Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why You Want Needy Students

I'm going out of bounds a bit. This post is not an Instant Idea, but rather a thought to let bounce around inside your head.
I was listening to a talk given by Shane Hipps this Sunday morning. Hipps said, "Do you recognize your need?" When you have need, you seek the solution. You are driven to seek knowledge to help you solve your problem.

You may already notice the transfer to the classroom.

If you dabble in project-based learning (PBL), you recognize the underlying theme of creating a problem for your students to solve. The solution often requires students to learn certain skills and concepts to ease the process of solving the problem.

As a PBL teacher you create need for your students.

If you subscribe to this way of thinking, you agree that it's the students that need to ask the questions, not you. Instead of us saying, "Today I'm going to show you how to make a bar graph." It should be our students asking, "How do I create a graph?" Instead of, "Let me show you how fold a paper airplane that does a lot of stunts." It should be our students asking, "How will I go about choosing the right paper airplane that does the most stunts?"

When need is there, the learner seeks the knowledge. The tricky parts, I've discovered, are getting my fourth grade students, who are used to being told what to do, to become those learners who take initiative and take action, and (even more difficult) letting go of the reins.

Theory in Practice: The Science Process
I put a bag of medium sized foam balls on the table in front of the class. I broke my class into small groups. I then told them that they must decide who will represent their group in the World Championship of Foam Ball Juggling. I showed them what juggling the foam ball looked like (bouncing it on my knee like a soccer player would). I explained that the World Champion would be the one who could bounce the ball on their knee the most times in a row with out hitting the ground.

I wrote down three requirements on the whiteboard:
  1. Organize your data in a table.
  2. Create a graph of your data.
  3. Based on your data, I need you to explain who you choose to represent you in the championship.

Crickets...Blank stares.

My students were waiting patiently for me to give them the "next step". When nothing further was given, slowly (painfully slow), quietly, they began to take action. I saw collaboration. I heard good discussion. I heard respectful arguing. When the required materials (listed above) started coming in, I noticed they were not up to snuff. So I posed this question to each group, "Where could you go to find out how to make a professional looking data table, and graph?" and then walked away. Soon groups were jumping up to get a math reference book to find out how to do it.

The next day, I gave each group a rubric. I told them that the top score is very similar to how scientists in the real world would have to explain their findings. With that in mind,  I asked them to score themselves on how they think they did with their: group work, participation, graph, data table, conclusion statement, and mechanics. They evaluated their progress, and to a group, they went back to refine what they've done.

Over two days, I gave less than a paragraph of instruction--they talked the rest of the time.

Don't get me wrong, I had some stinkers who didn't work, and fooled around, but it gave way to an opportunity for their teammates to practice confronting project team slackers. Not all of the products were to my liking; the data tables and graphs need refinement, but I'd like to believe we took a good step toward true learning.

The experience was 100% worth the anxiety I felt on both days, wondering if they were learning, because I was not their primary resource. Moving from the sage on the stage to playing the supporting role is not easy, but it's worth it. Don't you think?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Is Spelling Worth Teaching? We'll See.

I heard Doug Reeves say that if teachers give spelling tests, then students should use the spelling words in a sentence.

So it began.

It's taken some years, but I think I'm on to something. A colleague and I working out the bedrock of a spelling assessment that requires students to write their spelling words in sentences, offers choice, and is, (YES!) easy to grade. What I'm about to describe is a prototype of our idea.

What Research Says:
Dr. Randall Wallace's meta-analysis (PDF) of research on spelling best practices guides the reshaping of the spelling idea. 

How it Works:
The spelling words are based on word patterns such as adding -ed and -ing endings. We post 25 words that follow the pattern(s) for the unit. Students get to choose 10 words that they will use in a sentence. The sentences are recorded in a spelling journal. The teacher checks the sentences for proper word usage and spelling. The journal is given back to the student the next day. Students then practice their words over the week.

On test day students pair up and swap journals. The spelling partner reads their sentence, and the student writes down the sentence.

