Literacy Strategies for the Multi-Ability Classroom: Part I

I recently presented a workshop for teachers from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services. The goal was to share strategies for working with struggling readers in multi-ability classrooms in juvenile detention facilities around the state. I used reader profiles to guide teachers through identification of struggling readers and appropriate learning strategies. Here are tri-folds of three types of struggling reader. Non-Reader, Word Caller and Turned Off. (each a 200kb pdf) Print them out back to back. Developed with Pat Martin. Reference: Differentiated Instructional Strategies for Reading in the Content Area, Carolyn Chapman and Rita King

I was joined by Suzanne Suor, a learning specialist who focuses on motivating struggling readers through the use of student publication projects. This spring we will be working with OCFS teachers from across the state in staff development training. We plan to collect samples of student work to review the impact of our literacy strategies in the classroom. We’ll combine strategies, student work and teacher reflection in publications to share with the students and their families. 

This dedicated group of teachers has a commitment to helping their students build motivation, positive self image and academic skills. They already have many great project ideas for student publications – example teen fathers writing and publishing their own books for their children. For more on professional development with a product see PowerPoint overview. (400kb pdf)

For more strategies see: Literacy Strategies for the Multi-Ability Classroom: Part II

Picturing Ourselves: Teaching with Visual Documents

MAG-workshop featured

I recently worked with educators from across the Rochester NY area in a workshop titled “Picturing Ourselves: Teaching with Visual Documents”  at a workshop held at the Memorial Art Gallery.

We looked at strategies for using visual document to create student-centered lessons that invite students to construct their own meaning. Our focus included – the relevance of essential questions, higher order thinking skills, and linking visual literacy with listening and reading skills. Presentation Notes (4 mb) pdf.

Most importantly, we considered choosing images that contain information that is not overly dependant on background knowledge. This enables students of all ability level to successfully “do the work of the historian.”

Use this guide (9 kb) pdf to compare these two images (446 kb) pdf. The first is a famous photo of the linking of the transcontinental railroad. Without background knowledge, students merely see a group of men standing around two trains. Contrast with the second photo from the Stone Collection of a 1910 street scene in Rochester NY. Without much background knowledge students see autos, bicycles, electric trolleys, horse-draw wagons and pedestrians. Independently they can use this image to construct their own understanding of the changes in transportation in the early 20th century.

“Homefront America” is a lesson designed to improve content reading comprehension with an engaging array of source documents – including journals, maps, photos, posters, cartoons, historic data and artifacts. I developed it to serve as a model for blending essential questions, higher order thinking and visual interpretation.

For more ideas go to my websites Teaching with Documents  and Content Reading Strategies that Work For more images from the Stone Collection of the Rochester Museum and Science Center as well as images of Rochester and New York State try The Rochester Image Project. The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection can be searched here.

More than half of online teens have created content for the internet

A report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project states,

“Thanks to the internet, American teenagers can engage media material and create their own content in ways their parents could not. Today’s online teens live in a world filled with self-authored, customized, and on-demand content, much of which is easily replicated, manipulated, and redistributable. The internet and digital publishing technologies have given them the tools to create, remix, and share content on a scale that had previously only been accessible to the professional gatekeepers of broadcast, print, and recorded media outlets.”  Download Report  (253 kb) pdf

Educators and parents should applaud teen initiative and creativity. The new copy / paste culture fosters a bottom-up takeover of the information flow. Will teens upload more than they download?  Will the audience become the show?

Mock Trials in the Classroom

Knox County Courthouse (Nebraska) courtroomI’ve found that mock trials embody critical thinking in the classroom. I wrote a number of cases which proved to be effective tools for improving student analytic skills. I developed fictional yet, realistic fact patterns which provide ample “fodder” for solid direct and cross examinations. They needed to be built around compelling social issues that transcended the evidence and put people’s values to the test. I used these trials in completely homogenous classrooms. Ironically in this setting, students who had formerly been considered “at-risk,” often outperformed their “AP peers.”

Students prepared their roles and questioning as attorney or witness from the fact patterns.  Cases were argued before real judges and juries made up of adults from the community. After they reached a verdict, the juries returned to the classroom to debrief the students on their interpretation of the evidence and presentation of the cases. Years later, former students I encounter still fondly remember the excitement and accomplishment they felt as part of the trial. Link to Trials

Judging from my webstats and emails, these trials continue to be used in classrooms across the globe. My favorite email:

“Dear Mr Pappas,
You asked on your site for people to let you know how the trials turned out, so here I am! I am teaching English as a foreign language here in China, and needed something a bit different for a conversation class. Nothing I was coming up with was working, when my Director of Studies (who is American) pointed me in the direction of Mock Trials, which I confess to never having heard of. I admit to being skeptical, but gave it a bash with the Donna Osborn case, and as the judge ended up going in favour of the prosecution due to the way they argued – which goes against everything I thought about it! Today I am trying the rape case, so wish me luck. Basically, I wanted to say thanks, you helped a lot, and also gave me a whole new thing to think about in terms of lesson plans for the future.”

More frequently, I get late night emails from anxious students looking for advice on their closing arguments.

“Hi my name is … and I am in a Law 12 class in Prince George, British Columbia. I am the head of the crown prosecution for our mock trial.  I was just wondering if I could get a few tips from you on what would be a good closing statement.  I have brought up the points that
… The main point I have brought up is that under the Criminal Code of Canada …  What would you recommend for a good closing statement?”

Or

“hey there, im a student and in law class we were doing the Brian Edwards case and i was on the crown…im wondering if you have any tips for me? Like pretty much any tips at all would help, we had our case basically won when we started but we werent as organized as I thought and i noticed the case on the internet…I guess we are done our case now but any tips or help for the closing statement would help alot because the closing statement is our only chance pretty much to try to prove he is guilty, we ended up running out of time so yeah! any tips on anything we could use for the closing statement? “

The flow of information in the Copy/ Paste World has moved from a top-down broadcast model – to a horizontal connection that is both personal and collaborative. It allows you to your own researcher, editor, and entertainment director. And it creates new digital communities – linking you to the people who share your interests.

Image credit Wikipedia Commons / Knox County Courthouse (Nebraska) courtroom

 

Question: How is Google Maps different from NCLB?

Answer: It creates an environment to construct your own knowledge.

Most have used one of the popular online map sites. What makes Google Maps different is it’s has left its source code open to encourage programmers to link to their data bases to develop their own web-based geographic information systems. The result is an explosion of interactive map sites – UK autumn colours, Indiana University housing, records of bird sightings in India, and New Orleans businesses that have reopened. They’re growing so quickly that there’s a site  Google Maps Mania to help you keep up with all the new Google Map mashups. I used a free web-based service to do a Google Map of my recent clients.

Do I expect students to learn how to design Google Map-based program? No, but couldn’t students be given a chance to use information in more original and creative ways. The digital revolution has unleashed a flood of creativity with scores of new tools to copy, edit, alter, mix and redesign.

It’s too bad NCLB wasn’t based on a similar philosophy. Driven by growing accountability, students are rushed through an overcrowded curriculum with little time for reflection and few chances to create their own meaning. Last I checked “synthesis” was near the top of Bloom’s taxonomy.

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