Friday, May 31, 2013

Knowing and Doing

What’s a motif? Support your claim! What is human dignity and why does it matter? I want my students to know facts, master skills, and come to deep understandings. 

And I want something more. If one of my 10th grade English students can answer all the above prompts now in June, but she goes home and calls her little brother an idiot, has she mastered everything I’d hoped back in September that she would? No. The Bible talks about that kind of behavior using metaphors like tinkling brass and clanging cymbals, or forgetting the face one has seen in the mirror. Knowing implies responsibility for doing. 

Can school assess this? I think so. One of the requirements of my end-of-semester presentation is that students plan a concrete application of a biblical principal related to their presentation topic--an action they can propose at the beginning of working on their presentation, implement within the next week, and report on in their presentation. 

Some of the questions I ask and model are the following: What difference has dealing with this topic made not just inside your head, but in your life? What is one specific thing you have done as a result of thinking about this topic? 
  • To avoid kindling greed like Pahom’s (in Leo Tolstoy’s short story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?”), you could give up internet window-shopping for a week. 
  • To practice the kind of committed, unselfish love and communication marriage will require (coming out of our study of the plays A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen and A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare), you could really answer your mom’s question next time she asks how your day was. 

This concrete application does not require fundraising for the relief of a global issue, or hours of investment (bringing food to the homeless). It does not involve teaching or consciousness raising (“Giving this presentation to my classmates” or “Posting my project on internet”). It involves demonstrating an authentic effort to check one’s own eye for planks, a way to be a speaker with ethical appeal, and it takes only a few minutes of actual time. 

School must teach this knowing-to-doing transfer poorly. Why? My students have so much trouble getting their heads around what I’m asking them to do. I lead them through the paragraphs above. Then students turn in proposals that are general (“I’m going to be thankful”), involve consciousness raising (“I’m going to make a video”), or are long term (“I’m going to become a doctor to help people”). I think I must have done this poorly first semester, because this is my students’ second time through the same exercise, and I’m still getting these answers. 

But I think it is important to grapple with how I--how we--can do it better. Because some students are getting it, like the ones who write up the following applications:
  • "Try to develop a leadership quality despite being an introvert. Ex: Instead of going over my thoughts in my head, say what I’m thinking"
  • "Instead of telling people we love them show it by doing chores, helping them with homework"

Getting students better at this application is important because if Christian schools produce students who can write compelling Biblical perspectives of every issue in every discipline but have not love, we are nothing. If our students dream of serving their neighbors half-way around the world someday, but won’t serve their classmate today, they are not preparing to grow into the type of people who will fulfill their own dreams.

Whenever I identify something I want to help students get better at, I’ve usually designed an assessment that a couple of students do well on, and then I wonder how I can provide modeling, training, and practice to equip more students to do more of what the top performers do. I have one assessment. 

How can I provide more scaffolding? That’s part of my summer assignment.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Progress Report from a Digital Immigrant, Part 2

Celebrated or patronized? I’m ambivalent about YouTube’s personalized emails:
  • “Way to go, Kim Essenburg! Looks like you uploaded your first ever YouTube video.” (Wednesday)
  • “Way to go, Kim Essenburg! Your video’s now on YouTube.” (Thursday and Friday--next 7 uploads)
  • “Nice job, Kim Essenburg! Looks like someone’s been inspired lately.” (Friday--after last 2 uploads)
The good news is I successfully uploaded videos of my 10th grade English students’ presentations to YouTube, made the privacy setting “unlisted,” and posted the link on a password-protected class website. 

Once someone told me I could get a YouTube account just by going through Gmail (through which everyone at our school has a work email address), the rest was fairly easy. If you have Gmail, on the toolbar at the top of mail, you can go to “More” and select “YouTube” from the dropdown menu. There’s an “upload” button at the top of the page, you can drag-and-drop the video, and you can set privacy on the right side of the page. 

Because I want to make these videos available to my students but not to the rest of the YouTube-searching world, I made the privacy setting “unlisted,” which means that it can only be accessed by people who have the URL. 

You can upload up to 15 minutes of video. My presentations were 10 minutes. The only problem was internet speed--when I first tried at home, uploading began and a message informed me, “2000 minutes remaining.” I quickly cancelled that upload and went to school where the uploading took 10 minutes. Maybe next time I’ll look into downsizing the file. 

I’m hoping that having these presentations online will serve 3 purposes: 
  1. Fun: Since I teach 2 sections of the same class, sometimes students wish they could see presentations of classmates from the other section, and now they can. 
  2. Individual information and improvement in specific areas: I’m planning to require each student to watch his or her previous performance and write up observations before giving the final presentation of the school year. 
  3. Models for future classes: To clarify expectations and raise class performance, I plan to use the best of this year’s presentations as models. I’m convinced that using writing models improves student performance--why not presentation models?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth a million.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Progress Report from a Technology Immigrant

This week’s learning project: using video technology to improve student presentation. First, groups of 5 students used a school laptop with iMovie to record their own “rough draft” presentation so they could watch it and assess it themselves with the same rubric I would be using starting the following day. 

