Archive for March, 2017

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.

 

So, I’ve been thinking about Project Based Learning (PBL). As my school thinks about expanding our interdisciplinary course work, PBL has, of course, entered the discussion. I’m a fan of PBL, and I know it’s not easy. However, I think I might have forgotten just how much work it is to do well.

CCO Public domain image by sandid

To review, there are projects that teachers plan at the end of a unit, as summative work. In that case, the learning happens and then the project is the assessment of the learning. Then there is project-based learning (PBL) where the learning happens in and around the project. In an effort to see more true PBL in action, I’ve been visiting other schools that are PBL based and going to a lot of conference sessions on the topic. All of this looking and listening has been super interesting. I’ve seen examples of units and projects that look great: clear learning goals, interesting and engaging (to the kids) questions, integrated learning, and rigorous (I know that is a bit of a dirty word right now) work.

I’ve also seen examples that don’t hold up, where the unit is focussed on engaging products without enough learning, integrated or not. Some of what I have seen that is not working, in my opinion, is being described as project based learning, but the students are jumping right to the project (as if it was a project at the end of learning) and skipping over the learning.

Even so, I don’t think anyone I have observed in the classroom or heard from at conferences is not trying very hard to do right by kids. Where I think part of the downfall has happened is in one of two places: either too much focus on the engaging kids part or too much focus on the charming product part. Both of these flaws mean that the deep learning and effective evaluating of the learning is getting short changed. I have certainly been guilty of both mistakes, maybe even in the same unit.

I have not made any revelations here. Anyone who teaches knows that teaching is always a lot of work and some drudgery. Good teaching is a lot of smart, thoughtful work and some drudgery. Effective and rigorous PBL shifts a lot of the teacher workload to the beginning of the unit. Then, during the unit there is lots of on the fly instruction, formative assessment to determine what content needs some direct instruction, conferencing with groups or individuals etc. There are a million moving parts. This is not work for the faint of heart.

I can see that as I have been spending more time thinking about interdisciplinary work and PBL, I have brought a wider range of ideas and approaches to my own teaching this year. As I think about teaching an interdisciplinary course next year, I guess my point is that I am excited to think more about this sort of work and mindful of the very real challenges it brings.

So, I’ve been thinking about making connections to ideas inside and outside of the books we read. I have always been a fan of a good mindmap or web, even before I knew about Making Thinking Visible. I don’t think there is ever a bad time for color coded charts and diagrams. And, yes, I did teach in lower school grades.

However, I think maps and charts and colored lines here and there are helpful even for students in high school. Earlier in the semester, I asked my seniors to work on a visible representation of the connections between the text, outside information that we had discussed, and thematic ideas.

My class was reading Monster by Walter Dean Myers. We were most of the way through the book. During class discussions, we had talked about the narrative structure of the book and how Myers uses the journal entries and the screenplay to do different jobs. Towards the beginning, I brought in information about NY State laws about the age at which young people are tried as adults, statistics about numbers of minors in adult prisons in NY, racial breakdowns of inmates, and brain research about the age at which young brains are able to consistently consider cause and effect. Of course, we were also discussing the theme of identity, in addition to the reliability of Steve (the protagonist) as a narrator. It’s a lot to have swirling around in our heads. And, I really wanted the students to think about how Myers was weaving this all together as an author, since one of the goals of the unit was to identify and consider the writer’s use of first person and other “writer moves” in a story that in some way deals with what happens when black boys come in contact with the criminal justice system. (Our other books were Hush by Jacqueline Woodson and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely).

Here’s what I did.

I brought in copies of a dozen or so passages from one night’s reading that I thought were particularly important. I also brought copies of the various supporting information that we had looked at earlier, big paper, scissors, tape, and markers. I asked students to connect the text to our newly acquired background knowledge and to thematic ideas and if possible the literary techniques Myers was using. Since I love this kind of stuff, I had a handy reference image from last year. This time, I also created a chart with the same information on the white board.

In my good, 5th grade fashion, I created this.

It was super interesting to look at what the students created. Some groups were all about boxes and neat groups of text. This strategy worked for the first go round of attaching our background info to passages or to connect themes to passages. However, once they needed to add the second category, it was not going to not be as easy to keep everything in the neat boxes.

The second group also started with some boxes, but was then trying to add another category level.

Only one group was really not thinking ‘boxes’ first. They may have made the least progress in some ways. However, I think they did a lot of looking and considering. It was a quiet group without a forceful organizer, which is another interesting variable. The other two groups each had a vocal organizer who forged ahead with a structure.

What I really like about this activity, besides the obvious thinking about the information and all the ways students can successfully do the work, is that the groups got to look at each other’s products and ‘see’ how their classmates think.

I am sure I will do something similar again. I might spread it out over two days, even if we did not use all of either day. I think this is the kind of work that would really benefit from time away and then time to review. Plus, I might carefully engineer the groups in terms of learning style or introvert/extrovert.

Plus, who doesn’t love a crazy, mixed-up mind map?