Saturday, October 27, 2012

Multimedia Lessons Pt. 1

Three years ago, in my 2nd year at Dexter McCarty Middle School, we started a new school-wide experimantal school schedule where for one day every 2 weeks we started the day with what was known as a "Success Period." In a way, I suppose this was our attempt at creating some kind of Advisory model. We were a couple years into implementing PBS (another perplexing educational acronym - APEA?) which stands for Positive Behavior Support and has now, with the emphasis on Interventions, morphed into PBIS. The thinking was that there were strategies we believed were essential for all students to practice in order to be successful - things like keeping an organized binder, prioritizing break time, using a planner to track due dates, that kind of stuff. And we believed these things can and should be taught. But with the press of benchmarks, state testing, mandated curriculum, BRD's (Budget Reduction days) and meetings, things viewed as "unnecessary" by some teachers were not being covered. Adding a Success period to the calendar meant that every eacher would teach the skills to one group of students at the same time, using the same lesson, helping ensure more consistency in teaching the important skills.

That's a long intro to a simple frustration. Many of the lessons were well-designed Powerpoint presentations. But if - like me - you didn't have a digital projector or even a document camera, it meant having the students huddle around the one desktop computer on my desk, or going to Plan B (Plan B always involves a worksheet.) So "multimedia" became a kind of dark joke for me. Nice if you can get it, but it seemed like someone else was always getting it. What a great idea to come up with a "building-wide plan" that can only be implemented by the privileged haves while the have-nots watched and waited for their turn in the Digital Projector Rotation.

Of course, when I started teaching in 1990, or did my student teaching in 1988, I was still sniffing ditto ink, watching the drum churn out purple-inked sheets. I used floppy discs to store my first word-processed documents, and I'll bet I can still remember how to thread a 16mm projector. I know which knob to turn to advance the filmstrip, so multimedia has a certain magical ring, er, beep, to it.

Flash forward. Schools where every student has an iPad, where BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is the norm, and digital instruction used "flipped" classrooms is no longer constrained to the normal school schedule or the four walls of the classrom. I love this stuff, and not just because te gadgets are cool (which they are) but because it's the essence of Engagement. It's not, as many curmudgeons mistakenly believe, about making education "flashy," but about making learning accessible. We can wish every kid would sit down at a desk, in a row, and read To Kill A Mockingbird with the same fervent passion we English Majors did Back In The Day. But wishing never made it so. And the world is, literally, at our fingertips now. TKAM is still incredibly relevant, but now kids can read teh book (in paper or electronic form) watch clips of Gregory Peck in the corthouse scenes, listen to Martin Luther King Jr. give his I Have A Dream speech, and research Harper Lee's childhood to find the seeds of the book, all in one period, all with one device, all without leaving their desk - whether that desk is in a classroom or a bedroom. Now ask yourself which classroom discussion is going to be richer - the one where kids just read the book, or the one where students have access to all the other resources as well? These are exciting times for being a teacher.

Commonn Core State Standards - Pt. 1

That's CCSS to most of us, and in my 23 years of teaching, it's perhaps the biggest game-changer I've seen yet. For the first time in forever, nearly the entire country is united in agreement regarding what students should know and be able to do at every level from Kindergarten through 12th grade (and beyond.) Using a backwards design model that begins with the College and Career Readiness standards (CCR), the CCSS creates a framework upon which all teachers - and this is important, it's NOT just core subject area teachers - can create curriculum that is rigorous and alligned from grade to grade and should theoretically transfer between districts and states.

The most exciting aspect to me - and my focus has so far been on Literacy & Language Arts - is how closely the standards support a workshop model of teaching. It's very constructivist in it's approach to how students learn and the role of the teacher as facilitator rather than lecturer.  Unlike the extensive but overly ambiguous Oregon state standards ushered in in 1990 by HB 3565 (the "Katz Bill") which remained a burdensome (and largely unfunded) mandate for over 2 decades, The focus of the CCSS is fairly narrow. In Reading there are 10 simply stated and clearly defined standards. Period. For 1st through 12th grade. The CCSS recognizes that the skills needed to be a proficient reader are the same basic skills at all levels of a reader's life, but that as readers grow, they must develop increasingly sophisticated strategies to experience success with increasingly sophisticated texts and tasks. This is what's known as "spiraling" standards; picture a successful student riding a circular "updraft" as they gain altitude with a standard from year to year - elegant, eh?