Options Worth Looking At:
I discovered a teacher's website that gave us some other good ideas that we are trying.
  • Test students on words that follow the pattern, but were not on the list. I like this idea because it assesses student knowledge of the pattern, not on memorizing the structure of the word.
  • Test students on everyday words. Reading fluency improves with quick recognition of sight words.
Issues We've Noticed:
  • What to do when a student forgets his/her spelling journal on test day?
  • Editing of sentences. Is it important? How can it be done efficiently for both student and teacher?
  • How to best "teach" the patterns? How often?
It is an interesting process as we work through this idea. Any feedback is welcomed.

Pix of Little books

Thanks for the video of how to make the little book -
here are samples from teachers including book case idea

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Magic "Thank You" Theory

They won't quiet down. It's picture day, or it's storming outside, or it's a full moon, whatever it is, the classroom is electrified. I have to direct this current to good use, but first I need to get them to focus.

I try shushing and shoosing. I try stern looks and head shakes. I try hands on hips and a hanging head.
All attempts fail.

Then I look at those who are quietly sitting looking at me, patiently waiting for the rest of follow suit. 

Then it hits me.

"Thank you Taylor."
"Thank you Daniel."
"Thank you Josh."
"Thank you Samantha."

The crowd goes silent.

I'm not sure why it works. I just know it's been working for seven years.

Try this polite and simple way to quickly quiet a raucous classroom tomorrow.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Simple Books

I was also very fortunate to spend the day with Robin Fogarty and Brian M. Pete. The entire day was fabulous, but it is always a great feeling when the presenters talk about something you've been doing for a long time. We were trying out different ways take notes or share information with others, and Brian Pete started to show how to make a simple book out of one piece of paper. YES! Something I've done for awhile!

I use these simple books in my classroom for note taking, author studies, forms of poetry, as a test prep study guide, nature sketching, cartooning, drawing and anything else the kids can think up. When they are first learning how to make a book you are also sneaking in a lesson on following directions, and some fine motor skills practice (It's similar to the ravioli that is on the market now with one serving of vegetables hidden inside!).

The books can be made with any size paper and are very simple to make. Watch the video and see how easy it is. One hint: Focus on the creases.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Quick Classroom Tech Tips: Wikispaces

Wiki wiki means quickly.

If you are looking for a great way to provide a web-based location of learning resources for your students, or a place for your student's parents to get information and ideas to help their child at home, and you want it easy to use: the award winning web tool Wikispaces could be your answer.

Wikis were initially created as a web-based collaborative tool where different users could edit a project from wherever they had an Internet connection (click here and see below for more information on wikis). Wikis have been adopted by educators as an alternative to a read only website. Students can edit a wiki site by adding images, documents, and more. There are plenty of web widgets that you can embed to make your wiki a unique place for you and your students.

Check This Out
  • Wikispaces provides teachers a "plus package" for free. One good thing about the plus package is you will have no advertisements on the side of your wiki; which is good because the ads may not be what you want on an educational wiki site.
  • The editing feature is newly revamped and easier to use. It feels a lot more like a word processing editor. Which means you can add documents, images, and embed video quickly and easily into your wiki.
  • Each Wikispaces page you create on your wiki site includes a "Discussion" tab. If you want your students to respond to a question you post, or to a fellow classmate's post, you can do it easily with the discussion feature.
  •  Wikispaces provides amazing support. The support techs folks at Wikispaces are quick to respond to your emails, and they aren't satisfied until they help you with your problem.
  • You can create student accounts with out needing an email address. 
  • You have control to customize accessibility to the wiki (e.g. email capability, page editing rights, private or public viewing etc.)
  • It will not take you long to create your wiki. You can have a functional wikispace in minutes.
Here are some examples of classroom wikispaces that might inspire you.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Always Carry Around a Plan B

I'm honored that Jason has asked me to contribute to this great teaching blog. What a great collaborative effort for all the right reasons...teaching and learning!

