The following blog post was written for and first appeared on teachbetter.com blog on May 2, 2023.
The month of May is designated as Jewish American Heritage Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. During this month we honor “the generations of Jewish Americans and Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched American history and are instrumental in its success.”
The month of May in my eighth grade classroom is when we are studying WW2, the Holocaust, and Japanese Internment. In both English and social studies students are reading historical fiction, memoirs, and nonfiction texts of their choice about these topics. In history students are studying the dates and facts, reading primary sources, and understanding the ramifications of the war on a global level. The aim in this cross curricular unit is for students to develop an understanding of the roots and ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping in any society. Additionally, students develop an awareness of the value of pluralism and encourage acceptance of diversity in a pluralistic society. One key facet is to not just learn about the victims but also honor the Jewish and Asian American heroes who showed perseverance and were instrumental during this time.
Students learn about Japanese Internment as well as the 442nd regimental combat team, a segregated Japanese American unit who are the most decorated unit in US History for their bravery and heroism. Students read the graphic novel They Called Us Enemy by George Takei and gain a child’s perspective of Executive Order 9066 and living in an Internment Camp in Takei’s memoir. Some students select to read Traci Chee’s We Are Not Free, a Printz Honor Winner young adult historical fiction text that was based on the author’s grandparents stories of being incarcerated during WW2.
I have put together two different hyperdocs, a digital document such as a Google Doc where all components of a learning cycle have been pulled together into one central hub for students to learn more.. Within the hyperdocs students are provided with hyperlinks to all of the resources to work on at their own pace and learn about the diverse groups of soldiers who made up America’s military and a second hyperdoc that examines Japanese Internment and the ramifications for today. You can make a copy of these two hyperdocs when you click on the images below.
Similarly, in studying the Holocaust students read stories of survivors and even have the opportunity to Zoom with a survivor to hear her story. You can connect with a speaker through the Jewish Heritage Museum’s Speakers Bureau in New York City. Additionally, students look at art work and read poetry from the victims and survivors of the Holocaust to understand the horrors of this period in history. The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam offers a virtual tour online of the Secret Annex where Anne and her family hid for more than two years during WW2 where she wrote her diary.
Educational materials have been curated by The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration with primary sources about the Chinese Exclusion Act, Annexation of Hawaii, and Japanese Americans during WW2. The National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has links and resources for teaching about the generations of Jewish Americans who have contributed to American history, culture and society.
For our culminating project for WW2 students create their own multi genre text on a specific topic and theme about World War II. This summative assessment and multi genre project incorporates five different texts (fiction and nonfiction) grounded in specific historical documents to highlight a common theme prevalent in WWII. Allowing students to be researchers and writers enables students to use higher order thinking and comprehension skills while at the same time tap into 21st Century skills as digital citizens and creators. Students will utilize technology for research and writing to produce a blog that presents their understanding and learning of this inquiry unit on WWII and the Holocaust.
This May consider ways to share stories, expose stereotypes and myths about Jewish and Asian Americans and celebrate their rich culture and diversity.
Be sure to share in the comments ways that you are helping to celebrate Jewish Pacific Heritage Month in your classroom.
Students want to take an active role in their world. They want to be involved in real things and have their voices heard. Creative projects offer students a platform to engage with their world and make statements, have the opportunity to present to real audiences, draw reactions, and gain feedback from those audiences as well.
In my 8th grade English Language Arts classroom students read short stories and texts around the topic of identity. After reading a handful of short stories from authors like Sandra Cisneros, Toni Cade Bambara, Esmerelda Santiago, Gary Soto, and Amy Tan, to name a few. After our close reading, analysis, and reflections students do some exploration and research into their identity and diverse cultures. Students are provided with a choice board to select a culminating writing assignment that is compiled in an anthology with Book Creator.
When students know that they have the opportunity to make a statement that will be heard, it can bring a highly focusing, motivating, and potentially satisfying aspect to learning. Each of the activities on the choice board results in the student producing an authentic learning product curated in a class anthology. Choice boards embrace student voice, choice, and agency.
