Welcome to Mr. Sullivan’s blog–or digital sandbox, if you will, at Suffield Academy. Why crowsnest? If you were standing in our classroom and looking west out of our windows, the logic of sanctifying our learning space with this literary name would strike you immediately. From our perch, we can see most of campus, Bell Hill, and the beautiful Metacomet ridge, which frames our glorious sunsets. That said, Crowsnest is also a better name than Mast-Head, which comes from Melville’s masterpiece. And just as Ishmael finds the look-out of a whaling ship to be transcendent, contempative, heroic and platonic experience, hopefully students find the learning and all of the vistas of our curriculum in our classroom just as rich and rewarding.
Another way to appreciate the name of our classroom is to reread Emily Dickinson’s poem, I Dwell in Possibility, which she claims is a fairer house than prose. So too do I hope to establish a classroom where students can learning can reach all sorts of possible depths. So, we all work together in a Crowsnest.
Crowsnest is also a cool 19th century idea for what I like to do with 21st century technology in an English classroom. As a class, we chart our course through an era of literature. Then, as individuals, students are charged to find patterns (motifs), which they must explain and show how they made the discovery. The more passion, the better the find and eventual explanation. Thus, individuals read texts independently and now have a stake (or share, to borrow whaling terminology) to express what they found to the rest of the crew. So we all working in our shared enterprise. Enjoy this blog that blends the inquiries and discoveries of all my classes. If you are new to blogs, this blog is organized by the content being categorized, tagged, and dated.
All students writing for the blog, should apply sandbox rules: be creative, act collaboratively and play fairly; or, in the words of his Holiness, the 14th Dali Lama, before participating on this blog, consider one’s contribution to be sure it is useful and kind.
Beyond this blog for all of my classes, there are individual wiki and web pages for each class’ curriculum. I foresee each class wiki page becoming a digital notebook or an intellectual sandbox where we create meaningful connections with our curriculum in a collaborative environment. The blog can become a transparent write-read-write environment for our curriculum. Most importantly, students will experience our curriculum through this digital medium. We will use the blog for all sorts of writing projects. We will try to create a “read/write/read environment” (Will Richardson) with this one blog.
Let’s appreciate the wonder of learning this year with a celebration image from N C Wyeth’s The Giant. Here’s to happy and productive play!
Rituals and methods: I first started using the “think, pair, share” method during the first year of my teaching, when I was fortunate to attend a “Teacher/Coach” conference hosted by David Mallery. I was amazed at how naturally he orchestrated the room with this teaching strategy. Over the years and getting in touch with my love of history, I now call these “think, pair, share” moments coffee talks, given the important history of cultural discussions over coffee. I was even more fortunate to attend David Mallery’s week-long Westtown Conference, which from the start of my career taught me the valuable lesson of getting off campus for professional development and networking with other brains. I now appreciate the time I spend with my CAIS Colleagues (#CAISCT) on the Commission of Professional Development.
Classroom climate and rituals: After a friendly greeting, I like to begin class with discussions about topics from other classes, current events, or community news, and when I have everyone in front of me or know about their whereabouts, begin class. During class I utilize the phrases “be useful and kind” and “one conversation” to sustain good classroom climate. I like to close by saying ritualistically, “Be well, do good work, and get some sleep.” Then folks can pack up! Project-based learning on larger scales have helped me over the years find ways to capitalize on smaller #PBL moments to help students dive deeper into a piece of curriculum. The more I teach, the more respect I have for the scenario where students are responsible (hopefully the more authentic, the better) to show what they learned and how they learned it. For instance, in the last few years, Google Docs allowed me to ask students to do this in a think, pair, and share in Google Doc. Likewise, asking a small group discussion to crystalize their take-away (old school exit ticket) into a tweet for the classroom twitter account or, if a project progresses well, ask students to do a larger scale project like make an infographic on Canva https://www.canva.com/ to show what they learned and how they learned it. I also use Rockwell Kent’s image of Ishmael throughout my digital learning environments to celebrate the emotional intensity of discovery. And just as the philosophical Ishmael enjoys his view from the Masthead, he and the others are incentivized to read the surface of the deep and share signs of a whale (share what they learn and show how they learned it), which is why I want students to appreciate the process of sharing their discoveries.
Another PBL lens that informs my teaching is placed-based learning, which was introduced to me formally by Rocky who gave me this great text, Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities. For instance, when I utilize American art to help students gain an understanding of romanticism, realism, and modernism in American cultural history, I will also utilize building on and around campus to show each era’s influence. I have discovered that the more students can gain a deeper appreciation for their campus and current “place,” the more likely they will become future preservationist and their own poets of place wherever their careers take them. Now I challenge my American Studies with a local history mystery every year, and even before we start our investigation, they are scheduled to present to the town’s local historical society. This multimedia program becomes an authentic assessment as well as a great community moment.
I now look forward to trying to find a way to adopt Sobel’s idea of challenging students to “creat[e] raised relief maps and contour maps” of our campus (390 acres) as well as special places in our community as a way “to develop visual literacy and spatial reasoning skills” and foster deeper relationships to our community. https://www.antioch.edu/new-england/faculty/david-sobel/
; ) Here is the writing exercise to help you remember about the importance of having your book in class. W.S.Writing.Reminder.Bring.Book