The Heart of Teaching offers practical guidance in designing lessons and classroom activities that are powerfully effective for all types of students, including those placed at risk of educational failure due to linguistic, socioeconomic, racial, and geographic factors. The approach is easily geared to standards and can be used to strengthen and enrich scripted lessons or mandated curricular units. With a strong emphasis on literacy, the book shows teachers how to assess a lesson plan and then how to design activities and exercises that can meaningfully engage all students, even those who have difficulty in school. The book also shows teachers how to use learning centers for differentiating lessons and for breaking the classroom into small, participatory settings.
About the Author
Audrey J. Sirota is a veteran teacher, educational consultant, trainer, and staff developer. She served with the Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence (CREDE), where she conducted training programs for in-service and pre-service teachers and advised districts on staff development approaches.
Laura Ianacone Taschek, a daughter, granddaughter, and niece of teachers, teaches social studies at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she also serves as a mentor teacher. Before beginning her graduate studies, she worked at the National Clearing House for Bilingual Education. She received her master’s degree in secondary education from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1998, also serving as a teaching assistant for Audrey Sirota and others, and began her teaching career at Half Moon Bay High School in the Cabrillo Unified School District in Half Moon Bay, California.
Read an Excerpt
The Heart of Teaching
By Audrey J. Sirota
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7879-7802-7
Chapter OneTeachers and Students Producing Together Joint Productive Activity-Collaboration or Bust!
I've learned that success in the workplace only comes from working in teams. You can't do it alone.
Heidi Miller, named one of the most powerful U.S. businesswomen by Fortune magazine
Joint productive activities are experiences that require people to work together collaboratively, depending on each other and using each person's expertise. We are all socially and culturally accustomed to this type of interdependent learning; this our natural way of being human. Unfortunately, the frequency of joint productive activities declines as children progress through school, so that by high school, it is uncommon. Yet in the twenty-first century, this interdependence is a requirement for our global society. This chapter explains why collaborative learning approaches are important with adolescent students and how these can succeed in the classroom. Teaching using joint activities is fundamental to many of the lessons presented throughout this book.
Joint productive activities can help teachers diversify the learning that takes place in high school classrooms. These activities can be accomplished in pairs, small groups, or the whole class as a group. They can be as simple as asking students in pairs to discuss a question during a lecture, a strategy referred to as think pair share or pair share throughout the book. During a recent lecture in a tenth-grade world history class, the teacher was discussing the effects of the industrial revolution in Europe, Japan, and the United States. After every ten minutes of the lecture, she would ask students to turn to their partner and discuss a prediction, summarization, or clarification question such as, "What impact do you think the industrial revolution had on schools-on how students were educated?" The product was simply students sharing their ideas with each other.
This same teacher also had her class participate in a whole-group joint activity by having each student write a part of a class book titled The Effects of the Industrial Revolution on Europe, Japan, and the United States. The entire class had to contribute a piece of the text to make it flow smoothly. They also had to work as a thirty-two-person team to create charts that compared and contrasted the effects on the different countries. Joint productive activities can occur within a short period of time, as evidenced in the pair share discussions. Conversely, they can take up large amounts of time and energy, as in the creation of the class book. The salient features are that joint productive activities require students to talk and work with each other on a product that is meaningful and leads to growth. The teacher is present to support students' development.
Joint activities can easily be implemented through the use of classroom learning centers, which are a series of different activities that occur simultaneously in the classroom. For example, one history teacher uses learning centers to teach students about the major world wars. As you walk into his class, students are clustered in small groups, each working on a specific task related to one of the unit themes, such as the political, social, and economic ramifications of war. Learning centers allow teachers to create diversified learning experiences within a curricular unit. (The full implementation of learning centers is discussed in Appendix 1.)
Research Support for Joint Productive Activities
Provided that essential elements are in place, a number of research studies in K-12 classrooms, in very diverse settings and across many content areas, have shown that students engaged in joint productive activities (or cooperative learning groups) consistently benefit. They have higher academic test scores, greater comprehension of the content and skills they are studying, higher self-esteem, larger numbers of positive social skills, and fewer stereotypes of persons from different races or ethnic groups.
