Friday, April 26, 2013

Final Inquiry Projects, Multiple Rubrics? - April 26 Crumble

I'm a linear kind of learner.  I very much need to have things written out for me to make sense and capture the meaning - so I know that I am guilty of creating those slide shows where I could just have easily put it on a timer, pressed play, and took a bathroom break while my audience read my presentantation.  That's how wordy I am (like you haven't noticed).  But as a professional developer, I have to understand that most of my audience is not like me.  Most of them need to be actively engaged and visually stimulated, and I find it interesting that almost one hundred percent of the students who participated in the seventh grade biography project initially chose to create a Power Point presentation where they wanted to write out (or copy) information onto a slide rather than produce something more visual or active.

So the big questions is: Why?  Power Point is still sort-of new to these kids, although most of them have had experience with it before they hit our seventh grade language arts class, and the use of technology with all of the bells and whistles has been taught in their technology class this year.  All students are instructed on how to properly put one together in tech, so we had minimal issue with students not knowing how to use it.  They were all comfortable and enthusiastic about it. 

But what else can they do?  A few of our kiddos realized that they really wanted something a little more spacial.  Once they figured this out and conferenced with the language arts teacher, trifold boards and large poster boards began appearing, and collages started. Some kids really wanted to be wordy, but they wanted to do something different, so they created a newsletter-style report using Microsoft Publisher to inform their readers on the different aspects of the life of the person they had been researching.  I challenged one student to use Haiku Deck to create his presentation, and he was able to capture Michael Jackson visually and with minimal words - requiring transformation of information, which is key in the research process.  We offered to support some of our more musical students in changing the words to a current song and writing one using information from their research, but as of now nobody has taken us up on this.  This is where I'm falling short.  I can't, for the life of me, figure out why - when we have girls and boys who keep notebooks full of song lyrics and poetry - none of them want to use that skill to write something research-based.  Do we need to have them practice this skill more?  Does this fall on the language arts teacher?  How can we get others, perhaps the music teacher, involved in possibly exposing students to something like this - in helping us wake up the inner musician in some of our students?

Speeches, another target of the language arts class, were required of our students once they started finalizing their visuals, and many of our kiddos had taken such pride in their visual, they made very little qualms about connecting their visual with a speech.  I was able to sit down with a few and help them "beef up" Power Points with video clips from youtube and help them dig up more information, pictures, and anecdotes to share with the class. Once some of them got the hang of it, they were really proud of what they had accomplished!  Some of these kids are the most resistent to anything-education, and the pride they took on their reports was pretty amazing.

Digital-anything is not new for our kiddos, but it is engaging and exciting.  Creating movies, podcasts, and blogs are relevant but scary for those of us pushing forty.  I have a nine-year-old at home who can grab pictures from google images, save them into a folder, and then import them into a word document for printing.  Just a few days ago I introduced her to the world of blogging, and her enthusiasm was equivelant to her excitement when she gets a new mod for her Minecraft game!  She was fascinated that what she wrote online would stay there and she could share it and edit if she wanted later on. 

Most of us are scared to allow students to make such grand choices in their products.  This is partly because it is hard for us to give up control and also because we are concerned it will cause additional work to create all of those rubrics.  This has been a common concern this year as I work with more and more of you on CRISS support in project design.  My response is simple: No.  You do not have to create a rubric for each project.  Please don't.  Look at your goal.  Use the backwards design method.  If your goal is for students to be able to explain what effects gravitational forces, then create your rubric around that goal.  Students should be able to create their project to hit that target.  In the language arts classes, one of the goals was for the students to identify theme with examples of how the author expresses this theme.  Somewhere in each project, the students had to produce this information after they were given direct instruction on author's use of theme.  The rubric should then reflect that this was a goal of the project.

Don't feel like you have to grade everything.  This comes from my background in the 6+1 Traits of Writing.  Detailed rubrics are good because our students know what is expected, but remember what your real goal is.  If a student hits the real goal in an assignment but misses out on other smaller things, should that student pass or fail? 

And I shall leave you with that thought to ponder for the weekend.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Social Studies inquiry - April 19 Crumble

As our seventh graders continued work on their biography projects this week, and I have moved into the eighth grade social studies classes.  I touch base with our biography-readers, and I've even been able to talk one into using Haiku Deck for his presentation rather than Power Point.  Unfortunately, after I got him started, I realized he can only access it on an iPad, but the project looks great!  This would be a nice app to use on our iPad cart, and it started me thinking about the possibility of checking out iPads from the library here.  It would have been great to allow him to do that for this project!  He seems to be enjoying it - partly because its on iPad and partly because it's cool and different.  Once he is finished, I will blog it so you can see the ease of this app.

