Thursday, May 8, 2014

Reflection on Homework as a Formative Assessment...

Michelle has provided us with many articles around feedback on her padlet, and Using Homework as Formative Assessment was really thought provoking. To give you a little background, depending on the day I have different thoughts around homework. Yes, I also think that is builds independence and responsibility, but otherwise I have mixed feelings. Some days I say to myself, it's just practice-it's ok. On the flip side, I feel like if homework is going to be assigned it should be more meaningful and provide me as their teacher with important information. Well then I get into the debate if the information is really helpful if students have had support at home with the assignment...Blah, blah, blah. I could continue, but I've probably already bored you.

In Grant Wiggin's Using Homework as Formative Assessment he brought up a few points that caused me to think.

1. He said, "What makes a formative assessment formative-is whether I have a chance to get and use feedback in a later version of the 'same' performance." So, not all task, assignments, or homework and formative assessments-only if they are ongoing. In relation to my own practice, our FMJ (Family Message Journal) is formative. Kids get feedback periodically about their writing, and then they have a chance to improve. He pointed out that any other one time assignment would serve as a summative assessment in all reality, although I don't know that I would consider that to be true based on parent support and intervention at home (which is not a bad thing).

2. Then, this article led me to think about what opportunities I give to students to show what they know on homework. I don't always use it as a summative assessment of course, but oftentimes I do glance at them in order to pull small groups and provide extra help. But, when it's just a lame worksheet, that I justify to myself as practice, is it best for kids? Perhaps if homework was more engaging and purposeful, it would be better for teachers and kids.

Obviously, I still have a lot of thinking to do around this topic. Homework falls into the third step of the backwards plan design and should be purposeful. I just need to ponder what my purpose is and what would be best.

Thoughts about Conferring...

One of our Friday PLCs with Michelle was spent really diving into a study around feedback. When I think feedback-conferring automatically pops into my mind, and conferring is one of my strengths-at least I've always thought. I was reassured when I read Debbie Miller's short and sweet article, The Difference Between Conferring and "Touching Base". She reiterates that fact that any time a teacher simply stops and talks with a child it isn't necessarily a conference. Debbie states, "Touching base is all about responding at the surface level to student behaviors", and that it is important. But true learning occurs during a conference. That's our time to "do good" for that individual child. "We reach, touch and teach by being present, putting ourselves in the moment and focusing our full attention on the one sitting by our side," is how Debbie describes conferring.

In my classroom, I confer everyday in both reading and writing. In skills it can look different, but what I'm doing is more than just touching base. Even though I consider myself to be more experienced with conferring I struggle with two things.
     1.) How to confer with everyone to provide feedback and help them grow before I'm evaluating or
          assessing them
     2.) How to use informal anecdotal notes/data from thinking routines, group work, book clubs, etc. to
          serve as a starting point for a conference

In regards to my first struggle, it's actually deeper than conferring. It also relates to providing enough time for students to be taught and coached before being asked to show evidence of learning. Maybe I'm the only one, but sometimes, especially in writing, I feel like we don't practice enough. We have one piece we're crafting through the entire lesson, but then I run into a roadblock when kids don't want to revise their work based on our conferences because in their minds they've worked really hard and are done. Therefore, I need to be a little more creative in crafting the third portion of the backwards design - planning experiences and instruction. I want to confer with every child during their experimentation  and learning before it's a done deal. We don't have to practice show don't tell in a story I guess. Perhaps they practice given a certain scenario. I'm thinking if everyone was writing about the same thing-it'd be easier and faster to confer with kids. I already have the background knowledge. I don't know...  I think this is a battle many teachers battle, but if anyone has any advice-it's greatly appreciated!

Next year I want to get better at using my informal data from class experiments, etc. to help guide my conferences. Currently I feel like my informal data and conference goals aren't related, and it makes no sense. If I see a student struggling to come up with questions during a See, Think, Wonder than perhaps I need to see if their able to form questions when reading their independent text. I'm well aware that this sounds like common sense, but I haven't been making these connections. I've been going into each conference gathering information and then pinpointing a teaching point, etc. This is especially important because of all of the group work and collaboration we do in class. Of course during these times I'm conferring with groups and coaching them further, but this same data could be used in more than one way. It goes back to being data rich and knowing how to use it effectively.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Essential Questions for Realistic Fiction Unit

Over winter break my literacy team and I spent an entire afternoon (Yes! One  whole afternoon!) creating an essential question for our upcoming realistic fiction unit. I went into this meeting thinking each unit has one essential question, and that is what we created. One question incorporating reading, writing, skills, etc. Exhausted after many hours, here was our question:

*How do writers purposefully create and design a meaningful plot that invites their readers to envision and infer?

