Posts Tagged ‘rigor’

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.

Lessons from camp

August 7, 2010

I recently spent a weekend at a camp on what will remain an unnamed lake about a 90 minute drive north of New York City. It was a beautiful setting composed of rustic cabins set on a tranquil lake. Turtles and geese skimmed the surface of the water and fireflies punctuated the night sky. However my time there was anything but tranquil. Why? Because the group I was with dared to dip our toes in the lake water.  Immediately a camp employee appeared as if out of a mist and warned us that there was no swimming He further informed us that the next time he saw us enter the water the cops would be called and we would be “out of there.” Now be aware that we were not swimming we were ankle-deep at the edge of the water. The hackles of the ranger were further riled when we dared to ask why swimming was not allowed. We were brusquely told “that’s the rule” and shooed away. From that moment on my group was watched and repeatedly stopped and questioned by the “powers that be”.  My favorite was when one of the rangers came down from a second story patio as I and another member of my party were taking a stroll. He hurried up to us and asked about the stainless steel cup my companion was carrying commenting that he “just wanted to make sure we weren’t carrying a beer can.”  These “I just want to make sure” comments were inserted at several of the drive by inspections of our cabin as well. We nicknamed these camp rangers the camp nazis. The next day our group hiked for several hours where we discovered  another more secluded lake .Here we swam and dove to our hearts content…ranger free at  no detriment to the environment or ourselves.  We actually got to touch and experience the nature that had been dangling out of range the day before. On the final day we went kayaking on the first lake. Once again we were informed that there is no swimming (I guess these kayaks are guaranteed not to tip over). OK so we did not dare to try any maneuvers that would lead to any suspicions of swimming. But the camp nazis were not satisfied.  We were the recipients of one last chastisement as we prepared to leave. With a pointed finger wag they accused us of …illegal picnicking! Actually we were rearranging some items that had gotten wet and organizing snacks for the return drive….and had dared to taste a tortilla chip! We shook our heads and gratefully headed out of the back country.

So what does this cautionary tale have to do with education?  My first thought…am I a camp nazi in my classroom? Do I enforce protocols for the sake of the protocol even when it makes no sense or I have no reason for the enforcement or implementation of a rule or a procedure. How do I respond to the uncomfortable questions of my students? Am I an authoritarian? Am I unable to explain the purpose of a rule to the students? Am I robbing my students of an opportunity to explore the wilderness of learning and therefore stifling their love of learning?

If knowledge represents the nature my group sought to relish, I fear for many students the camp we stayed in is a metaphor for too many of the schools they attend. If I expand this metaphor some who run the schools are the rangers we encountered …busily enforcing rules that served no one’s interest (except the campground’s ability to reduce law suits).  

We need to remember there is no risk free learning just as any encounter with nature holds risks.  Our role as teachers is not to keep kids intellectually safe…but to guide them to explore new regions and ideas in their mind’s landscape.  Our role is not to enforce mindless rules, but to nourish students as they develop the skills needed to weigh evidence, consider various perspectives.

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.

How do you define rigor?

March 7, 2010

Join me in a voicethread discussion on this topic. Here is the definition we will be using as a foundation.

“Rigor is the goal of helping students develop the capacity to understand content that is complex, ambiguous, provocative, and personally or emotionally challenging.“

Source: Teaching What Matters Most; Standards and Strategies for Raising Student Achievement by Strong, Silver and Perini, ASCD, 2001.

What do you think? How would you define rigor? Does your classroom reflect rigor?

Here is the link to the discussion. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.  Voicethread Rigor Thread

If you have never visited voicethread do so! How do you see it being used in your classroom?

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?