Group Work: Eliminating Dictators & Freeloaders When Doing Cooperative Group Work

A great classmate is . . . kind, helpful, friendly, nice, and respectful.

A great classmate does . . . help others, share, works hard, tries his or her best.

A great classmate says . . . please, thank you, I’m sorry, Let me help you, asks how are you.

A great classmate is not . . . rude, mean, impatient, a bully, a gossip, a tattletale.

The Declaration of Independence was a collaboration. Music and dance is collaboration. Google was created because two men collaborated on an idea. Wikipedia is all about collaboration.  Many great ideas and inventions happen because people got together to create and share. We need to make sure that our classrooms allow students to work independently, with partners, in small groups, and as a large group.

Collaboration plays a big part in school, sports, and at work.  Getting people to work together does not come naturally and as teachers we need to foster positive collaboration and group work in our classroom. Collaboration is part of building a community of learners. Here are some benefits to collaborating and working in small groups as identified by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels (2009):

  • Collaboration generates energy for challenging work.
  • In small groups we are smarter.
  • In small groups diversity is an asset.
  • Collaboration makes for engaged, interactive learning possible.
  • Collaboration allows teachers to differentiate instruction.
  • Well-structured group work enhances student achievement.

The important thing to note is that effective groups are made, not born. Collaboration doesn’t always work and as teachers, we need to help facilitate good group work so that it can be successful in all the ways described above. Collaborative skills need to be modeled and taught. Often times assigning group roles within a small group can hold students accountable but the challenge for teachers is always how to make sure that every contributes without one person feeling left out or another person taking total control.

Here are two collaborative group activities I utilize in my classroom to promote community and collaboration.

Jigsaw – Just as in a jigsaw puzzle, each piece–each student’s part–is essential for the completion and full understanding of the final product. If each student’s part is essential, then each student is essential. The teacher breaks students up into a group and each student in the group has a specific reading or task which they are responsible for reporting back to their group members. Jigsaw.org has examples of different ways to jigsaw an activity across content areas and grade levels. 

Numbered Heads – Numbered Heads Together is a cooperative learning strategy that holds each student accountable for learning the material. Students are placed in groups and each person is given a number (from one to the maximum number in each group). The teacher poses a question and students “put their heads together” to figure out the answer. The teacher calls a specific number to respond as spokesperson for the group. By having students work together in a group, this strategy ensures that each member knows the answer to problems or questions asked by the teacher. Because no one knows which number will be called, all team members must be prepared.

What are you ideas and trustworthy strategies for effective group work?

 

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The Most Dangerous Games & Other Mini Games for Popular Short Stories

My middle school students are reading various short stories for a unit that focuses on author’s craft and structure. The three Common Core Learning Standards the overall unit addresses are:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.4
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.5
Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.6
Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.
from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RL/8/
Mini games are a great way to infuse gamification into your lessons, work collaboratively, encourages students to make connections across texts to show their understanding.
The first short story students are reading is Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game about a hunter who becomes the huntee. Before students began reading, I created a game for them to play to initiate thinking about elements of the story. Students worked in teams to complete various tasks. Some of the specific questions led to deep questions about larger themes in the story: the relationship between people and animals, Violence can be psychological as well as physical, Fear brings out animal instincts in people, the ethics of hunting. 

 

After our close reading of The Most Dangerous Game we moved on to O’Henry’s The Rasom of the Red Chief, about a kidnapping gone wrong. O’Henry’s stories are filled with humor and irony so we focused on these aspects in our reading and discussion of the text. To spark our class activities I supplied each student with an O’Henry style mustache for inspiration and a little humor. Students visited different learning stations to play Roll the Dice, Think Tac Toe, and complete an irony maze created by Not Just Elementary.

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Awesome Irony Maze created by Not Just for Elementary

 

Our next shorty story in the unit is Raymond’s Run by Toni Cade Bambara. As a check for understanding I created a Raymond’s Run Maze with comprehension questions for students to complete and the game Farkle to address figurative language in the story. Farkle is played by two or more players, with each player in succession having a turn at throwing the dice. Each player’s turn results in a score that equates with the number of questions to answer about Metaphors and Similies in the short story Raymond’s Run, and the player who accumulates 10,000 points earns additional XP.

 

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Let’s Link Up: WWII & Holocaust Literature Hyperdoc for Book Clubs and Literature Circles

Hyperdocs are digital documents like a Google Doc where all aspects of learning are pulled together in one place. Within the document students are provided with hyperlinks of all aspects of the inquiry unit: videos, slideshows, images, and activities to complete the unit of student and gain understanding. Students have  multi-modal opportunities for learning and there is less teacher lecturing at the front of the class.

