“The Lee Shore”

This passage from chapter 23 of Moby-Dick reminded me of the importance of inquiry in our lives.

Some chapters back, one Bulkington was spoken of, a tall, newlanded mariner, encountered in New Bedford at the inn.

When on that shivering winter’s night, the Pequod thrust her vindictive bows into the cold malicious waves, who should I see standing at her helm but Bulkington! I looked with sympathetic awe and fearfulness upon the man, who in mid-winter just landed from a four years’ dangerous voyage, could so unrestingly push off again for still another tempestuous term. The land seemed scorching to his feet. Wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable; deep memories yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington. Let me only say that it fared with him as with the storm-tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward land. The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that’s kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship’s direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in so doing, fights ‘gainst the very winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea’s landlessness again; for refuge’s sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe!

Know ye now, Bulkington? Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?

But as in landlessness alone resides highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God—so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land! Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing—straight up, leaps thy apotheosis!

Bag O’ Tricks

1) Praise

I think encouraging a students can be one of the more difficult things to, however, everyone enjoys praise so not all is lost.  In most situations I think students just need to know that you truly believe in their ability, because many times you may be the only one who does.  Reminding students of past success such as a previous paper or reminding them of an activity they enjoyed, and likening it to the current situation can be hugely beneficial.  In a group setting I think good a good motivation is the promise of sharing out what has been learned in the lesson that day.

2) Revive

When students become sluggish, often times the case after lunch or in the afternoon, I think your best bet is to do something active.  Whether planned or not, I think group activities where students interact always infuse a classroom with energy.  Additionally, upbeat music will move the most stout of hearts to movement.

3) Refocus

When trying to refocus students the important thing is to remember that your lesson must somehow apply to their lives.  When refocusing students I have found it’s useful to use allegory to help get students back into the lesson.  This can take many forms, but my favorite ways are likening a lesson to pop-culture or a drawn out story that grabs their attention.  Everyone likes a story and will be drawn in and in the end you will inform your students in what way it relates to the lesson at hand.

4) Acknowledgment

Every person, regardless of age, likes to have their accomplishments noted.  To this effect I think students need it even more as it helps motivate them and gives them something to aim for.  I think if a students does well on something, they should be invited to share what they have done with a quick presentation to the class.  The advantage of this is grades aren’t shared so individual accomplishments, regardless of measurement, are celebrated.   Further, this would insure that every student at some point gets to have their work acknowledged by everyone in the classroom.

5) Recompose

This is more of a way to avoid having to recompose rather than an way to actually do it, but I think good lesson planning with back up plans goes a long way to helping a class run smoothly.  As long as a lesson is solid and really engages students the chances of someone getting off track and indulging in negative behavior is slim.  However, if it does happen despite your best efforts I think a good way to deal with these situations is to talk to them directly.  We should never forget our students are human so we should try to treat them with dignity and respect whenever possible.  If someone is acting up we should try and find out why as oppose to simply trying to stop it.

6) Rituals

I’m a firm believer in “bell ringer” exercises.  These in essence are an activity you have students complete every day upon entering the classroom.  Ideally they will always apply to the lesson for that day and will jump start the students thinking about the topic at hand.  This exercise is also useful because it helps students focus and prepare for the class rather than talking to their friends or engaging in other behavior that might distract them from their learning.


When I’m teaching I would like to host an open house every semester in which students display what they have learned to parents, teachers, and each other.  In essence it would function somewhat like a talent show where a wide array of abilities and talent are on display, only with learning being the central theme to it all.  I think this would benefit both students and their parents as it would motivate the former to work towards an end goal while allowing the latter to see what their students have been up for several months.

