Strategies to Help Students Unlock Poetry

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Kids hate poetry. Well, not all kids, but by the time students entered my 9th Grade English class their feelings for poetry were typically between the levels of nonexistent to complete disdain. Students think poetry is difficult to understand, not relevant to their lives, or in a form that is not what they normally read or write.

Poetry depends on the effort of the reader.

Unlike a lengthy novel or even this blog post which allows me to write, explain, and use as much space as needed, poetry is intentional, compact, and demands an enhanced awareness from the reader. Educators can help students unlock the meaning of poems, which I believe, helps to change the negative perception of poetry into a positive one.  

Before Reading:

  • Notice the poet and title – what clues do they provide to help the reader understand the poem?
  • Identify form or visual clues – how many lines does the poem contain? (14 lines and looks like a square it is probably a sonnet) Is the structure familiar? Punctuation, font differences, stanzas, line placement (does the poem have a shape?) How could the form relate to the content?

After collecting initial thoughts based on the “Before Reading” preview of the poem, students should:

  • Read the poem multiple times
  • Read the poem out loud – your ears will pick up more than just reading it in your mind, does sound play an active role in the poem’s meaning?
  • Marginalia – annotate and make notes in the margins

During Reading:

  • Look up words that are unknown – every word that is in a poem is meant to be there. If a student does not know what a specific word means to have them look it up. Why did the author choose that specific word? How does knowing the definition of the word change what I am thinking?
  • Identify the speaker and situation – The speaker of the poem is not always the poet. What do I know about the speaker of this poem? Situation deals with time, location, and event. While a reader may not be able to identify all parts of the situation, the more one can identify aids into the understanding of the poem as a whole.
  • Identify tone
  • Notice rhythm and rhyme scheme – how is understanding enhanced?
  • Identify figurative language – imagery, metaphors, enjambment, slant rhyme, alliteration; how does the poet play with language and how does it enhance a reader’s understanding?
  • Notice the structure – Does the poem tell a story? Ask and answer a question? Structured like a speech or letter?

After Reading:

  • Reread margin notes
  • Reflect on notes, sound, information about the poem
  • Shared inquiry discussion with classmates

Providing students guidance and modeling on how readers unlock a poem’s meaning is a daunting task. Students should not be required to analyze and interpret every poem they read. Sometimes it is best to just read poems aloud to students, allowing them to appreciate the sound and interpret the poem holistically. In my own classroom, I would model these strategies of interpreting poetry for students before expecting them to do them on their own. We would read, write, and listen to all types of poems, some to unlock the meaning, others because I wanted them to hear some of my personal favorites. We would discuss poetry’s relationship to their lives, parallels to music, or current books they were reading all in verse. I wanted to reawaken their love of poetry, or at least open to giving it another chance.

When students become aware of intentional writing in poetry it enhances their awareness in the world. They begin to notice small nuances in what they see, read, watch, and hear and how these noticings amplify understanding of the world around them.

Climate Change: Teach Students How to Think, Not What to Think

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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 Taking Climate Change seriously in our schools, what are your best tips for teaching about climate change.”

April 22, 2018, is recognized as Earth Day, a global event which began in 1970. Today, close to 1 billion people in 192 countries take part in the largest “civic-focused day of action in the world.” (Earthday.org) From endangered species to climate change, Earth Day campaigns are vast and span a wide-range of political, religious, and debatable topics. Students across the world will likely learn and partake in activities around these campaigns in celebration of Earth Day, like planting trees and taking care of gardens. Cleaning local parks, walking to school instead of driving, or raising money for the White Rhino; on April 22, many students will be helping to make a difference in the world.

BUT…

I challenge educators around the globe to think differently this Earth Day. Whether it be endangered species or climate change, our job as educators should not be planning activities for students to participate in or bestowing information upon them about the destruction of the planet; instead, on this civic-focused day, educators around the globe should focus on creating advocates. Our world needs young people who have the skills and resources to objectively look at an issue, evaluate and analyze multiple viewpoints, and articulate their own opinion.

We need to teach students how to think, not what to think.

The depletion of natural resources and climate change impact every human being on this planet, but it is also a political and religious topic which has multiple viewpoints. Doing a quick search on the internet provides users with hundreds of articles, videos, and advertisements aligned to both sides of the issue. There are as many “experts” claiming global warming is real as there are “experts” claiming that it is a hoax. Where does this leave educators and students?

First, I believe that technology has not only changed the way we communicate but also the access to information individuals have at their fingertips.

Second, because of this, it is imperative for educators to equip students with skills to swim in this digital sea of information with a degree of healthy skepticism.

Third, so that we help to create an empathetic global generation that can advocate for themselves and others.

