Thursday, August 27, 2015

Guided Inquiry Design/Autonomy

Yesterday the faculty at Greenhill had several sessions with David Streight, author of Breaking into the Heart of Character: Self-Determined Moral Action and Academic Motivation. When he spoke to the Middle School staff, he discussed four approaches in developing autonomy in students. As he spoke, I thought, "This is what we do in Guided Inquiry Design!" Here's what he mentioned and my take on the implications for GID.

1. Choice - Mr. Streight pointed out that students do better when they have choices in their learning.

In GID, choice is not random. Students are given the opportunity to make educated choices about topics during the"Immerse" and "Explore" phases. After the students have developed background knowledge, the students select their topics for research in the "Identify" phase . Rather than drawing topics out of a hat or being randomly assigned a topic, the students have autonomy in selecting what they wish to research.

I found this to be particularly telling last year when we first implemented GID into the Middle School history classes. The students were genuinely interested in their topics. They had ownership in their topics, and enjoyed researching to find out more information about their topics. They were also more creative in producing their products because the information had relevance to them. Leslie Maniotes calls it "Third Space" which is the overlap of curriculum and interest. It truly happens in Guided Inquiry Design.

2. Voice - Mr. Streight asked, "Do kids have the freedom to express unpopular opinions?

Because GID is s student-centered learning and the students interact together in their Inquiry Circles, the students have a great deal of opportunity to express their opinions. In the Seventh Grade Inquiry Project we did last fall, the overarching essential question that we asked was "How does the phrase 'All Men are Created Equal' apply to particular groups in the nineteenth century?" One team of students studied the Chinese Immigrants working on the Transcontinental Railroad. Surprising to me, this group felt that yes, the Chinese Immigrants would have felt that "All Men are Created Equal." When asked to give their rationale, they noted that while the Chinese were initially exploited and mistreated while working on the railroad, they went on to own their own businesses and provide a better life for themselves than they would have had in China. While I didn't necessarily agree with the students, they had the freedom to express their ideas.

3. Structure - Mr. Streight noted that autonomy isn't "freedom," but "freedom with structure." Students need to know where the limits are. This is important in fostering autonomy.

GID provides a structure for learning. While the activities are no longer "teacher-led," there is a definite structure to the learning. The unit starts with "Open," an introductory activity/event designed to start the inquiry process. Then the students "Immerse" with group activities to provide a basis for their topics followed by "Explore" where they can find out more about the content. Then, of course, is the "Identify" phase where students select their topics and the Essential Question they wish to answer about the topic. As they "Gather" information, information literacy skills are introduced. The students then "Create" a product to reflect what they learned about the topic and how they answered the essential question posed in the "Identify" phase. This is followed by the "Share" phase where students participate in demonstrating their new found knowledge. Last, they "Evaluate" their learning by reflection and discussion. GID provides that "freedom with structure" Mr. Streight feels "freedom with structure" is one avenue to  develop autonomy.

4. Relevance - Mr. Streight stressed the importance of relating the information to the students' lives and show how the information has value. He said, "When we understand value, there's more buy-in."

I think that relevance has been covered earlier in this blog post, what we found in the Seventh Grade Inquiry project is that students who traditionally weren't the best test takers or particularly gifted academically were very successful in GID. The students were allowed to find the relevance in the topic, and we noted that as the students learned more about their topics, the "buy-in" was even greater. Both girls and boys had difficulty believing that women had few rights in the nineteenth century and were enraged to find that in many ways, women were treated more as "property" than people. Additionally, several of the kids selected a topic because they either had background in the topic or family connections. This also raised the level of relevance.

While my ramblings lack the eloquence of Mr. Streight's writings and the authors of Guided Inquiry Design and I haven't provided empirical evidence, I was struck by the similarities between the two. Because Guided Inquiry encompasses that areas that Mr. Streight mentioned, students do begin to develop that autonomy that we want them to have.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

It's almost time to start it all over again...

I'm beginning to wonder if blogging is still something we need to be doing. No one reads this except me, and I really don't need to go to all of the trouble to write this just for myself. I do have a tendency to remember books that I read much better although I'm always notorious for forgetting characters' names and titles. Other than that...

