Fahrenheit 451 is undoubtedly on the top of my lists of greatest books of all time. The novel was probably one of the reason's why I became an English teacher, due, in great part, to the way it was taught by my freshman-year English teacher, Kevin Brewner (now retired).
Last year, I crafted a rather unsuccessful project that made the book stick out of the actual authentic part of the project. This year, after some work with the UIUC Nano-CEMMS center over summer, I re-visited how I would be using Fahrenheit and pair it to our new social studies curriculum for current events. As we finish Fahrenheit, students will not be diving into the hard work to answer:
How do we, as young, creative writers, craft a comic-book remix of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451
that speculates about the future of science and technology enhancements?
And then be evaluated on the following rubric: rubric - NanoF451comic
Bradbury, now deceased, wrote about the technological advancements that he could see not only physically destroying the world, but also psychologically destroying our country. With the advent of the atomic bomb, Bradbury began exploring how war and politics changed thanks to the fact that entire megatropoli could go up in flames with the drop of just one bomb. Bradbury feared how sound-bites for television would lead to the end of our attention spans and our inquiry into author's purpose, conflict and other literary crafts that make good writing into art. He saw us retracting into our homes, inundated with media and overwhelmed to the point of numbness.
Today, we face any number of technological advances that could destroy our society. English teachers feared how instant messaging and texting will destroy our written language. The Internet has obviously kept us connected, but also given us the opportunity to check out of current social spaces and engage in virtual ones -- even at the dinner table! Now, we hear about how 3D printing could uproot our preconceptions of manufacturing and our idea-driven economy.
For the last two weeks, students have been critically reading Fahrenheit and enthusiastically examining technological advances like Google Glass. Now, this week, they will take that knowledge and start to apply it into the Fahrenheit plot line, but add depth to a remix of the book by updating one, two or all the characteristics that put 451 in the sci-fi genre: 1) its emphasis on science or technology; 2) its speculation about future or current events; or 3) its social commentary. Students will have some questions to ask and answer as they play. Aside from how they will illustrate the novel and what quotes/elements they will recreate, they will also have to think about where tech and emerging sciences fit into the social context of today. We also have some good vs. evil brainstorming coming up, too, after we play with some Nitinol in a lab provided by the UIUC Nano-CEMMS center. With much luck, we might even be able to Skype later this week with the artist who made the graphic novel interpretation of Fahrenheit. Coming off of a great week already, I sure am looking forward to the creative spirit guiding this next one.
Why do *I* have to facilitate discussion? Facilitating book talks that start with student inquiry #uiwp2012 #PBLchat
When I started the year, I had 56 students in one of my sections and 50-some in another. (Want to try your hand at trying to manage that classroom on the first week?) As the year goes on, my classes get smaller, due to our transient student body at my school -- kids move, transfer or get in some disciplinary messes. Slowly, my classes have leveled off around 40 or so the last two years.
Given that class size, facilitating a classroom discussion in our co-taught classes (English and Current Events this semester) can be a challenge. Given the class size, students are probably intimidated, plus there is no way to keep things accountable. And given the class size, there are some days that I can barely get through an Agenda without an interruption or distraction. (The days that I can are the days I celebrate.)
I had thought about trying some Lit Circles this year (and there is still hope, given the flexibility of having a Current Events companion to my English curriculum), but I did not detect that we were there yet in our professionalism/collegiality... That is, until this week.
A week ago, I attended the University of Illinois Writing Project's Spring Conference and presented, too. My biggest take-away came from the keynote address by a former UIWP fellow who presented on her collaborative efforts to build student talk. What impressed me most was the way that she worked discussion around novels into the weekly routine, had the means to keep kids accountable and also covered the Common Core State Standards for Speaking and Listening. She put together a number of things that I had already been doing in my classroom -- text-marking while reading, setting roles for group members, taking notes while listening -- and found a way to weave them into a great process for setting students up for having collegial discourse about novel excerpts. Her examination of the power dynamics of discussion in her highly diverse classroom were thought-provoking as well, particularly when we started examining video clips that showed the growth of her students discussion skills.
In her week, step one was to give students all a common excerpt, which they marked up. Students were to develop "seed" questions that could grow into a conversation about the text. Students had a day for this and then a day for discussion in groups of four. Their discussions notes then could turn into possible avenues for essays and other written responses that fulfilled other CCSS strands.
Silent reading time takes a lot of effort to achieve given the class size, but I did manage to get to it with smaller excerpts in 15-20 minute slots. I adapted this format and did a couple trial runs on Monday and Wednesday in quick, one-period runs. As an AVID teacher as well, one of my biggest foci in my PBL classrooms is inquiry. We have been really hitting Costa's levels of questions. So, as a means for describing what a "seed" question was, I related it to level two and level three questions. The prep-work that my students did to get ready to talk about Fahrenheit 451 (see Text-Marking for disc - F451pt3 Burning for example) paid off, but I anticipated that the discourse would not necessarily be collegial right off the bat. Students work in groups regularly on projects, so my groups had already been established.