So instead of having students walk to school instead of drive on Earth Day, teach them how to evaluate and analyze the information they find on the web about climate change (both sides of the issue). Answer questions such as: Is this a reliable source? What is the author’s bias? What evidence is used to back their claim? Can I find this information multiple places? What do I think?

Flood their environments with examples of advocacy campaigns, multiple modes of communication, and experts to get advice from. Answer questions such as: Now that I have my opinion and the evidence to back it up, what are my next steps? How do people take an idea and create a movement? Which forms and modes of my message will be best to use? How can one person be an advocate for themselves and others?
And support action designed by students. Earth Day, activism, movements that transform the way our young people think rarely are a direct result of an event that the teacher planned. To empower student advocates, efforts must stem internally and be supported by the adults they are surrounded by. Student action that will carry over into their adulthood must be a process that they experience from the start, what do I think? and why does it matter? to the very end. To have students participate in events on Earth Day on a deep and transferable level, we must teach them how to think, not what to think and empower them to create the movement.

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!

4 EdTech Ways to Differentiate in a Student-Centered Classroom

2018 Blog Post Images (2)Co-Written with my friend and business partner Steven Anderson

In all the work that Steven and I do with teachers across the US and beyond we see educators creating amazing learning environments for students. From the use of 1:1 technology to enabling students to learn authentically, these really are incredible times to teach and learn.

However, among all the flash and pageantry there is a struggle. Educators are looking for ways to personalize the learning environment for every student while trying to find ways to differentiate; it can become paralyzing. On the one hand, they have the traditional methods of accessing content and assessing what students have learned. On the other, they have rooms full of technology but aren’t yet taking full advantage of that that technology can do for each student.

Carol Ann Tomlinson said it best:

“At its most basic level, differentiation consists of the efforts of teachers to respond to variance among learners in the classroom. Whenever a teacher reaches out to an individual or small group to vary his or her teaching in order to create the best learning experience possible, that teacher is differentiating instruction.”

Differentiation isn’t just something that some students need or some teachers have to do, differentiation is responsive teaching and a part of every classroom. Each student comes to the classroom with a variety of past learning experiences, prior knowledge and individual learning needs and styles. Whether it is to help a student who struggles to understand basic content, a student who just needs a little push to go deeper or a student who far exceeds our expectations and needs the opportunity to go further, differentiation should be and must be a part of every classroom.

Differentiation comes in many varieties. Teachers can differentiate into four classroom components based on student readiness, interest, or learning profile:

  • Assessment – Understanding what students know and still need to learn
  • Content – What the student needs to learn or how the student will access the information
  • Process – Activities in which the student engages in order to make sense of or master the content
  • Products – culminating projects that ask the student to rehearse, apply, and extend what he or she has learned in a unit

(There is also some evidence that differentiation of the classroom environment, the design of the learning space, furniture used, etc can also help with differentiation. If you want to learn more learning space design check out the work of Bob Dillion.)

When we layer technology into these 4 components, the process of differentiation becomes less daunting and more accessible to each student. Here are 4 Edtech Ways To Differentiate In The Student-Centered Classroom:

1. Assessment-Sometimes is seen as a four-letter word in the world of education, assessment, if done correctly can provide a mountain of valuable information that can help teachers determine where students are in their learning and where the teacher needs to go in their teaching. Particularly, formative assessment is the driver of differentiation of assessment. Formative assessment acts as a GPS, providing valuable information both the teacher and the learner. It provides timely feedback to inform instruction and make an adjustment. When the assessment is used to adjust instruction it crosses over into the “formative assessment” realm. This crossover helps teachers and students to see it, not as a test, but more as a process.

Technology isn’t necessary to do any type of formative assessment. However, if we layer in the effective use of technology into formative assessment we can not only reach students where they are in their understanding but look at trends over time and respond accordingly to our teaching.

Some Of Our Favorites:

2. Content-When many teachers consider differentiation they look to content as the way to do it for most students, and rightly so. Content is the foundation of learning and skills are applied. Therefore, if we can provide a way for students to access that content at their level, we can better meet their learning needs. Each student is (and should be) held to high standards. But we know not every student is on the same path for their learning. Through the differentiation of content, we can level the playing field for each student.

Technology has made it much easier and frankly more possible to differentiate content in new and exciting ways. In some cases, students can be given the same content, however it is tailored to their individual needs either through raising or lowering the reading level, providing more visualizations or still meeting standards but providing content that is interesting and exciting for students.

Some Of Our Favorites:

3. Process-Differentiation of the processes by which students learn is another traditional way that teachers provide different learning paths for students. For many students, the instructional practices are outdated and do not meet their needs. If we want to create an environment where each student can find success no matter their learning profile than we have to look beyond traditional pedagogy and meet students where they are at and how they want to consume information.

