Archive for the ‘strategies’ Category

The Importance of Think Time

October 9, 2011

Inspiration is found in the quiet corners of the mind. This is what has led to the quiet of this blog this past few months. After the mental stimulus of the ASCD conference and the physical rigors of escorting 90 students to Washington and NYC, my mind and body needed a rest. After the turmoil of a third consecutive school year of upheaval and animosity, my spirit needed a rest as well. More importantly I needed the “think time” to process all the input I had received and emotions I had experienced. The warm days of summer and the joys of a wedding have given me a most welcome respite and I am now back. I have several articles planned, but for now I want to revisit the importance of a basic tool that often is left behind…Think Time…Without this precious commodity much of what we do with our students is degraded or lost. Additionally in this time of tight budgets this tool becomes an efficient vehicle for creating the connections that ensure long term learning. Furthermore think time is the practice field for critical thinking. And yet despite all that we know about think time, so many educators allow but a few seconds to pass before moving on to the next student or calling on the same two or three students who always seem to know the answer. We point to the myriad of standards that be to covered before the state test; the reticence of students to participate; the lack of time we have with students each day as reasons why we need to keep moving…and yet…how far has this approach gotten us?

I decided that this year I would more strategically implement think time. I wanted to allow all students the opportunity to make connections and think critically about the content we were exploring together. I wanted to hear all of my students’ voices. So I started making a plan that would allow me to reach this goal without overburdening me or my students. Here are some strategies I have found to be effective.

1. Intentionally allow for think time and writing before the beginning of a discussion. This could take the form of a quick write or a review of notes or the use of a “think minute”.

2. Allow for practice discussion with a shoulder or table partner. Then there is the silent conversation where students write responses to each other rather than speak them.

3. Let students know that all their voices are import ant. The AVID strategy 1-1-2 Partner Share is a wonderful tool for this. Briefly this strategy has students consider a question (another great place for a quick write) and then take turns listening and repeating back what their partner says before engaging in a two minute pair discussion.

4. Call on all students equitably. For iPhone and iPad users the app Sitck Pick is a powerful tool for ensuring this. It draws on the old popsicle stick idea, but also allows you to differentiate what type of questions you ask each individual student. It even keeps track of the quality of student responses. You can even export this info via e-mail. I find that when I use this app I am also more aware of how long I wait before asking a clarifying question or moving on.

These four simple tools have already improved the quality of discussion in my classroom. They cost nothing, but are priceless. By providing the quiet time to think before a discussion, I am eliminating the quiet that befalls so many classroom “discussions” and allowing my students an opportunity to explore the quiet corners of their mind that I have found so important to my personal exploration and growth.

ASCD Check In “Watts Up?”

March 27, 2011

Saturday’s ticketed session on developing a thinking toolkit caught my attention for several reasons. First the presenter, Graham Watts, was an educator from London. I was interested in finding how the current state of education across the pond compared to issues facing us in the US. My interest was also peaked by the reference to Art Costa’s Habits of Mind which is one of the cornerstones I use to develop thinking in my classroom.  So I was very interested in how Watts went about integrating HOM into his practice. Finally I wanted to gauge the audience to see where their level of familiarity was with the practices of explicitly teaching thinking and of implementing Habits of Mind.

What I observed as Watts worked through the hour using an interactive lecture format was both affirming and startling. Affirming in that I could see a similarity between his use of HOM and mine; startling in that so many in the audience were not acquainted with this powerful tool.

Of interest was his concept of a Student Thinker’s Toolkit in which students gather a series of strategies that they can use to build their capacity to think. The strategies in the toolkit are classified into the four categories of questioning, critical thinking, creative thinking, and metacognition.

Most interesting was Mr. Watts’s inclusion of an approach called 3 C Thinking that functions as a blueprint of how these elements are connected. Simply stated the center of all thinking is inquiry (questioning) about the three Cs of Critical, Creative, and Caring thought. All three components were given equal weight in the visual that accompanied Watts’s description. The role of metacognition encompassed all four of these components as a means to develop within student thinkers the capacity to understand how they created a thinking response. Finally the HOM encircled the entire process. They serve as a tool student thinkers pull out of their toolkit when they run into roadblocks in the thinking process. Here is a  visual of this process. The job of the student is to decide which tool to use to shape their learning (literacy,thinking, tech).

As persuasive as this approach is I was surprised to learn that it might become the victim of a reform movement in England. This is so often the case in education. The concern with standards supersedes creativity while the race to high standardized test scores often results in the gutting of higher level thinking. Time to teach students how to think no longer is a priority.  One participant gave voice to this concern as she worried about the time needed to teach students what basic thinking patterns like analyze or compare look like (metacognition). She believed that she did not have time to waste on this type of activity. The irony is the lower level thinking involved in a “death march curriculum” is the true waste of time. As educators we must commit to build our students’ thinking toolkits with higher level activities. Only then will content be mastered.

