Classroom Discussions: 3 Strategies to Try this Week

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Classroom Discussions play an important role in student learning. It engages students, allows them to practice important life skills and is also a form of assessment for teachers. I rely on these interactions to help me gauge student understanding of topics and concepts we are studying. The following are a few of my favorite, and more unique, discussion strategies. Many of these ideas have been borrowed and modified for my own classroom.

First Things First – 

Establish classroom guidelines or norms for discussions. Ask students for input; they always have great ideas. Limit guidelines to 5 or fewer and use accessible language for all students. Here are my guidelines, along with brief explanations:

1. No Hands – when discussing, students must negotiate their own time and not speak over each other. They are speaking to EVERYONE in the classroom, not just to me.

2. Stay on Topic – although I love when discussions grow organically if Ophelia’s death quickly turns to school gossip I step in and refocus the group if a student hasn’t already.

3. Disagree with the Comment, DO NOT attack the person – Differing opinions make life interesting and classroom discussions fruitful. One of the most difficult things for students to understand is another student’s TRUTH is just as right and as strong as their own TRUTH.

4. No yelling, swearing, throwing chairs, etc. – I teach AP Literature. Our discussions often lead to religion, politics, gender, etc. and can get heated. These rules are necessary for the safety and climate of the classroom.

5. Ends at the Bell – nothing excites me more than when students are still talking about the class as they walk out the door, toppling  into lunchroom conversations or is brought up at home with parents; but, students are not to use anything that was said in the discussion in a negative way, whether in a different class or on the athletic field.  We all agree to disagree.

Strategies 

1. Fishbowl Tap-out   

*4 chairs placed in the middle of the room, while all students form an outside circle around the center group, thus forming a “fishbowl” effect.

*The 4 students sitting in the middle are the only ones allowed to speak. They are having a discussion with each other about topics at hand or what they read.

*If an outside circle student wishes to speak they must “tap-out” (on the shoulder) one of the 4 people. That person must stand and move to the outside circle. There is no refusing to leave once tapped-out.

*Students on the outside can be listening, backchanneling on a TodaysMeet, or taking notes on paper.

TIPS – Students should try to be in the “hot seat” at least once during the discussion, allow students 2 min. minimum before being tapped out, the teacher may have to ask a question if the discussion is stalling (otherwise they are a silent observer as well)

2. Body Voting   

*Provide students with a list of statements. Have them silently go through each one marking if they “Agree” or “Disagree”.

*Designate opposite areas in the classroom as “Agree” and “Disagree” zones

*Teacher reads the statement and students move to the area that represents their response.

*Discussion can ensue in a team-like fashion.

TIPS – This strategy takes up a lot of time, have students mark on their paper the top 3 or 4 statements they would like to discuss. Give students one minute to organize thoughts and points as a group before starting a discussion. Make students choose a side, there is no neutral.

3. SSC (Small Silent Collaboration)

*Divide students into small groups – no more than 4 per group works best.

*Have one student create a Google doc or Padlet and share with the group members AND the teacher.

*Students silently type important topics from their reading, questions they had, surprises from the passage, etc.

*Teacher monitors all group writing noting important discussion topics found in each.

*After a designated time, students discuss as a large group. The teacher has all the student-driven discussion topics in hand.

 

Co-constructing knowledge through classroom discussions encourages students to make their learning social. These strategies are a few of the more “unique” ones I use in my classroom. They are also the most effective in engaging students and encouraging participation!

HELP! Me Unpack the Standards: A Framework for Teacher & Student Clarity

Adobe Spark (16)In just about any classroom I enter I notice a “Learning Objective” or “I Can” statement located at the front of the room. Sometimes this statement consists of underlined words, is laminated on a beautifully bordered sentence strips, or is hurriedly written with a black expo in the designated corner on the whiteboard. The teacher states the learning target at the beginning of the lesson and students copy it down, word for word, into their notebook. But, when I ask the students what they are learning and why I am continually met with blank stares… The frustration in the teacher’s voice is evident during the coaching conversation following the class. They can’t seem to understand how or why the “I Can” statement that is clearly posted never transfers or remains with their students.

