Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Background Resources for The Kite Runner

I'm in the process of putting together my unit plan and curriculum resources for The Kite Runner. My tenth grade students seem to be genuinely excited about reading this novel; almost as excited as I am to teach it. As so many teachers are now incorporating this book into their curriculums, I thought I would share my developing list of resources. Teachers, be sure to check out my growing list of linked lesson plans near the end of this post.

Introducing The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini:
  • Listen to this interview with the author to learn more about his background and his first book The Kite Runner.

  • And start your exploration by going right to the source - Khaled Hosseini's website!

Background on the Novel:

Learn about Afghanistan
  • This National Geographic site is a great place to learn more about the history, geography, and politics of Afghanistan.

  • The CIA World Factbook is another great resource.

  • Learn about the different ethnic groups living in Aghanistan
    • A map of the distribution of the different groups living in Afghanistan

    • The Pashtuns make up the majority and are most often Sunni Muslims

    • The Hazaras make up about one-fifth of Afghanistan's population and are mainly Shiite Muslims

    • Learn about the various groups in Afghanistan through this interactive map

What is Kite Fighting?

The Women of Kabul
  • A very interesting project sponsored by the Washington Post on the roles and history of women in Afghanistan. This site is loaded with images, video documentary, and a great interviews.

  • You've probably seen this picture before. It is one of National Geographic's most famous images. But who is this Afghani girl? Where is she now? What does she look like today? See for yourself!

Video Background
  • Enjoy this playlist of videos featuring interviews of the author, presentations on the history of Afghanistan, and more about the Kite Runner.

For Students: Extra Credit Opportunity
  • Complete an independent project on the Middle East to earn up to 10 points of extra credit. Get the details HERE.

Resources for Teachers
  • Teachers will find a bookmarked list of lesson plans and curriculum materials for teaching this novel HERE.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Teaching and Parenting

Before becoming a parent, I naively thought that my experiences as a teacher would help me as a mother. Come to find out, it was really the other way around. Being a parent has taught me to be a better teacher. Parenting has little to do with standing in front of your child, dictating instructions. Instead, it’s about letting moments unfold, learning from them, and trying to help your child explore and learn from those moments as well. Parenting is not about filling your child’s head with all your wisdom. It is about letting your child find his own wisdom and having the patience to let him come to that knowledge through a series of sometimes faltering steps. Parents guide their children. Parents coach their children. Parents are there to structure the environment, to provide models. As parents we don’t assign our students worksheets on how to behave. In the case of my son, just learning to walk, I don’t design activities for him to complete lock-step (forgive the pun) by a particular deadline. I provide him with opportunities to explore. I encourage him to try and try again. And I hope that I encourage his excitement about trying new things.

Isn’t this what good teaching also involves? What I’ve discovered is that the more I reflect on who I want to be as a parent, I am also called to revisit who I want to be as a teacher. Is it really important at the end the day, at the end of the year, at the end of high school for students to know what year Kahled Hosseini wrote The Kite Runner? Will the daily lives of my students be enriched for knowing that in chapter 16 there is a metaphor on page 211? Is it really important if students remember verbatim the definition of verisimilitude? Or, instead, is it better that my students know how to identify a theme, analyze it, and connect it to their experience of humanity? Isn’t it more important that students are able to critically analyze texts for their bias? And if this is true, if teaching should be about helping our students develop applicable skills related to our content area, why do I continue to feel it is necessary to give what essentially amounts to reading tests at the end of units?

I don’t think I’m alone here. I’m in the process of putting together my unit teaching Middle Eastern literature, centered around the reading of The Kite Runner. And in the process of gathering materials, I of course stumbled across the various pre-packaged units, many of which rely on multiple vocabulary and reading quizzes. However, even when searching various teacher prepared lessons on sites like TeachersPayTeachers, what I discovered were rafts of multiple choice quizzes bogged down with plot questions. What does a test of plot-based questions really test? That students read a text. Really, is that all we expect? I hope the message I send my students is not that we read simply for the sake of finishing a book. Instead, we read to connect to others, to empathize with the lives of others, to learn more about ourselves. Shouldn’t our unit assessments reflect that learning?

What I’ve come to realize as a parent is that the learning that sticks with a person is the learning that cannot be measured (usually) by a multiple choice test. As I mentioned in an earlier post, good teaching involves setting the stage for learning. What this means for me is that I need to spend less time standing in front of the class, and more time thinking about the skills and themes that I want my students to understand by the close of the unit. Teaching becomes more about what I hope my students are able to understand and do by the close of a lesson, and less about what they can recall for a test. That is not to say that all discrete knowledge should be dismissed. Instead, it means that I need to find more meaningful ways of helping student understand how to use and apply that knowledge rather than simply recall it. Teaching is about helping students become more than just book learners. It is guiding them to be life learners.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Taking a Cue from Snidely Whiplash, "Curses! Foiled Again!"

