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What Did You Learn In 2008?

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As I did last year (see What Did You Learn In 2007?), I invited readers to send-in one-to-three things they learned in 2008.  Quite a few of you shared and I have the privilege, in turn, of sharing your lessons here.

I’ll start off with mine.  Though I’ve obviously learned many things, I’m just going to share one school- related lesson here (you’re going to have to work through a lengthy intro first, though):

As readers of this blog know, I am a big believer in positive classroom management strategies and helping students find intrinsic motivations for learning. I have a lot of respect for Alfie Kohn’s works, including “Punished By Rewards.”   In my five-year teaching career, I’ve been pretty successful in resisting the dreaded “point” question — “How many points is this worth?”  My typical response has either been, “How many points do you want it to be worth?” and then, whatever each students says in response, I then say it’s worth that amount.  Or I’ll say something ridiculous like “20,000 points.”  That, combined with repeated discussions about why we’re studying what we’re studying,  usually works well.

This year, however, I found myself confronted with a very challenging ninth-grade English class at our inner-city school.   My usual bag of classroom management “tricks”, while very effective in helping me develop very solid relationships with my students, weren’t consistently creating the kind of healthy learning atmosphere I wanted and felt I needed.

So, after consulting with Jim Peterson, a very talented Vice-Principal at our school, I instituted a version of a point system where I divided my two hour class into quarters, and gave a certain number of points to each student every thirty minutes. I’m not going to explain it all here (though I will in a future post), but it’s fairly nuanced and designed to set-up every student for success (while creating the minimum amount of extra work for me). It’s worked wonderfully — students like it and a whole lot more learning is going on.

So, after that lengthy preamble, what I’ve re-learned out of this experience is what I learned during my community organizing career — one has to be careful what we make into “principles” because once we decide on one we can’t compromise — you don’t comprise principles. I concluded that my “principle” was that I wanted to set-up my students for success, and that I could do that with a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation — and even go a fair amount heavier on the extrinsic side (at least for now).  I don’t need to use it in my other classes, and I might not need to use it in any other future class,  but — after a fair amount of soul-searching — I feel fine about it using this system in this situation. How’s that for a tortured explanation!

Here are other lessons contributed by readers:

Jim Alvaro:

I’ve think I have learned two lessons this year. The first is that “my” blog is rapidly becoming “their” blog. I’m not sure when it happen but the class is slowly taking over the ownership of the blog. We have started a daily student column, student cartoons, stories, and all sorts of things that I used to do and now have kids stepping forward and doing. And i am actually ok with that.

The second thing I’ve discovered is that my blog has taken on a life of its own. I started out blogging just to let parents know what homework we have for that night and now its a little bit of everything, and that’s ok too.

Colette Cassinelli:

This year I attended Google Teacher Academy and learned about all the wonderful educational uses of the free Google Tools. I incorporated Google Apps for Education in my classroom this year and it had made a huge impact in therms of collaboration and communication among my students.

Colette Cassinelli is a 7-12 computer teacher at a private school in Beaverton, OR.

Belinda Hartzler

1. Change is liberating.
2. Possibilities are endless as are hurdles to cross.
3. Learning to golf is humbling.

Gail Poulin

I created my first version of an edublogs site just over a year ago and all the new learning this year is making it really shape up. I am more motivated than ever about my job and love to present our learning using the new tools. You asked what I learned this year, well how about this week? Through twitter links and reader feeds like this one, I can now use http://emoticarolers.com/ Emoticarolers from you Larry, http://www.imeem.com/ which I got through another connection(?) and brought me some video clips for a family event I’m planning, and I even created a new google doc, something I’d been slow to grab onto. So often one link brings me to another, and then another, from one connection to a new one. Every turn brings new learning opportunities and ideas. There is so much more to learn and enjoy and I’m always spreading the word about it. You provide a prodigious amount of material to read but I’m getting better at selecting the ones I need to focus on.

Gail is a kindergarten teacher from Southampton, Massachusetts, USA.

Kevin Hodgson:

I learned:

Twitter is an invaluable networking tool, full of great resources and connections. I had thought it to be little more than a distraction, but it has proved me wrong.

I decided that I needed to pull back from my online explorations in order to keep my focus on my family, which has meant a bit less writing. The balance is what is important.

After a strike of inspiration this summer, I found that not only could I create my own webcomic, but I could get it published twice a week at the large regional newspaper as a way to use humor to talk about education and technology. (http://sites.google.com/site/booleansquared/)

Kevin teaches sixth grade in Southampton, Massachusetts, and is the technology liaison with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. He’s interested in technology as a way to engage his students in publishing, collaboration and connecting with the world.

Jerry Swiatek

In 2008, I’ve learned that, although my opportunities for professional development in my district are a bit limited (a few conferences here and there), the opportunities for PD in my Personal Learning Network (PLN) are endless. This year, I have attended conferences in Shanghai, China, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California and other parts unknown all from the comfort of my office chair…I attended all of them virtually via UStream.tv.

I learned that blogging is a very important part of my job, not only to model for my faculty, but also to make connections world-wide that would not have been possible otherwise.