I have found two major reasons for this phenomenon, and both are fixable. First, the learning objective is typically “owned” by the teacher and not the student. The teacher determines it, the teacher writes it down, the teacher states it, and then the teacher begins the lesson. For an objective, target, or “I Can” statement to be student-centered and student-owned there must be a dialogue between the teacher and the students involving the What and the Why. What are we learning? What is our goal? Why is it important? And what does success look like?

Secondly, a student’s misunderstanding of  the learning and why it is important often occurs because of the teacher’s surface level understanding of the standards. When a teacher’s understanding of the standards (whether local, state, or national) remains at the surface-level kids suffer. To truly have a deep understanding of the standards, teachers must be given time and support to unpack them independently and collaboratively. This unpacking helps to bring clarity to teachers and positively impacts student achievement. The following template was adapted from Hattie, Fisher, & Frey and provides guidance on digging deeply into the standards.

Standard

 

 

Concepts (Nouns) Skills (Verbs)

 

 

 

Surface Skills & Knowledge Needed

 

 

 

 

Deep Skills & Knowledge Needed

 

 

 

 

Enduring Understanding(s) Assessment

 

 

 

 

Unpacking the standards brings clarity to teachers which directly impacts students. Not only can learning and targets be expressed at deep levels, but when discussed with the students, achievement is impacted. When students wrestle with the “what” and the “why” of the learning objective or “I Can” statement understanding moves past surface to deep. And what you will find is a well-articulated response when you ask students what they are learning and why.

3 Essentials for Success in a Blended [Literacy] Classroom

Adobe Spark (13) (1)This post is sponsored by ThinkCERCA, an online platform designed to empower teachers to personalize literacy instruction across disciplines.

The use of digital learning spaces has exploded in use in classrooms nearly everywhere. Through Learning Management Systems (LMS) many educators are moving to put content online and extend learning beyond the four walls and beyond the school day. This Blended Learning approach is both beneficial but its definition can be tough to nail down. Blended Learning is different than merely integrating technology into the classroom. It provides all learners the ability and opportunity to contribute both openly and differently than they would in a traditional classroom. Simply putting a lecture online and calling it blended learning doesn’t cut it. Students need opportunities for collaborating with peers, creating new ideas, and formatively assessing their knowledge, all taking place in the digital environment.

When done correctly, any classroom can benefit from the blended approach, literacy classrooms especially. Literacy learning is unique in that there are both concrete and abstract concepts that work well in face-to-face teaching and in the digital space. We believe there are 3 essentials for success in any blended literacy classroom.

 

  1. Maximizing Physical and Digital Space – In a blended literacy classroom, success is partly attributed to identifying the “best” practices in both the traditional classroom and a digital space and blending them together. Whole class literacy instruction is best-done face to face. From the modeling of the teaching point to the scaffolding of the active engagement, a physical space in which students can gather and learn is preferred. Co-constructing anchor charts and a quick formative assessment during the active engagement provides educators timely information in which to inform instruction. On the other hand, enrichments for learning, differentiated content, and substantive conversations to construct knowledge may be best in a digital space in which the teacher can support student needs on a larger scale and students can personalize learning anytime and anyplace.  When one considers student needs in both a physical and digital space the list looks similar:

 

Instructional Practices Physical Space Digital Space
Whole Class Purpose: Gathering area to learn and share as a whole class, direct instruction

What it Looks Like: A carpet or rug, open area to accommodate students, transition or movement of bodies/tables for older students

Purpose: Shared digital space by all classmates and teacher(s)

What it Looks Like: A forum or class-stream where everyone can view, post, and comment. A repository of accessible resources, information, and tools that students can utilize during learning.