I took quite a hiatus when I left for vacation. My husband and I spent three nights in London before boarding a ship in Southhampton to cruise the Norwegian fjords! Norway was as spectacular as I had hoped. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't always so accommodating. Nonetheless, it was a great trip. I watched a lot of movies - both on the airplane and on the ship. I saw a couple of plays in London, and we visited the Harry Potter Studios outside of London. If you are a fan of the movies, this is a must.

After we returned, I just really wasn't in the frame of mind to do a lot of reading. I've gotten back in the groove in the last couple of weeks, and I need to update the old blog about what I've been reading.

Prior to the trip, I read In the After by Demitria Lunetta. This is one of the Lone Star Books, and alas, ANOTHER dystopian read. It is very derivative (aren't they all?) of Amber Kizer's A Matter of Days and Susan Beth Pfeffer's LiFe as We Knew It. In fact, I wondered as I read if I had read the book before. Of course, I'm sure there will be a sequel... The only GOOD thing about it was that it weighed in a hefty 455 pages which means I can count it twice. Wonder if any middle schoolers will want to wade through all of that though for a story that's been told way too many times.

For my book club, I read Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the
Lusitania by Erik Larson. Although I love history and really enjoy nonfiction, I hadn't read any of his books prior to this one. This is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ship. All I remember from the history books was that the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat is what got the United States into World War I. Boy, was I ever wrong. It took the United States two more years to get into the war. (353 pages)

Larson focuses on four different aspects in the book: 1. What happened on the ship itself, 2. What occurred on the German U-boat with Captain Sweiger 3. What was happening in Room 40 - British Intelligence and the British military, and 4. What was happening in the White House with Woodrow Wilson.

As readers, members of the club would have liked diagrams of the ship and maps of the various places mention in the book as point of need. Although well-researched, the endnotes weren't very helpful while being read.

It was lucky that I didn't read this prior to my cruise because I might not have gotten on the ship. The Lusitania sunk in 18 minutes. Although  the event occurred several years after the Titanic, it was obvious that many lessons weren't learned. The passengers didn't know how to wear their life jackets nor did they know which life boat to board. Then the crew members who did know how to lower the life boats were killed in the torpedo blast. No wonder so many people were killed.

I just finished another YA nonfiction book, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming. While the book was well-researched and very interesting, I felt it was a bit condescending to the reader in the beginning. Then it took off. Of course, the big interest in the murder of the Tsar and his family has been the mysterious Anastasia, but that mystery was solved in the book. What struck me most about the Romanovs were how clueless they were. Fleming did a good job of bringing in other points of view. The peasants in Russia were starving and destitute and the Romanovs were living the high life and not too concerned with what was going on outside the palace walls. Then it seemed to me that Alexandra, not Nicholas, called the shots. (Sorry, bad pun.) In the words of the musical, Chicago, "He had it comin'."

I don't know if I'll reach my goal of 20 book this summer. I've got to look up the number of pages on several books to see what I have read. It really doesn't matter, I guess. No one cares except for me.

I officially go back to school on Friday. I've already spent a great deal of time at school already. We had to hire a new librarian. Therefore, I had to go post the job, look through resumes, interview, etc. I'm going to stay at home for the next two days although I do have an appointment and lunch with a friend tomorrow.

After that, we're back in the saddle for another fun-filled year!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Summer Reading Continued

Last night I met with my book club to discuss The Girl on the Train. We had a great discussion. I really like the women in our group. All have been teachers or are currently teaching. We all like to read, and can really discuss nuances in books. (It also helps that Janet Greedy was an English teacher extraordinaire!) Then there are so many different interests. This makes our book selections quite eclectic, but interesting.These choices make me read titles I'd probably never pick up, but I've really liked them all.

Enough of that...

I've read several titles since my last post. Here are my impressions.

