What Gift Does Your Content Area Give to Children?

Gifts

Creativity, Problem-Solving, Self-Expression, Lifelong Communication Skills, Science, Thrive not Just Survive, Communication through Images; these thoughts, along with numerous other words and phrases that were shared, are gifts teachers give to their students through their content areas. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to work with a group of educators from GHVS. The focus for the day was Cross-Discipline Literacy Strategies. Along with strategies to support literacy skills across the disciplines, I wanted the educators to keep in mind two points. First, every content area offers kids gifts; and second, to remember, they are the best reader and writer in the classroom.

While a common misconception is that cross-discipline literacy requires the use and study of non-relevant texts in content areas (ex. the teaching of Huck Finn in Industrial Technology), this was NOT a belief shared by the staff members at GHVS. A separate post could be written about the administration team at GHVS, but for now, I will simply state, the climate and culture in this district is one I wish I could share with others around the globe. First, the administration team has a clear focus and it is communicated with staff members, who they treat as professionals. Secondly, staff members believe that all students are the responsibility of ALL staff members. Finally, each educator came to the day with an open mind and collaborative spirit, helping each other through the sharing of strategies and practice is a norm for this staff!

With a positive culture, educators can do anything! And although the gifts that they felt their content area gave to students differed, they all agreed that promoting content-related literacy was something that helped to make these goals achievable. Providing instructional strategies, reading strategies, and writing strategies that are applied to content-specific “texts” increase comprehension and students’ ability to create similar forms of communication. We want savvy consumers of information, but also creators of content!

My passion, in education, is helping to support these gifts we give to students, specifically in the areas of literacy and technology. Here are a few of the strategies we used during the learning, as well as technology to support:

Sharing Cross-Discipline Literacy EDventureTo kickoff the day, staff members were randomly sorted into teams. Each group was given a pre-made set of slides (click on the image to the left to view an example set of slides). On each slide there was a link to a “point” on a Google Map that contained a text type and questions to answer. After each slide was filled out for the appropriate “point”, teams clicked on the next link (located on the bottom of the slide) which took them to the next “point” and text type. Staff members felt this game-based competition was engaging, relevant, and immersed them into thinking about text types! In fact, they have set up a time for further training on how to create a Google Map Adventure to use in their own classrooms.

When the Skill is Lacking, What Strategies  Will You Use to Make Meaning?

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (1)

 

Reading Strategy #1: Question and Purpose   Each staff member was required to bring 2 pieces of “text” that their students would read/view with them to the Professional Learning day. After the opener, they paired up with someone who was not in their content area. Each person shared their “text” and their partner then answered the following questions: If the “text” is the answer, what is the question? and What is the purpose of this text? This activity was eye opening. Staff members recorded their thought on a Padlet.(a virtual bulletin board where one can post text, images and video; collaborative and easy to use).

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (2)

Reading Strategy #2: Text/Me/So                    For this next strategy, the teachers actually applied it while digging into the Cross-discipline reading standards (click the image to view the template). This strategy requires the reader to use text evidence in the “Text” column, interpret and write in own words in the “Me” column, and finally make the connection or explain their understanding or application in the “SO” column. This effective strategy can be used on any “text” and is an easy fit cross-disciplines.

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (3) Reading Strategy #3: KWHLAQ                       This reading strategy takes a contemporary spin on the traditional KWL charts (click on this image to make a copy of this template to use in your classroom) that we have used in the past. While applying this strategies, educators read the Iowa Core cross-discipline writing anchor standards. The “K” column helps to activate prior knowledge by asking the reader what they already know about a topic or concept. Each letter of this acronym provides a specific task/purpose for the reader. This strategy could be used for a short piece of text, or could be utilized across a whole unit (for instance, when we studied Romeo and Juliet, my students used this organizer).