8/9 Reading Discussion: Making Thinking Visible Chapters 4 and 5

“ In Puzzling over some of the challenges of teaching and learning, it struck our team that a common place at which learning breaks down, particularly in schools, is when students are given information but are never asked to do anything mentally with it.  Listening, in and of itself, doesn’t lead to learning.  One cannot passively absorb information in a way that will make is useable to the future.” (Ritchart, Church, Morrison p. 132)

The above quote from our reading for the upcoming class encompasses what I believe to be the main idea behind the Making Thinking Visible text.  As teachers we do our students a disservice if we simply pour information into them and expect them to absorb it like a sponge.  For if we do this, when the students are pressed to think critically, like a sponge they lose everything they were holding.  That’s a bit of a rough analogy but I think it accurately reflects the idea that we cannot allow our students to practice simple rote memorization in their schooling.  Rather, they need to take an active participation in their learning and reflect on the lessons we have taught them, which hopefully will lead to a deeper understanding and questioning of the world.

In chapters 4 and 5 of Making Thinking Visible Ritchhart and his colleagues present us with a number of ways we can have our students actively participate in their learning and demonstrate to us and themselves that they are asking the deep, critical questions essential to higher thinking.  While I could present you all with a quick overview of all fourteen ideas in the chapters, I think that would be blatantly ignoring what this book is preaching as well as being of no real benefit to you.  With that being said, in the coming paragraphs I will review a few of the activities that stood out to me and which I found the most interesting for one reason or another.  If I leave out an activity you found especially fascinating feel free to mention it in your comment and we can discuss it in class on Thursday.

The first exercise I found interesting was the See-Think-Wonder routine, which challenges students to thoughtfully consider an image or object.  To start this activity the instructor first has the students say what they see in front of them, being careful to first warn them to only say what they see, not what they infer.  Second, the students tell the instructor and each other what they believe is happening in the image or object.  Third and lastly, the students are asked to ponder what else might be happening with the image or alternatives to their first idea.  The reason I found this particular activity interesting is that in today’s society where speed and instantaneous results are favored above all else, I feel the ability to actually stop and appreciate something is being thrown to the wayside.  As teachers I think we need to help students learn how to think, and in this case that means teaching them how to slow down and thoughtfully interact with something they are seeing.  I think this would help students develop a critical eye that would serve them well in all aspects of their life.

(Maybe see, think, and wonder about this)

Next, I found the Zoom In exercise of interest because it not only because it reminds me of a Nickelodeon game show I watched in grade school, but also because it challenges students to reconsider their own views.   Or as the text puts it, “the process of making such tentative hypotheses enables the learners to see that not only is okay to change your mind about something, but in fact it is important to be open-minded and flexible enough to change your mind when new and sometimes conflicting information is available and the original hypothesis no longer hold true.” (p. 65)  Additionally, this process is easily accomplished by the simple process of having students examine a close-up of an image, having them postulate what it is, and then repeating this process until the entire image is revealed.  The ability to convey such a powerful lesson with such simple means is enticing and is a lesson I think will help our students not only become critical thinkers but also more accepting of those different from themselves by challenging their own viewpoints.

The third activity that drew my interest was the Think-Puzzle-Explore routine.  This exercise, which is essentially the older, brooding sibling of the KWL activity we all know, asks students to first consider what they think they know about the topic.  Next the students list the questions or puzzles they have about the topic followed by hypothesizing on how they would explore these very same questions or puzzles.  As with most aspects of life, the devil is in the details and this hold true for this activity and this is what sets Think-Puzzel-Explore apart from the KWL routine.  I found the idea of labeling what students think they know about a topic as tentative quite interesting because I think as learners, regardless of age, it is important to keep an open and flexible mind.  By putting what you think you know in doubt or holding it up to scrutiny the learner is willing to accept new ideas and therefore more willing to accept an idea that has the potential to cause a paradigm shift in their thinking.  When you consider how much violence and turmoil if caused by misunderstanding in our world it becomes easy to understand why imparting this brand of thinking on our students is important.

A fourth exercise I would like to use once I am teaching is the 3-2-1 Bridge routine.  In this exercise the instructor facilitates learning in his or her classroom by framing the learning period with a response that asks for three words on the subject, two questions, and one metaphor or simile which the student has considered in regards to the lesson at hand.  The teacher should have students do this first at the beginning of a lesson or unit and again at the end, followed by a “bridge” in which your students consider the similarities and differences in their responses.  What I particularly like about this activity is the metaphor/simile portion, because I cannot hide the fact that I’m going to be teaching English and a good metaphor or simile is like drug for me.  My own obsessions aside, asking students to use metaphors or similes makes them consider the subject in more detail while also asking them to relate it to their own world view, giving them the chance to creatively express their feelings and ideas.

