CCO public domain image from Pixabay.

So, I’m still thinking about my observations. The other day I wrote about my experience in the math department in particular. This time, I’m thinking about the students.

At this point, I have observed a lot of classes. Even though I meet afterward with the teachers, I often think about the students. There are plenty of students whom I know by name or grade, but whom I do not teach or have never taught. For these students, I have vague impressions based on things like how they walk down the hall, how loud they are in the library, who they sit with at lunch. None of these is anything on which to base even a guess as to what they are like in class. And yet, don’t we all make those kinds of guesses all the time?

Seeing these students whom I don’t know as students in class has been so interesting. Since I am observing rather than teaching, I can really look around and see that big picture. Yes, so-and-so is not good at sitting still and talks out of turn, but is also on topic and engaged, while walking across the back of the room to switch chairs. Someone else who slouches through the day, trailing papers, once settled sits up and is focussed.

Now that I am mostly an administrator, I only teach a relatively few number of students in my English and Digital Fabrication classes, and even those students I see in only one learning environment. I try to make sense of the whole person by putting together the pieces I see in class with what I see around school and what I learn from other teachers. I try to go to one extra event that each of my students does during the semester (a game, a concert, whatever).

However, the vast majority of students I don’t teach, and therefore don’t see doing the most school-ish thing—learning in class. It’s strange to think that for a lot of students, I know the least about them as students. When I was a lower school, teacher and taught in a self-contained classroom, I knew all of my students so well; we spent all day together, went to recess together, went to lunch together, got ready to go home together. That leaves a mark. And, even though I had only one section of 5th grade, I had enough interaction with the other sections and teachers to know all of the 5th graders pretty well. For most of the students that I have now observed in class, I have seen a more studious version of the person I see in the hallways, a more lively person than I see in the library. It’s been wonderful to see all of these people as learners and members of an academic community.

Plus, the way schedule crumbled meant that I got to see several students in multiple classes purely by accident. I enjoyed seeing the same student interact with different content, with different classroom environments, with different teacher strategies. I got to see what part of the student was consistent across all those classes and what part changed, just like I used to see with my 5th graders.

More wins for me.

CCO public domain image by Pixabay user

So, I’ve been thinking about classroom observations. I have been observing colleagues informally at my school this spring. What that means is I look at my schedule for the week, find some time when I don’t have a meeting/class/whatnot, look at the master schedule, find out who is teaching what, and drop by for 10-20 minutes.

I decided to pick a department and stick with it until I had observed each teacher. I did this partly because it made it economical to go between classes in terms of time. It has turned out to be a great choice for a first go round. I started with Math.

It’s been a long time since I was in a high school math class. I found that there were classes where all or most of the content came back, and I could listen along with the students. Then, there were classes where content didn’t really come back; words sounded familiar, but I really did not know what was going on mathematically. And, there were classes somewhere in between. However, since I was not necessarily there to learn math that really did not matter.

One of the things I noticed, particularly in classes where I was not necessarily familiar anymore with the specifics of how to do or solve the problems, was that I did have access to the patterns and the big picture. For example, in one class I observed a teacher put a few things on the board in a chart. She asked students to look and share what they noticed. A couple of students had big picture comment to make. Most students saw the trees and really didn’t or couldn’t step back and wonder if there was a place in the forest where the trees were short, or place in the forest where all the trees had no leaves. I, on the other hand, was not burdened by the details, and so for me, the patterns and the interesting similarities between data points were relatively easy to see.

I spoke to the teacher afterward and I said that I had thought that the point she was trying to make with the chart was interesting and told here that I had found it actually the part that was easiest for me to do, yet surprisingly hard for the students to do. We talked about how it happens that students get lost in the specifics of the content.

I have to say this idea of the details and the big picture and what students find easier and more challenging to do is really fascinating to me. Always has been. I see it in my English classes all the time; it just looks a little different. There are often students who love the big picture, love the big themes and grand ideas of the book. When it gets down to the specific details of solving the problem and actually defending those big ideas, explaining how the author very specifically builds those ideas, they either lose interest or don’t quite know where to go. And, I have students who would love to collect details, see all those little trees, and never or rarely get to what kind of forest that makes. 