We weren't completely sold on it, as we felt like it focused just on writing. Although, one has to be able to do this in reading in order to transfer it into their writing. But, shortly after break we did some thinking about Michelle's Friday spent on essential questions. When learning about the different types of overarching and topical questions, I became more confused. I realized that my upcoming unit was missing some crucial essential questions-even after all of our hard work. Units of study should have two to five essential questions created for different reasons was my big learning. 

So, I kept our initial question, but I added a few others. One of the questions I asked was what makes a good character. We used these questions to guide both our reading and writing study. 

After our unit was complete, students reflected on their work by choosing one of the questions and responding. This was the most beneficial reflection I have done in terms of what content students take away. Usually, I'm not extremely satisfied with students' reflections when I ask the basic questions: what did you learn, what did you do well, what do you want to improve on. In the future, I plan on using the guiding questions as part of our reflection for every unit. It was extremely informative! It's amazing what kids do when they too know what they are trying to learn/achieve.

Here are the links to our blogs where students reflected. 

3rd Grade-What makes a good character?

3rd Grade-How do authors create a plot that invites readers to envision and infer?

4th Grade-What makes a good character?

4th Grade- How do authors create a plot that invites readers to envision and infer?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Assessment Evidence

A large part of my PDU this year was spent working on a UbD Unit about Simple Machines (I posted it a few days ago).  We have not finished the unit and are only a few lessons into it, but I wanted to share one of the assessment pieces I will be using to help me monitor whether or not my students are understanding what simple machines and Newton's laws of motion are.  I took some pictures of one of my students "Force, Motion and Simple Machines Lap Book" that is going to be a big part of them putting their new understandings together.  Each lesson/series of lessons that we have has a part that matches a section in the lap book where they can reflect and write down their thinking about topics.  I have heard a lot of the students already explaining that this has been their favorite science work so far this year!  They really have enjoyed not only assembling them, but adding in their ideas.  We still have a few sections to finish up, but here is the outline.  Eventually all the sections will be filled with their thoughts and understanding!

STEM Summit- Connecting UbD, thinking strategies and thinking routines

The past few days I was lucky enough to attend an event entitled the Colorado STEM Summit, hosted by the PEBC and the DMNS.  Along with Jeff, Brenna and Shannon, I spent time in small sessions based on furthering our education in STEM related topics.  We began with an enlightening keynote speech by Dr. Scott Sampson, the resident paleontologist at the museum, where we learned the story of the universe in under five minutes (we are related to geese, can you believe it?), and ended with grappling to find a question with which to guide our own action research (mine is somewhere along the lines of "How can I use the Claim, Evidence, Reasoning framework to scaffold student's critical thinking across the contents?")

These sessions not only allowed us opportunities to collaborate with likeminded educators and those in the education field, but gave us an actual lunch time to talk and debrief about how we can bring some of what we were learning and thinking about back to Roberts.  As I texted Jeff to see if this topic was "post worthy", I realized we had been backwards planning for the past two days.

I had this glimpse into the future, or at least what I would like the future to be for my 3rd graders next year.  They were passionate about science and math.  Even better, they were engaged in learning experiences that were genuine and meaningful to them and these "lessons" were integrated.  Each day was a mesh or science and math and literacy, seamless (this is an ideal future).  Dr. Scott introduced the term Place-Based learning and I feel in love with the idea of outdoor classrooms and went right to learning about life cycles could take on entirely new essential questions.  Unit designs that were no longer given titles like "fractions" or "life cycles" or "non-fiction research", and instead given titles like "non-fiction research of the life cycle of fractions and other non math things".  Or something like that.  This thinking is still new, but the bottom line is that it is NEW!  My fears and nightmares about taking on this new challenge of teaching STEM subjects have subsided.  And this summer when they rear their ugly head, I will get a lovely letter that I wrote to myself today to remind me of all I am going to do to make next year amazing.  Beginning with the end in mind.

