For the last few years I have been collaborating with a Nebraska school district to improve their co-teaching practices. Through a series of workshops, observations and job-embedded modeling, teachers have engaged in analysis and reflection. I am excited to see so many teachers embracing new ideas for engagement and hands-on learning!
Last week I visited co-taught classrooms at two different middle schools, both teaching author’s purpose using the RIPE acronym (Reflect, Inform, Persuade, Entertain.)
In one class, the co-teachers used a novel approach to activate student thinking. They began class by putting on banana necklaces! Students immediately wondered what was happening, and started making predictions. What a creative, novel way to activate learning! (For more ideas about novelty, download a Novelty Schedule on this website's downloadables page.)
In the other class, the co-teachers chose to use “cootie catchers” (also known as fortune tellers) to increase their students’ motivation. The teachers made the largest cootie catcher I have ever seen and used it as a model. What I loved about this was that it was impossible for one person to manipulate – it had to be collaborative. Students then made smaller versions and paired up to practice their knowledge of the four author purposes. Watch this video clip from the BER video Making Inclusion More Successful.
On a whirlwind tour of classrooms in Smyrna, Delaware this week, I saw a teacher use a simple strategy for engaging students. The teacher had 10 paper lunch bags, one for each small group to share. Inside the bags she had placed 26 cards, each with one letter of the alphabet. The lesson objective was to identify and discuss the impact of the narrative elements in a story. Students were listening to the teacher read, and reading along in their own books. Every so often, the teacher stopped, directed the students to pull a letter out of their “letter bag,” and then make a connection between the letter and a narrative element. For example, one group pulled an “O” and discussed how the setting of the story was “outdoors.” Another group pulled an “E” and wondered what the “exciting” climax would be.
This is the type of strategy I love for 3 reasons:
1. Highly engaging – it was multi-modality and had an element of unpredictability that students immediately loved
2. Highly applicable – the same strategy could be used to encourage connections to any content discussion, as an activator, or even as a summarizing moment, K-12!
3. Low prep – such a quick thing to put together
The beginning of a new topic usually includes “activating prior knowledge
.” When we ask students “What do you know about this topic?” we often see the struggling students sit quietly and be non-responsive. This week I spent significant think-time analyzing what it means to independently activate prior knowledge. As an adult, I don’t have a teacher leading me with prompting questions – I have to activate my prior knowledge independently. We need to teach students this same skill! This is critical for adult success, but also for times when students have to take tests without any teacher assistance.
How do I activate my own prior knowledge? I think back in time, searching various periods in my life where I might have learned something about the topic. I also search various places where I may have been exposed to the content. This often happens at a subconscious level. Making this process obvious and concrete can help struggling students learn this skill.
JUMP to the STRATEGY
Yesterday, I arrived in class with a Prior Knowledge Time Machine, including a control panel with knobs for Time and Place. Each student also received a small version of the Time Machine. You will see from the photos how easy this was to create - just cardboard and bottle caps.
Using “think-aloud,” I modeled for students what I might do if confronted with a topic I knew just a little about. We traveled together back in time (last year, when I was in college, elementary school) and to a variety of places where I might have gathered knowledge on the topic (school, home, museums, vacation.) Students then had the opportunity to practice with a non-academic topic such as soccer, before applying the strategy to our new unit on expository writing.
Students were engaged and making connections! Our plan is to phase out the concrete materials after a few months, but keep the motions (“turn your time knob”, “turn your place knob”) and then transition to just a verbal cue (“Use your time machine” “What can you do to activate your prior knowledge?”) before we get to spring testing season.