Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Fostering Creativity - a lecture by John Cleese

“You know, when Video Arts asked me if I'd like to talk about creativity I said "no problem!" No problem! Because telling people how to be creative is easy, it's only being it that's difficult”

So began John Cleese's 1991 lecture on creativity. (Transcript available here: News Genius: Lecture on Creativity.) I happened to stumble on this lecture late one night when I couldn't sleep. Cleese is best known for his work in Monty Python, which gives him great experience to talk about creativity because, as he states, he has been watching and working with creative people for most of his career. Cleese believes that creativity is not a talent, but rather a way of operating in the world and to foster creativity in oneself there are five factors that need to available to inspire more creative thinking: space, time, time, confidence and humor. With these factors in place, people are more open to possibilities and playful exploration which leads to creative thinking.

As I was watching the video, I immediately thought about the institution of schooling and how, in modern times, the institution of schooling has fostered the complete opposite. Which is unfortunate, because Dr Richard Florida has stated, “Creativity is the new economy.” We are no longer living in an industrial society focused on manufacturing as we have out-sourced that to countries who can do it cheaper. Although the service industry will always be a part of our society, it is not the biggest economic driving factor in the US, nor is bartering in knowledge. Instead, according to Dr. Florida, what will be important in America's future is the development of innovative ideas and support for creative thinking.

So, returning to John Cleese, what are the five factors that foster creative thinking? And, I might add, how might classrooms foster this?

  1. Space – Cleese means both a physical space and a mental space free from the usual pressures of performance and interruptions. In practical terms, this means creating an environment without distractions of noise, social media, gossip, TV and other screens, and the anxiety of “doing it right.” Children used to have a creative space like this during recess – where they could choose what to do and how to do it. Unfortunately, there is less recess time and even the recess time available has been more structured. As children become older, there is even less unstructured, unpressured spaces available in middle and high school.

  2. Time – Not only is an open, undisturbed space needed but adequate time dedicated to playful creativity. Cleese suggests at least 90 minutes, because in the first 30 minutes, the mind will race with all the things we think we need to do “Because, as we all know, it's easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent, like thinking. And it's also easier to do little things we know we can do, than to start on big things that we're not so sure about.” Envision this – taking 90 minutes a week to think, ponder and imagine. Now envision providing 90 minutes a week for students to do the same thing!

  3. Time – Separate from scheduling thinking time, according to Cleese, persistent time is important – time to persist with a problem or idea beyond the easy solution; to embrace the anxiety and unease of not having a solution or a decision. Too often we are driven by our To-Do Lists and feel that action is better than inaction. But, according to Cleese, the more creative ideas arise when decisions are deferred and pondering time is provided. I am lead to think about how we run writer's workshop. Although in many workshops, students are allowed to choose their own topics, but I've seen many teachers teach through genres and expect students to produce a realistic fiction story during one unit and a memoir in the next. We impose strict limits on how long a student can work on something and feel uncomfortable when they abandon a piece and start over. What if they just need to persist with an idea for longer than the unit lasts? We teach a mini-lesson and then send the students off to implement our mini-lesson expecting to see immediate results of our teaching. What if the idea of the mini-lesson isn't important to their writing right now, but it might be later?

  4. Confidence – The fear of making a mistake stifles creativity. Being creative is risky as it involves being playful and exposing ourselves to criticism. Brainstorming was all the rage a few years ago and one of the “rules” of brainstorming is “Accept all ideas.” As a teacher, that was fairly easy to do – I would make sure to record all ideas on the chart. But, we also need to create an environment in which students don't spontaneously say, “Oh, that's dumb” - which is easily addressed. But, more insidious are the subtle sighs and body language of rejection. Even more important to recognize and help students recognize and take control of are the internal voices of criticism. 

