Practices in Pedagogy

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Reinventing Vocabulary Instruction (Bloggary #5)

Vocabulary Instruction Article (Harry Potter)

After reading the article above, I cannot help but express my sincere agreement and conviction for original, engaging vocabulary instruction—such as in the case of utilizing the “Harry Potter” series as an opportunity to explore Latin word roots. As an actual product of such instruction, I can firmly, unequivocally defend the assertion that unique vocabulary instruction does wonders for the growing mind.

 

Far too often, vocabulary instruction is dry, tedious, and just simply boring. Teachers fall back on rudimentary techniques—lecture, repetition, and more repetition—in order to “teach” vocabulary to their students. I remember one specific teacher from my days in the public school system who attempted, and failed, to teach me vocabulary. Ms. J. (for the purposes of this response, I shall just use an initial) was my fourth grade teacher. Early on in the year, she made it abundantly clear that we were going to leave her class with a much more expansive vocabulary than when we arrived. In order to keep with this bold statement, Ms. J. handed us twenty five long words every Monday morning, encouraged us to study those words every night, and tested us on Friday morning. Yes, Ms. J. did force these words into our minds by posing the threat of failing a test—usually totaling one hundred points—each week. But what Ms. J. failed to do was actually teach us the words. We were never once taught how to learn these words; we were never once given class time to work on our words; we were never once offered an interesting manner by which we could engage with the material; we were not even offered help when we drastically needed it. I tried and tried to teach myself these words, but was mostly unsuccessful. Without any in-class instruction or engaging methods of learning, I was left to fail. I lost confidence in myself as a student, and as a competent person in general. When a student is left without the words to express their feelings or thoughts, he is left with little hope.

 

However, the following year I was offered a saving grace. Her name was Mrs. D., and because of her unique idea to use Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in the classroom, my vocabulary (and academic confidence) was redeemed! After a few weeks into the year, Mrs. D. handed us a pre-test on a list of vocabulary words that all fifth graders should know. The next day she came back to report that many of us had not done as well as she expected. She asked us about our previous instruction, and how we felt about our personal ability to use more academic, longer words. Noticing that many of us were embarrassed to even talk about it, Mrs. D. came up with a plan. For the next three weeks, she took time out of the day to read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets aloud in class. During this time, we often stopped when we came to a difficult word (especially the Latin words, which are commonly used as spells in the story), and had a lengthy conversation about how we could go about trying to understand the word’s meaning—including searching the context of the words, deciphering the root of the word, and many other strategies. After we all got to a place of understanding, we would continue onto our reading. Most of us students just thought Mrs. D. was being really nice and letting us slack off and read a really popular book that we all wanted to read anyway. Little did we know that through this extended, guiding reading, we learned more in three weeks than we did in the previous year. We were having fun, engaged in learning new vocabulary, and being taught how to teach ourselves in the future. Mrs. D. truly led us all on a path of success and hope.

 

Alleen and Don Nilsen’s “Latin revived: Source-based vocabulary lessons courtesy of Harry Potter” agrees wholeheartedly with Mrs. D.’s plan. The authors’ article describes how teachers can, and should, utilize the overwhelming popularity of the Harry Potter series in order to instigate unique vocabulary instruction opportunities.  They point to the fact that students are interested in the text, and therefore will pay that much more attention to instruction when it uses the text itself. They declare, “We have all been taught that students learn words best when they see them in context. Using a source-based approach is one way to provide a portable context—one that learners can carry with them” (129). Clearly by my own experience discussed in the previous paragraph, the authors’ idea is completely correct. In order for proper learning to occur, students must be interested. In order for students to be interested, teachers must use material that students find engaging and fun. The lesson plans included in the article are a wonderful example of such instruction. The authors use the Latin words found in Harry Potter as the basis for deciphering word roots and practicing techniques to better understand unknown, confusing words by breaking them down.

