Metablog: A blog about a blog

February 24, 2012

Last year we began receiving evaluations based on the new NC teacher evaluation instrument, a process that looks at the whole teacher, not just classroom performance. Teachers comfortable with years of “Above Standard” evaluations were forced to come to grips with the realization that they might be merely proficient, or even accomplished, in many areas of the new tool.

The “Distinguished” box might just be empty.

Although it does not clearly state it in the evaluation instrument, teachers were frequently told that being distinguished meant demonstrating leadership in a particular category beyond the classroom and beyond the walls of the school. What that means in concrete terms is sometimes elusive, but I want to share what I think is one terrific example.

History teacher Steve Hill is a collector of artifacts, of the genuine stuff of history, and he thrives on telling the stories behind his artifacts. Hill recently made the decision to share his artifact- and primary source-based approach with his colleagues within and beyond the walls of Rose High by writing a blog: History Teacher: Things Military and Artistic. The site is filled with images and explanations of how he uses the images–usually actual artifacts from his own collection–to teach concepts and promote analytical thinking about art and history. It even includes images of student-created graphic organizers.

Even if you aren’t a history teacher, Hill’s site is definitely worth your time.

It seems that this is the sort of leading and sharing, the sort of promotion of quality instruction that engages learners, that separates the distinguished teacher from the accomplished. It seems like a distinction worth making.

Annotating Texts to Teach Analysis

February 16, 2012
You won’t find a better collaboration partner than high-energy art teacher Randall Leach. He is full of ideas and always open to more. For one period a day, Leach has to shift gears from his studio art classes to his more lecture-based AP Art History class. It is a class heavy with content that requires students to analyze works of art. I had the opportunity to collaborate with him recently on a project we called The Greene Family Sculpture Commission Competition.

Students “sculpted” each other by positioning the limbs of one group member–the model–in a manner they believed would depict the values our culture considers good and beautiful. Their end goal was to win the hypothetical Greene family sculpture commission, which was really just a box of Transformer cupcakes from Harris Teeter. But the project was not all fluff and icing.

Not Just Fluff
Using Leach’s iPad, students photographed their “sculptures” from several angles; then, using an app called Educreations (also available for your computer free online) they annotated their sculptures with digital ink and explained how specific features reflected beauty or other values admired in our culture. We projected their work from the iPad for the whole class to see and for the panel of judges–Mr. Leach, Mr. Greene, and me–to evaluate using a rubric.

What was immediately evident was that these students had, for the past three weeks, been learning quite a bit from Mr. Leach about how artists represent values through the physical form. They were learning how to analyze works of art. Using the annotation strategy through Educreations allowed them to both demonstrate and develop that skill further. And it was fun.

Not Just Art
Ashley Hutchinson has used the same app for the same purpose, almost. Instead of analyzing works of art, her students analyze written texts. English teachers put tremendous effort into teaching students to reference specific words and phrases when they explain the meaning of a text, and this activity helps, and perhaps forces, Hutchinson’s students to do that. They literally layer their own voice and their own interpretation on top of an existing text, and the result can be impressive.

Not Just on the iPad
Of course an iPad is far from necessary for implementing annotation strategies. Hutchinson’s students could also have used a printed text and some markers under a document camera. Or they could have used the computer lab to access the Educreations app online, or used, as Mrs. Haynes’s Spanish students have,

But annotation hardly requires a high tech solution. Students could have glued a photocopy on top of a large sheet of paper, and used pens and highlighters to annotate and add their analysis by writing in the margins of the large paper. And, fad of the 1980s or not, sticky notes are as useful a tool as any for annotating texts. The effect is the same–layer student voices and student interpretations on top of an existing text.

Whether it happens in ink or digital ink, spoken text or written text, annotation is a phenomenal way for students to develop their analytical skills and demonstrate their ability to interpret a text. It is a useful tool for assessment, and it can be used in almost any subject: primary documents and tangible artifacts in history, graphs and geometric structures in mathematics, diagrams and sheep brains in science, and the casserole I burned last night in foods.

Give it a try.

Want help? Ask me.