  5. Humor – Cleese makes a point to differentiate between seriousness and solemnity. There are serious subjects that are important and need to be earnestly considered but can be talked about in humorous ways as that opens us to consider possibilities and relaxes our thinking. Solemnity, however, closes thinking and enforces conformity and compliance. In Cleese's words, “Humor is an essential part of spontaneity, an essential part of playfulness, an essential part of the creativity that we need to solve problems, no matter how “serious” they may be.” How often do you laugh in a day? How often do your students laugh in your classroom? One of the first books I bought as a teacher was The Laughing Classroom: Everyone's Guide to Teaching with Humor and Play by Diana Loomans and Karen Kolberg. Humor in the classroom is more than telling jokes, but it is building an environment of acceptance, support for risk-taking, and play.

As I enter a new school year, I want to consider how I can provide more opportunities for my students to function in an “open mode” and have access to the time and space needed to think and create. What might you do this year to foster creativity in your classroom?

In the last part of his lecture, Cleese defines how to STOP creativity, because being creative leads to independent thinking, insubordination, and critical thinking. These things can be very dangerous to the status quo – so if you do NOT want people to be creative, make sure to do the following:
  1. Squash all forms of humor – is it subversive
  2. Criticize continually and undermine the confidence of people
  3. Require constant action and do not provide thinking time

Hmmm....this sounds a lot like the current culture of high-stakes, standardized testing in schools. Coincidence?

Monday, August 04, 2014

Re-phrasing for Dynamic Learning

Edutopia re-posted an article today entitled 5 Powerful Questions Teachers Can Ask Students because the talented  Krissy Venosdale at http://venspired.com/ designed a cool classroom poster to remind ourselves to open more doors through our questions rather than closing them through statements. (ie dynamic rather than static thinking - see #CyberPD Opening Minds Chapters 1-3 ).

Here is an image of the poster, but if you would like a good version of it, go to Krissy Venosdale's Flickr site.  She also is offering a printed versions (for only $4.00) at MagCloud. Seems totally worth it!

Monday, July 21, 2014

#CyberPD Week 3 - Chapter 5 - Know Thyself

     Supposedly, Socrates uttered these words, "Know thyself" but the roots of  wanting to understand the self probably goes back much further.  Why would I bring philosophy into a conversation about literacy?  Well, chapter five is about Wild Readers Showing Preferences for reading - genres, authors, series etc.  To be able to have a preference, one must know thyself.  What do I like/dislike?  Why?  How might this help me select books I enjoy in the future?  How do I need to challenge myself as a reader?

     At the beginning of the chapter, Donalyn reflects on her own preferences, therefore I reflected on mine.  Not only do I have clear preferences, but these preferences are dependent on the role I'm playing and the context I'm in.  I listen to non-fiction business and self-help books before bed to wind-down, but I don't read them. I enjoy a good science fiction book as an escapist read when I need to turn off my own thoughts for awhile. On an airplane, I prefer a realistic fiction book because it is easier to pick up and put down during interruptions and still follow the story. For some light or vacation reading, I'm currently collecting food-themed fiction and mystery books. Every few years I will re-read Anne McCaffrey, L.M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott and Sue Bender.  In my professional life, I'm reading about language use, writing, and literacy as a cultural practice.  Resnick (1990) categorizes literacy practices into various purposes: the sacred, the informational, the pleasurable, the persuasive and the personal-familial.  Since we all read/write for different purposes, it would seem reasonable that we would have different preferences in different contexts.  I wonder if my students could create a list like this - not just what titles/authors they prefer, but when and where they prefer to read particular titles/authors/types/genres?

     But, I will admit that I haven't "pushed [myself] to read widely in order to best serve our students" (p. 167) as Donalyn recommends.  There were some young adult titles that I would read summaries and recommendations about, rather than actually read the book.  I greatly depended on the Cooperative Children's Book Center to help me recommend titles of areas I was ignorant about.  Although many children learn the habits of networking to find books they enjoy, we need to be aware of the children who use vague terms like "scary" or "funny" books to describe their preferences.  This is an indication that the child hasn't read widely enough to start defining his/her specific preferences.  Might this relate back to not just personal taste, but reading in a variety of contexts?

