Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Flex Your Environment

Conversation creates a low hum. Middle and high school teachers are working in small groups to jigsaw ideas from Jennifer Wathall's book, Concept-Based Mathematics. We've just finished re-designing our classrooms so that they meet at least two of the eight strategies Wathall names that "engage the hearts and minds of students."  Those eight strategies as described in her book are:

  1. Create a social learning environment. 
  2. Provide an open, secure environment to allow for mistakes as part of the learning process.
  3. Use appropriate levels of inquiry and employ inductive approaches to develop conceptual understanding.
  4. Reduce whole class teacher talk time. 
  5. Cater to everyone in your class; use differentiation strategies.
  6. Assessment strategies
  7. Be purposeful when asking students to answer questions; there is safety in numbers. 
  8. Flexible fronts: arranging your classroom

My group is designing a space that provides safe space(s) to make mistakes and reduces whole-class talk time.  We had an interesting conversation about what types of furniture and what types of spaces encourages students to take risks and to work with each other and independently.  We shared out by posting our images to the workshop Padlet  (under Presentations and Resources). Then we talked through the examples posted.

Here at Singapore American School, we are learning about flexible learning environments. We have several "pathfinder" spaces (like the sixth-grade math community pictured below) with modular,  mobile furniture and walls. 

I have to say you can create a flexible learning environment without spending a lot of money. You can begin with what you have.

Don't have white-board topped tables? Find plastic sleeves. Insert a piece of plain paper and give learners dry eraser markers and a napkin and voila, instant personal white-board! Don't have high-topped tables? Push together two bookshelves (back to back) and make a standing station. Interested in floor seating? Find some carpet squares or milk crates (with throw pillows or cushions) or perhaps there are some seldom-used yoga balls on campus. If you really want to purchase furniture, consider raising money on Donors Choose. 

There are ways to create flexible environments within the boundaries and budgets and constraints of what you currently have in your classroom. I came away from this morning's work thinking about how it's not as much about the furniture as it is about the pedagogy and the mindset. It's about  planning a classroom space that supports all sorts of learning. It's about giving students a way to move purposefully, to work together, to work independently, to confer and to work in small groups. 

"Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world." - Roald Dahl, Matilda


Wathall, Jennifer. (2016). "How do I captivate students? Eight strategies for engaging the hearts and
minds of students." Concept-Based Mathematics: Teaching for deep understanding in secondary classrooms.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

NCTE 2018: Countdown to Launch Session K.19

NCTE is on the horizon. We are about to enter the time-warp that is international travel to get there. Traveling to NCTE from Singapore makes the conference even more special, this year especially.

This year, I'll be talking about two power practices (independent reading and conferring). Specifically, we'll explore conferring, feedback and how we give students agency within workshop structures. I'm curious about the types of conversations we have with middle and high school readers. How do we assess readers based on those conversations? How do we gather conferring data over time, so that we can use it to plan next-steps or to empower students to set goals?

This year, I'll be presenting with two of my favorite educators: Nancy Johnson, children's literature guru, literature circle maven and one of my education sheroes and my son, Collin Larke, currently a senior at Singapore American School and formerly one of the youngest members of NCTE.  Nancy will address pillars of independent reading: knowing readers, knowing books and making the match.  Collin will share his senior project and engage us in conversations about teen readers--their preferences, their attitudes and their challenges when it comes to reading for pleasure.

I am delighted that Collin is going to share his voice and the voice of several students in his reading community.  Collin has been coming to ALAN, the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE, since first grade. Our ALAN family of educators and authors has shaped him as a reader and learner. I am hoping he will talk a bit about that too, but we'll see.

We leave for the airport this evening and take off just after midnight Singapore time. We have just under 30 hours of travel time. We'll watch movies. We'll read books. We'll rehearse and anticipate. I can't wait.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Into the Woods

from Weschler, Lawrence. (5 Nov 2018). "His Three Loves." The New York Times.

I am doing something that is really hard for me to do. I am pushing myself into my discomfort zone and I am not experiencing much success, yet.

Being a novice is not easy. It is especially hard when you compare yourself to experts in the room.

A friend asked how the project was going and  "I don't like it" was my quick reply.

Hearing myself, I reframed my quick reply into a more forward-thinking frame. Saying things like, "I love to learn", and "I enjoy the group I am learning with..." Both true statements.

At the third practice, I felt anxiety creep up my spine and settle in my neck.

Did I say "I don't like it" in order to cover up for something I should have done or prepared or practiced in order to be ready to do the thing? Is it a lack of skill prompting this attitude or is it performance anxiety?

I am curious. I enjoy learning. I take risks. Singing and performing in the faculty musical is meant to be fun team building for faculty. I mean, I know I'm playing Cinderella's Stepmother in Sondheim's Into the Woods, but really. What's up with my initial feelings?

Bill Ferriter recently blogged about negative people in organizations. His writing about negative people spoke to my own negative feelings about my recent performance.  Ferriter writes that seeing negativity in people in organizations really points back to the work you yourself need to do. He writes,  "You have knowledge building or skill building or relationship building to do."

I know I get irritated with myself when I am underprepared for something. Nothing good comes out of a vacuum. Polished performances take practice, skill, and knowledge

Ferriter cites Anthony Muhammad who argues that reasonable, rational people resist change for four reasons:

  1. They don’t understand the work that you are asking them to do. 
  2. They don’t understand why the work that you are asking them to do matters. 
  3. They don’t know how to do the work that you are asking them to do. 
  4. They don’t trust you.
Am I resisting the changes this new learning demands? I wondered. 

I realized that I have forgotten how to read music. There are gaps in what makes sense to me on the page. My violin and piano playing days ended when I was in high school. I lost some of those skills. I don't always know how to do the singing work my part demands because I don't always know how to read the music--especially when three people are to begin singing at once. That is something solid I can land on and work to learn how to do. I bet with practice, I'll develop more confidence. I bet by March, I will love the singing and the practicing. I also bet that the love will grow over time with the work I put in.