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Tag: lesson plans (page 3 of 3)

schooling: thinking costs, thinking benefits

This week in my composition course, I suggested to the students that there may be more costs to their education than tuition alone. I’m trying to use education as a critical category of discussion throughout the semester. The major reading and writing of the course will explore the aims of education. In the past, it’s always been a part of my courses but not made explicit. Student (and teacher) behavior often bothered me, but this time, instead of being bothered by it, I can be fascinated by it and make it the very topic of discussion.

Instead of being bothered by [student behavior], I can be fascinated by it.

So, we’ve begun the conversation this week with a lesson designed to get them thinking critically about their own educational/schooling experiences. (I’m using the terms education and schooling synonymously for the time being, but I believe the two things to be very different, in deed. I hope my students will come to see this soon too.) Here’s how I ran the class:

  1. As students walked in, I had them read Ken Macrorie’s “The Poison Fish” and prepare answers to the following questions: What is engfish and what are its two varieties?, What causes engfish?, Is it a possible result of our educational or schooling experiences?, What can we do about it?, What word or phrase could you use to describe the opposite of engfish?
  2. slide show to start a discussion on the costs and benefits of education

  3. After a few minutes, we begin the conversation of these questions. As they come to understand that engfish really is a kind of fake writing, I lead them to consider the possibility that school might ask us to become something we are not. Is their a transformative power to education? (By the way, I use the slides to the right to facilitate this lesson.)
  4. To provide a little more food for thought, I share with the students, this clip from the film Spanglish.
  5. The film clip generates a little more discussion before I have them get into groups of three or four to brainstorm and discuss some possible costs and benefits of schooling/education. I encourage them to think beyond the obvious, and I provide a few specific questions to push their discussion along.
  6. Ok, at this point, I tell students we’re going to break from the discussion to do something different–a little review of the syllabus before we get too far into the course. (This activity, of course, is designed to further illustrate or push the point about the power school has to shape at least our behavior–if not who we are.) I tell students that we are going to play a little game that I like to call “Carrot or the Stick.” Basically, I read questions about the course policies and choose students to answer. If they get it right, I literally toss them a bag of baby carrots (as a healthy alternative to candy, and as a nice illustration of the point). If they get the answer wrong, I take my trusty wooden ruler and literally whack the desk three times loudly saying, “wrong, wrong, wrong.” What good fun. We do this through a set of about ten questions, and then talk about the use of “carrot and stick” tactics in school–literally and figuratively. Can grades be used like carrots and sticks, I ask?
  7. This brings us to a the idea of conditioned behavior. No such conversation would be complete without the inclusion of B.F. Skinner and his very well trained pigeons. I show this clip, and ask the question “Are we being conditioned?” among these other questions. We talk about the possibility that grades as they are used in school can have a conditioning effect on our behavior, and then we consider the ethics of such methods.
  8. The point of all this, I tell students, is that we need to raise our level of critical awareness of what we are doing. Are we actively participating in a process that shapes who we are and how we think? Or are we letting this entire experience wash over us, as we sit passively allowing ourselves to be changed by it. As a means of managing or lessoning carrot-and-stick tactics in our course, I suggest we use a “learning contract” where they make some choices at the start of the course regarding their own course of study. I want them to have this freedom of choice (albeit structured choice). I think at the very least this puts students in a more active role than they are accustomed to when it comes to school. It’s a start anyway.

Next week, we’ll be reading and writing in response to Adrienne Rich’s “When We Dead Awaken.” So, we’ll see what next week brings us, or should I say where we decide to go next week…

back in the saddle–the first day of class

Well, the summer was short and I find myself back in the classroom with a room of unsuspecting students–eager to learn and to challenge themselves. I love fresh starts. This is what I’ve got planned for my first day in Composition I.

  1. First a little “walk in” music, emphasizing the idea of a fresh start and new possibilities. While students enjoy the music, I ask them to provide a little information about themselves on an index card.
  2. After a few minutes, I introduce myself to the students, using a few slides to facilitate along the way.
  3. Ok, now under the guise of pleasantries, I tell students that we will be introducing ourselves. I pick someone in the front row and say, “Tell us who you are.” This is where the fun begins. When the student offers his or her name, I say, “No, that’s your name. I want you to tell us who you are.” When they begin to describe something about themselves, I say something like “No, your describing your personality; tell us who you are.” And so on. Of course, this is a joke to illustrate the complexities of identity.
  4. To further the laugh, I share a clip from Anger Management, which is where i got the idea from. The relevant part starts at 5:30.
  5. After the clip, I point out to students the obvious. “Who are you?” is a hard question. How do you go about answering it? And of course, this leads to a freewriting opportunity.
  6. We talk about freewriting as a prewriting strategy, and then students give it a try with the following prompts: Who are you really? Why are you here? How has education or schooling affected who you are?
  7. In small groups, now, students use their prewriting to get to know each other. The goal is to learn something about the one another.
  8. Students introduce the members of their group to the class, sharing one interesting thing about who they are.
  9. Now that they know each other a little, I ask them to work together by brainstorming as many questions about the course as they can (without a syllabus in hand).
  10. After a some time has passed, I distribute the syllabus, and students work together to find the answers to their questions.
  11. Finally, as a group, we discuss any questions that for which they could not find answers.
  12. For homework, I ask that they develop their prewriting into something a little more polished. Also, I ask that they read Alfie Kohn’s “The Costs of Overemphasizing Achievement.”