Technology played a part in helping to document this, so that we could have discussion in small-group workshops during our stations days. The power of video put kids on the spot to perform. As I moved around the room on the first two days, students would try to act more sophisticated when they saw me coming, but they still struggled. At our Promethean Board after the second attempt, students examined what the CCSS were and whether they were fulfilling them (see Discussion PS1213 Examples for our talking points ). We talked about steps to improve for Friday's discussion. Many noted they wanted more time to discuss (wow!), because they were not getting to all of their questions, nor were they getting into enough depth. Some wanted to go back to their questions, because they were proud of them and wanted to know their partners' opinions. (Secretly, I also celebrated the fact that they wanted to reflect on the alternate reality that Fahrenheit depicts.) They also picked out the best keywords of CCSS -- prepared, diversity, perspective, evidence, thoughtfully -- and were able to apply them to the good and not-so-good samples that they saw. They picked up on when students were going back to the text to back up a statement or contribution. We talked about the difference between "acting like listening" and "active listening", which made many students tune in and participate further in the workshop. (This may have been the best workshop I have run on so-called "soft skills" in my career.)
I played up the growing process all week, and, sure enough, my students were proudly calling me over to show off their new discussion skills on Friday. Some students saved their "best" questions for when I was sneaking around, listening in and taking video samples for further examination next week. Now having some time to examine their discussion trackers (see F451 pt3 Disc Organizer exemplars 3-8), I can see their levels of questioning were very diverse and also thought-provoking. Themes that I did not even really bring up in other scaffolding activities came to the surface.
In reflecting back on this experience, the core of the problem, I realized, was that my perception of discussion called for me, the teacher, to start the discussion ball rolling. This is an idea that was probably prompted by another UIWP fellow's blog post, but was proven by the discussion that I simply set students up for. Potential next steps would be adding some "How do you know?" sections to the organizers that I am proud of already. Finally, I can say discussion can be done, despite class size.
Later this week, I will be attending a session at the ICE Conference entitled "Effective Evaluation of Technology Use in the Classroom". This is a topic that has been in the back of my head for a while, because I have yet to see good instruments developed around the NETS-T Standards that can help my growth as a learning facilitator. ISTE has provided the framework, but I am surprised that (as a technology integration specialist or technology coordinator hopeful) there has been little progress toward bringing these standards into more building-wide efforts or teacher evaluation systems. Such tools would be helpful for my own personal reflective practice as well as others who I hope to someday train and coach.
There is also little guidance as to how technology coordinators can build program evaluation measures before the technology arrives at the building. Based on conversations I have with teachers in my region, there still remains this culture of "Buy first; train later...if ever." But how does that kind of end-in-mind planning translate to technology leadership and program/deployment evaluation?
In some quick searches around for rubrics or scales that would help me develop a personal growth model, I have found one consortium that made an initial attempt. However, there is little formalization of this process for teachers at state or regional levels, which I believe is a big leadership oversight as many state Race to the Top efforts have forced teacher evaluation revisions.
As a PBL facilitator, I thought I would list out some of my "Knows" before venturing into this learning experience...
- At the building level, technology coordinators can look at the effective use of productivity tools by the overall organization. (Who uses the full Microsoft Office suite? Who knows how to make the networked printers do more work independently so you do less standing around and waiting?) Oftentimes, this can be achieved through surveys or application logs. But this does not measure the effective use of these technologies in staff-members' professional lives, nor does it demonstrate what students are learning more effectively or more deeply.
- I have seen personally that in the classroom, engagement and connectivity are concepts that are unique to lessons that blend technology into them. But, these are conceptual ideas, not clear indicators for modeling or eventual evaluation.
- Certainly, localized definitions would take much more effort from building/district technology leaders, unions, teachers or other stakeholders. Such efforts could target specific purchases, too, and get teachers geared up for their own growth in the classroom than some of the more cumbersome concepts presented in the NETS.
So, as I move through the learning, I will hopefully deepen these immediate thoughts...oh, and I also better tie up the loose ends for my own presentation.
EdWeek summed up pretty well the National Association of State Boards of Education's (NASBE) most recent report on educational technology. The report focused on the state of educational technology use in our schools today and tomorrow. This report comes right when I am about to submit a term paper on technology leadership. (...Really?...Re...ally? Re....vision!) Some interesting issues are published that I feel like my voice has aired in many contexts -- where is the leadership in educational technology integration?
As one of the "beta" digital natives, I have always felt like the guru around teachers more experienced than I. This, too, is where I have felt the most success in my career at times. It has been my (though limited) experience in schools that districts spend money on hardware and software, support it technically but then do not develop it into part of the classroom learning environment or school culture. This seems to be an evaluation that NASBE shares, too:
But the report also examines the extent to which many teachers, principals, curriculum specialists, and support staff lack the necessary familiarity with technology to make the most of it in classrooms. Lots of barriers exist to closing this gap, including steady teacher turnover, and a generation gap—the average age of principals is around 50, the report's authors say, so "it will be some years before a large portion of school leaders are digital natives."
