Thursday, May 31, 2012

Title: Building Academic Language:Essential Practices for Content Classrooms, Grades 5-12
Author: Jeff Zwiers
Publisher: Jossey-Bass
Date: 2007
ISBN: 978-0787987619
Pages: 320

In the past, a good teacher was one who had solid content knowledge and an understanding of pedagogy (the techniques used to teach). However, recently there has been a focus on instructional use of language and how the use of academic language can enhance or restrict student opportunity to engage with content knowledge and ultimately, determine success in school. In addition, the soon to be mandatory Teacher Performance Assessment (for pre-service teacher certification) has a strong focus on the development of student academic language. All of this has made me consider my own use and planning for the use of academic language in the courses I teach – for K-12, undergraduate and graduate. How have I identified and planned for the language demands of each of the content areas I teach? This question led me to pick up Jeff Zwiers' book.

Students come to school with different social and linguistic capital (Bourdieu, 1986). In other words, the “ways of being” - the ways of thinking, determining values, use of language, use of body language and space, personal style and preferences etc – that the student grows up with produced different ways of interacting with the word. Like currency, some ways of being are more valued than others – and this is very evident in schools. Academic language and ways of being in school tend to match the white middle class culture and capital better than other social, economic and racial groups. There is often a mismatch of home and school cultures and if the student's home culture is not values, this can produce anger, frustration and eventual alienation of the student. Therefore, it is important for teachers to recognize their own social and linguistic capital and the assumptions they make about their students' capital – which may not match their own. When recognizing that school culture and academic language are one of the keys to success, teacher need to both value and challenge the knowledge and language students bring to school.

Academic language is not just particular vocabulary, but it includes the functions and features of language, according to Zwiers. Functions include describing complexity, higher-order thinking and abstraction. The features of language that allows it to function include figurative expressions, being explicit for distant audiences, using models, qualifiers, and intonation. The grammar of academic language also differs significantly from everyday language. Therefore, teachers need to model and scaffold academic language and thinking in ways that encourage students to use and make the language and thinking their own. Each subject area and discipline has it own particular ways of thinking and speaking, so it can't just be the English teacher's job! When teaching history, the teacher needs to be explicit about how to think, speak and write like a historian et cetera.

Discussion is a way for students to work with information and knowledge (Mercer, 2000) in ways that allow them to manipulate and make it their own. However, deep and productive discussions in classrooms need thoughtful planning and awareness of the academic language demands. Supports need to be provided to model the functions, features and grammars of the discipline using various graphic organizers or discussion formats. Zwiers provides a multitude of examples of these supports for reading, writing, speaking/listening for each of the big four content areas – English, Math, Social Studies, and Science. I was familiar with a lot of the examples Zwiers provided, as I am a firm believer that learning is a social activity and a proponent of discussion-based learning. However, there were ideas that I haven't tried yet!

Additional Resources:
Here are some resources that I've given to my student teachers to support discussions -

Here is a nice summary of Zwiers' brick and mortar words metaphor from Houston Independent School District's Literacy Support Network Wiki -  Academic Language - Bricks and Mortar

Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Review: The Art of Slow Reading: Six Time-Honored Practices for Engagement

Title: The Art of Slow Reading: Six Time-Honored Practices for Engagement
Authors: Thomas Newkirk
Date: 2011
ISBN: 978-0325037318
Pages: 224

Two dear teaching friends recommended this book to me. They have been completing a collaborative study of the book together and found a lot of “meaty” ideas in this book that have translated into their own teaching practice and then their articulation of practice. Using a reading workshop approach in their classes, these teachers have slowed down to read with their students and incorporated the six time-honored practices that Newkirk advocates. As I browsed through the table of contents, I can't say I was surprised by his suggestions of how to slow down and appreciate reading and learn more from reading, but like Burke's Reading Reminders and Writing Reminders, it is always good to be reminded of good habits!

Why slow down? The first part of the book makes the case for slowing down our reading to hear the author's voice, focus on single ideas, be in dialogue with the text/author and do more than just comprehend the text, but internalize and act on text. Newkirks traces the history of our current reading curriculum that values “fluency”, otherwise known as fast reading, over expressive and aesthetic reading. “To read a book . . . is an act of perseverance” (p. 36) in that the reader has to attend to the words, plot and context over time. Too often, we have a dueling consciousness – awareness of the time we are in while thinking about the time we are planning to be in. We have become so accustomed to the time pressures of school – timed tests, unit plans etc. - that we accept is as part of life along with the underlying ideologies that faster is better and the Bell Curve of ability. However, “being slow means that you control the rhythms of your own life” (p. 24 quoted from Carlo Petrini of the International Slow Food Movement) and it allows readers to get aesthetic appreciation and personal pleasure and connections from their reading, rather than a process of retrieval of information. Newkirk than re-animates six time-honored practices of slow reading.