When researchers Springer, Stanne, and Donovan analyzed collaborative, small-group instruction in math and science undergraduate college courses, they saw remarkable improvements in academic achievement, attitudes toward learning, and perseverance through college programs. They recommended the widespread implementation of this type of teaching. It is no surprise, then, that several programs and models listed in the U.S. Secretary of Education's High School Leadership Summit emphasize cooperative learning projects, Socratic questioning between teachers and students, and collaborative, project-based learning activities. Clearly, incorporating joint activities into classes is not only a service to our students but a gift to society.
Research on cooperative learning consistently demonstrates positive academic and social gains. August and Hakuta report that students who participate cross-racially increase their academic achievement, motivation, self-esteem, and empathic development. Kagan notes, "The lowest achieving students and minority students in general benefit most, but the benefit obtained for the lower achievers is not bought at the expense of the higher achievers; the high achieving students generally perform as well or better in cooperative classrooms than they do in traditional classrooms." Kagan further purports that improvements in ethnic relations were greater than any other outcome. Thus, the research points to the importance of incorporating joint activities into the curriculum.
Working with Adolescents
Frequently teachers complain, "Let's be honest. Many of my high school kids hate working together. They are always fighting about something or with someone." It is true that joint productive activities can be fraught with conflict. All of life, in fact, can be full of conflict. One of the goals of joint productive activities is to encourage students to do what they do naturally outside the classroom walls: socialize, discuss, argue, agree, and arrive at resolution. Provided teachers have a clear, consistent classroom management system in place, students react positively and with much enthusiasm to joint activities (collaborative learning experiences). They especially appreciate the autonomy, the in-depth exploration of the subject matter, and the opportunity to work through different media such as the arts.
(For a more thorough discussion of management issues, see Appendix 1.)
During the 1998-2000 school years, at several northern California high schools, approximately 150 students in eight different classes were asked to complete a survey about their experiences with joint activities. Sometimes the activities were whole-group projects; other times, students were participating in small-group projects or engaged in learning center work. Overwhelmingly, the majority of students surveyed felt that they were learning about "real" things. As they made connections to their own lives, learning became more meaningful to them. In one survey form, a student commented, "I noticed people having conversations about the subjects and actually putting some intelligent thought into it!"
The students seemed to be connecting with each other and the material. When reflecting about a joint activity on slavery during the Civil War, a student wrote, "What I liked about this activity was the feeling the readings gave you. They described the slaves' feelings about how they were being treated. We actually discussed and imagined how we would feel if we were being treated like that. It wasn't just like reading my homework anymore. We're talking about people and their lives here."
The teachers of these classes began to experiment with collaborative activities and learning centers in order to increase student participation and motivation. As one teacher explains, they wanted to make school meaningful for their students. Teachers become enamored with joint activities when they observe students engaging in the activities: "When we saw Laura's students actually doing the activities, discussing the ideas, and coming up with thoughtful solutions to complex environmental problems, we were sold. We decided to immediately revisit our next unit, reduce the time we spent lecturing, and increase the time students would be working on a project. The results are consistently gratifying. Students are turning in better work, asking thoughtful questions, and connecting with the material in a more engaged way. We feel like they are here, ready to work and be challenged."
Creating Lessons with Joint Activities
In order to have successful joint productive activities, it is critical to have specific elements in place. Many teachers assume that they merely provide the directions and materials and then are able to spend some time grading homework papers while students work. This is a false assumption. In a joint productive activity, the teacher has a critical role and is integral to the learning process. The teacher is both a collaborator and a facilitator. The teacher acts more like a coach than a lecturer. However, since the teacher knows the material well, she becomes a valuable resource for the different groups.
For students to be successful at joint productive activities, they need the teacher to answer questions, clarify directions, offer content expertise, help mediate problems or conflicts, and model appropriate social and academic behaviors. The students can provide modeling and content knowledge for each other as well. However, they will only be able to take each other to a certain level of understanding and knowledge. It is the teacher who can often take them one step further into uncharted, unexplored territories of learning.
