Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Teaching This Week Part II

Monday night the department head observed me teach. He does this every year, and I like having him in class. He doesn't make me nervous, but I think I was a better teacher last night with him in the room. Let me backtrack for a minute: I was a little nervous because at 3:35 (class starts at 4:00) I wasn't really sure what we were going to do in class. We had just read a chapter on teaching writing, and I could lecture all day long on that. Thing is, I don't really believe in lecture. I've been thinking recently that I need to share with the class my teaching philosophy because I think that my class could feel strange to an untrained eye. I could lecture. Sometimes I really want to lecture. Just stand there and talk. Tell everyone in the room everything that I know. I think that would be really easy, and I would have no trouble creating a syllabus.

But, I value collaboration, exploratory talk, and writing. I think they learn more from each other than they do from me in a lot of ways.

So, last night, I could decide what to do. They have a hard time teaching a mini-lesson in 15 minutes, so I thought I would model a lesson in a short amount of time. Here were my options:

1. Writing Territories (from Atwell)
2. Modeling My Composing Process Aloud (on the projector--the goal being to show them how ideas are generated and modeling the thinking behind beginning a piece of writing)
3. Snapshots and Thoughtshots (from Barry Lane)
4. Book Pass (from Janet Allen)

So, I got to class, hoping to work for a minute and think, but that never happens. Once people start coming you have to talk, but I did a have a few minutes with Leah and Heather. As soon as Heather had walked in the room, she saw the pile of books on the rolling cart and asked, "What's this all about?" I told them about the options for that night's class and they wanted to do the book pass. I had selected a lot of books about writing and a lot of books that Carol Booth Olson mentions in her book.

I started the class by introducing Dr. Blackmon and explaining that no matter what we teach we are observed by a "supervisor." I explained how it works in middle and high school, and I explained how it works at the university. I think it's important to do that. I think they needed to hear that because maybe they didn't know, and I also just want to model a sort of transparency of thinking. Or maybe it's more that I want to be very clear about why things are happening in the classroom. I'm not always clear, but it's my goal to try to explain "why" a lot.

I thought we would talk about the field experience for about 15 minutes. I went over a description of the field experience for about 10 minutes. Just going over this allowed me to elaborate and explain some things, and we were even able to tell some funny stories about making friends with school secretaries and parking in the right spot. There are always a lot more questions than I imagine. If I don't take the time to address this, then it is disaster. I stopped talking at the end of the page and had them process at their tables, which generated questions, and then I answered those questions.

I didn't have a book pass form ready, but I had them open a new document. We came up with a rating scale consisting of poor/boring, eh, fair, good, and buy this book. One person at the table grabbed a set of books, and they had a about a 1 1/2 minutes to read, type the name of the book, and rate. I think we did about six or seven rounds. Then, I had them find a book that they wanted to spend more time with. I gave them three more minutes to look at that book and I told them they would be partnering with someone to tell them why they liked this book and what they gleaned from it.

After all that, I asked a few people to share why they chose the book they did. It became an informal, spontaneous book talk. It was really cool. Amber chose Louise Rosenblatt's book Literature as Exploration. She began by saying it wasn't her first choice, but she remembered seeing Rosenblatt's name in our book. Then she explained that Rosenblatt was the theorist behind reader response, and she read aloud an amazing quote. To me, Amber doing that was better than a 50 minute lecture on Rosenblatt. I did take a couple of minutes to talk about aesthetic and efferent reading; I defined it and asked them to think about which one they did more of in school. Then, it opened the opportunity to talk about expressive and transactional writing (which linked to the writing chapter). We still had a little over ten minutes at the end, and I got to talk about freewriting and how it important it is to write at the end of class. I had created a forum on the discussion board, and we freewrote for five minutes.

Here's what I wrote:

You might be thinking that I didn't teach tonight. All of you did all of the talking, you moved the books to the table, you turned to the pages that you wanted to. Is that teaching? To me it is, actually, to me it's the best teaching. I could lecture. I have a lot of things to say about a lot of topics, but a great moment for me as a teacher tonight is that Amber brought up Rosenblatt. I think it's more powerful that she brought it up than if I would have spent 20 minutes talking about L.R. You know what I mean. There are lots of things that I  want you to know, but I've been thinking about my philosophy of teaching and the fact that I haven't told you about it. I believe that there is more than one way to teach. I believe that you learn more by reading, writing, and talking than by listening to a teacher lecture. I think I could lecture more, and I think that if you want me to lecture on something, you can tell me. I'll do it. I do want you to experience things. I do want you to watch each other teach because I think you can learn a great deal by doing that. I just want ..... lost that thought. I thought class was good, but someone might think very little teaching went on--actually, they may be right, but I think a lot of learning went on.

After class was over, Michael said, "Hey, that was a great class for the Doc to see. That's the best one yet." I hope so. It seems like it's been hard to get warmed up this year (maybe any year for that matter). 

And all of this writing is a way to procrastinate from doing the real writing--a personal statement of three pages describing everything I've done. I think I'll post that here when I'm finished. 

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