Learn more about Graham Watts at http://tomorrowslearning.co.uk

 

 

 

Whoever Does the Work Does the Learning: 3 Strategies that Empower All Students

March 6, 2011

This simple statement is a cornerstone of learning. Yet in too many classrooms the reverse is often true.  Consider for a moment how many questions you ask your students versus how many questions or comments your students ask you or one other. The reality for most of us is that teachers ask most of the questions. Teachers too often are also the source of most of the writing and thinking that occurs in a classroom.  Whether it’s a power point that students copy, or a student handout, or a worksheet, teachers are frequently seen as the font or the dispenser of knowledge. Often there is more teacher or publisher generated writing on a page of student work than there is student writing. Unfortunately this is not an efficient learning model. They require students to function at the lower levels of thinking and ensure that whatever information students do absorb will be gone within a day or two.

An effective classroom empowers all students to do most of the work. Most of us know this, yet these practices are not happening in many of our classrooms. Following are some simple suggestions and strategies to help shift the source of work in a classroom from the teacher to the student. These strategies redefine the role of the teacher (in the words of one of my colleagues) from a “sage on the stage” to a “guide on the side” as we facilitate student learning rather than dispense our own knowledge.

Strategy 1: Question Round Up

A Google search on Costa’s Levels of Thinking will give you a plethora of info, ideas, and even handouts on this inquiry tool. Personally I have moved away from using all but a single Costa’s poster. I found that my students were focusing too much on the stems and not on the thinking processes that define inquiry. Currently I give my students a description and a motion pattern of the thinking involved at each level. This makes Costa’s more portable (meaning students can use it wherever they are). I have found that physically representing each level of thinking as described below has increased the level and quality of the questions my students create. Here are the cues I use.

Level 1…answer is found in the text(source of info)

Action: Have one hand open in front of you and point to it with your other hand as you say these words.

Level 2…the source and you or source to source

Action:Same as for level one but after pointing to your hand point to your head. (Point an equal amount of time to both your hand and your head). Level 2 can also be source to source. (Point to one hand and then the other).

Level 3…mostly you. 

Action:Sweep your finger quickly across the hand that represents the book and then point to your head.

Here’s a strategy that builds on this approach.

Instead of having students answer the questions from their text try the following. Remember when I say “text” I mean whatever the students are getting information from. This could be a web page, a video, a painting…virtually any source of information.

Have each student create 3 Level 1 questions and write them on a piece of paper making sure they skip  at least five empty lines between each Level 1 question. Have them write Level 1 in front of each of these questions.

In groups of 3 have students rotate their papers.

Have students change  the Level 1 questions on the paper they receive into Level 2 questions. They will record their level 2 question under the Level 1 question. Make sure they write level 2 in front of each of these questions.

Switch papers again. Now have the students change the Level 2 questions into Level 3 questions. Once again have them record the questions being sure to label them Level 3

Have students return each paper to the original questioner (the person who wrote the level 1 questions. Have each student choose to answer any of their group’s questions. Tell them that Level 1 questions are worth 1 point; Level 2 questions are worth 2 points; and Level 3 questions are worth 3 points. Choose a total point value that students must answer. For example students could answer 10 or 15 points worth of questions.

In order to ensure that all students are participating have students use different colored inks or initial every question they wrote.

Consider….Who did the work in this activity? Who did the learning?

Strategy 2: Two-Four-Talk-Write

This strategy is an effective way to have students read more deeply. I like to use it with big ideas such as the causes of a war. It could also be used for themes or essential concepts such as  photosynthesis or as a way to tackle word problems.

First have students read a short piece of text…a page for example. In my case I had them use a reflective double entry journal on the War of 1812 and a page in their text book.

Next have elbow partners or pairs of students discuss the answer to a question you pose. Allow no more than two minutes for this.

 Now have groups of 4 students discuss their response and come to a common response that one of them will present to the entire group.

Have the reporter from each group share their response. Ask clarifying questions where necessary.

Instruct the class to begin amending their notes to reflect the common elements of the responses they hear as each group reports out.

I like to make this portion more challenging by eliminating pronouns. This forces the reporting student to be certain about his or her response.

Repeat this process 3 more times so that each student has had a chance to report out. By the end of the day every student will have read carefully, collaborated with peers, and participated orally.

Complete the activity by having students complete a quick write based on a prompt that arises out of the topic. For example: Which cause of the War of 1812 was the most important? Why?

I evaluate each group based on the accuracy of their group response. This score is balanced by the individual quick write response.

Consider….Who did the work in this activity? Who did the learning?