A little about me, I'm a reading consultant by day and a Mom of 2 boys by night. I love learning, growing and am a champion for literacy. I am excited to share teaching ideas. As an adult learner, I find myself reflecting a lot on my work too. So...some of my entries may be teaching ideas and I may throw some reflection out there too. We'll see how it goes!

This one's a teaching idea...I was recently attending some professional development where I was introduced to a writing activity called Six Word Memoirs. Ernest Hemingway was once asked, "Can you describe you life in six words?" His response: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. Powerful stuff...

Sitting among fellow teachers, we were asked the same question. "Can you describe your life in six words?" As I sat and worked on mine, it dawned on me that this would be a great activity for our kids! We have all had those kids in class that struggle with writing (sometimes with how much too)...maybe the ideas aren't flowing...maybe the writing process isn't as developed...maybe English isn't the first language... Whatever the reason, it isn't happening. Posing the question to them takes the pressure off "how much" and promotes great thinking and reflecting. Plus, it's a quick and easy idea to throw out!

So, I gave it a shot. Here are a few of my six word memoirs I was able to write:
Always Carry Around a Plan B.
Mom of boys...fueled by coffee.
Growing, learning all of the time.
Wanted: A beach house in Florida

How about it...can you describe your life in six words???

Monday, September 27, 2010

High Five (Grouping Strategy)

High Five is easy, quick, and effective. Thank you to Robin Fogarty and Brian M. Pete for your great idea!
High Five
This another great way to get your students into collaborative groups or pairs. It's also wonderful to get your students moving around.

Students get out of their chairs and walk around the room shaking hands with or high-fiving their classmates. When you say freeze they stop. Whoever they are shaking hands with or high-fiving (or is it fiving high?) will be their partner for a discussion. This pairing strategy is a variation of Three Musketeers.

I often use High Five with the quick write strategy. You will notice that what I am about to describe is a variation of Think-Pair-Share

My students watch CNN Student News in the morning. When the news is done, I pose a quick writing prompt for them to think about. After a minute or so of think time I ask my students to get out of their seats and walk around shaking hands or high-fiving their classmates. When I say freeze they partner up with someone whom they are making contact or who is nearby. The students then talk about what their writing idea with their partner. Afterward, they go to their quick write journal to log their thoughts.

I collect the quick write journals once a week to check for several things: comprehension, mechanics, complete sentences, deep thought, creativity, and more.

Try it this week!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dream Vacation Grouping

Jason has invited me to participate as a collaborator on this blog. This year I find myself in a career transition. I was a fifth grade teacher for nine years and now have moved to a reading specialist position. I work with kindergarten through second grade students on specific reading skills. You'll find some of my posts will focus on upper elementary instruction in all areas and some will focus on lower elementary instruction in reading instruction. That said, here we go!

I recently attended a Literacy Coaches Network meeting at my local ISD (Intermediate School District) and learned a new icebreaker/grouping strategy. I am a person that often finds icebreakers awkward and found this one not only pleasant but kind of fun. Here it is step-by-step:

1. Ask your students the question, "If you could take a vacation anywhere in the world, where would it be?" Tell them they must choose just one place and keep the answer in their head.

2. Once they have had enough 'think time' have them line up around the room alphabetically, according to the first letter of the location of their 'dream vacation'. (Note: To keep the suspense going, tell them they many only give the first letter of their location, they may not tell their location while lining up).

3. Once kids are lined up have them turn to the person next to them and tell what their dream vacation is and why they would love to go there.

4. From this point you can have them discuss other questions, either as a social skill building activity or have them partner up with that person to complete a more academic orientated activity.

Good luck and have fun!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Formative Assessment Activities: Quick Write Challenge (Serial)

Another great activity presented by Robin Fogarty and Brian M. Pete who present on  (In)formative Assessment. 
This is one of many in a series of blog posts dealing with formatively assessing your students' progress as they participate in these fun activities. If you like them, try them.

