Posts Tagged ‘social studies’

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.

Nickels and Dimes and Pennies; The Real Cost of a Teacher.

February 27, 2011

So I started to think about teachers as the CAUSE OF ALL ECONOMIC PROBLEMS IN THE U.S. today ( At least this is the image that is being projected today). I considered my salary and whether I was ripping off the taxpayers in California… who pay about $9,000 per student a year for each student’s education.

(Source: I decided to examine this question through several lenses.

Lens One

Using high-end figures for my analysis, my salary and benefits would equal $100,000. For clarity and simplicity I have used rounded numbers for this discussion. To begin with I teach 200 students a day for 180 days. When I divide $100,000 by these numbers I come to a daily cost of $2.78 per student per day. Now since I have reached the top of my district’s pay scale, most of the teachers at my site earn less than I do. But let’s err on the high side and say that on average teachers at my school cost the tax payer $2.50 per class for each student’s teacher. Students at my school have 7 classes a day so the teachers’ salaries (including all benefits) would cost the taxpayer $17.50 a day or$ 87.50 a week or $350.00 a month. I am paid 10 equal payments throughout the year which means $3,500.00 is the cost of a child’s teacher at my site for an entire year.

 Question …where is the other $5,500 spent?

Is a child’s education in my class worth a parent passing up a Starbucks…or a Big Mac…or a trip on the Metro? Is the cost of a day of education for a child worth a pair of movie tickets…or two margaritas…or having someone clean half your house?

Sidebar: Considered another way… the amount of money my district receives for 11 of my 200 students would cover the cost of my salary and benefits for a year.

Now let’s return to my data. You could say I cost each parent of each student in my class $2.78 a day. I spend 45 minutes instructing that child. This does not include the time spent planning and researching and grading any assignment your student is given. It does not include the hour and a half minimum I spend every day after school working with students who need extra help or a place to work or to access the technology or supplies they need in order to complete their homework. Also be aware that I have the same educational experience as a lawyer. I have a BA, a credential, a CLAD certificate, and a MS. That is 8 years of college level work. I have 36 years of experience. I belong to professional organizations, read current literature, and attend conferences to improve my practice.

Question…Which doctor, lawyer, accountant, or therapist would  you expect to provide 45 minutes of services at a cost of $2.78?

Lens Two

Next I considered my salary through another lens. How much does each student cost the tax payer for the hours I work?

Once again I will use the $100,000 figure for my salary and benefits and the 200 figure for my number of students. (My actual student number is 197 by the way).  If I add up the actual hours I work the average would be 10 hours a day. For the purposes of this discussion I will not include my weekend hours.

Next I did the math.

100,000/10=10,000 salary divided by months

10,000 /4= 2,500 cost per week

2,500/5=500 cost per day

500/10=50 cost per hour

50/200=.25  This is the cost to the taxpayer per student per hour for me to prepare, instruct, and evaluate  a child’s learning.

Question… How many minutes at a parking meter is that or how many minutes on a dryer at a Laundromat?

By the way if I completed this process using my 7 hour contracted day the cost comes to .33 cents per student per hour.
My Conclusion

I am a bargain for the taxpayers and for the children that I teach. As we work as a nation to improve economic conditions let’s not nickel and dime the education of our children. That would be “penny wise and pound foolish” (Burton).

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

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 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?

Do These Results Matter? Fundamentals vs Fluency

July 11, 2009

If you haven’t had a chance to read my post “How Did You Do? Does It Matter?” you might want to do so before reading this one. The fact that only 3.5% of the students surveyed “passed” this quiz does indeed matter, but not for the reasons one might expect. Yes a good procedural understanding of how our republic works is essential to its survival. Whether it is a contested election result or a desire to address a concern to your legislator, a basic understanding of the Constitution is necessary. I sincerely believe such information is taught and tested every year in classrooms across the nation. Why then the poor performance? We as educators are reluctant to take the leap of faith into higher level thinking. Intellectually we know that low level questions such as the one on this test do not work and yet the vast majority of questions asked during a typical class are mired in recall. Often we use the rationalization that these facts are on a high stakes test. However unless we ask students to process these facts at a higher level, they are doomed to continue to fail tests like this one. It is only when students manipulate information to make meaning that gelling between the neurons occurs. It is imperative that educators take this leap into the more complex levels of higher level inquiry. Not only is it more engaging for students, it creates enduring learning.

For example how many US History teachers ask students to name the goals of the Preamble to the Constitution? This is an important concept. It is relevant to life today as we consider the proper role of government in 21st century America. However if this concept is kept as a listing item you can be assured students will not remember it. Strategic teaching recognizes this and designs tasks that allow students to manipulate essential information. Analysis, application, and evaluation will ensure recall. Engaging students in higher level activities will ensure the long term learning of the lower levels as well. Instead of asking students to list the goals have them create visuals of each goal. Then hand student groups a list of scenarios of government activities and have them analyze each scenario to identify which goal it demonstrates. Make sure some scenarios are ambiguous so groups have to come to consensus, and explain why the scenario fits the goal their group chose. Take the leap!

Key Idea: Students learn facts only when they process them at the higher levels of thinking. Drilling students at a recall level is a sure path to failure.

The Importance of Social Studies

July 4, 2009

In this age of accountability so often the focus is on Math and Language Arts. Sometimes Science creeps into the mix, but rarely is the fourth core subject, Social Studies, included as a priority. Why is  this? I am interested in what others think about this. I have some thoughts, but I want to listen (in a figurative sense) to the thoughts and opinions of others first.