Archive for March, 2011

So, I’ve been thinking about conferences.

We had our “spring” parent-teacher conferences a few weeks ago. I say “spring” because it was weeks ago and the temperature is still in the 40’s this week, but I digress. One of the pieces of work I shared with parents was the most recent essay each of my students had written. This meant parents saw the planning sheet/graphic organizer that their student filled in, my comments on it, the first draft, my comments on that, and the final draft. All but the planning was completed in school. For most students we focused on the final draft and changes that were made between drafts.  For many students this essay was easily the best work to date.

On the Great Barrier Reef
For one student in particular in not only represented the best thing written this year, but exponential growth. This was not a “good for so-and-so” essay, it was good, period. The student wrote the essay in a reasonable amount of time and made significant edits after reading my comments. I was so proud for this student, and excited to share this with the parents. However, the parents were not that excited. They breezed on by it. I tried again to stress the independence, the change from earlier in the year, the original ideas. No luck.

To be fair, we had many things to discuss, but I couldn’t help feeling they missed a chance to tell their child how impressive this work was. That made me wonder if I had been too impressed. I started to second-guess my response. Was I wearing  my rose-colored glasses again?

I sent the essay to the student’s teacher from last year and the learning coordinator who also is familiar with the student’s work. This time, I got the reaction I wanted, or maybe somehow needed. They were impressed.

Sometimes we all need some validation.

(Creative Commons flickr photo by Paul Holloway)

So, I’ve been thinking about how my students organize information. We have practiced a couple of ways to gather information and then manipulated it this way and that. We have worked on this both formally and informally. So, I was interested to see what groups of students would do with this assignment:

Note: I had already directly presented (I know, I know, but sometimes we have to get in a little background quickly) some basic information about Ancient Egyptian dynasties and kingdoms.

During their group times, each student had to do some if not all of the reading and then bring notes to the group. I got to watch. I love watching my students really do stuff. It gives me insights into what strategies they are using, what they can take in from the text without me, how they can work together, who leads well, who leads aggressively, who follows well, and who doesn’t follow at all. These are pictures of what different groups did with their information:

This group started with post-its on a table

Then they moved to a wall to reorganize.

This group radiated ideas out from the center.

I especially like getting to see how each person deals with information and attempts to organize it. I know already that I have some straight-line-flow-chart thinkers. Everything is linear and connected at right angles for them. Then there are the categorizers who group, but don’t necessarily worry about the order of the details. And, there are always the web-makers who have trouble putting anything in only 1 category because the see all those connections.

I find it infinitely fascinating to watch so many different minds at work. While I watch (and advise, I’m not trying to torture folks), I get a peek inside those heads, even if the window is a little cloudy.

So, I’ve been thinking and writing about seating arrangement a lot this year. Just on the off-chance that you didn’t catch those earlier posts, I’ll summarize quickly. I did some reading over the summer about seating and then bought tables from IKEA that were not only inexpensive, but easily move around the room. Then, even though I thought the new arrangement was great, my students surprised me by saying that there were some things about sitting in rows that they liked. So I went back to the drawing board and made a new plan.

Sort-of.

Chairs

Photo by Vincent Brassinne used under Creative Commons license

My idea of a new plan was not really that new. I asked for input from my class and then it fell off the to-do list. But, it’s back on the list–and at the top. Today I set up the room in yet another arrangement for our morning work. It was temporary, but made me start to think that the real problem was with my lack of imagination about the whole thing. For the rest of the day I got flashes of crazy ways to arrange the room. Whenever my students were out of the room I was tempted to start moving desks, chairs, and anything else that wasn’t nailed down.

But then I thought that I should really put this back in the hands of my students, as I had originally planned. Having put it off, if only for a few weeks, I am more ready to push them and myself to think WAY outside the box.

Here’s my plan: tomorrow morning I will ask for volunteers to be involved in a remodeling plan. Anyone who is interested is welcome to join. In groups of 3ish students will have a chance to make a proposal for our new plan–however outlandish it may be. Then we’ll vote or combine plans or something.

Wish me luck!