Independent Purpose: Student area to work, learn, and create on their own
What it Looks Like: A desk, table or flexible furniture, storage space(see selfstorageprices.org.uk), materials
Purpose: Student area to work, learn, and create independently
What it Looks Like: Individual student logins, profile page or virtual “locker” to store materials, information, creations
Small Group Purpose: Area designated to work as a small group of peers or a teacher working with a small group
What it Looks Like: A table; grouping of desks, chairs, or pillows; flexible for student needs and task intent
Purpose: Area designated to work as a small group of peers or a teacher working with a small group
What it Looks Like: A breakout room, group room, or other “digital space” language that designated a spot for students to work together. It may also include a way to assign and share resources peer to group or teacher to group
One on One Purpose: Area designated for partner work, peer conferencing, or teacher to student conferring
What it Looks Like: Conferring table, flexible seating, teacher moves to student
Purpose: Similar to small group with the addition of private peer to peer feedback, teacher to student feedback, messaging
What it Looks Like: Space used can be similar to a small group. Ability to target and differentiate messages and feedback to an individual or privately. Private assessment and gradebook
  1.  Fostering Collaboration and Communication – Although most of our students do not know the world without the internet, collaboration and communication in a digital space does not come naturally to them. In a blended literacy classroom, students are sharing their writing, participating in literature circles, creating multimedia projects in small groups, and providing feedback to each other. A blended environment asks educators to not only support student learning in content areas, it also requires special consideration on how best to grow and support students in a healthy and safe reading and writing community. These skills are often overlooked but essential for success in a blended literacy classroom. To do so, we must foster digital communication and collaboration skills that will impact not only their current learning but their digital footprint as well. One of the best ways is to co-create and establish norms for the blended literacy classroom. Digital space expectations would include communication, collaboration, sharing, messaging, appropriate use, etc. Here are a few to get you started:
  • Communicate effectively when in a digital space.
    • ALL CAPS = Shouting
    • Know your peers/partner/audience, is text lingo appropriate?
    • 3 before Me – have 3 other people read before you publish
  • Recognize all voices in group and peer to peer spaces.
  • Be careful when using jokes or humor online, it is hard to convey meaning through text alone.
  • When providing feedback to peers address them by name, use the PQP Strategy (Praise, Question, Polish), be specific, and sign your name at the end.  
  • During a class discussion on the forum: Be Engaged, Be Active, Be Reflective

 

  1. Accessible Texts and Materials – Finally, recognizing the capability of differentiating content based on student needs in a blended literacy classroom is an essential component for success. With the access to information and support from platforms like ThinkCERCA, blended learning should not limit student choice to one particular text or resource. In fact, through collaboration with the librarian or media specialists, student choice in what they read should increase exponentially. A digital text that is linked to an LMS (Learning Management System) is not blended learning. Blended learning in a literacy classroom includes multiple texts and information that are high interest and available at all independent reading levels. The Common Core State Standards are end goals that are scaffolded and applicable to any content which is seen in the expert reader. Expert readers apply similar skills no matter what they are reading. These transferable strategies are what we intend to fill our students’ toolboxes with and are done so through text in which they can independently access. And just like the fluidity of student interests, so too is their independent reading level. It can change based on prior knowledge, motivation, or interest. When students have endless access to information and texts everyone wins. Fill your blended literacy space as you would a classroom library; full of books, informational texts, articles, media, and audio at all levels and interests!  

 

These 3 Essentials for Blended [Literacy] Learning help to maximize the digital space to support all young readers and writers. Intentional virtual spaces, scaffolding collaboration and communication, and surrounding students with high-interest, accessible texts promote literacy learning and help to raise student achievement that will last a lifetime.

 

Want to learn more? Check out the Administrator Guide to Personalizing Literacy Through Blended Learning from ThinkCERCA! There is also a great webinar on crafting Scalable Blended Literacy Programs worth a watch as well.

