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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Teaching Vol. I, Chapters 4 ,5, and 6

Are you looking for more summaries of the chapters of this book, Teaching: Education and Academics at the Turn of the Century?

Yesterday's blog previewed the first three. They were written during a difficult time in our lives ... all of our living parents were ill and needed our daily assistance. In 1999 my mother died, and in 2001 my dad died. Teaching full time was still challenging, though the all-nighters I spent with my parents that first year did allow me some quiet quality correcting papers time in the wee hours of the mornings.

When did I write the columns,  you ask? I wrote them in odd moments at home, on weekends between laundry and grading chores, and sometimes in bits and pieces of paper napkins in the teachers' room at school.

"Pendulum" was the second column written, and the only one that I needed outside research to support. I had always admired the Foucault pendulum at the Museum of Science in Boston. It made me stop and think: we are actually moving through space at an alarming pace; yet, that pace establishes the gravity that holds us on this planet. I wanted to represent the symbol of the pendulum accurately, so I emailed the museum's library staff, and asked whether they had something in writing about the pendulum. They did, and sent a large quantity of information, which I then shared with my science/math partner. When I went into the library to give them a copy of the magazine, I introduced myself to the librarian. She looked startled, and exclaimed "You are a woman!"  I agreed with her, and we shook hands. I gave her the magazine, open to the page that bore my article, and turned to leave. She thanked me for the magazine, apologized for her reaction, and we laughed together.

But you wanted a summary of this column, "Pendulum," and I shall oblige you. A teacher who has taught for more than fifteen years has witnessed the swing of the educational pendulum. Unlike the sundial which registers only the passing of hours, and seasons, the pendulum moves through time and space with a force of gravity. It's swing length is predictable, as it depends on the length of its tether. I comment on the extreme ends of the pendulum's swing as being the most difficult part of its passage. The education reform movement which stutters back to life every ten years or so has, at times, caused an abrupt about face in educational policy. An example of that would be the factory-like behavioral beginnings of education, shifting suddenly to the whole language whole child developmental approach, and then moving slowly along that centered path, building momentum again to suddenly reverse direction and head back with common core standards and mandatory one size fits all assessments. But, to make the analogy more complex, I had to factor in the earth's own rotation, and our ride through space.

"Learning in Circles" is the next article in the book. That gave me an opportunity to compare the depth of discussions resulting in Literature Circles, Paideia Seminars, and Socratic Circles. Each has its own origin, and each has its followers. I explain these differences by having teachers exchange questions and comments during a lunch period at school ... and I had fun writing the conversations and character descriptions. I enjoy using dialog to set scenes that feel familiar to the reader.

"The Rank Book" is another piece where I considered using dialogue, but instead I posed hypothetical questions to a hypothetical audience. If I could share just one sentence from this article with you, with the expectation that it would summarize the general tone and scope of the article, I would share this one: "...It would be easy to fall into the 'assign and assess' model, with the key elements, teaching and learning, minimized by the focus on designing elaborate rubrics for scoring and grading."  Well, it comes close, but reading the full article will give a much deeper understanding.

I will come back again tomorrow to summarize two more sections of this little book. It really is a piece of my teaching history, and it does capture all of the varying degrees of the pendulum's swing. If I've succeeded in whetting your appetite for this book, remember to go to the sidebar to click on the CreateSpace link and enter the numerical password.  The discount code will only work this week. Next week, we'll be on to another of my books (and with another discount code!)

And - here's a musical gift for you!

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