So I spent most of my week with eighth graders.  Eighth graders have been given the task of creating a social history scrapbook to hit research targets for CCSS.  The project, itself, is big, but the entire task is really colossal - not unmanageable for a two-week project - but a big shock to our eighth graders.  Again, I am seeing an interesting phenomenon - the same trend that I saw with our seventh graders.  Give the kids a task (with good direction) and leave them alone.  They will do their best to complete the task. 

This is what has occured so far:
  • Students were given directive on the entire project, including being given a grading rubric that included specifics on the final project as well as specifics on the expectations on the process.  All targets were aligned with Common Core Standards and explained at length.  I will touch on this again below, so keep this bullet point in mind.
  • Students were also given direct instruction on citing sources by our Library Media Specialist.  She uses a spiral system where student expectations for citing increase sixth through eighth grade.  During this insruction each student (while working in pairs) also had an opportunity to try their hand at typing out a full citation in MLA style before being expected to write one on their own for the project. 
  • Students were then given instruction on how to use the Q-Chart.  This time, instead of having students write their questions on the chart, they wrote them in their three-column-note sheet before they began their research.  The Q-Chart was used, then, to keep track of what types of questions they were asking.  Students were directed to put a check mark on the chart and try to spread out their question types so that they use a variety of questions.
  • Finally, students were instructed to look for their topics and answers.
I am quite pleased with the process.  For three years we have been working on a functioning research technique, and we are getting to a point where we have one that we like.  As with everything, however, changes can be made to differentiate and make this an even more efficient procedure. 

I wish I had thought about conducting a mini-lesson on text features like I had done with the seventh grade biography-readers.  Not all of our students needed this, but a majority of them had trouble picking out main topics or even understanding that they should have main topics for their research.  They needed to have four influential people, four historical events, four science and technology breakthroughs, and four parts of daily life plus some other research.  Some students just started writing a bunch of questions about historical events, and their research was slim.  Once we sat with individual students and explained how to make their social studies text book work for them (use the timeline for important dates and the Important words and people at the beginning of each section to come up with influential people), some of them took off and never looked back!  I'm even wondering if perhaps I could have taken a group of the struggling readers off to a separate section of the library and worked with them on this task.  They were supposed to use their social studies text book to give them ideas for what to research in the era that they chose.  The picture below shows how some of the students organized their notes.  They were pretty extensive!

Another thing I wish I had done to differentiate for our students with higher skill level is to possibly pull them off and explain to them that the question-asking process might seem tedious to them because they sometimes skip that part and go right to finding answers.  Sometimes the answers come faster than the questions, so we were able to suggest to some of our kids that if they find information they want to include but have no question for it, include it and do a "jeopardy" - come up with the question afterwards. 

Something that our eight grade social studies teacher and I discussed a bit is the idea that when I am working with our struggling readers in small groups or one-on-one, they struggle so much with the texts we use for research - even when given a purpose for reading.  I found myself reading a paragraph out loud and stopping to paraphrase every few sentences (and looking up pictures online) because I would read and then ask if there were answers in what I read, and they would just stare at me with their eyes wide in the deer-in-headlights way.  One student, in particular, had self-awareness enough to be able to communicate that he had no idea what it was reading - even after chunking it into a few sentences at a time.  Why would this be?  Blam!  It hit me again.  I started breaking up sentences for them, and there were sometimes one out of every five words that I had to define!  Our kiddos need more words!