 Jennifer Gonzalez, blogger and editor in chief of Cult of Pedagogy describes hyperdocs being synonymous with Playlists. Gonzalez writes, “With playlists, the responsibility for executing the learning plan shifts: Students are given the unit plan, including access to all the lessons (in text or video form), ahead of time. With the learning plan in hand, students work through the lessons and assignments at their own pace. And because each student has her own digital copy of the playlist (delivered through a system like Google Classroom), the teacher can customize the list to meet each student’s needs” (2016).

Depending on the hyperdoc the teacher makes, differentiated activities and technology rich assignments can help student learn and show their understanding throughout. Hyperdocs allow students to  work at their own pace and the hyperdoc offers a “roadmap” for student learning. When teachers design Hyperdocs they are “using technology to create, adapt, and personalized learning experience that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences to maximize active, deep learning” (ISTE Standards for Educators 5a-b).

Below is a Hyperdoc I recently created for a Holocaust and WWII book club unit. The Hyperdoc includes individual student assignments and collaborative activities for students to discuss their reading with their peers. For this unit, students select one of titles to read in book club and meet in their book club groups three or more times over the course of the unit, taking ownership of this reading inquiry. Students meet for book club twice a week for about 20 minutes per class. These book clubs are opportunities for student centered and student driven learning. 

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The Future of Education

I was recently asked by Matthew Lynch, Editor in Chief of  The Edvocate & The Tech Edvocate, “What are your thoughts on the future of education?” This is an imperative question as education is at a cross roads. Education and teachers, especially have been put under much scrutiny based on the measure of student success as defined by test scores and the Common Core Learning Standards. At the same time, the power of technology and education is blooming with tools and platforms to leverage student success for ALL students and the field of education is filled with promise and possibility.

In 100 words or less, my response was:

Personalized learning experiences for teachers and students continues in the near future for education. Helping all students succeed and reach excellence is our mission. What we define as success and excellence continues to evolve so that our students are critical thinkers, problem solvers, collaborators, and active learners. As schools are rethinking the idea of space and the learning landscape of education, the physical space of schools will take on new shapes and forms. Technology and digital literacy is embedded throughout blended learning experiences to help students and teachers work smarter.

I was among 100 educational influencers to be included in this article and I want to share with you all the amazing insight from colleagues who were part of this report. Common responses included digital technology, students as creators, teachers as facilitators, problem based learning, personalized learning, choice, creativity, and collaboration.

Check out the entire collection of responses here.

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Effective feedback improves student learning with Google Add-ons

Effective feedback improves student learning. 

In a 2012 article in Educational Leadership,  Grant Wiggins writes, “Helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent.” As a middle school English teacher I spend many hours reading and evaluating student writing in order to help them improve as writers and articulate their thinking. I offer A LOT of feedback, both positive and constructive to help, support, guide, and meet learning targets for written communication. Wiggins goes on to say, “Effective feedback is concrete, specific, and useful; it provides actionable information. Thus, “Good job!” and “You did that wrong” and B+ are not feedback at all.”

I have found two Google Add On tools to help provide more specific and effective feedback. As John Hattie states, “To make sure that feedback is effective, teachers must know where their students are going, how they are progressing toward the goal, and where they need to go next. Because all messages are filtered through the students’ perceptions, what works as good feedback for one might not work for another.”  With these thoughts about feedback fresh in my mind, I am using the Google Add On Read & Write for Google Chrome from Texthelp to offer verbal feedback in addition to written comments on student writing. Using the the “Voice Note” feature in Read & Write I am able to record spoken feedback up to a minute in the document up to one minute. And the students do not need the add on to access the voice comments, they are given a link in the comments section to access the feedback. Additionally, the Voice Notes can also be used to 

  • Read the directions aloud for students who may have difficulty reading.
  • Provide additional clarification beyond the written directions.
  • Add a personal touch to the document by adding your own voice.

When reading many class papers in one seating, often times students might be making similar errors and rather than typing the same comments over and over again, Checkmark by EdtechTeam is designed to offer common edit and usage comments for quick commenting. This add-on saves time for teachers by clicking the appropriate comment automatically when highlighting a word or phrase in a Google Doc.

If we want our students to succeed, teachers need to be clear of the learning goals, strategies and moves to help students meet those goals, and articulate in the feedback we offer.

How to get both these Google Add Ons and use them to work smarter when it comes to giving effective feedback to our students is presented in the slide deck below.

 

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How can instruction be engineered to benefit the entire class?

