A few weeks ago, someone on the K-12 Digital Fabrication Google Group pointed out that there are some similarities between teaching making and teaching reading. There was a conversation about the “whole language” movement from the 1980s as well as Nancy Atwell and Laura Robb’s Reading Workshop model of teaching reading. I knew nothing about this, so it peaked my curiosity and I purchased Robb’s, Teaching Reading in the Middle School.
Usually my classes are a bit chaotic with 16 students all working on their own projects using different tools, techniques, and materials. I don’t do any direct instruction, preferring for students to figure stuff out on their own or with the help of online resources and their peers. It can be difficult to help scaffold student knowledge construction and help them figure out what they need to learn to finish their projects when everyone is working on their own diverse projects and I am moving around the room trying to expose their thinking and get them to talk about what they are doing and making. To be honest, I have an emerging handle on classroom management, but it can be difficult to facilitate such an unstructured class with 6th and 7th grade students who are just beginning to learn how to use the tools of digital design, fabrication, and physical computing. I feel like some students need more support to learn how to figure out what they need to know to make a project.
I’m really enjoying Robb’s book. It’s giving me some ideas for how I can structure my class so that students get the support they need, but still allow for them to do a lot of individual making on their own. I particularly like how she starts by identifying 7 Key Reading Strategies. Then she breaks her classes into several learning experiences (Read-Aloud, Gathering, Mini-Lesson, Guided Practice, Choice Time, etc) that allow her to model those strategies, allow students to practice those strategies, and to encourage students to share those strategies with their classmates. My only hang-up is that my classes meet so infrequently (60-75 mins every eight school days), that it is hard to carve out the time to do all of this and still get projects done. Robb’s classes meet everyday for large blocks of time (90 minutes).
But since starting the book, I’ve been thinking a lot about Key Making Strategies, or Essential Strategies for Makers. I’m going to flesh out my thoughts on that subject for my next blog post.