So interesting.

I am sure teachers in math classes find that there are students who love those patterns but do not really want to do the work of solving the problem or be particular. And, then are there other students who are happy to follow the directions, complete the steps in the right order, but don’t ever really step back and see what it all means. 

What conversations should we be having across disciplines to compare notes? Are the same students big picture thinkers in all disciplines? What strategies and vocabulary are we using that are working?

I can’t wait to think about another department in a new way.

 

So, I’ve been thinking about the plans my students presented before spring break. The project was a YA book plan, either historical fiction or fantasy, depending on the genre the students in the group had been reading.

Last year, the entire class was reading various fantasy books and everyone, either in a group or alone, created a plan for a fantasy book. (I wrote about it last year, including the project description.) It was very successful in that students did good work, did not hate the project, were creative and collaborative, and I got new information about their interests and abilities.

This year, I have a lot of students who like historical fiction and/or don’t particularly like fantasy. So, I quickly created a historical fiction unit as an option to the fantasy unit. Historical fiction worked for a similar book concept final project which meant I could keep my successful project by making a few simple tweaks. (Fantasy project description. Historical fiction project description.)

Students knew about the project from the beginning of the unit. Having fantasy and historical fiction units going on simultaneously does not seem like an obvious pairing. As they read and talked about various books, I frequently connected at least part of our discussion to their goal of a new book project. Not only did that remind students of the upcoming tasks, but provided a unifying element in what might otherwise be a pretty random situation. For example, after each group’s first reading assignment, we looked at beginnings. I did a little talking about options writers have for beginnings, then groups examined the way their writer and text started, talked about the benefits and potential drawbacks, and finally, students wrote individually on a forum about what they were thinking about in terms of a beginning strategy for the book they would plan.

Once we got to the project, again the students really came through. This is work they are doing the week before spring break, not a time known for high-level work. Students had a short amount of time. Although they were to come in with some basic ideas on Monday, they basically started work on that Monday, had class Monday and Tuesday (long block of 65 minutes), homework time, and presented on either Wednesday or Thursday (the Thursday groups each had someone missing on Monday or Tuesday). With only four groups (3 historical fiction, 1 fantasy) I could spend quality time with each group asking questions, pushing them to consider options etc. On Monday, I was worried. They had ideas but were pretty far from solidifying anything. On Tuesday, they were significantly farther along. With a long class period that day, I was also able to get around to each group twice. It was interesting to see how various ideas changed and what had either fallen by the wayside or moved to the front.

It was clear from the final presentations that the groups had thought a lot about the structures of the books we have read over the course of the semester, beyond this unit. (Narrative structure has been an ongoing topic of discussion.) All groups made very particular choices about format and structure that they explained in terms of their responses to other works they read earlier in the semester. Students did solid research for the historical fiction stories. They thought about how they would incorporate enough of the necessary history into the story without sounding like a textbook. The fantasy group had animal characters and made interesting choices about character traits and lessons learned. In addition, each group had a presentation that included images to help us imagine the setting or characters. A few of them were very creative visually.

I was thrilled.

And, I was worried that maybe I was just being the proud teacher and excited over mediocre work done by students I love. It’s sometimes easy for me to spread affection over work like jelly, allowing it to cover burnt toast. I know this about myself. However, I invited another teacher to the presentations (The year before I was worried students wouldn’t take the assignment seriously and had another teacher there for the serious factor. This group did not need that, but whenever there is a performance/presentation, I think it’s a great idea to have outside eyes and ears for celebratory or seriousness reasons.) Then, I showed the final products to a real, live YA author. While neither of these ladies thought my students should give up their day jobs of being high school students, they both agreed that my students’ work was indeed quality stuff.

Whew.

What a great way to head off to spring break.

Here are a few slides from the presentations:

This book plan combines Ann Frank’s diary with a boy in a detention center. The boy has to read about Ann Frank and write in response to her entries. His initials are also AF, which I thought was a great little twist. This is an example of some sample text that might be in their book.

