Years ago I read an article by Alfie Kohn in which he claimed that teachers were ruining students' abilities to think critically. He wrote that the educators tend to prefer students who are compliant (very true) and that by demanding compliance from students, we were squashing their natural inclination to question things. While I didn't fully agree with him, it did get me questioning my own practices. Was there a way that I could encourage students to challenge authority in a respectful, appropriate way?
Out of that reflection grew my Challenge Authority Cards. While I have developed a variety of them, I particularly like these that ask students to challenge or question the text they are reading. This skill is especially important as students read information on unscreened internet sources.
I find this is a great way to engage some of the higher level thinkers in a class - or early finishers. If you keep these handy, you can use them on the spur of the moment. So, just Copy These Questions, cut them up and hand them to students who are ready for a challenge.
I had the opportunity to write a guest post for EdView 360 this week on the challenges of co-teaching. Read the article to find out if you or someone you know has the symptoms of Conflict Avoidance Syndrome!
On a recent drive on a suburban street in upstate NY this sign caught my attention. I was very confused - should I be looking out for ducks crossing the road? turtles crossing the road? or is this what a turtle looks like?It struck me that students who are learning our language may spend much of their school day confused about what we are telling them. For example, a few weeks ago I heard an Algebra teacher repeatedly saying "it's a piece of cake" as he walked students through their math equations. And I am guilty of often saying things like "aim higher" or "it's time to ratchet it down a notch."
My goal this week is to be explicit in my directions and verbal interactions with students. I hope to:
- add visuals on the board to support my written directions
- catch myself using idioms and teach the meaning of these
- ask co-teachers to help me be explicit
- tell students my goal so that they can point out when my directions are unclear
How would you use the word “synthesize” on a trip to Pizza Hut? That’s the question we asked 9th grade students recently. Their academic vocabulary word for the day was “synthesize” and we wanted to make sure they really knew it well. After reviewing the definition, discussing synonyms and providing some example sentences, we had the students play Deal or No Deal.
I have 20 briefcases, numbered on the outside and laminated, with locations written inside. We told the class that in our version of Deal or No Deal they would win a trip somewhere instead of money. One student was chosen to be our contestant. He approached the board while enthusiastic students hollered for their favorite number. He chose briefcase #6, which won the class an imaginary trip to Pizza Hut. Students were then told to turn to a peer and think of a way to use “synthesize” on a trip to a pizza parlor.
“If you want to be cool, you have to synthesize what you know about school cliques, gangs and today’s dramas to decide where to sit in Pizza Hut.”
“The manager has to synthesize his knowledge of customer preferences with the cost of various toppings.”
“I have to synthesize what I know about calories and healthy eating, along with how much I exercised today.”
The Common Core State Standards in math expect students to be able to explain their thinking and discuss mathematical concepts. This is quite a challenge for most students, but especially for those who struggle with language as English Learners or students with disabilities.
Discussion Poker Chips are something I have used successfully for literature circle discussions. Last week we tried them out in an inclusive, co-taught Algebra 1 class for the first time.
Students were placed in groups of 4 and provided with a Math Discussion Board. This is available for download here. (Modify to fit the level of your students.)
Each student was given 3 poker chips of a single color (1 student had green, 1 student had red, 1 student had blue and 1 student had white.)
My co-teacher and I modeled how to use the chips to have a conversation while working together through a set of problems.
We explained that the goal was to use the vocabulary represented on the board. If a student used the word, he could place his chip on that space. Students were encouraged to cover as many of the spaces as they could – just a hint of competition!
While it took a little while for the conversation to get started, we began to see students who never talk participating in the discussion! I credit three aspects of the activity – the symbols on the board serve as cues for students who can’t think of what to say, the poker chips add a tactile component that heightens alertness and the friendly competition between groups provided some motivation.
Video is a wonderful media for engaging students and providing them close to real-life experiences. However, its effectiveness is maximized if students are given a viewing purpose and a concrete way to capture their ideas.
Today I took yellow sticky notes and cut them to look (a bit) like popcorn. We gave each student one and explained that when you go to the movies, you take time out to munch on popcorn – just like we would stop during the video to make a note on our popcorn stickies.
A specific prompt was provided on the board. In this biology class, we wanted to students to complete an analogy based on ideas in the video, so the prompt was:
After viewing the video students came up to the board and placed their popcorn, on which they had written an analogy, in a large popcorn tub that I had drawn. Discussion followed.
How do you keep students engaged and responsible for learning while watching videos?