The teacher needs to introduce the students to the activity by clarifying the goals. Often the difference between a successful lesson and an unsuccessful one is the presence of a clearly defined goal and tangible learning objectives. Students must believe the work that they are doing is meaningful and relevant to their lives. They must have access to clearly defined instructions, know how the groups will be chosen, understand how they are going to be evaluated both as a group and as individuals, and be accountable for a debriefing or reflecting on the content and process of their work.
The following elements are necessary for structuring successful joint activities:
The teacher is present as a collaborator and facilitator.
There is a clear goal with specific learning objectives.
The product or project is meaningful and relevant.
Instructions are clearly defined.
Both individuals and groups have access to assessments.
By using focus questions, which serve as a guide to design, analyze, and evaluate activities, teachers can reflect on lessons that incorporate joint activities:
* * *
Joint Activity Focus Questions
1. What is the goal of the lesson within the thematic unit?
2. How are the students co-constructing a product and sharing responsibility in the process? What is each student's part? What is the teacher's part? What is the co-constructed product?
3. What role does conversation or dialogue play? What academic language and concepts are students expected to use as they work?
4. What new knowledge and skills are students acquiring?
5. What changes could be made to make the lesson stronger and more meaningful?
* * *
Teachers can easily identify if they have defined a clear goal, requested a meaningful product, and required the application of academic language. They can also reflect on changes they might make to the lesson to increase its complexity or relevance.
Assessment of Joint Activities
The options for assessment of joint activities are vast and flexible; the key issue for teachers is to think about their goals and expectations, both academic and social, before beginning a unit. Teachers can use everything from journal entries to class presentations to end-of-unit tests to assess their students' knowledge of the new material. In addition, they can require students to use the newly acquired academic language in their written work.
Many teachers associate collaborative activities with undisciplined, loud, chaotic, unstructured instruction where students spend most of their time socializing with one another. In fact, joint productive activities require clear structures and procedures as well as defined learning objectives. If a teacher is concerned about what the students are learning in joint activities, the objectives can be assessed regularly by incorporating individual quizzes and exams into the unit. Throughout the chapter, different examples are provided.
Introduction to Laura Ianacone Taschek
Laura Ianacone Taschek is a high school teacher in Virginia. We met while she was completing her master's/credential program at a university in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was inspired to learn about the five principles outlined in this book and then committed to applying these principles to her teaching. Throughout the book, she provides examples from her own teaching that illustrate how to use the principles as a framework for crafting lessons as well as a tool for lesson analysis and self-reflection.
Laura has been teaching social science since 1997. She teaches a variety of classes, including world history, world geography, global issues, and freshman studies. Throughout her career, she has been inspired by a variety of teachers in the classroom. Some offered small, successful cooperative grouping strategies where students had real conversations and truly learned. Others used a more traditional whole-group approach, inspiring students with stories and interactive discussions. She states, "What I noticed about the latter was that these incredible conversations occurred with only a few of the students-those comfortable enough to pursue a discussion in a whole-group setting. The complacent, quiet, or beginning English Language Learner didn't participate with enthusiasm or deeply discuss the subject at hand."
Laura pondered how she could create an environment where her students were inspired and motivated to learn for themselves, for the good of humanity, and not just for the grade. She continues:
In my Global Issues classes, there are limitless possibilities for topics: war, peace, international cooperation, and human rights-important life topics. But my students for the most part were unenthused, accomplishing only the minimum work required. Where was the enthusiasm? Why didn't my students share my excitement? The students pursued their schoolwork and participated in classroom discussions in a mechanical fashion. How can I reach my students' various learning and motivation levels?
These questions about teaching and learning brought Laura to a central question-"How can I make learning more meaningful to my students?"-which sparked a conversation that initiated the first joint activities and learning centers in her classroom. Learning center activities, based on a thematic unit, provide a successful format for implementing the five principles. Joint activities and learning centers offer students choice and flexibility. Students can work with their peers to determine the time line, focus of study, and solutions to complex problems. Laura testifies:
The majority of my students look forward to the joint activities that are challenging, demand participation and sharing, tap into their experiences and knowledge, and teach academic concepts in a rigorous yet meaningful manner. They find them interesting and fun. They really enjoy working with their peers. The only complaint has been from a small, select group of students who find fault "with having to work and think." They state up front that they like to lay back and do nothing while the teacher talks. I believe the most effective instruction I can provide is to blend both joint activities in learning centers and direct instruction through mini-lectures.
