Thursday, July 24, 2014

"Doing School"

I'm reading "Doing School": How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students by Denise Clark Pope (Yale University Press, 2001), and it's making ME stressed out! Pope brings up a myriad of issues, most of which can't be solved by a 30-minute elementary library class. However, I have starting thinking differently about a couple of things:

Opportunity v. chore

Passage from p. 4 - Instead of thinking deeply about the content of their courses and delving into projects and assignments, the students focus on managing the work load and honing strategies that will help them to achieve high grades ... As Kevin asserts: "People don't go to school to learn. They go to get good grades which brings them to college, which brings them the high-paying job, which brings them to happiness, so they think."

Essential question: How can I help my students to see school as an opportunity v. a chore?

Thoughts: As a school librarian with 700 students, I only see classes once a week for 30 minutes, alternating lesson weeks with checkout weeks for a total of 10 instructional hours a year. I just went through our district curriculum and counted up 102 concepts that my kids are supposed to know by the time they leave for middle school. 7 years x 10 instruction hours = 70 hours total to introduce and reinforce 102 concepts. It's impossible.

It's a chore for ME to try and squeeze as much as I can into my lessons. So I'm trying to reframe my thinking: I have the opportunity to introduce my kids to the world around them via activities that will also (hopefully) impart some information literacy.

Instead of panicking over a quota, I want to concentrate instead on providing access to materials that make kids choose reading as a viable entertainment option alongside TV and videogames; on finding resources to support classroom curriculum and inspire nonfiction requests (see below ... setting facts to music helps you to remember them!); and on letting my students know that whatever they're interested in, there's a way to find information about it.

My mission statement is starting to change.


Depth v. breadth

Passage from p. 41 - Here, as is typical with these students, the focus is on getting good grades, rather than on actually learning the material.
p. 156 - An A grade, therefore, did not necessarily mean that the students learned and retained content area knowledge and skills or that they understood important concepts or theories; rather, the grades proved that the students were adept at providing the teachers with the information required on tests and quizzes, and that they had memorized these facts and figures (or copied them from peers) just long enough to "ace" the exams and then move on to the next set of tasks.

Essential question: How can I help my students truly understand and remember the concepts I teach?

Thoughts: The last week of school was a real eye opener for me. With the list of topics covered by each grade on a clipboard, I asked my kids simple questions; correct answers meant a trip to the prize box.

Me: "What is a call number?"
Student: "A phone number?"
Me: "I mean in the context of the library ... we use call numbers to do what?"
Student: "Check out books? It's, like, on the back of the book and you put it in the computer?"
Me: [silently] Oh, dear.

Me: "What is a bibliography?"
Student: "A story about a person?"
Me: "I think you're thinking of a biography. Any other ideas?"
Students: Blank looks.
Me: [silently] Oh, dear. 

I was shocked that basic, basic concepts weren't sticking. However, a few weeks ago I met some colleagues for lunch. The conversation turned to TV, and I mentioned that my boyfriend and I had started the second season of "Orange is the New Black."

Me: "We're so confused on some plot points. We can't remember how they left off. Which is sad, because we only finished the first season a few months ago."
Friend 1: "That's what it's like for kids coming back from summer vacation."
Friend 2: "That's what it's like for kids coming back to something you taught them last month."
Me: "Oh my god, you are right!"

I realized that not only do I have to build in a lot more review at the beginning of the year (including information as - to me - obvious as where to find the Wimpy Kid books), but I have to repeat and reteach concepts at multiple grade levels. I'm going to have to pick and choose among those 102 concepts and focus on the ones I think are most important for my kids. Luckily, I can point to the Common Core principle of depth v. breadth to support this approach.

After mulling over my curriculum for a few days, I came up with two overarching themes:

1. Find stuff
2. Use it responsibly

I feel like these pretty much sum up everything, from using the online catalog to reading a chart to crediting your photo sources to managing your digital footprint.

Common Core v. common sense

But speaking of Common Core, I started fretting when writing up my 4th-grade "Where in the World?" unit, which encompasses geography, cultural studies, text features, comparing sources, and math. Why? Because I couldn't find a satisfactory Common Core ELA or Math standard for Grade 4 that fit my lesson about the continents.

The best I could do for labeling a map was "SL.4.2: Paraphrase … information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally."

I actually considered scrapping the lesson and just giving the kids maps with the continents already labeled. Even though last year they had a great time doing the lesson, which incorporated music and online games, I had an anxiety attack over not being able to officially align it with Grade 4 Common Core Standards.

Then I realized that the Common Core does not address Social Studies for elementary school students. It does not address the arts. It does not, unlike the American Association of School Librarians' Standards for the 21st-Century Learner, address teamwork, perseverance, or curiosity.

Who cares if I can't cram my round lesson into a square box? Part of my job - according to my mission statement revision that's in the works - is to give my kids a sense of their place in the world around them. And part of that is seeing quite literally where we fit in on a map of the continents. It aligns with MY core curriculum goal of "Find it." And that's good enough.
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