Student Authors with Book Creator
A key focus of our active learning and critical thinking classroom is that the student produces as part of the
learning experience. As students create their learning products, they are researching, communicating, writing, speaking and listening. To showcase our creative works students writing is compiled in a class anthology using Book Creator. Book Creator helps facilitate the sharing process and collaboration is easy when students add their writing to our class anthology. Students know their finished products will be shared with their families and the school community and this makes a meaningful learning experience.
This unit and activities are meant to celebrate students’ diverse cultures and heritage. When students share their photos, memoirs, and dishes they can begin to appreciate all the richness in all of our cultures and can find similarities among us. This helps to help create an classroom and school environment where students feel their voices and stories matter.
I have been on a quest to provide meaningful feedback and grading practics. In 2020 I was part of an Teacher Action research project with Diane Cunningham. After reading Sarah M. Zerwin’s Pointless: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading (Heinemann, 2020) I was on a quest to create more meaningful grading and feedback practices with my students and move away from numerical and letter grades. As an English teacher, my goals are to help grow students as critical and close readers and creative communicators. This year as I participated in the What Schools Could Be learning experience I aimed to hone that feedback loop with students to provide more reflection and understanding in a way that numbers and letters cannot provide. In lieu of grades, clear and meaningful learning goals are established, feedback in multiple forms is utilized, and students are held accountable to their learning and growth. Many of the teaching tools (writing conferences, rubrics, checklists, reflections, and PowerSchool) teachers already utilize daily I repurposed to better enhance student feedback for their growth and deep learning.
Reflection was a key component to learning in English 8. After all assignments, students completed a reflection. In the first quarter students wrote a letter of their learning and growth the first ten weeks of school.
The student responses from the first ten weeks of school were insightful. Each student took a metaphor to help tell their stories and show their growth and insight to help reflect on their role as a reader and writer. Students were provided with a model for building the metaphor based on the student sample on the second page of the assignment.
Here are some student responses:
Amelia’s growth over the past semester has been tremendous. At first she started out as a little caterpillar who was unorganized and didn’t take care of the important things she needed to do. Amelia has now grown into a butterfly, she can flap her wings and is on top of her work. Everyone has something they can transform into to make a better version of themselves. That is exactly what Amelia did.
I have a love-hate relationship with reading, which led me to procrastination and lazy reading towards the beginning of the quarter. Once I learned how to take notes and make inferences, reading became more interesting and easy to do. I have found a strength in summarizing text, this enables me to be able to break down what I am reading and jot notes every 5-10 minutes. This keeps me always thinking while I am reading as well as focusing on the theme and central idea. A few growth moves that I can make are reading more consistently, having superb focus while reading, and taking close, more specific notes often to help me understand the author’s message.
Cate has always felt that she is a rather strong writer; however, she occasionally fails to properly elaborate her topic sentences and analyze her quotes with relevant details. At first, she would get frustrated by the feedback she was given and refused to tweak her sentences for clarity. She would protest to herself, “Why do I have to fix this part? I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. I think that sentence is perfect!” Now, Cate is open to constructive criticism and eager to fix her mistakes. Whenever her writing is returned to her with corrections and suggestions, she immediately makes sure she can understand where she had flaws in her work so that she can improve. “Growth mindset”, an idea developed by Carol Dweck at Stanford University, is “the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed, that it can change with your effort.” During the first quarter of eighth grade, Cate has acknowledged that she won’t excel as a writer without accepting her mistakes and learning how to grow from them. Additionally, Angela Lee Duckworth states, “They’re [students] much more likely to persevere when they fail because they don’t believe that failure is a permanent condition.” With this mindset in place, Cate is no longer angered by her flaws as a writer because she knows that the best way for her to learn is from her mistakes.
Frankie feels that she has made a drastic change throughout the first quarter. All she wanted to do was win the game, she would take messy shots and never followed through with her shots. Occasionally she would get lucky and score. Now, she thinks about the small details to improve her game. She realized that basketball isn’t only about winning, but it is about her performance as a whole.
