written by Jennifer Larson and Sarah Zbornik
Stepping into Jennifer Larson’s classroom, you have hard time believing that what you are seeing isn’t staged or a one time event. Calmness exudes, yet Jennifer is standing off to the side. Watch this Decorah Middle School student use finger cymbals to start class as others pause, listen, and breath.
Jennifer turned to The MindUP Curriculum: Grades 6–8: Brain-Focused Strategies for Learning—and Living to assist with this endeavor. (You can find this book in the DMS library.) The brain-based research has been impactful for Jennifer. She can explain to the students that when they are preparing to perform, they may feel anxious or even fear. But in actuality, this is simply the brain sending signals to the body. A student can decide that this is perceived fear and use mindfulness techniques to calm the body down and tell it that all is okay with the world.
It hasn’t always been like this in Jennifer’s class. Several years ago, she attended a “Mindful Class for Teachers”. One activity has stuck with her and helped her find patience and calmness for her students. The orchestra class begins with a “ bell of mindfulness” led by a different student each day. When the student leader steps on the podium the class becomes quiet. The students are taught to think the mantra pause, listen, breathe- the bell is rung and the students concentrate on the sensations of a resonant sound and their own breathing. This becomes a time for setting the tone and getting everyone- teacher and students- to achieve a state of mind in which they can all participate purposefully and thoughtfully.
Jennifer has used this method plus many more for a calmer, more mindful class. For more information and lessons plans on mindfulness check out mindfulteachers.org and the Do’s and Don’t’s When Teaching Mindfulness.
written by Amy Courtney and Sarah Zbornik
With the new National Core Arts Standards and its emphasis on creating, performing, responding, and connecting, there has been much discussion to how we will now assess our students. In the arts, we say that creativity is the most important aspect, but in the past it we have rarely assessed it, primarily because of the difficulty in doing so. Thus, questions emerge. How does one assess creativity? Can a letter grade be attached to it? Is this type of assessment possible with standards-based grading? For Amy Courtney, addressing these issues, and at the same time allowing for improvement and student reflection, is now essential to her pedagogy.
Amy’s greatest challenge is changing perceptions and perspectives, especially with parents and teachers whose art experience is focused around technical skills. She focuses her attention on showing a student that he/she can be successful in the art room even when a student doesn’t have the highest level of technical skills. For her, art isn’t about being able to draw perfect still life photo; art is about changing the world around you.
Throughout her career, Amy has sought to educate students, families, community members, and fellow educators of the positive impact that artistic development can have. She hopes for people to understand that artistry is a learned skill that anyone can enjoy rather than something that is simply innate. Ultimately, she strives to make her classroom a safe and supportive space where artists of any skill level can learn and grow.
This shift in focus also impacts the way Amy assesses students. Previously, her priority has been on craft, technique, and the end product. But, if creativity is the most important element, how can this be reflected in assessment?
As Amy reflects, she realizes the process is important, if not more so than the end product. Now, she focuses her attention on “What do I want the kids to understand?” instead of “What do I want the final product to look like?” To get to this point, she built the assessments from the ground up. To assist in the process, she utilized the book Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe. For each grade, she broke down the four separate standards: Creating, Presenting, Responding, and Connecting. Then, she determined the most important strands for each area.
From here she developed the questions and built rubrics. Here is one section of her rubric for her unit on Power and Privilege:
To view the complete rubric , please see Grade 7 Rubric - Power & Privilege.
Even though she still struggles with putting a grade on the process, this rubric helps the students see that work is always in progress. Students can see that creativity is a learned skill and can be improved upon. In an area where innate talent is often assumed to be critical, everybody can now show growth.
written by Shannon Horton, DMS Librarian and Collaborative Teacher
More and more I notice students looking and finding an “easy button” when it comes to independent reading. They choose graphic novels because the pictures help them enter the story quickly, they choose realistic fiction about characters and places that are familiar to them, and they often pick up books they’ve read before. That’s not all bad, don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of graphic novels, books that reflect my own life, and even books written well below my abilities, BUT I also push myself from time to time and reap enormous benefits.
