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.

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