Strategy 3: The Final Word

Summary is one of the most effective learning tools and yet it is so often misrepresented as paraphrasing. This strategy uses physical activity to help build students’ capacity to delineate essential ideas from supporting details and superfluous information. I recently used this to have students develop their understanding of the results of the War of 1812.

Have students sit in groups of 3-4. Have students fold a piece of lined filler paper in half and put their names in the large white margin at the top of the page.

Have students identify a recorder.

Provide students with a question that will allow them to synthesize or evaluate information.

Give students about 3 minutes to fill up the half page with as many ideas related to the answer as they can brainstorm.

Have each group share out their answers in the following manner.

  1. Group 1 shares everything they wrote on the half sheet.
  • All other groups will highlight this information if they have it on their half sheet.
  • If a group does not have this information they will add it to their half sheet and then highlight it.
  1. Group 2 shares all information on their half sheet that has not been highlighted. Once again all other groups highlight or add and highlight.
  2. Continue this process until all groups have presented their  non-highlighted information

Now instruct each group to fold their half paper again (into fourths).

  1. Explain that each group now need to condense what is on the half sheet by writing the most important information onto the ¼ sheet.
  2. Explain that then the group will condense this information again and again as the sheet is folded into 1/8th  and then 1/16th and then 1/32nd and then 1/64th of the sheet of paper.
  3. Explain that the last fold should only have one word on it
  4. Explain that every time the paper is folded a new group member will be the recorder.

Allow 5-10 minutes for this process of rotating the paper to a new recorder, folding the paper, discussing what should be written, and writing the response until only once word remains.

Finally share out the one word response from each group.

Collect and score each group’s completed folded paper.

Extension: Using the final word as the core of a topic sentence write a paragraph/essay that answers the original prompt.

Consider….Who did the work in this activity? Who did the learning?

I hope you try one of these. Let me know how it goes. I would also love to hear about your strategies that foster student ownership of learning as well.

All for One and One for All

February 26, 2011

 

The Power of Collaboration

 

Exciting things are happening in my AVID class of late. The change arose out of my desire to increase student ownership of their twice weekly tutorials where trained college aged tutors facilitate small groups of six students as they help one other discover the answer to a problem each student has identified from their classes or homework.

I had been concerned that some students asked multiple questions of the student who was presenting, while others seemed content to take a back seat. I was also dissatisfied with the quality of my students’ tutorial notes and reflections.  Although I had tried speaking to individual students and even addressing the group and class as a whole I saw little had improvement.

That’s when I happened to stop by the office of an AP at my school. He and I somehow began talking about an experiment a college professor he knows conducts in his classes. He offers his classes the option of group or individual grades and although no class has chosen group grades the professor commented on the quality of the discussion as students were deciding which option to take. Furthermore the professor pointed out that research indicates that the achievement of all students increases with the group option.

This last comment is the one that sparked my interest. It stayed in my mind throughout the day and rumbled around in my head all evening. Eventually I made a decision to revamp how I graded the AVID tutorials. Students would continue to receive the grade they earned, but they would also earn the lowest grade in their tutorial group. So if someone earned a 38 and the lowest score for their group was a 30 that individual would receive the average of 34.  I presented the new approach to tutorial grading to the AVID students and tutors. I pointed out that the power of a tutorial lies in the involvement of everyone in the process. A good tutorial I underscored was present when everyone did well. We discussed the idea that each group member in a tutorial has a responsibility to the other group members. I asked them to think about their role in making sure that everyone in their group was successful.

It has been six weeks since our first “All for one and one for all!” tutorial and the results are in. On average tutorial scores have risen 10% over the scores prior to the scores when every student received just their individual grade. More encouraging is the lack of outlier low scores where students earn less than a B. Indeed the class average is now at an A-.  Students are more engaged and the discussions are becoming more complex. This is definitely becoming a routine of success.

Here is a link to the AVID Tutorial Worksheet we use.

Constitution meets AVID tutorial…Students Win

January 27, 2011

Constitution Meets AVID Tutorial…Students Win

One of the goals of any solid AVID program is to take the power of WICR (Writing Inquiry Collaboration Reading) out of the elective classroom and integrate it throughout the school. Two of the most challenging strategies to integrate into the core classes are the AVID tutorial process and the Socratic Seminar. Last week after years of gentle prodding my school made some successful growth in these areas. Several of my AVID students came to class excited that they had done a Socratic Seminar in their Language Arts class. Concurrently in my Eighth Grade US History class I had just revised and implemented a lesson on the Constitution where students take a scenario and resolve it based on information they find in the Constitution. In the past students have struggled to read the document and often produced incomplete answers that did not demonstrate they understood or had even read the primary document. I decided to infuse the AVID tutorial process of collaborative problem solving through inquiry to address this problem. The result was total engagement of all students as they successfully grappled with their dilemmas. The bonus was the richness of their answers as they analyzed their dilemma and used the Constitution to develop their response. Most striking was the complex thinking that revolved around questions and evidence. The nuances of both the dilemma and the Constitution emerged as they had never done before. I am excited to share these results with my department when we meet at our next collaboration meeting.