Quick Write Challenge
You want to know if your students are understanding what you are teaching. You can use the quick write challenge as a way to formatively assess their knowledge and allow students to set goals and self-evaluate their progress.

Students write for 60 seconds about a topic, or write using as many ____ (adverbs, adjectives, sensory imagery etc.). Circle all of the ____ and set a goal for themselves before they write again. Give them another 60 seconds to see if they can meet or beat their goal.  Have students appraise their goal (meta-cognition). Did they meet the goal? Fall short? How?

Imagine you've just taught your students about onomatopoeia. You want students to write as many examples of onomatopoeia as they can in one minute. After the first round, ask the students to count the number of examples of onomatopoeia they wrote. Ask the students to set a goal for the next round. They will add to the list for another minute after setting a goal. After the second round, have students evaluate their work.

Students can collaborate in small groups to come up with the top 5 examples to share with the class. Record the examples in a word wall, or in a printable for your students to paste in their writing journals. You can collect their individual lists using their quick write as formative assessment of their knowledge and understanding.

A possible student list.
First Round: Bang, zip, zot, buzz, ticktock, beep, moo
Goal: two more than the first round
Second Round: bark, hiss, cluck, eek, hum, ping, gurgle, squish, oink, meow
Self-evaluation: I achieved my goal! One thing I did to help myself think of more was to think of animal sounds.

There are so many applications for this activity. Try it this week.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Formative Assessment Activities (Serial) AB Pyramid

Robin Fogarty and Brian M. Pete present on  (In)formative Assessment. I saw them this summer. They shared wonderful ideas and activities. Now I want to share them with you.

This is one of many in a series of blog posts dealing with formatively assessing your student's progress as they participate in these fun activities. For more formative assessment ideas and other great tips, check out the right-hand side of this blog page under the heading "More Instant Ideas".  If you like them, try them. When you do, comment back on the blog. Tell us what went right, or what you changed to make it work for your classroom. We love to read feedback!

AB Pyramid
Let's say you've just taught your students about lines, line segments, rays, and angles.  You want to find out how much they've learned. You could even use AB pyramid as a review of vocabulary and terms. Think of the game show called $10,000 Pyramid to get an idea of the game play (see video below).

One faces the screen or board, and the other faces away from the screen or board. Partners stand or sit shoulder to shoulder. Display the terms and/or vocabulary. The one facing the board or screen gives clues the other much like in 10,000 Pyramid.

Student A is facing the board, while Student B has her back to the board.

You display the word "line" on the board. You wander the room listening for accurate clues and responses while students participate.

A: Okay, it goes on in both directions with out ending.
B: Line segment?
A: Nope. It has two arrows at the end.
B: Oh! Line!
A: Bingo!

+ You could have the students shoot their hands up when they got the right answer giving the class a sense of urgency. Brain research says it's good to have a dose of healthy stress while learning--the adrenalin increases the heart rate which increases the blood flow to the brain.
+ You may want to show images instead of words.
+ Have your students remain in the shoulder to shoulder posture while you teach more, and then have your students discuss what you said.

My kids loved it! Try it soon!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Thanks to Grand Rapids

Robin and I had a wonderful time in Grand Rapids. This blog is a very impressive example of immediate transfer.

I want to share the latest closing strategy that I am doing in my professional development.
I use this when I know that there has been a lot of input and the participants brains are full of new learning.

I say, everyone take a piece of paper and write 5 words or less that they think describes this day.
Everyone has a minute to write and then I say, "At your table share your words and then have a conversation and decide on three words that your table agrees best describes the day."
After a couple minutes I have them share the three words to the room. If I have 7 tables then the room gets to here 21 words that summarize the learning for the day. I get valuable feedback and the learners get a chance to hear all of the content for the day reduced to 21 words. (of course there will be some words mentioned more than once)

In an effort to make participants aware of the complexity of the strategy I tell them that this closing activity starts with an individual brainstorm, then a sharing of all words, collaboration towards a goal of finding the top three. Agreement on criteria and then decision making and finally consensus of the group. It is a complex task that serves as a learner lead review of content.
I don't have a name for it yet but I am thinking of calling it . . . In 5 Words or Less.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Top Ten Think Abouts Numbers 3-1

Top Ten Think Abouts are some concepts of pedagogy that I heard from Robin Fogarty and Brian M. Pete. Fogarty and Pete are a married couple who entertainingly deliver important and useful tips and activities for teachers to implement in their classrooms. This post has two prequels; which can be found here (10-8) and here (7-4).