Next, I greatly enjoyed the section on The Explanation Game because having had it used in my class as a student I can vouch for its effectiveness and ability to engage students.  In college I took an anthropology course and frequently my instructor would bring in artifacts (or reproductions) from the distant past and without saying anything about them would ask the class to consider what their use was to early mankind (maybe he read this book at some point?). Not only was this activity fun but I found it got me thinking in a different way than I traditionally had been use to in a classroom setting.  Instead of waiting to have the answer told me I was happy to venture guess after guess because playing the part of archeological detective was incredibly enticing.   I could see how this process could easily be applied to any subject, even English.  The object of examination does not have to be a physical object, it could just as well be a character in a book, a metaphor, or even something so vague as a theme or motif.  In any case, the presenting of an object to students and having them hypothesize about what it is or its significance is something I’m sure most students would love.

(Not sure if artifact or trash.)

The next routine that caught my eye is something I found interesting because I had unknowingly incorporated it into my Boldly Braiding lesson plan before I had even completed the reading of this section of the text.  I don’t mean to be self-aggrandizing but rather I would like to point out that this is an activity we have probably all completed at some time in our educational life, even if it hasn’t been since grade school.  This activity, the CSI: Color, Symbol, Image routine, is astounding because it engages students in high level thinking but in such a way so it comes naturally to them.  As the text puts it, “Metaphors are a major vehicle for developing our understanding or ideas as we connect something new to something we already know by identifying similarities and making comparison. Put simply, a metaphor is a connection between one thing and another.” (p. 119).  When learning something new and challenging for the first time, I think it always helps to be able to tether that idea to something we already know.  All the best philosophical writing does this well and that is what makes it good – the ability to say the complex in simple terms cannot be heralded enough.  In fact, this is what all good writers of fiction do and helping my students realize this is one of my goals as a teacher.  So asking a student to take a major theme or idea and turn it into a color, symbol, and image (in that order) seems like an excellent way to both instruct students and give them confidence in their ideas about the subject at hand.

The final routine I would like to discuss in this post is the 4C’s.  To put it shortly, in this activity students are asked to make connections, challenge the text, identify key concepts, and identify changes in their attitudes or thinking in the process of or after reading a text.  Again, the reason this particular routine caught my eye is I can see how useful it would be in a classroom that predominantly focuses on written text and large, sometimes vague ideas.  When teaching literature I think all the actions contained in this lesson are ones we want to impart on our students, so it’s nice to see them all concisely explained and detailed in this section of the book.  I think it would be of particular benefit to students if they were asked to answer these questions on a daily basis in a journal of some sort, as this would allow them to track the progress of the understanding.  This process of metacognition would certainly lead to deeper thinking and questioning, and perhaps more importantly, would help my students better understand who they are and how they learn.

So, there is my not so concise list of the activities I found most intriguing in our reading for this week.  My question for you all now is which lessons did you yourself find the most interesting?  Further, how would you employ these same routines in your classroom?  Also, I’m curious to see how often you think these types of activities should be used in the classroom, if at all.  While Making Thinking Visible certainly is a useful book for tips and hints on teaching it certainly is not the end all be all of the teaching universe.  Are there other activities not discussed in this week’s reading which you think are good ways to get students thinking differently and visibly?  If so, let us all know in the comments as it’s always useful to learn new ways to teach and learn.

Boldly Braiding Individual Unit Plan

Causes: Following/believing in your dreams
Prayer Flags
Design, Drawing, Painting, Calligraphy

Students will learn the importance of following their dreams and seeing them come to fruition.  They will come to understand that continuing pursuit of your interest pays dividends in a myriad of ways.  Students will also learn aspects of a different culture and as well as a different way of thinking.  Additionally, students will also learn how analyze a short story.  Finally, students will gain an understanding of artistic pursuits and the impact they can have on a community.