Here is the lesson

I used the scenarios from my History Alive manual, but these could be made up by any teacher or even taken from items in the news.

I gave students an overview of the day and the assignment.

Students worked in groups of 4. Each person in the group chose a letter A-D.

A single set of the 12 scenarios are given to each group. Students then put their letter next to any three scenarios on the page. I had student choose one scenario and then pass the paper. They did this three times until every scenario had been assigned.

Rules of Engagement were posted and explained.

Students were told that everyone had to help each person find an answer to their dilemma, but they could only do so by asking the person with the dilemma questions. It was explained that the only person who could make a statement was the one with the dilemma. Each dilemma would be considered resolved if the person with the dilemma could explain the solution to the group using references to the Constitution (This process is the core of the AVID tutorial).

The criteria for their written responses was demonstrated with a sample response.

As students worked on their dilemmas my role was to facilitate the discussions. I also modeled question asking for groups that had difficulty with this. This is an important role especially in modeling questions that push thinking. Finally I watched to make sure the group was holding to the “ask not tell” protocol.

As students found a solution to their dilemma they wrote a solution that cited the Constitution (Article/Section/Quote).

What surprised me was the elaboration of the responses that included the weakness of the information given in the dilemma. Many students concluded that they could only partially respond to their dilemma because of missing information. They then went on to explain what information was missing.

While one student was writing their response to their dilemma, the next person read their dilemma and they along with the other remaining group members began to scour the Constitution looking for information that would resolve the dilemma. Then the questioning began again.

The energy that revolved around a document that is over 200 years old was amazing.

Following is a link to the slides I used.

Constitution meetsAVID

Busy weekends ahead!

April 17, 2010

I am most blessed to be able to work with four maybe five different GEAR UP schools over the next few weekends. My research for two of the sites has led to some very interesting discoveries on the topics of effective group work and effective inquiry particularly in the way we as teachers ask questions. As usual my handouts and comments will be posted here after the workshops.

Currently I am incorporating some of these techniques into my own classroom. This has meant some revamping of how I form my groups for a jigsaw for the social history of the US from 1820 to 1865. I am eager to see how it affects student learning.

Look at this site for some info and resources on these topics http://www.fisherandfrey.com

LA and Denver a tale of two cities?*

March 7, 2010

This was a most interesting week. I got to work with two groups of teachers…one a large group of mixed content areas in LA and the other an intimate group of 6 content alike teachers in Denver. The LA workshop was a brief one hour and the Denver was day long. One was in a middle school setting and the other was at a high school. Both however revolved around the idea of increasing rigor. (Scroll down and read the definition of rigor we worked with then click on the link to the voicethread discussion. It is a free registration and a new technology tool that can be used  in a myriad of ways.)  Just as the timeless story by Dickens was meant to warn England of the dire consequences it would face if  factory workers were not treated fairly (remember the industrial revolution was the new technology of the time) so did our discussions revolve around increasing the rigor of what we do with students and how we would support the growth of that rigor. The work that took place in both schools had different content …Cornell notes in LA and visual literacy in Denver…but both were about giving our students the critical thinking skills they need to survive in a 21st century world. For me both showed me that despite the challenges of the current economy many teachers are still focused on making it the  “best of times” for those whose lives they touch.
Porter teachers…See Carol for the handouts and powerpoint.

Cherry Creek attendees. VISUALS primary source strategies Pre-AP visuals 3-7-10 I AM POEM directions Costa’s Three Story Intell avidAnticipation Guidewriting supportwriting support If there is something else you need just leave a comment and I will get back to you:)

*This metaphoric commentary was inspired by Rick Wormeli’s new book entitled Metaphors & Analogies. Check it out at Stenhouse Publishing.

Upcoming CLMS Presentation!

February 25, 2010

I have posted links to the powerpoint and handouts for my presentation under  my recent activities page. I will be presenting a session on February 28, 2010 entitiled “Flipping Through History” at the California League of Middle Schools Conference this weekend in Sacramento. Check back to see how it went.

Check out the recent Activities Page!

February 21, 2010

Recently I spent a morning working with the staff at my school site. This is usually my most challenging audience. Add on to that I was given a topic from the District Office and my alloted time was almost cut in half about a week prior to the presentation! Find out what happened in my February 2010 entry under Recent Activities. Could your site use this rubric on Expectations and Rigor continuum?

Check out my Recent Activities Page!

July 27, 2009

Read about my recent visit to Sacramento and learn about an intriguing application for Habits of Mind. How could this activity be modified for different content areas?