 

I strongly feel this strategy could greatly help with the present literacy crisis in our public school system. Instead of dull, test-based vocabulary instruction, teachers could utilize popular literature to provide engaging, constructive teaching opportunities. And as students continue to be given fun, unique opportunities to learn new words, they will be better able to express their thoughts and ideas in all disciplines of study. Not only that, but students will feel more confident in themselves and more willing to take educational risks in order to improve their future learning.

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Complete Lesson (Parts 1-7 of SPU Template): “Unpacking Dickinson’s Riddle Poetry”

Complete Lesson Plan: “Unpacking Dickinson’s Riddle Poetry”

 

Links:

“Unpacking Dickinson’s Riddle Poetry” (Lesson Plan)

“Unpacking Dickinson’s Riddle Poetry” (PP Presentation)

“Unpacking Dickinson’s Riddle Poetry” (Artifact #1)

“Unpacking Dickinson’s Riddle Poetry” (Artifact #2)

“Unpacking Dickinson’s Riddle Poetry” (Artifact #3)

 

The purpose of this lesson is to prepare and equip me with the knowledge and experience needed to successfully complete my student teaching internship and the Teacher Performance Assessment. First and foremost, the assignment provides me with the opportunity to practice completing a lesson plan—using the Seattle Pacific University Long Template—that is both accurate and relevant to the work I will be doing in the classroom. Secondly, the assignment initiates thoughtful, pertinent reflection on standards-based instruction. The process of planning, performing, critiquing, revising, and finishing, has allowed me to be actively engaged in my development as a better teacher. I have been blessed with the chance to take risks in my planning, receive constructive criticism from my peers, and improve my work dramatically. Finally, I have been able to practice the processes associated with the TPA. I have been planning to teach, teaching, and reflecting on my teaching, all in the hope that when I am assessed later in the year, I will already know what is expected of me.

The assignment in itself is a completed plan for a lesson entitled “Unpacking Dickinson’s Riddle Poetry.” Intended for a high school freshmen English classroom, the lesson is centered on practicing close reading strategies, critical thinking, and making and defending interpretive claims. The lesson focuses on two main standards: the student understands and uses different skills and strategies to read (Reading 1) and the student understands the meaning of what is read (Reading 2). Therefore, by the end of the lesson, students should be able to read closely and pull main ideas from a given poem. This will be done through independent reading, rereading, public reading, marking/highlighting the text, talking to fellow students and the teacher, and a group drawing activity. Students should be able to see what Emily Dickinson is trying to say (answer to the riddle, main idea, etc) and provide an accurate, thoughtful defense of their interpretation (using imagery, symbols, descriptions, illustrations). For the purposes of the lesson, we will be using a riddle called the “River Crossing Problem” and Emily Dickinson’s “I like to see it lap the miles.” These two works are similar in that they are both complex riddles, and are wonderful examples of the correlation between solving riddles and explicating poetry. Employing creativity, engaging activities, and collaboration, this lesson will encourage students to not only learn, but also be excited about their learning.

This assignment demonstrates my competency in Standard O2 because of its foundation in planning and adapting curricula. Standard O2 states, “Teacher Candidates offer appropriate challenge in the content area. Teacher-candidates plan and/or adapt curricula that are standards-driven so students develop understanding and problem-solving expertise in the content area(s) using reading, written and oral communication, and technology.” Breaking this over-arching statement down into a simpler form, it mainly speaks to teacher candidates’ ability to complete three different goals: create adaptive/student-centered curricula, facilitate standards-based learning, and use the four components of literacy (reading, writing, oral communication, and technology).