 

This book concept focusses on 9-11. There are four main characters who do not all connect to each other. At the end, they are all at the 9-11 memorial at exactly the same time. This is what each a shared chapter/passage.

 

More sample text. This concept has the story set in WWII, but in North Africa. There are two main characters, one older, one younger. The plan is for the younger medic to tell the story, but have the older soldier as a friend/mentor and information/history source.

 

Finally, the fantasy story. This story is about a naked mole rat who wants to see “above” and light and colors. The background on the slide is a maze of tunnels.

So, I’m still thinking about interview don’ts from the other day and “binders full of women”. This is another ‘taxonomy project’/art post; I’m ready to share the second set of images.

This set has many similarities to the first set. As before, all begin with an image of a man with a bag. I removed the background and put in decorative paper again, cut out a hole in the bag for a slide to be inserted and lit from behind. This time, I covered the image in vellum on which I had written out entire passages from two of the articles about the experiences many women have in the interview and job evaluation process. I stitched through all layers to outline the figure and in some cases sewed around the edges in addition.

The first one has a good combination of color that is visible through the vellum. I am pleased with the red in the pants, the background paper, and the bow in the girl’s hair. The border works too. Some of the later images don’t have borders, mostly just because of how the original image was designed, but I made try adding some. I think they may really need some.

“My First Interview” Slide: “Girl with a Watering Can” by Renoir 1876. National Gallery, Washington, DC.

The same article’s text continues in this next image. I only cut out the couch portion of the background. The sitting pose is not working so well here. However, again the border is a help, I think.

“Different Interview, Same Problem” Slide: “Ginevre de’Benci” by Leonardo da Vinci. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Finally, this tall, thin image. There was more to it, but it spanned two facing pages in a magazine and I couldn’t manage that. This one also needs a border on the bottom and right sides. The stitching around the guy works here, I think, as does the simliar pose in the woman in the slide and the guy. Also, the coloring or the clothing is visible. It gets kind of muddy towards the bottom, but I think the green and white background paper works better here than in the second image. (This is another “bag added” image.)

“The Assumption” Slide” “Judith” bu Giorgione” The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

The next two images are all connected by the article’s text, which continues from one image to the next. I think the first image is best of the three. The man’s clothing has a little going on and the color is strong enough to be visible through the vellum and writing. Also, the thread and background paper colors are working well together. I found a slide where the tilt of the woman’s head is similar to the man’s.

“Attention Hiring Managers” Slide: “Portrait of a Young Girl” by Correggio c. 1515. Lowe Art Museum, Coral Gables, Florida.

The background paper in this next image is striking, when not behind the vellum. I liked the ‘big sky’ effect in comparison to the guy sitting on the ground. However, the black and white image of the guy disappears too much. The subtlety of the grays is lost. Plus with no border at all, there is something missing for me. I was contemplating sewing along some of the swooping in the background. I still may add that, after I sit with it for a bit. (Note, I had to add a bag into this one.)

“It Gets Worse” Slide: “Portrait of a Lady” by Vittore Carpaccio ca 1500.

I am a fan of incorporating sewing, embroidery, any kind of needle work into images. Given the focus on women, the addition of sewing can provide another layer to consider in terms of the expectations of what women should be doing or be good at.

While the other set of images seem to me to be more about the individual interviewer and his questions, these are more about the evidence of this being a pattern that many, many women encounter. For me, the flow of the words across the top of the image suggest that ongoing, overwhelming aspect of the problem. I also managed to take better pictures this time.

Any favorites? What about this format compared to the other?

 

Notes:

  • Source articles for text
  • Slides from a sale of Art History department slides from several local colleges.
  • Original ads from NYTimes T Magazine and FT Weekend/How to Spend It magazine.
  • I still love spring break.

So, I’ve been thinking about how women are treated in the wide world. In particular, I’ve been thinking about mansplaining and career inequalities that begin in the hiring process. I remembered the “binders full of women” comment from some years ago too. Time for another taxonomy project (where I make a set of 5 images).

