Sunday, March 17, 2013

Video about mini-books

I created and shared a video using Vimeo (and my old iPhone, and iMovie) of me reading a mini-book my daughter and I made.

Mr Stinkypants Goes Shopping Mini-Book from Ben Kuhlman on Vimeo.

I hope to explain the mechanics of making these things, then having kids make one for a writing workshop project that will help establish a playful, creative atmosphere.  I hope to do more things like this, but this seems like a good way to re-lauch the workshop right before Spring Break.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

More about Middle-School Guided Reading

I was able to observe another middle-school (7th grade) teacher using the Guided Reading structure, and we talked a little bit about methods that are effective for this age group.  

I should point out at this point that I don't want to pretend to be the best at using Guided Reading.  There are things about the strategy that I don't like, and that I struggle with.  It takes a significant amount of prep time to start, for example.  If it weren't so effective, and if the kids didn't enjoy the change so much, I might not use it at all.  But those are powerful motivators for teachers.  I also struggle with re-using old curriculum.  I like to try new things, sometimes to a fault, and I sometimes abandon old ideas (like old stations) merely because I think I have a better idea.  So, I end up experimenting a lot, instead of using "tried-and-true" stations.  

I'm thinking through the last part of the year, now that we're in "testing mode."  I think that Guided Reading is a nice, engaging strategy for the "home stretch," and there are a lot of fun things kids can do as part of this that are still effective and yield results.  But I also really want to push more writing.  I haven't done enough Writing Workshop this year, and I'm hoping to play around with ways to combine the two.  

So, as I dig through my professional resources (I found a book by Katie Wood Ray that I'm going to look through for new perspectives on workshop), and I refine some of the things that I've already done, I'm looking at how to make the most of Guided Reading.  

The teacher that I observed didn't do traditional "rotations."  Instead of a "you go here at this time" rotation, as I've seen in elementary school, or the "get your materials and return to your seat to work on this at this time" structure that I usually use, she establishes the stations and then allows kids to work on the various stations at their own pace.  The only timed and structured station, really, is the teacher station.  There is a fixed group of kids ("fixed" as in set by the teacher, according to a specific purpose) who meet with the teacher for a reasonable chunk of time (15-20 minutes or so), then are dismissed to continue working on stations.  

There are positives and negatives to this way of doing things:

  • Kids have more flexibility to follow their interests and work at their own pace.  (More choice) 
  • Less troublesome if kids are absent or pulled out for something
  • Less set-up time for rotations and stations (don't have to create a huge, detailed chart and keep posted)
  • Can create an incentive to finish early through engaging "early finishers" activities, like games or "free time" activities
  • Need to monitor stations and "sharing" to avoid crowding or "I was there first!" disputes
  • Less immediate accountability for off-task or misbehaving kids who might not want to do all of the stations 
  • Less control over personality clashes and kids who might work better away from each other
Most of the negatives involve management issues.  It's much easier to lose control in this kind of an environment, so a teacher who attempts this approach will have to feel comfortable trusting his/her kids with this kind of freedom.  It allows choice, but it also might allow conflict over popular choices.  It would also take some teaching and some control over conflict resolution.  During the observation I was doing, for example, some kids were watching videos on a portable DVD player.  There just wasn't enough room for everyone to watch at the same time.  Similarly, there was an iPod with a song and some headphones that kids were supposed to listen to (and summarize).  There just weren't enough headphones for everyone to do this at once.  It helps when all the stations are reasonably "cool," of course.  But I can still see that it takes teaching - or some fabulous students, though I think some teaching would have to be involved - to get kids to understand this kind of procedure.  

I like this format, and I like the kind of feedback it provides me about the stations and about the students.  I think that kids enjoy having a say in what goes into the stations, and I really think it might be fun to invite kids to contribute to a "music" station, for example, since I know so little about contemporary music (though I'm trying).  

I'll be thinking about this over the next few weeks, and I'll try to post some more about how I'm melding (love the Star Trek reference) Writing Workshop and Guided Reading.  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Teaching argument presentation

I tried posting some of my argument presentation here, but I was unable to add an attachment - though it's not hard to add a link to a Livebinder:

Teaching Argument Writing - My Livebinder

There's a bunch of stuff there, including the rubric, the assignment sheet, a sample of Crime and Puzzlement, and the slides.

The presentation was very well-attended, and I was a little worried at the beginning that some people would be disappointed.  But no one walked out (that I saw).

Last year, I included WAY too many things in the "blurb" for the program, and I never had a chance to talk about everything that I mentioned.  For example, last year I mentioned Big 6 research strategies in the blurb and never really talked about it.  I had at least one person express disappointment.

This year, I think I was boring.  More so than last year.  Last year, I think I was rushing so fast that people had to pay attention or take a chance of getting motion sickness.

Anyway, I think this went well enough that I'm planning to try again next year, and maybe step up to a larger conference - maybe a state conference (like the IRC?).  Not sure where I'm headed from here.  But I think it was fun, and I think that people benefited from the conversation.  And I think I did a decent job showing respect for the experience and contributions of the audience.  We say that we should demonstrate our "good teaching" when we present to other teachers, but we should also show that we understand the difference between the needs of our students and the needs of an audience of adult professionals.

I enjoyed hearing from the audience members, and I think my next goal is to involve the audience without asking too much.