08 October 2009

The Best Class Period. Period.

Tonight's class in MACI 4 had to be the best class period ever. Period. Each student, except one who had to be absent and presented last week, gave a presentation over a literature review that was the capstone project of the class.

The research paper we were required to write had to be the hardest paper I've ever written. No, it wasn't that it was so long. It wasn't that it was too much research. It had nothing to do with the selection of topics or the time period we were in which we were given to do the project. Have you ever read the APA's definition of a literature review? Yeah, I know. Its supposed to be a dry, impersonal, synthesis of what you have read on a particular subject.  Its really hard for me not to bring my own thoughts, my own experiences into my writing. I think that may have to do with this blog format in which I have become accustomed to writing. Who knows?

It was really interesting, the way presentations tended to build on the previous ones. We went in a totally random order. We drew numbers from a stack. There was a little collaboration between students, but not much.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that we are adult learners. We are better at taking notes during other presentations and referring back to the that during our own. Changing things "on the fly" so to speak.  It was just different. I guess what I have to compare it to is my recent (3 years ago) undergraduate experience.  Maybe that's too fresh in my mind. These folks are adults. They are lifelong learners. They know their content and know how to deliver it. They are teachers. Period.

Starting with last week's first presentation, we heard two people who researched assessment.  This could be the most overlooked aspect of teaching. "Oh let's just get a pre-made test from the book" and just give it about every 3 weeks. Uh, no. I don't think so. According to tonight's presentation, assessment should occur in a classroom on the average of every 15 minutes. Ouch! I know I don't do it that often. I do some formative assessments; I give checks for understanding. But there is no way I do it every 15 minutes. No excuses. Period.

We then moved on to a sequence of building community and critical thinking over and over. We built community and critically thought it all to death! I'm not being critical here (no pun intended), one of those was mine. They were all interesting and I got some great ideas for my classroom, including using a ning to build community in my classroom. For critical thinking, check this out. I think this was where our students began to shine: we built a pretty strong case for the need and the how to teach critical thinking. We also did an excellent job of sharing ideas of how we continually build community in our classrooms. Its a lot more than learning names. Period.

Now, insert constructivist classroom presentation here. One student, who teaches technology, talked at length about this type of classroom. You know, the good kind: "guide by the side" instead of "sage on the stage"? Interactive? Project-based learning? The kind of classroom we all wish we had been a part of when we were kids? The kind in which students feel free to share responses. The kind that encourage thinking! These are the kinds of classrooms that make students want to be teachers. They are the best kind there are. Period.

I have to confess: I worked hard to pay attention. I spent my time taking notes, but I got really tired. I had been a bit stressed this week and I don't think I was sleeping very well this week.

But back to business: We got some really good information about rubrics. These are the best tools a teacher can use in the classroom. I heard information about learning-disabled students. And then there was the co-teaching and LD strategies "joint presentation". It was the coolest idea. Two teachers worked together (co-teaching) to pass on some learning disabled strategies. Talk about modeling! There's no better way to teach anything than modeling. Period.

Cooperative learning: that's a great way to get students learning. I learned something new. I learned that if there is no teacher monitoring the students, it doesn't matter what the students are doing, there's no learning going on.  I learned this through a wonderful anecdote about some 5th graders who started a "mafia" at their school. Literally, they started paying kids to do their work. It was borderline extortion. These kids were working collaboratively, but they weren't really learning; there was no teacher to monitor them. It took two weeks to carry out the investigation and "catch" them. This was the best story by an elementary teacher. Period.

After another community building presentation and  two more about cooperative learning, we got to the final presentation. This teacher/student talked about teaching reading to second graders. Apparently, this is a transition year.  A year when students know how to read, but have to begin to understand how to "read to learn". She had us begin a story. They are in the middle of learning about the "water cycle" in their science unit. (who knew second graders learned that?) So our story was supposed to be written about a water drop as it traveled through the water cycle. Ours started out something like this:

As I had just passed through the gills of a fish, after imparting some oxygen to him I realized I had begun to fly. To fly up into the air. Was I levitating? Was this magic? Or just science? Of course every rain drop knows there's no such thing as magic. There is only science.

Best story ever. Period

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