This set of five images combines advertising images from magazines, patterned papers, art history slides, and actual text from articles reporting on questions women have been asked in interviews. Like “fashion don’ts” from fashion magazines, I have covered the eyes of the men to make them unrecognizable, or maybe universal? The men are all white. That’s what I found in the advertisements in the Sunday newspaper magazines I had, and given the images coming out of Washington these days of groups of white men making decisions for all sorts of people who are not exclusively white men, seems sort of appropriate.

Anyway, here’s how I went about this. I started with the entire advertisement, cut out the background, put in a new, abstract pattern, cut a hole for the woman’s portrait (slide) in the bag the man is carrying, and added text. I also added a light behind the slide to show it off. In the final image you can see that without the light, it is just a plain, dark area.

Here’s my first final piece.

“What will you do, Anna?” Slide: Anna Parolini Guiccinardini by Carracci, 1598.

I like the wavy pattern to the paper on this one. The face is not so dark in person. Bad lighting on this photo.

“So, being a woman…” Slide: Woman Nursing a Baby, by Pieter de Hooch. SF Fine Art Museum

I have two different women/slides in this image. Not sure which one I like better yet.

“More makeup, please, lady.” Slide: Portrait of a lady c. 1519 by Corregio. St. Petersburg, The Hermitage.

“More makeup, please, woman.” Slide: Portrait of a woman by Miereveld. National Gallery, London.

This one needed something else. So, I added the string. I think it totally works with the color and pattern of the paper and provides an edge.

“What does your husband think?” Slide: Portrait of a Young Boy (!) by Rosalba Carriera c. 1725. Academia, Venice. I think it is a great twist that this image of a boy, who could pass for a young woman, is in fact by a woman.

My final image didn’t include a bag. It turns out there are only so many images of men with bags. So, I had to add the tablet case under the arm. I kept some of the door and cut out the center panels only. I like the spacey look here.

“What does your husband think, gentlewoman?” Slide: Portrait of a Gentlewoman by Prospero Fontana c. 1565. Museo Davia Bargellini, Bologna.

Here it is without the light on to give you an idea of what they all look like when not “on.”

At the moment, I am trying to decide if I want them to be finished as is or if I will incorporate the idea of a binder from the “binder full of women” idea. I am playing with the idea of having some binder or folder that covers the image and then when opened, triggers the light to go on.

My photographs really leave a lot to be desired here. The light in the slide makes it hard to get a good image and good balance, so sorry about that. Any favorites or ones that you don’t think work at all?

 

 

Notes:

  • Source articles for quotes
  • Slides from a sale of Art History department slides from several local colleges.
  • Original ads from NYTimes T Magazine and FT Weekend/How to Spend It magazines.
  • I have another entire set of 5 with a slightly different look that I’m working on now. I love spring break.

So, I’ve been thinking about class activities recently. In particular, I’ve been thinking about activities that are not class discussions about the reading.

I try to mix it up in my English class. We might have several days of general discussion, some passage analysis, but I also try to have actual activities. Recently, we have worked on several webbing activities. I wrote about this the other day. For complicated information, I think showing the interconnections of characters, ideas, themes, really has to be done in a visual way. Plus, it’s the kind of thing that is hard to take notes on when it is just discussed and not created in the course of the discussion. Therefore, the web or chart or diagram serves the additional purpose of being a note-taking model as well.

Another thing I am trying to do is give more responsibility to the students in terms of leading class. (Student responsibility and independence was the topic of #NCTEChat on Sunday 3/19. Great chat. Check the archive for details.) So, earlier in this semester, pairs of students led class. Although they had options, all chose to lead discussions. These discussions went well, mostly. However, I wanted the students to branch out and think about other class activities that would be valuable, that would help the group think more deeply about the writing, the time period, the characters, etc. Having students think about what type of activity would best support deepening their learning about particular ideas seems to be an important step in taking responsibility and ownership of their learning. To move this process along, I decided to put some more parameters on what ‘leading class’ could look like for round two. This time, students had to plan an activity for their group (small groups) that was anything except a straightforward discussion.