Until next time…

getting students to speak with conviction

In the 1950s, William G. Perry developed a model of intellectual development to help understand the “positions” of intellectual and ethical growth that post-adolescent college students go through over the course of their college years. He describes nine different fluid “positions” across four categories: 1) dualism, 2) multiplicity, 3) relativism, and 4) commitment within relativism. When I first learned about Perry’s work as an undergraduate psych major, I was intrigued. Almost 20 years later, Perry has found his way back to the forefront of my mind as I observe not my own “position” in Perry’s scheme but the position of my students. Considering the sometimes annoying behaviors of my students in light of this model of intellectual maturation has helped me be less bothered by the behaviors my students exhibit and more interested, which is always a good thing. Recently, I have started discussing Perry’s scheme with students in my writing classes. This has proven to be quite fun actually. I use this discussion as a way to kick off a final essay project where I ask that students write about something they truly believe in–something fundamental to who they are (at least at the moment). I’ve used this project as a final one in my composition courses, but it can be easily adapted for other courses. Here’s my basic lesson:

  1. I start by reminding students that they’ve been focusing on their thinking and their ability to voice their thoughts clearly amidst other voices all semester long. This essay that they are about to begin working on is an opportunity to assert their voices and personal beliefs for others to hear.
  2. To get the discussion going, I show them this piece by Taylor Mali. They always enjoy it.

  1. After viewing Mali perform his poem, I elicit reactions from students. What is his point? After some discussion, I segue to the idea that if we expect anyone to take us seriously, we need to speak with conviction, to believe in something strongly enough to own it, and to talk about it confidently so others can appreciate our passion.
  2. It is at this point, that I share with them a little of Perry’s scheme for intellectual development and encourage them to consider where they might fall presently on the scheme. (This is not an easy task for many, but it gets them thinking more about their own cognitive habits.)
  3. From there, we move to a quick activity to get them thinking hard about what they believe. I post four signs on the wall–strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree. Then, I instruct students to stand against the wall, and, as I read from a list of axioms, to move under the sign that represents how they feel about the statement. The statements can be adjusted to fit any class. I’ve used the following:
    • Art reflects life.
    • Life is affected by art.
    • Stories can effect real-world change.
    • We have a responsibility for the words we write.
    • Strong writers are voracious readers.
    • As Orwell said, “If you cannot write well, you cannot think well, and if you cannot think well, others will do your thinking for you.”
    • We can’t help but be changed by telling and writing stories.
    • Escapism alone is a sorry excuse to write and read literature.
    • No text is original.
    • Your contribution to the intertext is a critical one.
    • The language we use constructs our realities, so we ought to be careful about the language we use.
    • Your readers are the ultimate judges of your work.
  4. After the “shuffling” activity above, I ask students to select one of the axioms that was read that they consider to be true–one they strongly agree with–and to select one they believe to be false–one they strongly disagree with. (They do not have to limit themselves to the axioms from the previous activity, but it is a starting point.) Sitting in pairs, then, students discuss what they believe, sharing their choices with one another and discussing reasons for those beliefs. The point here is to get the dialogue going, which is at the heart of the “This I Believe” essay they will be writing.
  5. Moving along, I introduce to them some background on the national essay project “This I Believe,” which is the model for the essay assignment they are about to begin. I stress to them the purpose behind writing and sharing such an essay and the fact they will be contributing to a much larger project–sharing their voices with many others.
  6. I distribute to the students the actual prompt for their essay project, which is basically the list of essay writing tips from the producers of This I Believe. We talk about the assignment to answer questions and clarify the requirements. I tell students that I encourage them to submit their projects to the the national one, but at the very least each will have to read his or her finished essay to the class; it will be recorded and posted on a special section of our course website for others to listen to and comment on. (This raises the stakes for them.)
  7. I share with students some of my favorite “This I Believe” essays that I hope will inspire them as they writer their own. Here are some that I commonly share:
  8. Finally, time permitting, I ask students to spend some time quietly writing three to four foundations of belief that are operating in their lives. We share some of these before leaving. (The point, again, is to get students closer to writing their essay which will be due as a draft during our next class meeting.

When all is said and done, students really end up enjoying this project. They take it seriously because this, more than other writing they’ve done in the class, seems a direct extension of who they are. They know they will be sharing with a broader audience–reading it, having it recorded, and available on the web. They really end up owning their ideas here more than previous work of the semester. It’s a nice way to wrap things up.

There are also plenty of supplemental materials for teachers to use the “This I Believe” essay for their classes. These materials are available at thisibelieve.org. Good luck with it. If you try a similar project, let me know how it works out for you.

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