students more effectively express themselves in character.

Well Spoken is about teaching speaking skills and so much more, making it highly relevant for the 21st century classroom. Several things that stuck with me: Effective communication requires building and performing, not unlike reading, writing and skills in math. Speaking requires being mindful of audience, content, organization, using visuals effectively and the way in which you present yourself.  We work on many of these same skills in writing, building effective beginnings and endings, organizing our writing to explain or entertain and viewing our work through the lens of what makes writing interesting to read. When we presented our Passion Projects throughout the year, students also had the opportunity to use visuals and presentation skills, yet from reading Well Spoken I can see some areas where we can help our students to more effectively share their message. Palmer also suggests 6 Traits of effective speaking, otherwise knows as PVLEGS or Poise, Voice, Life, Eye Contact, Gestures and Speed. I saw many connections between these performance needs and building fluency in oral reading, such as expression (Life) and pacing related to what you are reading for effect (Speed).

I can't wait to use these ideas to effectively draw our students into effective communication, not only with speaking but also listening actively for these traits, writing clearly in building essays and speeches, as well as reading with expression and fluency.  When the work connects across more areas, I see my students finding greater relevance in the learning and more meaning in the strategies and ideas. Plus I love finding ways to prepare my students for the uncertain future, as Palmer says, "Now, let me make a radical statement: the mission of education should not be to make students better at school but rather to prepare them for life."

My second read was Who Owns the Learning? Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age by Alan November, a recommendation I found via Twitter.

 This book pulled me in with thinking about the digital age and how students can be helped to take their learning on a larger scale. It speaks to a Digital Learning Farm model of instruction where students are doing authentic work with purpose, working as tutorial designers, scribes, researchers, and global communicators and collaborators. The model reframes the educational structure by increasing autonomy for students, publishing student work to a global audience, and creating a community of contribution within the classroom. November sees technology as a "transformational tool to change the culture of teaching and learning" not just pushing in lots of technology where it just becomes the "thousand dollar pencil". The significant take away was the shift in control, as November states, "Much of what used to be teacher directed in the traditional model is powered by students in the Digital Learning Farm model." This so fits my thinking about education, the more that students have the opportunity to direct their learning, the more they are engaged with the learning itself. ~Ann

Monday, July 1, 2013

Summer Reading Recommendation #1

Can be purchased here

Summer brings about many things for me, one in particular being a summer reading list.  I have been an avid reader since I was a kid, which is probably when the expansive book lists began.  One thing I have learned in my lifetime is that when you love books, reading lists are forever growing and never shrinking!  I am a balanced reader between fiction and non-fiction, and plan to blog about books that inspire me as I reflect on the past year of teaching, learning, and growing and establish goals for the upcoming school year.

Brain-Based Teaching in the Digital Age, by Marilee Sprenger, was a great first PD book for me this summer.  It confirmed so many professional beliefs I have developed over the past 3 years teaching within multiage classrooms.  These years have truly pushed me to let go and expand my understanding of a student-centered classroom.  This book brought forth 5 important points for educators to consider: 
  1. The Net-Generation, more than any other, will be coteachers in the classroom. (pg.31)  Ann and I have dynamically shifted our practice to involve our students in every aspect of the teaching and learning process.  Students increase their memory by being a part of the discovery process and are courageous when researching information that meets their individual goals.  Providing opportunities for them to teach others enhances their learning and makes information relevant.  I really appreciated the term "coteachers" being used in this statement!
  2. Students can both learn and teach in this world.  Education is available everywhere. (pg.43) ...well isn't that the truth!  Adapting this mindset is the first step in providing opportunities for our students to learn and teach globally.  Education no longer has to be confined to the walls of the classroom, or the building.  Rather there are a plethora of tools, resources, sites, etc. that spark communication among students around the world.  Imagine the possibilites! 
  3. Brains learn best when working with other brains. (pg.50)  Ann and I both had professional goals in the area of speaking & listening this year.  Pushing ourselves in this realm of literacy enabled our students to authentically communicate with each other.  Their dialogue, silent signals, debating skills, and sharing of creative ideas added another dimension to learning within our classroom.
  4. Your job as knowledge keeper is obsolete. (pg. 69)  In the beginning years of my teaching career this was a hard concept for me to grasp.  My college experience prepared me as the keeper of knowledge and how to share this knowledge with my students.  Technology has advanced at such an immense rate, it was difficult to shift my thinking and become comfortable with how accessible information is these days.  However, it has relieved the pressures of having to feel as though I had to play that role.  Instead I bask in the glory of teaching my students how to be learners in the world we live in and navigate the infinite information at our finger tips.  How cool is that?!?
  5. Memories make us smarter and give us the tools to be creative, to synthesize, and to build relationships.  These are 21st century skills that our students need to succeed. (pg.125)  Everyday as a learner should be full of enriching experiences.  These experiences allow us to view the world from different angles, sparking creativity.  These experiences help us to be able to make genuine connections and deeply synthesize concepts.  These experiences provide opportunities to engage in conversations with other and problem solve together, building natural relationships.  Enriching experiences should be a part of our learning environment to build these skills that our students so desperately need.
At heart, I am a brain-based educator.  It is important to me to teach students about their brain and how we gather information through experiences and novelty, sparking creative juices along the way.  It is important to me to provide ample opportunity for my students to reflect during their learning journey and solidify the information they have encountered and establish goals to continue mapping their learning path.  I want my students to be a part of the learning process, every step of the way;  a navigator, rather than a tourist.  Sprenger's book helped me confirm my teaching philosophy and provided me with more strategies to strengthen my teaching skills, as a facilitator of the learning process.