Sunday, October 26, 2014

Document Based Questions – using multiple medias to inquire

I know I’ve mentioned my favorite book on non-fiction strategy guides before – Guiding Readers through Text: Strategy Guides for New Times by Karen D. Wood, and today I’m going to mention it, yet again.  While attending the IRC Conference in Springfield, one of the presentations (again, a Mundelein HS presentation) mentioned the use of Document Based Questions (DBQ’s – of course there’s an acronym!).  With Common Core expecting our students to pull evidence from multiple medias and with all of the rage in the expanded definitions of what “text” is, I figured it would be a good time to bring this book up again and demonstrate how this type of activity could be used effectively in the classroom.  

Because the teaching of history lends itself well to this strategy, I’m going to use a history example.
  • Decide on a goal or objective for the lesson.  Consider an essential question such as How did conflict contribute to the fall of the Roman Empire?
  • Demonstrate how to create questions from the essential question.  For example, What conflicts occurred during the Roman Empire?  What caused the conflict?  What happened because of the conflict? Did the Roman Empire become weaker because of the conflict? If so, how/why? Etc. 
  • Choose three (or more) different medias (text, video, web, audio, electronic media, etc) that present information answering the essential question.  Using medias of different perspectives or that have different purposes could be an interesting twist to this assignment.  Part of the Standards for the 21st Century Learner require us to teach students how to peel relevant and reliable sources out of the vast pool of information available.  For multiple leveled students, provide more than three, and allow students to choose (or guide some to choices that might meet their needs more effectively).   Text books could be used in this step, but don’t leave them to be the sole information provider!
  • Teach students how to organize their information for reading – you can start with providing an organizer, but remember that our ultimate goal is to create independent information seekers.  Modeling how to create your own organizer may be more effective.  Above is an example of what a handwritten organizer might look like.
  • Demonstrate how to highlight text and jot down notes in the organizer so that they can be reviewed later on. 
  •  Allow students to work independently (or with a group of 2-3) to complete their reading.  Meet with groups while they’re working, clarifying where needed.
One question you may ask is whether you can have one student work on pulling information from each media and then share the answers with each other.  This will obviously be a shortcut they'll consider immediately as well.  My answer is always the same - Consider your objective.  The shortcut would mean a different objective.  It's absolutely one possible way of getting this assignment done in a shorter amount of time.  It's also a way to ensure that your kiddos are all accountable for something.  But if your objective is to truly have your students work together while practicing speaking and listening and to glean important information from multiple sources, then my answer would be a solid NO.  

Once all information has been gathered, ask students to go back to the essential question and discuss the answer before putting together a final answer, complete with documented information from the three (or more) medias.  It's obviously your choice how you expect students to report, but you could have them submit a final answer on notebook paper, have them write it on poster paper and hang it up in the room for discussion.  You could also have them construct something to report out to the class without a "formal" piece of written work.  Or each student could be responsible for documenting the information and submitting it.  Again, consider your goal and your learners.  

Obviously, not every strategy lends itself to work beautifully to every content area, but if you step back, there are places in many areas where it could really be effective and engaging for your learners.  Science, health.  Even music, PE, and art might be good places to use an activity like this to support the standard of using multiple medias to draw conclusions.  How can you use this activity in your classroom?  Share your ideas in the comments below.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Make information stick with magnet summaries

It's amazing how much useful information one can retrieve from one session at a conference!  This week's blog stems from the same session from the IRC 2014 Conference as the last two I have written.  The strategy is magnet summaries, which also happens to be a CRISS strategy. Double score!

Magnet summaries can be used in a variety of contexts, which is what I love about the strategies in the Project CRISS manual.  They're all very adaptable.  Here's how this one works:

  •  Give each student an index card or half sheet of paper.  On the "front" have the students write the topic you want them to summarize.  For example, if you're teaching students about variables in math, write variables on the front of the card.  
  • After the initial lesson, have students go back to their notes (maybe do this in partners to keep your interpersonals happy) and find four words that stick out as being key words connecting to the word in the middle (one or more will probably be another vocabulary word, which should help with information transfer).  When talking about variables in math, you might have words like constant, coefficient, operator, and equation.
  • On the back of the card, students can expand their words into sentences.  Depending on the writers, you may choose to let them freely write their summary based upon the five words on the front of it, OR you may want to give your students a frame.  The frame might look something like this:
Today's lesson explains [topic] by talking about ______, ______, ______, and ______.  [Write one sentence explaining each of the four magnet words or combine them into a few sentences if they easily connect.] It is important to know this because ___________________. 

The picture to the right is one way a student could write a magnet summary if you were allowing them some freedom in their writing or if you have very comfortable writers.  One thing that I liked about the session I attended at the IRC Conference is their attention to reflection, which is not included in the example above.  The last sentence in the frame above in red addresses the reflection.  Students need to justify why the information is important.  This does two things - it validates why the information is being taught and creates a reason to connect the information to either new information, past information, or student's lives.  

So think about the next lesson you plan to share with your students.  How can this strategy be adapted?  Could you add it easily?  Could you use it as a formative assessment?  Share your ideas with us in the comments below.  

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Applying vocabulary - More than just writing sentences

Teaching vocabulary is tricky and can sometimes become monotonous if you don't change it up.  Often, we want to present vocabulary to students before reading, but then what?  Well, when I was at the IRC Conference a few weeks ago, I was reminded of this really simple, yet super effective activity.  It is called Interact with Vocabulary. Here's how it works.