Performance - Oral storytelling has been the foundational method of teaching and learning throughout the world and ages. Even with the advent of writing and the printing press, texts were still often read aloud and reading was a truly social event with essays, poetry, and readings being a highlight of any party. Silent reading is a relatively new phenomenon. O'Brien (1922) identified three types of readers – motor, who physically formed the words; auditory, who mentally imagined the formed words; and visual, who imagined the content of the words. The visual reader was more efficient, which began the movement to silence vocalization of reading. Efficiency was then linked to measurement (timed tests and DIBELS) and a belief the meaning is inherent in the text. However, Newkirk argues that it isn't the technical qualities of texts (like structure, thesis and transitions) that engage readers, it is the voice of the author. To slow down and focus on this voice, performance of reading needs to be re-introduced.

Memorization – Memorizing a passage or poem allows the reader to mediate on it and it becomes part of the reader. Most religious traditions take advantage of this method to help the novices think deeper about religious texts. Newkirk provides several examples of classroom lessons focusing on memorization through repetition by researching family proverbs/sayings or by encouraging students to learn and tell jokes. From my own experience, I would have to agree with Newkirk that there is value in memorizing texts that are personally meaningful. When I was in Army Basic Training, it shocked me how I was able to recall the things I memorized during childhood and this sustained and supported me through 10 mile hikes and 5 am PT runs.

Annotation – By annotating and marking up a text, the reader is taking responsibility for determining the meaning of the text. Writing is an intentional act with cues given in the title, openings, scenes, descriptions and subheadings. As readers, we need to pay attention to the cues. But, texts are not determinate – we will not get the exact intention of the writer, who may have had multiple intentions. Different readers find different patterns of significance (p. 117). Making the text your own by marking it up, allows the reader to have this dialogue with the writer. In educationese this is often called “active reading”.

Problematizing - “I am convinced that a crucial measure of intelligence – and by extension, reading – is the ability to work through this initial discomfort of situations that don't make sense, when our habitual patterns of understanding don't do the job” (pp. 119-120). When a reader gets to a difficult text, there are generally two choices – give up or struggle and find a solution. When a reader has learned to be helpless – ie the problem is a deficit in me, this deficit is unchangeable, and it is global – then, often the reader will give up. However, with a mind-set that intelligence is not something you have, but something you do then difficulties are opportunities to stop, reassess, and employ strategies for making sense of the problem.

Reading like a Writer – “Writing is, after all, an act of slow reading” (p. 10). Writers tend to be slow readers, like Francine Prose and her wonderful book, ReadingLike a Writer. Writers will savor and then deconstruct a great text to find out what makes it work. Again, Newkirk gives a few classroom examples of lessons. For example, giving students a text full of voice and de-voicing it (making it ordinary) or re-writing but just changing the punctuation.

Writing about Text - “We rarely simply comprehend, a word with root meanings of “grasp” or “hold. We act on it in some way – we explain it, teach it, quote it, perform it, evaluate it, analyze it, allow it to call up associated experiences and ideas. We create alongside the writer” (p. 170). Writing in response to reading fills in the white space between the words – that empty space that is filled with what the reader brings to the text. Newkirk evokes Johnston's (Choice Words,2004) prompts that extend thinking:
  • Alternative thinking – What else? What other ways?
  • Empathizing – How do you think she/he felt?
  • Causation – Why?
  • Hypothesizing/speculating – I wonder … What if?
  • Comparing – It's like …

When it comes down to it, we read for pleasure and meaning. Everything else - testing, career or global competitiveness etc. - is tangential. However, when those other things become the focus, the meaning and pleasure of reading is discarded. Which results in a situation where, “If we teach a child to read, yet develop not the taste for reading, all of our teaching is for naught. We shall have produced a nation of ‘illiterate literates’–those who know how to read but do not read” (Huck, 1973, p.305).

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

QR Codes - A New Horizon

As you can see from the last post, I'm dwelling on 21st Century Learning.  Part of this, of course, is because of the Teachers Teaching Teachers Technology Conference and my attendance in various sessions about technology. 

I attended an interesting session yesterday about using QR codes in the classroom given by Jennifer Shafer Wyatt  (Twitter ID: @jen_librarian).  When I gave my poster presentation at AERA, I included a QR code to link to the paper, but I now realize how much more I could have used it for - to link to video or pictures to extend the poster with multimedia.  I definitely want to explore this idea more in future presentations.  But, I began to see the usefulness of QR codes in my own classroom  - to link student created podcast reviews of books to the book itself (with a bookmark & QR code) or to have station work that is linked to media and instructions via QR code which would reveal the information when the students were ready for it.  Jennifer provided several videos that showed ways to use QR codes and this is one of the better ones -  Black & White and Scanned All Over.