     As I was reading, I created what I imagined will be Hints or Guidelines for Teachers about helping students create preferences in reading:
  1. As teachers, we need to help students develop a more sophisticated understandings of genres to include the sub-genres.  As Donalyn highlighted, not all sci-fi books have robots in them.  In fact, one of my favorite sci-fi books is a re-telling of Jane Eyre (Jenna Starborn by  Sharon Shinn). Not all mysteries have a murder. Not all romances are happy.
  2. As teachers, we need to accommodate students' preferences while expanding their reading repertoires and challenging them to explore new styles.  This is a fine line to continue to encourage the text that students like AND introduce the unfamiliar.
  3. As readers, we need to expand our own understanding and acceptance for non-traditional genres.  Styles, genres, and modes of text are changing constantly.  Remember, at one time it was thought that BOOKS would be the downfall of civilization. 
  4. As teachers, we need to expose students to more non-fiction in a variety of contexts.  For many students, non-fiction has been assigned reading or report reading and they have lost the joy of reading to learn information.   We need to make reading non-fiction as commonplace as reading fiction.
  5. As teachers, we need to create and use assessments/reflections that fit our goals for students and our own habits of organization. Over the years I've learned to work with my organizational style rather than against it which ensures that I actually keep records and can see the patterns of engagement of my students.
     Which, by the way, takes us to the last part of the book - the forms. There are almost 40 pages of the various forms that Donalyn and Susan Kelley have used with their students.  This includes all the forms for students' reader's notebooks, student reflection forms, the Wild Reader Survey that formed the basis of this book, plus a list of students' favorite titles and series.  An amazing resource for anyone who is using a workshop approach to teaching reading.

     Why does all this matter? And I'm not just talking about chapter 5, but why think about providing time to read in class and help students develop habits of reading on the edges, guide students to become confident self-selectors of reading materials, share their reading with others, and have reading plans?   Because as Donalyn states so eloquently "By the end of the year, our students have practiced all of the lifelong reading habits in our classrooms, they have reflected on their personal reading behaviors, and they have developed the tools and skills they need to become independent readers without our support. . . Their reading lives belong to them and they don't need us.  They are wild readers now (pp. 192-193)


Resnick, L. B. (1990). Literacy in school and out. Daedalus, 119(2), p. 169-185.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

#CyberPD - Reading in the Wild - Chapter 3 - Reading is a Social Activity - Chapter 4 - The Badge of a Wild Reader

      As firmly as I now believe that reading is a social activity, as a young reader I firmly believed in NOT sharing my reading with others. In school, no one “got” why I read what I read, I was frequently teased for always having my nose in a book, and no one really wanted to hear what I thought about what I read. Book reports were delivered to the sounds of crickets (think cartoon silence) and construction paper leaves for a tree or cars for a train lining the classroom walls were written up to prove my progress to a class goal of reading so many books. In high school, when we were finally allowed to “discuss” books, the conversation was very teacher driven and focused on proving we read the book and understood the symbolism. I did not experience a community of readers, who eagerly read, shared and supported each other, until I became a middle school teacher. Not only did I try to foster this type of environment in my classroom (surviving without a classroom library because my school didn't believe in such things) but as I attended my first professional conferences, I connected with other middle school teachers who enthusiastically shared their reading, made significant recommendations for books for my students (and me), and embodied lives of wild readers. In the challenging days of a first year teacher, these wild readers (like Linda Rief who actually wrote me encouraging letters and sent her own students' work) inspired me to “keep calm and read a book” and I continue to advocate for reading time in school, student choice, and, as chapter three details, help my students (both young and adults) to “share books and reading with other readers” (p. 87).