Taking the time to reflection on one’s learning process helps us decide where to go moving forward. In the next two quarters reflection was part of our writing process. During the following writing unit students were to meet with their teacher at least once during the writing workshops to discuss their stories. Students had to come to the conferences with specific questions and then both the teacher and the student recorded notes on the conference to return to later on. These notes from the teacher were recorded as a running record on Powerschool in the comments section.
Before the end of the last quarter students completed a reflection on Google Forms. This was more than a single question survey but consisted of rating scales, checkboxes, short responses, and paragraph responses. Again, students were asked to reflect on how they have grown as readers and writers. Students were asked to rate the quality of their work and even give themselves a number grade with evidence to support the number provided.
I have grown as a reader through this quarter by starting to take more notes on my reading and extending my understanding of developing theme. Before this quarter, I didn’t really pay that much attention to sensory details and I wasn’t giving it my all to learn at my maximum level. As of recently, I have started to practice better reading habits such as making mental notes of plot and theme developments. Another way I have developed as a reader and a student is by creating stronger text evidence to prove my points. This all shows how my reading and writing has advanced over the quarter.
I feel I have grown as a writer in the third quarter because I learned to use more detailed language to vividly show the reader the picture I am trying to portray. Through listening to the Lethal Lit podcast, and reading mentor texts in class, I realized how important small details are to make the piece interesting and inviting to the reader. My setting piece in particular was very beneficial because I was able to stretch out one scene to make it very detailed and vivid. The setting piece made me realize the importance of using specific adjectives or phrases to convey the proper mood forward to the reader. Additionally, I feel I have gotten better at re-reading and editing my work. I am more open to many different people reading it, and taking in all of their constructive criticism and/or ideas to make my writing as strong as possible so it can please different audiences. Overall, quarter three has made my writing grow tremendously because I began to use strong details to clearly convey my ideas.
Over this quarter, I felt that I have grown as a reader by being able to interpret the reading material better, and therefore make better inferences about it. I felt like going into this quarter, while I was able to understand the text I read, I wasn’t fully able to dive deep into what was hidden in between the lines. When we read Animal Farm, I felt like it expanded my ability to understand the theme of a story. Because Animal Farm was allegory, the novel was mainly about finding the bigger picture, rather than just the surface plot, and so reading it pushed me to be able to better identify the themes the author may have hidden in the text. When we read our books in separate groups, our group read Unwind, and rather than just skimming through the basic ideas of the book, I was able to analyze it through note-taking. By using the bookmarks, I was able to comprehend the text better, and I found that after I finished reading and taking notes, there were so many important details I might not have noticed without taking notes. Overall, I think I was able to become a better reader by understanding what I read, and recognizing themes in my reading.
In terms of my reading, writing, speaking, listening, and collaboration skills, the obstacle I faced in the 3rd quarter was really ensuring that everything I wrote/said made sense to someone else. Rather it was giving someone good constructive criticism, taking notes on Lethal Lit, writing my own mystery piece, etc., I had to make sure that I was clear and concise. When I read novels by successful authors, I can understand what it takes to make a story make sense to others, but at some points when I tried to do this myself, it was slightly difficult. I typically write out everything I want to say on my paper first and then go back to editing. It was a challenge for me to be aware of how much more the writer understands the plot and details than the reader who has never read the story does. I was glad to meet this conflict because I very easily overcame it through revision work. I learned this quarter that editing my notes and writing is crucial so that other people understand what I mean no matter how much effort, time, and trials it takes.
What I have described above is the feedback that students provided me, their teacher, about their learning growth and challenges. At the same time I was giving students ongoing feedback. Immediate feedback was provided on writing assignments in terms of written feedback and verbal feedback using Mote, a Chrome extension on Google Classroom. During writing conferences I also provided immediate feedback that was specific to the students writing needs and always provided models, mentor texts, checklists, and rubrics for feedback and assessment.