Some things that I am learning through this process:
  • Come up with some ways to communicate expectations over and over again.  Going over the packet at the beginning creates an overwhelming sensation with the kids that causes them to tune out and focus on one thing: when is it due?  I think that, if I can work on this project again next year, I might suggest creating a website with expectations laid out along with pictures of what pages should look like.  That way the teacher can direct students to the website and continue to emphasize how things should look.  Using a blog or Google sites would work just fine for this. 
  • Make a bigger effort to identify students who may struggle, and communicate better with the teacher so that we have a plan for these kiddos.  We had a surface plan early-on and identified the kids who would need help and modification, but I feel like I could have done a better job with support to them. 
  • Identify checkpoints in the project for those who struggle with organization and reading.  Stick with those checkpoints.
  • Know that I will be doing a lot of reading and paraphrasing to keep struggling readers on track with everybody else or modify the assignment even more than we had so that they can feel more independent with it.  By eighth grade I want them to feel a sense of accomplishment without having to have their hands held by anybody. 
  • Be prepared to spend some time after school and during lunch with those who are panicking.  We allowed the kids to come in during the second week, but I'm wondering if perhaps I should have insisted that the struggling readers come in both weeks.  I noticed that after working with some the first few days one-on-one, they were asking to come in during lunch, PE, music, and any other class to work on their project.  I'm guessing if I had set aside 3 mornings where the kids worked from 8:45 until lunch I would have had a few takers.  By the last day, they're all panicking - except those who asked to come in early-on.
This project has been a hard wake-up call for many of our eighth graders, but it is something they needed to experience as they prepare to become freshmen.  I'm praying that they all take it seriously over the weekend and finish it because it is out of our hands after today.  I have heard rumors of large quantities of students from our school descending upon public libraries this weekend to create and print.  I hope the library has stocked upon their paper!  But this project has also reminded me of my love for research, and it makes me want to get some projects going on an ongoing basis next year (partly because I don't want to have everybody doing their research in April next year and partly because I haven't had this much fun in a while!), so start thinking of some ideas and ways that I can be used to support you in your planning and execution of your research next year.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Inquiry ideas - April 12 Crumble

Much inquiry has been taking place this week, and I have truly enjoyed being in the middle of it all!  Biography projects continue full-force in our seventh grade intervention classes while our eighth graders are all working on a social history project for social studies. I've had the privelage of being part of both projects in planning and support for our struggling readers, and what I am finding is that our kiddos need to be doing more inquiry-based learning. 

Students working on the biography projects are finishing up their books this week.  One requirement for the project was to read a biography from cover to cover.  To keep our students engaged and give them purpose for reading, we had them create Q-Charts last week.  The next step in this process was engaged reading.  Students kept their Q-Charts on their desks as they began reading.  They chose their sticky notes (small, medium, large and color), and their task was to find answers to questions and mark selections in the text that would help them to create their final project.  On their assignment sheet, our language arts teacher had given specific requirements on what should be included (timeline, accomplishments, family history, etc.), so they were also keeping an eye out for this information as well.  Between the Q-chart and the project requirements, students had good purpose for their reading.  One of the foundational principals of Project CRISS is the ability to set purpose for a task, so we did.  And the sticky notes began . . .

Some of the kids wrote the answers on the sticky notes and slapped them right into the books.  Some wrote the questions and put them in the book where the answers were found.  It was neat to see how each student found a unique way that worked for him or her! 

Some have completed their reading and are beginning to organize their ideas on their notes sheet.  Again, our struggling readers showed so much metacognitive ability, that they were able to choose (without being prompted) how to get this information into their notes sheets.  Some took the information out and wrote it on their sheets and then put the sticky notes in a big pile.  Others pulled the sticky notes right off the book and stuck them onto the page where the answers belonged!  Call this lazy, but I call this a great way to save time!  Still others did a combination of both - using sticky notes and filling in information where they felt they were lacking. 

From here, students had to make a choice of 8 different possible final products ranging from writing a song parody to creating a power point to performing an interview to creating a two-page book spread where all information from the research is presented in some way. 

Our big challenge in the final projects has been trying to steer our kiddos away from Power Point presentations or creating a Power Point presentation that is actually used the way it was designed - as a visual supplement for a presentation.  Most of our students went right to Power Point because it was easy for them and they were familiar with it, regardless of their learning style.  Although slide show presentations are an important skill to learn, we are seeing that a little more direction in how the slide show should be used would be more appropriate.  What we are now having to do is one-on-one instruction on the purpose of Power Point. 

Even more exciting is our idea for next year - the idea that perhaps students could create a metacognitive journey slide show as a report of how they created their project.  So Power Point will be used, but as a way of showing the class what they did as they journeyed through the biography project and how it worked or didn't work, what they would do differently, and their thoughts and feelings about how it will impact them as learners in the future!

