Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary. - Thomas Carruthers

I taught the class, Introduction to Literature, which was an adult accelerated class with a institutionalized syllabus. This meant that a typical semester-long class was condensed into only four weeks – with the expectation that the students complete approximately 20 hours a week of study outside of class and consolidate their learning in a 4 hour face to face class. It was a fast-paced survey course of short stories, poetry, Greek drama and modern drama. The lesson in the first week of class was focused on short stories. The students were required to read ten different short stories and be prepared to discussion them. Recognizing that the students would need support in both analyzing and discussing the stories, I decided to use the Jigsaw Technique to give the students the opportunity to gain confidence in leading the discussion of a particular story through their expert group and then discuss five of the stories through the jigsaw group. After a break, the students completed the final five stories using the same procedure.

Instructions to Students
Discussing the Stories
Expert Groups
  • Talk through the assigned story, focusing on the literary elements
  • Prepare to lead the discussion on your assigned story in small groups
  • Write down some topics/questions for the group
  • Approximately 15 minutes
Jigsaw Groups
  • Each person is a leader for one story
  • One person should be a “secretary” for each story
  • Write down important ideas, comments and/or questions
  • Post the page under the story title on the wall
  • Have your books and notes open
  • All members should participate when discussing each story
  • Approximately 10-15 minutes/story

Reading ten short stories in a week and attempting to discuss all ten is a Herculean task, yet in this course, it was required. Since the students were also required to turn in their notes from reading the short stories, I thought most students would have completed the reading of each of the stories, but probably didn't spend much time analyzing the stories for their literary elements, which was an objective of the course.
I choose the Jigsaw Technique for several reasons. First, it focused the activity on the students, not me, the teacher. I believe that in a class discussion, the students should be doing most of the questioning and responding. With small groups, more students have the opportunity to discuss, especially compared to a whole class discussion. Second, it provided support for the students to gain confidence in leading the discussion. Recognizing that most students probably completed a cursory reading of the stories, the expert groups provided an opportunity for the students to clarify their understanding and create good discussion questions which would increase their confidence in leading a small group discussion. Finally, it is an efficient method to discuss a large amount of readings.

By including a written component, where each jigsaw group had to produce a summary of each discussion of each short story, I could quickly assess each group's progress and understanding. In addition, by consolidating all groups' summarizes, as a whole class we could gauge the major points of each story at the end of all the discussions.

After working all day, sitting in a four hour class can be daunting. However, students commented at the end of class that they were surprised how quickly the time flew by. One student said that he was dreading this class because he was anticipating having to sit and listen to a lecture for hours, but with the groupings there was a lot of activity and mental engagement so it “wasn't so bad.”

The Jigsaw Technique -Barbara Tewksbury, Hamilton College - http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/coursedesign/tutorial/jigsaw.html

Sunday, May 01, 2011

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Proposition 2: Teachers Know the Subjects They Teach and How to Teach Those Subjects to Students.

How do literacy coaches think about and perform their jobs?

Years ago, I was introduced to the concept of Teaching for Understanding (TfU), which has been the cornerstone of my classroom instruction. In using a TfU framework, I ask four major questions 1) What topics are worth understanding? (Generative Topic) 2)What about these topics needs to be understood? (Understanding goals) 3) How can I foster understanding in my students? (Performances of understanding) 4) How can I tell what students understand? (Ongoing assessment)

As I moved into higher education, I found that the framework continued to apply to adult learners. In building my curriculum for the master level course Supervision of Instruction, I began with a generative topic of – How do literacy coaches think about and perform their work? In other words, I wanted my students to think and act like a literacy coach during the class.

To accomplish this, I needed to create authentic experiences for the student that embodied the major tasks of a literacy coach. In brief, a literacy coach's job is to help support teaching and learning in a school through finding solutions to problems or needs. For the culminating project of the course, each student created a needs assessment for their school and identified an area of need. After identifying the need, the student conducted a literature review to identify possible solutions and the positive and negatives of each solution. Formulating an action plan, they wrote a position paper, written as the literacy coach, and presented it to class as if it were a presentation to a school board. This is a realistic simulation of the work of actual literacy coaches. Therefore, the major understanding goals were:
  1. How do literacy coaches identify needs within their schools?
  2. How do literacy coaches critically read and use research?
  1. How do literacy coaches create a plan of action?
  2. How do literacy coaches cultivate support?
Throughout the semester, each understanding goal was addressed through different activities. The first weeks I provided models of needs assessments and students worked together to create and implement a needs assessment for their own school. Students then generate a list of needs, prioritized the importance of each and made both short term and long term plans for improvement. From this list, the students chose one topic to advocate for in a position paper. Having been accustomed to just summarizing research articles, I provided models and activities to support more critical reading of published research, which were incorporated into the position paper. Each performance of understanding (activity) helped students gain the skills and thinking processes needed to complete the full project and provided for ongoing assessment.

In summary, I would describe my approach to curriculum planning in a two short phrases – “begin with the end in mind” and “set students up for success”.