Friday, December 14, 2012

Academic Writing Part I


Addressing the prompt

The very first part of writing an academic paper is to properly address the prompt. Consider the following:

To what extent did the Jacksonian Era (1824-1848) live up to its moniker as "the Era of the Common Man." Consider at least two of the following-Reform Movements, Economics, Politics.

Let's break it down bit by bit.

1. To what up to
The preceding phrase informs the writer that the answer should be a judgement of quantity. Possible answers must include words of measure such as- completely, not at all, somewhat, not at all.

2. ...the Jacksonian Era (1824-1848)
It is very important to address the time period and not focus solely on the presidency of Andrew Jackson. The key is the window provided by the dates. 1824-1848 is a twenty-four year span. Andrew Jackson was only president for eight of those years. The danger of focusing on the "Jacksonian" part of the prompt is that it effectively precludes oneself from volumes of history and sixteen years worth of activites. An alternative misstep would be to preclude Jackson from the paper all together. If it is named the Jacksonian Era there is a pretty good chance that researching AJ would be a really good idea.

3. ..."the Era of the Common Man."
This is the most important part of the prompt. This phrase is the main idea, it will find a nice tidy home in the thesis statement, every topic sentence and ultimately in the conclusion. Understanding the main idea of a prompt is key to writing a concise, well argued paper.

4. "Consider at least two of the following...."
It seems obvious, but a writer should address at least two. The bonus of this kind of prompt is that it allows the writer to play to their own strengths. A writer should choose two that a.) best support their thesis and b.) they have the most information on.

5. "Reform Movements, Economics, Politics."
A writer should love seeing this kind of prompt. These are the topics for the paper. The exact words should be in the thesis and topic sentences within the paper.

In the next blog I will address structuring the essay. This series will ultimately address outlines, topic sentences, thesis statements, introductory paragraphs, facts, analysis and conclusions, and style. Ultimately, I plan to design a graphic organizer to assist students, at all levels, in planning and executing well structured academic essays.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Addressing multiple skill levels and abilities