     Donalyn quotes Jeff Wilhelm (who is another of my teacher idols) from a conference when he stated, “What's your bottom line? What do you really want to happen for your students? Now, how does what you do every day serve that bottom line?” (p. 89). I've been pondering this lately and I'm reminded of an activity my teacher-husband did with a group of high school students. They were reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teensby Sean Covey and for Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind, my husband asked the students to create and design bumper stickers for their own life motto or mission statement. More recently, Daniel Pink asked the question,“What's your sentence?”  So, what is your literacy teaching mission/motto/sentence?

I'm playing with this one:

Donalyn describes many of the negative factors I experienced as a young reader – the demeaning social stereotypes of readers, the limited access to books at school and a school community that didn't support wild reading and social engagement with reading. Yet, even more importantly, Donalyn provides numerous suggestions on how to “foster school and home reading communities” (p. 91) and delineates the “benefits of reading communities” (p. 96). The main idea here is creating a sense of community – developing relationships and habits of mind both in school and at home that center around reading and writing. As I mentioned before, I had supportive reading parents and I learned to cherish the smell of bookshops and libraries and interact with readers outside of school. I wonder how much more would I have engaged in school and enjoyed it, if I didn't have to hide the reader side of my life? I wonder how many other children still feel this way?

     Besides many suggestions on how a teacher, classroom and school can create and sustain community connections, Donalyn shows how to help a new teacher embrace a wild reading life. I wept in awe reading Malorie's (a student teacher) initiation into the classroom community of readers. As Donlyn describes, “Watching Malorie talk with two of our students about the book later [The Hunger Games], I realized that Malorie had crossed over. She wasn't a classroom observer anymore. She was part of our reading community with powerful reading experiences and opinions to contribute. Our students respected Malorie's teaching role in our class, but they embraced her because she read alongside us” (p. 106). When I work with teachers, I know the importance of providing not just lip-service to these principles, but a functioning and successful model of a reading/writing workshop. For many teachers, it is the first time they have gotten to choose to read titles of their own selection and discuss something other than guided reading questions. The process of experiencing and envisioning a wild reading and writing classroom is essential in creating wild reading and writing teachers. 

      I love Banned Book Week because, as Donalyn states “books could be subversive contraband, worth passing back and forth among friends. Books hold secrets that you can share with other[s]” (pp. 108-109). I remember sneaking books from under my mother's bed – they were adult mysteries or horror novels and non-fiction crime stories, yet I felt I was rebelling against the cheesy teen romances that were the rage in my classroom. When Donalyn noticed a secret book her boys were reading, she read it too, but found it held little opportunity to grow as a community. Instead, as she stated, “My role changed from reading advisor to reading policeman” (p. 109). So now, when the secretive book is passed along, she takes note, but doesn't interfere. I wonder, how do other teachers handle banned or controversial books in their classrooms?

      I know conferring with readers is a constant struggle for many teachers new to the workshop approach. They ask the same question Donalyn did, “What's the point?” And, most teachers I've met tried checklists, notebooks or post-it notes to keep track of who they conferred with and who they haven't. Donalyn challenges us to think about why we want to confer with readers. In her classroom, it was to “forge relationships with each one [student]” (p. 131). To ensure this happened, Donalyn reflected on her own personal style of conferring and worked with this style, not against it, to create a process that provided consistency, growth, assessment, and evidence. After explaining her process, she also highlights her colleagues variations. The important part is that “conferring with my students is finally meaningful and manageable” (p. 134). I want to copy the last few pages of chapter three and send them to all the workshop teacher I know! It is such a comfort to realize that even master teachers struggle with this practice. 

Chapter 4 - Wild Readers Have Reading Plans

Here's my badge of a wild reader.  What does your badge look like? 

