Sunday, July 20, 2008

Jackie's Summer Academy Top 10

As I reflect on the week in Albany, so many new ideas have filled my personal frame of reference. Below is Jackie’s Top Ten List of NUA Summer Academy 2008 Highlights. I know that I am missing a ton of memorable moments, so I’d love to hear from you regarding what's in your frame. Simply click “comments” below this post if you would like to share your reflections and highlights. The blog comments section allows for an online dialogue of sorts, and I have used the comments feature with my students to continue a discussion on a certain topic.

Jackie’s Top Ten List

David Hyerle: David’s work has such a direct impact on my daily classroom instruction that I was honored to get the chance to talk with him at length on Wednesday night. Over the years my head has been filled with a list of questions that I would ask David if I ever got the chance, and I finally got that chance. Not only did the conversation with David provide me with a deeper understanding of the knowledge structures behind Thinking Maps, but also I was able to formulate a new game plan for promoting the use of Thinking Maps with my students and teachers. Thanks David for that great opportunity. You really were the WOW of my week.

Eric Cooper: My frame includes Eric as the spiritual center of NUA. Eric’s enthusiasm and beliefs that education is a civil right, and that when we teach for justice, we can really make a difference in people’s lives provide the energy that I need when I am bombarded daily with negative messages about public education. Eric reminded me of the power of positive thinking, and he really made me feel at home with NUA. Whenever I am feeling down at school, I can just think to myself, "What would Eric say?"

Yvette Jackson: When I reviewed my notebook entries from the past week at Summer Academy, I realized that Yvette and her ideas were everywhere. No wonder she is one of the main voices that runs through my head. I know that I will share Yvette’s triangle of fluency, construction and communication with my staff as a way of looking at literacy and high intellectual performance. Also, thanks Yvette for sharing Eliot Eisner's definition of literacy as “constructing, communicating, and creating meaning in many forms of representation.” I plan to use that quotation with my staff as a means into a conversation that all teachers use text and are literacy teachers.

Denise Nessel: Although I neglected to give credit to one of the inspiring influences for my creation of this Edina NUA blog during my presentation during the NUA Summer Academy, I really have to credit Denise Nessel for that spark. On the final day of last year’s NUA Summer Academy, Denise approached me after the Edina presentation and told me to consider capturing coaching stories and to consider writing a book about my experiences as a part-time classroom teacher and part-time NUA coach. Denise’s idea to capture my coaching notes was one of the early sparks for the blog. Besides being one of the blog inspirations, Denise's strategies have a profound impact on my classroom.

Evelyn Rothstein: The always entertaining and educational Evelyn Rothstein was back again this summer. Since Year 2’s didn’t have an Evelyn presentation on our agenda, some of us cornered her for private audiences. Nguyen, Deb, Kelly and I enjoyed her definition of cultural universals during a conference with Evelyn about our staff development plan. And Evelyn shared her personal story of getting her first teaching license in New York with a small audience of WMEP teachers. Thanks Evelyn for all of your cultural insights.

LaVerne Flowers: Although LaVerne was often in the background during workshop sessions this week, I always draw inspiration and security from her presence. LaVerne has been my key connection to NUA over the last five years, and she has had a huge influence on my confidence and competence as a teacher and coach over the years. Without LaVerne pushing me to be even better, I would not be the teacher and coach that I am today.

Frame of Reference: The frame became a common theme of the week, even getting its own hand gesture, and the insights gained from frame discussions will carry over to my classroom and staff development activities this fall. I am especially excited to try out the simultaneous frame on Thinking Maps to get teachers and students to listen to the voices in their head, an idea taken from David Hyerle’s session with Year 2 participants on Wednesday afternoon.

Networking: Collaboration and networking with people from other school districts is a great component of the summer academy. WMEP networking highlights for me this year include my usual breakfast talk with Wayzata educators, sitting with and sharing ideas with Karin, Shelby and Andrew from Hopkins during most of the sessions, Edina Year 1’s adopting Terri from Robbinsdale, and my Friday night spent in Chicago with Dominic, Beth, and Lisa from Eden Prairie. (United Airlines put us up at The Westin when our connecting flight to Minneapolis was cancelled since our plane from Albany landed shortly after a Mexican Airlines plan skidded off the runway at O’Hare.) Besides connecting with WMEP folks, another collaboration highlight of the week was the Edina Year 2’s working with Melissa and Peg from Albany on our taxonomy presentation with the serve it up, bump, set, spike, everybody rotate method of presentation. Peg and I left the week vowing to keep in touch.