Project Title:
Don’t Lose Your Dinosaur

Background/Justification: During their education many students will be dissuaded to pursue their own unique interests and abandon the dreams which have carried them for much of their life.  As students begin to lose sight of their dreams they also begin to lose sight of the importance and fun of learning new ideas.  The loss of these dreams to society is severe as we are left with students who end up leading lives of frustration since they are unable to realize some of the goals they wished to have attained since childhood.  Additionally, with this loss of dreaming, society turns its thoughts to cruder functioning and collectively we lose sight of some of the most important and sustaining aspects of our culture.

Skills: Students will learn how to translate their thoughts into a symbolic meaning and they will also learn how art can influence the individual.  Students will make use of and hone their analytical skills and will gain an understanding and acceptance of another culture.  Students will also learn how to translate complex thoughts into a form understandable by others.  Ideally, the idea will be ingrained in the students that what is most important in life is not making money and adhering to a systematic lifestyle, but rather following one’s dreams and changing the world for the better.  Students will also begin to understand the idea of goal planning.

1)      Students will learn the history of Buddhist prayer flags and will visit a Buddhist center to learn about their history and influence..

2)      Students will watch the youtube video “We Stopped Dreaming.

3)      Students will read and discuss Hermann Hesse’s short story “Iris.”

4)      Students will design and make “Dream Flags” based on the same concept of prayer flags.

5)      Students will hang their flags around the school and community to help remind both their community and themselves of their dreams and the power they hold.

Community Building Assets: Students will gain confidence in the mission of following their dreams and desires.  These dreams will help create future critical thinkers and those who contribute positively to their world.  Additionally, this unit has the chance to influence those in the community and help them rekindle their own dreams.

Other Expertise: Members of the Buddhist community will be engaged to inform the students about the use and history of prayer flags and how they are used in modern society.  Working with an art instructor will also be beneficial to the students as she or he will be able to help them design and produce their flag in a more professional manner.

Materials: Pens, Paper, Copies of “Iris” Short Story, Cloth (multiple colors), print making materials, string, paint, computer, speakers, projector, transportation

Student Activities:

1)      Students will write about a dream(s) they would like to achieve in their life.  The will examine these dreams and write about if anyone has ever tried to dissuade them from their dream and why they might have done so.

2)      Students will watch the youtube video “We Stopped Dreaming” and will write and discuss about the importance of realizing our dreams both on a personal and societal scale.

3)      Students will read “Iris” by Herman Hesse and discuss how the protagonist lost his dream from childhood and what he had to do to reclaim.  During this activity students will be asked to consider why people abandon their dreams.

4)      Students will meet with a member of the Buddhist community (perhaps at a Buddhist center) and learn about prayer flags, which send their prayers to humanity when they are blown by the wind.

5)      Students will reexamine the dreams they wrote about and will design a “dream flag” that reflects the dream they wish to achieve.  On it they must create a symbol for their dream and must also include a small amount of text, in a similar fashion to prayer flags.  After these flags are designed and created they will be strung together in small groups so that they resemble prayer flags.

6)      Students will hang their “dream flags” around the school and community.  This will remind them to strive for their dreams everyday while also proudly displaying their desires to others.  Additionally, it is my hope these “dream flags” will help people of all ages from around the community to remember and realize their own dreams.

Evaluation/Assessment: Most of the assessment from this lesson will be gauged by the student’s ability to express and pinpoint their dreams in an artistic manner.  Additionally, being able to accept a culture that might be different from you will be measured as will the ability to respect other’s dreams.  Students will also be assessed on their ability to critically engage a text and video.

Who Cares About This Planet?

Our discussion in class last night reminded me of this video which questions the way people view environmental matters.  The issues of corporate greed and zombie-like consumerism takes center stage.

