DBL Reflection – From Revolution to Government

Founders developing the Declaration of Independence, preceding the Constitution
Founders developing the Declaration of Independence, preceding the Constitution

Learning the document-based lesson “From Revolution to Government,” covering the debates leading up to the Constitution, has been both advantageous and disadvantageous to me as a teacher. As a teacher, it is valuable to be familiar with technology such as Google Slides and eBook, in case I have the opportunity to share it with students in a future classroom. As a historian, it is always helpful for me to see old content in a new way. Dealing with often complex software, it is important that I am able to guide my students toward an ease of access. At the same time, the classrooms I have taught in have little, if any, access to digital technology. The technology they do have access to is definitely not this kind. I do not anticipate a generous donation from the Steve Jobs foundation any time soon. Nor do I expect this type of technology to become cheap enough for our state and local government to suddenly invest. So, I am unsure of when as a teacher I will actually put this knowledge into practice. I do know as a teacher I will be teaching most lessons without much technology but with a lot of discussion. I wished we would have spent more time learning how to generate and hold in-class discussions. Even more valuable than the technology tools we have focused on in class are the communication tools we always have access to as human beings.

However, as an adventurer of technology, I believe this experience has been more advantageous. Gaining greater familiarity with foreign technology and learning more in general is always a plus. Nevertheless, I would have preferred focusing on a smaller quantity of programs in more depth. Even though I learned Google has a multitude of programs to offer that I have access to, I would have preferred more time to learn about their features. At the end of the class, I will have a basic understanding of many tools rather than a deeper understanding of a few tools. Perhaps this is where my adventurous spirit will have to come into play.

Reflection on Class Discussion

As I mentioned during our Monday class, there have been minimal opportunities at my classroom placement to observe or practice class discussion techniques. I believe that a version of the jigsaw method worked well during my unit plan. The version allowed students to learn the Constitution Articles themselves in small groups, discussing important vocabulary and concepts together for the purpose of creating a poster they would share and teach from to the class. Students were actively involved in discussing with each other and presenting their posters.

However, my students have very little exposure to class discussion overall. I would be enthusiastic about sharing a discussion technique with them. I liked the structured forum lesson because it forces students to look at and consider primary source documents and use them as evidence in an argument. I wouldn’t use the same topic or documents with my class because they do not have the historical background knowledge to catch on to the context very quickly. In general, I am struggling with finding interactive lessons which will teach my students the historical background knowledge they do not have. Yet, I do think that this type of discussion/debate form would be helpful for them. If I simplified the topic to something the students are more familiar with, such as events going on at their school or in North Portland, or possibly about Christopher Columbus and European discovery, I think it would work well.

Running the discussion/debate with a more familiar topic will expose students to the process. The students will build the skills of reading and using primary source documents, citing the text (I would possibly require a direct quotation), and having a focused discussion. Of course, the age group may require a great deal of facilitation by me to keep it focused, but I think my students could really learn a lot from it and, down the road, help them develop historical background in a critical way.

Corroborating Constitutions (and My Thoughts)

As our technology assignments have gone, this one has by far been the most frustrating. Despite its apparent ease, GoogleForms took me a long time to figure out. Starting was difficult, let alone understanding where all of the options are located. (For example, it was only after class that I discovered the ability to create multiple sections in one Form.) There are several reasons for this frustration:

First, technology itself is another hurdle in an already complicated world of classroom teaching and learning. Yes, it can be an effective tool for making the process easier. It can also be more trouble than its worth and cause more anxiety than relief if it seems less than intuitive to a teacher’s lesson plan. (If I was to create a lesson plan for the sake of using a technology, this would seem to be catering to the technology and not to the lesson or the class.)

Second and similarly, I have almost never been in a technology-rich classroom, both as a student and as a student teacher. I’m sure having experience in a technology-rich classroom would make a world of difference. However, even considering new technology’s ever-growing presence, many, many, many schools and classrooms are without the privilege of high-end gadgets and apps and other programs, or even computers themselves. I had ONE classroom in high school which had a Smart Board for class lessons. (This was super weird for my small hometown and school.) My student teaching school has no “new” technology at all, other than a cart of a dozen or so Chromebooks shared by the entire school that we have to fight for access to. PPS, a district I would be extremely thrilled to work for next year, in general lacks access to and/or the funds for new technology. Therefore, my perceived relevance and meaningfulness of the programs as I am learning them has been lacking. And my need for this relevance and meaningfulness has been somewhat blocking my vision as I maneuver the programs.

Third and finally, I personally do not have great access to technology. My own lack of access means I do not get the full experience of EdTechTeach (my own name for this process). Yes, there could be some deeper problem going on with my computer that has nothing to do with this class. But there seems to be a serious issue whenever I am using the edmethods blog and the other programs being taught in class. (This post itself has been interrupted multiple times by some sort of terrible lag.) Less often do I run into this issue when going about my day-to-day use. Being technology-poor means my frustration grows exponentially. I can only imagine a young student’s frustration in attempt to learn technology when their own tools are inferior to their classmates’ and/or students of similar grade levels around the district, state, and nation. The digital divide is very real. And teaching technology itself will not solve it (nor do I expect it to). It is a frustrating thing to experience firsthand.

