Tag Archives: School

Episode #3, Segment 1 – Louis Herbst on how he stumbled into teaching, the key to a good interview, why it is so great when a student says “why do we need to learn this?”, and the joys of teaching a student from 4 to 13 years old

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Louis Herbst 2

Here at The Craft, I’m interested in the stories behind teaching, learning, and schools. What attracts someone to teaching? What keeps them in the game? How do we design truly meaningful learning environments? Where is schooling going? How can we be a part of helping to guide the evolution? In the first three episodes, I have focused on collecting the stories of teachers, very different teachers, to learn a bit about how they got into teaching in the first place and what keeps them in the craft. In each episode, I also ask the teachers what they want to talk about in terms of teaching, learning, and schools. So far, we’ve hung out with David Sokoloff, a Philly public school history teacher, and talked about the relationship between space and learning. We met with Amy Lafty, an Archdioscese English teacher, and learned about the challenges of being a mom-teacher, her push for project-based learning, and the phenomenon of prom. Now, hot off the USB microphone, we have Louis Herbst, a Swiss Army knife of a teacher, having taught everything from 6th grade social studies to PreK through 8th grade PE as well as serving as the athletic director, the afterschool enrichment coordinator, and summer camp director at United Friends School. We caught Louis just days before he jumped in his car with his wife and young son to head out to Scattergood Friends where he now is the Academic Dean at Scattergood Friends.Louis Herbst portrait

The truly dynamic teachers tend to be the ones who do not go into teaching through the traditional routes. I’m not talking about getting certified through Teach for America instead of the State. I’m talking about life trajectory. In this episode, you’ll hear a bit about Louis’ turbulent middle and high school experience and how that nudged him into teaching. You’ll also hear a bit about a really interesting non-profit he started in his undergraduate work that further pushed him towards teaching. Dynamic teachers also tend to not perpetuate the status quo. Louis’ rather unorthodox approach to the interview that landed him the job at United Friends is proof of that.

One of the wonderful things about Louis’ job at United Friends was that he had the chance to teach the same kids from 4 years old to 13, so he got to watch them learn how to tie their shoes and learn how to navigate the sometimes turbulent waters of adolescents. Louis shares a bit about how this experience has shaped him.

Because the conversation with Louis was so rich, I am going to divide up the episode into 3 bite-sized segments, each of around 20 minutes or so. Perfect accompaniment to a jog or a drive to work! In the first segment, we get to hear about Louis’ rather turbulent middle and high school experience that pushed him into teaching, his unorthodox interview tactic that involved robots and Henry Box Brown that helped him land his job at United Friends, what it is like to be able to teach a child from 4 to 13 years old, and why it is so great when a student asks “why do we need to learn this?” Enjoy!

 

Writing Fairy Tales with Third Graders

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Rapunzel

Fairy Tales. What a cool form to explore with third graders. Magic. Good vs. Evil. A terrible problem that works out in the end. Right up the alley of 8 and 9 year olds who are more than willing to live in secondary worlds. I recently had the chance to open up the idea of writing fairy tales with a third grade class. The class was in the midst of writing various forms of short stories involving a classroom character that they had developed by the name of Kaitlyn Rose Anderson. The teacher wanted to challenge the students to write their own fairy tales involving Kaitlyn Rose, thus transferring what they know about the character into a completely new context – lots of potential for convergent and divergent thinking and writing to happen.

We started our exploration by doing a quick writing warm up: Make a list of names you’d like to be called. Here’s mine:

Frankenleif

The Stitler

Goose

Das Leifster

Foam

Nutty Nut

Longenfreugen

Nipsy

Stinky the Nudge

Partical Man

Pentagon

Limpy

Salty

Nimble Thimble

Of course, some students made a list of a names they don’t want to be called. Always good to break the rules in meaningful ways! Here are a few that made me pause:

Stupid

Unpopular

If that isn’t a window into where the third graders are right now, I don’t know what is!

After we wiggled our elbows for a good three or so minutes, I asked the students to pick their top three names off the list and to share those names with the person next to them. Laughter ensued along with many students saying how much they liked a name that was offered. We were definitely headed in the right direction. Our minds and hands were warmed up, and we had a good laugh. Once students shared their top three names, I mentioned how writers will often make lists of potential names for characters in their stories. I hinted that they may want to use some of these names in the story that we were going to write.

From there, we moved into exploring fairy tales specifically. I asked them what a fairy tale was, and with very little hesitation, hands raised. Through this conversation, we came up with a pretty sophisticated list of fairy tale characteristics.Characteristics of a Fairy Tale

I then asked them to come on over to the rug so that I could read them a fairy tale. They all scrambled over and we strategized together how to sit so that everyone could see – a classic challenge for young kids. Once folks were settled, I asked them to listen closely to the story to see if our list of characteristics stood up and to see if we needed to add anything to the list. I picked up Rumpelstiltskin by Paul O. Zelinsky, showed the front cover, read the acknowledgement, and began the story. The students loved it. I got the sense that several of them had never heard Rumpelstiltskin before. They pleaded with their classmates to not give up what happened next. They identified the king as a bad man but then wondered if the beautiful daughter would be able to change him over time. The room was mixed in terms of whether the daughter should marry the king. The students thought Rumpelstiltskin was pretty scary.

