Sage in the Chair (CPS still rules.)

Posted on November 20, 2008Filed Under CPS, Teaching, testing, Tips | Leave a Comment

A while back, someone (a non-teacher) asked me what my teaching style was. Hmmm. Instructive sarcasm? Peer pressure and public humiliation? Random reinforcement and punishment? Entertainment and containment? Sink or swim? I say jump, you say how high? Teachers know what sage on the stage and guide on the side mean, but those aren’t really me either. All I could come up with on the spot was,

“I ask a lot of questions.”

I guess these days, it’s something like a high-tech, testing oriented, version of the Socratic method. I pretest by asking a bunch of questions. Then we go over the answers, right and wrong, and discuss why the wrong ones are wrong, and why some of them might have been chosen. Then I explain the correct answers and we practice. Then I ask them more questions to see if they’re getting it. We explain the corrects and incorrects again, and so on.

I mean, obviously you gotta spice it up with discussions and videos and quickwrites and mental floss and other activities (remember, almost any variation from the norm is manna to seventh graders), and there are an awful lot of asides and much explaining, but that’s my basic plan for almost everything. I spend a lot of time making up questions. And now that I have CPS, many of those questions are multiple choice.

Now, I’m sure there are a lot of you English teachers out there who do not like multiple choice questions. (You probably also cringe when I use constructions like gotta.) We have at least one teacher at our school who doesn’t use them at all, and bristles at the notion you could possibly assess English book-learnin’ with a multiple choice test.

I say, if you’re good at making up questions, MC is a fine way to go. Of course we write essays, and do sentence combining, and short answer questions and suchlike, but for the day to day warm-ups and grammar and vocabulary and so forth, MC with CPS is a beautiful thing.

CPS Question Screen

CPS Question Screen

Here’s one from our warm up today. This is vocabulary practice for the test tomorrow. So I’m sitting in my comfy rolling chair with my wireless slate (also from CPS), which lets me draw on the screen (LCD projector) and functions as a mouse. I set the timer in CPS, and they copy the sentence into their notebooks, so they have something to study later (not that they study or anything, but…), and click in their answers. When the time is up the green checkmark (correct answer) prompts cheers, groans, and some d’ohs.

Now I go to work (from the chair with the laser pointer and slate). The screen-shot above shows zeros down the right side. In use, that would show how many kids chose each of those answers. A typical period today (if there can be such a thing) had sinuous get about 4, magnitude and luminous get about 3 each, exuberant get a couple, and the correct answer get about 15.

“Looks like about half of you need to work on this one. From the top. Sinuous? Snaaakey?” I do the wiggle dance that both disgusts and fascinates them. General laughter that anyone could choose such an answer.

“Magnitude? Noun. Big-ness. Remember? The magnitude of Bill Gates’s fortune? We need an adjective which describes the search. And it would mean something like the opposite of organized.

“Luminous? Full of light? What the…?”

Someone who claims to have chosen the correct answer ventures, “Maybe they were thinking about searchlights or something.”

“Ok, Maaaybe. But that’s still a stretch. But exuberant? You guys are just guessing. ‘Woohoo! we’re looking for Jonas!’ Somehow, I doubt it. So we’re left with the opposite of organized; haphazard.”

And so on. More tomorrow.


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