Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Connections

Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Connections

Article excerpt

New Yorker magazine ran a cartoon back when my now-college-age daughter, Lynn, was five years old that still takes my breath away as a father. In the onepanel illustration, several dozen parents are gathered in a dance studio watching a young girl perform a solo dance. The girl moves back and forth in primitive pirouettes and pliés, lost in the music, but completely sure that she is portraying the beautiful flower blowing in the wind that is drawn in the thought bubble above her head.

Above the parents' heads, however, are other interpretations: Is the girl a windmill? A dinosaur? A snowflake? A frog? In the back of the crowd, standing at the top of the bleachers, is the young girl's father, beaming. The thought bubble above his head matches his daughter's. He got her like no one else did, and for the two of them, nothing else mattered.

Recently, I shared this story with the graduates at a high school commencement, asking them to find individuals in their lives who "get" them unconditionally. These are the people, I explained, who free our better selves and reassure us that we belong and have something to contribute, even in those times when we question our place in the world.

This is what ultimately matters in almost every human endeavor: connection. It's in our DNA, driving us to make the decisions we make. As teachers, we are ineffective when we are indifferent to this primal need to link one's self with people and ideas. Powerful questions developed in early adolescence gain poignancy as we mature: Why am I here? How do I fit in this universe? Will I love another and be loved in return? How does this new thing you're telling me fit with what I know and where I'm going? Is this all there is? Am I a part of something larger than myself?

In classrooms around the world, we ask students to list what they know about a topic, what they want to learn, and finally, what they've learned (K-W-L). We ask them to think about a topic, discuss their thinking with a partner, then share their thinking with the larger group (Think-pair-share). We follow the advice of Keene and Zimmerman in their book, Mosaic of Thought, and ask students to make connections as they read-text to self, text to text, text to world-with prompts such as: This character is like me because.... If this happened to me I would.... This book reminds me of [another text] because....

We explain that words create sentences which create paragraphs that lead to essays, and that pronouns "stand in" for antecedent nouns. We describe division as the opposite of multiplication, reduction as the opposite of oxidation, and capitalism and communism as antagonists. We ask students to, "Compare and contrast [insert two topics from any discipline in any class ever taught here]."

It's always about connections and relationships, or the lack thereof.

ohn Hattie, in Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn, tells us that experts think in patterns, connections, and relationships; novices keep things in individual pieces. Chess masters can glance at a chess game in play and know how to win the game in three moves or fewer because they see the pieces and movements as patterns on the board, not unrelated entities in a vacuum. A veteran math teacher can get to the root of a student's struggle in algebra faster than a new math teacher because her expertise enables her to assimilate and analyze multiple facets easily.

Our goal is to move students from the novice stage into a higher level of expertise, and that requires overt focus on making connections.

Connecting Students with Content

Students feel connected and are more engaged when we help them see how classroom content intersects with their lives and helps them reach their goals. For example, we can post specific objectives as we start every lesson: "As a result of today's lessons, you will understand why noun-verb agreement is so important when communicating, how to make sure your nouns agree with their verbs, and how to recognize and correct noun-verb disagreements. …

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