Monday, November 1, 2010

To Understand, Book Club 2

Discussion of Chapters 1 and 2

`This time the K-8 preservice teachers were discussing Chapter 3 - Driven to Understand, and Chapter 4 - Dwelling in Ideas.  Van Gogh was the art connection for driven to understand.  He said "I want to get to the point where people say of my work: that man feels deeply."  For dwelling in ideas, she meditates on Edward Hopper, since in his paintings what is not happening is as important as what is.

Reader comments:
  • Stereotypes of low income schools - that teachers don't want to go there.  But kids need someone to believe in them, and we can be those teachers.
  • Chapter 4 describes a classroom so perfect that it seems unreal.  And it does seem out of reach.
  • Have worked in classrooms with conferencing... it is hard to get that culture where students do silent reading as you meet with them one on one for conferencing.  Can meet goals of conferencing with all, though, if you're flexible on the time frame.
  • Crafting/Composing/reflection - all relevant things to any kind of learning.
  • These teachers use silent reading time after vigorous activity.  Can be more meaningful learning time by adding reflection to it.
  • Shouldn't just have reflection at the end of the day, but throughout.  While it's still fresh.  Kids will notice if it's not "dead air" at the end of the day.
  • Giving students time to think and hear themselves think can be part of the reflection.
  • How do we connect this book to math?  The painting that they're trying to understand is like the Pythagorean Theorem.  Don't have to do it a certain way, people will have their own way to make sense of something.
  • I do think about the book in relation to math, but the reading is also relevant to me as a preservice elementary teacher.
  • There are parallels to math.  
  • The book can be redundant almost... the initial question "what does making sense mean?"  gets brought up a lot.  Want the book to be more straight forward.
  • "As important as what is happening is what is not" - what do they mean?  
  • When an artist provides little detail we are left to sort it out ourselves.  "What's missing" may be those details, so that we understand it on our own.
  • The theme is that there is not one way to understand.  I won't be surprised to get to the end without a definition.  The idea is to make it your own.  Even if that's stressful or frustrating.
  • Discussion - what's happening is great.  But the kids who are not involved in the discussion is "what's missing."
  • Fervent learning... there was the story of the student who went above and beyond.  Is our goal to make every subject that interesting?  Then the students will direct the learning instead of us.  We set the stage, give the tools, and let them work.
  • Tight schedule or teaching to the test fights against teaching for understanding.  What about kids left behind.
  • I'm currently observing a teacher give the ideas to students, then they move on.  How can we stray away from that, if the schedule is any tighter?
I thought it was great that they see a tension between coverage and real learning.  But I want to encourage them that real learning can meet the goals of the test-givers, also.  Real learning will beat the standardized tests at their own game.

We related these chapters to the idea of structure and gradually releasing students to greater freedom.  Started talking about how we can wean the students away from learned helplessness.

This chapter also has one of my favorite teaching moves.  Seems just straight dumb, too.  When a student says "I don't know,"  Ms. Keene responds, "If you did know, what would you say?"  Oh! I thought there was no way that would ever work, but now I have seen it create a kind of freedom for the student to answer more times than I could count.  Incredible.

On the whole, the students confirmed that they are finding the reading worthwhile, and are glad that we take time in class to discuss it.
    Photo credits: uhuru1701 & Bert K @ Flickr.  Cartoon from

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