The first aspect of Standard O2 details how teacher candidates are able to plan, implement, and adapt curricula in order to provide students with a better understanding of the content area. So, because this assignment is completely focused on creating a lesson plan, teaching the lesson, receiving constructive criticism from peers, perceiving my students’ success or failure to grasp the concept (based off assessments), and revising my plan in order to better teach my students, it absolutely coincides with Standard O2. After teaching the lesson the first time, I realized that my initial entry task took far too much class time to complete. It was a waste of precious class time and problematic to my students’ learning. Therefore, in my revision of the lesson plan, I elected to shorten the entry task by 5 minutes. Similarly, during my initial teaching performance, my peers reflected on my consistent lack of professionalism in front of the class as a clear obstacle to student learning. Instead of speaking formally, I repeatedly spoke with “umm’s” and “you guys,” which severely undermined the maturity of my teaching. Instead of being professional and having everything ready by the beginning of the lesson, I had to stop at different points in order to pass out worksheets and set up my Power-point presentation. Once again, I fixed these issues and found success in my second teaching of the lesson. Completing an adaptive assignment—where my work is changed in order to better adhere to the needs and abilities of my students—I have shown how my teaching is always student-centered.

Simultaneously, my lesson plan was constantly, unceasingly contoured to State Standards—the second aspect to Standard O2. No matter how much certain aspects changed, such as the length of my entry task, the goals of my lesson remained unchanged. The lesson was always focused on Washington State Reading Standards 1 and 2, which say, “the student understands and uses different skills and strategies to read (Reading 1) and the student understands the meaning of what is read (Reading 2).” These standards produced two goals for the lesson: practice several close-reading strategies and use critical thinking skills in order to produce thoughtful interpretations. Students were made aware of these two goals at the beginning of the lesson, and were continually encouraged to work towards them.

I displayed my fulfillment of Standard O2’s final attribute: using reading, writing, oral communication, and technology to encourage student expertise in the content area in several ways. My students practiced guided, close reading a total of seven times! They worked through a complex riddle in three different segments, each encompassing a different close-reading strategy. Then, students read through the Emily Dickinson poem four different times: once with the teacher reading aloud, a second time with the teacher reading aloud and the students following along, a third time with each student reading on their own, and finally a fourth time reading the poem within a group. Students also were given several opportunities to utilize writing in order to aid them in their expertise of the content area. In the entry task, students were encouraged to write out a brief interpretation of the riddle. During their reading of the poem, students were asked to write out—after each segmented reading time—an interpretation of the poem. Finally, the collaborative illustration activity provided students an opportunity to write out, and draw, images and interpretations based off their group’s discussion. In all of these activities, students were allowed the chance to practice solving problems in the content area through their writing. Oral communication was prominent in the many teacher-led discussions as we read the riddle and poem as a class. It was also a vital factor in the group illustration activity, for students were required to discuss and synthesize their thoughts on the poem within their group. They were encourage to debate, ask questions from one another, and most importantly, to develop a compromising interpretation in their pursuit of the knowledge in the content area. Technology was the least used component in the lesson. However, even it was utilized to some significant degree. I employed the use of Power-point presentation in order to help facilitate and lead my students in the lesson. Without this technology, the lesson would not have been nearly as effective.

In one last final note, this lesson reflects a great deal about the types of knowledge, teaching, and literacy I employ in my teaching. My lesson is primarily pertaining to soft, pure knowledge. Soft knowledge means that interpretation is the central problem, where debate and reinterpretation are necessities.  Pure knowledge is theoretically oriented and abstract. Therefore, as my lesson is founded on creating and revising interpretative claims based off abstract ideas expressed in poetry, it is quite clearly utilizing soft, pure knowledge. My teaching in this lesson is primarily telling and controlling, meaning that the learning is mainly achieved through teacher-led discussions. Although there are hints of a deeper teaching style present in the lesson, such as the emphasis placed on developing personalized interpretations of the poem, the lesson functions predominantly as an avenue by which my knowledge of poetry explication is transmitted to the students through dialogue. Finally, the style of literacy evident in this lesson is undoubtedly adaptation. The lesson emphasizes the functionality of literacy skills by showing how close-reading and critical thinking techniques are essential to comprehension. By practicing skills such as rereading, collaborative reading, and illustration, students are encouraged to see to the necessity of literacy in our world today. These styles, or metaphors, are incredibly beneficial to recognize, for they encourage me to reflect and improve my teaching. I someday want to incorporate all possible teaching styles into my own, making me that much more of an effective instructor for my students. The more diverse my teaching, the more my students will learn.