Multiple Skill levels and abilities
The American public school systems were initially set up in the same manner as the factory systems of the 19th century of which they were contemporaries. At the time, this was a revolutionary idea and a great leap forward from the private tutors of the aristocratic years preceding the establishment of free public education. The idea behind public education is that a democratic society is dependent upon a well-educated populace. Over the last two hundred years there have been remarkable advances in psychology, pedagogy and technology which have sparked a new revolution within education. It is clear now that every student is unique, with different abilities and skills. Therefore, an approach such as the factory system, treating every child the same, does a very poor job of addressing the unique gifts of the children within the system. Now, in the 21st century, we understand the uniqueness of our individual students but are still charged with the task of educating as many as forty students simultaneously. In order to accommodate this seeming paradox, effective teachers have developed creative solutions involving a diverse approach in all aspects of the classroom. I employ a variety of instructional methods, including the more traditional direct-teach method, utilize a wide range of materials and activities including multimedia, and use a variety of assessments, such as formative evaluations, in order to address a wide range of skills and abilities.
When providing instruction in my classroom I use direct teaching methods, inquiry based practices and peer teaching to address a wide range of skills and abilities. Direct teach is the most traditional method of teaching and usually entails a lecture. I direct teach within the classroom to provide instructions, procedures, and overviews for my students but rarely employ this method for more than a ten to fifteen minute period. The reason I use smaller time-frames than a traditional teacher is that I am focused on maintaining student engagement in the curriculum and learning environment. In this way I am able to check for understanding more often and repeat, rephrase or review to address students of all skill levels. Oftentimes I transition from direct teach directly into cooperative learning which centers on collaboration, inquiry and discussion. While direct teach provides structure and clear expectations, cooperative learning directly involves the students in the learning process. It is very important to me to facilitate learning, rather than rote memorization in my classroom. Additionally, cooperative learning allows students to contribute to the learning process in a structured and organized way and benefits more students that direct teaching alone would have. Cooperative learning is not restricted to large class discussions with me as the mediator, however. I progressively move the focus of the learning into the hands of the students. Therefore, after a direct teach period followed by guided inquiry, I often will have the students work in small groups or with partners to complete activities or conduct content centered discussions, at which point I monitor through circulation of the room. By arranging groups with various skill levels and abilities I am able to scaffold the student’s learning with each other. The natural progression from this type of work is peer teaching. With peer teaching, each small group in the room is working on different aspects of the same large project. At the end of the activity, each group will present their results to the rest of the class. In this way I am directing the class back to a large discussion group before transitioning to another activity at which point I will employ direct teach to summarize the completed activity and provide the appropriate structure for the next task.
The activities and materials that I use within my classroom include traditional materials, multimedia materials, and project based activities such as posters and presentations. Traditional materials such as worksheets and essays both have an important role in the classroom. Worksheets can come in various forms and provide an opportunity for practice on tasks that require repetition for mastery and scaffolding student’s writing skills. Multimedia materials, such as videos or online resources, are useful because they appeal to visual and auditory learners and oftentimes provide a great deal of information in a very concise and creative package. As a general practice, I tend to only use videos that are fifteen minutes or less and provide a video guide to the students for writing notes. In this way I help increase the engagement and accountability of the students during a multimedia activity. Using resources, such as the internet or videos, can be a good way to introduce a subject or provide in depth, interactive curriculum which can be useful in a project-based assignment. By incorporating project based assignments, usually cooperative projects, students of many skill levels have an opportunity to use their creativity to complete the task. Project based learning also provides an opportunity for cross-curricular study which can greatly increase a student’s understanding of a topic and mastery of the skills necessary for being a successful student. By utilizing multiple activities and materials, I provide a learning environment that steps out of the traditional assessment model and allows a student to flourish in an environment that values them as individuals and enhances their natural abilities.
Assessing students in the 21st century requires multiple approaches such as formative, interim and summative assessments in order to properly address students of different abilities and skills. Formative assessments are used during the lessons to insure that the students are understanding the material. These assessments can come in the form of leading questions from me or the class and can help me adjust my teaching methods to the ongoing needs of the classroom. Interim assessments play a crucial role in ascertaining the various skills and knowledge the student is learning between major assessments. Interim assessments tend to be more formal than formative assessments but are not necessarily as formal as an end of term exam or a quiz. I use a variety of formats, such as posters, worksheets, and verbal presentations, for interim assessments to allow students of all skill levels to achieve their maximum potential. At the end of a unit I administer summative assessments. Oftentimes these will be in the same format as a standardized test to help familiarize the students with the format and reduce the amount of anxiety they may associate with more formal assessments. Through a diverse and inquiry based approach to assessments that focuses on higher levels of cognitive learning, I facilitate a learning environment that addresses multiple skill and ability levels.
      The 21st century is an exciting time in American education and in global community building. I am passionate about providing a classroom that promotes diversity, scholarship and cooperation. Through diverse instructional methods, varied assignments and multiple levels of assessments, I work very hard to address students on an individual level according to their personal abilities and skill levels. It is important that students are recognized as individuals and as members of a cooperative learning environment. Modern society is so diverse that individuals of all abilities and skill levels have an integral role in the growing global community. In education we are providing students with more than curriculum. Rather than ignore previous generation's methods it is important that we hold on to time-proven techniques and expand upon them while incorporating new and dynamic methods that takes into account the growing research and scholarship in education, pedagogy and psychology. We, as teachers, are welcoming the next generation of leaders into the community and facilitating a leaning environment that values the student as individuals, preparing them for a life-long journey of learning, cooperation and success.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Learning

          A cooperative learning environment helps students develop social skills from  basic communication skills to collaborative problem solving. At the root of a cooperative environment is 'cooperation.' A basic function of society is cooperation. Through encouraging a cooperative learning environment we, as teachers, more adequately prepare students for the structural format of modern society. As our society becomes more integrated through communication networks and more complex social structures, the skills developed through collaborative learning environments increase in value exponentially.

The ability to communicate effectively is a key life skill. Cooperative learning involves groups comprising multiple perspectives, skill sets and communication procedures. By working within these groups students are encouraged to express themselves and listen to the feedback of others. Oftentimes another perspective can add clarity to one's own perception of events and of the ways in which one relays information. The ways in which we communicate ideas is shaped by the needs of our audience. The process of re-telling an idea in order that other people can fully understand one's self is an extremely valuable skill because it teaches students not only how they speak, but how others listen. Minimizing misunderstandings allows a student to build an invaluable skill set for conflict resolution, clear, concise communication and an understanding of the diversity of their counterparts' experiences.