Creating Staff Development Plans: During district meeting time and Year 2 planning time for a staff development seminar, I was able to take home plans that I can immediately begin implementing to promote culturally responsive strategies in Edina Public Schools. Nguyen, Kelly, Deb and I used the pedagogical flow map to finalize a seminar plan for our before school workshop week. And thanks to Carlton Long for giving us some great ideas for text from Jabari Mahiri to use with our seminar plan.

Music: From songs created in skits to formal gatherings, music energized the week. Eyka leading The Cupid Shuffle woke me up after dinner, and the NUA Trio with Stefanie’s lead vocals for Lean on Me was a fitting send off for the week. An outstanding find of the week was Jeremy Dudley and his original rap. Jeremy’s performance at the talent show Friday was so exciting that I have already ordered his CD from

Thanks to everyone for making family reunion week (Nanette's metaphor), aka NUA Summer Academy 2008, an enlightening and energizing experience. Also, thanks to the Edina adminstration for supporting our efforts at NUA. Thanks Jeff for sharing all of the photos online so that I could post a few.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Synonym Triplets

A favorite vocabulary strategy at the high school this past spring was synonym triplets. In brief, the strategy involves finding two synonyms for an assigned vocabulary word. Drawing a symbolic representation of the word further enhances the understanding of the word.

Most teachers simply modeled one synonym triplet for a vocabulary word and then assigned other vocabulary words to pairs or groups of students so that the synonym triplets would be student-generated. This also saves teacher preparation time.

Students only need a dictionary and a thesaurus to find their synonyms, but deciding on which synonyms will best help their classmates learn the word involves some great discussions. This is another reason to have students work in pairs or groups to create synonym triplets. And the symbolic representation is also a great discussion topic for groups.

In World Literature, I gave my seniors a list of the vocabulary words so that they had a place to record the synonym triplets generated in their class. Since I assigned vocabulary words at the beginning of each act of Othello, I wanted to vary the synonym triplet assignment each time. One time students drew a symbolic representation; one time they performed a dance or stood in a tableau that represented their vocabulary word, and one time they created a hand gesture. By the end of the play, I was feeling overwhelmed by the number of vocabulary words that I had given students, so I created just one list of vocabulary words for Acts 4 and 5 together. That day I assigned pairs their vocabulary word and told them to either create a synonym triplet or simply find the definition in the dictionary. Here's my recollection of the classroom discourse that followed my assignment:

Student 1: Are we supposed to draw a picture, create a hand gesture, or what for our word?

Teacher: You don't have to do anything fancy. Just find the definition.

Student 2: You're kidding us. Are we just doing vocabulary the old fashioned, boring way?

My students were not deterred by my simplified assignment. I saw many students discussing, "If we had to create a hand gesture or body movement, what would we do?" It was then that I realized the true power of this strategy. Students were engaged with learning new words, and I was trying to hurry them along.

Sarah Jarrett also had success with synonym triplets in her classroom. Sarah commented that her students were very enthusiastic during synonym triplet days, and some students even beat boxed during their vocabulary word presentations. Sarah observed that one student, who was very excited about this vocabulary strategy and the beat boxing, did so much better on the vocabulary test on the words from synonym triplet day than he done on previous vocabulary tests.

Beth Neary also noticed increased vocabulary retention with this strategy in her Advanced Placement Spanish Literature class. Beth reported that her advanced students could ace vocabulary tests just by memorizing lists of words and definitions; however, when she used the words later in the year, they couldn't recall the definition. In January Beth had students create a synonym triplet quilt (in Spanish) for the vocabulary words in that unit, and when Beth asked the students about the words in May, they could still recall the definitions.

The synonym triplet quilt idea was the brainchild of Jen Cordes, a special education teacher at the high school. She had her students create a quilt of words for Midsummer Night's Dream. Both Jen's special education English 10 class and Beth's AP Spanish class, created quilts of vocabulary words where students punched holes in their squares and tied the squares together with yarn.

Edina's NUA coaches used a similar quilt strategy in a teacher workshop this summer, but we didn't tie the squares together. Instead, Deb Stortz just made sure colors of paper squares were equally distributed and then hung in a quilt pattern. The finished quilt is shown below.