RAFTs Writing Strategy #1: RAFTs                                RAFTs strategy is a writing to learn strategy to help students understand lens and bias. (click on the image to read my blog post detailing RAFTs strategies). Staff members applied their notes from the KWHLAQ reading strategy to RAFTs. Each team chose a specific role (which could be anyone or anything,from a teacher or future boss to the voice of a pencil), a specific audience (student, parent, board member), format (letter, blog post, list), and purpose in the form of a strong verb. The topic was the same in each piece written: Iowa Core Cross-discipline Writing Standards.

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (4)Writing Strategy #2: Mindmapping                 Another writing to learn strategy is mindmapping. Here students demonstrate their understanding of a concept or topic through a visual, in the form of a map. Using Google Draw, the staff members created their own mindmap (cause-effect, flow chart, sequential) utilizing Google Draw to demonstrate their own understanding of a group members “text”. (Mindmaps are great for graphic organizers. Google Draw could also be used as formative assessment, think Exit tickets)

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (5)Writing Strategy #3: Infographics                   In almost every content area, Infographics can be used as a writing to learn strategy. Analyzing, evaluating, synthesizing; all of these cognitive operations can be applied to a text and then comprehension demonstrated through the use of an infographic. Canva (click image to access website) provides free templates for creating professional-looking infographics.

The day ended with a return to the gifts that we give to students in our specific content-areas, a sharing of the work that we did during the day, and a reflection on the value placed on pedagogical practices that support the students’ comprehension and creation of “text” across the discipline. On the way out the door, a student teacher stopped me and said, not only was this a fun day, but in college, it is hard to understand your role in literacy as a music teacher. Having a collaborative environment that even the physical education teacher could share ideas for me to use was nothing like I ever experienced before! I am a teacher of literacy, and the gift I give to students is communication through music!

My Mission – Accomplished!

All of my slides from the day can be found HERE

Only 2 Weeks In, and Iowa Schools Sharing Their Bright Spots

IMG_20150904_113908~2Today marked the Regional, Iowa Department of Education Update at AEA 267. Administrators and AEA staff members from many Iowa schools were in attendance. Erica Cook, Bureau Chief, Standards and Curriculum at Iowa Department of Education; along with Rita Martens, Lead Consultant, Iowa Core at Iowa Department of Education; shared information about Early Literacy, Iowa Core Standards Updates, and Smarter Balance.

At the conclusion of their discussion, they had each table collaborate, and answer various questions. They final one, “Share a success in your school/district” was one that was shared out to the large group. With only two weeks into the official start of the school year (yes, I know, educators really do work year-round) I captured the sharing that ensued. Impressive comments about collaboration and student-focused learning were among the many highlights. The following is, to the best of my note-taking ability, what I heard as “District Bright Spots” from some of our AEA 267 districts who shared out:

HamptonDumont – A first time in over a decade, Hampton Dumont Middle School met AYP(Adequate Yearly Progress) in both Reading and Math.

Clear Lake – Through the framework of AIW as their school improvement process and a strong focus on project-based learning,  the district is seeing growth in their “top” students and buy-in from the Special Education teachers.

Cedar Falls – Cedar Falls School District is reaping the benefit of a solid PLC framework and has recently been named a Model PLC school.

Belmond-Klemme – Year 1 in Full staff  implementation of AIW, the district has noticed a student-centered focused while working to improve instruction.

Waverly – Shell Rock – WSR has taken major strides to “flatten” their systems. Rights and responsibilities about instruction and assessment made in real-time, along with decision-making and leadership roles placed into the hands of those closest to the kids, the teachers!

Dike-New Hartford  – Ar the middle school, a new MTSS (multi-tiered system of support) was put in place. Staff has taken ownership in all students’ learning!

West Hancock – What was once a daunting amount of information, elementary staff members are witnessing the evolution of  FAST assessment and data as something valuable and useful to impact instruction and move students forward.