The mastery of communication is by far the most important portion of cooperative learning environments. However, communication is merely the foundation of the benefits of a collaborative learning environment. Cooperation is built upon solid communication. Through the combination of communication and cooperation the full benefits of collaboration may be realized due to the development of one very important skill - compromise.  Cooperation requires, at most levels, some form of compromise. Each member of a group may develop strong reasoning for a given solution but the best solutions to a problem rarely arise from a single idea. More often than not, the best solutions involve a give and take from many interested parties. With strong communication, collaboration can move more smoothly through a phase of compromise and ultimately arrive at a destination that best expresses a group's best solution or course of action given the information and background which were made available to them. Certainly, this method is beneficial to students as they work their way through public school, but it is also useful in giving them direct, personal experience of the complex nature of social and political history.

Most great feats of modern civilization have been the result of collaboration. The development of the US constitution, the ability to fly, the complex global economic systems are all examples of the effects of collaborative problem solving. Our great achievements as people have been made possible through the work of skilled collaborators, communicators, and calculated compromises. The future success of our great nation, and indeed, the world is dependent on each successive generation operating in a world with highly trained and skilled collaborative learners. 




Project Title: Explorers.
Goal: The goal is to have students learn everything necessary to master the different aspects of the exploratory era from the perspecive of different key players. The assignment incorporates research skill development, various writing styles and the potential for a technology component.

Description: A class of 20 is divided into four groups.

Group 1: Nations (financiers)
France (Francis I), England (Henry VII), Spain (Ferdinand and Isabella), Netherlands (Dutch East Indies Company), Portugal

Group 2: Crew
Traders, Colonists, Soldiers, Industrialists, Agricultural Settlers

Group 3: Writers
(research those people responsible for primary source accounts of the different voyages)

Group 4: Ship Captain

 Verrazzano,John Cabot (Giovanni Cabota),Cortes or Columbus,  Hudson, Cabral

Each group has five members in this scenario.

Group 1: Nations (financiers)

            The first group is comprised of the Dutch, the Spanish, the English, the French, and the Portuguese. Each member has separate goals and motivations, which are provided on a handout. The first group interviews each of the fourth group to decide who can best meet their goals. The interviews would be panel interviews where the interviewers and interviewees don’t reveal which nation/ ship captain they represent. Using the information they find through research, the nations will choose the best captain. This group remains separate from the other groups because there is a difference economically and geographically between them and the other groups.




Chief Financial Officers:

Ferdinand and Isabella


Read the Capitulations of Santa Fe and determine the budgetary allowances for Columbus’ voyage.  

 (include link to document or instructions on navigating in JSTOR or similar resource)


(include link to document or instructions on navigating in JSTOR or similar resource)
Job Openings:
You will need to write "help wanted" ads for each of these people. If you hire your writer first, they can help you write an ad for a Ship Captain.

1. Writer: This person will communicate between yourself and the Ship Captain.

2. Ship Captain: This person will lead your exploration, make sure he shares your goals and will agree to your terms.


Group 2: The Crew

            Each of these individuals represents different crews, for instance, the English group is colonists, the Spanish group is soldiers etc. It is up to the Captains group to interview each of the crews and decide which crew will best meet the shared goals for themselves and the financiers. The captain will collaborate with the writers to write a help wanted ad and then there is a ‘job fair’ where the captains hire crews by interviewing them.

Group three: Writers

       This group is charged with communication between the financiers and the captain. They are chosen by the financiers to write help wanted ads, and later to accompany the captains and send reports back and forth between financiers and the captain.


Group four: Ship Captains
     This group attempts to get a position as an explorer through interviewing with a nation and then hires a crew by conducting an interview process. They then organize their expedition and communicate with the financiers through the writer.
Ultimately, there will be five groups of four members. The goal is to develop a working relationship between all four members that meets all of their private goals.

