Category Archives: research

Daniel Pink on Motivation

Clarence Fisher posted this and I think it’s well worth watching.  Enjoy.

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Reading and the Mind

I am always interested in the science behind brain function and learning. Thanks to Stephen Downes leading me to this new study and to Helge for posting it.  Scientists studied brain function while reading and found the process in the brain while reading remarkably similar to the brain while actually experiencing similar events.  Readers create mental simulations of events while reading.  I wonder if the effect is the same for effective readers as for ineffective readers.  I expect studies would show a remarkable difference in the brain patterns of ineffective readers versus those of effective readers.  This I think makes the task of teachers at once more clear and clearly more amazing.  We are teaching students to make complex mental simulations while they read.  Not just teaching them to decode the words and understand the syntax but create the pictures,the sound and the emotional context of their reading.

I wonder what kinds of reading materials were read, what background knowledge the readers had, how they compared the mental functioning.  I have many wonders.  Very interesting study because of its answers and because of the many questions it raises.

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Planning, Plotting, Thinking

My division has this very cool professional development going on in which we choose a topic within a set agenda to research ourselves based on our own burning question.  I think my question began as “Who are boys in the 21st Century and how do we meet their needs as literacy learners?”  Grand intentions.

I’ve done some background reading on motivation and engagement, as well as a little on the effect of gender on literacy experiences.  Just a smattering as yet, but I know already I need to narrow things down and I am also driven in this research much more practically than I was in my Master’s work.  I want to change and adapt my current practice.  I want to meet the needs of these particular students and it’s February.  So now what?

I’ve chosen to prioritize the place of non-fiction in my classroom for the next unit.  I am making sure that there is more non-fiction in my room and trying to increase the opportunities for conversation and  shared reading-writing experiences.    I am a part of a team of teacher in my school looking at developing some exemplars for writing so that students have a visual, concrete guide after which to model their work.

In some ways this work is much more fluid than that of my formal research experience.  I am already changing my classroom to reflect my findings.  I wonder if I need to be more deliberate and strategic or if the ebb and flow of read, try, reflect is sufficient.  By sufficient, I mean will it meet the objectives of my overseers?  Come to think of it, I don’t know if we’ve talked about that.  Hmmm.  Maybe one them will drop by and answer my question.  Honestly, I don’t know if they know exactly where things will go.

I think I need to read about the boys.  More gender stuff.  Long ago in a land so far away, I had a wonderful textbook I thought I didn’t need and sold back to the university which had marvelous psycho-social descriptions of children in various age groups.  It was a wonderful book in the way that is rare with texts and I have often regretted selling it and not retaining at least the title for future reference.   If I had it, that’s where I would start.  I wonder how hard it would be to find.  I wonder if I still have some EdPsy notes somewhere.  (I’m a tosser by nature, isn’t likely).

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Being Excellent

Striving for excellence is a personal pastime. Doug highlighted the International Reading Association’s position statement on excellent reading teachers today. I was challenged to look at my own teaching and compare it to the list they give as critical for excellent reading teaching.

Looking at the criteria, I reflect on my strengths and weaknesses. “They offer a variety of materials and texts for children to read.” This past week we went through our classroom library as a group and checked it against a rough criteria – interest, reading level, genre. They were very excited by their finds in the library and had many books they wanted to tuck into their desks for later. I regularly get buckets of books from the school library for my classroom and try to add non-fiction and magazines. I think I am good at variety of texts and materials.

“They understand reading and writing development and believe all children can learn to read and write.” I had an interesting conversation this week with a non-teacher, I was reminded of my specialized knowledge of reading and writing.  I have an understanding of the components of reading – decoding words, using context clues, using syntax, developing more complex comprehension strategies – questioning, summarizing, inferencing, visualizing… I think I have a fairly strong understanding of reading and writing development. (That’s a relief).
My weaknesses bother me in my quest for excellence.  I know to improve I need to see need but I would rather be perfect already. “They know a variety of ways to teach reading, when to use each method, and how to combine the methods into an effective instructional program.” I have a pile of methods in my tool box but figuring out which of my students needs which method at this particular moment is complex and difficult. I find it so much easier with my own son and daughter. I read with them regularly and when we come to words they don’t know or ideas they don’t understand, I can see which strategies they are using and which need support in that particular moment. When I have all my students in my classroom, it is more difficult. I know I need to conference more frequently, group more strategically. I need to work on the logistics of everyone doing different things at the same time and doing that productively.

It seems to me that the other criteria all dovetail onto the one above. Assessment is needed to plan the instructional program, flexible grouping is part of the instructional program, coaching reading is part of the instructional program. My challenge is to implement an effective instructional program. I have the ideas and the materials and the children… now to implement the program. I love this job!

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Literature Circles for Non-fiction

I had a wonderful day planning today. I love planning. I thought I’d do a little surfing to see what is available online to assist with my planning. I have been an online thinker and an avid feed reader but I haven’t used many online educational planning resources. I’ve never yet found a ‘canned’ unit I liked but I thought I’d give a shot on Google for ‘literature circles non-fiction daniels” and see what popped.

These are the things I found.

The hints from Laura Candler’s site are particularly good. She gives good start up suggestions and blackline masters for her process.

I’m working to the end of a few things in the next couple of weeks but then I think I will see how non-fiction literature circles work to stimulate student engagement with reading.

Now I need to think about how I will measure that objective. I’ve thought about how I can measure their success with the reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing and representing but how do I measure their engagement?

More grist for the mill.

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Beyond the Bird Unit!

In the Teacher Librarian magazine (Beyond the Bird Unit, Dec. 2005), Jennifer Robins et al, define three kinds of constructivist lesson planning strategies – Problem based learning, Inquiry based learning and Project based learning. I must admit I have trouble keeping these three straight in my head.

Here it goes, problem based learning, the instructor sets up a problem and guides a small group in finding the answer. This strategy is used in medical schools when students are given case studies for practicing making correct diagnoses of illness. The example in the article is from grade four Language Arts/Science problem based learning assignment “Who is Charlotte?”, as in what kind of spider is Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web?

Inquiry based learning is where a group or student is given an area of interest and a question is developed after some initial exploration. The example given is from a middle school assignment developing a first-person account of a person involved in the civil rights movement.

Project based learning is where a group or students is given a task to complete and the questions and task development come from the need to complete the task. The example given is for a Kindergarten class developing an alphabet book.

The authors suggest that a combined approach can also be beneficial and an example unit based on a grade four “Famous Missourians” is provided. Perhaps the reason I have trouble keeping these straight is because they can overlap easily.

The article provides some theoretical underpinnings for the use of these strategies and explains the need for variety in the classroom setting. Reference to Dewey, Kulthau, Vygotsky and others round of the list of gurus.

Interesting background article. Nothing earth shaking here but it sure doesn’t hurt to get some of the definitions straightened round.

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21st Century Skills

Janice Friesen‘s article, Giving Students 21st Century Skills in Multimedia Schools (2003) gives a quick a dirty look at the need for a new kind of assignment in school.  She highlights some of the advantages of the Big Six research method and mentions a few starting resources, including James Mackenzie’s FNO. This article is a great place to start for a teacher looking to improve their project design and avoid the ‘cut and paste’ plagiarist.

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