Shaelynn Farnsworth is a Digital Literacy Expert in the Iowa. You can follow her on Twitter @shfarnsworth
Steven W. Anderson is a Digital Teaching and Relationship Evangelist. You can follow him on Twitter @web20classroom.

Fake News Should Die… Or Should It?

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is “how do we fight the fake news epidemic?”

 

Recently, Fake News has been getting a bad reputation, I’m hoping this post changes that!

Over half of Americans get their news from just one social media site – Facebook and 45% of US adults say government politicians and elected officials bear a great deal of responsibility for preventing made-up stories from gaining attention (Pew Research Center,  December 15, 2016). These statistics alarm me. Not the first one highlighting where people find information, but the second claim in which many feel the responsibility of identifying and stopping the spread of fake information resides with the government.

It is essential for educators to develop healthy skepticism within each child; critical discerners of information that are able to evaluate, analyze, and apply information that they encounter throughout their lifetime, no matter the mode.

Information is doubling every 12 days, containing fake news, half-truths, alternate facts, and reliable information; and while there are many resources (my list here) and blog posts written that offer apps, website, fact-checkers, and lessons plans for educators to utilize, we must not overlook the charge of education in our pursuit of combating fake news –  to develop independent, critical thinkers.

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A conversation I had with my 7th grade son and his friends this morning:

Me: What do you know about fake news?

Son: What do you mean?

Son’s friend: Didn’t you see President Trump on the news yesterday talking about news sources…

After a brief discussion on politics

Me: So what should we do with people or news sources that report and spread fake news?

Son: Fine them, make them pay…

Son’s friend: They should get jail time.

All the boys: Yes, jail time and not be allowed to report fake news. The government needs to shut those people down…

Me: So the government should police the internet, news sources, social media, conversations and get rid of all of the fake news?

Deep Thought

Son’s friend: Well that means I could be thrown in jail… or we could end up like North Korea…

BINGO!

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Fake news is not a bad thing. In fact, it provides teachable moments for educators across the globe. It begs us to consider who or what determines information as fake? And How can we support kids in their pursuit of understanding? The discernment of information and the application to construct one’s own understanding should be practiced and refined in every classroom across the country. With that being said, the importance of what should be done with fake information and the people or corporations that report this news as truth is a piece of the conversation that is missed.

 

  • What exactly is fake news?
  • Would killing off fake news truly help people?
  • Does allowing others to determine what information you have access to leave you with only factual and correct information?
  • Who should police the internet?
  • What role should the government play in determining access to information?
  • Does killing off fake news equal censorship?
  • Is censorship needed?
  • Can censorship be both good and bad?
  • Can censorship and freedom of speech coexist?

Resources, websites, fact-checkers are nice. They support an individual’s pursuit of knowledge. We use them as adults and we should definitely model and share them with students.

But

DO NOT forget the second part of the conversation, one in which students understand the value of fake news in the age of information. The conversation that includes the tough discussions on freedom of speech, critical thinking, approaching information with healthy skepticism, and censorship.

Special thanks to Shawn McCusker and Steven Anderson for sharing information freely!

10 Student-Centered Ways to Use Blab in the Classroom

 

blab video

I love learning, and today was no exception. Fortunately, I was able to talk my friend Steven Anderson into trying out Blab and learning with me. Bonus was that he agreed to write a quick blog post with me as well!

Blab is a live-broadcasting app that streams video to a “Public” or “Unlisted” stream (host’s choice). With 4 “Open-Seats” available in each Blab, topic-driven conversations are shared with a live audience. Interaction also occurs via text through live audience participation. While anyone can call-in (or ask) for an “Open-Seat”,  only the host can approve who receives the spot. Moderating participants came in useful when we were Blabbing; people from Australia to Korea all wanted to join in the live conversation.  

Blab also allows users to record all or a portion of their live stream. Sharing is easy; the video can be embedded, tweeted, posted on facebook, and even shared to the user’s YouTube channel. Finally, like other social media platforms, “following” and “followers”, help you be part of the conversations that matter most to you!

