Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Give your students the two minute challenge

If you've been following me for a while, you may have picked up on a few of my philosophies.  First off, I am a firm believer in the idea that motivation must come from within rather than externally.  Second, in order to be motivated to do something, you must feel like there is a chance that you will find success in whatever it is.

This is the big hangup with a lot of our kiddos.  Success seems so distant to them that refusal is a much better option.  These are the failure accepters.  

During her Friday pre-conference presentation for the Secondary Reading League's Day of Reading, Dr. Janet Allen mentioned a simple way to build some confidence in those who are somewhat resistant when it comes to learning.  The two minute challenge works really well as a background knowledge builder, and as long as you can find a few paragraphs pertaining to your topic, you should be good to go!  Here's how she explained it.
  • Give your students a small passage full of facts on whatever topic you are going to study.
  • Allow your students to read it in whatever format you choose.  You can read it aloud to them, have them read silently (if you have a class full of independent readers), or pair them up and partner read.
  • Set the timer for two minutes and have students write down a set number (she suggested ten) of facts derived from the text.
  • Choose a way to wrap up the exercise.  Sharing in a group of 2-3 is great because they can add to their lists during the group time.  Having them all share one thing from their list with the class may give a few a boost just because it's not often that they have anything academic to say.  This will help them to feel competent, and a feeling of competence breeds intrinsic motivation.  
Doing an activity in the classroom like this one will hit several targets at once.  Many of our students come to us with very little background knowledge, and this is a brilliant way to begin building that for the big learning.  But even more importantly, it allows our strugglers an opportunity to feel successful by participating in writing and discussing the topic in a non-threatening way.

Can you turn around Monday and use this strategy?  Many of you can!  Let us know what your plan is or what you have done in the past to make a strategy like this work for you.  

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Not everybody learns by reading and writing

That title seems like a "duh" kind of statement, but it hit me this morning as I was running (exercising my very weak kinesthetic) just how true this statement really is.  Two things happened to me this week that emphasized this to me.

First, I was working with this really great group of sixth graders Monday morning.  It's a group of five, and one of the five struggles - even in the small group setting.  She appears off task at times, and her answers come more slowly than the rest of the group as she is furiously scribbling her half-right answers on her white board.  I've come to reserving slots in my questioning just for her to be sure she is able to apply the skills we are practicing.

This week we were working on reading and writing multi-syllabic words - both real and nonsense (we use nonsense words to practice the skill without using words that they've memorized).  After a while of working vowel teams on our white boards, she started to shut down on me (or so I thought).  She capped her marker and just looked at me.  I decided to see what was going to happen next, so I went on to the next word.  Do you know what happened after that?  Once I asked her how to spell the next word she did it no problem!  Reading and spelling the words was so much easier once we got that marker out of the way!

On Wednesday while getting ready for work, my six-year-old son followed me around the house talking my ear off.  This child is highly interpersonal and rarely shuts up once he gets going.  He started talking about word problems, and of his own accord, told me he wanted to make up word problems.  For the next thirty minutes as I was putting on my makeup and flat ironing my hair, he and I went back and forth.  He totally got me on this one, "Zander makes three strikes in a row.  How many more strikes does Zander need to get a 300?"  The boy loves his bowling, and I (being the non-kinesthetic) know nothing about how many strikes it takes to get a 300.  Talk about lacking background knowledge!  I got the problem wrong with my answer of five.  He was happy to shout, "INCORRECT!" to me and ask me to try again.

What strikes me as funny here is that at our October parent-teacher conference his teacher expressed concern about his not completing his "math cards" (those don't sound like any fun) and that he needed practice on his word problems.  All done on paper.  Well, okay, but yet he just spent thirty minutes going back and forth doing word problems with addition, subtraction, and division AND a few were multi-step.  All in his head and with great stamina.

