Friday, August 26, 2016

Teaching About the Election

Everywhere you go these days people are talking about the national election process and the candidates. Some educators have recently started thinking about how to teach about the election in their classes this fall.

I have put together a brief summary of resources and ideas for content and literacy that I believe could be useful at all grade levels. Here they are with links:

Teaching about the Election 2016
These are 2 good places to begin:

Dealing with Controversial Issues
Civil Discourse In The Classroom (booklet may be downloaded) and lesson plans for election 2016

More Lessons for teaching about the elections and civics sites:
Teaching Tolerance Election 2016 – ideas for all grade levels

From New York Times
From now until November, we’ll be offering regular election teaching resources, including lesson plans, Student Opinion questions, contests and an updated version of our four-part election unit. Find the most evergreen posts on our regularly updated Election 2016 Teaching and Learning Homepage.

PBS Election Central – An Educational Guide to the US Elections
All kinds of lessons aligned to the standards for all grade levels.

Center for Civic Education
Lessons for all grade levels particularly on voting and citizenship; also has a newsletter.

MA Center for Civic Education (the local contact for the national one above)
Lesson plans (all grades) and online resources – particularly helpful with teaching about some of the issues that have come up during the elections.

Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement
Lots of interesting resources and opportunities for student research.

Content Literacy Opportunities:
Focus on argument:
·         Students view video clips – either campaign speeches or ads
o   Analyze for content by researching validity of claims
o   Analyze for appeal – ethos, pathos. logos
o   Analyze for audience appeal (what audience?) (from the work of Kelly Gallagher)
·         Students write the speeches they would like to hear from the candidates.
·         Research issues – work in teams to develop debate arguments for each side.

Focus on Questions:
Engage your students in thinking about the value of voting and decision making. The Better Questions Better Decisions Voter Engagement Workshop offers a simple, easy to implement, nonpartisan lesson for middle school and high school educators who are teaching the importance of the elections and voting process. Learn more and download the workshop resources.

Write Letters

Letters to the Next President, recommended by International Literacy Association (ILA),
provides issues that young people care about – geared to high school students.

I hope these sites and ideas will be helpful as you plan for this very exciting election season!

Friday, August 19, 2016

It's a new day! Consider Thinking and Feedback.

We teachers all have that sense of a new day and a new start at this time of year. How fortunate we are! We have the chance to start over, to begin anew, to correct the missteps of the past, and best of all, to make a real difference in the lives of our students.

As we set goals for this school year I would like to suggest an idea. I'll begin with some questions:

  • What would happen if student work were less time-bound and more revision-bound?
  • What if a project or a problem did not have to be finished/solved by the end of the class or the day?
  • What if students learned to give and receive helpful feedback ?
These are elements of a structure we used in our Kindergarten literacy and learning project last year. It was amazing to watch young learners become increasingly more articulate at giving suggestions and watch their peers thoughtfully accept all or parts of the suggestions. Even better was the motivation and engagement they showed with revision and ownership of learning. If you have never seen it, watch Austin's Butterfly for a wonderful example of this process in action.Find it here  or simply Google Austin's Butterfly. It is well worth the six minutes.

For more information on how to structure Thinking and Feedback in the classroom visit BPS where the entire Boston Public Schools K curriculum is available. Although this structure is embeded in the BPS K curriculum (called Focus K2), it may be applied to any grade for project work, research, writing, and whatever your creative talents envision.

As you set your own goals this year, think about having students set goals - really specific goals that they can revisit throughout the term and perhaps revise or build upon as the year progresses. Thinking and Feedback could be a very helpful way to work toward and achieve learning goals.

Good luck!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Integrate, Add, Delete

As we face a new school year, it's useful to realize that big ideas, initiatives and directives come and go. How will you decide what to do, what to integrate to what you already do, and what to let go?

Directives come in all sizes and limits. Some have legal implications such as those that affect license. These will require attention and may even require attention to detail. Those that are cultural, that is school or district-based, either explicit or implicit, require attention and decisions on your part. Were you part of the process for determining the directive? If so, you will be expected to support it and help others do so. Does it seem arbitrary? Ask the questions that will help you to support or work for change. What makes sense for you and your students based on what you know and research?

Initiatives often come in instructional strategy or behavioral strategy guises. Do they match your classroom/school/district goals? How do they fit with your professional goals? Will they very likely improve student achievement or school climate? Are they based on research? If so, do you know and understand the research? Will implementation be easy or difficult and will you need help to do something well?

Big (bright) ideas often come from websites or colleagues. Many are just a repackage of something that may have been interesting or fun in the past. Given the precious few hours we have with students, it is especially important to bring a critical eye to these ideas. Are they research-based? Will they add quality to the students' work and achievement? Will they broaden the cultural perspectives of students and increase the positive climate of the classroom or school?

As teachers we know a lot. As teachers we question a lot. We want to put our knowledge and skepticism to good use. Find ways to seek out the research base and evidence of success for big ideas, initiatives, and directives. Be an active participant in decision making and in developing your own action research with students. Be a model for your students who will be using research consistently throughout the year to know, to verify, and to learn.

Use your expertise and grow your expertise for a success-filled year!

Friday, August 5, 2016

EdCamp and Continuous Professional Development

Monday I attended EdCamp Cape Cod IV at Mashpee High School. Kudos to the organizers for a  very interesting and well organized event.

In case you don't know, EdCamp invites interested parties to come for learning together in an atmosphere of relaxed, professional collaboration.  No sessions are planned ahead of time yet time is set aside for any number of sessions throughout the day. Check out the session board and the organization of the day here. The key is for at least one interested individual to volunteer to facilitate a topic - not an expert or a prepared presenter (though you may do that) - just someone to get and keep the conversation going for the allotted time.

One session I attended was an exploration of professional development structures and content. Consensus was that educators learn a lot from one another. Many districts and schools commented that they were exploring EdCamp as a structure for use in their own professional development plans. That is exactly why I was attending.

As someone charged with facilitating regional networks, I expect my attendees to come with a variety of expertise. I don't want to be in a position of wasting anyone's time. Although my work has become increasingly more interactive, I am interested in tapping the knowledge and skills of other educators. Whenever I have done this, the results have been productive and so very worthwhile for all.

If you have not participated in EdCamp, I recommend the experience. Visit the Cape Cod IV website (link above) where you will find that there are other EdCamps planned for various parts of the state in the months ahead. Try it out. You will definitely learn and have fun as you do.