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August 21, 2015

Turn Your Summer Learnings Into a Teaching Moment

By John DePasquale
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    Summer vacation provides many teachers with time for well-deserved rest and relaxation. Some use the time to reconnect with family and friends, while the adventure seekers among us are constantly on the move. But regardless of how teachers spend their time in the summer, the learning continues. Just as we encourage our students to continue to learn during the summer months, our own learning never takes a vacation. 

    At Arts & Letters, where I teach, we teachers and staff welcome students and their families to the new school year with hallways brimming with bulletin board displays that highlight our personal summer learning moments. From learning to swim, to helping a teenage son navigate the college admission process, to even building wooden ships in Scandinavia, these large and small learning moments set the initial tone for the school year that exciting learning comes in many forms.  

    Students love reading about all of their teachers as learners. They excitedly bounce from bulletin board to bulletin board reading the different exhibit panels during the first days of school. And since photos are an essential part of these displays, students are not shy about critiquing their teachers’ selfie-taking techniques! Documenting the learning is so important because the purpose of sharing these summer learning moments is to make learning visible throughout the school.

    Even if your school year started already, I encourage you to share your own recent learning moments with students. Our bulletin board displays include a few components I would like to share with you here as you consider developing your own. If now is not the right time for you to share a learning moment, these components can also be adapted and used throughout the school year to display evidence of student learning on bulletin boards.

     

    Sharing a Back-to-School Learning Moment

    Consider these four components when developing your learning moment display.

    1. Title

    A good title grabs the viewer’s attention while connecting to an important idea related to the learning moment.

    2. Context and Question

    Provide the viewer with background information about the learning moment. This includes factual information like the who, what, where, when, and why of the moment. Write a question that connects to what you learned. Your question will most likely be what was answered for you as a result of the learning you experienced.

    3. Focus on the Moment of Learning

    Select different artifacts to document the process of learning you experienced. There are so many different types of artifacts that can be used, but you may want to share photographs, drawings, or interviews with the viewer of your learning moment. When I create my learning moments, I think it’s vital for students to not only see the final product of what I learned, but also my learning process. I find this to be especially meaningful for students if my process includes moments of doubt or experiences of failure.

    4. Findings and Reflection

    Share with the viewer what you learned. What do you now know that you did not know before? What was exciting or surprising to you as a learner? How will you use this new knowledge you’ve developed?

     

    My Summer Learning Moment

    Title

    When Walls Talk

    Context and Question

    Over the summer I fell in love with San Francisco’s Mission District. The Mission is a tapestry of a community. It weaves together multiple aspects, both old and new, that contribute to the vibrancy of San Francisco. This tapestry however, is not without its kinks. Just like in Brooklyn, gentrification is real in the Mission, and many believe the cultural identity of the neighborhood is being lost. Beyond the latest and most popular coffee shops and ‘boutique’ taquerías, the urge to delve deeper into the soul of the Mission was a powerful force I could not resist. Within the neighborhood’s eight-block radius, hundreds of murals can be found on the exterior walls and garages of public and private buildings. On a cool July morning, I followed a tour guide on a walking tour to learn the stories of these walls. I learned the Mission’s soul is, literally, written on the walls.

    How does a commonly understood symbol of death reveal the dynamic life of a community?

    Focus on the Moment of Learning

    The water-themed mural The Primal Sea wraps around the exterior walls of the public swimming pool in Garfield Park. One part of the mural appears not to fit in with this theme.

    Next to deep-sea divers and surrounded by an octopus, the face of a skeleton seems out of place. I learned muralists worked for weeks planning and painting this colorful and elaborate mural. One morning the muralists discovered someone painted the face of a skeleton on the mural. Since this did not fit with their theme, the muralists painted over the face. The skeleton reappeared the next morning, and it was once again painted over by the muralists. This cycle of nighttime addition followed by morning removal was repeated many times. It became obvious that someone felt very strongly that the skeleton ought to be in the mural. In keeping with the tradition of murals as storytelling vehicles for the people and places where they are created, the muralists decided to stop painting over the skeleton.

    Some time after the mural was completed the identity of the once anonymous nighttime artist was revealed. An unassuming elderly man of Mexican descent was the rouge activist artist. This artist lived next to the pool, and was known in the community for his gentle and kind nature. Some may say creating a frightening face of death is uncharacteristic for this man. They would, however, be wrong. Skeletons have a strong and rich tradition within Mexican folk art.

    These images are celebrated because they connect the living to their ancestral dead in ways that are not scary or frightening. The dead within this tradition protect the living. This kind and gentle artist believed strongly the children of the neighborhood needed the constant and watchful eye of a protector to keep them safe as they swim. This once unwanted addition to the mural became the mural’s soul for the community.

    Findings and Reflection

    This wall taught me to listen. The mural taught me to listen to the quiet, subtle and sometime misunderstood voices around me.  As we start a new school year, let us create a community tapestry with our voices and experiences to tell our story and to share our values. Let us welcome the skeletons and not keep them hidden.

     

    Sharing Learning Moments Throughout the Year

    Although sharing summer learning moments is a great back-to-school idea to introduce yourself to new students and to build excitement for learning in the classroom, these same ideas can be used throughout the school year to tell the story of learning in your classroom. Thinking about my own learning moments, large or small, helps me as a teacher to tune my ear and focus my eye to reveal the learning that is happening in my classroom.

    As the thinking and ideas expand in the coming weeks at school, I look forward to sharing with you different strategies and ideas I use to make student learning visible in the classroom.