      Clearly, Donalyn is a wild reader.  I've followed her on Twitter for a while (@donalynbooks) and love her recommendations. But, beyond having stacks of books and lists of books, wild readers need to have a plan for when and how they are going to read their stacks and lists of books.  Goal setting - for time read, amount of pages read, types of books read, or amount of books read - gives wild readers a destination and a challenge to become more widely read wild readers.  

     In the past few years, I've started my own book blog to become accountable to a public audience and reconnect to my readerly life. On the blog, I tried a few book challenges, such as the Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge sponsored by the Book Vixen; Off the Shelf Book Challenge by Bookish Ardour; or The Big Book Challenge by Book by Book.  What challenge might you take up in the next few months?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

#CyberPD - Reading in the Wild - Chapter 1-2 - Alleluia!

      As much as I love #CyberPD, I kind of think that by selecting this book, the choir is being preached to. Based on my experience in past years with #CyberPD, I think that most of the teachers and educators joining us will be singing, “Alleluia” as they read Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild as it confirms, validates, and supports many of the practices that we know are good for kids. And not in the “raise test scores” kind of good, but good in the way that helps students become life-long readers. As Donalyn states early in the Introduction, this is not a program to be implemented, but a way of thinking about how life-long readers and writers integrate reading and writing into their lives and then applying those principles to the classroom to help students develop the habits of life-long readers.

     With all the current tension surrounding the implementation of Common Core, and in many states, the newly minted Smarter Balanced Assessment System, I found it interesting that Donalyn returned to the 1996 NAEP report for this quote, “Students must no only develop the ability to comprehend what they read, but also develop an orientation to literacy that leads to life-long reading and learning.” I don't know about your own school districts, but around me it seems like we are moving further away from this ideal – to not only create students who can demonstrate the skills of reading, but inspire students to actually want to read and write outside of school and develop positive dispositions towards engaging in literacy for their own purposes. Or, as Donalyn writes, to foster "their capacity to lead literate lives.” (p. xx) Wouldn't that be an amazing part of any school's mission statement?

      Donalyn reminds us, “living a reading life requires some commitment” (p. 2) and highlights that too often, students have to wait until adulthood to create a readerly life because many literacy classrooms focus on skills and strategies, rather than the full experience of becoming a reader. I enjoyed reviewing the Classroom Non-Negotiables: 1) Provide time to read and write 2) Give choice to students 3) Provide multiple opportunities to respond to reading 4) Create a community around literacy and 5) Create structures to support students and teachers to learn more and assess their work together. Although these non-negotiables are very familiar (I was an early adopter of Atwell's workshop approach), it is good to be reminded of the essence of classrooms that foster the habits of life-long readers. These habits are so essential because those who become life-long readers are “readers who incorporate reading into their personal identities to the degree that it weaves into their lives along with everything else that interests them” (p. 3).

      Managing time is one of the biggest factors in determining if one will become a life-long reader. With so many requirements, responsibilities and distractions, it is easy for reading to be pushed aside for other things. Chapter 1 focuses on how we can “practice living like readers” (p. 9) by snatching reading time on the edges (the multiple few minutes of time spent waiting that inevitable happens) and getting into the habit of always having book available for “reading emergencies” (p. 14). Lately I have gotten into the habit of downloading books to my smartphone. I have been amazed at how much more reading I've been doing just because I always have a book with me. Like many of Donalyn's students (and my own), I have been under the false assumption that I need to have long stretches of time to really be reading, but the 3 minutes here and 10 minutes there allows me to savor a book as I have time to mull over sections, rather than racing through the book. However, I do have to admit that I am a horrible binge reader and will, at times, stay up for hours reading. And again, now with having books on my smartphone, I don't have to turn on the lights and bother other people, so I sneak in a lot more midnight reading. 
      Self-selecting books is essential to developing life-long reading habits, and Chapter 2 reviews how readers learn to select books through multiple networks, community conversations, and read alouds. I was fortune to grow up in a household that a trip to a used bookstore was common and it was expected that each of us would leave the store with multiple books. My parents never censored my reading, though they were well aware of my choices and available to discuss things with me. Most of the books that I have learned to hate are those that I was assigned to read and dissect. I hated it when teachers told me, “Don't read ahead!” If it really was a good book, I couldn't help myself! 
      I have really enjoyed how Donalyn has incorporated the research behind each of her recommendations, provided teaching anecdotes to show life in a real classroom, and given us access to all her handouts and forms.  She has really opened both her classroom and her thinking to us - showing how she thinks through planning a literacy block, takes notes on students' work, and even how to spot students who are fake reading.   Although many of the ideas are not new to me, I'm learning new ways to demonstrate to other teachers how to make the transition to independent reading or reading/writing workshop less daunting. She has even illustrated how to create and maintain a solid classroom library. I wish I had this book when I started teaching!!!!!!!!