Stephen M. Shore, Ed.D. is a clinical assistant professor at the School of Education at Adelphi University. As a child, Dr. Shore was nonverbal and diagnosed with “atypical development and strong autistic tendencies.” His parents rejected institutionalization and instead opted for intensive early intervention and support. Today Dr. Shore is an internationally renowned professor and author on issues pertinent to students with disabilities, particularly autism.

In a workshop hosted by School Leaders for Change, Dr. Shore gave a presentation and shared autobiographical experiences to illustrate how schools and teachers can develop and use educational accommodations in inclusion settings to support all students in the classroom.  Participants learned about curriculum modifications and their appropriate usage. Shore’s discussion focused on educating students by employing their strengths.

Do you remember the pictures in Highlights Magazine where there are two pictures and you have to spot the differences between the two images?

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It is a visual perception exercise and Dr. Shore was making the point about how we perceive disabilities. We need to reframe how we view the students in our classroom who are on the spectrum. We want to look at the whole spectrum. Move from deficient model to a strengths model. Autism brings challenges but how can we use their strengths so these students can succeed in our classrooms? For example, a child who is judged to be learning disabled, hyperactive, dyslexic can also be considered learning different, a kinesthetic learner, a spatial learner (For more see Turning Lead Into Gold by Thomas Armstrong, 1989).

When addressing student challenges do the following:

  1. Indicate how you would go about determining the functions behind these behaviors,
  2. Suggest a plan that would help this student keep him/herself properly regulated
  3. Describe what you might do as the teacher to implement this plan

Everyone has strengths and challenges. Rather than looking at students on the spectrum from a deficient model, look at strengths and match their special skills with the curriculum or find something closely connected. With all learning differences, how do we make it work? Think about size, time, levels of support, input, difficulty, output, participation, alternatives, and substitute curriculum when modifying and implementing special ways and techniques for all students to succeed.

For example, maybe a student needs the size and quantity of information reduced. You might even think about having students complete five questions early in the week and then five more questions when everyone else is taking the test to chunk the test into more manageable parts. Thus, the student it still completing the same amount of work, it is just broken down over the week to support their accommodation.

Think about time and the executive function of time management, teachers can create a timeline that is posted on the bulletin board or Google Classroom for all students to post where they are in the writing process and monitor the requirements of the assignment. A teacher might even employ students to help out in this situation as peer buddies and teaching assistants to monitor that students are completing the steps of a multi-step assignment.

Teachers have to adapt the way instruction is delivered to the learner (Input). The more ways we differentiate, the more students we can reach. Utilize Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and go beyond functional math and reading intelligences. Teachers need to help students process and express information (Output). Think in other modalities. Allow students to demonstrate mastery in other ways. We want to undo any barriers that get in the way of students showing their learning and understanding — these are merely extensions of good teaching practice.

The second part of Stone’s presentation was on sensory issues and having participants experience and understand sensory processing disorders to we can rethink the classroom environment to be a more sensorially friendly place.

Overall, there were so many takeaways from the morning. Throughout the presentation we addressed easy to implement, practical solutions for including children with autism and other special needs into the regular education experience. The key idea is that everyone can learn and with the right modifications, all students can succeed.

 

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Teaching Up & The Staircase of Learning

We teach among a cacophony of learners. Students with diverse learning styles and abilities. Long gone are the one size fits all mentality of teaching. Teachers are called upon to meet the learning needs of ALL students and to differentiate to help all students succeed. Just as a growth mindset is a term that teachers have been reading, writing, and promoting among students, teachers also need to have a growth mindset when thinking about their students and learning. With the right tools, strategies, and scaffolds our students can all reach excellence.

Differentiation guru, Carol Ann Tomlinson calls it “Teaching Up — educational experiences that stimulate and stretch students” (ACSD, 2012).  Tomlinson identifies seven principles of teaching up in a 2012 article for ACSD I have copied and posted below.

1. Accept that human differences are not only normal but also desirable. Each person has something of value to contribute to the group, and the group is diminished without that contribution. Teachers who teach up create a community of learners in which everyone works together to benefit both individuals and the group.

2. Develop a growth mind-set. Providing equity of access to excellence through teaching up has its roots in a teacher’s mind-set about the capacity of each learner to succeed (Dweck, 2007).

3. Work to understand students’ cultures, interests, needs, and perspectives. People are shaped by their backgrounds, and respecting students means respecting their backgrounds—including their race and culture. Teaching any student well means striving to understand how that student approaches learning and creating an environment that is respectful of and responsive to what each student brings to the classroom.