Consistent, ongoing and detailed feedback can have a positive effect on student success in the classroom. Research shows that feedback also helps to increase student self-confidence and self-esteem. I do see students feel more confident and comfortable to take risks with their writing through feedback. What I have found is that not only does feedback need to be immediate and specific, but it should also be task related and describe specifically what the student did well on the task as well as what they could improve. I always begin the constructive feedback with “Consider . . . “ or I might provide an example from a mentor or student mentor text. There is also process feedback which I might tell students, “It has helped me to read aloud my writing before submission” or “Darcy has coded all her clues and red herrings on the Google Doc. It might help to go through your own mystery story and highlight all your clues and red herrings to see if you need to any additional ones.”
Lastly, there is personal feedback where I share with the students something positive about their effort or growth.
Are my students obsessed with specific numbers and letter grades, YES! I don’t think we will ever be able to get rid of them. But when we put feedback at the forefront, there is a lot more specific data to help students grow as readers, writers, and thinkers. Students are more reflective of their actions and learning in the classroom and we have more accurate evidence of their growth that a letter and number cannot provide.
I am so excited to be writing for the Teach Better team. Teach Better is a group of educators who write, podcast, and present professional development with a mission to help teachers teach better.
This week I wrote about active and engaging lesson hooks to kick off your lessons.
The bell rings. Students are all sitting in their seats. Their attention is at the front of the room where a PowerPoint or Google slide deck is displayed for all to see. You are ready to give your lesson. Is this the scene in Ferris Buller’s Day Off where Ben Stein is the economics teacher throwing out questions to students looking at him with blank stares while his voice drools out, “Anyone, anyone?” Then we see various close up shots of aloof students checked out. There’s even one extreme close up that shows a student drooling while sleeping with his head down on his desk.
Lesson Planning Rule #1: Start With a Hook
Just like the hook in a movie or piece of literature, the opening hook of your lesson needs to draw students in right at the beginning. Consider adding an element of mystery, intrigue, and fun into this opening portion of your lesson. The hook or warm-up is where students are invited into the lesson, access background knowledge, and learn the significance of the day’s lesson.
Hooks should be ENGAGING to support all learners. This is a crucial moment to engage and motivate students. Consider visual or graphic hooks, technology-based hooks, and interactive experiences. Hooks and warm-ups can be collaborative and require active learners.
Want to read more and find out what are some ways to kick off your lesson tomorrow morning? Read more here.
This past Friday I attended a workshop with the educational consultant, Diane Cunningham. I have attended a few of her workshops and classes over the past few years and always walk away with valuable information. This session was on supporting student questioning. We explored four different questioning strategies.
Questioning is important in the classroom because we want students to ask questions and have their questions drive learning because questioning is a key skill of critical thinkers and promotes ownership and engagement.
When I am teaching both middle school and on a college level I might share a video for students to view and discuss. I have students create a chart in their ELA Notebooks or give them an organizer that requires them to jot down what they see, what they think, what they wonder. This strategy is great to use with images, videos, and even primary sources or text.
This thinking routine is from Project Zero (Harvard Education) and encourages students to make careful observation, stimulate curiosity, and set the stage for learning or inquiry.
Another questioning strategy that I use often is QFT from The Right Question Institute. The QFT process requires students to produce as many questions as possible in a specific amount of time about a quote, image, statement or problem. Back in 2018 I wrote a blog post about the QFT method titled, “THE ONE WHO FORMULATES THE QUESTIONS OWNS THE LEARNING.” The cofounder of the Right Question Institute, Dan Rothstein argues, “The rigorous process of learning to develop and ask questions offers students the invaluable opportunity to become independent thinkers and self-directed learners.”
Rothstein and Santana have their own Question Formulation Technique (QFT) – four rules for producing questions:
Ask as many questions as you can.
Do not stop to judge, discuss, edit, or answer any question.
Write down every question exactly as it was asked.
Change any statements into questions.
Not only is this a great strategy for students to showcase their wonderings, but it can lead to a discussion about Convergent Questions and Divergent Questions. Convergent questions focus on a correct response whereas divergent questions allow for more than one plausible and reasonable answers.
A) Oral questions posed during classroom recitation
B) Written questions
Posing questions before a reading should be done with students who are:
A) Older/better readers
B) Younger/struggling readers
Increasing the use of higher-order questions to _____ percent improves student-to-student interactions, speculative thinking, length of student responses, and relevant questions posed by learners.