Steven and I agreed, Blab was fun, easy to use, and versatile which makes it great for classroom use. Here are the Top 10 Ways Students could use Blab in the classroom:

10 Ways Students Can Use Blab in the Classroom (by Steven Anderson and Shaelynn Farnsworth) 

  1. Interviewing Experts and Primary Sources – Students are no longer limited by location to the information they have access to. Technology provides opportunity and means for learning to expand beyond the walls of the classroom. Blab provides an easy way for students to connect with and interview experts, gaining new information from primary sources.
  2. Live Demonstrations of Science Experiments – In science class, we certainly want students to get hands-on when it comes to experimenting. But there are cases where, for safety or other reasons, keeping them at a distance is best. Through Blab the teacher can be conducting the experiment remotely and have the rest of the class join, share and comment through a Blab. The best part? Experiments no longer have to be tied to the classroom? So if there are investigations where more expertise is needed the teacher can go to that location (like a local university with more resources) while students view from afar.
  3. Student Presentations To Authentic Audiences – Many times the work students do lives between themselves and their teacher. The hours of work they spend creating and crafting is sometimes seen by their classmates but rarely anyone else. With Blab, students have a live, authentic audience to present their findings or project to. Using the chat feature they could solicit feedback or opportunities for growth. And since Blab supports up to 4 video feeds a lively discussion could also take place, face-to-face, with reviewers from across the world.
  4. School or Community News Broadcast/Journalism – Live streaming of school events, sharing of news in the district or community, all provide students the option of reading, writing, and speaking in authentic and engaging ways. Pairing Blab with student journalism provides a multimedia avenue in which students hone life skills. The ability to embed the final video or upload to YouTube give students a way to share their work long after the Blab is over.  
  5. Students Practicing Reading/Literacy Skills – Students, especially younger students need opportunities to read and practice their growing literacy skills. Blabs could be set up between an Elementary classroom and a Middle School or High School class where younger students practice reading to older students. The reverse could also happen too. As students are developing those critical literacy skills they need to hear them modeled. So the older students could read to the younger students as well. All of this recorded for feedback and reflection later.
  6. One on One Conferencing/Peer Feedback – With any type of feedback, be it from reviewing a paper or project or looking at overall learning objectives and goals, having a peer review process in place in the classroom can help students think more intrinsically about their own thinking. Using Blab, students can peer review each other and record that feedback for analysis or use later. And the peer doesn’t have to be a classmate. Since Blab is global, peers can be anyone, anywhere in the world.
  7. Cross Curricular Projects/Group Work – Group work is at the heart of a collaborative classroom. However, what do students do when the bell rings for the day? They still have work to do together but are going off to their different homes. Blab can bridge the gap between group members allow them to chat, share links and talk through their work. For the teacher, sessions could be recorded to review the thinking and dynamics of the groups later.
  8. Creating a Culture of Awesome – Video provides a powerful glimpse into the lives of our students. Using Blab as a way to spotlight students, or other educators in the district, shines light on all of the good happenings in the school. By allowing students to create the video, ownership in the message which transfers to a positive climate and culture of a school heightens student voice and models a positive way social media can be used to make an impact.
  9. Field Trip Recaps – Video reflection through Blab can help kids sort through experiences and anchor their learning. After field trips, speakers, and other academic experiences; students can follow-up with a video response. Done with a small group of peers, Blab is a perfect app in which students can share their learning. Download the Blab app onto your phone, and students are now mobile videographers, sharing their learning along the way.   
  10. To Create Shared-screen or tutorials – Have students create tutorials using Blab. Whether demonstrating Minecraft in the classroom or how to write a Shakespearean Sonnet, when students are doing the teaching, students are also the ones doing the learning.  

Have an idea to help make Blab better? Share here, I Blab, the uservoice forum to share your thoughts!