I really liked Kenneth Oppel's The Boundless, another steampunk title. Will Everett's father works on the Canadian Pacific Railroad as it is being built across the continent of North America. Because Will's father saves the life a big executive of the railroad in an avalanche, he is given the cachet job of being the conductor on The Boundless, the largest train ever built. This train is so big that an entire circus is on board as well as a myriad of other things including the executive's funeral car that contains intriguing treasures. On a train stop, Will witnesses a murder, and the the rest of the story entails how he tries to escape from the murderer with the help of a circus performer.

There are a lot of overlaps in this title from Airborn, one of my "go-to" books. Both have an amazing machine (Boundless, a train; Airborn, an airship), there are fantastical animals that are integral to the stories, there's a hint of romance, and then ACTION, ACTION, ACTION. Both books would make terrific movies. This is another book on this year's Lone Star Reading List.

When I was in college I saw the movie "American Graffiti." This movie highlighted two characters Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between. I read the ARC from Edelweiss. Aiden and Clare decide to spend their last night together before leaving for college the next morning. Aiden is about to attend UCLA much to the disappointment of his father. Aiden plans to play lacrosse and is rather laid-back. While his father wanted him to attend Harvard, Aiden had different plans. Clare, on the other hand, is a very organized, structured young woman about to attend Dartmouth. As the evening begins, she's compiled a list of places that are important to the two of them as a remembrance because she feels the two should break up. Aiden, however, feels otherwise. Their friend Scotty, who is staying home, sums it up like this:

"It was always gonna be hard, right? Even if we were all in the same place next year, everything would still be different, and that sucks. But it's also kind of the point, I guess, New beginnings and all that..."
on the eve before leaving for college. This same theme was inherent in Jennifer E. Smith's book

A quiet falls over them, and Clare stares at the slats of the deck., knowing that he's right. It's time to move on, and the more time they spend wishing it were otherwise, the harder it will be to let go.

Later on Clare and Aiden discuss their situation again.

"Yeah, but what if it's true, what everyone's been saying?"

Aiden gives her a questioning look.

"That our lives are only just beginning," Clare explains. "What if one day we look back on this, and it's just a hazy memory? What if you and me -- all this -- what it it's not a big part of our story? What if it's just the prologue?"

"Oh, come on," Aiden says, "The prologue is the best part. Everyone knows that."

"I guess."

"And you and me? We must be at least up to chapter four by now. Tonight alone has to be a whole chapter."

"You think?"

"It is for me."

"Me, too," she says...

They wrestle with the question throughout the evening. In the end, they do decide to break up. I won't spoil the ending, but the book ends on a promising note.

I just finished listening to Saint Anything, Sarah Dessen's latest book. All of her fans should enjoy this book like they have her others.

Sydney lives the life of privilege, but she feels invisible. Her brother, Peyton, is the family's shining star, but has run into a string of problems such as thievery, drugs, and finally, a drunk driving accident that paralyzes a young man forever. For that, he is sent to a correctional facility and Sydney's parents (especially her mother) cannot come to grips with the situation. Because the cost of attorneys, etc., Sydney leaves her exclusive private school to attend public school where she meets Layla, who becomes a good friend. Layla's family, the Chathams, are the antithesis of Sydney's. They are loud, decidedly middle class, and face issues head on. They own a pizza shop where Sydney spends a great deal of time. She adores the pizza, and soon adores Layla's brother, Mac. When she defies her parents and allows Mac and his band to record in Peyton's recording studio and her mother finds her taking a sip of alcohol, there is hell to pay. It's only when one of Peyton's creeper friends attacks her, that her mother and father realize that she's also been dealing with Peyton's issues as well as a litany of changes in her own life.

June Reading continued

Okay, I was reading up a blue streak and then stopped when I got busy with other things. However, I've got to keep up with the latest before I forget what they are about.

I read Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism,and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman for my book club. It's definitely NOT a book that I'd recommend for middle schoolers nor would I probably recommend this to anyone unless there was a great interest in Asmat art or the Rockefellers.

One of the book club members has a degree in Art History and docents for the Dallas Museum of Art. She shared with us information about a totem in the museum and gave us background about the art. Had she not done that, I really would not have understood or cared much about the book at all. Not that it's poorly written or anything. I just don't care for the subject matter.