After you've introduced vocabulary and have established definitions and examples using a technique like the Frayer model, it's time to apply the information.  Pre-write questions to ask.  Try to connect the vocabulary to your students' lives.  For example:

  1. Name one thing that happens unintentionally in the hallways at school. [general Tier 2 vocabulary]
  2. Why is the system of checks and balances important for you as a citizen of the United States? [social studies]
  3. What is one reason you would measure perimeter of something? [geometry]
  4. Why would one need quick reaction time? [health]
  5. Name one popular song that would sound better piano rather than forte. [music]
  6. What is an example of a network that teenagers may use every day? [computer tech]
  7. Give an example from school of convection. [science]
Not every vocabulary term has practical life application, so you could also write your questions in perspective.  For example:

  1. If you were a constructivist artist, which medium would you prefer and why? [art]
  2. As a tyrant of a Greek city-state, what is one job that you would do well and why? [ancient history]
  3. You are planning to build a bookshelf.  What tools should you plan to use, and why? [woodshop]
The next decision you'll have to make is how to have your students interact with their vocabulary.  If you're a teacher who needs proof of accountability, try the following ideas.  I'm an advocate for the interpersonal (social) student, so you'll see that these all include discussion:
  • Type up the questions in a worksheet and have them record the answers from their discussion so that all of the group members has a copy.  Everybody's answers should match.  Share out as a class or conference with each group as discussions progress.
  • Give each group a copy of the questions and have them discuss and record on a large piece of poster paper (more for your visual and kinesthetic students).  Share out with the class or conference with each group as discussions progress.  Post answers around the room after discussions.  
  • Put up poster paper around the room and have the students carousel each of the prompts.  Give students forty-five seconds to a minute at each station.  
  • For my digital-teachers, use Google docs and have all groups contribute to the same document in different colors.  Monitor what students are writing and conference with groups as misconceptions emerge.  Print a copy for each student.  
The title Interact with Vocabulary immediately indicates that more will be happening than just reading definitions.  Using student schema to learn, is a sure-fire way to ensure longer retention, but its also a great way to assess whether a student truly understands that meaning of the words.  But just as important is the idea that we should be choosing applicable vocabulary.  Educating our students is not just about taking words from a text book, it's about applying them.  It's our job to be sure that the words apply.  

What challenges do you see in using a strategy like this one?  Share those with us in a comment below. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

A Cornell Notes Comeback!

On Thursday I attended a session at the Illinois Reading Conference in Springfield entitled Success in Science Through Literacy Strategies.  The four presenters Katie Giambeluca, Jamie Moderhack, Melissa Sethna, and Alyssa Wiltjer were all from Mundelein High School.  After spending some time with them both in the session and with some Mundelein teachers later on that evening - and after attending a subsequent session the next day with another set of amazing teachers from Mundelein (blog to follow in the future), I am convinced that Mundelein really has it going on out there, and I want to see and hear more!

One thing I found interesting in the few days I've been here in Springfield is the number of times that Cornell Notes have been referenced (or Two-Column Notes for my Project CRISS friends).  I find this amusing because Cornell Notes never seem to really go away!  After doing some research, I discovered that they got their beginning in the 1950s - obviously an oldie but a goodie, and they have withstood the test of time!  Even more interesting is that I have heard about this strategy three times in three different sessions in reference to science instruction.

Regardless of the content, Cornell Notes can be used effectively as a note taking and study strategy.  Your read/writers would use this most effectively because there are no limitations on how lengthy your notes can be.  Those of us who are linguistic tend to like limitless possibilities for writing.  BUT, they're also a really great setup to keep students organized AND a very useful tool for studying.

Here's how they work.

  1. Have students split their paper into four sections as shown above to the right (kind of like a capital I but off center).
  2. Give students a purpose for reading (or watching a video or participating in a discussion or activity - however you plan to deliver information), and have them write the purpose on the top of the paper.  For example, watch the video to gather information on how climate patterns have changed over the last one hundred years.
  3. Instruct students to jot down notes or draw pictures/diagrams (for our visual students) in the big right hand column.  The notes/pictures should connect to the purpose (skip a line between notes).  Notes should not be in full sentences and should/could be abbreviated as much as possible.
  4. After note-taking is completed, students should go back and read their notes, pulling out key ideas, names, dates, and vocabulary. These can be listed on the left in the skinny column.  Also, any questions students may still have about the material can be written in this column for future inquiry. This entire step can easily be done in small groups so that our interpersonal students get their chat release and so that all of our kiddos can process and grapple with what the key points really are.
  5. Finally, as a group or individually, on the bottom of the page, have students write a few sentences, summarizing those key points listed in the right column.  Again, this could easily be done in small groups.
Once the note taking process has happened, students now have beautifully constructed notes that can be a fantastic study tool for something like a twelve minute study.  Students can approach studying their Cornell Notes like this.
  1. Reread your notes in the bigger right hand column, looking for specific examples or details that might be important.
  2. Look at your key ideas on the left, and ask yourself if you really understand them.  If not, how can you help yourself understand them?
  3. Reread the summary.  
  4. Do this for a set amount of time (eight minutes for eighth grade, six minutes for sixth grade, etc.) every day up until the test or quiz.
No matter if you know them as Cornell Notes or Two Column notes - the premise is the same - this type of note taking strategy is useful in any area that a student would need to record information to be used for studying at a later time.  Once your students have gone through the process, have them reflect on themselves as learners and how the practice of organizing their notes in this manner has benefited them.  Be prepared to hear how much students found them to be seriously beneficial.  But also be prepared to hear how difficult they were for some.  Remember that no strategy works for everybody, and our job is to shine a spotlight on what might work for each of our students as individuals so that they can begin to feel control over how they organize and take their own notes.  Our job is to create independent learners, and this is a perfect tool to put into their hands.

What kinds of successes have you had with Cornell Notes?  Share those below.