Brown vs. BOE

The Brown vs. The Topeka  Board of Education case is perhaps one of the most important cases to be handed down by the courts concerning education since the dawn of the American educational system.  Before this case, segregated schools were billed as being separate yet equal, even though any one with minimal powers of observation could easily see that this was not the case.  Rather, these separate yet equal schools were thinly veiled attempts to hide the racism and bigotry rampant in much of the United States in the 20th century.  As we heard in the audio documentary this past Thursday, black schools frequently did not receive proper funding or qualified teachers because most of those resources went to the white schools which were believed to be cultivating the real future of the country.  However, when the supreme court ruled that schools would be forced to integrate America was faced with the challenge of confronting a specter it had let go unchecked for years.  For the first time black and white students (along with students of any other race) would be entitled to the same public education which would bring to the forefront America’s uncomfortable present.  Now, as opposed to keeping like students together in separate schools, American students would be forced to interact with students different from them, a prospect which frightened many people at the time.  However, as can be seen by much of the social progress achieved in the latter half of the 20th century, the decision to integrate schools helped many people see the similarities among those of a different race, rather than the differences.

Yet while much change has been put into effect due to schools being integrated, racism and misunderstanding still persist in the United States.  Not all of this blame can be laid at the feet of the educational system but it is my belief that schools should be playing a larger part in helping students from all backgrounds overcome their prejudices through the development of critical thinking skills.  Sadly, while Brown vs. BOE did a lot toward social integration, the truth of the matter is it could in no one way fix all  the ills of this complicated issue.  It takes communities, not just schools, to raise children to be productive adults in society and too often it is the communities who need the most help who receive the least funding and services.  Because of this, you will never see a student from a more affluent neighborhood attend a school in a struggling community and seldom does the opposite happen either.  This has caused, whether intentionally or not, schools to become fairly segregated once again which is really a loss for everyone involved, student or otherwise.  It is only by being thrust together that we come to accept the differences among ourselves and embrace those different from us.  In our current system it seems unlikely any of this will change in the near future so perhaps it is worth investigating further how we as teachers can go about creating a world that focuses more on our similarities rather than differences.

Shelly Hope and Experiential Learning

In class on Tuesday Shelly Hope stopped by to share her experiences as a teacher using experiential learning and nature in her curriculum.  We completed three different lessons, each distinctly different from the last, but with the similarity that they were not the type of lesson you usually see in a typical middle school classroom.  We explored and dug through a compost pile/worm colony, honed our observation skills, and experimented with our sensory skills.  All of these lessons were unified in the idea that they taught us about some element of the natural world while also getting us to be active participants in our learning.  I found that these lessons jibe quite well with my own teaching philosophy which stresses the importance of placing the center of a lesson on the students involved in the learning.  I’ve always been someone who benefits from actually doing the thing they are being taught so on a personal level I appreciated these activities since they are similar to how I want to conduct my future class.

As a future English teacher I think there are many ways nature and experiential learning can be incorporated into my curriculum.  The relationship between literature and nature is as old as oral language itself and can be found present in virtually almost every literary work.  The reason for this is quite simple: nature is everywhere (even in cities) and to write a novel without it would be a challenge indeed.  But beyond just inclusion in stories, nature has had a meaningful impact on many a great author and it seems unlikely that that aspect of literature will change any time in the near future.  In the classroom I think students  can benefit greatly from this connection with nature as it can lend a spark to their creative process.  When writing, I have found that I benefit greatly from a change of scenery and often I find that being in a place of natural beauty helps even better.  Similarly, I think if I were to take my classes outdoors in certain circumstances to help stimulate their writing, nature would certainly help them with the creative process.  Similarly, I think writing is something that has to be taught with an experiential approach because simply put, there is no other way to do it.  However, the experiences I choose to supply my students with can vary greatly and to that extent I think the most positive experiences for them would be writing workshops. Getting feedback on your writing, especially when it is in rough draft form, is incredibly helpful and not only helps the writer being assessed, but the reader too.  Additionally, by supplying my students with positive writing experiences, such as writing workshops, it is my hope  they will come to enjoy the writing process while also getting better at it.