Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Metacognition (originally published in 2011)

Several years ago I wrote this article in lieu of a conference presentation.  Dr. Carol Santa actually enjoyed it so much that she recommended it get printed in the CRISS national newsletter after I revamped a few things.  The article below is the original article (before the Dr. Santa revamp - although it was good both ways!).  I was very proud of this research, and I am looking forward to using some of it this year at both the Day of Reading Conference and the IRC Conference as well.

The Epiphany
                Metacogntition  - a word that even Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize, and yet eighth graders in my language arts class can tell you that it means “thinking about your thinking”.  This year, however, I was compelled to step back and take a look at just how much I really knew about the word.  That one act opened up a flood-gate of research, ideas, and discoveries that I could not wait to share with anybody who would listen . . .
                My name is Heather Lambert.  I am a read/write learner.  Five learning-styles tests have proven that I am incapable of being a successful learner by kinesthetic means.  Teach me to play hockey by writing it out for me.  Teach me to fix a toilet or make a cake by giving me written directions.  Do not show me or tell me.  Let me read it. Interestingly, I am both intrapersonal and musical.  Put that together with read/write, and you get a poet.  Spiritual balancing has indicated that I am also a communicator.  I love words.  So what is the problem?
                The problem is sadly simple. 
                During our study of Flowers for Algernon in eighth grade, my student teacher drew attention to Howard Gardener’s theory of Multiple Intelligences.  She had students perform a self-assessment on themselves that ultimately indicated their highest intelligence.  Most of our students scored highest in kinesthetic, musical, and visual.  Not a match to their highly-wordy teacher. 
                Still don’t see the problem?  
                After assessing my own teaching, I discovered that most of my teaching methods, although highly engaging, were language-based.  I was comfortable with words, but I was not working with subjects who had the same strengths.  Without knowing it, I had clearly set up some of my students for failure because I had not reflected upon myself as a learner/teacher and allowed myself to see my students through my multiple-intelligence glasses.  Yikes!  Even scarier, I was so wrapped up in my intrapersonal-self that I didn’t take into account that many of the adults with whom I engage are not like me either! 
                In the six years that I have been training for CRISS, metacognition has always been a word that meant “reflection on act”.  But the idea that I was teaching toward my own learning style on a daily basis allowed much more than reflection on act.  It allowed understanding that my lessons needed to become more multi-modal if I am to reach all of my students.  But it was more than that.  It was not just about giving students multi-modal work, but about seeing them as learners who take in information in different modes.  Even one-on-one informal discussions take on new meaning when you think of it that way.  What an epiphany!  And what a heart-break.  To discover that the blood, sweat, and tears that I had put into my work was not enough was devastating to me!  And how was I going to sell this to our overworked, over scrutinized staff?

The Three-Tiers
                Upon attending a stirring talk by Dr. Carol Santa on what really works in education, I was inspired to move forward with my research, and I wanted to drag my colleague Pam McGreer along with me.  With one eyebrow up in curiosity for literally thirty minutes, she listened to me go on and on about Dr. Santa’s ideas in the three tiers of CRISS understanding.  The more I talked, the more it made sense to me.  Dr. Santa had hit the nail on the head for me.  We understand CRISS at three levels: by strategy, by principle, or by a deeper clinical psychological level. 
                Most teachers, having gone through their first level 1 training, are so overwhelmed by the strategies and how they can be tied together that often the metacognitive piece is overlooked.  Strategies are fun and engaging; they allow for differentiation by level and by learning style.  Reflection on a strategy takes time.  I don’t have it.  Done. 
                After four or five years of training, I finally was able to wrap my head around the second tier, principle, and it dawned on me that the P&P were a set of guidelines that, if followed daily, one can hit a variety of learners in a lesson with little major changes in those plans.  Discussion?  Check.  Writing? Check.  Explanation and modeling?  Check.  And so on.
                But to ask a teacher to know oneself as a learner before even evaluating oneself as a teacher?  Then to meet students head-on with your knowledge of self?  And to engage in activities that take student strengths/weaknesses into account all the while knowing where your strengths and weaknesses lie?  Well, that is the root of where communication lies, and that is where we must stoop to reach the kids who seem unreachable.  At the base. 