The best laid plans of a tech-happy teacher, foiled by incompatibility issues. Turns out my new laptop, decked out with Windows 7, is not compatible with the wireless available at the NCTE conference. According to Amy Sass, the incredibly patient, kind, and helpful tech support person hanging out in the Tech Zone, this seems to be a common problem with Windows 7. Which means that my plans to live stream today's sessions (or even Twitter about them) were foiled.

But have no fear! I'm going old school at tomorrow's sessions. I'll bring my 25 pound laptop (only slight hyperbole there) and a detachable webcam and see if Windows 98 might do a better job. My guess is, it will.

Needless to say, my opinion of Windows 7 has sunk to about the same level as my opinion of standardized tests.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Watch This Space! Live Streaming from NCTE

Live Videos by Ustream

I'm new to UStream, a live streaming video site. I just started using it in September to broadcast and record my 10th grade English classes. I can already hear it. The audible gasp I inevitable get whenever someone hears me say that I live broadcast my high school classes. However, UStream is unique in that you can password protect your "channels." My classroom site is set up so that only the selected parents, students, and teachers that I've shared the password with can view our site. And I have to say, it has been an amazing tool! Whenever a student is absent, I send them to our site to watch the class they missed. Parents have joined us virtually to watch student speeches and presentations, and using the chat function in UStream, parents have given some wonderfully supportive feedback to my students.

That is not to say that every day I have parents and students watching our class live. In fact, most days, no one watches. But even if no one watched, it would still be an amazing resource for me as a teacher. I have a recording of how I teach. I can see how much I move about the room, where my blind spots are, who I talk to and who I need to include more. It has helped me grow as a teacher. I can look back and reflect on how a discussion evolved, what worked, and what didn't. And I have this tool because I saw someone use it at another conference.

So, now I'm sharing the tool with you! For the next few days I'll be participating in the annual conference for the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE). Whenever possible, I'll live stream out the sessions so those who are not able to attend this year can still join the conversations and collaborations that come out of the NCTE conference. Additionally, I'll be blogging my reflections and notes on the various sessions. I hope that this is will not just be a record of what I see at NCTE, but a way to continue the conversations that merely begin there.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Motivate Me?

I finished my application and video for the upcoming Google Teacher Academy. Just in time, too. It was due by midnight last night. I submitted mine at 11:30 pm. Those that know me, know that this if fairly typical. I realized a long time ago that my procrastination acts as a bit of a defense mechanism. If I fail, I have a built in excuse - I should have failed. I didn't give myself enough time. It takes the pressure off. If I succeed, well, it is a happy bit of coincidence. However, my husband's voice has been ringing in my head recently, asking me to spend some time reflecting on this bad habit. Frustrated with my procrastination, he asked me to imagine what I could accomplish if I gave myself and my endeavors the time they deserve. But once again, I found myself leaving my work to nearly the last minute. Perhaps, I'm just not motivated.

Coincidentally, motivation was the theme of the video I put together for my Google application. Applicants were asked to put together a one minute video on either Innovation and Teaching or on Learning and Motivation. I decided to focus on motivation.

Surprisingly enough, I did start my application long before last night. A few weeks ago, I put together a survey and asked my students to think about what motivated them to learn. I shared a link to that survey with high school students around the world via my Twitter PLN. As of today, I've heard from 66 students from Pennsylvania, Oregon, and China. I also went searching through my bookcases. What had others written about motivation? And between the students' responses and what others have written, he here's what I discovered:

I hate the word motivation.

When educators use this word, it is usually in the form of - "What can we do to motivate our students?" Translation: "What can we do to force our students to do what we want them to do?" Motivation is the wrong word. Reading through the plethora of educational philosophy texts on motivation and countless education blogs, I feel that what most educators are concerned with is coercion. Not motivation. And it is no wonder. With the public and the government knocking down the doors of our schools, clamoring on about standards and grades and outcomes, teachers are in a mad dash to force our students into compliance. In fact, in Pennsylvania that seems to be the language we are using to talk about how schools have performed on state mandated exams - are schools in compliance? When did learning become about compliance?