Friday, June 27, 2014

#CyberPD - Reading in the Wild - Book for Summer 2014

#CyberPD is one of the best professional development over summer!  I have had the honor of participating in the last few years and this year promises to be even better!

We will be reading and discussing Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller with Susan Kelley.

If you are interested in participating, go to Literacy Learning Zone to find out how.

#cyberPD 2014: Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks)
July 9th   Chapters 1-2 Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine
July 16th  Chapters 3-4 Hosted by Laura Komos at Ruminate and Invigorate
July 23rd  Chapter 5 & Appendices Hosted by Michelle Nero at Literacy Learning Zone
July 30th @ 7 PM (CST) Twitter Chat with the author Donalyn Miller

Friday, March 07, 2014

PowerPoint or Pointless

As a classroom teacher, I didn't use PowerPoint a lot, not because I couldn't, but because it was such a static medium.  I used the old fashioned overhead that allowed me to write, draw, and design visuals that followed the conversation we were having.  However, at times, PowerPoint was very relevant and I especially wanted to teach my students how to leverage PowerPoint to their advantage, and not stumble, like so many do, into creating slides with too much text and spending too much time reading their slides to the audience.

However, as an academic, I'm frequently speaking to large audiences in spaces that typically encourage, if not require, some sort of visual presentation.  Several years ago, I participated in a PechaKucha night and it was a revelation of what PPT could inspire.  Since then, I've had the pleasure of experiencing a few professional speakers and researchers who use PPT to strategically  illustrate points and/or reinforce the mood/tone of their speech, rather than provide the entire text of their speech.

Rebecca Schuman takes on the pointlessness of PPT in higher education with her entertaining and informative presentation PowerPointless: Digital slideshows are the scourge of higher education.  It blithely highlights the horrible habits we have all gotten into when using PPT and exposes what our students really feel about our use of text-heavy, dull, and outdated presentations. As she states, mid-way through her presentation, "A presentation, believe it or not, is the opening move of a conversation - not the entire conversation."

Although I continue to create presentations for conferences, I hope that my move toward the use of graphics and strategic selection of quoted data helps build the audience engagement in what I'm presenting.  A little later in her presentation, Schuman states, "If your audience can understand everything it needs to from your slides only . . . cut 50% of the slides and 90% of the text."  In other-words, if the slideshow can be read like a book, what's the point of me standing in front of you speaking?  You could read it on your own time!

What do you think?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Researchers as Writers - for whom and how?

Right now there is a major debate going on through multiple academic listservs.  It revolves around a recent article by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times entitled "Professors, We Need You". He begins the piece with a provocative opening, "Some of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates."  He continues to point out the "the anti-intellectualism in American life" and how, at times, professors themselves are to blame for this - as generally, they are not (or are prevented from) engaging in public debates of importance.  As researchers/professors, publication is a crucial part of tenure, but the audience and purpose is not necessarily to impact local, state or national policies or programs.  Instead, too often, academic research is written for academic researchers.  And, to be part of that great conclave, one must learn and use the academic jargon (or Academic Jibberish as Stephen Krashen calls it), required for admission.  Instead of writing for the masses, professors are writing for the select few.