Carl Hoffman shifts from his present tense investigation in New Guinea to the events of 1961. The first chapter is very chilling and not for the faint of heart. When Michael Rockefeller went missing in 1961, the "official" cause of death was drowning, but rumors persisted that he had been killed and eaten by one of the Asmat tribes in a revenge ritual. Carl Hoffman spent a great deal of time in an area that is primitive, and he describes the setting in very clear images that still make me sick to think about. Although he spent a great deal of time and effort to get to know these people, each time he'd bring up the subject, the Asmat would clam up and swear they had no idea what he was talking about. It was only due to a fluke recording that he finally discovers the truth.

It was difficult for me to follow the narrative. The tribes' names confused me, I really needed a map to understand the locations, the photos were tiny, blurry and black and white, and I couldn't keep up with the Dutch missionaries either. While I realize that 1961 is over 50 years ago, I really wanted to know how the Asmat were converted to Catholicism and the cannibalism stopped. I also didn't understand who the "catechists" were.

I don't have much knowledge of that part of the world. This was really brought home to me during the reading of the book.

If you like descriptions of violence, primitive life, and cannibalism, this is the book for you. It just wasn't the book for me.

On the other hand, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood is my favorite read of the summer so far.
Set in Australia, freshman Dan's life can be summed up by his list of Six Impossible Things:

1. Kiss Estelle.
2. Get a job.
3. Cheer my mother up.
4. Try not to be a complete nerd/loser.
5. Talk to my father when he calls.
6. Figure out how to be good.

Dan's life is falling apart. His dad just lost the family fortune and has come out as gay. Dan doesn't know how to talk to his dad about the circumstance. Dan and his mother move to his great aunt's historic old home complete with an old dog, Howard. (Howard is my favorite character in the story.)The house isn't theirs, but they can live in it. To keep from starving, Dan't mother starts a wedding cake business, but sabotages the weddings of all of the brides who come to her by talking them out of marriage. Dan must start his freshman year at a new school where he is bullied by a group of boys, and he falls for the girl next door, Estelle, who is definitely out of his league. As you can see, Dan is the consummate nerd, but a lovable nerd nonetheless. While the reviews I read recommend this book for grades 9-12, I don't really see why a seventh or eighth grader would have any problems with it.

Fiona Wood has created some very memorable characters and a fun,quick read. In fact, I didn't want the book to end. In many ways, it reminds me of one of my "go-to" books, Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar. It comes out on August 11. I read the ARC on Edelweiss.

While on a plane, I read this year's Newbery winner, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.This book is also on the Texas Lone Star Reading List. Told in verse, the book is about twin boys, Josh and JB Bell. Both are outstanding basketball players supported by their father who was a pro basketball player in Europe. While the boys have always been BFFs, their rivalry on the court and with JB's new girlfriend causes a strain on their relationship. Additionally, their dad refuses to seek medical care which turns tragic for the brothers and their mother.

What I found the most interesting about the book was its accessibility and relevance. It was easy to associate with the boys and the contemporary setting. (In fact, I think some of the references in the book will date it soon.) So many of the Newbery books appeal to old, white women, but I think this one WILL actually appeal to kids.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Latest Reads

Yes, I should be adding everything to my W drive because my computer crashes at least once a year, but I need to blog about the latest books I've read before I forget everything I can remember about them.

I was supposed to go to San Antonio during Memorial Day weekend. After looking at the weather forecast, I urged my husband to cancel the trip. When the floods came, even he had to say "I think you were right to cancel the trip." However, it gave me the opportunity to read some books.

The first two were ARCS I downloaded from Edelweiss.

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa was a little disconcerting to read. It's written in three voices. Main character Jeremy lives with his gay dad and his partner and comes out as well. He's painfully shy and artistic. After a horrific incident at school, he's retreated into himself and encouraged to start an art club in order to use the school's facilities after hours. He writes in first person.

Mira (short for Miranda) had a nervous breakdown. She meets another one of the characters, Sebby (short for Sebastian), in the mental health institution where they become friends. She befriends Jeremy in the art club. Her voice is third person.