What I learned: One group of students, one computer, one period--that’s what it takes to do a good job of this with a 10-minute presentation. For my first class, I forgot to do the math with minutes; I was too wedded to my old way of doing it, which was having 2 groups perform for and rubric each other. So I gave each pair of groups a computer and rubrics. They videoed themselves and rubricked each other, but they didn’t make any use of the video. Still, nothing is really a waste if it is part of my learning process. 

The next day, when we started real presentations, I used a camera to video record students for the first time, and I now have the presentations on my laptop, taking up such a huge amount of memory that it scandalizes my husband. 

The good things:
  • Sense of accomplishment! This always felt like something I should do, but it seemed too much to add on top of organizing the room for the presentation and then assessing them. But now that cameras are so tiny and easy-to-use, it was so simple I feel silly for having put it off so long.
  • Greater accuracy in assessing: With groups of 5, it’s easy to miss marking some rubric line for some student. This way I can go back and check.
  • More feedback for students--if I can figure out how to efficiently let students see themselves. That’s my next step.
Why is it important for students to see themselves? 
  • Understanding their performance: There’s no more effective way to get them to understand how distracting it is when a speaker repeats “um’s” or plays with her hair or squints at to the iPhone in front of his face. Or conversely, how engaging eye contact, expression, and a few well-chosen, emphatic gestures are. 
  • Understanding their assessment: As with the use of the model paper, it will help students understand why I’ve marked them the way I have--and perhaps where they thought I’d been unduly strict, I’ve actually been gracious.
  • Understanding the standard: I can save good models to teach from. As I’ve used student models of projects and papers, students understand what the level is that they are aiming for, and their product improves. 
So my assignment for this week is to find out how to reduce the size of the video files and post them somewhere students can get access. One step at a time--I’m learning, and my students are, too.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Who Wants to Know?

I love answering students’ questions; I dread trying to make them answer mine. 

You know the situation. “Okay, everyone, who knows what ‘knavish’ means?” “How many acts in every Shakespeare play?” “What’s an example of a metaphor in this passage?” “What’s wrong with this sentence?” Dead silence. Are they awake? Waiting you out? Trying to figure out what answer you want? Even when you finally get an answer, the class will have learned...that one person knows. Will anyone else have appropriated that knowledge? Probably not. 

Then there are the moments when students want to know. Here’s some great student questions I was able to answer this week: 
  • I worked hard on making the transition smoother on this paper. Do the paragraph changes still seem abrupt? 
  • I want to know more vocabulary because I have low vocabulary skills. What’s the best way to do that?
  • How do I write shorter essays with more detailed and straightforward sentences?
  • I was wondering if the similes I used were clear or confusing.
  • I still don’t understand the purpose of a semicolon, and what’s its difference to a colon.
  • What would be a good way to come out with a creative hook?
  • Does the hook and clincher connect smoothly?
  • I tried to put in as many sensory images as possible, but was this enough?

I got these questions because I ask students to write at the top of every final draft they hand in one specific question for Mrs. Essenburg about their writing. Yes, there are still some students who write, “How can I write an ‘A’ paper?” but on the whole, they are demonstrating more insight into their own writing strengths and weaknesses, a sense of control over the progress, and a real desire to get specific feedback. I’m happy to spend the time answering these questions because I know the answers are wanted.

How can you get your students to ask you questions so you know they're listening to your answers?

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Fun of Your Field

What do Will Shakespeare and Tom Swift have in common? Word play! And the last two weeks I have discovered that I can actually use all those puns and neologisms and such that I’ve accumulated on my Facebook page--to hook students, raise their language awareness, and draw them into Shakespeare, all in about two minutes a day. 

  • I know a guy who’s addicted to brake fluid. He says he can stop any time.
  • I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.
  • Abdicate (v.): to give up any hope of ever having a flat stomach.
  • Balderdash (n.): a rapidly receding hairline.
  • “I need a pencil sharpener,” said Tom bluntly.
  • “This must be an aerobics class,” Tom worked out.
  • “He is the very pineapple of politeness!” (the original Mrs. Malaprop--she meant “pinnacle”)
  • “We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.” (President George W. Bush--he meant “hostage”)
  • “...say he comes to disfigure or to present the person of Moonshine.” (Quince’s mistake for “figure,” or represent, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream [3.1.59-60])

I made a slide show with 1-3 examples on each slide, and I started each class period with one slide. I said, “Shakespeare uses a lot of word play. Let’s work on getting it in regular English so we have a shot at it in 400-year-old poetic diction.”

My appreciation for the linguistic sophistication of word play skyrocketed. Do you know how much explaining you have to do to a class 3/4 full of second language speakers in order to communicate the humor? What brake fluid is: It helps cars stop. What addicts in denial say: I can stop any time. And how that sentence works for both cars and addicts in an equally natural way.

Students’ awareness of the ability of language to say two different things at the same time is also rising. I overheard a group discussing Lysander’s line “For lying so, Hermia, I do not lie” (2.1.68). One student asked, “Which kind of lie does he mean?” Another answered, “I think he means both.” I’ve heard students self-identify malapropisms both inside the text and out. And even the cartoon prepares us for the half-visual pun of Bottom, unaware that Robin has given him a donkey head, concluding that his friends have all run off screaming in order to scare him: “This is to make an ass of me” (3.1.122).

What do you do to enjoyably, over time, focus students on some element of learning in your discipline, inviting them into the fun of the field?