 

* To see a video of my lesson taught in a classroom, follow the link below to Vialogues.com:

https://vialogues.com/vialogues/play/2086

 

Reflection on Teaching Lesson: “Unpacking Dickinson’s Riddle Poetry”

After teaching this lesson to my critical friends, and having them complete critiques of my lesson, I have come to the realization that certain parts of my lesson should be changed. Two main aspects come to mind in order to create a more efficient, learning-enabling lesson: professionalism in the classroom and time management.

Professionalism, at least in this instance, pertains to how I carry myself in front of students. I often employ unprofessional language when instructing students, a habit that could lead to student disengagement. From saying “umm” multiple times in a single lesson, to referring to students as “you guys,” I present a casual, immature, and unfocused classroom environment. And although I do want students to feel at home in my classroom, I definitely do not want them seeing it as a place where work does not occur. Education is difficult. Learning is time consuming. Personal development is not simple. Therefore, my classroom should be perceived as a place where every person, especially students, is treated as an adult. The “umms” and “you guys” undermines this goal by begin too casual and patronizing. If I feel myself at a loss for words, I will remain silent. If I want to gain the attention of my class, I will refer to them as “ladies and gentlemen” or “class.”

The second main aspect I would like to see improved in my future teaching is time management. From not being fully prepared for my lesson before beginning it (as in the case of necessary paperwork NOT being handed out before the lessons starts), to allowing certain portions of the lesson take way too much time (as in the case of my entry task taking almost 10 minutes), I clearly mismanaged what little, precious time I have with my students. If I were to teach this lesson again, I would undoubtedly make sure all necessary materials are prepared ahead of time, as well as beginning the lesson with a shorter, simpler riddle. That way, we will be able to move on more smoothly into the next portion of the lesson. A shorter riddle will offer students an opportunity to think critically in the same way as the original riddle, but will also streamline the lesson. Instead of planning for only a couple, longer, and more complicated activities, I would like to plan out an overabundance of small, pertinent activities that can be patched together to fit the time restraints of a specific lesson. Therefore, instead of underestimating the amount of time classroom activities will take, I will always be prepared.

In conclusion, I have learned a great deal about my students and myself in teaching this lesson. I’ve learned that students need shorter, engaging activities to keep the classroom running efficiently. I’ve learned that I need to be more cautious of my unprofessional language and time management habits while in front of students. These lessons will allow me to better myself as an educator, and will therefore encourage me to more effectively help students learn.

A Second Possible Lesson for 9th Grade Language Arts

Lesson #2 (“Friendly” Competition?)

The link above possesses a lesson (presented on the SPU Template Parts 1-5). The lesson is entitled “Friendly Competition?” and focuses on close reading strategies, analytical thinking, and real-life applications. Although there are many critical reading objectives employed in this lesson, the two most essential goals are…

1. The student understands and uses different sills and strategies to read (WA State Reading EALR #1)

2. The student understands the meaning of what is read (WA State Reading EALR #2)

 

The most important, and easily most engaging, portion of this lesson is its real-life applicability. Through a series of close-reading opportunities– independent, public, and interpretative–students will unpack three different passages from John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, in order to better explore the issue of adolescent competition and jealousy. This issue plagues our youth culture, and the opportunity to explore one author’s expression of said topic could be incredibly fruitful. Students will be able to passionately discuss their reading, their reactions, and their general opinions on a very real, tough issue.