This is the kind of report that puts to print a lot of things that I think teachers and leaders are realizing now, too. (It's also the kind of report that looks like a good framework for a future blog series...) There are cultural shifts that a school needs to go through, but we need some more bridge-builders. Sign me up.
After a little push by a colleague, I applied for the 2012 PBS Teacher Innovator award. Our partnership with The Interrupters and Kartemquin Films continues to flourish and may now expand to other schools. Last week, my students interviewed Ricardo "Cobe" Williams, who was profiled in The Interrupters. While producing my video application, I realized I ended up making a pretty nice little recap of the event itself. I've got some more to add to the entire series as I debrief with students, but, for now, take a quick glimpse at some of my proudest work bridge-building out of my classroom.
After school today, students from both of my double-block periods came together to put together a plan to run the interview with Cobe Williams tomorrow. Just like last year, they are in charge of facilitating. Despite coming from different project groups and periods, we had a very productive discussion on the expectations, logistics and discussion prompts for our Skype session. After I collected potential interview questions from all of my students, my interview team sifted through the Google Form/Spreadsheet to come up with the following for our distinguished guest:
- Is this what you thought you were going to do [being a Violence Interrupter] when you were 15 or 16?
- Do you feel like you've tried your hardest in helping others?
- How does it make you feel knowing that you are changing a person's life and you are a role model to young adults our age?
- How can we, as students, be interrupters ourselves, without putting our lives on the line?
- Is it hard to work around people that are in gangs or be around violence daily?
- How long have you been doing this [interrupting cycles of violence] now?
- As an agent of change, what challenges have you had to overcome to be the person you are today?
- What have you accomplished in the communities that you’ve worked with?
- How did you find out about the Violence Interrupters?
- What other places have the Violence Interrupters been to? Was Danville one of them?
- What is the hardest thing about being a Violence Interrupter?
- What exactly made you turn your life around?
- What advice would you give to kids our age?
- What kind of training is needed to interrupt violence?
Over the weekend, I got an email from one of my contacts at Kartemquin Films, the documentary company behind The Interrupters, who wanted to put me in touch with other teacher-advocates who would like to build similar projects. As our trusting partnership with Kartemquin blooms, I am finding that some Chicago Public Schools are interested in partnering with my students. Similar to Project Citizen in our class last year, the one teacher who stood out is thinking of putting on a TedX event where students conduct field research and present on local issues. (How cool?! I think this would be a great schoolwide project!) She faces a culture boundary, however, in her school, because her students are hesitant about whether they can engage issues and really impact change. And the partnerships grow!
My students, not intimidated by presenting after a year in our New Tech program, will be great mentors via Skype in the upcoming weeks. And they have so much to talk about between the two projects. Students helping students: there are no fences separating our schools.
Last year spring, my students rocked the My Bloody Life / gangs awareness project we threw at them. It was a testament to how a project can change its direction from the grassroots of the classroom -- the student body -- and how reading high-interest materials can promote deeper learning. As the advocates who voiced interest in seeing The Interrupters at our school, their voice was much of the reason why we got a pre-release copy of the documentary and then got to interview an expert from the film team via Skype.
When I first announced last year I was working with the Interrupters production team to set up a Skype session, all my students wanted to know was which Violence Interrupter we were going to interview. To our surprise, we got a bigger name than I could even believe at first -- the filmmaker himself, Alex Kotlowitz. Now, thanks to a sustained relationship with Kartemquin Films, we are excited to be hosting a Skype session with one of the Violence Interrupters, Ricardo "Cobe" Williams, featured in the documentary.
In the documentary, Cobe is one of the younger CeaseFire Violence Interrupters. He is featured in the documentary both interrupting violence as well as helping to transition a young man back into community after incarceration. Cobe joined the CeaseFire team after time in prison himself, becoming part of the solution instead of returning to the problem that appears to be an endless cycle in Chicago.
With such great success last year in having my students facilitate the discussion, I have again empowered them to come up with the questions that are relevant to their study and also the expectations of our audience. As a class, we are watching the documentary tomorrow. All of my sophomores will be joining the conversation this time around, too, but this time in the school auditorium.
The relationship with Kartemquin has been one that has spread to more schools than just us. With the launch of the Interrupt Violence website, The Interrupters as a film will evolve to a new level. When two learning organizations can come together, they have a lot to offer each other. I like to think that some of my students have been part of an encouraging group of young people who make a call for the end of violence.
I am excited to hear, too, that Broadand Illinois will be joining us on Tuesday to document how high-speed Internet is a benefit to education. This kind of connection -- a "bridge" so to speak -- is only possible because my students and the connectivity made it possible.