                So what does this mean for us, as educators?  Throw up our hands and walk away – the task is too daunting?  Certainly it does not mean that we need to revamp our entire curriculum, does it?  The answer is no.  What is does mean is this:

  •  Before you go any further, take a learning styles test ( a multiple-intelligences test ( or  Reflect upon both and journal about parts of your life and your teaching that align with the results.  If you are not satisfied with your results, take another one somewhere else (I took five, remember?).  In your journal, take time to reflect upon your teaching – focus on strategies and activities that you do that align with your learning styles and your strengths.* After this, jot down things that you do already as a teacher to reach students who are of other intelligences and learning styles.  Visit some of those websites listed above to give you a thorough explanation of the types of intelligences you will encounter.  Make lists of things you can do as an educator to keep all intelligences in mind.    *I say “journal” because that is how I would do it – remember, I am a read/write/intrapersonal type.  If you have a better way of keeping track of yourself, use it!  But don’t let the information go away.  Save it somewhere so that you can reflect back upon it later. 
  •  Give students a learning-styles and multiple-intelligences questionnaire and allow them to reflect upon themselves as learners as you did above.  Expect them to give examples from their lives that support their learning style.  Some will disagree with the outcome.  Have a second test handy for this reason.  Dive into what learning styles and multiple intelligences mean for them as learners so that they can carry this new knowledge with them from class to class.
  • Make a CRISS P&P checklist and be sure to hit as many of the P&P as possible during each lesson.  Understand and accept that some activities will support some students better than others and that handfuls of students will be more comfortable with certain strategies more than others.
  •  Teach strategies and directly relate them to students as learners.  Confess that some of the strategies just don’t work for you, and get excited when you, as a learner, benefit from a strategy.  Encourage your students to reflect upon their strategy usage in this way.
  •  Use CRISS vocabulary and multiple intelligence/learning-styles vocabulary when introducing activities and strategies, not only for strategy-calling, but for principles.  For example, “To help you to build background knowledge we’re going to be using a discussion strategy called Mind Streaming.  Our interpersonal and verbal/linguistic students will love this activity because it involves discussion, and you love to connect with others and talk!” Build in reflection time and have students draw their strengths into their reflections to different activities and strategies.
  •  Give students choices within the same activity.  In eighth grade, we spend time in language arts supporting our students with note-taking strategies so that they can take these skills into their content area courses and be more organized learners.  Modeling different note-taking strategies at the beginning of the year and pinpointing what types of learners may benefit from using the different types would be a great place to start!  When discussing learning styles, I often recommend that our verbal/linguistic students try power notes because we (the verbals) tend to be pretty wordy.  Power note taking gives students lots of room to reword and summarize.  Two column-notes might work better for those kids who are kinesthetic and aural because they don’t see much value in note taking.  Two-column notes are easy to organize and allow for very brief summaries to be written.  Webbing or mapping, although challenging for me, is really easy for a more visual learner because that type of learner can see relationships visually.  I am completely distracted by the lines and boxes, but then I would be.  I’m verbal.
  • Get crazy.  Set up a portfolio system.  At the beginning of the quarter go over a list of the learning targets that students will hit by the end of the quarter.  As you hit each target in your lessons and assignments, direct students to this list and remind them that they need to be able to prove with physical evidence (ie. a piece of writing, test/quiz, assessed project, reading logs, journals, etc.) that they have been able to meet that goal.  At the end of the quarter, have students put their portfolios together.  Included should be a checklist of the targets and student-selected evidence along with a metacognitive reflection for each piece.  Reflections should indicate why the student feels that the evidence supports learning and how his/her learning style/intelligences fit into the equation.  Why not have students check off a list of the CRISS P&P and allow them to make connections with that as well?
Whew!  Talk about knowing oneself!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

