Monday, October 18, 2010

To Understand - Book Club

The K-8 Geometry class is reading To Understand this semester.  This book is Ellin Oliver Keene's follow up to her mega-book with Susan Zimmerman, Mosaic of Thought.  Yes they're reading a reading book.  But this book is really about comprehension, much like Mosaic of Thought, and most of these preservice teachers will be in elementary school, and teaching reading.  This is the second semester using this book, which had mixed results last semester, but overall positive reviews from students.

The aspect of the book that students had trouble with is that each chapter (from 3 on) starts with the story of someone in the arts advancing their own understanding.  It was difficult for some students to connect with these stories if they were unfamiliar with the artist.   Last semester students did make lots of connection to what they'd read from Mem Fox; Reading Magic is on my list, but I haven't gotten to it yet.

The structure we're using is groups of up to 8, where each group has a leader - responsible for keeping things moving, questioner - for prompting discussion, recorder, and a reporter who leads the group's sharing with the whole class.  After the free discussion period, the group talks about what to share, then the whole class discussion starts.

Some notes from our discussion:

Chapter 1:  Rethinking Understanding & Chapter 2: Seeking Understanding in our minds, our lives
  • Teach concepts for greater depth.  Current understanding is the key to understanding in the future.  Don't do too many topics.
  • Even in a calc class, you can move on before students have a conceptual understanding.
  • Quality vs quantity is a dangerous choice.  Eg. pizza parties for number of books vs what was learned.
  • Teach in different styles with kids having choice of structure.  In elementary and HS everything was more structured vs in college when the info is presented and you do with it what you will.  Elementary school needs more choice and freedom.
  • Everything has trial and error.  Repetition is everywhere, for example math workbooks that ask many of exactly the same form of question.
  • Testing is crappy, and we focus more on scores than understanding.  The test generate so much pressure from so many sources.  Home, school, etc.  You never get them back, so you can't learn from it.  Test too much, at least standardized testing.  What if the kid doesn't have supportive conditions (sleep, food, etc.)
  • All children can achieve greatness.  A principal who says "someone's got to flip the burgers..."; this kid just isn't good at that.  Beliefs will be communicated to students.  Vs. believing in all students.
  • "We can extinguish the notion that some kids are going to make it and some kids won't."  Psych study that showed teacher beliefs have a huge impact on achievement.
  • After Ellin described a great day, her husband David asked: "why isn't everyday like that?"  Easy to make excuses.    Ultimately it's because we don't expect them to.  Belief motivates.  
  • What will you do about barriers to eliminate the real reasons for student struggle?  Eg. a teacher who brought in bagels and cream cheese before a long standardized test.
  • Also be careful not to expect too much, so students feel defeated.
  • In elementary kids are excited to go to school.  They will/do lose that if it's not supported.
  • Do teachers care more about noise or intellectual activity?
  • One student hated the book so far because it felt like the author posed questions without answering them.  Another student said that that was creating a desire to read on and a curiosity.  That maybe the whole book was about what it means to understand.
 Cartoon from the always amusing Speed Bump.

For my teaching
  • First workshop (focused on determining importance) was more beneficial than the 2nd (stopping at each page to monitor your comprehension).  Better recall of Ch 1.  Stopping at each page broke the flow of reading.  (This was ironic because last semester it was reverse, so I had changed Chapter 3 workshop to be like Chapter 2.  But I let them know they can always choose a different way to meet the objective for the workshop.)
  • This workshop (Ch 2) can be an example of what not to do.  If it becomes a task to do the motions, then it defeats its own purpose of looking for comprehension.

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