So is it realistic to try to keep our kiddos accountable aurally (by listening) and orally (by talking)?  Heck no!  I know that there are many of you out there with thirty plus students in every class, seven periods a day.  Not possible.  But consider doing some of the following to help some of your interpersonals and aurals out (I'm actually going to throw our musicals in there for a fun connection because so many of them are also aurals):

  • Ask them to partner up and give each other answers so they can write down each other's answers.
  • Ask them to create questions to ask each other in class.
  • Have them read out loud with a partner or in a small group.
  • Listen to music while they are completing independent work (Take caution in the type of music you choose.  My kiddos love my George Teleman, Paul Cardall, or Peaceful Holidays station on my Pandora.)
  • Listen to text on CD or online.
  • Teach them to study by talking to themselves (repeating things out loud and answering to themselves or others).
  • Record themselves on their phones or a computer and listen to it afterwards.
Using some of these quick tips along with other discussion strategies in your classroom and emphasizing them outside of the classroom will give those interpersonals, aurals, and musicals exactly what they need to feel more like they're accepted as learners.  You'll find that as you bring attention to their preferences and strengths they will be more likely to take risks and exercise them in your classroom to grow.  Have you had any success with any of these strategies in your classroom?  Share those with us in the comments below.  

Friday, November 14, 2014

Admit Slip: 3-2-1

Exit slips are common practice in many classrooms and so are daily "bell ringer" activities.  I never thought to put the two together, however, until I got to hear Dr. Janet Allen talk about this practice this morning at the Secondary Reading League's Day of Reading Pre-Conference.

Last February I blogged on building background knowledge using a really cool activity called Observe, Infer, and Question.  In this activity, students looked at a visual and made observations.  From the observations, they recorded inferences based upon their background knowledge, and then finally the asked questions based upon those observations and inferences. The entire process spanned over an entire class period.

Dr. Allen's strategy is this exact activity, but in the form of an exit slip and at the beginning of a lesson rather than the end.  Here's how it works.

  • As students walk in the door, give them their Admit Slip: 3-2-1 sheets or index cards (one per student).  
  • If you copied a sheet for your students, you can put the picture(s) and/or graphic(s) on it.  For even easier implementation, project the image on the front screen so you don't have to make copies of it and just give your students index cards on which to write.
  • Students first task is the 3.  Write down three details about the image (observe).
  • Their second task is the 2.  Finish this sentence:  I think . . . Then finish this sentence: I also .think . . .  Both sentences should be based from the details they recorded in the first task (infer).
  • Finally, the third task is to write one question based from the details they recorded and/or the inferences in the second (question).  
Once students complete the Admit Slip, you can do a variety of different things with them.  You can collect them to see how much background knowledge each student has on the topic if it's new.  You can begin small group discussions with this information.  You can have an entire class discussion.  Students can share in small groups or with the entire class.  They can also keep their admit slips in an interactive notebook (see my amazing colleague's blog on those right here) or someplace safe so that they can return at a later date to see how much their initial reactions have changed.

Whatever you decide, know that in all content areas, students see visuals and graphics, which means that every content area should be able to use something similar to this strategy.  It would work especially well in geometry, science, and art where content is linked so heavily with visuals.  Think of the possibilities!  How could you use something simple like this?  Share with us in the comments below.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pick Two and Possible Sentences - applying vocabulary knowledge and writing

This week's strategy I learned while attending my colleague Ann Eifler's session at the IRC Conference in Springfield back in October.  Since attending this session, I've used it several times in different contexts and have loved it each time!  Here's how it works:

  • Decide what your goal is for the activity.  You can do this as a pre-reading activity where you use a combination of words the students will know and may not know or use it as a post-learning activity where you're asking students to apply their knowledge of their newly-learned vocabulary.
  • Decide how you want your students to record their sentences - white board, pen/paper, large paper with markers, or electronically.
  • Make a list of words you want to use for your students.
  • Have students work alone or in partners to match words up that would likely be found in the media (text, video, electronic media, etc) together.  
  • Ask students to create sentences with their paired words.  If you're using this as a pre-learning activity, remind students to use this as a way to predict how these words will be used.  If you're using this as a post-learning activity, tell them that they should try to remember how these words were used before pairing them up so that they can create sentences that effectively communicate what your students want.
  • Share out with the class or post them around the room.
  • If you used the activity as a pre-learning activity, revisit the sentences after learning and reflect on misconceptions with your kiddos.  This is a GREAT way to teach them how to use mistakes and misconceptions as a learning tool.

I thought I had taken pictures of their work, but after looking through my camera, I can't find them, and since I'm writing from home I don't have access to student notebooks this weekend.  If I think of it I'll post some examples on my Facebook page so you can see them. I used the writing activity as a post-learning activity where I was expecting my students to apply their knowledge of vocabulary they had learned.  They wrote really fantastic sentences and showed me that they owned those words.