Should wait time differ when asking lower- vs. higher-order questions?
ANSWERS Answer 1: A, oral questions Answer 2: A, because young/struggling readers often read only the parts of the text that help them answer the questions. Answer 3: 50 percent. Answer 4: Yes. Wait time should be about three seconds for lower-order questions, and longer for higher-order questions.
When students are working in book clubs or literature circles I aways assign a different discussion director for each meeting. The role of the discussion director is to create questions around the big ideas or themes in the reading to help initiate a lively discussion about the text. Again, students are in charge of creating their own questions and sharing their thoughts, ideas, insights, and wonderings.
The one questioning strategy that was new to me was the question matrix designed by Andy Milne. Students are provided with the question matrix and an image, text, video, even an infographic and have to brainstorm the different questions using the stems on the question matrix. Diane had a poster size of the question matrix on the wall for students to add sticky notes with the question stems based on images viewed.
Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Innovation states, “Questions stimulate discussion and creative and critical thinking, as well as determine how students are thinking. Questions help students retain material by putting into words otherwise unarticulated thoughts.”
Questions can diagnose student understanding of material.
Questions are a way of engaging with students to keep their attention and to reinforce their participation.
Questions can review, restate, emphasize, and/or summarize what is important.
Questions stimulate discussion and creative and critical thinking, as well as determine how students are thinking.
Questions help students retain material by putting into words otherwise unarticulated thoughts.
It was a few years back when I came across an image on social media with quotes from Shakespeare and Hip Hop. Then I found one that was Batman or Shakespeare. Recently @mrsorman posted Green Day or Whitman? I love these quotes for a classroom activity. My students are kicking off a mystery unit and I have immersed them in video and print texts of iconic murder mysteries. I thought Agatha Christie or Wednesday Addams would be perfect to use as a hook for this unit.
Whether you make your own (I use @Canva’s carousel templates) or purchase another teachers, you can use these in many different ways to engage active learning and critical thinking skills. Here are five ways to incorporate Who Said It? in your classroom this week:
Gallery Walk – Post the quotes around the room and have students walk around viewing and recording their answers. This technique allows students to be actively engaged as they walk throughout the classroom. Students can work together in small groups to share ideas and respond to the quotes or work independently and they provide evidence to support their answers.
Bulletin Board – Looking for a low stakes activity but visual eye candy for your classroom wall? Post all the quotes on a bulletin board and you might even post the answers underneath for students to check their guesses.
Station Rotation – This can be one of your stations or learning activities that students rotate through. Kick it up a notch as a hot potato game and use that plush hot potato. First, all members of this station sit in a circle. Then, squeeze the Hot Potato to start the music and pass the spud to the player next to you or even across from you. Toss the tater back and forth, up high, down low, around and around. When the music stops the person holding the potato takes a quote from the jar, reads it aloud and then provides an answer aloud. Play a few rounds to have other group members answer additional questions in the jar.
4. Online Game – Choose an on line game platform like Booklet, Kahoot, Quizlet Live, or Quizizz to test your students literary knowledge. This can be played as a hook or bell ringer to start class or use as a wrap up after discussing elements of mystery.
5. Silent Debate – To help students practice argumentative writing, students can select a quote or randomly choose a quote and then have to defend their answer by writing a short response with two pieces of evidence to support their claims.
If you would like a copy of this Who Said It deck, please email me. There are about twenty quotes in total.
When rock and roll music made its debut there was hysteria that it would corrupt youth. Television was first thought to rot the minds of its viewers. In 1981 when MTV hit the airwaves there was the same debate over a 24 hour video music channel. If we look throughout history of the inventions that pivot our civilization there has always been some hysteria and backlash. The same skepticism goes for social media apps today.
ChatGPT is no different. In fact, when I was scrolling through social media I stopped to see a post by a edu-influencer state that “ChatGPT is a threat to teachers and the notion of school.” But before we go down the road how this might be a detriment to education, let’s look at some positives and how educators and parents might use this assistive technology to become better writers and critical thinkers.