Planning with the End in Mind - Kid Rubric

What did I do?  For the first time, I created a kid-friendly nonfiction writing rubric, using our highly effective Informative/Explanatory Writing Rubric.  
1st Grade Informative/Explanatory Writing Rubric

What am I working on?  Another goal this year has been to be more effective with feedback during the Workshop, specifically in Writing. During the fiction unit (Ezra Jack Keats) we used an ice cream cone rubric with language/behaviors identified by the kids, which was sufficient.  I kept trying to envision a similar rubric for nonfiction and felt stuck.  

What did I do?  I created a kid-friendly nonfiction writing rubric.  Through the SLO process and our coaches, we refined our Informative/Explanatory Writing Rubric.  It's been valuable as a monthly tool to assess the kids with All About.  I struggled with how do I convey the details of our rubric's six, detailed indicators ... could I do a kid-friendly rubric?

Why is this important to me?  I love the Workshop model; there are so many components to do, and do well.  Personally, I know how important feedback is to my learning, and how it helps me grow.  I want the kids to feel that same success; to learn from themselves and others.  

What did I learn?  Find balance on how often to give feedback ...

How did this experience impact my work?  Gave me encouragement to continue refining my writer's workshop, balancing the order of, and time devoted to, the mini lesson, feedback, and independent writing.

How did this experience impact my students?  Kids easily latched on to rubric concept with SLOWED down instruction, daily modeling, daily feedback, and daily sharing of good examples from day before.  The kids excitedly awaited the daily lesson with the sharing of yesterday's scored work.  They literally sat on their knees and almost chewed their nails they were so eager to see the daily results!  

How will I use my new learning in future practice?  I will definitely use this again for our nonfiction unit next year, perhaps trying it in a table.  I was glad I separated each indicator with a lot of space; otherwise it's too confusing to them.  I'm also planning to create a kid-friendly fiction writing rubric with them in the fall!  (And, next year, when we resume our Poetry Night, I will help them create a Poetry Rubric.)

Questioning is Essential - End of Unit

What did I do?
This year, I used questioning guidelines from Making Thinking Visible for our inquiry circles.  Each group's questions were either "Definition" (What is happening?) or "Consequence," (Why does it matter?).  In addition to their group charts, they had individual journals that also had their group's questions, as well as space for any Action questions (What can be done?).  Work begins this week on synthesizing our learning and designing/creating our group projects, to be presented to parents.

Why is this important to me?  My one theme this year has been to s-l-o-w   d-o-w-n with everything:  planning, materials, modeling, instructions, interventions ... I have followed my mission to the point that ants (not literally!) have taken over the creative room in our curriculum.  This same creative room at this time of year is when we create poetry, followed by poetry night at the Mercury Cafe.  No Poetry Night for 1st grade this year ... A hard pill to swallow since I think it's one of the best things we do all year.  I know it is the right decision because they wouldn't have nearly enough time to explore the genre and practice performing.  

YET, I'm proud that the flip side is we have taken our time with the ants research, halting it if not enough adults available; scrambling to be flexible and work on it when adults are unexpectedly available.  I am looking forward to seeing their group projects, yet to be designed or created!

Why is this important to me?  I am focused on guiding my kids to deeper understandings:  more depth in the process than product.  Inquiry Circles are so complex because of the behavioral dynamic kids are working through in a small group setting.  Likewise, using adults as role models and volunteers was/is absolutely necessary.  I think it is so important for kids to see parents in the classroom, teaching and learning right along with us.  I am hyper-fixated on guiding my kids to developing good communication skills - especially when things go wrong.  Small group work is the perfect (painful!) venue for this.  I tell kids repeatedly that half the reason we do ants inquiry circles is not to learn about ants, but to learn about how to get along when we disagree.

What did I learn?  In previous years their group research charts were created with question webs, but the kids often didn't make connections between the questions.  I, too, found them hard to follow.  With the sorting of questions by "Definition" and "Consequence," kids were quickly making connections between the two:  (Definition:  What do ants do in tunnels?  Consequence:  I wonder why ants dig in tunnels?) and encouraged to bridge the two with a line connecting similar questions.

How did this experience impact my work?  In previous years I have been somewhat disappointed with the lack of cooperation, level of detail, and presentation of some group's big idea through their group project.  Determined not to experience that this year, I decided to start with the Art Rubric (created for our Ezra Jack Keats' characters) and tweak it with the kids, helping them to identify language, behavior, and product that will best represent their group's most accurate and meaningful learning.  