In this post, I will give you the last three educational musings that got me thinking about ways I could improve my teaching. I hope the last three and the previous seven were as inspiring as I thought they were.

Without further ado, the Top 3:

3. Formative assessment must include a recipe for future action.
"Assessment is today's means of understanding tomorrow's instruction." - Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson

What research says:
D.R. Sadler's meta-analysis (Formative Assessment: Revisiting the Territory), of his own work and with consideration of Black and Wiliam's research in formative assessment*, maintains that it's the quality of formative assessment, not the quantity, that wins the day. Formative assessment has "coaching value" allowing students to see where they are flourishing and where they need improvements.

Black, P., and Wiliam, D., (1998). Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice; Mar1998, Vol. 5 Issue 1, p7, 68p

What it might look like:
Let's say that you just finished a great lesson about desert biome food webs. You want to find out how much your students understood. Just before dismissal you have your students fill out an exit slip. You collect the slips as they leave the class. You quickly read through the slips to determine if they are understanding, or if they need further instruction.

2. Take learning to another level.

What research says:
Usually when talking about "taking it to the next level" in education you might first think about Benjamin Bloom, creator of Bloom's taxonomy; a categorized hierarchy of learning where remembering is at the lowest level and creating is at the highest level. The idea of Bloom's taxomony is that each step up in category is an increase in student thinking skills. For example, it doesn't take as much cognitive skill recalling the seven continents, than it does creating a map including the seven continents and their relative locations.
Bloom's Taxonomy  (Revised)

The key idea is to create learning opportunities that encourage students to think at higher levels.

What it might look like:
After teaching your students about the benefits of daily exercise, you ask your students to discuss the benefits of a daily exercise (remembering). Then you have your students categorize, and provide support for, the top three benefits  of daily exercise (evaluating). 

Example (categories in parenthesis):
Keeps the heart healthy (physical health)
Provides time for yourself (personal time)
Potential for improving mental health (emotional health)

1. “The person who is doing the talking is doing the learning.” -- Robin Fogarty

What research says:
Robin Fogarty writes, "They (students) must be doing majority of the talking in the classroom." Research says that students who are actively engaged in their learning tend to do better academically. Fogarty urges teachers to keep in mind the question of "Who's doing the talking?" while teaching. Allow ample opportunities for discussion on the topics you're teaching. Doug Harwood's study suggests that teachers play an important role as coaches of student discussion. Walk around the room while the discussion is happening. Interject, encourage, rephrase, applaud and redirect student discussions to help your students get the most out of their talk. Let students learn from each other. Let them take control of their learning.

What it might look like:
If you are looking to decrease the amount of time you talk, and increase the amount of time your students talk you might begin by introducing small group discussion opportunities a little at a time. Let yourself get used to giving up the stage. You might try a strategy called Think, Pair, Share. You pose a question for students to think about; give them time to formulate an answer. On your cue, "Pair." students pair up with a neighbor. Then once every student has a partner, you ask them to share. Regroup the students and find what some groups had to say.

If you liked that strategy you might like the other strategies listed in this blog archive.

I hope you enjoyed the Top Ten. I wish you the best in your new school year, or where ever you teach!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Top Ten Think Abouts Numbers 7-4

Top Ten Think Abouts are some concepts of pedagogy that I heard from Robin Fogarty and Brian M. Pete. Fogarty and Pete are a married couple who entertainingly deliver important and useful tips and activities for teachers to implement in their classrooms. This post has a prequel and a sequel.