     

    Summer vacation provides many teachers with time for well-deserved rest and relaxation. Some use the time to reconnect with family and friends, while the adventure seekers among us are constantly on the move. But regardless of how teachers spend their time in the summer, the learning continues. Just as we encourage our students to continue to learn during the summer months, our own learning never takes a vacation. 

    At Arts & Letters, where I teach, we teachers and staff welcome students and their families to the new school year with hallways brimming with bulletin board displays that highlight our personal summer learning moments. From learning to swim, to helping a teenage son navigate the college admission process, to even building wooden ships in Scandinavia, these large and small learning moments set the initial tone for the school year that exciting learning comes in many forms.  

    Students love reading about all of their teachers as learners. They excitedly bounce from bulletin board to bulletin board reading the different exhibit panels during the first days of school. And since photos are an essential part of these displays, students are not shy about critiquing their teachers’ selfie-taking techniques! Documenting the learning is so important because the purpose of sharing these summer learning moments is to make learning visible throughout the school.

    Even if your school year started already, I encourage you to share your own recent learning moments with students. Our bulletin board displays include a few components I would like to share with you here as you consider developing your own. If now is not the right time for you to share a learning moment, these components can also be adapted and used throughout the school year to display evidence of student learning on bulletin boards.

     

    Sharing a Back-to-School Learning Moment

    Consider these four components when developing your learning moment display.

    1. Title

    A good title grabs the viewer’s attention while connecting to an important idea related to the learning moment.

    2. Context and Question

    Provide the viewer with background information about the learning moment. This includes factual information like the who, what, where, when, and why of the moment. Write a question that connects to what you learned. Your question will most likely be what was answered for you as a result of the learning you experienced.

    3. Focus on the Moment of Learning

    Select different artifacts to document the process of learning you experienced. There are so many different types of artifacts that can be used, but you may want to share photographs, drawings, or interviews with the viewer of your learning moment. When I create my learning moments, I think it’s vital for students to not only see the final product of what I learned, but also my learning process. I find this to be especially meaningful for students if my process includes moments of doubt or experiences of failure.

    4. Findings and Reflection

    Share with the viewer what you learned. What do you now know that you did not know before? What was exciting or surprising to you as a learner? How will you use this new knowledge you’ve developed?

     

    My Summer Learning Moment

    Title

    When Walls Talk

    Context and Question

    Over the summer I fell in love with San Francisco’s Mission District. The Mission is a tapestry of a community. It weaves together multiple aspects, both old and new, that contribute to the vibrancy of San Francisco. This tapestry however, is not without its kinks. Just like in Brooklyn, gentrification is real in the Mission, and many believe the cultural identity of the neighborhood is being lost. Beyond the latest and most popular coffee shops and ‘boutique’ taquerías, the urge to delve deeper into the soul of the Mission was a powerful force I could not resist. Within the neighborhood’s eight-block radius, hundreds of murals can be found on the exterior walls and garages of public and private buildings. On a cool July morning, I followed a tour guide on a walking tour to learn the stories of these walls. I learned the Mission’s soul is, literally, written on the walls.

    How does a commonly understood symbol of death reveal the dynamic life of a community?

    Focus on the Moment of Learning

    The water-themed mural The Primal Sea wraps around the exterior walls of the public swimming pool in Garfield Park. One part of the mural appears not to fit in with this theme.

    Next to deep-sea divers and surrounded by an octopus, the face of a skeleton seems out of place. I learned muralists worked for weeks planning and painting this colorful and elaborate mural. One morning the muralists discovered someone painted the face of a skeleton on the mural. Since this did not fit with their theme, the muralists painted over the face. The skeleton reappeared the next morning, and it was once again painted over by the muralists. This cycle of nighttime addition followed by morning removal was repeated many times. It became obvious that someone felt very strongly that the skeleton ought to be in the mural. In keeping with the tradition of murals as storytelling vehicles for the people and places where they are created, the muralists decided to stop painting over the skeleton.

    Some time after the mural was completed the identity of the once anonymous nighttime artist was revealed. An unassuming elderly man of Mexican descent was the rouge activist artist. This artist lived next to the pool, and was known in the community for his gentle and kind nature. Some may say creating a frightening face of death is uncharacteristic for this man. They would, however, be wrong. Skeletons have a strong and rich tradition within Mexican folk art.

    These images are celebrated because they connect the living to their ancestral dead in ways that are not scary or frightening. The dead within this tradition protect the living. This kind and gentle artist believed strongly the children of the neighborhood needed the constant and watchful eye of a protector to keep them safe as they swim. This once unwanted addition to the mural became the mural’s soul for the community.

    Findings and Reflection

    This wall taught me to listen. The mural taught me to listen to the quiet, subtle and sometime misunderstood voices around me.  As we start a new school year, let us create a community tapestry with our voices and experiences to tell our story and to share our values. Let us welcome the skeletons and not keep them hidden.

     

    Sharing Learning Moments Throughout the Year

    Although sharing summer learning moments is a great back-to-school idea to introduce yourself to new students and to build excitement for learning in the classroom, these same ideas can be used throughout the school year to tell the story of learning in your classroom. Thinking about my own learning moments, large or small, helps me as a teacher to tune my ear and focus my eye to reveal the learning that is happening in my classroom.

    As the thinking and ideas expand in the coming weeks at school, I look forward to sharing with you different strategies and ideas I use to make student learning visible in the classroom.

     

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