So even during her lectures, Laura weaves in joint activities such as pair share. She discusses an important point and then turns to her students and asks them, with a partner, to discuss a pertinent question or concept.
Excerpted from The Heart of Teaching by Audrey J. Sirota Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
List of Tables, Figures, Exhibits, and Handouts.
Foreword by Roland Tharp.
Introduction: Creating a Meaningful Classroom Environment.
Opportunities and Challenges.
1. Teachers and Students Producing Together: Joint Productive Activity—Collaboration or Bust!
Research Support for Joint Productive Activities.
Working with Adolescents.
Creating Lessons with Joint Activities.
Assessment of Joint Activities.
Introduction to Laura Ianacone Taschek.
Lessons from the Classroom.
Lesson 1: Literature, Grade 10.
Lesson 2: Biology, Grade 9.
Lesson 3: World History, Grade 10.
2. Developing Language and Literacy Across the Curriculum.
Lessons from the Classroom.
Lesson 1: Geometry, Grade 9 or 10.
Lesson 2: Earth Sciences, Grade 10 or 11.
Lesson 3: Sheltered English, Grades 9 to 12.
Lesson 4: Global Studies, Grades 11 and 12.
3. Contextualization or Making Meaning: Connecting School to Students’ Lives.
Contextualizing Instruction Within the Community.
Contextualizing Lessons and Activities.
Lessons from the Classroom.
Lesson 1: Language Arts/History, Grade 8.
Lesson 2: Biology, Grade 9 or 10.
Lesson 3: World History/Geography, Grades 9 and 10.
Lesson 4: History/Social Studies, Grade 9 or 10.
4. Challenging Activities: Teaching Complex Thinking.
Lessons from the Classroom.
Lesson 1: Literature, Grade 9 or 10.
Lesson 2: Social Science, Grades 9 to 11.
Lesson 3: Trigonometry, Grade 11.
Lesson 4: Writing Research Papers, Grades 9 to 12.
5. Teaching Through Dialogue: The Instructional Conversation.
The Teacher’s Role.
Planning Lessons with Instructional Conversations.
Benefits of the Instructional Conversation.
Structuring the Instructional Conversation.
Organizing Conversational Activities.
Lessons from the Classroom.
Lesson 1: Biology, Grades 10 and 11.
Lesson 2: Global Studies, Grades 10 to 12.
Conclusion: A Model of Assistance.
Appendix 1: Creating and Managing Classroom Learning Centers.
Organizing the Centers.
Group Management and Discipline.
Scheduling Center Activities.
Learning Center Assessment.
Appendix 2: Laurellos Castle.
Appendix 3: Tibet Questions Graphic Organizer.
What People are Saying About This
"Teaching is both mind and heart, and to achieve its nobility, it must be practiced with both. The teaching approach made visible in this book offers not only inspiration but practical guides to action."
From the Foreword by Roland Tharp, founding director of the Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence
"Audrey Sirota has fashioned a high school/middle school guide for educators utilizing practical idealism on how to achieve positive results with multilevel students. Teachers in any classroom will benefit from Sirota’s concise distillation of five essential teaching principles."
Krissy Bartlett, high school English teacher, Virginia
"This is a must-have book for teachers in any content area, at any grade levelespecially teachers of second language learners. It provides specific, practical information and ideas using critical elements for developing language and higher-level thinking skills."
Maria Elena Garcia, school improvement administrator, Educational Service District 123, Pasco, Washington
"This book serves as a guide for teachers and teacher mentors at the middle school and secondary level as to how to teach so that all of our students can be successful in our schools."
Noni Mendoza Reis, chair, Department of Education Leadership, San Jose State University, College of Education
"As a standards- and assessment-based system, I find this book to be a must-read for teachers at every level."
Andrea Buchtel, computer applications instructor and businesswoman