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