Photo by Enokson, Flickr
Pines to Vines, the first in a series of digital science books created for the iPad by Kyle Tomson, will make you and your students shout "Wow!" The science series is based on the National Academy of Science Standards for 2nd - 6th grade, and was designed in collaboration with teachers and science experts. Blades - a text on the grasslands has just been released. (Social Studies books are in the development process, too.)
What's the "Wow" factor? Just for a start, each book that will be developed in the Crack the Books series can be adjusted to fit 5 reading levels (beginning reader through middle school.) This allows a classroom teacher to have all students in a mixed-ability class reading on their own level, while studying the same content. Each book includes comprehension questions and quizzes, and these can also be adjusted for reading level.
Your students will love the amazing visuals, engaging videos, interactive maps, animations and a host of other tricks to engage learners. They will be able to adjust text size, use voice over, insert personal bookmarks, use a pop-up dictionary for unknown words and other nifty features. See Tomson demonstrate this amazing tool here or at http://mobile-educationstore.com/itextbooks.
The books are selling for $18.99 - but before you think "expensive," keep in mind that these are interactive digital textbooks - extensive resources that will replace traditional texts that are much more expensive.
Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a vocabulary webinar by Maria Elena Arguelles. She proposed a simple scaffolding for introducing new vocabulary to students and I decided to use it this week, while adding a few of my own engagement strategies. (The photo above, taken by Paul Baron, is of flexible bamboo scaffolding - reminding me that flexibility is key in a mixed-ability classroom!)
The word for the day, taken from Sprenger's list of critical common core verbs, was "organize." (See post from 8/29 for more info.) Here are the steps we took:Activator:
I searched through my prop bag looking for something and finally just dumped the contents out so students could see how unorganized it was. This grabbed their attention and helped them make connections.
I liked this structure - it was simple, straightforward and provided the support needed by many of our students. Of course, because vocabulary acquisition is an ongoing process, we will be implementing a variety of other vocabulary activities during the semester to reinforce this instruction.
- I introduced the word, the definition, and some synonyms.
- I used the word correctly in a few sentences, having students respond with thumbs up/down.
- I interspersed sentences that used the word incorrectly, having students respond with thumbs up/down.
- I provided a sentence stem for students to complete with a partner - "I will organize ______________ so that ____________________________. We shared these as a whole group.
- I had students individually complete the sentence stem.
- On the following day, students worked individually with Educreations on the iPad to write a sentence, illustrate and record themselves. My co-teacher and I used their recordings as a formative assessment.
Infographics, the newest form of internet wallpaper, are complex representations of information. Because they seem to be popping up everywhere, students will need to be able to read and comprehend them. Yet, the characteristics and layout of infographics are varied - some more readable than others.
To help students approach these complex text forms, we printed out several types for them to explore. Each infographic was placed inside a page protector. Students used dry-erase markers to mark various elements of the info graphics. (You can do something similar with iPads and annotation apps.)
- Place a star next to the very first thing that catches your eye.
- Place a circle around the one word that best describes the topic.
- Place a square around important quantitative information
- Draw an arrow to point out the best graphic that helped you to understand the topic.
- Put a smiley face next to the data source.
- Draw an arrow showing the best pathway to follow to read all of the important information.
Students were able to realize that not all infographics read from left to right, top to bottom; not all infographics have sources listed and therefore may not be reliable; some infographics use much more effective visuals to make a point, and some have too much information! At the end of the lesson, students had to choose which infographic they are thought was the best and If you would like to use some of the infographics we used in the lesson, you can find them at this weebly site.
My summer reading included Marilee Sprenger's latest book, Teaching the Critical Vocabulary of the Common Core. She has put the time and effort into discerning the critical verbs and nouns at each grade level, according to the CCSS. These academic vocabulary terms are essential for students to thoroughly own
- to understand them even
under stressful testing situations.
For example, one of the verbs at fourth grade is "interpret." It is one thing for a student to be able to parrot a definition to you, but another to truly understand what to do when they see a test item that says "Interpret this graph."
Spurred to action by Sprenger's book, I now have these words on my desk, right where I do my lesson planning. I stare at them every day, and hope to become so in tune with them, that I harmoniously add them into instruction at every opportunity. You can download them here.
Always looking for a visual, tactile way to engage students with vocabulary, I tried something new today. One of the classes I co-teach is using a mountain climbing theme this year, so today we started our hike up
Mt. Vo-CORE-bulary. The critical verb that applied to today's lesson was "interpret." Students discussed the meaning of the word, practiced applying the word, and made flags to add to their mountain as they begin their climb to the top. We will continue to add other CORE academic terms as we move toward our peak. (We used sticky labels and toothpicks.The front side of the flag has the term, the back side has synonyms for the term.They can easily flip the flag around to refresh their understanding.)