Monday, August 19, 2013

K-8 Differentiated Instruction

L. Elliotr, C. Forsten, J. Grant and B. Hollas complied the second edition of K-8 Differentiated Instruction: Different Strategies for Different Learners. The book contains 119 strategies for approaching different learning styles and levels. It is a nice selection of ideas that are easily indexed, although many that are targeted for literacy or math could be used for other content areas.

My favorite piece was the monthly manager chart which allows quick recording of a behavior you are watching, intervention you are attempting and the results. While I think graphs are far easier to read in terms of the successfulness or lack there of an intervention, this allows for a simple place to record results that could be graphed later.

Descriptions of some of the strategies are very brief and do not include many specific examples. This may be limiting to people in terms of implementation. Additionally, many of their strategies are just good classroom management techniques. The presentation might be useful for someone struggling in the area as they are brief.

One strategy they identify as what is my name. In it they give a name tag to each student with, for their example, a math fact on it. For a set time period- a day, a couple days or week- the student is referred to by the answer of the fact. I have seen this strategy highlighted for vocabulary use as well. Although it could easily be overused and become routine, it might be an interesting way to help students cement a personally troubling fact.

Not necessarily a book to read, but a useful book for a reference shelf.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Age of the Image: review

Stephen Apkon's The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens compels teachers to revisit the definition of literacy. His book traces the evolution of the concept of literacy as an extension of communication. It first began with signs and sounds, advanced with speech, moved to pictures as evidenced by cave paintings, to formal written languages. From there inventions such as papyrus based paper and the printing press advanced literacy. In the modern era, television and computers have combined the written and pictorial world so that communication is instantaneously possible across the world. Thus for Mr. Apkon, literacy includes all forms of communication: reading, writing, speaking and video production and interpretation.
One of his interesting facts involves the idea that 85% of our brain is involved in the visual processing system (p. 79). This means that we have massive innate capacity to interpret visual images. It is the most powerful way of understanding the world around us. The adage a picture is worth a thousand words could, perhaps, be transformed to the idea that a minute video is worth a million words. If our students do not understand the conventions of video literacy, they miss much of information presented. He presents several questions for a viewer to ask:
  • What was happening before or after the camera was recording and how might that footage change the story?
  • What is outside the frame that might tell a different story?
  • Who is shooting the footage, and who is distributing it, and what agendas might they have? (p. 113)
Some of these concepts are the concepts we want students to understand when we discuss propaganda, persuasion and advertising. These questions neatly fit into Common Core anchor standards of:

·      CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1   Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
       CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
       CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
       CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
       CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
      CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
         CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
      CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
         CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
     CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
         CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
      CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
       CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Since our curriculums are aligned, integrating visual literacy into our classes should not be seen as an option, but as a necessity. The author states that "the magic of persuasion comes from the seductive quality of a pleasing image" (p. 141).  In order to be literate then, students must become able to interpret the image and create the image. Technology becomes an integral component of the learning.

Apkon states that "we are slaves not to what we know, but to what we see" (p. 122). This is proven out in education when we acknowledge the research that says that people are more likely to believe what they see in a film than what they read and are more likely to hold on to that belief in light of further documentation that disproves it if it was viewed rather than if it was read. If we want our students to be responsible citizens, knowledgeable consumers and not victims to "information" fads, we owe it to our students to teach them to be careful watchers.

While the author recommends further research in order to teach filmmaking and interpretation, he does do a good job of providing an overview of the concept and vocabulary. Although specific software is not discussed, how to capture worthy images is. His description of preproduction and editing fits beautifully in with our writing process idea of prewriting, editing and revision. If we identify these parallels and teach some specific guidelines, students can generate video content to demonstrate learning in a motivating manner that meets the CCSS.

Cold versus warm close reading

In the June/July 2013 edition of Reading Today, Catherine E. Snow writes a compelling article Cold Verses Warm Close Reading: Building Students' Stamina for Struggling with Text. She notes how teachers are creating rigorous lessons which incorporate close reading. The challenge however is that "if students find the tasks too difficult or too irrelevant to bother with, then the rigor will be of little value" (p. 18). In our rush to respond to the CCSS, we are forgetting Vygotsky's principle of the zone of proximal development which states that children will learn best when taught within their zone- the material is not too hard or too easy. Furthermore, a great deal of research discusses the need to engage the interests of student in order to teach them and one way to do so is to link what they are learning to how it is used in the future.

Now we can argue that our students should be more like international students who are more serious about their studies. They spend more time in school, expect more homework and are motivated to work. They are motivated to achieve, in many cases, because it is the only way to leave the desperately poor lives they live- the only way to achieve success is education. They also tend to respect their teachers because becoming a teacher is a difficult task and the professionals are valued by their culture in a way that is not universally seen in our country. School is seen as serious business not a fun place where entertainment is the rule of the road. Arguing that we have it different and so should not be asked to implement effective teaching is ridiculous and harmful to our students. We live in this world now. We teach these students. Get over the comparisons and do what needs to be done.

Our students will be more likely to successfully engage in rigorous close reading if we give them a reason for it other than the teacher said so. Ms. Snow identifies cold close reading as "reading without having been warmed up in any way to the topic or the task" (p 19). When we put our best students in these situations they sometimes rise to the challenge. When we put our struggling students in the same situation, however, they become frustrated, lose the will to push through and the activity collapses. Students who have opted out will learn nothing. Putting them in this situation dooms them to failure. Trying to recapture lost motivation is far more difficult than trying to build it at the beginning or sustain it when the first wiff of challenge rears its head. The reality is we need to walk the line between productive struggle and destructive frustration. The line is at a different point for each child and often on each day. As teachers, we need to walk that line carefully. Hard for the sake of hard is not productive.