Sebby's voice is written in second person and "you" refers to Sebby, not the reader. I'm not quite sure why the author chose to handle the character in this manner, but she did. Sebby lives in a foster home, rarely attends, school, and is also gay. Sebby is a lost soul, but he comes to the art club with his BFF, Mira.

I wasn't enamored with Fans of the Impossible Life, but it kinda had the same tone (at least to me) of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Awhile back, I heard Teri Lesesne at a workshop. When she mentioned that Gary Schmidt has a new
book coming out, Orbiting Jupiter, I knew I had to read it. IMHO, Gary Schmidt is one of the finest writers around. I've never read one of his books that I didn't just love. This one didn't let me down either.

Jack lives with his family in the country. Jack milks cows, mucks out the barn, and lives a verysimple lifestyle. His parents decide to become a foster family for fourteen-year-old Joseph. Joseph has attacked a teacher and also became a father at age thirteen. All he wants is to find his daughter, Jupiter after the death of Jupiter's young mother.

This is a tear-jerker for sure. Beautifully written, sensitively told, the story is authentic and not sugar-coated. Joseph is a kid who just needs your love.

In my quest to read all twenty Lone Star Reading List books, I flew through Popular: A Memoir: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen. Maya was an eighth graders when she wrote the book. Her father found the book Betty Cornell's Teenage Popularity Guide at a thrift shop. A shy introvert, Maya decides to follow the advice in the book to see if the 50s information still applies today. Some of the advice is hilarious. Maya wears "Pilgrim" shoes, pearls, and even a girdle! She also writes her own advice updating some of Betty Cornell's original bits of wisdom. This is an entertaining read that I think some girls will really enjoy.

Last of all, I listened to David McCullough read his latest book,
The Wright Brothers. Having been to Kill Devil Hills and to Kitty Hawk, NC, and hoping to someday to be a North Carolinian, I found the book to be immensely interesting. How two young me who had never been to college created the first true flying machine was fascinating. Then, of course, it was read by the author himself. It just doesn't get better than that.

Last Day of the Year

It seems to me the longer you teach, the harder it gets. Maybe it's because you know more and want to address more or maybe when you are younger "ignorance IS bliss." Or it could be that I'm just plain ole' OLD! Anyway, I found this year to be incredibly CHALLENGING.

So, no, I'm not sad that the year is over. I'm not sad that I will be able to get away for awhile, spend some quality time with my husband and dog, read, go to movies, swim, and RELAX.

Usually, I get kinda revved up at the end of the year, starting to get ideas for the next year, but this isn't happening for me. I also usually tear up at Eighth Grade Recognition or after our last Eighth Grade Research class, but not this year. I'm just glad that it's over. I started the year with shingles. It didn't go up from there.

I just cleaned out my Inbox in email. I'm notorious for keeping everything as long as possible. What struck me about this exercise was the numerous emails I had from students asking from the innocuous, "Where are the database passwords?" On the LiveBinder, on the Portal to "The access code to the LiveBinder doesn't work." Yes, it does. You typed it in wrong. To my all time favorite, "I can't find anything on my topic." Really? Then why did you select it?

Yesterday, I  finished four hours of summative conferences with library staff. Then I got the pleasure of writing up everything we discussed in those four hours of meeting. Even though an hour with each staff member seems like a long time, we really never scratched the surface of the entire year's work. All of us are feeling the same frustrations: teachers who won't work with us, people that don't follow through, an outdated, decaying library infrastructure with no improvement in sight, and after all of our hard work and efforts, the feeling that absolutely no one really cares what we do anyway.

Yes, I'm tired. I'll be thrilled when it's all over. I'll be the one shoutin'!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Summer Reading 2015

Today Monica Bullock's sixth grade reading classes came to the library to get ideas for summer reading. As noted previously, I pulled the books and added QR Codes that linked to book trailers or authors discussing their books. Students used iPads with headphones to access the trailers. Then the students wrote down some titles that may be of interest to them for the summer.