Crosswalk

“What are those white lines anyway?”??

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Pause…

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Years ago, on a field trip, the class stopped at a park and walked across the street for ice cream. As I returned to the park with the last group of kids, walking through the crosswalk, one of my students turned to me and said, “Ms. Edwards, What are these white lines for anyway?”

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I knew then that although my sixth grade kids know all about hunting and fishing in our rural area, they have so much to learn about the rest of the world. I wrapped our requirements up in integrated projects, developing our language arts through science or social studies. At the time, classes were self-contained so our day focused on “workshops” of learning. We helped NASA scientists decide which planet to study with the Hubble Space Telescope. Sixth grade students “testing” at a second grade reading level were pouring over Encyclopedia Britannica for the evidence we needed. We learned about the stratosphere and the sun through other NASA collaborative projects. During the first Gulf War, we presented the “Nespelem Agreement” as an understanding of the issues of all sides. We researched local historical markers to add to the Signs of The Past project. Imagine the teamwork, collaboration, the reading, writing, and math, and the vocabulary that developed — before Web 2.0.

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Now our middle school configuration disseminates lessons in fifty minute segments. We are under great pressure to “meet objectives” and “pass the test.” We’ve eliminated most field trips and art. We focus on Grade Level Expectations. The language arts expectations are excellent, and the writing expectations focus on the writing process and six traits of writing. But I keep returning to that crosswalk, and all the worldly references our students many miss without time for conversation and at least virtual field trips.??

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This year my eighth grade students participated in the Eracism Project, a project run by Flat Classroom(tm) project founders, Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay. During this period, once again, my students needed so much more information than we had time to investigate, but we dove in and did our best. It consumed our time, and we struggled with important concepts. But we knew what to do and what information we needed through conversation, research, and sharing. As in our past projects, the learning occurred through this social and cognitive process.?? In Twitter today, Karen Cator admits, “Learning is an incredibly social act.”

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Karencatorsociallearning

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I wonder when those in charge will realize the incredibly messy process educating is? Yes, we need objectives; but those objectives are learned and remembered within a context of our community, where conversation reveals needs of the objectives, but also needs that are more complex and real. But how will I know these personalized needs if all we focus on are discrete objectives? In projects, student don’t always learn the specific skills objectives at that time, but they do experience much more comprehensive concepts within a collaborative learning community. And that learning community is more valuable than mere objectives. We can walk through the crosswalk with our objectives, but that crosswalk is painted within a larger context of place of which the people more readily ask questions and ponder essential questions. They wonder how things connect and develop deeper understandings. I hope my students continue to ask clarifying questions, “What are these lines for anyway?”

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Play…

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How will I engage my students in a learning community again? I’ve joined a Problem/Project Based Learning (PBL) group in Classroom 2.0 .????In addition, some resources on PBL include:


PBL in Language Arts

Slide Show on PBL in Language Arts

http://www.edutopia.org/project-learning-overview-video

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checklists ??http://pblchecklist.4teachers.org/

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In my PLN, I’ve made connections to other middle school teachers who may also collaborate on projects. Finally, I’ve found a wonderful text on extending Literature Circles into Inquiry Circles: Comprehension and Collaboration Inquiry Circles in Action by Harvey Daniels, National-Louis University, Stephanie Harvey.??I’m especially interested in the “mini-inquiries” in Chapter Eight.??

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My summer is set for crossing back to projects to better engage students in a learning community.

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Any other suggestions? Other projects for the Language Arts classroom? Want to join us?

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Crosswalksm

Jump in the middle…

Welcome !

 

“Beginnings are always messy.” ~ John Galsworthy, English novelist and playwright

Pause…

I teach writing; beginnings are always a mess: where does one start?

We Power Write (Peter Elbow) to foster the flow of ideas from ideas in the mind to ink on paper. But when it comes to starting a piece of writing, even with many ideas brainstormed in a web, free-write, or list, the paper in front of me seems too open. How will I fill it?

Students struggle with this, so we practice jumping into action, in the middle.

But what is the middle of a blog?

Fast forward to August 31st, 2010. The first day of school welcomes everyone with an evening barbecue. It’s a great time to introduce new staff, explain a few classroom projects in homerooms, and enjoy conversation with families from last year. Students who have graduated often attend and lament their leaving and entering the high school, a scary step. Students rush to their new homerooms — does it look like last year? “You changed things a little, Ms. Edwards.”

Yet, I have no picture of the barbecue to share. Most programs (from reading programs to federal “title” programs) expect schools to foster family involvement. On these occasions, we need pictures to add power to the words we enter on our reports.

So here’s my beginning, a reflection into the future to plan forward. For a history of how this blog really started, please refer to the page, pause2play history. One reason are these words from Teaching Unmasked by John Spencer:

“Still, in the middle of May, I always feel that I should have done more. I should have given better feedback on work. I see some students and think, “I hardly know you.”

I so identify with that. It’s a sinking feeling because I let the fast pace of forced objectives obscure the time needed to know each student. I should have slowed down, taken one more day for sharing, one more day for writing/conferences, one more choice project each quarter. Each of those would meet objectives and meet the human requirement of personalized learning.

Play…

I’ll continue to encourage students to jump into the middle to start their writing. And, on barbecue day, I’ll grab a couple students to document the evening using our class cameras. We’ll start a portfolio of our family involvement. Because that’s more important than the official report.

And, I will check more frequently, “Who don’t I know yet?” What project will build our community so each student is known?

This is what this blog is about: jumping in the middle of an idea, pausing to reflect, and planning how it will or how it could play out in the classroom community.

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