How did this experience impact my students?  Through reading and writing nonfiction over the last three months, they have a good understanding of how to research questions using nonfiction features  (TOC, chapters, captions, diagrams, labels, fact boxes, index, and glossary).  

More importantly, deep in the process several kids began asking "Action" questions (What can be done?), which is the third tier of questioning from Making Thinking Visible.  As I understand the big picture of inquiry circles (in the truest sense), kids are to follow their curious questioning through research, definitions, and understandings, which hopefully prompts them into action.  This is tough for first graders, however, if even some kids are inspired to be researchers, or work with animals or (best yet) not to ever stomp on or squish an ant again, then the process is working.  

How will I use my new learning in future practice?  Next year, I will continue to strive for fewer, more appropriate questions per group, while making sure they are asking a consequence question for each definition question. I want them to dive deeper into fewer, important questions.  Even though I posed the Overarching questions (below) for the unit at the beginning, I need to be better at posting them throughout, guiding with them, and making connections with them, so it becomes part of the kids' daily language.  

How do animals impact people?  
How do people impact animals?  

See Think Wonder

After the students worked the "chalk talk" about how Native American Indians may feel the US discriminated against them, we had a great discussion about Native Americans and their mistreatment through time. Although there were a lot of questions and ah-ha's, they did seem to have some background knowledge on this subject and loved hearing the information I shared!

I gave them the book Chief Joseph before we began reading it in our group and asked them to fill out the See Think Wonder graphic organizer without knowing anything about the book other than looking at the illustrations.

SEE                                                               THINK
borders and states                                       Native Americans will have to leave
white mean men                                            A general will force the NA out of their land
teepees and Indians                                       NA will probably die
poor conditions                                              White people will build on NA land
mountain peopple and their families

Why are were white people always so mean to people who did't look like them?
Why did white people treat natives so bad?
Why did NA have such curly long hair?

What I learned is that background knowledge is SO important!  These guys would have checked out within the 1st couple of pages had we not spent time the day before completing the chalk talk! I have always been very aware of diversity in the classroom and how it affects learning and this is a perfect example of why it's just good teaching to level the playing field for all when presenting new material!


For this routine I used song lyrics from the song Brave, by Sarah Barellis.  We had all had different interpretations of the underlying meaning of the song, but the message is that if you're being bullied with mean words, be brave and speak up.  I tried to chose a song that these middle schoolers could connect to but also one that they wouldn't recognize by reading the lyrics right off the bat.

On the first day we read through the lyrics independently while annotating.  I asked them to circle and words they didn't know the meaning to, and questions they had, connections, etc.

Day 2, we read through the lyrics once again, but this time we had a discussion about what we thought the message of the song was.  We clarified unknown words using context clues and even added more annotations.  We also noticed our thinking  changed once we were able to hear some of the comments from our peers.

In the days following we listened to the song and sang along using the lyrics.  So many of them said "Oh!  I've heard this!"  Funny how much you miss when you're singing along in the car, throwing in the wrong words but singing to what you think they're saying!  I get corrected all the time from Marlie because she really LISTENS!

Finally, I asked them to think of a color, a symbol, and an image that comes to mind when they think of the song Brave.  You would have thought I had grown another eyeball.  Clearly this was a new routine for them, so I modeled like crazy.  The boys were not wanting any part of this activity and it showed big time.  The girls got right to work.


Next it again!  This was such a fun activity that really kept them engaged (which is VERY hard to do after we have been torturing them with all of this testing).  They are in the process of passing a song of their choice by the song-police (aka, me) for the rest of the group to analyze!

Chalk Talk

I used this routine with an 8th grade group as a formative assessment before reading a book about a Native American named Chief Joseph.  I wasn't sure how much background knowledge they had on Native American Indians and the struggles they faced once pioneers began their trek across the U.S.  I was very surprised by their thinking!
  • "The government treated them bad and were racist and the Americans were greedy and wanted territory."
  • "Because of Native American's skin color."
  • "Because their skin color was different, maybe talked different, and they acted different."
  • "The US was not fair to the Native Americans because they were moved and not treated like others."
  • "I think they felt discriminated against because they had to be separated from whites."
After a very focused discussion (which pleasantly surprised me with this group!), I used the See Think Wonder strategy to preview the book.  So much of our discussion from this activity was applied to their See Think Wonder charts!  When I use this book next year, I'd like to chart how our thinking changed after our chalk talk discussion!