The lesson would be a part of a greater unit, focusing on reading the entirety of John Knowles’ novel. Because this particular lesson utilizes passages from chapters 3 and 4, the lesson would need to be at least midway through a [possible] 3 week unit. Presumably, a teacher would need to briefly teach the ‘novel’ as a distinct genre, contextual information regarding John Knowles and American social life during World War II, introduce the inspiration behind A Separate Peace, and also already have explore chapters 1-3 before beginning this lesson. The rest of the unit after this particular lesson would focus on finishing up the novel and completing a summative writing assessment.

Finally, the following link below possess a supplemental to0l for a teacher hoping ot teach this lesson:

PP Presentation (Friendly Competition Lesson)

A Possible Lesson For 9th Grade Language Arts

EDRD- Lesson #1 (Unpacking Riddle Poetry)

The link above is a possible lesson plan (completed on the SPU Template) for a 9th grade Language Arts class. The lesson is entitled “Unpacking Emily Dickinson’s Riddle Poetry,” and focuses on accomplishing two main objectives:

1. The student understands and uses different skills and strategies to read (WA State EALR Reading #1)

2. The student understands the meaning of what is read (WA State EALR Reading #2)

By aligning the seemingly opposing processes of explicating poetry and solving riddles, a teacher might be able to provide an informative, engaging opportunity for students to learn how to read closely AND understand what they are reading! Critically reading and interpreting poetry is usually least on a student’s list of favorite tasks to do (especially high school freshmen). Therefore, this lesson offers even the most apathetic students to find joy and success in unpacking difficult poetry.

Presumably, this particular lesson would fit into a greater poetry Unit. Because the lesson expects students to already have some understanding of poetry as a distinct genre, a basic set of skills to analyze poems, interpretative reading strategies, and possibly some contextual knowledge on Emily Dickinson and some other famous American poets, this specific lesson should fit in at the later stages of the Poetry Unit– possibly even near the final week.

Finally, the link below possesses a supplementary tool for the teacher hoping to complete this lesson:

PP Presentation (Unpacking Poetry)

Possible Public Writing Assignment (with rubric)

Utilizing the elements I have read about in Harvey Daniels, Steven Zemelman, and Nancy Steineke’s “Content-Area Writing: Every Teacher’s Guide,” I created this public writing assignment. Below you will find an example of a prompt and rubric that offers students opportunities for personal reflection, literary expression, critical thinking, and public speaking work. The assignment is short, yet pertinent. With an emphasis on creativity and originality, students will learn that the classroom is not just a place to learn, but also an environment to express themselves in new and exciting ways. The assignment includes both independent thinking time, writing time, and public speaking. Here is the assignment:

Introducing Ourselves: What do you Value?

Write a brief (500 words or less) essay expressing what you value most in life. Please explore values pertaining to you and you alone. Examples may include writing about your culture, family, friends, hobbies, skills, struggles, successes, and so much more. Proper grammar and punctuation is always required and therefore must be used. Upon completion of this essay, you will be asked to present your writing to the class as an opportunity to introduce yourself. Therefore, keep in mind that this essay must be appropriate (Please do not include any vulgarity, inappropriate language, etc) and that it most definitely should be original. The last thing we want to hear are 30 responses all talking about the same thing. Truly explore yourself and go beyond the first “value” that comes to mind, so that you can better introduce who you really are to the class. Think hard, be creative, and have fun!

 

 

 

 

*This is the rubric you will be assessed on. So please pay attention to the requirements below, and construct your essay with them in mind.

 