RumpelstiltskinWith a turn of the final page and a show of the back of the book, I then asked them if there was anything that we wanted to add to our list of fairy tale characteristics. The students identified two: The challenge or problem grows, and there is repetition. One student pointed out, “And the repetition can be things that characters say or do.” Good point. I added those two important qualities to the list.

I could tell that the students were itching to get started. Before we could jump to writing our own fairy tales, though, we needed to spend just a few minutes talking about this great classroom character that they had created. I wanted to make sure that she was in the front of their minds as they took on the challenge of writing their own fairy tale. We put the classroom character up on the smartboard, and I asked them to tell me a bit about Kaitlyn Rose Anderson. The students shared particular character traits that stuck out. They talked a bit about the stories that they had already written. I asked them to tell me the names of some of the other characters in those stories. The students mentioned Kaitlyn’s sister. I suggested that they may want to include these characters in the fairy tale. I also suggested that they may want to take a fairy tale that they know and write Kaitlyn into it. I posed the question: What would happen if Kaitlyn was in Rumpelstiltskin? There was a buzz. One student asked, “Can I write the next chapter of Rumpelstiltskin?” I nodded. Another student clapped her hands together, “Can I mash a bunch of fairy tales together and see what happens?” The class loved that idea. And with that, I sent them back to their writing tables.Kaitlyn Rose Anderson

Just before we got started, the teacher piped up, “What other fairy tales do we know?” The group came up with a long list. Fairy tales were definitely in their minds. They were ready to write.

I posed the challenge to them: write a fairy tale that involves Kaitlyn Rose Anderson as a main character in the story. Before I sent them off to their writing spaces, I mentioned that one of the great things about fairy tales is that they kind of supply the opening line for us, so we don’t need to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to start. I encouraged them to literally take the first line out of Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, or Kate and the Beanstalk, and see where the writing takes them.

Once there was a poor X who had a beautiful X.

Long ago, a girl named X lived with her mother in a X.

In a time not too long ago and in a land much like our own, there lived a X and a X.

Students were already scribbling away, so I stepped aside, got out my own pad of paper, and let them write.

At first there was a bit of chatter. Students were looking at each other’s writing, pointing out how to spell a word, asking a question, flipping through the pages of Rumpelstiltskin for inspiration or just to figure out how to spell the name. After a bit, I coached, “Let’s put all of that talking energy down on the paper. Work to answer your questions through the writing. See if you can fill a page.” The room quieted down, and you could practically feel the focus in the room.

About ten minutes in, I broke the silence, and suggested some ways to keep going: “If you are finding yourself thinking a lot instead of writing, take a look over here at our list of fairy tale characteristics.” I pointed to the list.  “They might give you some ideas on where to go next. For example, is your problem growing? Where is the repetition? Do you have a bad character? Another thing to do is to read what you have written. Just by doing that, you will probably find what needs to be written next.” I looked out over the group, “I also like how some of you are going back to your first story and reminding yourself of what you wrote. I can see how that might trigger an idea or two as well.” I clapped my hands, “Alright, back to it. Let’s see if we can write for another five minutes or so.” The students put their heads back down and went back to writing.

Writing Fairy TalesBefore we knew it, the time was up. I needed to leave, and the kids needed to go to lunch. On the way out, I touched base with the teacher, and the plan is to give them a chance to read what they had written so that they can immediately hear the possibility in the writing. Looking beyond that, the students will get a chance to choose one of three drafts of different stories involving Kaitlyn Rose Anderson that they will get the chance to revise, edit, and publish. Not a bad use of an hour of class time if you ask me!

Twenty Signs of a Real World Classroom or How to Avoid Schoolification

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bored student

One thing I love about teaching – good teaching – is that it is inherently subversive. Good teaching challenges the status quo because deep learning is subversive as well. Developing enduring understandings never happens by the book. It happens in times of real world engagement, when what we think we know is challenged, and we need to adapt and modify in order to make something significant happen in that real world. Too often we lose sight of this in schools. Instead, we spend all of our mental and physical energy designing teaching and learning to be the exact opposite of subversive. We work, against our better judgement, to sanitize the learning, to make it predictable and safe. And we have many forces at work encouraging us, even supporting us, to do this: scripted curricula, overuse of standardized tests to measure learning, large class sizes, etc. In this kind of environment, it is easy to schoolify learning. Schoolification is when we take a real-world practice (e.g. writing, geometry, physics), and we remove any of the real-worldness out of it to manage it as a subject instead of treating it as a way of being in the world. Ironically, what we need to be doing in schools is designing learning to not look, sound, or feel anything like what students and teachers commonly define school as and instead create learning opportunities that more closely reflect how we develop understandings and make things happen in the world. We need to do this not only because it is the way we truly learn but also because schoolification has a tendency to encourage several nasty habits: a fixed-mindset and co-dependent behavior when it comes to learning, and lack of resiliency when it comes to challenges. So, in an effort to support learning environments that foster creative, risk-taking, and persistent teachers and students, here is a list of  20 signs that you are designing a real world classroom.

