Thursday, January 30, 2014

UbD, Thinking Strategies, and MLK

This project began w/ a team coaching conversation with Michelle.  We were all struggling to fit Thinking Routines lessons and activities within our Literacy block while really trying to focus on teaching kids to read.  Turns out, our “mini” lessons were anything but ... we were really teaching content lessons, and not mini lessons focusing on a reading strategy.  

Michelle suggested we use our end of day skills block as our Thinking Routines block, and try to integrate skills such as handwriting and phonics practice into our Reading block.  I decided to make one change, and began to integrate Big Ideas with our learning around Dr. MLK and make that their handwriting practice which they did during independent reading time.  Throughout the unit their handwriting practice has included:

“Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in non-violent protest.”
“Segregation means ‘separate but equal’.”
“Not everyone believed in Dr. King’s dream.”
“Rosa Parks helped to change unfair bus laws.”
“African Americans in Alabama boycotted the bus - they walked everywhere.”

I took these Big Ideas and wrote them on sentence strips.  I told the kids they were going to work in groups to illustrate their learning of these Big Ideas.  I have always felt that I’ve struggled to get good artwork from my kids, and yet I’ve never done an Art Rubric before ...  I took the time to (literally) illustrate with pictures and words what a “1,” “2,” “3,” and “4” piece of artwork looked like, and the kids helped with the language.  What a huge difference it made in the end product! 

The kids chose which Big Idea they wanted to work with, and then we set the foundation for working in groups:  they had to first activate their schema and have a discussion to determine importance as to how they wanted to illustrate their learning.  This involved asking questions of each other to have healthy discussions to clarify their thinking and to determine what should or should not be included.  Their illustrations had to show relevant sensory images, and they had to defend, to me, what their vision was before they were allowed to put pencil to paper.  They were encouraged to use all the books and resources in the room to find ideas.  

I learned several things:  1) I had to re-think my Lit and Skills block (mostly Lit) from a planning view, focusing on a 5-10 min. mini lesson on a reading or thinking strategy so the big content lesson would come at the end of the day.  2) Integrating Big Ideas from content into their handwriting has had a two-fold effect:  yet another exposure to the big idea and essential understandings around Dr. King and civil rights, and a marked increase in neater handwriting.  3) The next big thing I learned is nothing new, yet always seems to be a surprise:  go slow to go fast.  I have never taken the time to show the kids an Art Rubric, yet when I took the time, I got work that is far better than any I’ve seen yet this year.  4) An important side effect:  one of my African American boys, who struggles and has shown no evidence of "visible" critical thinking all year, latched ON to this content.  He was inferring, determining importance, synthesizing, and memorized Dr. King's speech.  It was a huge lesson to me that we have to be consciously teaching content in a way that will engage this group of students.

By modeling for them the difference between a really incomplete piece of art v. a fully complete piece of art, the kids took more ownership and made sure their ideas were relevant, important, and had details.  I took my time ... they are taking their time.  It has taken a week to complete these projects, and the time and effort (I believe) is revealed in their artwork.

"Dr. King believed in change through non-violence."  (He's preaching on one side, standing next to Gandhi on the other.)

"Not everyone believed in Dr. King's dream."

In the future, I will revisit the Art Rubric when asking for sensory images, and will remember that if I take the time to fully show them what I’m looking for (go slow), then I will more than likely get more appropriate work next time (go fast).  We are beginning inquiry circles in a few weeks and those always culminate in a project similar to these.  I am expecting the kids to be more focused and provide more details with their end of unit learning because of their experience with their Dr. King artwork.

Also, I will continue to integrate Big Ideas from content into their handwriting practice.  I am consistently hearing (during this group work) active use of relevant vocabulary.  Almost everyone can name the key players in the civil rights movement and define “segregation” and “boycott” and “non-violent protest.”  AND, I’m getting neater handwriting as yet another benefit!


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  2. I think that's great that you were able to get such thoughtful work from your students. I've always been a believer in teaching young children how to draw. They get really used to having people praising them on every scribble and it's a powerful way of raising expectations and showing them the importance of their drawings as a way of showing their thinking; especially when they are still learning how to express their thoughts in writing. I think the idea of slowing down is also really important. I'd love to see your drawing rubric, I've created rubrics for drawing in the past, but I've been lax this year in pushing my students to put more effort in their drawing.

  3. The AHAs you shared here and at the meeting are so valuable. Taking it slow seems like common sense, yet we often feel pressure to move on/faster. I will remember that slow is going to prove most valuable. Designing the rubric with the students gives them such ownership and deeper understanding of what they need to do/how it should look.
    I salute the handwriting/concept integration--they are really owning all of it! And, WOW, so glad that you noticed that he was so much more engaged. What a great lesson for all of us to reflect upon!

  4. Thank Deb! You have inspired me! Like Gail, I feel like I too have been lax in my expectation and pushing my students to put more effort into their drawing. Of course this is the way my ECE students express themselves with "writing" and while I verbally express to them to consider me as their reader, I have not done a good enough job SHOWING them what I mean. I consistently ask for details and I often model drawing and my thinking process as I do, but your idea to show them a visual rubric is such an AHA for me. For me, your artwork rubric could be expanded to show writing too. My team has always struggled with how drawing as a form of expression for our students diminishes as writing progresses. Your work shows it shouldn't and that it can be an integral piece to understanding and expression. I think it also feeds into a way for us to praise their effort in order to build confidence which will hopefully trasfer to other learning concepts and tasks. Your work is also a powerful reminder to slow down and remember that honoring the process is most important and sometimes it takes time to develop.