Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Different Side to Co-Teaching

My route to becoming a library media specialist was via the social studies classroom before landing in my fourth district in this brand new role. In my previous three schools I was afforded many co-teaching opportunities: with English teachers, science teachers, special education teachers, art teachers. And this occurred in an array of courses: American Studies, Environmental Studies, Art History... The common denominator? We were all classroom teachers implementing the same curriculum. As such, we co-planned integrated units, and we co-taught the classes.

For the last two days, my librarian-partner and I worked on a lesson about distinguishing journalistic news from editorial writing to be delivered to a Civics class of grade 12 students. We started by meeting with the Civics teacher to discuss her needs. We started with lesson context:

  • What was the content leading up to this exercise? (Answer: Constitution & Bill of Rights)
  • What new understandings and skills did the students need to develop during this exercise? (Answer: distinguish fact from opinion and know when each is credible)
  • What would they be doing after this exercise? (Answer: developing a voters' guide for the upcoming election)
Next question: how much time can be devoted to this experience? It is no secret that time -- or the lack of it -- is one of the big obstacles educators face. In this instance, three educators, with two related but distinct curricula are collaborating to make time for both learning expectations while keeping in mind what students need, know, and care about! (Answer: one class period)

Final point of discussion: what content should we use to illustrate different types of journalistic writing? Given the students' recent focus on the Bill of Rights, Colin Kaepernick's ongoing protest and the ripple effects from it to other athletes was an obvious choice. Free speech issues are always an interesting hook!

At this point, we (the librarians) began building the lesson. My partner had a framework with which we began. In Google slides she had a presentation that supported a discussion of the origin of Editorials and OP-ED in print newspapers. From there we identified the types of opinion writing the students would examine so they could learn to distinguish them: Editorial, OP-ED, and blog. Those three forms would be compared with a journalistic news article. Now to find the model writing samples.

We searched the library's databases, we went directly to some go-to news sites, we did savvy Google searches. There was no shortage of news articles, blogs, and OP-ED columns about the 49ers' QB. And we had many invigorating conversations along the way about free speech, about Kaepernick, about student reading levels and interest ranges, and so on. The first source we found was an essay by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar published by the Rhetorically we both really liked this writing sample, ultimate we agreed that it didn't neatly fit as a model of one of the writing styles were were trying to illustrate. Which sent us back to the digital drawing board (our Google Slides). Digital journalism is changing the news landscape and Washington Post has accommodated these outliers in a section called "PostEverything". That became our starting point.
Ultimately, we settled on a news story from CBSNews, a blog from Slate, and an OP_ED from the New York TimesTracking down an editorial proved more challenging and gave rise to interesting musings about publications not taking on the free speech issue. In my head I had one of those moments where I wished we had video recorded ourselves going through this process. What we are doing, asking each other, and discussing is EXACTLY what we wanted the students to learn to be able to do. Finally, my partner found an editorial from the LATimes that worked well and our resource curation was complete.

You are probably, at this point, thinking exactly what was nagging at the backs of our minds: how in the world did they think twenty or so 12th graders were going to unpack all of this material in 47 minutes? We decided to select representative passages from each text that showed the typical characteristics of each style of writing. Remember, we weren't trying to teach the First Amendment, we were just using the coverage of Kaepernick's protest as the vehicle to distinguish news from editorializing. We used the first and last paragraph from each source as well as one from the body of each text. For the first few, we highlighted passages to focus the students on different rhetorical and stylistic devices. For the last one, we decided to have the students identify trigger passages that gave them clues to the nature of the text. Finally, the students would discuss each collection of excerpts to determine which form of journalism it represented. The presentation ended with a set of word clouds made from each of the model texts. To close, students would make made observations about the clouds that gave them key points to remember about the writing styles.

At this point we re-convened with our Civics teacher colleague to review the plan, hear her feedback, and make any necessary modifications before we delivered this lesson in three of her classes.

My partner loaded everything into Nearpod with an embedded Google Form so we could take advantage of our new BYOD program and collect information from the students about their questions and perceptions as we worked through the material. All of this was still a lot to navigate in one class period. And, we modified the lesson a bit after each delivery once it went into practice. Since we had begun the year offering to our colleagues a professional learning session on the SAMR model, we had a quick side conversation about SAMR and whether or not this exercise meets the criteria to be considered "Modification." Or, after all of this planning, had we only managed "Augmentation"?

What did happen was a fairly well-honed lesson delivery that was the result of an intense, balanced collaboration between colleagues and constant reflection and revision based on student engagement and mastery. It was an interesting process to prepare a lesson for students I was still getting to know in someone else's class. To be a guest teacher, a co-teacher, and a digital literacy expert all at the same time! I am really enjoying this new role!

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