I have a very special student that I work with one-on-one who has a heck of a time focusing in school due to her responsibility overload at home.  She is the oldest of 3 younger siblings and has put in a full day before the tardy bell rings each morning.  
While reading Maniac Magee one day, we were both giggling and sharing stories/making connections to the main character when he steps in to help with his "new" twin siblings.   I thought it would be a great opportunity to revisit the making connections reading strategy.  I use this strategy more with this one student in particular then I do with any of my other groups because not only does she respond to it very well, but it keeps her engaged and focused.  Sometimes I have her chart her connections or mental images while she reads independently at home, however we completed this particular activity together.  
I created a T-chart and labeled each side.  Text Evidence and My Connection.  We chose the part of the text that explained how the twins hate getting a bath.  We both agreed we could both write a book of bath-giving connections.
A very fun reading day :)

Determining Importance, Headlines, and Mental Images

One of my 7th grade reading groups is just wrapping up one of the BEST novels of all time, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli.  At the beginning of the year, I made sure to start each group off with teaching each of the thinking strategies since so many students came from other schools where they hadn't been taught.
I decided for this lesson to revisit 3 of them!

The first thing I asked them to do was to determine which 6 parts of the story were the most important events to happen so far.  There were many many details that came up which we had to agree that while they were very entertaining, they were not the MOST important.  

Next step, draw their mental image of that important event in one of the slides.  One of our first noticings was that the students had different mental images from their peers.  Why are our mental images different?  They were all very quick to answer with (like little robots.  It was kind of creepy actually), because our schema is different!

The last step was for the students to write a headline at the top of each slide that really captured the event. 
It took some time for them to figure out the headline shouldn't be 2 L-O-N-G sentences explaining their image, but more of a captivating phrase.

A fun way to incorporate the thinking strategies into our book!

Peeling the Fruit

Peeling the Fruit

I have been curious to try the routine “Peeling the Fruit” with my kiddos, but have struggled with the context in which to use it.  In LLI, we fly through a new book every day, so I couldn't figure out how to use one for this activity.  It finally occurred to me that I could use it as a sort of summative assessment.  Through all of our work with UbD this year, I have really started to try to plan more intentionally based on formative assessments, but I need to also incorporate some sort of summative assessment into my end of year program.  I needed some sort way to gauge whether or not I have connected my program to the essential question I came up with in the fall:  How does reading impact and enhance our lives?

I used this routine with all of the first and second graders that I have had the pleasure to work with this past year.  I decided to ask the kids the simple question “Why is reading important?” and had them sit quietly and record their responses onto sticky notes.  They then helped me to categorize their answers onto one chart.  I had given some initial thought to how the chart would be organized (what the different layers meant), so that helped immensely in the categorization. 

To be honest, I really thought that the vast majority of ideas would fall into the “skin” category.  I really thought that the kids I see would be so focused on reading at the skill level that they might not actually be able to make the connection between those skills and the more substantial reasons for reading.  But, here is how their ideas about “why reading is important” turned out:

Outside Skin (Reading Skills):
  • ·         If you can read it, you can spell it
  • ·         You need to know what texts or letters say
  • ·         So you can read “flooently”
  • ·         So you can get better
  • ·         So you can read
  • ·         Figure out tricky words

Middle (Connections:  Academic, home, school, etc.)
  • ·         It makes you smart
  • ·         We got to learn math and science and read the books
  • ·         Because you have to read to be smarter
  • ·         Words are everywhere
  • ·         It is important because people need help
  • ·         So we can move on to a new high school
  • ·         Reading is important. If you can read newspapers you can read really hard words.
  • ·         It helps us learn
  • ·         Reading is important because if I need to read something like a chart of food and I want a cupcake and I need to know does this store have cupcakes?
  • ·         You can read to find out how to do something.

Core (How reading can enhance life)
  • ·         It is good for you.  It is fun.
  • ·         You have to have fun.
  • ·         So if you marry someone and they have a baby you can read to them
  • ·         Boss gives you papers and instructions for work
  • ·         It will help you be what you want to be
  • ·         Read instructions and instruction manuals to know how to do things
  • ·         My mom reads all day
  • ·         So you can get a job
  • ·         To work
  • ·         Sometimes you read for fun to listen to stories
  • ·         Reading can help you with your job
  • ·         If you don’t know how to read you can’t have a job
  • ·         Sometimes you read for fun to listen to stories

I must say I was pleasantly surprised!!!  They really are making connections between the skills they are working SO HARD on, and the benefits and outcome to all of that hard work!  Some even stated “because it is fun!”  That, in itself, is a victory with struggling readers.  I am so excited to use this routine again next year.  Now that I have been introduced to it, it would be so great to use it at the beginning of the year, and then at the end of the year, and measure the change in ideas.  It was really neat to see these kids extend their thinking, and go much deeper than I gave them credit for!!