What methods have you found to push students in a direction that will get them out of their reading comfort zone? Here are a few ideas to get us started:
READ A CHAPTER ALOUD
Read a chapter, or a few chapters, to hook students and help them with the work of getting into a book. List the books in your classroom or on Canvas for student reference. (So many of you have done this as teachers, and I’ve seen the positive results in the library.)
CONNECT WITH PEERS
Make reading social. How can students talk about and recommend books to other students? This is satisfying for readers and can also hook new readers on books they wouldn’t naturally pick up. Could students be given a choice in how to share the books they love with their classmates? In Canvas start a discussion so that students can add books they recommend by attaching files, such as a picture with their book or a short video.
ENCOURAGE NEW DIRECTION
Assign an occasional parameter to their Independent Reading that requires them to reach in a new direction. Gene Yang, author and recently appointed National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, has a fabulous idea for teachers and students alike. His challenge is called Reading Without Walls, and I think it’s just what this world needs. Could we as teachers take the challenge? Could students take the challenge and reflect on their experience? Here’s what I picture: teachers reading graphic novels, such as the ones written by Gene Yang, while students pick up a book about a life lived in a way they have no reference for.
Self-selected, independent reading is key to developing readers. Give them choice! Praise and show interest in their choices! Let them be “lazy” and read something below their abilities. And, every now and again, find creative ways to push them.
Gene Yang, pictured above, has been chosen for a 2016
MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, so he must
know what he’s talking about. (Photo Credit)
P.S. If you want one of the posters that outlines the reading challenge, just let me know. I see it as a great way to advertise on your door how you’ve accepted the challenge yourself or to post in your room for students. I made it using http://www.canva.com/, my favorite tool for making posters and signs.
Written by Heath Kelley, DMS 5th Grade Teacher
Culminating Tasks for Close Reading
I have found in my implementation of close reading that students eagerly want a platform to discuss and share the new insights they have discovered. The one task that has had the most success for me has been to structure a student-led discussion. This task incorporates many facets of ELA including multiple speaking and listening standards.
During the last two years, Steve Peterson and I have experimented with using a structured protocol for these student-led discussions. We researched fish-bowl discussions, socratic seminars, and other formats before creating a simple, more fifth-grade friendly protocol.
Take a look below at the video Andrew Ellingsen put together of students in my classroom participating in a student-led discussion. The discussion helpers that we use are highlighted in the video.
Here are the basics of how our student-led discussions work...
Students Prepare for Discussion
Students are told ahead of time that the discussion will occur and are asked to select from a list of writing prompts. The writing prompts or “writing to learn prompts” as we call them, ask students to dig deeply into the text to find themes and important choices the author made. Students are asked to explore how the character changed and what the author wanted us to learn. They are encouraged to cite textual evidence to support their ideas. The writing is designed to untangle and organize student thinking so students are prepared for academic discussion.
Students are also encouraged to write down some of their own questions along with participating in additional re-reading and annotation.
On the day of the discussion, we organize the room into an inner and outer circle. We set goals as a group which relate to our discussion helper prompts. Refer here to read more about the creation of these discussion helpers (great work Steve and Andrew). Also, here are some examples of goals. Our most recent goals were to build on ideas like a ping pong match and dwell on one question at a time. After each discussion, we reflect on potential goals for the future. The observers on the outside of the discussion help monitor our progress toward these goals.
The Inner and Outer Circles
The students bring only their annotated text to the inner circle. The questions students had the chance to respond to previously in writing are projected for all to see. We have learned that this elicits better discussion than having students bring their laptops and anything else that might distract them too much from the discussion.
Participants in the inner circle begin by constructing a summary together as a group. This helps the group remember some of the key parts of the story. After the summary, the students begin asking each other questions. Inner circle participants are encouraged to ask a question and wait for others to respond...otherwise we’ve found they will simply answer their own question! The key for students is to build on each other’s ideas, cite evidence, ask for clarification, and summarize important points (see discussion helpers). By dwelling on one question at a time, students are pushed to go further into a text. It is important to note that we have discovered that 6-7 students within the inner circle is about right. I try to rotate halfway through the discussion so that most students get a chance to be part of the inner circle.