HistoryImages.com: free clip art
In my own dissertation, I selected to use the "three article option" rather than the traditional five chapter format.  In addition, I deliberately selected practitioner-read journals as my target journals, rather than academic elite journals.  My research focused on researching with and learning from teachers, and it was my goal that other teachers would be interested in and enjoy learning from them too.  To bridge the worlds of the researcher and the practitioner, I took Duke and Beck's advise to write the dissertation as a series of articles in a “genre authentic to the field” (1999, p. 34).

However, Kristof is not only critiquing academic report writing, but he continues that "Professors today have a growing number of tools available to educate the public, from online courses to blogs to social media. Yet academics have been slow to cast pearls through Twitter and Facebook."  This is not surprising to me, as many academics don't receive "credit" for non-official writing such as social media or local opinion pieces.  If the process of tenure rewarded public engagement, then I'm sure more professors would involve themselves in this.  An organization that has been trying to influence this policy is Imagining America Organization and it recognizes that public scholarship needs to be supported.

Allen Berger, in his article "Writing about Reading for the Public" (The Reading Teacher, Sep. 1997), suggests that as literacy professionals, we need to learn how to write for publications that the public reads - which means understanding the style, format, length and audience for various publications.  In addition, according to Berger, we need to be reading the publications that influence public opinion and, rather than just responding to criticism, we need to be opening the doors to dialogue on issues and topics that we want to debate publicly.

As an early career scholar, I've grown up academically with digital spaces supplementing my traditional training.  I read blogs from graduate students, international teachers, writers and professors to gain insight on the intellectual work they are doing and sharing through their "slice of life" blog entries.  I actively participate in Twitter chats as a teacher, teacher-educator, adjunct faculty, and writer.  These conversations, with other engaged and excited people continue to inspire me to question further, read more, and consider other viewpoints.  One of the best things that I've learned on the web is to follow people with opinions very different from my own and not only "like" those who share my opinions.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Getting to Know the Characteristics of Good Teachers

For most pre-service teachers, they have had 13+ years of "apprenticeship of observation" (Lortie, 1975) - that is, they  have been students in schools for thousands of hours and seem to know what teachers do everyday.  However, as any classroom teacher will tell you - there is a lot of time, thought and effort that goes on behind the scenes that students never see.  As a teacher-educator, I hope to help my pre-service teachers become more aware of how their previous experiences as students influences their understanding of teaching and learning and their own development as teachers.

 One of the first activities I ask my pre-service teachers to complete is a quick review of the "characteristics of effective teachers".  To accomplish this, I ask the students to search for and view four YouTube videos using search terms like - characteristics/qualities/traits and good/effective/excellent and teachers.  The students take notes on the author and purpose of the video and what characteristics were discussed.  Then, in small groups, the students combine their observations for a group list - which is then compared against the other groups.  It is not surprising, but the results are fairly consistent - passionate, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, fair, organized, supportive, patient, caring, friendly, respectful and creative.

I then introduce the book "Thank You, Mr. Falker" by  Patricia Polacco, which is a memoir of her struggles with dyslexia in school and the teacher who made a difference for her.  Jane Kaczmarek reads the story in this Screen Actors Guild video.  Using a Quick Write, students reflect on the teachers who have influenced them the most and share their responses with a partner.

Finally, in small groups, students draft a job description for a teacher.  This would include the objective, summary statement, qualifications, duties/responsibilities, required skills, and desired skills.  It could also include the salary range and hours. 

For many students, this was the first time they have broken down the actual job of a teacher into the smaller parts to consider the daily tasks of not just lesson planning and teaching, but communicating with staff and parents, assessment paperwork, additional duties like lunch and recess, after school activities, and assorted professional meetings.  I chuckled when one student commented, "Hmmm... I guess I should really look into actual job descriptions, considering this is what I want to do."