Anyway, I am glad I eventually got somewhere with my GoogleForm to the point where it makes more sense visually as a mini-lesson. At the same time, thinking ahead to my unit plan in my classroom, I can think of more effective media for communicating constitutional corroboration (yay, alliteration) with my students.

PS: I mean this post as no disrespect to our Methods class. I am really happy to be learning and getting the experience with these programs now, so I can have a fuller toolbox from which I can draw as a new teacher. Our classes have been helpful! I simply tend to be honest in reflections. And this seemed like a good opportunity to get a few things out of my head and onto the screen. Also, I can think of mini-lessons that would work really well for GoogleForms, such as analyzing historical photos or video like some of my classmates did. That sort of lesson just makes less sense with the class I am currently teaching and the unit plan I am currently preparing for. But, of course, more tech-savvy people would probably be able to come up with a way to make it work. Thanks for reading!

The U.S. Constitution and Slavery: Developing and Reflecting Upon an Academic Conversation

The U.S. Constitution https://www.flickr.com/photos/visionshare/7449468090
The U.S. Constitution

Content: For the Social Studies/Language Arts 8th grade class, over a single block period (2 hours), students will be able to read persuasive pieces, annotate them, use an academic conversation template, have a small-group conversation, reflect and write about their conversation, and generate an individual position. These activities will be based on two short excerpts from authors with opposing views regarding the Constitution’s initial position on slavery. The content will surround the Constitution’s Enumeration Clause, Slave Importation Clause, Fugitive Slave Clause, and Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. The skills will be critical reading, writing, collaborating, and reflecting, and generating a position. The above skills are tied to RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.5, RH.6-8.6, RH.6-8.8, SL.8.1, SL.8.2, and WHST.6-8.9 in the Common Core standards.

Process: As for the process, the teacher will use the projector and the class will collectively read out loud and annotate the two pieces. The teacher will scaffold the annotations as necessary. To help the students get started, the teacher will also go over a template on starting and continuing an academic conversation, using both the projector and individual copies of the template students can bring with them to their small groups. Following the large-group activity, students will be sorted into small groups of 4-5 to develop ideas in response to the excerpts. After small-group exchanges, each individual student will reflect in writing on the different ideas and generate her or his own position. Before this lesson, the students will have already learned or reviewed the contents of the Constitution, a timeline of the era and its events, and traditional viewpoints surrounding personhood and representation, as well as have completed a written reflection in the past. The first excerpt will be from Charles A. Beard’s Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States and the second excerpt will be from American Thinker’s “The Constitution Did Not Condone Slavery.” The pieces are intentionally from more extreme viewpoints to avoid students simply agreeing with the author and instead to inspire a dialogue followed by individual reflection and decision-making. Connecting prior knowledge of the history and beliefs regarding slavery, students will be able to progress from large-group annotation, to small-group discussion, to individual reflection and analysis.

George Washington on his Mount Vernon plantation with slaves. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Vernon
George Washington on his Mount Vernon plantation with slaves.

Product: From the reading, annotation, discussion, reflection, and analysis, the students will produce a written reflection on their academic conversation as well as a one-sentence individual position. The teacher will instruct and assess this lesson under the notion that an academic conversation has no right or wrong answers but is a process of learning, developing ideas, reflecting, analyzing, and creating. Students will be assessed according to their participation in the large-group note-taking and the small-group conversations, as well as their effort and completion of a written reflection and final 1-sentence claim. Students will also self-assess their overall level of participation and quality of reflection.

Evaluation: Ideally, this activity will allow each student to reach each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy to some extent. The large-group reading and annotating will be the bottom levels of remembering and some understanding, the template will lead the conversations upward toward more understanding, applying, and analyzing each other’s ideas, and the written reflection and 1-sentence final position will allow students to reach analyzing, evaluating, and even creating. The students do not have a choice regarding the lesson’s activities, but they do have a choice regarding their own pace throughout the process. If some students need to take longer to go over the class notes, they can and will be sorted into a small group when they are ready. If some students take longer with their conversation, they will be given time (within reason) to reach a satisfying conclusion. If some students prefer to move on more quickly to their reflection and position-forming, they are free to do so, as long as they believe they have had an adequate conversation. The lesson is about going through a process of communication and collaboration to ultimately create independent thought. However, if a student does not ultimately reach an independent thought, he or she will not be penalized as long as the teacher can see participation and effort throughout the process. Should this process take longer than a 2-hour block period, the lesson will be extended.

The lesson study was extremely helpful in organizing my thoughts and creating an original and substantial lesson I will likely use as part of my unit plan. I appreciated how the lesson was divided into the components content, process, product, and evaluation. The four components make sense of the lesson and connect each part coherently into a whole.

I also very much enjoyed the process of peer review. My peers can see ambiguities where I have not. A fresh pair of eyes is not in my own head and will need as much clarification as possible to follow the lesson. I ended up adding to my lesson study to include those necessary points of clarification.

At the same time, I do not get as much out of peer review. Much of the time my peers are where I am (or close to where I am) in cognitive development and with student teaching preparation. My peers may not have as much insight as an instructor who has practiced in the field for a number of years. While I was glad to see and revise parts of my lesson study which needed further clarification, I am still left without knowing how feasible it is to pull this off, particularly with 8th grade students. I am optimistic, though!