  1. The culmination of schoolwork is designed to be put back out in the world in a meaningful way through performance, publication, community engagement, etc.

  2. Textbooks are viewed as one of many resources students can use to develop purposeful understandings

  3. Teachers use the word “uncover” when talking about teaching and learning

  4. The majority of the work is appropriative, meaning students are being “specialists” in the field – scientists, mathematicians, writers, historians, artists, linguists – rather than students of subjects

  5. Teachers are positioned as these specialists too, living the life of a scientist, for example

  6. Lessons and/or units are contiguous. They are connected and build on one another. Students are expected to be able to bridge skills and concepts from one unit to another

  7. Students want to keep their work from past units because it is useful in the present

  8. Teachers and students find multiple uses for work

  9. The teacher finds him or herself grading different pieces of work from all of his or her students in a given unit, making it a learning opportunity for the teacher

  10. Difficulty, challenge, and obstacles are purposefully constructed and celebrated because teachers and students know that life is a series of difficulties, challenges, and obstacles

  11. These difficulties, challenges, and obstacles are solved collaboratively

  12. Teachers and students work together. The teacher is doing the same work as the students because the project is genuinely interesting to him/her as well

  13. The teacher is a learner and the students are teachers

  14. The teacher is often heard saying things like “I’m not sure. What do you think?” or “How could we figure that out?” or “What kind of work could you do that would help you figure out how to answer that?”

  15. Questions are celebrated and answered by the group

  16. Teacher provides scaffolding for projects, coaching students along the way, creating avenues for students to share progress, ask questions, discuss models, and collaboratively solve problems

  17. Evaluation is constructive and focuses on quality criteria – what does strong work look like in this vein?

  18. Teachers and students see real world performances as a source for evaluative feedback and create opportunities for purposeful reflection on these events

  19. Teachers and students are constantly looking at models of the kind of work that they want to do

  20. The germ for the idea for a unit comes from a challenge or a project that the class wants to take on. It is borne out of the heads of the teacher and/or students

Episode #1 – Space with David Sokoloff

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david sokoloffWelcome to the first ever episode of The Craft! This podcast is dedicated to all things teaching, learning, and school. It’s a place to celebrate the amazing things that are happening in our schools, to unravel the complexities, and to get to know the folks that make learning happen every day – teachers, students, parents, administrators, legislators, activists. The hope is that The Craft is a small cog in a larger vehicle pushing us forward as a society.

See the guy in the picture with his arms raised? That’s David Sokoloff. Fourth year teacher, teaching in a large, comprehensive public high school in Philadelphia. He is a thinker, a doer. He cares deeply about teaching and learning. He loves his students. He’s frustrated by the current state of affairs. He wants to do better. He wants us all to do better. In this episode, you get to know David, one of many, many teachers in the School District of Philadelphia who are doing interesting and meaningful work with their students every day, in the midst of rooms that don’t lock, lack of heat, absence of technology, overcrowding, and lowest common denominator curriculum. We talk about how painting houses in the summer led him into teaching. We talk about what keeps him in teaching and what he wishes schools could be.

Every episode of The Craft has a theme. The theme for this episode is Space. David and I dig into this idea of Space as it relates to teaching, learning, and school: the classroom as space; the possibility of brick and mortar schools disappearing in the next 50 years; the virtual space in education; the need to claim a space as a teacher in order to do meaningful work. We talk about it all.

We also talk about a recent report by the Center for Green Schools that claims that it will take approximately $270 billion dollars to repair our nations schools. You can find a Salon article about this issue here.  We end the show in true craft style by talking about a recent email that I received from a high school English teacher. Her seniors are having a tough time working in groups on a project that they are doing around Brave New World. Opened a perfect opportunity for David and I to talk about the need to develop the skills of working in groups with our students, and the different techniques we use to support that skill development in the classroom. You can jump over here to see the email and the response that I wrote back with a handy Group Work Checkpoint that can be used to guide students in evaluating the effectiveness of the group as they work together.

As always, I want to hear from you! Let me know what you think of the podcast. We’re just getting started here so your feedback is much appreciated. I want to make The Craft as interesting and useful as possible to as many people as possible.

Keep learning, keep teaching, keep honing your craft. david sokoloff 2

A big shout out to Chris Perrin, the DJ behind the music of Perrin & Tonic that is featured on The Craft. Check him out: https://soundcloud.com/chrisperrin