Swords Gallery: Teaching as problem solving
(2. By what means does the nominee encourage high standards and excellence by all students?)
- Trying to find the right combination of strategies to help students get grammar concepts has pushed me to actually provide four strategies when it comes to parts of speech: question words, function, position and word tests. The table to the left reflects those approaches
- Sometimes what is needed is an order of operations. The flow-chart to the left below the table is an attempt to help students choose the most effective order of operations when decoding the grammar of a sentence.Some people think that teaching grammar is a lost cause. To them it's like trying to teach the tone-deaf to sing in tune. Either you're born with it or you're not. I have been working hard against this forgone conclusion, and this year, I'm seeing results. The tone-deaf may not be singing sweetly, but the grammar-lost are starting to make sentence sense.Grammar instruction: Trying multiple approaches.
Studying for history tests: Using concept webs to stress thematic connections between terms.Every few weeks or so we ask a lot of our seventh graders. They have to assimilate almost two dozen historic terms and know how they fit together and describe a larger picture of a particular period of New York City history. Sometimes we construct webs in class, sometimes students attempt to complete a web that was started for them. Often, they wait for the web to be created just so they have yet another way to study for the upcoming test.
Some students thrive on outlines and linearly presented information. Others are desperate for the more organic approach that's captured by webbing. I try to offer both to my classes.
If I could just get them to understand that remembering a few common connections is easier than numerous memorizing disparate facts, I'd have given them something useful to take to the next grade.
- Concept webbing offers a graphical way of visualizing connections between terms.
- In all three grades we insist on facts being written on note cards for research and for tests. This is because we want students to be able to fluidly manipulate the information and play with connections and contrasts. This is possible on the kitchen table with note cards just as it's possible with concept webbing.
- Some of my colleagues get headaches looking at the webs we create. Their brains are just wired differently.
My hero, growing up, was Sherlock Holmes. He was brilliant, observant, and a problem solver. Teaching is fraught with Holmesian problems. Students struggle to understand concepts. You don't want to leave them behind, so you must quickly try another way to bring them along. Presenting information in more than one way can make things "elementary." Watson, Holmes' sidekick, was an excellent educator. But, he was also the perfect student, too. The fact that he was so dense sometimes helped us gain the time we need to come to the same conclusion as Holmes had drawn hours before.
When Sherlock Holmes was up against the clock, his actions could be baffling in the short run. Deciding what to do when you're confronted by a Gordian Knot of a problem is the essence of good teaching. Depending on the time you have, do you pull out a sword and cut it? Or do you spend that time untangling the mess?
Many students find it useful to use various tools to study history in a more conceptual way rather than factual. I, personally struggled to grasp this alternative way of understanding history. Mr. Brooks helped me by introducing a thematic based system where I learned to draw conclusions and tie people and places together. After introducing the many themes I used in seventh grade history I created an acronym that included all of the themes and I still remember it today. The acronym was MID PUC VE "SOC" "ASPIRIN". The themes were as follows: migration for economic opportunity, investment drives innovation, the need for democratic space, political power follows the money, unity in spite of diversity, the rise of consumerism, the growing voice of the poor, progressivism: science solves social ills, and aspirations for a maturing city. Learning these themes and applying them to the history I was learning brought my failing grade up to an A+. Two years after his class, Mr. Brooks' system has continued to help me throughout my history coursework in 9th grade.
- Clara H., HM Class of 2011