TCAP Chalk Talk

Sadly enough in third and fourth grade we do have to take a chunk of time preparing for TCAP. I'm not just referring to content, but since it's their first or second time we have to prepare students for more of the formatting and routines of testing. As we all know, this can be tough to do because my biggest goal is to try and look at the bigger picture and purpose of testing. (Which is always clear for me.)

This winter I wasn't quite sure what my fourth grade students remembered from taking TCAP in third grade, so I was unsure about what to review. So, I decided to have the students use a chalk talk to show what they know, but also review or learn from other people's comments. 

By no means was this part of a backwards designed TCAP unit, but it's real life. The content needed to be covered, and I was able to use the chalk talk thinking routine to do it in a different way. The less time I spend up front talking to the kids the better. For the chalk talk I posed four questions to the class. 
1. ) How do we show what I know on tests?
2.) How do we prepare for tests?
3.) What do we notice about tests?
4.) What do we notice about ourselves as test takers?

Here are their responses:

After looking at their responses, allowing the students to participate in a gallery walk, and answering questions I felt very comfortable what background knowledge they had. In reflecting on our weeks leading up to TCAP, I also feel really good about using a chalk talk to prepare-not just another conversation. When I am planning and have determined the end goal (what I want students to know/do) it's easy for me to get stuck in a certain routine. The thinking routines can be very helpful in accessing thinking through the strategies in a different way. I feel like this went really well, and I plan on doing something similar in the future. 

Digging Deeper for Research "Questioning"

As part of their social studies curriculum and library/technology skills classes, 5th grade students are beginning their research for the production of our online magazines. This activity is used to depict their understanding of various Revolutionary War topics.  Before we can create our magazine pages we needed to learn specific information on our topics and the process of questioning is where we begin. One of our PD (professional development) topics was all about the thinking strategy “Questioning”, what perfect timing for me to decide how to restructure these lessons. You will see below that I began by using two different questioning graphic organizers to help students to develop their writing.

We started by asking questions to develop our background (schema) needed for this research process. Asking questions was the obvious way to get the information they needed. Student’s made a list of the first 4 W’s (Who, What, When & Where questions). Using the Question Builder Chart below. This graphic organizer allowed them to scratch the surface on the information available about their topics.

 graphic organizer…(Question Builder Chart,)

Next we used the What I wonder…What I learned…graphic organizer as our on-line tool for recording our answers to the research questions. The change here was that they were to ask the first 4 W’s and then ask the “How” and “Why” questions that come to the surface because of the first set of questions they were researching.

graphic organizer…(2 column note taking form)

The first draft of research writing:
Students began to understand that these questions (4-W’s) and answers would help them to organize the written part of the magazine pages. These background questions should have empowered them to ask more probing questions, probing deep enough to challenge their assumptions and get at the real answers, not just superficial ones. It was now that I wondered if some of us should try using the graphic organizer, “Peeling the Fruit” that was presented in our PD. I was thinking that by asking deeper and deeper questions that build on the answers students would be more likely to discover what really matters for their topics. I thought it would also challenge students to think a little more than usual. I was wrong they only asked the same questions that they used in their 2 column notes. I was disappointed because I had hoped it this graphic organizer might help them probe a little deeper. Next time I will not give them the 2 column note taking form and see if they attack the “Peeling the Fruit” strategy with a little more vigor.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Zoom In

After looking at my instruction through the planning lens of UbD, I have been working on trying to infuse a little creativity into my LLI lessons rather than sticking to the lesson format provided by the program.  One way I have tried to do this is in the way I do the book introduction.  Although it took longer than the usual intro, I chose to use Zoom In with a group of 2nd graders, one of whom is an ELA student.  It is important during the intro to be able to implant and talk about new words and vocabulary.  The nonfiction book I chose to use was titled All About Boats, and there were many concepts and words the kids may not have had any schema on.  Zoom In allowed us to take a very close look at the pictures while discussing all of the different details the kids noticed.  I was really excited at how much information the kids were able to pull from simply looking deeply at the photos.

