Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Headline Success


Easy way to assess understandings based on an essential question

This is the second year working with the thinking strategy “Headline”. I have always felt that this was a great way to make meaningful connections to the lessons in our classroom. Unfortunately in the past my students haven’t always created headlines that synthesized the” Big Idea” of our lesson. The headlines felt flat or filled with misconceptions, which is not always a bad things, but not what I was hoping for. This particular time I would say I loved the “Headline” thinking routine because it was easy for the students and at the same time showed me that they had made meaningful connections. (Yahoo!) Goes to show me, “practice makes perfect”. I love that this strategy documents group thinking and gives everyone an opportunity to summarize and synthesis their learning in a cooperative format. I believe learning can be more powerful when you have the support of your classmates.

What were we leaning:

In this particular lesson we were learning about the first three English settlements in North America
Roanoke, Jamestown, & Plymouth.  During and after our social studies lessons students analyzed these three settlements to show why settlers came and the hardships they endured.

Setting the stage for this thinking activity:

As usual I begin this thinking activity by using mentor text (newspaper headlines) to remind students what headlines looked like. The difference was this time I used headlines from the local paper, Front Porch, those headlines read: “Home Business Turns Kids on to Sewing” & “Meet the Kids: Fifth Graders Explain Homelessness”

 I've used mentor text like the above before, but with less success. I believe that because they had previous experience in conjunction with these headlines students were activating and applying their schema more effectively and we were more successful in the end.

 Next Steps:

Students were given the directions to write three or more headlines that captures the main ideas of one of the three New England settlements. I reminded students that headlines are not written in complete sentences, but are short in order to capture the Big Idea of their learning. I was trying to find out what they’ve come to understand about early settlements. Essential Question: "How did the challenges that the first English colonies face determine their success or failures?"

We did put a little twist on this activity that you won't find in the textbook. As always I give everyone an opportunity to share their headlines and ask them to give reasons behind their headlines. This time I asked each group to send the secretary who recorded their thinking to meet with me as a group. I asked the secretary to look at the headline their group chose as their best. I then told them the headline couldn’t have the name of the settlement present. At first they were not happy with taking the name off, but by removing the name we really were able to see where they focused their thinking.  Once we had our new headline we wrote them on a sentence strips. Taking these headlines back to the classroom everyone began to analyze the headlines together. This allowed us to see other perspectives and see the content in a new way they might have not thought about. Our final step was to try and categorize headlines according to the three English settlements. Student's shared supporting evidence for choosing that settlement. This is where the magic happened for me. Adding this twist to our "headline"  activity allowed me to get a glimpse into how students were or were not connecting to ideas.  I was not disappointed with the rich discussion students have been having about their thinking.

Future plans for this activity:

I will keep the above headlines handy so that we can revisit them during our next lessons on the 13 New England colonies. My hope is that students will transfer their learning from this activity to the next.
I love headlines as a formative assessment tool. I should start using it as a pre-assessment tool  so I can quickly see what my students are coming to the lesson with and who needs some more scaffolding to get there.

I’m thinking that I could use headlines with just about anything. I might try having students write a headline about their weekend, how class went for the day, after an assembly, or even to sum up a conversation in class. Headlines are a quick way to checking in on students synthesis.


  1. Phylis,

    Thanks for the great post. I get the sense you were very intentional in how to use the routine especially considering you added your own twist to promote deeper level thinking. I thought your way of giving the students a task of assigning a secretary to report their headlines and take information back to their peers was a great way to promote deeper level understanding through discussion, perspective and collaboration. It just shows how we need to think of these routines as guidelines instead of rigid tools. I have often learned myself that tweaking them to meeet the needs of our particular students or work within our focus of ubd makes them more effective and meaningful. Thank you for sharing this. While this is not a routine I believe appropriate as it stands for my little guys, maybe with a few tweaks I can use it. I also like how you are starting to see how you can use it more routinely to assess your students or as quick checks for understanding. I also appreciate how you plan to use it as a connection for your units of study. How will you use it around the first 13 colonies? I hope you share any new learning or the connections the students make. Thanks!

    1. Leslie, thanks for the response. I was thinking about how I would use the Headline routine with your students. First, I would find interesting headlines and share a few each and everyday. No discussion just sharing and I would probably hang them up as a visual. If I noticed that students took time to notice them or wanted to talk about them in anyway I would then encourage discussion. Once they were comfortable with headlines, I would have a few new ones and be sure to discuss what images the words created. If I felt we were having good discussions about Headline and that it because a routine for them, I would then help a small groups of students with making their own Headline about themselves. Maybe if that worked I would branch off into working with the whole group to gather ideas that could be used to make a headline about their classroom. It could be fun to see how they could capture their day at school.

  2. I also would love to follow your thinking as you implement this routine and continue to refine your approach. You really squeezed everything you could have out of this routine. By removing the names of the settlements, you really got down to their thinking and went so much deeper. How about doing it again when you teach the New England colonies?

  3. I really love the way you continued using the headlines after doing the routine. I know that one of the things I am trying to get better at is returning to the work we do with the thinking routines, so that it is truly, authentically a routine and not an activity. I think your use of the headlines here was a very good example of how the routine can really be imbedded in the lesson and be used over time to continue pushing and probing the students thinking. I imagine if was very satisfying for them to experience that sense of understanding and I imagine that it will make your continued study of the colonies much deeper.

  4. Headlines is a routine I've been intrigued by and never tried. Like Leslie, my instinct is the 1st graders don't have enough schema to create them, and finding the big idea is so hard - it takes a LOT of guidance. That being said, you have just inspired me to take your suggestion to Leslie to begin now to hang them up around the classroom and inspire wonder and questioning. I'm thinking this will be a great routine to try at the end of our Ants Inquiry Circle, which should be finalized in the next two weeks. I love your idea of taking the name of the settlement out of the headline; I will follow suit and not allow them to use the word "ants". I am really enjoying seeing how everyone is tweaking these routines to fit grade levels; I think that's what made them so daunting at first. This blog has been a great way to capture these innovations and teachers' creative flexibility!

  5. Headlines was the perfect routine for this formative! Capturing the essence of why settlements were created is the cornerstone of American history since each settlement had its own unique identity. Additionally, this thinking routine allows students to understand the freedom the first Americans had in defining their priorities, whether it was religious freedom or commerce or agriculture. Bravo!