Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Good lord. What ARE you teaching these kids?"


The Big Idea of big ideas

Part I: Overview and background knowledge

"Welcome to English class, ladies and gentlemen.  We're going to learn a lot in this class."
"Excuse me, teacher.  What are we going to learn?"
"A lot."
"Well, right, you said.  But a lot of what?"
"A lot of English."
"Okay.  Well, I already know a lot of English.  Can I go?"

We've had key ideas of classes re-packaged and re-sold to us in so many ways, it's tough to know where to begin, or what action to take.  Here, to help the confused and unwary, a brief overview of everything.

(Caveat lector:  This goes on for a while.  Only click through if you have some time on your hands.)
(Special note to education students: The definitions below appear in none of your textbooks.  If you use them on your tests, your professor will fail you.  On the other hand, the business college is always ready to take dropouts from the other schools, and I hear they pay their interns.) 

Learning overview: A list of vocabulary terms
Requisite background knowledge:

Requisite background knowledge
Key vocabulary

Key vocabulary:
Big Ideas
Key Learning Goals
Power Standards
Star Standards
Content expectations
Learning topics

Requisite background knowledge:

Requisite background knowledge--this term describes something a student needs to know going into a lesson, in order to get whatever you're teaching them.  For example, in this article, "requisite background knowledge" is requisite background knowledge.  I will be using the phrase a great deal below, so you have to know it in order to get anything else I'll be talking about.  As a counter-example, "self-referential definition" is not requisite background knowledge.  You do not have to know it, but it might be helpful.

Knowledge--Generally, a fact or an organizing principle that we want students to leave our classrooms with.  Examples include lists of vocabulary, the names of all the presidents, the identifying characteristics of post-modern literature, etc.  For my purposes, "knowledge" will be shorthand for "new knowledge," which in turn will be shorthand for "stuff we think the kids should know, but have no reason to believe they already do."

It is generally agreed that there is more knowledge than any one person can know, and that the effort to try to know everything just keeps making more stuff to know.  As a result, we have to be pretty choosy about what knowledge we want our students to know.

Skills--Physical or mental processes we want students to be able to do to some degree of mastery.  Solving quadratic equations, picking out the post-modernist poem from a pile of cheap knockoffs, and doing your makeup like Ke$ha are all examples of skills.  (Only one of them is likely to make you a millionaire, and it ain't post-modernist poetry.)  A lot of the higher-order thinking skills fit into here, as well--organize, summarize, make decisions, argue with their friends without making them their enemies, solve problems. 

Key Vocabulary--It is very possible to know how to do something without knowing what it's called.  But we're teachers.  We don't hold truck with that kind of thing.  So we have to be able to call things things, or things get confused with other things.  That's where key vocabulary comes in handy.  These are the lingo that specialists in the field use to describe objects or actions (or description words or whatever) special to that field.  For example, "quadratic" is a math vocabulary word, a word used to describe a mathematical concept which it normally takes an equation with no fewer than 3 letters, a power, AND a factor to describe.  "Quadratic" is shorter.  Speaking of which, "succinct" is an ELA vocabulary word.  It is not a KEY vocabulary word if you read Melville, Dickens, or me.  (A tendency to yammer is my only similarity to these literary greats.)

Next lesson: Key vocabulary in big ideas

(Edited right away to fix a formatting issue)


Jamie McCarthy said...

Explaining that "in this article, 'requisite background knowledge' is requisite background knowledge" falsifies it.

JohnCosby said...

I bow to the Master.