West Fork – During their last PLC meeting, teachers and administrators had tough conversations to understand current reality and future focus for the district. Teachers came away from the meetings energized and passionate to do the right work for kids.

Charles City, Dunkerton, and Osage – This group of three districts reported out as one voice. Within their districts, there was a strong focus on  PLCs. Technology Integration in the 1 to 1 districts.  And the learning and implementation of Project-Based Learning.

Tripoli – Staff members at Tripoli School District shared out as their brightspot the continued work with PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support)

Garner-Hayfield -Ventura – The staff members and students in this district are to be commended on their positive outlook and focus on kids during their transition. Recently, there was a consolidation of schools and staff assignment shifts!

Sumner – Fredericksburg  – Shared the coordinated calendar with 4 other districts to provide professional development for all teachers. This practice has allowed traditional lone teacher meaningful, face-to-face interactions with like-content area educators! 

Independence – Independence School District shared their work with MTSS and the value of providing instruction for growth to all students! 

 

Two weeks completed and all ready so many Bright Spots to share from the districts we serve at AEA 267. Looking forward to hearing from the rest of the districts and the continued advancements of the ones that were in attendance today!

Practice What We Preach: The Art of Coaching Kids for Transfer

 

image

As a child, my love affair with the sport of soccer helped me to develop skills, self-esteem, and friendships. Throughout high school, you could find me sporting brightly colored Pumas, juggling between classes, and joining pickup games on the weekend. I was a bit obsessed.

As an adult, I have shared my love of athletics through coaching; and I have been privileged to coach incredible, young-women throughout my life! I believe I am a better teacher because of my coaching experience and often find much of the same philosophies interchangeable. It is with this interchangeable lens I wish to approach the topic of “practice” within the classroom.

If you don’t know about Train Ugly, now is the time to start investigating. Marrying Growth Mindset and Motor Learning to Train Ugly, Trevor Ragan’s video on block vs. random practice was shared at my last AIW meeting and has inspired this blog post.

My Takeaways:

  1. As teachers, we aim to maximize retention and transfer of skills.
  2. A skill is much more than just “technique” it also includes the “reading” and “planning” before the execution.
  3. Very few skills in life are stagnant and repetitive in nature, but the majority of practice we request of our students is just that, skill and drill to show mastery.
  4. Research supports the use of random practice as a more effective way than block practice for high-impact retention and transfer of real learning!
  5. We need to find better ways to track progress (another resource to add in the case against letter grades).
  6. When practicing a skill, students need a growth mindset and randomization; never do the same thing twice (different opportunities to use skills).
  7. Finally, poor practice is a teacher issue, not a kid issue. We fear the uncontrollable, we want improvement but are not used to a slower process that takes more time, and we slip back into traditional practice because it is comfortable.

Reflecting back, there were many times I resorted to block practice, whether on the field and having athletes take hundreds of penalty kicks, or in the classroom, the repetitive use of worksheets to drill grammar rules; I was contributing to the transfer problem and reconfirming the notion of “work for school’s sake.” Unknowingly, and through the implementation of PBL (Project Based Learning) and the Workshop Writing Classroom my focus and practice shifted resulting in more Random Practice. When I no longer taught to “The Test” but focused on moving all students forward, the transfer ensued (even on the high-stakes tests).

 

If We Only Post The Pretty

On average, I walk through the halls of five schools a week. Whether supporting an administration team working on their school improvement plan, or helping a teacher orchestrate first-time bloggers in her English 9 class; as soon as I walk through the doors I intentionally pause and notice my surroundings. Greetings by students and adults, displays on the wall, color choices in the rooms, cleanliness in the commons area, and a plethora of other sensory signals unknowingly flood my subconscious creating a snapshot of the climate, culture, and values shared by the adults and students in the building.

Trophies and State Championship Banners adorning the entrance communicate pride in athletics, tradition, achievement. Inspirational quotes, Character Counts Posters, and a birthday calendar promote community and relationships. While many schools have a combination of values on display, the one thing I almost never see is student thinking, or more specifically, the process.