In this post, I will give you some more educational musings that got me thinking about ways I could improve my teaching. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it's a good place to begin considering change. I've  put them in a Top Ten format providing 7-4 in this post. My rankings may not be necessarily yours, but I do hope that you find them thought provoking.

7. What do we want kids to know? (Standards) How will we know when they know it? (Assessments)

What research says:
Learning in a nutshell. What do they need to know, and how are we going to get them there? There are copious amounts of research that supports the use of formative assessment in the classroom--too numerous to mention in one post. The brilliance of formative assessment is that it lets you know if you students are understanding what you want them to discover. If they are not, you get the chance to take a new direction in order to satisfy your teaching goal.

One of the main hurdles of using formative assessment is the large amounts of standards and curriculum educational systems need to cover and the lack of time to do it. How many times have you just plowed through a concept because you were running out of time; plowed through even though you knew your student didn't fully understand?

I have--several times.

Common Core standards in Math and Language Arts have been adopted by most of the states in the union. The Common Core may help alleviate the pressure of quantity with more of a focus on quality. Make room for formative assessment. The practice of formative assessment will inform you of what your students need. That's what we are there for.

What it might look like:
I have posted a few formative assessment ideas on this blog already. Please check here, here, and here.

6. Frequently ask your students to think about: How does ___ connect to something you already know? How might you use ___ in the future?

What research says:
The essence of number 6 is schema and application. According to educational researchers Dr. Debra Pickering and Dr. Robert J. Marzano, building background knowledge is essential for literacy. Pickering explains that the way new information "sticks" in long-term memory is due in large part to having background knowledge or a "connection" on which new information can attach. Think about a time when you were trying to learn something new and it strikes you that you've experienced something like this before. Remember how much easier it became to learn that new skill?
Having students realize that there is an audience outside of the classroom walls can make all the difference when they are creating and learning. Think about when you are having students create some artwork. When you tell them that you plan on hanging the work in the hall--Whoa! That changes the ball game. Suddenly students become a little more careful about creating something worth showing off to the public. Students also should realize that learning is global and for every age. Also consider the idea that when you teach the material to others you learn the material even better.

What it might look like:
One of the most powerful examples of connecting new concepts to schema is learning a foreign language. Maybe you've studied a "romance language" in high school or college? Do you recall the term cognates? A cognate is a foreign word that is very similar to a word in your native language.

Try this: Read the Spanish verb danzar, what English word do you think of? If you thought dance, you'd be right. Danzar is a Spanish cognate to English speakers. If you have ELL students, you can utilize cognates to your advantage because linguistic cognates activate schema, and thus will have a much better chance of "sticking" in the brain.

5. Flexible lesson planning: What will we do if/when they don’t know it, or already know how to do it? (Re-teaching and extension)

What research says:
Differentiated instruction is a huge topic, too big for a small part of a blog post (Dr. Tomlinson describing D.I. in a series of quick videos). However, the idea of keeping your instruction "on it's toes" is a wise tactic. Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson, author of several globally read books and articles, and oft cited researcher on differentiated instruction, says active planning is one of the vital aspects of ensuring student learning success. Finding out what your students need and how to best help them get there is the "common sense" of differentiation.

What it might look like:
According to Tomlinson, there are several areas teachers could differentiate instruction. One of the areas is student interest. For example, the objective is to build upper body strength in students during physical education class. The physical education teacher can offer a lot of different options to increase upper body strength that students may choose from: weight lifting, rock wall climbing, a circuit of several low impact upper body activities, kick boxing, etc. The student will complete the objective by doing what they want to do. This idea is flexible for students who need more or less upper body work.
4. Active, Engaged, Involved.

"Let's move the blood away from your feet and  seat." -- Brian Pete

What research says:
Physical activity, even the simple act of walking, improves blood flow to the brain. The blood brings oxygen and glucose which helps the brain function better (The Franklin Institute). Fogarty and Pete suggest getting the students active (walking around the room, stretching, dancing, handshakes etc.) before beginning an engaging activity.

