Monday, November 17, 2014

It looks different in every classroom

Vicki Spandel (2009) makes the point that different teachers incorporate the six-trait model into their instruction in different ways.  I agree that it's important to remember that there are different ways of dealing with the traits and teaching them to students.  In chapter 10, she describes how the Six Traits look in a variety of classrooms.  These are my big "Take-aways" from this chapter.

1. Is there a reason for the writing?  By using letter writing with her students, Elaine taught her students that there was a purpose for writing, because they mailed the letters and got answers! 

2. Invite parents into the process.  I have never tried this, and I guess I'd have to think about how I would do it.  However, when some of my children were in school, I was sometimes asked by a teacher to share a funny story about my child, or to describe what I thought their interests were or how I believed my child learned best.  I think that's a good way to show kids that writing is real.  In these cases, the writing was either shared or posted in some way. I wonder if sometimes children are reluctant to write things that are for their teachers' eyes only.

3.  You're already doing it.  I like Billie's answer to teachers who are reluctant to incorporating the use of traits in his or her classroom.  "You are already using the traits -- you just don't realize it."  Teachers of my generation weren't taught how to teach, we were taught what to teach.  However, most of us when we began teaching thought back to the teachers that we had and tried to be like them.  When innovative strategies come along, we often think at first, "Oh, what's this now?! Another new thing?!"  However, if we look at it with an open mind, we'll often find a lot of familiar territory.  On the other hand, although I have been teaching 27 years -- I don't know everything!  There are still new strategies to consider using.  There is a little saying they used to use with kids, and though it is corny, I believe it's true:  "Good, better, best -- never let it rest. Until good is better and better is best!"

4. Show me the funny!  I agree with Billie that humor is important.  Kids love to laugh, and I think sometimes we're too serious.  Can we make an important point and also let them laugh about what we're learning? Recently I've been trying to incorporate more academic vocabulary in my lessons.  We were looking at the word explicit (stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt).  We critiqued Grant Wood's painting Parson Weems Fable and discussed what was stated explicitly and what was stated implicitly (implied though not plainly expressed).  In this case, we don't know for sure that George cut down the tree, but we can infer that.  We know for certain that for some reason, the artist has given a grown up face to a young boy.  What possible reason can he have done that?  We know that the trees appear almost perfectly round, but we don't know why.  We know that the curtain is ringed with cherries, and this motif is used throughout the painting.  The cherries even hang in perfect little rows like fringe around the perfectly round trees.  Is there something about this scene that is a little too perfect?  How about the slaves picking cherries in the background?  "George Washington didn't have slaves!" protested one student.  "He most certainly did," I replied.  What might the artist be "saying" about that?  It brings up a great discussion about what is presented explicitly or implicitly in a work of art.

Now here's the joke. Soon afterward, I complained to a student, "Hey, you told me that your ceramics project broke and I told you to plug in the hot glue gun.  I assumed you would infer that you should glue it together!"  One student quickly replied, "Well, Dr. Wales, I guess you were not explicit enough!"  For the rest of the day I read this sentence on their vocab cards, "The art teacher was not explicit enough."  I am glad they understood the new word well enough to use it to throw me under the bus!  My point is, it doesn't hurt my feelings if they want to have some fun with the new word at my expense, as long as they have learned to use it correctly!

5. The fine art of writing.  Sue's Elementary Art-Based classroom got me thinking.  I like how she pairs each trait with a particular visual artist.  I believe that visual art is in many ways parallel to the writing process.  When we can show students how an artist's approach is similar to a writer's, I believe we'll help them understand both tasks better.  For example, using the painting above, I talk to students about the Principle of Emphasis in art.  Every work of art has a focal point, or center of interest.  We sometimes call it the main object.  What do you think is the focal point in Parson Weem's Fable.  I choose this painting because it is so unbelievably obvious!  Almost everyone immediately points to the axe in young George's hand.  For heaven's sake, there are three sets of fingers pointing right at it.  The corner of the building comes down, with the diagonals on either side acting as an "arrow" pointing right at it.  I point out to my students that just as a paragraph has one main idea, and the other sentences in that paragraph are there to support the main idea -- a work of art has a focal point, and the other accessories in the painting are there to emphasize that and draw attention to it, not to compete with it. 

There were many other good ideas in the chapter, but these are the suggestions that stood out the most to me.  My classroom, like yours, is a "work in progress".  It's a pretty good "work of art" -- but I'm not done refining it. 

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading this for several reasons:

    1. I like how you make your reflection personal and relate it "explicitly" to your own teaching. It's fun and interesting to look at the pieces of art you share. I love how you use them to spark deep thinking.

    2. I enjoyed your use of bold headings. They make it easier for me to read and digest your response.

    3. I wish I would have had an art teacher like you in high school. I was afraid of my art teacher.

    4. I agree with HUMOR! It's essential to survival.

    5. Corny sayings may be corny, but they sure have a way of sticking. I will have to put "Good, better, best...." to the test. Before I was a teacher, I once worked at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. It was there that I picked up, "Let pride be your guide." : )