Tales from Tapestry University: “I’m Going to Need a Bigger Toolbag”
In Tapestry University summer classes, parent-teacher Martha Kedrovsky felt that she was being handed a whole new array of teaching tools that help her to apply Tapestry to her students’ education. Martha will need a bigger toolbag after this!
Martha explained that, “I felt like in both classes (‘Socratic Discussion Practicum’ with Sheri Payne, and ‘Teaching the Tough Books: Year 4′ with Christy Somerville) I was learning concrete tools to work on something subjective, because each student is different and so I need tools that allow me to evaluate them as individuals.”
For instance, said Martha, “It’s one thing to lead a class in Socratic discussion, but implementing discussion for a struggling student, for example, is different. What if your student struggles to take good notes? That question and several others were answered in the Socratic class, where I learned that I need to be very specific in teaching my students how to look for answers. Checking their notes before discussion may be necessary, so that I have time to address problems. I can also evaluate who the real culprit is when I see poor answers. Is it a lack of understanding the question, or is something else going on? Are they focused on main facts or minutia? Are the facts correct? Are they learning what’s important? As you can see, Socratic questioning isn’t just for them!”
“The fact that Socratic discussion is a process means that it will take time and repetition, which I find is a crucial thing for me to remember. Also, this kind of discussion may even require my physical presence alongside my student until they grasp it. My goal needs to be training them so they gain confidence in these skills, not just checking off that we completed a week’s class plan.”
“With my Rhetoric level student, I learned that the goal of analysis involves her ability to understand and engage with the discussion. The goal of synthesis requires writing for full completion, because she should be able to state reasoned answers for her beliefs.”
“Another tool I was given is that of being able to understand for myself and explain to my students why the questions are asked in one order in their Student Activity Pages, but in a different order in the discussion script. My students appreciate knowing their questions are asked in order of their reading in the Student Activity Pages, but in order of the goals of the discussion in our class script.”
Martha also mentioned the example of visual aids. “Both Christy and Sheri talked about using visual aids, and I hadn’t done that before because I only have two children: an eighth-grade daughter and a sophomore daughter. I tried doing it for my daughter and at first I had technical problems, but I asked her if we could go to my computer and use my original version. She said yes and we really enjoyed our time together. Since I only had two students (as opposed to a co-op or group class), I didn’t realize that visual aids could benefit us. However, they really do!”
“Preparing visual aids (with Google Slides) forced me to be prepared for discussion in advance, helped me understand the flow of discussion, and made it more stimulating because my students has something to look at besides me. It absolutely is an asset when discussing geography, as well. I’m a visual learner too, so I like having the slides. Overall, visual aids make discussions more enjoyable for all of us.”
The tool of visual aids was new to Martha, and so was the tool of reorganizing information for class. She said, “I learned about new ways of organizing information, such as how to compare two people in history by using a chart. The use of a chart (instead of a list) helps students identify comparisons, or make connections, that they might have missed otherwise.”
Martha received tools not only for leading discussions, but also for documenting them. “Sheri provided a helpful grading rubric for evaluating individual students’ participation in discussion. While there are several ways to determine a grade, Sheri uses a point system to that includes categories like how student questions were completed, quality and quantity of student comments, and even if the students listen and respond with respect during discussion. Sheri gave us a detailed chart for group discussions, and a much simpler format for a student or two.”
Martha also remarked that, “I felt like I learned specific tools for each class, but also all the aspects that come along with them.” Her Tapestry University teachers not only introduced tools, but explained some of their potential benefits and pitfalls, how they could be used with other tools, how some worked better for some students than others, etc. They also helped Martha to understand her own role, explaining that a teacher at the rhetoric level is like a mentor, a seasoned traveler on a journey of exploration with a younger person. The teacher in this context isn’t expected to have all the answers–which is good, because none of us do! Rather, the mentor is an older and wiser traveler, walking with the young adult who has begun to explore and join the Great Conversation.
Relating her new tools back to what she had shared in another post about being more sure of her overall goals for class, Martha said she also felt that now she is “able to be more specific in what I ask, because I’m now more sure of my objective expectations for my subjective, individual students. Hopefully they also feel more confident that when they get to discussion, the tools I that I learned and am passing on to them will make it simpler to achieve those goals.”
As you can see, Martha’s toolbag has grown considerably. Thank you for your commitment to gain new teacher skills, Martha! It was our great pleasure and privilege to serve you this year at Tapestry University.