Friday, April 3, 2009

Just A Schema Dreama

I love alliteration. In fact, I recently created the first Alliteration Poetry Slam in the program in which I teach, which was pretty enthusiastically received by students and staff. So when I read Debbie Miller’s nugget of wisdom related to explicit modeling in Reading With Meaning (Stenhouse, 2002)—“proper planning prevents poor performance”—it pressed the on-button of my schema, my background knowledge, to make a meaningful connection. “Explicit modeling requires thoughtful planning,” she writes. We’ve all winged it at times in our storied teaching careers, but do not attempt this approach when it comes to modeling our thinking for our very impressionable students. She couldn’t be more right on the money. These are the years during which we as teachers have a fantastic opportunity to imprint our kids with thinking strategies that will last a lifetime. We’ve got the chance before us to mold their pathways of thought by modeling ours. Is this wing-it time? Heck no.

I love Miller’s comparison of book shopping to clothes shopping. Talk about tapping into my glorified schema of retail therapy. If we don’t select books intelligently – meaning yes, we’ve got to try them on to be sure we can make authentic connections with them – then they’re sure to remain the books that sit on our shelves with stiff, intact spines and pristine pages. Unopened, unused, undiscovered, unloved. I'm describing the books, but we might also use these words to describe the minds of the children we’re being paid to shape. Interesting.

In my current teaching setting, I am working with students who generally have a hard time using schema. They have weak literacy backgrounds, combined with a lack of enriching life experiences that we hope teenagers would have at this point in their lives. There’s less with which to connect. As a teacher, I realize that I have two choices: give it my best shot and model authentic questions, connections and inferences, using texts my students are more likely to relate to; or not. I have to go with the first option. After all, time spent in lock-up counts as gaining personal experience. We can start preparing them for future connections by building schema right here, right now.

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