In advance, we brainstormed a list of some possibilities. I didn’t just throw them out there with no support. Many of the options were things I had done with the students at some point during the semester. The plan was for each individual to be in charge of one 15 minute activity for his or her group. We were on a tight schedule, but had enough days for all activities. Then, we had a snow day, which messed up our schedule a bit, but was oh so lovely.

One of the students planned for the group to make a web with the four main characters. She had her small group at the board. Two of them wrote and all (mostly) participated. They made a web and had some time to consider what it looked like. I came around to the group a few times. Within about 12-15 minutes they had this.

Web created by students reading Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

 

At that point, I joined the conversation and asked some questions to push their thinking beyond creation of the web to analysis of the web. We noticed that the character who, at that point, was trying to distance himself the most, seemed in some ways the center, or at least to have the most linkages. This was interesting to consider.

In another group, a student planned for them to make a Venn diagram of two presidents/characters. These two are part of the story, but not the main protagonists. Making the diagram was an interesting way to compare two seemingly very different people who had the same position and were faced with similar decisions. Here’s what they did.

Student venn diagram for Presidents Johnson and Nixon in relation to Vietnam War in  Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin.

Although there’s not a lot of detail there, what I do notice is that they have really gotten to some key big ideas that I would say are the point. These students are big idea people and history guys. And, while I think if I had asked them about the similarities and differences, they could have gotten there, I am glad that they found a way to get there on their own and thought that this was worth investigating.

What I see in both of these examples is not so much the web itself, but the thinking that the web enabled. There is nothing super impressive about the individual bits of information in either diagram. What is there is the potential to see a bigger picture and a roadmap to get there.

CCO public domain image by Unsplash

So, I’ve been thinking about and trying to encourage other teachers to think about audio response as an option for student work. I find it useful and instructive to listen to students talk out an answer to a prompt.

For some students having an option other than text as a format for response makes a huge difference in terms of the apparent complexity of their argument. Text is just not everyone’s best medium. If the goal of the assignment is for me to assess understanding of a particular concept or understanding, then there is no reason students must demonstrate that in writing. As an English teacher, I know that I must frequently assess student writing. However, I think I have a responsibility to require and assess other forms of communication as well. rather than write it. Of course, there are students who plan out their answer, write it down, and then read it. Even for those students, I find this format interesting. As we have now had three assignments in this form, I hear in the planners’ responses more improvising and more willingness to go off script a bit. Then there are the non-planners. For this group, I really hear the ideas coming together, or not. There are pauses, think time, pages flipping as they find the passage they want to quote. But it’s all interesting data for me to collect. There is also a big in-between group. They plan some ideas, have some passages ready and then start talking. They are often the most natural. With no grammar issues to distract me from their ideas, I can just listen and evaluate sophistication of ideas.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to get others on this bandwagon, not because it’s a big tech idea, but because I think it’s a good teaching idea that happens to use some low-level technology that students have easy access to. And, with a learning management system that allows for file submission, which is really any learning management system, it’s easy to put a prompt out there and have students upload a file to one location. The teacher goes to the location, listens to the files, grades or not, gives feedback, done. In my effort to gain accomplices, I have described this in brief in my section of the divisional update that comes out every weekend. I have set aside time for meeting to discuss and learn. I have done all of that for several weeks running.

Crickets

Then, the other day at lunch I mention it, again, in conversation when some teachers are talking about particular student work. All of a sudden, a few people are interested. They think this is a really interesting idea they’ve never thought of before. New information, no indication this sounds familiar. (I was not under any illusions that my part of the weekly update was considered a must-read, however, these were folks who I thought might actually read all the way to my part of the update. Sigh. Maybe they just forgot.)

Still, lunch for the win. Another reason I stay at that teacher table as long as anyone is chatting with me or even near me, pretty much no matter what the topic. I will be getting in touch with the particular teachers next week in case they want any support or help.

Then, a few days later, I’m standing around with another teacher passively supervising some students who don’t really need supervising. We get to chatting. Audio recordings as an option for student responses comes up. Again, no acknowledgment of the fact that I have suggested this before, but interest. Standing around for the win.

My big takeaway here: the actual conversation with colleagues is what matters, which means I am staying at lunch as long as folks are talking to me.