We cannot and should not avoid presenting difficult tasks to our students, but we can recognize that there is a difference between challenging because it is within an individual's zone and challenging because it is far outside of it. Understanding where students are is critical to presenting material that is going to stretch them without turning them off. Pretesting and records from past years can guide our decision making. This is where differentiation must play a role. Varying the reading level, providing scaffolding, and teaching vocabulary are essential to meeting the needs of our students. Just because the student is in xth grade does not mean we should only draw from the xth grade CCSS reading list. Know your students, adjust for your students, prepare your students not for the tests, but for learning and life.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The age of the image: ASD and mirror neurons

In Stephen Apkon's The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens, he proposes that literacy is inextricably intertwined with communication. Literacy evolves as communication evolves and is dependent upon cultural experiences as well. Consequently, literacy not only includes the ability to read, write and speak effectively, but the ability to interpret and share visual images as well. As he discusses this thesis, he incorporates research into mirror neurons. These are the neurons in the brain that enable us to imitate both physically and mentally the behavior we observe. Film makers are trying to develop connections with the audience and one such element of this connection is mirror neuron activation.

People on the autism spectrum (ASD) have deficits in mirror neurons. One study showing this link is seen here. fMRI imaging has revealed that when we watch an image of an activity, the same neurons fire as when we experience the same activity. Stimulating this response is key to empathy and learning and may reveal the key to understanding the deficits seen in people with ASD. Since there is a difference in this processing, if we are to teach visual literacy to students on the spectrum, we may need to approach things differently because their mental functioning is different. If neurotypicals can visually process for empathy and people on the spectrum struggle with this, additional or different support with video production or interpretation may be required.

When I think of my son, he does not like 3-D movies, IMAX movies or visuals that incorporate lots of movement of the camera. I wonder if this is related to his mirror neuron deficits. Neurotypical people process these images differently because they become one, as it were, with the film, whereas he processes it differently and ends up motion sick, something he does not experience with transportation.
Another key difference between ASD populations and neurotypicals is eye gaze. Neurotypical people look at the eyes of people whereas people on the spectrum tend to look at mouths or non-central movement. (See research here and here.) This also lends itself to implications in teaching visual literacy to students on the spectrum. They need to be directed to the central image and taught to look for clues in faces that reveal what the video director desires. If they are creating video, they may need extra guidance in what to focus on.

The Common Core includes interpreting and creating digital media. For example:
  • RL.CCR. 7: integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words,
  • RL 5.7: analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g. graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem), and
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.5.2a Introduce a topic clearly, provide a general observation and focus, and group related information logically; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
As a result it is important to us as teachers to be visually literate and to teach this skill to our students. In order to be able to effectively teach visually literacy to students on the spectrum, we may need to delve more deeply into the neuroscience behind how minds of people on the spectrum differ from neurotypicals and learn techniques for addressing those differences in the classroom. For some, it may be as simple as providing explicit directions about where to look and focus the frame.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Teaching the Critical Vocabulary of the Common Core

As we think about beginning our school year, we start thinking a bout priorities for our instruction. I would urge a focus on vocabulary since it is the foundation of reading and content area success. Marilee Sprenger's Teaching the Critical Vocabulary of the Common Core: 55 Words that Make or Break Student Understanding identifies words that students need to know. Her list is drawn from the Common Core standards and appendix B of the standards with examples of tasks. These are tier 2 words that are used on the assessments. Often we assume that our children know the meaning of these words, but all too often they either do not at all or they do not fully understand them. Since we are being rated on how our kids perfume on these tests, it is doubly valuable for us to teach these terms.

Ms. Sprenger has divided the words into verbs and nouns and a short group of other. This nicely parallels the advice for unpacking the standard. Verbs are skills and nouns are knowledge. Each word is given a section with a definition and activities for teaching it. While all but one of the terms are introduced at the elementary level, many high school students I have worked with do not know them. It is important that we pretest students and provide the instruction so that they can perform the tasks we ask of them.

Each term is viewed in terms of where it is on Bloom's taxonomy, on Webb's Depth of Knowledge and in the Common Core itself. This anchors the term and provides a base for understanding the complexity of the term as well as how it is required to be used.

It may seem overly simplistic to ask students what main idea is, but students struggle with this skill and instruction in the term is paired with instruction in the how to activity. Although a word of the week is a strategy that is suggested, it may be more useful to weave the instruction in vocabulary with the instruction of the skills/knowledge. What often gets forgotten with this approach is the review of the terms. We spend a day giving instruction on main idea and then expect the kids to know it and never forget it.

One tool that was valuable was instruction in transformations of the term. Develop becomes development and draw becomes drawn and drawing. We forget that students do not have the word attack skills we do and assume they get the transformation, a skill that is especially challenging for English language learners and some special education students.

I liked  the die game that she highlights. A cube is used, either a paper one that is constructed, a wooden block or a purchased one. Each side receives an activity:
  1. define the term,
  2. name an antonym,
  3. name a synonym,
  4. use in a sentence,
  5. act out the term,
  6. apply the term (student may need lots of training in this area or more specific questions may need to be provided).
You can either add the term to each side or have a selection of terms either on cards to pull, a spinner to use or another die to roll. Students practice, repetition helps cement it into memory, the game like format is motivational.

Many multi sensory activities are provided. For teachers who struggle with how to incorporate different learning styles, these ideas are simple and easy to adapt to whichever vocabulary terms that you are covering. Jingles and motions are included for each term. Getting students moving helps keep blood flowing to their brains, novelty opens the brain to learning, games motivate students and provide excellent practice and reinforcement. These activities are key to good teaching. We just need to use them.