I also learned that I love presenting. I’ve had several opportunities this year to present many different types of technology at a couple of conferences and also to teachers in my district and I’ve enjoyed it tremendously.

Oh yeah…one more thing. I’ve also learned that, although I do not teach ELL, ESL or EFL students, the tools that Larry Ferlazzo has taken the time to research and present to the world have been invaluable to myself and my teachers. Thank you Larry for everything you do. We appreciate it VERY much. Have a fantastic 2009!

Jerry is a Technology Specialist at a public high school in Florida.

Denis McCarthy:

1. Good intentions are not a substitute for skill.
2. “If it is important do it every day, if it is not important don’t do it at all” Dan Gable
3. Sometime it never stops hurting, you just have to keep doing it.

Cassy:

In 2008, I started a blog and learned about feeds, widgets, embedding content, stats, and all things “blog-ish”.  I learned both how large and small this world is, how easy it is to reach out to folks on the other side of the world.  There is so much to read and do;  I learned I want to know more.

Janet Bianchini

In 2008 I learned that there was so much that I didn’t know simply because I hadn’t been looking for it. When I started my blog in November 2008 it was with some trepidation as I had no idea what the outcome would be. I took the proverbial bull by the horns and did it. Well, I can honestly say that facing the unknown proved to be a good learning curve for me and it has left me with a taste to try out other new tools such as podcasting and wikis.

This time last year I was a bit of a technophobe but thanks to innovative sites such as yours, Larry, I was able to experiment with and embrace a new technological world. I am very grateful to you for this “awakening”.

Thanks for sharing your year-end reflections. I hope everyone who contributed to this post, and the many who are reading it, will choose to share their weekly reflections during 2009 at Day/Week In A Sentence at Kevin’s Meandering Mind.  Kevin has also just put out a call for Year In A Sentence.

Also, please feel free to share additional year-end thoughts in the comments section on what you’ve learned in 2008.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

6 Comments

  1. In 2008 I learned that there was so much that I didn’t know simply because I hadn’t been looking for it. When I started my blog in November 2008 it was with some trepidation as I had no idea what the outcome would be. I took the proverbial bull by the horns and did it. Well, I can honestly say that facing the unknown proved to be a good learning curve for me and it has left me with a taste to try out other new tools such as podcasting and wikis.

    This time last year I was a bit of a technophobe but thanks to innovative sites such as yours, Larry, I was able to experiment with and embrace a new technological world. I am very grateful to you for this “awakening”.

  2. I just put out the call for Year in a Sentence, if anyone is interested.

    http://tinyurl.com/9xawja

    You are all cordially and warmly welcomed.
    Kevin

    PS — great reflections here, Larry.

  3. This years thoughts, ideas, and opportunities for collaborative learning, educational networking, and personal, collective (seems paradoxical) intelligence increased exponentially. I learned/re-learned to be willing to share everything and re-conceptualized my ideas about what “ownership” really means. But I also learned to be selective and strategic in what I put out into the universe. I ask myself, “What are my intentions and whose needs will it address?” “Will this information have the ability to enhance the practice, discipline, and professionalism of education?”

  4. This year I learned a lot! I went from teaching 5th grade in a low-income neighborhood to teaching high school ESL in a rich private school. Here’s what I’ve learned:
    1. Teaching elementary has prepared me way more than I thought for teaching high school. I come to my content with a broad base of knowledge, loads of vocabulary strategies and lots of tech ideas.
    2. Doesn’t matter if you’re in a “poor” school or “rich” school, people will always complain about never having enough resources to do the “right thing”. My question is: “What have you done with what you’ve been given?”
    3. Teaching point of view as an actual skill changes your classroom. It doesn’t just affect reading or social studies, it affects how students view each other, you and the world in general.

  5. Larry
    Since my initial reply to your question on Learning in 2008, I have had a bit of time to let things gel a bit more. If I were to pull all of my learning together, the common theme would be developing my own personal PLN.
    Envision all of the tools and skills, we learned and developed, as balloons with long colorful strings and the PLN as the hand that holds them together, passing them from one person to another.

  6. I’ve enjoyed reading these comments this morning. Very insightful.

    I second Jackie’s comments above about sharing. I’m always enlived when educators begin opening the doors of both their classrooms, their ideas, the resources to the teaching / learning community “en large”.

    I learnt (more than ever) that it is sooo hard to get teachers to throw off their old notions of what teaching is (acquired through thousands of hours of observation/participation as students). So hard to retool the mind. We teach as we were taught and it is only the brave, the patient and the stubborn and persistent who do end up changing.

    Coupled with that, I learned how whenever I explore or bring up the notion of the 2nd language learner as being “learning disabled”, I get a lot of negative energy, thoughts thrown back at me. I don’t know why but I think it has something to do with how we defend those notions entrenched in our head as to what learning/education is. I look forward to exploring more and promoting more the idea that 2nd language learners are “disabled”, as a framework for better teaching practice, this “new” year….

    A great New Year to all.

    David
    http://eflclassroom.ning.com

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