  A (5 points) B (3 points) C (2 points) D (1 point)
Response to Prompt Clearly and effectively responds to prompt. Stays focused on task throughout the whole essay Response to prompt is generally adequate and thorough. A few diversions may exist. Minimally responds to the prompt. Many diversions from task exist. Purpose of the essay may be hard to find. Does not respond well to prompt. The essay fails to address the task at hand, or provide any sort of clarity to its purpose.
Main Idea Main idea (What you value most in life) is clearly stated and topic is effectively limited (Concise and to the point). Main idea is pretty clear and topic is somewhat concise. Main idea difficult to observe. It may be partially too broad or general. Main idea is completely unclear and topic is not concise and straight to the point.
Evidence/Support Main topic of essay is supported by a variety of relevant reasoning. Specific examples from personal experience are used throughout. Main topic of essay is supported pretty well. Only some personal examples/stories are used. Main topic is supported, but not very well. Examples from personal experience do not exist or are irrelevant. Main topic is not supported.
Originality Response is creative, original, and honest. Writer uses personal voice and tone. Response is pretty creative and original. Mostly new, honest ideas are employed. Response is rarely original. Some creative, honest ideas are used. But response is mostly general and impersonal. No creative or personal thought has been used in this essay. Writer has no met the originality requirement.
Mechanics 1 or less minor errors in sentence construction, punctuation, usage, grammar, or mechanics. 2-4 errors. There may be a few minor or major errors in sentence construction, usage, grammar, or mechanics. 3-6 errors. There are some common errors (major and minor) in sentence construction and mechanics but the writer generally demonstrates a correct sense of syntax. 6 or more errors. There are numerous minor errors and some major errors. Sentence construction is below mastery and may display a pattern of errors in usage and mechanics.

What’s the Problem with American Textbooks?

There are countless reasons why the America textbook—no matter the subject area it covers—is helpful. Because of their enormous size, textbooks often offer a tremendous amount of information on a variety of areas pertaining to the subject for which they are written. Textbooks also offer an exhaustive amount of sources, research, and perspectives (at least for the most part). Textbooks in the modern American education scene even offer extensive, clear correlation to state and federal standards—making them ideal for teaching to standardized tests! However, even with all of these positives, textbooks stand most clearly as detrimental to the academic, cognitive, and even physical development of our students. Because of their unhealthy size, extortionate costs, and improper formatting, American textbooks are outrageously undesirable.

Harvey Daniels and Steven Zemelman offer an entire chapter to this very argument in their book: “Subjects Matter: Every Teacher’s Guide to Content-Area Reading.” They point to textbooks’ physical issues first, noting that, “textbooks contain too much material” (39). By aiming to jam each and every chapter with as much information as possible, as much detail as one can ever hope to know, textbook publishers have made their product increasingly cumbersome. Not only will little Tiffany’s five-pound science book break her back, but it will overwhelm her with useless information! Daniels and Zemelman then focus on the ill-advised formatting of these books. They argue, “They’re [textbook publishers] trying to make it [their textbook] feel like a computer or video game where the kids feel some control. But those pages end up just being confusing and overwhelming…students can’t make sense of those pages at all” (41). This clear shortcoming in textbook formatting, along with the many other examples—the scholarly/formal language that students cannot access (42), the falsely authoritative tone (42-43), and even the superficiality of the text (38-40)—all showcase how detrimental textbooks can be to learning. Finally, Daniels and Zemelman offer the simple, yet pertinent fact that textbooks cost way too much money (46) to finalize their argument.

In all of these examples, I cannot help but observe the obvious truth: American textbooks are not doing their job. Classroom resources should only be in place and used if they prove effective and accessible to the common student. I myself can remember growing up in the American school system and constantly attempting, and failing, to learn from the textbooks I was assigned. I would read and read and read only to come away frustrated and more confused. The language was beyond me, the enormous size was intimidating, and the formatting was just plain inaccessible.

I can only hope that in the coming years, more and more teachers will see the benefit in using supplementary texts as opposed to one, single textbook for the classrooms. If this pattern does not occur, I genuinely fear for the American education system. I fear for the small 6th grader stumbling around the school hallways because his textbooks weigh more than he does; I fear for the 9th grader who can’t afford her textbooks and therefore decides to leave school altogether; I fear for the 12th grader who still cannot understand the scientific method because his textbooks are too busy focusing on details and pretty pictures to actually teach the subject.

 

Reference List:

Daniels, Harvey, and Steven Zemelman. Subjects Matter: Every Teacher’s Guide to Content-Area Reading.           Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2004. Print.

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