I recall doing writing assignments similar to this when I taught language arts a few years ago where students were expected to write their last paragraph in a reading response about their metacognitive journey.  I got this idea from Young Adult Literature in the Classroom: Reading It, Teaching It, Loving It by Joan B. Elliot and Mary M Dupuis.  Project CRISS calls for students to be metacognitive in their learning in order to become independent, and making it an expectation was eye-opening for me as a teacher.  My kiddos struggled with it!  In a recent conversation with our seventh grade intervention teacher, our focus is shifting to process, but kids are stuck in product-mode.  We need them to be more process-oriented because Common Core is demanding skills from these information-overloaded children.  Being in the education field for sixteen years, I struggle with process vs. product myself, but I'm learning right along with our kids, and I have to say - I'm having fun!

Friday, April 5, 2013

April 5 Crumble: Q-Charts

This week I have had an incredibly positive experience in our seventh grade reading intervention class as we began a biography project.  During one of our collaboration times, the idea came up of using some sort of questioning strategy to give students a purpose for their reading as they worked through a biography - many of them for the first time.  Ironically, while at the IRC convention, I had encountered the Q-Chart, and I wanted to give it a try.

CCSS expects our students to analyze craft and structure of selections of texts, and one of Project CRISS's Principles and Philosophy is Author's Craft, so I thought that combining those ideas with the Q-Chart would be a perfect way to hit a variety of essential skills at the same time. 

Here's how it can work:

  • Show students a piece of nonfiction text and ask them to preview it by coming up with ideas of how the author informs the reader.  Give a few examples, for example chapter titles, bulleted lists, etc.
  • Give students some time to look at the piece of text (we did it on the projector under a document camera).  Then allow students about thirty seconds to share a few ideas with at least one person in their area.  Monitor.
  • Do a popcorn response and have students quickly give one way that they saw the author inform the readers.
  • Demonstrate how to use the Q-chart and the cues from the author of the biography to write some questions. 
  • Use one word from the verticle and one from the horizontal and put them together to create a question.  I looked at pictures, captions, titles of chapters and bulleted lists, charts, graphs, and I wrote questions like "How did music keep the Jackson family safe?" based from a chapter title.  "When did Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie first meet?" came from a full-page photograph of the two together. 
  • Students should then be given a chance to help with asking a few together before set off to do their own.  Constant monitoring is important, and I will expain that below.
  • Once students finish writing their thirty-six questions, they are pretty amazed that they have written that much, and then their job becomes reading with their questions in mind.  (Stay tuned for next week's blog for a continuation of this process!)
In retrospect, I see a few changes that I will certainly make the next time I use the Q-Chart in this way.  The first change I will make is to establish some rules about question-writing. 
  1. Questions should be based on information students find in the book (based upon something they can cite if asked). 
  2. Only 2 questions should be written about one topic.
  3. Reading while writing questions should be minimal to start.
  4. More questions can be written once reading has begun.
  5. Q-Chart must be complete before reading can begin.
What happened with some of our students is that they took a topic and wrote six questions across, changing the wording slightly, and wrote the same question or variances six times.  Another problem we encountered is that some students looked for an easy way out, and they asked circumstantial questions like "What would so-and-so do if he broke his leg?".  Unless this question stemmed from a photo or an incident in the life of the person researched, there is no way the answer can be found and cited.  The question becomes irrelevant for research.  Finally, we had one student who looked at a page and got so into it that he's spent three periods on it and has little to show for the time he has spent reading.  Our fear is that he will continue this trend and not complete the project if he doesn't follow the steps.  He loves to read, but he chooses reading over completing work and practicing things that are difficult for him, such as writing. 

As our students move into engaged reading, we remind them to keep their Q-Charts on their desks or next to them as they read so that if they find answers or come up with more questions, they have it close.  Today was the first day some of them started reading, and its pretty neat to see them so actively engaged in reading a piece of non-fiction text!  What has also been interesting is the care that some students took in creating their questions and the thoughtfulness in their pre-reading.  Questions such as "Why was Devin Hester's junior year in college such a bad year for him?" and "Where did Michael Jackson learn how to do the moonwalk?" were asked.  Now those are great questions! 

I see the Q-Chart as being something that can be adapted to any fiction or non-fiction setting with a little tweaking.  Although I have seen only this same chart posted time after time after time, through a collaborative discussion we also considered changing some of the words across the top to fit the project.  One example of a change we will make next year is exchanging some of the verbs across the top with past tense verbs because this project focuses on life events that happened in the past.  I'm always up for tweaking things to make them fit the goal.

I'm looking forward to my continuous work with this group over the next few weeks and will keep you all updated on their progress!  Happy weekend, all!