4. Create a base of rigorous learning opportunities. Teachers who teach up help students form a conceptual understanding of the disciplines, connect what they learn to their own lives, address significant problems using essential knowledge and skills, collaborate with peers, examine varied perspectives, and create authentic products for meaningful audiences. These teachers develop classrooms that are literacy-rich and that incorporate a wide range of resources that attend to student interests and support student learning.

5. Understand that students come to the classroom with varied points of entry into a curriculum and move through it at different rates.

6. Create flexible classroom routines and procedures that attend to learner needs. Teachers who teach up realize that only classrooms that operate flexibly enough to make room for a range of student needs can effectively address the differences that are inevitable in any group of learners.

7. Be an analytical practitioner. Teachers who teach up consistently reflect on classroom procedures, practices, and pedagogies for evidence that they are working for each student—and modify them when they’re not. They are the students of their students.

For the complete article, click this link (Tomlinson, 2012)

What does “Teaching Up” look like and sound like in the classroom? What are the ways that teachers can scaffold and support the diverse learners in their classrooms?

My students are currently working on a new Dystopian Literature Quest. Students are reading different dystopian literature in reading and writing workshop and then have a “choose your own adventure” menu board of activities for students to show their understanding and thinking about their text. There are some required missions that all students are going to complete among the choices. You can check out the Dystopian Quest Here.

Thinking about my EL students and students with learning challenges, I have also made a modified quest board in which I have reduced the amount of work required and added additional scaffolds to help these students succeed in the quest. These modifications include links to graphic organizers, “I do, We do, You do” mini lesson opportunities and modeling, creating opportunities for students to collaborate, and making a variety of resources available to all students.

If we expect student success, we must define excellence for EVERY students to attain and support ALL our students to meet those objectives.

 

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NCTE#17 TakeAways

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I am in St. Louis, MI to attend NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and it is always empowering to be among thousands of English Teachers, Literacy Coaches, Researchers, and Authors. From 7:00 AM through the wee-hours of the night we are listening, learning, networking, collaborating, discussing, sharing, and inspiring each other. This annual convention is one of the best in-person professional development opportunities for someone in the English Language Arts and Literacy field.

Yesterday the kickoff included a meet up for Middle School Teachers with Ignite Keynotes from Kylene Beers, Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Chris Lehman, and author, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich addressing the role of Middle School and literacy in shaping student identity. This morning the power of poetry was the theme with Jimmy Santiago Baca and youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman.

The first session I attended was with Penny Kittle on “Creative Structures for Organizing Writing: Beyond the 5 Paragraph Essay.” She mentioned that the five paragraph essay is nothing that students have to complete in college so why are we using this limited writing structure to teach writing. Breaking free of the 5 Paragraph essay structure allows for more authentic writing like Op-Ed pieces, reviews, profiles and Public Service Announcements. Show students the models and mentors to help them succeed in writing these types of texts and build their writing repertoire. Her handouts are available on her website under NCTE.

Kelly Gallagher spoke about Fake News and helping our students develop world knowledge and being critical readers. Too many people accept information for what it is where a website, news story, or text and don’t ask questions about who is writing the story? What is their purpose? What is being left out? Who is the audience? Does it pass the CRAP Test – Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose? He argued that maybe we need to put literary analysis aside in order to bring to the forefront the value of the reading experience.

I was one of the presenter in the next session on Igniting Wonder in the Classroom along with Laura Robb, Kristen Ziemke, Carol Varsalona, Blanca Duarte, Laura Purdie Salas, and Wonderopolis. I presented on Quest Based Learning to spark wonder and play in the classroom. My slide deck is below.

Since there are so many amazing authors at NCTE, I could not forego seeing a few outstanding YA authors including A.S. King, Somon Chainani, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, Andrew Smith, and e.E. Charlton-Trujillo. Let’s just say, these are a few of the badass authors who write great YA fiction. They addressed social justice, humor, and tackling tough topics with their readers.  For all of them writing has been “freedom, power, and voice.”

Dropping into the exhibit hall, a few ARC copies of soon to be released books were shared and cannot wait to start reading. New titles that tackle historical fiction and zombies, dystopia, and poetry.

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Working Your Way Towards Argumentative Writing with Gameboards

Last spring I came across an amazing Revision Gameboard created by Lisa Guardino, a middle school teacher and blogger in California. I was immediately inspired and in awe. 

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My students are currently writing an argumentative investigative journalism piece and they started their research and have just finished creating an Annotated Bibliography for the evidence they collected. But how do I help them get from their Annotated Bibliography, to write their Lede, to expanding their writing into an entire essay? That is when Lisa’s game board popped into my mind.