October 18 Crumble - Power teaching and its alignment with the P&P of Project CRISS

My best planning times are usually the most inopportune times when its virtually impossible, dangerous, or ridiculous for me to write down my ideas.  I used to tell my former principal that I planned most of my PD while I was sleeping - which used to make him laugh, but this is a true statement!  Generally when he would spring a PD on me four days before the show was supposed to go on the road, I'd stress about it for a day, go to bed, and then wake up at 3 a.m. with a plan that I would have to get up and jot down so I could sleep again.  A few weeks ago, in the car on the way to work, I'd been stressing about a presentation that I had agreed to do with a colleague at the Day of Reading Conference on November 2, when I had a brilliant idea!  Of course, I was driving . . . so I did what any teacher would do, I grabbed my phone and hit the voice to text button and sent her the entire plan in a voice text, which came out sort of the way I had intended, but she got the idea (although apparently I thought that we should introduce whole GRAIN teaching instead of whole BRAIN teaching . . . ).

So yesterday during a working lunch with her, I embellished on my thought - which included the idea of introducing Power Teaching to our audience.  Not surprisingly, I had completely forgotten that I had even texted that to her.  I love technology for this reason - how many ideas of mine would have flown out my open car window that morning had I not had the option to voice text her?

I digress . . .

A little over a year ago, a respected colleague of mine introduced me to Power Teaching - one of the most engaging and entertaining ways to present, in my opinion.  This video is a brilliant illustration of a few of the fun and engaging strategies. 

Want more?  Just google Chris Biffle and whole brain teaching, and you'll get a ton of fantastic ideas as to how you can make these strategies work for you!

So after discussing the idea of power teaching with my colleague yesterday, I started to realize that the bits and pieces of information that were being "taught" by the students to each other were similar to what Project CRISS has called the 3-minute-pause.  The idea of this strategy is to break up a lesson into smaller, more manageable chunks so that our kiddos can process it and then reset for another stretch of learning.  I really wish I was better about writing down important research and backing it up with evidence like we expect our students to do because my rule of thumb has always been "one minute per grade-level" - so for a sixth grader, the manageable chunk of time they can "sit and get" is about six minutes, a seventh grader can sit for about seven, and so on.  I'm pretty sure I didn't just make this up, but I can't find the research to back it up.  In a behavior management document published by the University of Carolina, it is reported that kids can usually pay attention for their age +1, which would be about twelve minutes for a sixth grader, thirteen for a seventh grader, and so on.  My experience has been that it depends on the topic and the kids, and I'm sure that most of you would agree with me on this one.  Notice that for middle school, none of those numbers are even close to forty-nine, which is our current period length, so our job is to break up that time so that we can make the most of the instruction time we have with our kiddos.

CRISS's three-minute-pause is a longer time frame than the power teaching model with a more in-depth look at the content, but the idea of breaking up the content is the same.  CRISS values the idea that students should restate what they've learned, similar to Biffle's power teaching, but CRISS specifically asks students to make connections with the content, ask questions, or identify something that was particularly interesting to them.  Using a combination of power teaching and the three-minute-pause could be pretty powerful if planned and implemented well. 

Whatever your time specification - know that once your kiddos start to sign off, there is no more learning going on, so the more often you can get them to engage in the content, process it, discuss it, apply it, write about it, and reset - the more content they will internalize.  Biffle stops so often that my head starts to spin after about three minutes, but his illustration is one for teaching teachers how to use the strategies, and it is truly effective!  You have to make them your own.  What I love about his teaching method is the predictability of what is expected along with the validation that quick pace and discussion are important for learners at the middle and high school level.  Its classroom management and content management wrapped into one strategy, and it is beautiful.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

October 11 Crumble - Using higher level questioning and the jigsaw to engage learners

I'm currently in the throws of planning an experience in a science classroom that includes close reading followed by several discussion strategies.  As I was flipping through my 4th edition CRISS manual tonight, searching for a crumble-worthy topic, I happened across the Question-Answer-Relationship (QAR).  I was then brought back to a conversation I had with the science teacher this last week who was pleased with a set of questions I had developed as the final discussion activity for our three-day experience, and my crumble was born!