Feel free to share ways you have used or can use this strategy in your content area in the comments below.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

You Ought to Be in Pictures – Using the Visual to Strengthen the Linguistic

I had a wonderful conversation with a colleague a few days ago about student strengths, and since this conversation, I’ve been hypothesizing all sorts of things about the way our kiddos behave in the classroom.  I don’t have to tell many people this, but according to the Birmingham Multiple Intelligence Test, one of my highest intelligences is musical/rhythmic. I don’t get to use this intelligence much in the classroom, however.  This year, I’ve been illustrating the use of our intelligences to my students by bringing up my lack of kinesthetic intelligence.  To clarify, I hate exercise and anything associated with it.  I don’t learn by doing, and I hate moving around.

But I’m forty.  And if I plan to live a long time, I need to get moving.  So in January I started running.  The only way I can get myself moving – be it outside or on a treadmill – is to blast music at just the right BPM into my ears for the entire run.  And so I did.  It’s been ten months since I started, and I ran over two miles this morning.

My point is – I used my musical intelligence to pull me through my weakness in my kinesthetic, which is strengthening every day.  This made me start thinking about the number of kiddos we have who can’t do their homework unless they’re listening to music.  It’s not all of them, but many of our students have a musical/rhythmic strength that may pull them through the trials of not being linguistic or mathematical/logical

Today’s strategy uses visual to strengthen linguistic.  So many of our kiddos are visual learners, that if we don’t use that to our advantage, we miss out on a huge opportunity to strengthen other areas!  This particular strategy is one outlined in the Project CRISS manual as You Ought to Be In Pictures and can be used in any content area.  Here’s how it works.

Choose a picture or cartoon for the students to view either on the projector or photocopied.  Depending on your objective of the lesson, give your students instructions as to how to use the picture.  You could choose to have them:
  •  Answer questions based upon what they see.  If you are using the picture at the end of a unit, perhaps they need to use what they’ve learned to help them answer those questions.
  • Caption the picture using information they’ve learned.
  • Caption the picture using specific words that they’ve been studying during the unit.
  • Describe what might be happening in the picture based upon what they’re learning.
  • Notice specific things in the picture and write about it.
  • Write a narrative about what is happening in the picture.  

Some examples of how this could be used are below.
  •  Language arts – Caption the photograph using specific words or a part of speech correctly.
  • Social studies – Caption the photograph knowing what you know about life in a specific time period.  Use three of the vocabulary words we have studied.
  • Science – Write a narrative about what is happening in the photograph, now that you’ve conducted an experiment that looks similar to it.  Use these three vocabulary words in your narrative: ___, ___, and ___.
  • Health – Look at the graphic and write a narrative about the way that the respiratory system works using your vocabulary correctly.  Be sure to include all parts of the system.
  • PE – Use the photograph to help you write a narrative about a person teaching a seven year old to play this game for the first time.  Be sure to include the rules that the person would have to learn in order to not get hurt.
  • Math – use the photograph to write a word problem based upon what you see.  Solve the problem and explain what you did and why.
  • Music – Use the photograph and the piece of music we just learned to write a short story.  Bring them together using what we learned about the meaning of the piece.
  • Art – Use the photograph of this artist to write a story about what is going through this artists mind as she is creating.  Use three of the words we have learned in this unit to explain the process of her creation.
  • Woodshop/Life Skills - Use this photograph to explain why this person got hurt.  Include safety tips that we learned this week and how you know the person in the photograph didn't follow the rules.
It takes a little creative thinking on your part, but you can tie photographs in anywhere for your visul/spacials and use them to help your students strengthen their other areas of intelligence.  Keep in mind that the writing is going to be really hard for some of them - especially if they're not accustom to writing in your content area.  Stick with it, though.  Make them write once a week, and they'll start expecting it.  They know when it's "pacers" day in PE - whether they like it or dislike it - they come to expect it.  They can come to expect to write weekly, as well, in any content.  It just takes practice and determination on your part.  I know that it's not just your kiddos whose boxes are being shaken up a bit - its yours too, but you'll get used to it, and some of you may actually enjoy the change of pace!  

How can you use this type of activity in your content?  Share your ideas with us in the comments.