ChatGPT is AI (artificial intelligence) that allows its users to generate text based on any topic and voice or style requested. Whereas this might sound like an amazing invention (it is!), there are also some flaws in the program. For example, the information that ChatGPT produces might not be accurate and that is where users need to be critical of the information produced and check over the facts. Here are three ways students and educators might consider utilizing this assistive technology to be successful readers and writers.
For a student with dyslexia or other learning differences, ChatGPT can be used to assist its users with outlining a long writing assignment or essay. Then, once an outline is formed from the program the students can use their knowledge and research to expand their writing and complete the assignments using the ChatGPT as for sentence starters and essay organizer. The key here is building on and making better what was produced.
Teachers might create an essay in front of students using ChatGPT. Then, students can analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the writing produced. Is the piece accurate? Does the writing contain the elements of a great essay? What is missing? What can be added to improve the writing? How does the voice of the essay sound, artificial or human? Students might even give the essay a grade.
Need a study buddy before a big test or exam? Both teachers and students can use ChatGPT to create review questions. ChatGPT can even make a sample test if you ask it and it is a great way to practice and study to ace the test.
The possibilities are endless and consider ChatGPT to help assist its users in leveling up their written communication skills and savvy consumers of information.
I am always excited to talk and share about hyperdocs, playlists, and choice boards. These differentiated and personalized learning opportunities for students are utilized with each unit I teach in 8th grade English. I am sharing my slide deck for #FETC23 in New Orleans for my Mega Share presentation on Monday, January 23rd. Participants will learn about hyperdocs, playlists, and choice boards and the capabilities these blended learning teaching strategies have to offer.
Hyperdocs and playlists are Google docs/slides/drawings filled with hyperlinks to a variety of structured learning opportunities. HyperDocs and playlists can be a useful tool for in personal learning, distance learning, and even blended learning opportunities for unit of study and multi-day lessons. Hyperdocs and playlists promote a self-paced structure that enable students to take charge and choose different activities that align with the learning objective of the Hyperdoc or playlist.
Teachers can enhance their teaching toolbox to support the diverse learners in the classroom with hyperdocs, playlists, and choice boards. I will also share digital platforms and apps to support the diverse learners to create meaningful classroom experiences that promote reading, critical thinking and digital literacy. So, it is up to educators to provide students with a plethora of tools and strategies so they have the opportunity to choose which will best help them reach their learning goals.
Below is a list of different playlists, choice boards, and hyperdocs I have created for my middle school student and share in the slide deck above. Feel free to make a copy of these and adapt for your own classroom use. Please be sure to credit those whose materials you are using, adapting, and borrowing.
One of my favorite New York Times series is Anatomy of a Scene, “A video series where directors comment on the craft of movie-making.”
Julie Hodgson of the The Learning Network at The New York Times writes “In these short clips, film directors narrate a scene from one of their movies, walking viewers through the decisions they made and the effects they intended them to have. These videos demonstrate to students how to step outside of their personal reader-to-text experiences and examine literature from a wider lens — to see a story, memoir, essay or poem from the perspective of its creator.”
As my students finish reading graphic novels and I thought it would be awesome to have students create their own scene analysis video break down for readers. I first introduced students to the film series and we watched about four in one period – each episode is no more than three minutes. Then, we used a window notes template to record things we learned about the scene, details the director shared, and how this illuminated our understanding about characterization and theme.
As a class we brainstormed the process of making our own Anatomy of a Scene:
Choose a key scene in the text.
Complete the graphic organizer to analyze and deconstruct the scene.
Use the script template to help write our the key ideas to be presented.
Curate the images and types of shots to help visually understand the literary analysis.
I am currently reading Peter Liljedahl’s Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics: 14 Teaching Practices for Enhancing Learning (Corwin, 2021) after three recommendations. The book organizes “each chapter by exploreing one of the 14 optimal practices, beginning with a deep dive into what are the institutionally normative practices that permeate many classrooms around the world. It reveals how each of these practices is working against our efforts to get students to think, and then it offers a clear presentation of what the research revealed to be the optimal practice for each variable, unpacking it into macro- and micro- practices. These descriptions are punctuated by excerpts from the data, anecdotes from teachers, photographs from real K–12 classrooms, and responses to frequently asked questions (FAQ).” Each chapter provides micro and macro moves that I have been considering and implementing into my classroom. The first thing that I did was to decenter my classroom and randomize the seating daily. Every day, students sit with different classmates. Desks are arranged in pods of three. This has been the first game changer since there is no front of the classroom anymore and I am teaching from every direction. Secondly, I have no complaints about seating or collaboration.