Engagement in an activity improves learning, according to Michael Prince author of Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. When you mix blood flow inducing movement with engaging activities and offer students a way to involve other people with their learning, you have a good recipe for success.

Students become the "teacher" of the material by sharing what they learned with peers or with someone at home.

What it might look like:
You want your students to engage in an activity to review some key vocabulary about butterfly metamorphosis.

You get them out of their seats by playing music. You tell the group that they should high-five classmates until the music stops. They should pair up with the person they were high-fiving when the music stopped.
Students engage in a game like AB Pyramid (think $10,000 Pyramid).
Have students think about who they could teach these key vocabulary terms to when they get home. Have parents or siblings sign off on your student's daily planner to verify that they shared the information at home.

The top three Think Abouts will be posted soon.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Top Ten Think Abouts: Numbers 10-8

Top Ten Think Abouts are some concepts of pedagogy that I heard from Robin Fogarty and Brian M. Pete. Fogarty and Pete are a married couple who entertainingly deliver important and useful tips and activities for teachers to implement in their classrooms. This post has two sequels 7-4 here and 3-1 here.

In this post, I will give you some educational musings that got me thinking about ways I could improve my teaching. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it's a good place to begin considering change.  I've put them in a Top Ten format giving you 10-8 in this post. My rankings may not be necessarily yours, but I do hope that you find them as thought provoking as I did (and do). 

Here is the Top Ten List 10-8:

10. If we want kids to be better writers they need to engage in rich talk.

What research says:
Rich talk (p. 10 on the pdf.) is a "cornerstone for comprehension" according to, noted educational researcher, Miriham Trehearne in her book Comprehensive Literacy Resource: For 3-6 Grade Teachers. (There are literacy resource books available for Preschool, Kindergarten, and 1-2). The key is to provide rich talk opportunities between peers to foster student thinking, and meta-cognition; which will translate to their own writing.

What it might look like: 
You have provided students will a great article on how polar bears are listed as a threatened species due to the melting polar ice caps. You give your students time to digest this piece by giving them time to talk to each other about the article. (I have previously posted some cooperative group activities here, and here that you might want to try).

Rich Talk
Students might discuss how the author made his or her point in the article. When they go to write their own article they might think about what they have written. Having been given the opportunity for rich talk, they may ask themselves: "Is this passage confusing in my story?" "Did I make my point clear?" "What do I need to change in order to say what I want to say?"  They are thinking of making their writing better due in large part to the discussions they had with their peers. Rich talk helps them recognize good writing when they experience it.

9. Create a culture of risk-taking and mistake making--mistakes are a gateway to learning.

"Take chances! Make mistakes!" -- Ms. Frizzle

What research says:
How many of your students play video games? Game play can offer a non-threatening-mistake-making space according to Dr. Jane McGonigal of the Institute of the Future and Marc Prensky, author of Digital Game-based Learning. Students learn by making mistakes in a lot of cases because, in general, the video game world is low risk. If Mario runs into a Koopa Troopa (little turtle guy), Mario starts over again to give it another try. The player has learned that next time she must jump earlier. Students who feel it's not risky to fail are more willing to try again, and again, and again...until they are successful.

Establish a low-risk and safe environment. Urge students to do as Ms. Frizzle says, and watch the creativity flow and the learning happen.

What it might look like:
You have introduced the concept of addition to your little guys. Because you have fostered their risk-taking behavior while learning, you have a classroom full of students steeped in natural curiosity and inquiry as they try to figure out different ways to explain and make sense of addition. What they are not doing is looking to you for the answer even though they know you know. They want to take risks to learn because they are allowed to.
8. P.M.I. Take a topic and discuss the Pluses, Minuses, and what was Interesting.

What research says:
Mona Lisa
When you had to make a decision, have you ever "weighed the pros and cons"? P.M.I. is essentially that--a way to practice decision making skills. Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, believes that jobs in the future will need people who can think for themselves, invent, design, and make decisions. These qualities might sound familiar, they are 21st Century Skills.