Within the outer circle, the observers take notes on highlights of the discussion and how students are progressing toward the class goals. They also write down questions I allow them to ask after the discussion.
Brigit Storhoff, who has also used similar student-led discussions, has used Backchannel Chat within Schoology for observers. This allows for silent discussion outside of the inner circle. There are a number of backchannel websites such as TodaysMeet for discussion within the outer circle.
Toward the end of the discussion, I prompt students within the inner circle to share one takeaway that they learned. Often students point out themes that were discussed within the story and important life lessons the author wanted us to understand.
Next, the observers share highlights of the discussion and how the discussion helpers were used. We discuss whether our goals were met and what goals we may want to have in the future.
If time allows, I have students reflect on their own performance, personal goals, and what new information they learned about the text.
As I read the reflections, the students overwhelmingly explain that they come away with a better understanding of the story. It is encouraging as a teacher to see the students improve each time they discuss the text and understand other viewpoints. I feel like these are skills that they can take with them into many facets of life.
Written by Shannon Horton and Sarah Zbornik
The method that Shannon uses is called the Question Formulation Technique through The Right Question Institute and the book Make Just One Change. (The book is on our professional library at DMS.)
The rules are fairly easy:
Even though this template is fairly straightforward, as I watched students go through the process, I was able to see how difficult it was, especially for me. Number two was especially difficult. Even an “Oh, yeah,” was placing a judgement on a question.
By encouraging questioning, adults are giving value to curiosity. In an article, How to Bring More “Beautiful Questions” Back to School, Katrina Schwartz explains that we are born with curiosity. However, somewhere along the way we lose this drive.
Shannon has just begun to learn about the QFT method, but so far it has proven excellent tool for focusing students on their research. For Fromm, experience has shown him that having student-generated questions increases the buy-in and motivation for finding relevant and valid information around a given topic.
Have you used a questioning technique in your classroom? Has it increased engagement or depth of learning?
Written by DMS Principal Leona Hoth
Visit Part 1 by clicking here.
I attended some great sessions at the conference. I’d like to share some of the information that was discussed.
Building for Middle Level Success: Advisory and Advocacy Programs
Engaging, Motivating, and Leading Young Adolescents!
Leading and Supporting the Mental Health and Wellness of Young Adolescents
Written by DMS Principal Leona Hoth
Energize Your Middle School Leadership—March 10th and 11th
(click here for conference information and handouts)
What a great conference! I attended sessions on data, advisory, transitions (4th to 5th grade), student engagement, and mental health (our anonymous safe school site was a hit with the entire session’s participants). I’m eager to share some tidbits from each session, but first I want to share some expressions and tips that were shared from the AMLE presenters…some are too fun!
Hope there’s something here that you can use in your classroom or discuss with your team. Holler if you’d like more info on any of the above…Stay tuned for more…Leona
Written by Shannon Horton, DCSD Media Specialist
Google is not a recommended search tool for those in grades 5 and 6 (and sometimes 7 and 8!), so here’s a quick overview of a few other options.
The first one to seven results will include web pages that are handpicked and checked by the editors of Kiddle for kid-friendly language and quality content. Results eight and onward include sites written for adults that are still filtered by Google safe search but are not checked for quality by the editors.
All of the websites included in this database are reviewed by the editors to be quality sites for students. However, problems with their database exist and that makes searching tricky sometimes. I’ve noticed that if I put in a single keyword I usually only get 7 results but if I add another keyword I get several pages of hits. It’s definitely worth a try, you just may have to be creative with search terms.
Kidrex is a safe search engine for students that is powered by Google, and in addition to typical filters applied to searches, the site maintains its own database of inappropriate websites and keywords.
Kidrex is ONLY about being “safe” and not about the quality or level of the websites it returns. Results are not much different than using Google.
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!
A blog dedicated to discussing instructional practices and reflecting on why we do what we do.
Blogs We Follow
Contact a Coach