Her game board focuses on revision and is has a Monopoly layout. I imagined more of a Snakes and Ladder’s template to help students move across and around the board to write, elaborate, incubate, and revise their work. Based on Lisa’s work here is what I came up with. Click on the image to link to the actual document.

Revision Gameboards

My intentions are to help my students think through their writing and build their ideas into a well developed investigative journalism article that utilizes ethos, pathos, and logos. I have used Lisa’s Revision Game Board for steps 6-11 when students are revising and editing their work before submission. Hopefully, this will help my students put together an essay that is packed with evidence, elaboration, and utilizes elements of rhetoric.

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Writing & Blogging About YA Lit

This semester I am teaching a young adult literature class to graduate students. The students are required to keep a blog that catalogues all the books that they read for the course. There are many ways that they can respond to young adult literature and I thought it would be interesting and engaging to have them write each post in a different format. These are the blog post choices they were assigned.

“When one has read a book, I think there is nothing so nice as discussing it with someone else – even though it sometimes produces rather fierce arguments.”

– CS Lewis in a letter to Arthur Greaves

Introductory Blog Post Assignment  – This first blog post will ask you to think about, explore, and document your own relationship to and experiences with reading. Using words and images, address the following in your first blog post:

  1. How did you learn to read? Who and what influenced your relationship to reading and writing in and out of school?
  2. What do you believe are the purposes of reading, in and out of school?
  3. How does your relationship and experiences with reading shape your approach to teaching reading?
  4. What are the top ten books that have influenced your reading life? How have those books influenced you?
  5. What do you hope to get out of this class, both personally and professionally, in terms of your relationship with reading? Do you have any reading goals?

 

Book Talk Flier – Create a one page document that briefly describes, summarizes, and sells the book to young adults. Your fliers must include key information about the book, who might be interested in reading it, key review quotes that you (find or create) that suggest the importance of the book and why young adults might find it interesting. Your flier must also include visuals – a picture of the cover of the book and any other images that you think might help adolescents to be drawn into the book. Be creative and use interesting layouts and fonts.

Book Trailer – Create an original video presentation designed to motivate teens to check out the book.

Top Ten Post  – Also known as the If You Like  . . .  Check Out . . .  

Create a list of ten related titles that share similar themes, issues, or genre. For more ideas about this type of post, check out https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/category/top-ten-lists/

Book Review – Write a review of the book. Book reviews contain both summary and personal response. For sample book reviews check out The New York Times Book Review or The Nerdy Book Club Book Reviews. Feel free to write your book review, create a podcast or video cast of your book review.

Ways In/Ways Out/Ways Through the Text – Design three activities/lessons that actively involves young adults in reading the text. “Ways In” is an introductory activity that motivates students to engage with the text. What specific literacy strategies will you use? “Ways Through” are the literacy strategies and tools to help students make sense of and understand the text. “Ways Out” are activities that let students demonstrate their relationship to the text and their comprehension of the key ideas they encountered with the text.

Discussion Questions for Novels – Develop 10-15 questions that would prompt deep discussion about each novel. Work towards open-ended questions that have no correct answer; questions that would challenge us to think deeply, thereby prompting an engaging conversation. These questions should pertain directly to your book and your personal reading experience, rather than to general analysis of literary elements or queries over authorial intentions.  

Book Q & A – Based on Richard Peck’s 10 Questions to Ask About a A Novel

  1. What would the story be like if the main character was the opposite sex?
  2. Why is the story set where it is?
  3. If you were to film this story, what characters would you eliminate if you could not use them all?
  4. Would you film this story in black or white or color?
  5. How is the main character different from you?
  6. Why or why not would this story make a good TV series?
  7. Name something in this story that has happened to you?
  8. Reread the first paragraphs of chapter one. What is in it to make you want to continue reading?
  9. If you had to design a cover for this book, what would it look like?
  10. What does the title tell you about this book? Does it tell the truth?

Booksnaps – Create five or more different Booksnaps of your favorite or most telling passages in the text. Once you snap images of your favorite quotes, create visual representation of your thoughts with bitmojis and emojis, and adding them to a “Snap Story.” Check out Tara M. Martin @trarmartinEDUon social media for more.

#Booksnaps

Exit Blog PostDescribe in narrative format the development of your relationship with reading during your time in this class.

  1. What was (were) your favorite book(s) that you read this semester?
  2. Did your personal relationship with reading grow or change during this course? If so, how? What classroom practices do you think contributed to your development?
  3. What practices/philosophies regarding reading and children’s literature do you plan to carry forward to your future students, and why?

What books from the book list and mentioned in class would you still like to read?

 

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