Last year, as I was finishing up my graduate work for University of Nebraska, I was assigned some article readings geared toward problem-based learning.  If you've never run across the term problem-based learning, it's the idea that students learn through solving real-world problems - which, theoretically is a genius idea, but in practice takes either a miracle from God (a problem just happens to present itself that meets every CCSS target needed for the unit) or an ungodly amount of planning and finger-crossing.  Either way, I love the philosophy but am completely and utterly intimidated by it. 

So to bridge the gap between a daunting task of creating a problem-based learning experience and a completely un-engaging lesson, try using Bloom's Taxonomy to create questions that mimic problem-based learning or have students create questions for discussion.  Even better, try doing it using the jigsaw strategy. 

How can this work with a jigsaw?  Well, the first thing you have to do is fully understand what a jigsaw is supposed to look like.  Our plan for the students in science is to give them four parts of an article on climate change and allow them to choose which part they'd prefer to close read (see my previous blog on close reads or another recent blog by my colleague Jen White on the topic as well).  Once they've read and discussed their part of the article with a group of students who have read the same part, we plan to number the students in each group to create new groups where there will be four people in each group (one of each part of the article).  If there are seven students reading each article part, then we number the students off by seven in each group and then put all of they students with the same number together for their jigsaw. 

But instead of giving students direction to simply share information from their part with the rest of the group (as is typical in a jigsaw), our plan is to give the students a set of higher level questions to answer as a group.  Examples of the questions are:
  • What one part of human life contributes to climate change more than any other?
  • What is the single most piece of evidence that tells us that climate change is happening?
  • Can we stop climate change?  Why or why not?
  • Should human beings be required to do certain things to stop climate change from happening?
Our goal here with the set of questions is to spur discussion between group members who have all read a different part of an article or piece of text.  It works even better when group members have read entire pieces written from different perspectives.  Do you see how your students will have to use their speaking and listening skills carefully to communicate effectively and how they will learn from each other without just listing off a string of information they read in their part of the selection (that will either be ignored by group members or will superficially be copied down only to be shoved away in a notebook or tossed in the trash later on)? 

If you know anything about Bloom's Taxonomy, you may have identified most of the questions above as evaluation questions (second to highest step on the taxonomy).  We could have taken the discussion questions one step higher, but much of the final step in the taxonomy are more individual and reflective questions, and the goal at this point of the lesson is to get the students to collaborate, not self-reflect.  A few of the questions could actually fall between the final two steps of the Taxonomy - evaluating and creating.

So consider using some of the following question starters when presenting questions for group collaboration.  This table is adapted directly from page 104 of the fourth edition CRISS manual.

Bloom’s Taxonomy
Question starters
How can you adapt this information to __________?
How can you apply _______ to your own life?
Reinterpret _________ to fit with a different point of view.
The author has changed my understanding of _____ by _____.
What is your opinion of _____?
What is the best solution to the problem of _____?
Defend your opinion about _______.
Evaluate the writing of ________.
Compare ____ to _____.  In what ways are they the same?
How are they different?
Categorize the important ideas in ______________.
What connections can you make to ____________.
What is one way to illustrate _______?
How can you apply _____ to ______?
How can you relate ______ to ______?
What will happen next in ______?
What is the main idea about ______?
Predict what ______.
How is this similar to or different from ______?
Explain what is meant by ______.