So I found myself flipping back through the works of writers like Alfie Kohn, Paulo Freire, and John Dewey last night. And I am reminded that real learning is often times undermined by the attempt to quantify it. Alfie Kohn writes in Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes,
"We want students to become rigorous thinkers, accomplished readers and writers and problem solvers who can make connections and distinctions between ideas. But the most reliable guide to a process that is promoting these things is not grades or test scores: it is the student's level of interest" (146).
In fact, we know this about even our tiniest learners. The best predictor for intelligence in toddlers is not how well or how fast they learn particular actions or achieve set milestones. Instead, one of the predictors for intelligence is a child's curiosity and interest in exploring his environment. An intelligent child is the interested child. And children want to learn. Kohn goes on to write,
"...children do not need to be motivated. From the beginning they are hungry to make sense of their world. Given an environment in which they don't feel controlled and in which they are encouraged to think about what they are doing (rather than how well they are doing it), students of any age will generally exhibit an abundance of motivation and a healthy appetite for challenge" (198-9).
I know this to be true. I see it daily in my son.

He eats up the world. Gathers it in his tiny hands, rolls it over, considers it carefully. I do not have to "motivate" him to try new things, to learn. He is curious, ready to experience the world on his own. And when I try to force him to practice this or that milestone, let's try walking today, he resists. But he will pull himself up on anything and everything, cruise along any piece of furniture that is just over two foot tall. I do not grade his progress. I do not "motivate" his learning with some intangible reward. Instead, I set him in the middle of the floor with books and shiny objects, with new toys and old, and let him discover what something is, how it works, and how he can manipulate it. I facilitate his learning by creating a learning environment. Which is what as a teacher, I should be doing in my classroom.

Kohn writes,
"The job of educators is neither to make students motivated nor to sit passively; it is to set up the conditions that make learning possible. The challenge...is not to wait 'until an individual is interest...[but to offer] a stimulating environment that can be perceived by students as [presenting] vivid and valued options which can lead to successful learning and performance'" (199).

I am a facilitator of learning, not a dictator of knowledge. I do not motivate learning. I facilitate it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Motivates Learning?

I'm motivated to learn more about motivation.

What motivates students to learn, to engage in our content, to apply their knowledge in unique and meaningful ways? Are you a high school student? Help me learn more about what motivates learning. I'm asking high school students to take a moment to complete this quick survey. You'll be able to see a summary of the results after you submit your completed survey. I'll then compile the results, share them here in a blog post, and use them to inform how I teach. And hopefully, as other educators access this site, it will start a conversation about how, what, and why we teach what we teach.

CLICK HERE for the survey.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Today's Interesting Links

  • Mapping the Holocaust
    The Museum is using Google Earth to map key Holocaust sites with historic content from its collections, powerfully illustrating the enormous scope and impact of the Holocaust.
  • educationalwikis - Articles and Resources
    All sorts of wonderful information on using wikis in the classroom
  • Public Domain Photos and Wallpapers
    This is a place for free public domain photos and desktop wallpapers. Large collection of High Resolution photos and wallpapers, Thousands of high quality public domain pictures, easy to search.
  • 100 Best Blogs for Those Who Want to Change the World | Best Universities
    The world is full of students and visionaries and people who want to make a difference in the world, and many of those people share their knowledge online through their blogs. Whether you want to change the world through environment, humanitarianism, business, or any other way, there's a blog out there that can offer you guidance and inspiration. Read on, and you'll find 100 blogs that can help you change the world.
  • Tools for Reading, Writing, & Thinking
    These tools should be used to help students engage in rigorous thinking, organize complex ideas, and scaffold their interactions with texts.
  • Google Wave Use Cases
    Wave in Class After searching some public 'waves,' we came across an educational wave. Entitled 'Wave in Class,' this wave was started by Loren Baum (a self-described "collaborative learning enthusiast" and graduate student at Ben Gurion University) and Sam Boland (a Politics student and "Tech Enthusiast" at Occidental College, Los Angeles). The wave was started to explore concepts like "Collaborative Note Taking" and "Wave as a Debate Host." Nearly 100 people are included in the wave, ranging from teachers to PhD students to IT professionals to high school students.
  • How to Address Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom | Edutopia
    Multiple-intelligences theory can provide a flexible approach to good teaching, say teachers and administrators at the Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy, in Gainesville, Georgia. Tailoring classroom activities to individual students' needs, interests, and strengths makes sense -- and, at this school, it has proved extremely effective. Whether you're interested in starting an MI-themed school or incorporating some of the MI philosophy into classroom activities, here are a few tips and resources that work at Enota.

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