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Three Little Birds

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The NVWP Summer Institute is in full swing, and in this post I want to tell you about Jessica’s presentation, create the inaugural post for the institute’s blog (I’ll post this entry there, too), and pick up again with Entry 4 by considering the institute as an “achievement.”

As you may recall, the SI is a five-week intensive program for teachers of all grade levels and subject areas to study their craft and work on their own writing. We study our craft by making presentations about some aspect of the teaching of writing for an audience of other teachers, and also by reading and discussing professional literature. We work on our own writing in groups that meet several times weekly, during which we practice the workshop skills that we will use with our students during the school year.

We learn by doing, not just by watching-- engagement is at the heart of the institute, contrary to the more typical training model practiced by many school districts, which involves passive teachers having inservice done to them. This experiential approach reveals an underlying goal: to move from a teacher-centered to a student-centered style of teaching.

After completing the institute, teachers are transformed from run-of-the-mill educators to “Teacher/Consultants,” familiar with current best practices in the teaching of writing and charged with acting as agents of change when they return to their base schools. T/C’s may be asked to present at “695’s,” for-credit professional development classes that school districts contract with the project to provide throughout the year.

Jessica Gladis is a young teacher of 7th and 8th grade ESOL (English speakers of other languages) at Hayfield. She began college with the intent to study piano but ended up in education while DJ’ing for her college radio station on the side. Last week, Jessica presented on “Developing Language Through Music,” leading us through activities inspired by Howard Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligences that included musical parts of speech, writing scenes from soundtracks, and a listening comprehension quiz based on a Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”

To teach grammar to non-native speakers, Jessica plays a song and has them brainstorm nouns, then verbs, and last adjectives. After, they write a story using the lists of words. For us she played Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” We know parts of speech already, of course, but in doing the activity we considered ways to adapt it to the populations we teach. I could ask freshman at TJ to brainstorm sights, smells and sounds to teach the use of sensory imagery. Or, maybe I could modify the activity to help teach tone. In addition to getting lesson ideas, we generated writing of our own. I played with a film noir/ Maltese Falcon feel in my journal:

“The last I saw of her was a calf clad in fishnet stockings flexing as it ground the cigarette butt of our love into the puddle-dotted street. She left that cone of light from the street lamp the same way she left my life: with high heels clicking against the pavement in a rat-a-tat-tat that mowed me down quicker than the tommy guns would have that suddenly appeared out of the windows of the big black car that came careening around the corner the moment she was gone.”

Great prose? Dashiell Hammett has nothing to fear. But it was fun to write. And it put me in my students’ shoes as I figured out what works or doesn’t work in ways that will energize my teaching when I’m back at school this fall on the other side of the desk.

Will this have an impact on student achievement? Without a doubt. Lessons from Jessica’s presentation and others this summer, as well as my experiences in the reading and writing workshop, will filter into my teaching from the first day. The trick will be for me to explain clearly to the board how the institute and my students’ achievement connect. I’ll give further thought to what sort of evidence will clearly show this link. Luckily, I’ll be in a room for the next few weeks with 25 dedicated teachers who can help me figure it out.



2 Comments

If you are successful in converting your classroom to a student-centered as opposed to a teacher-centered one, I would love for you to contact me at the Southern Regional Education Board. This board is the headquarters for High Schools That Work and Making Middle Grades Work, two school improvement initiatives that have been around much longer than NCLB. We have a summer conference each year in July, and if we can talk, perhaps you could present next year in New Orleans.

OMG, I've been searching for this thru so much junk, thank you!! killer, you are great!! :)

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