  I did some other looking and found a neat one about using QR in Elementary - what is especially interesting is that the video is narrated and designed by the students.

Now, QR codes aren't a new idea, but schools have been slow to catch on, mostly because student cell phones are generally banned. Here is a great blog from 2010 about using QR Codes - implications for teaching and learning.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Book Review: Literacy is Not Enough

Title:Literacy is Not Enough: 21st Century Fluencies for the Digital Age
Authors: Lee Crocket, Ian Jukes, Andrew Churches
Publisher:21st Century Fluency Project with Corwin Press.
Date: 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4129-8780-6
Pages: 232

As the title states, literacy is not enough. Literacy, in the traditional definition, means the ability to read and write. According to The World Fact book, which uses this most basic definition, the United States has a literacy rate of 99%. That sounds really good. However, according to the latest International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), between 21% and 24% of U.S. adults performed at the lowest level on three literacy scales: document literacy, prose literacy and quantitative (number) literacy – which leads to lower salaries and work hours and greater rates of incarceration and use of food stamps. But, the authors highlight other issues – even routine cognitive work is being outsource (ie reading MIRs and other medical diagnostics). To continue to be competitive students need to learn to be problem solvers, creative, analytical, collaborative, communicative, and ethical and the authors propose a focus on five fluencies rather than literacies to guide long-term planning in education. In other words, “We need to rethink what our definition of literate is, because a person who is literate by the standards of the 20th century may be illiterate in the culture of the 21st century” (p. 57).

Here is some interesting food for thought:
“How we teach problem solving in classrooms today isn't really working for us. Presenting a problem, then giving students the answer by showing them how we got it, and then repeating the process over and over by giving them a series of similar problems to solve doesn't cut it. When we do this, we aren't teaching them anything other than how smart we are. We are cultivating dependency, not independent though and the ability to analyze and solve problems.” p. 23

So, the authors present 5 Fluencies and their components skills:
Solution Fluency
  • Define the problem
  • Discover the context of the problem and availability of information
  • Dream about solutions
  • Design a plan
  • Deliver the plan
  • Debrief about process and results
Information Fluency
  • Ask good questions
  • Acquire multiple sources and types of information
  • Analyze, authenticate and arrange the information
  • Apply knowledge
  • Assess the process and results
Creative Fluency
  • Identify problem
  • Inspire yourself through seeking information, ideas, connections etc
  • Interpolate (find patterns) in the information
  • Imagine what is possible
  • Inspect idea – evaluate and assess
Media Fluency
  • Listen
    • To the message – verbalize and verify
    • To the medium – the form, flow and alignment
  • Leverage
    • The message – content and outcome
    • The medium – audience, ability and criteria
Collaboration Fluency
  • Establish the group, norms, roles, responsibilities, etc
  • Envision the purpose and outcome
  • Engineer the steps needed
  • Execute the plan
  • Examine the process and outcome

The authors draw from Daniel Pink (2006), who concluded that often education is the process of teaching us what we can't do. Which, I think, does happen in too many classrooms, because proficiency is celebrated with grades and recognition, but risk-taking and trying yet not completely succeeding is avoided (by both teachers and students).

Beyond the Fluencies, the authors discuss Global Digital Citizenship. Since “we stay so connected to our friends [across time and space] it's like we have one long conversation that never ends; it just has some very long pauses” (p.79). In other words, whether we like it or not, we are all global citizens, because the daily events and happenings from around the world are deposited into our consciousnesses through social media and commercial media instantaneously and steadily. This requires teaching students to have particular awareness and responsibility to:
  • Respect themselves
  • Protect themselves
  • Respect others
  • Protect others
  • Respect intellectual property
  • Protect intellectual property (p. 81)

Most schools and businesses require users to sign an Acceptable User Policy (AUP) for the computer network. However, the authors argue that most of these policies for on the restriction of use, rather than supporting and teaching responsible use of technology. They provide a Digital Citizenship Agreement, that could replace the AUP using the foundations of respect and protect

The last part of the book has some unit plans for various grade and subject areas with a focus on developing the various fluencies through real-life simulations and project-based learning, along with a short discussion about assessment with more formative, self and peer assessment and reflection being key.

So, what is the essential pedagogical guidelines for 21st Century Learning? Velcro Learning!
  • Make it sticky 
  • Draw from the past 
  • Repeat - often 
  • Give positive feedback - frequently
Here are some online resources: