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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Strategies - How Important in the 21st Century?

This week I have been reflecting on the correlation between the strategies we use on text and those we use in life. I began by  thinking about the information processing theory of reading.

I visualize the brain as you see it in this picture.  I envision the strategies we teach as the bridge between the raw information (on the left) and the comprehension (on the right).  I am sure this is not anatomically correct, but this is my image for this process.

In the reading of text, the brain bounces among the sources of information - semantic, letter/sound, and structure - trying to comprehend the squiggles on the page.  More specifically, the brain samples among these sources, predicts, and either confirms or rethinks (corrects) the prediction.

The strategies we teach, are based on language.

This is based on the research of Vygotzky.  Along with his understanding of the zone of proximal development and the zone of actual development, in other words automaticity. As teachers, I think we often overlook the importance of this simple process and what it implies.  The language we use for strategies needs to be stated in terms students can apply in many contexts.  Opportunities to practice these strategies must be available to the student on a regular basis.  

Thinking about the strategies we use in text, we can transfer them to life and to other mediums.  For example, sampling and predicting.

As readers we take a look at the book - front, cover - sample the first line and predict what will come next. 

When rising first thing in the morning, we look outside, check the thermometer (if you live in Maine) and predict what to wear in order to keep warm that day.

As we move forward into the 21st century, I encourage all educators to rethink the importance of meta-cognition as we prepare our students for the barrage of information and life experiences they will face in this new century. 

The American Association of Librarians published the following standards in Standards for the 21st Century Learner in Action.  
Let's think outside of the box and prioritize what our students need to know.  Keep a journal for a day and write down what strategies you use.  It might be a good place to start.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Metaphors and Analogies - Power Tools for Teaching Any Subject by Rick Wormell

     Over the next few weeks, I will be reviewing the new book on  metaphors and analogies.   The format I will use is to respond to the quotes, making meaningful connections, reflecting and asking questions.  These will be highlighted in various colors.  Hopefully, this will 1.  allow me to share important information with you and 2.  model some of my own meta-cognitive behaviors.   I hope this helps.

     It is Friday night and I am curled up with my new book and a pot of tea.  I have been looking forward to this moment for some time.  The book is by Rick Wormeli, one of my favorite authors and is titled, Metaphors and Analogies - Power Tools for Teaching Any Subject.
     The book does not disappoint me.  The first chapter helps me clarify some of my thinking.  He writes, " Teaching through metaphors and analogies isn't just about building personal background knowledge, so students have a context for understanding new concepts.  

So, unrelated connections don't move understanding forward!  Atwell and others are on the right track!

Nor is it about just giving students templates to complete (_____is to______ as __________is to__________) or assigning students to compare and contrast two periods of history or pieces of literature.  

At first I am troubled by this piece, until I reread it and identify the JUST.  So, this would be the starting point of the analogy.  

It's also a conscious choice to scaffold learning by making meaningful connections among topics.  

As a teacher, I have always done this with my students.  However, I have always thought it was perhaps just for the students with challenges.  When working with teachers, I have often referred to this as building concrete bridges for students.  I am not sure I have always modeled the process, though, so much as I have told them.  I am eager to see what Wormeli suggests.  He promises teaching tips later in the book:)

By giving students specific tools to think critically, such as making the invisible visible through explicit comparisons or applying knowledge from one discipline to another, we help students move beyond memorization to deeper learning that lasts." 

This strikes a deep cord in me.  Since returning from China and listening to the State of the Union Address, I have been thinking about education in the U.S.  I firmly believe we have much going for us, but need to keep our eye on the 21st century and the strategies required.  Seeing patterns, making meaningful connections, quickly comprehending the information thrown at us so quickly, will be a must.  Isn't this the end result of this process?  Isn't this how we will lead the way?

An hour later, I am still rereading sections of chapter 1.  It is a short chapter, but the kind where I need to stop and rethink because each part triggers other connections. 

I focus on a lesson I taught with a group of primary teachers.  I had just introduced the information processing theory of reading and we had discussed how the sources of information were inter-dependent when creating meaning.  I asked them to create a graphic to describe their understanding at this point in time. One of the teachers, P.B.,  created a cross section of a peanut M&M, explaining that the candy represented the syntax, the chocolate the phono-graphic, and the peanut the meaning.  The lights went on around the room!  She talked about her process and others shared and reflected.  But, was it enough?  How could I have provided more scaffolding or gone deeper?  

There's my purpose for reading.

There's my question!
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