Technology makes the differentiation process easier. Accessibility tools built into modern devices make it easier for us all to use those devices more effectively and efficiently. And many of those tools can benefit all students. In addition, the idea of gamifying learning is gaining steam to provide an environment that is familiar to students but also is fun, challenging and rich with varied learning opportunities.

Some Of Our Favorites:

4. Product-Ultimately, students need to demonstrate their holistic understanding of the content. Traditionally that is done through a summative project. However, this method is flawed when we produce a list of items that students must include, the specific font to use, the number of cited sources, etc. That isn’t a project, that is a recipe. And recipes don’t belong in the classroom. Students need freedom of choice in how they demonstrate their understanding. That doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. We can provide creativity, choice, and freedom within boundaries.

Technology is truly transformational and students should be able to demonstrate understanding through a variety of transformational ways. This differentiation of product can look different for each student, however, at the heart are the same learning goals. Through the effective use of technology, students can do incredible things while still demonstrating what they know and how they know what they know.

Some Of Our Favorites

 

Want to learn more? You can grab a copy of our resources from our FETC 2018 Presentation or inquire about a workshop on EdTech Ways to DIfferentiate in the Classroom by contacting Steven, http://www.web20classroom.org/contact

Part 2: 5 Quick Wins to Support English Language Learners in the Classroom

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This post is sponsored by We Are Teachers and their partner Digital Promise. All ideas and thoughts are mine.

Data, when used in telling a school’s story, helps to paint an image in the minds of those receiving the message. From test scores to computer use, educators and administrators alike rely heavily on statistical information to help make decisions, target funding and share their school’s story with all stakeholders. While test scores or computer use may vary to the extreme ends of the spectrum, one thing that is on the rise for almost all schools is the number of English Learners (ELs) in the K-12 student population. In fact, according to US Department of Education, over 4,800,000 ELs were enrolled in schools between 2014-2015.

From interactive charts to maps, Our Nation’s English Learners offers a multitude of stories about the students we serve across the nation. Much of the information may come as no surprise to teachers in the trenches supporting English Learners in their classrooms, but what does plague the minds of many of these same educators is how best to support ELs and what best resources and learning opportunities are available to hone their own craft while their student population changes.

I have recently begun a series of posts on this matter and its intersection in literacy teaching. You can read my first post Here. This post offers how all teachers can model language learning by using these 5 techniques as well as an extension to your own learning through micro credentials offered by Digital Promise.

First, all teachers, no matter grade or content area, can apply simple techniques in the form of modeling and instruction to support students in the classroom, especially ELs.

5 Quick Wins to Model Language Learning in the Classroom

  1. Model. Speak clearly and calmly. Use a constant and predictable speech pattern while utilizing repetition and visuals of important words and phrases. This helps to cue students into recognizing cues while listening or viewing that is important to their academic discourse.

  2. Discuss. Unless a beginning language acquisition student, give all students opportunities to talk, read and write during teaching. Encourage participation through carefully selected groups, partnerships, scaffolding, etc. Language learning should involve active learning. The more students are thinking about ideas, wrestling with texts, and using each other to co-construct meaning the more powerful the understanding of the content and language.

  3. Vocabulary. All learning is partially done via words. If students do not understand the vocabulary they have problems accessing the material. In addition, ELs have to learn a new language on top of the content. Teachers should preview material and pull out vocabulary to focus on with all students. Choose words that are conceptual and topical, ones that appear frequently, or are essential for continued learning. (If you are looking for more vocabulary information check out my post here).

  4. Differentiate. Along with previewing material for vocabulary instruction, identify ways to differentiate material based on student needs, interests, and multiple learning styles. Consider difficult passages or concepts that may need to be anchored to an ELs previous background or experiences. Present material in multiple modes, audio with immersive sound, visual, multimedia, and provide access and choice to ELs based on needs and preference. Eliminate confusion by ELs by connecting the topics studied to content that is relevant and engaging.

  5. Support. Remember that every lesson is not only focused on content but also an opportunity to be a language lesson for ELs. Provide multiple opportunities to practice words and sentence structures or grammar usage. Encourage support from peers and other partnerships that can be fostered to help ensure success. Use the home language for difficult concepts or abstract topics but avoid constant translation by adults or other children who speak the EL’s home language.

While all teachers may not feel equipped to teach language to our growing EL population, there are many quick-wins that all educators can start doing immediately to model and promote language learning in their classroom.

Second, educators can continue their own professional learning through connecting with and learning from a variety of supports. Connecting through social media avenues, book studies with colleagues, and one of my favorites, the learning available through Digital Promise. Digital Promise has built an innovative system of micro-credentials to recognize educators for the skills they learn throughout their careers in order to craft powerful learning experiences for their students.

As student populations across the country continue to change, the more information, resources, and learning opportunities for educators will provide the best learning for our EL students. Educators need to continue to invest in their own training and understanding on how best to support all students. We can all be models of language learning each day in our classrooms!