Note: This is the third post in a series which takes a look at the implementation of Close Reading, authored by Heath Kelley.
Click here to revisit parts 1 and 2.
Effective questioning can be powerful and motivating. The right questions promote curiosity, risk-taking, and foster a culture of learning. In close reading, the right sequence of questions can help students go further into a complex text.
Steve Peterson, Andrew Ellingsen and myself got together a few weeks ago to discuss the close reading process. We decided to choose a complex text and write questions with the purpose of discussing the text. We knew that this would help us in understanding the process and creating close readings in our classrooms.
Before writing the questions, we studied the text carefully and attempted to understand it as deeply as possible. Then, we wrote text-based questions that would elicit a rich discussion of the intricacies of the text. One of our goals was to create questions that were textually dependent and would lead us continually back into the text. With students, we would scaffold these questions to begin with the key details of the text and later move into more of the subtle choices, structure and themes of the text.
Here are some of the questions we came up with from the text “Thank You Ma’am” by Langston Hughes. Students may need an additional prompt such as “use evidence to support your thinking” to ensure they are going back into the text. However, we found that the questions below naturally brought us back to the text and contributed to a rich discussion of the characters in the story or the author’s intended themes. It is also important to note that deciding on the right questions to ask helped us sort through what was most meaningful or that struck us as readers. We could foresee students within a close reading process also asking their own questions to prepare for a discussion or other task. Wouldn’t it be great to have students creating their own text-dependent questions?
Thank You Ma’am Text-Based Questions:
In my research of text-dependent questions, I came across this video of a discussion about text-based answers. In the video David Coleman, lead author of the Common Core, and others discuss utilizing questions to dig deeper into a text. They make several important points including the need to step back and not frontload information or “activate prior knowledge”. Instead, they argue for the need to encourage discovery, inquiry based learning in order to study the author’s original purposes. Take a look!
Here is a list of additional resources from achievethecore.org that provide more information on generativing text-based questions.
How about you? Have you used text-dependent questions in your classroom? What have you found to be most helpful?
written by Andrew Ellingsen (part-time Instructional Coach) and Sarah Nowack (5th grade teacher) following up on an earlier blog post
Today was the day 5th grade students in Mrs. Nowack’s classroom have been waiting for since November – at long last, Lily came to visit! She spent an entire class period sharing her experiences with the class, showing them pictures of everywhere she went as the family traveled through Southeast Asia, fielding questions, and helping the students connect with the broader world in a real and tangible way.
Over the course of the period, Lily touched on a wide range of topics, including:
Students were clearly enamored with Lily, and the project has visibly influenced them! They grinned, giggled, gasped, and genuinely engaged with Lily and her mother Staci… More postcards will continue to trickle in over the next few weeks, and Lily shared that their family is already discussing plans for future trips to Europe, Africa, and South America. Stay tuned – we’ll be sure to keep you updated on where in the world Lily travels next!
written by Jonathan Carlson and Amy Pipho (DMS Physical Education teachers) with Andrew Ellingsen (part-time Instructional Coach)
One of the best known features of the Decorah community is our Nordic heritage. From Nordic Fest to the Vesterheim, Scandinavian culture is part of so many facets of our community. And Jonathan Carlson & Amy Pipho have found a way to bring that Nordic culture into the Decorah Middle School physical education curriculum by having students experience cross country skiing as part of the school day!
For the past week, middle schoolers have spent time outside each afternoon skiing on a track that was groomed by Decorah Park & Rec. In fact, the school’s financial investment in cross country skiing has been minimal -- the equipment is borrowed each year from the Winneshiek County Conservation Board, a local organization whose purpose is to “provide the public with wide-ranging opportunities for quality outdoor recreation while wisely managing our natural resources and encouraging land stewardship through natural history and environmental education programming.”
Cross country skiing finds its origins in Scandinavia, with the oldest skis unearthed having been dated at 4,500 years old! It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s in Norway that cross country skiing began to be regarded as a leisure sport rather than simply being a means of transportation, and skiing continues to be so popular in Norway that they joke that Norwegians are “born with skis on their feet.”
In addition to exposing students to a facet of Decorah’s cultural heritage, Carlson & Pipho are also introducing students to the diversity of manners in which they can engage in lifelong physical fitness. Mr. Carlson commented that for some of the students who don’t participate in organized sports in school, activities like cross country skiing and yoga often open their eyes to other possibilities. (Side note from Andrew: As a boy who couldn’t throw, couldn’t catch, and was not a fast runner, I wish this would have been my own middle school experience – I would have loved having opportunities like this as part of physical education!)