I chose two images.  The first was of a house boat, and the corresponding discussion is next to each photo.  I noticed that as the photo expanded, the kids seamlessly synthesized the new information they were observing, with very little guidance from me.  This routine worked like a charm!

I think I see the trees.
I see the house.
Palm Trees.
The beach… Mexico.
Close up beach house.

Oh wow.
There’s another building on top of that building.
I think its going to get taller and taller and taller.
They have a lot of plants.  Their house is a plant garden.

Teacher: “How has your thinking changed?”
You can see bigger.
First I thought it was a close up beach house.  Now I think it’s an apartment.
Wait!  I think it’s on a boat.
Teacher “Why do you say that?”
From here to here it looks tilted.  On close up it doesn’t look tilted.

G was right!
It’s a house boat!
It’s on the water!
“So what do you predict the book will be about?”

The next photo I chose was a tug boat.

I think this is a boat that catches crab and fish. 
It looks like it can crash through ice.
This looks like a fishing pole.
It brings up one of those cages.
Teacher:  "You have lots of schema on this."
I usually watch this show called "Deadliest Catch."

I think that thing is one of those things that goes down with the cage.
Maybe it is pulling a boat.  A tiny boat.  I think it’s a rope tied to something. 

I guess G was right! But it’s huge instead.
I think this big boat isn’t doing anything.  The little boat is pulling.  I think the little machine is very, very strong.
They are a very strong boat that moves the huge boat.
They are strong. Their job is to pull boats!
Teacher: “These are called Tug Boats.”

In debriefing about Zoom In, I asked the kids, “What does this routine teach us about looking at the whole picture?” and they responded:
It teaches me about how you zoom out.
So you can know what’s going on.
Its important to see the whole thing.
You have to zoom out and see the whole picture.

I really enjoyed this activity, and was really pleased by the conversation that was generated, and the synthesis it promoted prior to reading a new book.  I can’t wait to use it again in the future!

Headlines for UbD Vowel Study

I have been lucky enough to begin planning a unit on Vowels with the first grade team.  As I have mentioned often, I struggle with designing a unit around a basic skill.  However, it was through the planning process with this team that I have realized that even something as simple as learning about vowels can be much more interesting to students when it is planned with intention and purpose:  Planned with the end in mind.

Although this plan is messy (as Andrea says, “Planning IS messy!), it is a snapshot of how this unit is beginning to evolve.

The enduring understandings we have established for this unit are:
·         Vowels are essential in every word in the English language
·         Vowels impact how other phonemes sound: “Vowels Drive the Word”
·         Vowel sounds change for a variety of reasons
·         Understanding vowels impacts your reading and writing

The essential question we have developed is:
How does and understanding of how vowels work help us in our reading and writing?

The key knowledge and skills students will acquire are:
·         Vowels are in every syllable
·         What is a syllable?
·         Vowels say short sounds unless something changes it
·         There are always rule-breakers!

We also thought that it is critical that teachers use common language in instruction (critical for transfer between intervention class and the classroom, and between grade levels).  Some of the common language we have identified so far is:
·         Syllable
·         Vowel
·         Consonant
·         Letter name vs. sound
·         Long sound
·         Short sound
·         Schwa
·         Different sounds (rule breakers) such as mud sounds, sounds from a different linguistic/cultural origin

One of the best tools used throughout this study has been the creation of an anchor chart.  The chart is a visual tool the kids can use to remind them of all the “funky” things that vowels can do in our language.  It was actually eye-opening to me to realize that there aren’t many exceptions to the rules, and that they can be categorized quite neatly on to one chart!

Although this UbD Plan is still “under design” for next year, I have been able to begin to shift some of my instruction this year by incorporating common language and more direct instruction surrounding vowels.  I was curious to see what my kids have learned about vowels, and what they know about the job vowels do.  We first brainstormed all of the things we know about vowels and I wrote these ideas down on a chart.  I was actually really excited that the girls were so able to recall and quickly articulate the rules they know about vowels (enduring understandings?).  
We talked about how these characteristics make vowels very important letters in the English language, and the impact they have upon our ability to read and pronounce words correctly.  I then modeled a headline for them, and then asked the girls to come up with their own…  I asked them to imagine they had to sell a magazine article about vowels, and that they needed to come up with a catchy way to title that article.  And here is what they came up with: