T Sale's Blog

Monday, October 23, 2006

Homework From England

Every three weeks my English 10 students do a reading reflection to discuss how reading of all kinds has affected them. I wanted to share one -- not the reflection itself, but the note at the end, from a student I haven't seen in person for two weeks because her family is traveling:

sorry its late did not have internet access since the 14th so could not do this till i was in heathrow airport in london sorry.

Obviously we still have to work on checking writing before publishing, but I got a kick out of this nevertheless. I've never received homework from overseas before....

Thursday, October 12, 2006


I don’t really have any earthshaking revelations or insights this week, but I wanted to note a couple of modifications I’ve made due to some reflection and trial-and-error.

When I started my English 10 classes on blogging this year, I gave them a couple of ongoing assignments – three, actually. One was to write weekly about their independent reading (SSR) books, just a 5 minute writing in response to some prompts I provided. The second was to do 4 ten-minute freewritings on a variety of topics (which, again, I provided, and if that doesn’t sound constructivist, my experience is that sophomores benefit from topic suggestions; they still get to choose from over 40 prompts). The third assignment was to do a weekly vocab word on our class blog. The vocab assignment worked fine, but I didn’t have them do enough with it. They generated 24 words every week (and to the students’ credit, they were good words), but the list just sat there. Now, I’m having one third of the students provide words, and we’re going to use that list each week as our list to study. The freewritings (they finished 2 of them) were adequate, but not very exciting, and the SSR responses – well, they were writing weekly, but they were writing weakly; they just repeatedly wrote brief summaries of the books they were reading. These last two blogging assignments just didn’t interest the students very much, and they bored me to death. So, we scrapped those assignments. For now, the class is divided into thirds. Each week, one third of the class does the vocab word, and another third of the class does a Reading Response. In the reading response, they just reflect on all the reading they’ve done in the past 3 weeks, from all their classes and from their own independent reading, commenting on what grabbed their interest and what was worthwhile for them. I’m hoping this will serve as a meta-cognitive avenue to some deeper thinking. The final third of the class gets the week off from blogging. Then, every week the groups rotate. These are just the ongoing assignments; we’re still using the blog for occasional on-line discussions. Not only with blogs, but also with traditional written assignments, I’m striving to have fewer assignments and make each one more meaningful.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

21C Session 10-3-06

I found both parts of today’s 21C session interesting and useful. Our meetings always make me wish that every teacher could have the time that we do to share ideas and think about our teaching. It’s so valuable to get a little reanimating jolt so that our bodies can be out roaming the land terrorizing the villagers rather than just lying on a slab in the laboratory. (Got a little carried away with the Frankenstein allusion there, but it’s October and Halloween is coming up.) Anyway, if this is the kind of interaction that our PLC time will allow, I’m all for it.

Every discussion we have about constructivism is helpful, and today was no exception. We explored a pretty good range of concerns, from assessment to accountability to the definition of rigor. It does feel at this point as if we’ve been introduced to constructivism over and over again. The article we discussed seemed to define constructivism by pointing out what it’s not, and our discussion sometimes circled the topic like timid warriors trying to count coup but not quite making contact. I’m craving some solid examples of good constructivist lessons, something definite to hang on to. But maybe constructivism is a sort of Zen pursuit: if you have to ask what it is, you haven’t yet constructed the understanding necessary to approach it.

The grading discussion with Tony Winger was also interesting. Having been a part of the grading project last year, I expected Tony’s talk to be pretty much a review, but this was Winger 2.0; he’s evolved. The simplified grading categories of understanding, knowledge, skills, and learning support seemed elegant to me, especially after the complicated systems some of us invented last year. The discussion reinforced for me the most important aspect of the grading discussion – not what the categories should be, but the idea that whenever you make an assignment, you need to ask yourself “Why am I having my students do this? How will this assignment allow them to show what they’ve learned?”

I’m looking forward to reading the articles we received.