How do you connect your classroom with the community? Are there organizations you partner with? Join the conversation by commenting below!
Written by Jennifer Larson (5-8 Orchestra) and Andrew Ellingsen (part-time Instructional Coach)
We all know the power of having parents involved in a student’s education.
In spite of knowing this, finding ways to engage parents in their student’s educational life can be tricky. Jennifer Larson, 5-8 Orchestra teacher, wrestled with this a few years ago. After researching and brainstorming, she settled on a solution that has worked for her -- and it puts parents in the spotlight!
Each year at conferences, Mrs. Larson sends home a packet of activities for students to complete with their parents. Over the course of a couple months, students teach their parents about their instrument and how to take care of it. After that, students share with their parents some of the basics of how to play the instrument. When parents have learned three notes, students teach them two simple songs -- and the parents perform those songs at the concert each year!
So far, the project has proven to be a success for everyone involved! Parents gain a deeper understanding of their child’s learning, Mrs. Larson gains more support from parents, and students come back to school excited to share everything their parents are doing “wrong”! (Mrs. Larson pointed out that frequently the things students highlight as problems for their parents are things they’re doing wrong themselves! They’re able to identify problems in others that they can’t yet identify in themselves -- which is good information for Jennifer to have as she plans future instruction.)
How do you engage parents in the learning process? What have you tried that’s worked? Join the conversation by sharing your ideas in the comments below!
Source: Some of this post summarizes a lengthier blog post on the topic which is available at http://www.education.com/reference/article/benefits-parent-involvement-research/.
Written by Sarah Zbornick, DCSD Instructional Coach
When I discovered that Lisa Witzke was doing pen pals with her 6th graders, I was excited to see how it worked. In the 1980s, I had a pen pal. With a #2 pencil (although sometimes I cheated and used a pen) and paper in hand, I wrote about my life in Iowa. Then I’d anxiously await a week or two to hear back. I don’t remember her name anymore, but I do remember that she was from Georgia and how exotic that was. And it was only Georgia the state, not the country. Ms. Witzke hasn’t been doing it since the 1980s, but she does start the process with paper and pencil. She began about six or seven years ago, working diligently to find reliable schools, teachers, and students from countries studied in sixth grade. Now she has connections with schools in China, Greece, Italy, and India. Iraq and Egypt are also studied in sixth grade, but consistent partnerships with schools in these countries proved difficult to establish.
With technology available in today’s classrooms, students experience pen pals on steroids. While nothing can replace the excitement of actually receiving a letter in the mail, Ms. Witzke further develops the relationship between pen pals with face-to face interaction. Not only have the students written to students and in Greece and China, they have also had the opportunity to skype with them. Once the letters are written, then a skype session is in place. This can be a bit cumbersome due to time zones and scheduling, but hearing the students’ comments makes it worth it. I was able to watch a skype session. I could feel the excitement (often displayed through smiling nervousness) as each 6th grader took the microphone to visit with his/her pen pal. They questioned each other and chatted about typical 6th grade conversation, such as What’s your favorite food? and What do you do for fun?
Pen pals give our students a chance to see the world outside of their own. It gives Ms. Witzke’s students an authentic audience, and they also become an authentic audience. This gives purpose to their writing. They can connect with students their own age to see that they are quite similar and yet individual.
What ways do you connect your class to the world?
Global Read Aloud project can write letters to each other about their reaction to the same book. Students can share narratives about their lives, and then compare and contrast with the lives of their pen pals. The possibilities are endless!
Written by Heath Kelley, DMS 5th grade teacher
Kahoot has become a popular online tool for reviewing content with a large group. The group progresses through the game-based assessment together. Kahoot functions well for the purpose of working with the entire class. The teacher can pause within the game to clarify answers to questions and reteach.
Recently, a new game-based assessment option called quizizz has become popular. Although similar to Kahoot in the sense that students answer multiple choice questions and have a leaderboard, Quizizz has many different features. Probably the feature that is most distinct is that students work at their own pace to answer questions.
During a recent social studies unit, I used quizizz to review vocabulary. Below, is a slideshow of quizizz in action. I placed captions over the pictures to describe the different features.
Quizizz is a nice option if you do not want students rushed to answer. The teacher can decide whether or not to allow extra points for quicker responses. I found that it gave me quick feedback that was easy to understand and use. I knew right away what I needed to re-teach to students.
How about you? Are there feedback systems that you have had success with? How might you see quizizz being used in your classroom?
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