End products commonly adorn the walls of the classroom and the halls of the building. Typically, uniformed in size and color. Poems transferred to white paper, typed in black ink and hanging from the ceiling by equal length fishing line. Unique art work mounted to black paper and systematically lined up on the tack strip with 1 inch between each. As educators, we know displaying student work is important, but as humans, we also want it to look good. What we fail to think about is the signals it sends to our students = work must be pretty to earn a spot on the wall. I, too, am guilty of this. I remember having my student tutor rewrite Shakespeare Quotes that students loved on tan paper so that they would look better, all having the same handwriting and on the same paper. What I didn’t consider was the message that it sent to the students the next day when they walked into class and saw “their” quote replaced by a “prettier” one.

Learning is messy, and as I reflect back, I realize I missed the point of the whole assignment. It is not about the acrostic poem lined in green paper and displayed uniformly across the wall that was cause for celebration; it was the process! Gathering ideas and images, organizing thoughts, painstakingly editing and revising both alone and with a partner to choose that perfect word. The counting of syllables on fingers, referencing rhyming dictionaries and each other for rhythmic purposes. The final poem was not the goal; instead, learning to think and write like a poet was; but nowhere in the classroom did you see those lessons learned and mastered.

Displaying student work is important, but highlighting student thinking is even more so. Include the thinking involved to produce the end product. Show the mistakes, the collaborating, the celebrating, and the creating! Let students witness the value you place in their process, not the student with the best handwriting or most glitter. Show all who enter the doors of your school, whether physically or virtually, that we celebrate learning!

Improving Questioning in Your Classroom: Supporting AIW (Authentic Intellectual Work), Disciplined Inquiry

A common misnomer in teacher preparation is the assumption and overestimation of  ability to formulate questions that demand student thinking at higher-levels. Many educators unknowingly pepper their assignments and classroom discussions with low-level questions requiring little analysis or support when answering.

Likewise, when applying the Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) frame to instruction or tasks, teachers who refine their questioning skills are more likely to reach higher scores in the Disciplined Inquiry Standard. Coupled with students constructing their own knowledge and transforming it to demonstrate understanding at deep levels, communicating their knowledge through a variety of tools linked explicitly to correct and coherent support is the ultimate goal.

Whether through elaborative communication or substantive conversation within the classroom, care when constructing questions aids in guided inquiry.

Kenneth Chuska, author of Improving Classroom Questions, recommends teachers start with the “Big Four” when beginning a unit:

1. What do you already know about the new topic?

2. What do you think you know?

3. What do you want to know?

4. What do you feel or believe about an issue or problem?

These four questions align with AIW framework in that they build upon the students’ prior knowledge; creating anchors to help students identify commonalities in vocabulary, content or processes. My personal lens is based in literacy in which I approach much of what I read and reflect upon. In this reasoning, my personal anchors are connected to theorists in English Literature; Rosenblatt’s Reader Response Theory, for instance, echoes the same need for connecting to prior knowledge. The markings on a page are merely that, until the reader uniquely connects to the text.

While I like the four questions listed above, I feel the need to add a fifth to the list.

5. How?

When students reflect on How they know something, a greater understanding of themselves as learners emerge, which loops back to inquiry based instruction.

I also thought the checklist in the appendices was useful:

  • Has no one “right” answer.
  • Is open-ended.
  • Calls for reflection.
  • Is interesting to students.
  • Motivates or stimulates thinking.
  • Allows for individual input based on prior knowledge.
  • Provokes more questions.
  • Promotes discussion.
  • Raises students’ curiosity.
  • Challenges preconceptions.

Finally, many teachers struggle with finding the right wording to target specific learning levels or feel they have a few staple verbs that are overused and would like a variety. This chart from Clemson is a great starting point.

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 3.24.24 PM