What it might look like:
You've just helped your class of artists research painters who have used oils as their medium. You decide that now is a good time to use the P.M.I. strategy. While some work in small groups, and others by themselves, they come up with the positives, minuses, and what was interesting about the use of oils.

Positives: oils offer rich colors and interesting textures
Negatives: oils are harder to clean, and more expensive
Interesting: Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, van Gogh's Starry Night, Picasso's La Guernica, Monet's Water Lilies, and countless other masterpieces were done using oils

Your art students have a better idea of whether or not they should use oils as their medium of choice for their next piece of artwork.

Stay tuned for 7-4.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Formative Assessment Activities (Serial): Tear and Share

This is the third of several posts dedicated to formative assessment activities that you could use in your classroom. Today's activity comes, once again, from Robin Fogarty and Brian M. Pete, presenters both on (In)Formative Assessment. Fogarty and Pete use ideas based on Spencer Kagen's cooperative learning structures.

One note before I share the strategy. Fogarty and Pete mentioned that the expectation of complete sentences should be in play here. Students will write an answer, but make sure it has their reasoning behind it. Example: I think this strategy is wonderful, because it makes students collaborate, and has students think on a high level.

Tear and Share
This strategy is a Bloom's goldmine. With this strategy students will have a chance to: remember, understand, analyze, evaluate, and create. Students work in teams of four to answer four questions about an article they read, a chapter from a novel, or a video they just watched (or whatever you want to assess). After careful analysis of their teammate's work, students will come up with a summary of each question to share with the class. 
Here's how it works.
You'll Need:
  • To generate ahead of time four questions (or let the class create four questions after experiencing the learning)
  • A journal page or piece of paper for each student*
  • Some way to archive their final synthesized answers
  • Scissors are optional
 * Technology integration idea: allow students to collaborate on a Google document.

What to Do:
  1. Students get into groups of four, and count off 1-2-3-4. (Find nifty ways getting students in groups here, here, and here).
  2. Students experience the information (article, chapter, video, etc.).*
  3. Student should write down the questions leaving enough room for their answers.
  4. Students respond to the four questions by quick writing on a sheet of paper. (For your overzealous writers, make sure they are careful about using the back of the paper because they will be tearing this into four sections soon).
  5. When a student is finished writing his/her answers, he/she will carefully tear or cut (the noise of tearing encourages other group members to finish up) the whole sheet into the four questions and their answers.
  6. When all students are finished they hand their answers to each other. Number ones get the first question, number twos get the second question, and so on.
  7. After collecting their teammate's answers, the students read and synthesize  each of their teammate's entries into one cohesive summary.
  8. Once each group is done, they share their summaries with the whole class.
  9. The whole class can work together to create the best answers to each question based on what each group reported. Suggestion: Distribute created answers as part of a study guide.
*You could also let students see the questions before experiencing the information.

Imagine that the students just read an article on the 19th Amendment.
Question 1: If Susan B. Anthony survived to see the 19th Amendment passed, what would she say was the biggest factor in granting women the right to vote?
Example answers from the four group members:
1. I think she would say that all of the marching was the reason because they made people take notice.
2. Susan B. Anthony would say that picketing in front of the White House was the biggest factor because it forced the president and congressmen think about giving women the right to vote.
3. Ms. Anthony would be proud to say that peaceful protests were the key because they would not be ignored.
4. Susan B. Anthony would say Harry Burr's mother's note was the biggest reason why they passed the amendment.

Possible synthesis of the four answers:
We think Susan B. Anthony would say that all of their hard work picketing, marching, and peacefully protesting for their rights were the keys to winning the right to vote. 
*Notice I didn't put in my summary the answer about Harry Burr's mother, because during my reading I thought that Burr's mother must have been moved to write the letter because of the work the suffragettes were doing.
This can be a very powerful activity for your students. Enjoy!