Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Revision of Model Curriculum Units, introductory talk by Meg Gebhard

(pictures from here)

October 25th and 26th educators, instructional leaders, and Department of Education staff met to continue the work on developing Model Curriculum Units through Race to the Top grant awarded the state of Massachusetts  The majority of the time was spent in small groups with fellow teachers and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) support personnel responding to a first round of revisions and finalizing a model unit.  I hope to get to that topic next post, but I wanted to do a preliminary post on the opening talk of the two days.

Participants received a compelling workshop on the role of "academic language" in the construction of knowledge and how to design curriculum that supports it development.  It was delivered by Meg Gebhard from UMass Amherst who opened with a wonderful task that got us thinking about her area of expertise, genre based pedagogy.  Here is the task:

Scenario:  Two weeks ago, I accidently ate some trail mix that had nuts in it while hiking up Mount Monadnock. I ended up in the back of an ambulance going 80 miles an hour with the sirens blaring in the middle of New Hampshire.  
Your Task:  At your table, in groups of four, take 3 minutes to begin writing (each person selects one of the following as the prompt):
  • A recount from the perspective of my 15 year-old daughter who gave me the trail mix and said it was nut free.  Pretend she posted this text to Facebook.
  • A narrative from my perspective that I might send to a magazine such as Outdoor.
  • The report the paramedic gave to the doctor at the emergency room
  • A scientific explanation of allergic reaction you might find in a biology textbook.
Share:  In your group, share your drafts.
  • Record how your texts are organized differently
  • Record how the vocabulary choices and sentence structures are different
  • Record your thoughts on the different relationship established between reader and writer in each text
  • Record the linguistic and cultural resources you drew on to get started with this task
  • Record what was hard or impossible about this task (besides time limitations)
She created an experience that situated academic language by focusing on how it uses language to convey meaning compared to other genres.  She transitioned from our writing to the demands of reading different genres and the various entry points each type of genre provides readers.  It gave this math teacher a great deal to think about as I entered into the process of revising curriculum.  What genres are being employed here? How do genres work in math?  How can students can access on the language in the directions, in a word problem, or in a textbook?  How does  my curriculum engage these genres so they are tooled to interact with them effectively both in collaboration with their peers and independently?

It was a great beginning to the two days!  Next post I will talk more in depth about the revision and finalization process.

She provided several resources on the topic that I will pass on to you:
Exploring How Texts Work, by Beverly Derewianka
Genre, Text, Grammar: Technologies for Teaching and Assessing Writing
The Language of Schooling, by Mary Schleppegrell

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