The next pivot I made in my classroom was teaching vertically. Liljedahl states in the book, “One of the most enduring institutional norms that exists in mathematics classrooms is students sitting at their desks (or tables) and writing in their notebooks. This turned out to be the workspace least conducive to thinking. What emerged as optimal was to have the students standing and working on vertical non- permanent surfaces (VNPSs) such as whiteboards, blackboards, or windows. It did not matter what the surface was, as long as it was vertical and erasable (non-permanent). The fact that it was non-permanent promoted more risk taking, and the fact that it was vertical prevented students from disengaging. Taken together, having students work, in their random groups, on VNPSs had a massive impact on transforming previously passive learning spaces into active thinking spaces where students think, and keep thinking, for upwards of 60 minutes.” This means that the more time students are able to stand, think, and actively engage with the material the better.
How does this translate in the ELA classroom when students are reading, writing, thinking, speaking and listening versus completing math problems? Here are four different ways to shift learning vertical that I have been utilizing to optimize learning.
Gallery Walk – This discussion technique allows students to be actively engaged as they walk throughout the classroom. They work together in small groups to share ideas and respond to meaningful questions, documents, images, problem-solving situations or texts. Use a Gallery Walk at any point in the lesson to engage students in conversation, I tend to use them at the beginning of a lesson to showcase and examine mentor texts and model writing/reading passages. Teacher can also use gallery walks after reading a text to discuss ideas, themes, and characters. Gallery walks can be text based on visual texts.
Grafitti – Similar to a gallery walk, items are posted around the room: images, questions, ideas, concepts, or scenarios. Large sheets of paper or chart paper are placed on the walls of the classroom. Students write their responses, draw pictures and record their thoughts on the given topic on the graffiti wall. Students are encouraged to use colored markers to make the wall interesting and to identify each student’s work/response.
Use a Gallery Walk and the Graffiti format for students to get feedback on their work. Hang student products, such as drawings, visual representations, poster projects, and or one pagers. Students, individually or in groups, rotate around the room and provide feedback to the creator of the work. Students are required to record one thing they like about the work displayed, one thing they wonder about it, and one thing the creator could do next or improve.
Four Corners – Students are presented with a controversial statement or are asked a question. In each of the four corners of the classroom, an opinion or response is posted. Students express their opinion or response by standing in front of one of four statements, and then talking to others about why they have chosen their corner. Four Corners promotes listening, verbal communication, critical thinking, and decision-making.
Question Trails – My reading specialist and colleague introduced me to these on your feet activities last year and I am obsessed. A question trail is an engaging activity that allows students to move around the classroom and complete different tasks. Students follow the “trail” of multiple-choice questions that will show what they have learned from unit of study, a text, or reading. Question trails can be collaborative or individual. It is really up to you the teacher to make that choice. The basic premise of the question trail is for students to understand the material the teacher has provided. The students answer a series of multiple-choice questions. If the questions on the trail are answered correctly, students will be prompted to move to the next question. If students answer a question incorrectly, they will end up at a question they have already answered which means they will need to backtrack to see where they made an error. They will need to determine where they went wrong. To learn how to make your own question trail you can visit Creative ALS Teaching.
Tomorrow when my students walk into the classroom we will begin class with a gallery walk of questions about feedback for them to read and respond to on big chart paper. Then students will watch Austin’s Butterfly and take notes about what effective feedback is and is not. We will discuss as a whole class what good feedback look and sounds like before we meet with writing partners to get feedback on the writing we are working on. There are a few teaching moves that I am implementing from Thinking Classrooms to allow students to actively engage in the lesson and use their mind for thinking deeply.