Explore with Curiosity. Create with Love

On Learning, Homework, and Goals

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So, if you’re like me, you cannot remember the last time your team collaborated on an essential question, or if your team feels like they are in the right place or frame-of-mind to explore and tinker with an essential question. It’s been bothering you for a little bit and there are a few diverse factors:

  • having not sat in on a class to view and explore best practices for teaching and learning
  • the current exam schedule made from an amalgamation of online learning and internal classes
  • the weather

Maybe these various factors can be ignored, and maybe they cannot. From your experiences with adolescent learners (8th-11th grades), you know to meet the student-learners where they are. You have been reading and gathering your thoughts; you have returned to Eleanor Duckworth’s The Having of Wonderful Ideas and reread particular underlined lines: “the only diagnosis necessary is to observe what the children in fact do during the learning. This is not a diagnosis of notions: It is an appreciation of the variety of ideas children have about the situation, and the depth to which they pursue their ideas” (Duckworth, 47). Your education in literacy coaching and your experience with tutoring and teaching across a variety of subjects and grade levels should remind you of this. However, there are times when you have chosen a task either not worth exploring and ended up putting too much emphasis on close reading or chosen a task too difficult, which made even the high executive-functioning students frustrated.

Of course, what we’re really talking about is learner-centered approaches to teaching-and-learning. I am currently running with a learner-centered approach in my 10th and 11th grades. I’ll reflect on each grade separately so something does not get lost in translation or transparency.

11th grade:

The students are charged with blogging every other week and then reflecting on their blog in a “Dear Reader” Letter addressed to their ideal reader; I read the blog and the letter, provide comments, and steer clear of grades. Students may access to their online gradebook to see what particular percentage points they had deducted on each blog. The goals of the 11th grade English III class: network ideas, analyze new information and filter out irrelevant information for pursuing curiosity to eventually compose a dynamic blog. Too many goals can stretch your class too thin. I think the last goal is the ultimate and primary goal of the class.

I cannot set goals for this class, or any class for that matter, without having philosophical beliefs — biases if you may. I assume students want to be in charge of their own learning; I assume students are somewhere between moderately self-directed learners to intermediate self-directed learners. Some of these assumptions have proven wrong, and I have had to adjust my teaching methods to the learner. I have had to do this with a few students, even going way back to teaching grammar. If you’re looking for a fun, remedial way to teach grammar to students, I strongly suggest using NoRedInk; it allows for the learner to essentially play games and learn micro-progressively. The learning is color-coded, and the grammar lessons are split into micro-components for students to understand particular grammar concepts more in depth. Examples and Explanations are provided.

I think the ideal 11th grader in my English III class (we read The Great Gatsby, Bird by Bird, “On Keeping a Notebook” by Joan Didion, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot, and “Once More to the Lake” by E.B. White) is someone  deciding what they are going to learn. I have chosen these particular pieces because they all say something about the processes of filtering and learning, observing and listening, experiencing and writing. The class revolves around strengthening their research base.

Truthfully, though, in the end, where are we all going with this methodology and education talk? I’ve heard the conversations before, and the layers of process-based, holistic approach, flipped-classroom, more questions, more risk-taking. I am not inspired by it anymore. I’m already doing it. Sometimes, I think I spend too much time on the questions and puzzles, partly because I continue to believe that students can eventually get to their own answers and learning. Balance, Balance, Balance. Of late, we teachers sometimes forget what we’re doing with the students is not a vacuum. The systems of values and learning are constantly encircling the learner and the teacher (see Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory) systemsThis system is something to cogitate about, especially to have students think about their systems of influences. Questions for them to consider pertaining to each system:

  • In what ways do your family influence, school, and peers influence you?
  • What role does having a religious affiliation play in your life?
  • What activities, if any, occur in your neighborhood that affect your lifestyle choices?
  • What stereotypes about your race, political choices, and gender affect your choice?
  • In what ways have you seen your values change over time, as you have gotten older, as a result of these systems or not as a result of these systems?
  • What questions do you have? Do you agree with this drawing of the individual learner?

Look, I know I have gotten off topic, and that’s fine, but I want to remind myself and my learners that blogs are non-linear; they are places where the whorls of our thoughts can conjoin. Think kayaking. Each turn and rapid, a new challenge, a new pathway. I get pathways, I am the king of pathways.

Here’s a conundrum on strategies and content: students are wondering if they should write a five-paragraph essay for the midterm. It’s an in-class essay. I have not explicitly taught the 5-paragraph essay for a number of reasons. I have taught students, though not measured, to develop an idea through questioning, critical thinking. Writing is a process. A student approaches me during the midterm and asks if he should write a five-paragraph essay for the midterm long-essay portion. I tell him he should if he thinks that’s the best idea. Other students overhear and rethink their own essay: “Wait, what? 5 paragraphs?” You can see where this is going. Each individual learner is taking risks, making choices. The 5-paragraph essay is an obvious tool for getting from A to B in an organized fashion. It works for most writers. I have nothing against the 5-paragraph essay. Still, other students were reminded that I judge quality over quantity. A quick glance at their essays, I don’t see quality over quantity; I see less-developed essays, no clear point-of-view, no effective use of transitions between ideas.

Did I sacrifice strategy-based instruction for process-based instruction too much this year? Look, I know each and every learner. I know the benefit of the writing process comes from meeting with your teacher individually about your writing. It comes from knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a writer.

10th grade:

Similar to the 11th grade, the 10th grade also blogs their experiences. I am not getting into this Honors and Non-Honors business, because frankly these are terms that are not necessary to define for this school. Our school will have students already separated from the usual fold. Our students are athletes and Kinesthetic learners, and audiovisual learners. We will ask them how they separate themselves from the fold, and they should be able to answer that.

The 10th grade essays, blogs, classroom discussions, plays around with an idea, takes risks. I would say I am having a lot of fun with this class exploring the human condition and identity while using the content of World Literature to do so.

My mind is wandering… wandering… a lecture from Billy Collins. Where is poetry heading? Where is education heading?

Let’s return to the vision of the school. If philosophy is the assumptions we make about our students, vision is the execution. Hmmmmm?

I have a hard time seeing the difference between philosophy and vision. Execution is execution is execution. The point I see making in regards to reflection is this: why do we always use the times of least or most resistance to reflect on our struggles and accomplishments?

Again, I go off topic. I began this blog on the intersection between learning, homework, and goals. I will end with my thoughts on the title topic. The brain wants to learn; however, the brain needs a system for managing and organizing and sifting through information. Learning is experience, audiovisual, kinesthetic. How do you create an experience for your learner for them to visualize and reflect on their own learning?

Homework: I recently came across this article. The author Steve Goldberg is opening up a new school, Triangle Learning Community, in North Carolina university mecca to create globally empathetic students. His article that intrigues me the most is having students assign their homework themselves. Creating a system of checks and balances for students to voice their own learning potential is complicated yet something achievable. I have noticed from reading the threads that the crucial component to setting up autonomy and engagement in homework is meeting every student where he is. Having the students fill out countless sheets of what he will work on is tiresome and possibly costly, so how do you devise a system to for students to manifest their study habits, engagements, and reflections?

Maybe someone can help me with this.

Goal setting at the start of every class. Piñata!




Author: carlabramowitz

English, Humanities, Foreign Language, & IT Coordinator, Extension Projects, 8th Grade Advisor, Study Support, Reflective-Practice Blogger, School Historian, School Librarian — All of these are labels. I am a teacher/learner at heart. My motto: Explore. Share. Now.

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