Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Discovering the AR-C


"Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they actually do it. Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you've got, and fix it as you go." ~ Paul Arden
Though Arden didn't write Nike's ad campaign, his words here call it to mind. Just do it. This week I've applied the slogan and swoosh in two different ways.

We've started a Ning at school! It's not perfect --indeed we need students and a community to get it up and humming, but it's begun. Our purpose is to engage students in reading, writing and learning socially outside of the classroom. I can only imagine the groups we may create and the communities we can develop online.
My next big tasks for the ning include:
  • an acceptable use policy
  • a parent information/permission slip
  • create layout and welcome for front page
  • spiffy graphics and a customized css layout
  • invitations to join the ning (to poetry slam poets, to media specialist, for students, etc.)
  • reviewing the controls and management features
  • add widgets to front page
  • upload cchs photos to front page (my students signed photo releases last year so I'll start there)
  • write blog post for the ning
Lots to do, but it's going to be an exciting learning journey!
The second just do it task of this week: creating a model for argument (indeed an entire vocabulary) to use in Advanced Placement Language and Composition classes with other A.P. language teachers. Our collaboration hummed this week. It is amazing what can happen when you get people together and talking on the same page and in the same direction.

We (Marjorie Anderson, Allen Gorney, Sheri Hjelms, Rebecca Mayo, Jacquelyn Owen, and I) were talking about themes and text sets that we could use with AP lang this year: medical ethics, science & technology, health care, the environment, gender roles, etc. Marjorie suggested health care or the ethics of dying. She told her father's story and pointed us to a recent 60 Minutes story on the cost of dying. Have you ever watched cotton candy being made? Seen how the pink sugar spins out like sweet spidery ribbons only to fall back to the center and wrap around the paper cone. As she spoke, our thoughts and were like that sugar. Here are my notes from that conversation.

Suddenly it all came together. Allen looked at my notes and I explained what I was thinking and we were on to something. The rest of the afternoon was devoted to developing what we are initially calling the AR-C. Think arc of conversation or ark to hold ideas. AR being argument and C for construction. What has been missing with our students is an ability to construct and argument in a logical and focus way.

The organizer begins with a bubble map of conversations in the center. Take the big idea of gender roles. What conversations or discourse communities exist around the idea of gender roles? We record conversations or thematic threads on the spokes of the center circle. Identity, sexuality, expectations, responsibilities, these and more are conversations people have about gender.

What affects these conversations? Perspective certainly. So, like the conversation round table we have perspectives in our frame: individual, group, societal and global. But these perspectives are static and remain in our frame as an enduring part of the conversation.
Circling the big idea and it's constellations of conversations are ripples or considerations (target notes). Considerations change with the big idea or over time. Considerations, like ripples in a pond, are dynamic and fluid. They add layers and focus to a conversation. Considerations could include: historical, political, financial, religious, philosophical or critical. The author and text are also considerations. The conversation may start with a text (if all things are text it probably does), but the conversation is not text dependent, so the text becomes a consideration, a layer in the conversation. The text and the author are constant ripples though changing as we bring in texts to the conversation. Does that make sense?

The model merges a bubble map with a circle map and Jim Burke's target notes and conversational round table to get at thinking critically about conversations (big ideas) and the influence texts and other factors have on those ideas.
We'll see how it works. Our intention is to make our thinking processes explicit for students and to scaffold their ability to create focused claims and questions they can use to write about text. As Paul Arden says, we'll fix it as we go.
If you'd like a one-pager explaination on the model click here. If you want to try the model with your own students find several versions here (we made several in order to teach different parts of the model separately).

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