The jigsaw strategy sounds complicated, and, in fact, on paper it seems to require a lot of organization, but honestly - our biggest task was choosing the text selections.  Once you wrap your head around the jigsaw organization and create a set of four to five questions, you're really all good!  You shouldn't have to teach anything - just demonstrate the close reading (which was described in the close reading blog) and mix up your kiddos.  They get to do the rest, and all you do is facilitate - which is good teaching, friends.  And because of the discussion and high level of engagement build into the lesson, your students are more likely to get involved and stay involved -- meaning fewer behavior issues and more learning!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

October 4 Crumble: Get the GIST

To be able to summarize central ideas or themes of a selection is key in both literature and informational text. The developers of the Common Core Standards felt that this skill was something that should be developed over time and, therefore, mandated that we expect our students to, year after year, prove that they are capable of effectively summarizing.  To be able to summarize a selection, students must choose what is important to the purpose of the writing - calling upon either the author to develop that purpose or some outside source (a teacher or the students themselves) to do this for them.

I find that, in teaching kiddos how to summarize text, more often than not they are missing the boat because their writing lacks focus due to ineffective purpose-setting.  An easy way to teach students to develop summaries is the use of a strategy called the GIST strategy (not an acronym, to my knowledge, but still spelled in all caps).  Although not a CRISS strategy per se, getting the the GIST follows CRISS's Principles of writing and organization along with active learning and transformation of information by giving students a formulaic guide to develop a clear summary of a text selection.  And it's really so simple, it makes me smile.

Here's how it works:

  • Students or teacher identifies the purpose of the reading.
  • Students read the selection, highlighting or annotating the 5 W's and an H (Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How) as they pertain to the purpose.  All text selections will not develop every component, but careful reading will allow students to identify as many parts as possible.  Rereading may help to identify pieces that might require making an inference like the why and how.
  • Once the annotation is complete and/or notes are taken, students should then take the purpose of the reading along with the identified components of the GIST strategy and put them into as few well-developed sentences as possible.  A great writing activity would be to have students create complex sentences using all of the information and correct punctuation!
To illustrate what this would look like, I might ask my students to read a brief text selection about social values of an era in history and the impact that these values had on the art and/or music of the day.  I would tell the students that I'm hoping that they will read to find what impact the values of the era had on art or music and then demonstrate how to look for the 5 W's and an H.  Once students have identified the who (not necessarily one person, but maybe a collective "who" such as a religious group), what happened, where did it happen (could be specific or more general), when did it happen, how did it happen (maybe describe what it looked like OR how people felt while it was happening), and why (what caused it to happen), they can then construct their summary using ONLY the information that they gathered and putting it together into just a few sentences.  And voila! A well-constructed summary! 

Struggling writers may find it more difficult to put multiple pieces of information into only one sentence, so they may need some support.  Modeling the process over and over for them is just good teaching for any student, so be certain to demonstrate your expectations.  Allowing students to work together and giving them immediate feedback while they're working may help those resistant or struggling writers as well.  Try it out a few times.  See what you get.  Once you get a handle on what your kiddos can accomplish, then put some supports in place for them.  In a few cases, you may need to supply some of them with frames for their sentences (writing out part of it and leaving empty spaces for students to fill in words), but try to avoid this if you can.  The idea is to create independent summarizers - even if the sentences aren't perfect. 

See, just talking about this strategy makes me smile because its such an effective use of organization and writing!  Don't forget that strategies like this should be given attention on multiple levels.  Try exposing students to it two or three times before tossing the idea to the wayside.  Ask your students to reflect on their use of it the first time around to see if they can tell that they have more focused summaries.  Then ask them to compare their own summaries the next time you do it to see if they found the strategy less daunting.  By the third time you use it, have them reflect on how it has helped them learn content.  Share with colleagues and see if you can use the GIST in multiple content areas so that our kiddos are being exposed and transferring this skill.  And most of all - tweak it and make it fit your teaching style, personality, and students.  Without your spin on it, it's just another strategy.