November 2, 2010

A Refresher

Tomorrow begins quarter two, and students have had five days off in a row. I've just spent the last two days in professional development. Thankfully, they weren't too rigorous, and we've had a bit of time to talk and do some planning, too.

Yesterday, we had a presenter from the district professional development talking to us about vocabulary instruction. For me, it just seems like there's never enough time to build vocabulary, especially to the depth in which we want students to understand concept. Come to think of it, I can't say I've left with any particular strategy that I'm dying to use. I know it seems strange, but in English, we necessarily have as much content vocabulary as I would imagine the social students or science classes do. So many of our words come from our literature, and if we aren't studying a piece of literature, I still want students to learn new words, so then we're back to the vocabulary books. You know, they didn't kill me.

In the afternoon, on our own as a staff, we looked at our p-scores from the state exam, and collaborated with some of our p-values. I don't even know how to explain p-values, and our math-minded vice principal claims we use the term incorrectly in our district. Essentially, we looked for areas of growth and areas we should improve upon and tried to come up with ideas on causes and solutions.

The people at my table, English, foreign language, and geography teachers, focused on how we could be critical thinking on expository texts, particular in areas where students need to make inferences and predictions. I think we made some progress after hypothesizing that our students live within their small worlds and have a hard time making connections to things outside their small worlds. This is especially true of our ELL students, but it is also true of all teenagers, no? Okay, maybe I exaggerate--just a bit, though. We came to the conclusion that we need to offer as much scaffolding and extension to our expository texts and current events as we do with our literary texts. We also decided that this is an area where students might be excited to share what they know as much as we might share what we know, and that means sometimes we need more talk!

Today, the same presenter came back and talked to us about Depth of Knowledge. We've had DOK before, presented by one of our own teachers who came back to the classroom after leaving the regional PD cadre. The thing about DOK that I hate is that I don't need another acronym about how I need to get my students to think more deeply. Nonetheless, I feel that this is an area of my instruction--whatever I call it--where I try to be purposeful in trying to get more bang for my buck. I became cognizant of just how I do try to ramp things up when I had a student teacher a few years ago, and I was constantly asking her what she wanted students to learn and how she could get more critical thinking from them. Oh, I humbly admit that am not perfect, but this is an area where I am giving it my all.

Okay, onward with the rest of the semester. I have a couple of fresh ideas that I'm ready to try. As much as I am irritated by PD days (and I'm on the committee and was a key organizer for the one we had last month), it's nice when we have time to get some new tools together, especially when we have time to talk with each other.

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