 The groups progress from leaving their country of origin to arrival in their destination, making choices along the way as to how to raise money and dealing with native populations as well as balancing the needs of their crew, themselves and the financiers. The different scenarios are presented by the teacher. An example of a scenario would be native contact. For instance, the decision would need to be made whether to trade or war with the native populations, these decisions effect the outcome of the expedition.  


Final reports are required of each of the members as well as a summative analysis.


Time: Variations of this outline could be used from a simple project lasting only one class period, to as much as an entire unit.  


Variations with technology:

Fakebook could be used to develop the different groups and to communicate with each other using a medium the students already have excessive experience with. The students could develop LinkedIn sights to show their skills and goals. The project would incorporate researching online to find relevant primary source documents for example, actual correspondence between explorers and nations. Skype could be used for communication between nations and explorers while they are “overseas.”  

Assignment Goals: SWBAT Skype, develop professional web pages, construct professional and personal correspondence, and identify the pressures, goals, key players and outcomes of all five of the key exploration missions of the fifteenth century. SWBAT research databases and identify primary source documents. SWBAT write an essay that takes information from multiple sources and communicates it in a direct and effective manner. SWBAT interview and be interviewed.
The idea behind setting up the skype interviews, linkedin sights etc. is to give the student experience for the future with college and job interviews as well as understand some of the basics around contract negotiation and relationships between finance and labor.

Benefit Breakdown

Active Participation in Class, Community, Culture 

            Encouraging students to be active participants is the goal of collaborative learning and a key component of Democracy. Encouraging activism, participation, and collaboration prepares students to reshape the future of personal, local, and global relationships and politics. Encouraging active participation within the classroom creates an environment of active learning as opposed to passive learning. It is important that students understand that this is THEIR education and through active participation they may shape it into the most beneficial and rewarding experience possible. Also, it shifts the role of the teacher from orator to facilitator. A teacher who is guiding a student is one who is encouraging the process of learning rather than limiting a student's experience based upon rote memorization.

How does one ensure shared responsibility in collaborative learning?
Sharing responsibility for a project is important for student growth and development. Requiring documentation, personal summaries and collaboration as constructs of the assignment help prevent uneven distribution of work. Additionally, offering personal and group grades is important to communicate to the students that their role within the group is as important as their individual role. Most importantly, using creative, fun projects that operate within student's skill sets helps them to enjoy and take ownership of the experience. When a student has taken ownership of a project they are much more likely to put in more work and inspire those around them to stay involved and on task.

2 methods for assessing participation: 
1.Identifiable portion of group work.
It is important for each member of a group to have a distinct role. However, these roles should be equally important within the construct of the group. In this way, the members are able to take ownership of their role and understand the importance of their contribution as a component of the group's success.
2.Peer evaluation.
Peer evaluation is important to get, as a teacher, insight into the working dynamics of the group and to ascertain how each member perceived each of the other member's contributions. This can be done through a survey or a writing assignment.


Ways to choose groups.

 a. Student choice

 b. Proximity

 c. Number off


Student Choice.

      This option allows students to choose their own groups. This method would be useful at the beginning of the semester to determine preexisting social conditions within the classroom. A risk of using this  method regularly is that it discourages new relationships and lacks diversity. Additionally, the amount of ti e it takes to organize cuts into time-on-task. However, this method also works as a form of reward for positive behavior, which can be a very powerful motivator while meeting the goals of the students and teachers. Ultimately, the method is useful but should be utilized with other methods as well to insure diverse groups and time-on-task.


            This method assigns, for instance, every student in Row 1 to Group 1 and so forth. This is a helpful method to help insure diverse groups as well as reduce time between transitions, which increases time-on-task. However, this method limits the students to the same group throughout the semester. A possible solution would to be using proximity in a diverse way. Using columns instead of rows, changing the number of groups or allowing for multiple seating arrangements that would change the dynamics of, for instance, Row 1. A mixture of methods is more effective than relying solely on proximity.


Number off.

             This is a very popular method of choosing groups but does require a bit of time while the students move about the room to get in their groups. This method would work best for breaking up the class into more random groupings than using proximity. This method is also very useful for allowing students to move about the classroom in a semi-organized way and could be useful from a management perspective to get some blood flowing.