Tag Archives: Critical Thinking

What is truly genius? Overcoming Genius Hour Hurdles

everybody_is_a_genius_but_if_you_judge_a_fish_albert_einstein_quote

For the past two and a half years genius hour has been 20% of class time each week. Every Friday is genius hour. Monday through Thursday I might be teaching and focusing on supporting my students as reader, writers, and critical thinkers; Friday is for students to pursue their own passions and interests. Genius hour allows for students to take ownership of the classroom and their own learning.

After the first year of introducing genius hour into my classroom and being inundated with baking and cooking projects, the following year I required students’ projects to be about something they cared about and at the same time take on some aspect of social responsibility. Students created blogs, researched, and initiated projects that addressed issues they cared about from health, environmental concerns, animal and human rights. All of the projects that my students created were inspiring and supported a culture of caring on a community level.

This year, I introduced genius hour with the same requirements and told my students their projects should fit under one of the following categories.

MasterPractice some skill. It takes 10,000 hours to get to mastery.

CreateUse your imagination to create something.

LearnGain knowledge about something that interests you or learn something new.

InnovateSolve a problem. Create a solution.

Produce – Make something.

Serve – Do any of the above for someone else.

But this year, these community-involved citizens have turned up short and my students ideas are so focused on the “positive benefit to the community” that they lack passion and genius. More than two dozen of my students have wanted to create a school wide drive for collecting pet supplies, used sports equipment, food, school supplies, blankets and coats. It is not clear to me whether these collections are driven by passion or are just to fulfill the requirements of another school project. In fact, when two students went to ask my school principal to hold a coat drive, her response was “Does a coat drive warrant true genius?” She later pulled me into her office for a conversation on whether I was spending too much time on genius hour and do I tell my students their “passion project” lacks “genius.” My response was, “No” and “No.”

I have been reflecting on these musings for two weeks now. After two students presented their semester genius hour reflection on how they collected clothes for the salvation army, I thought “Where had I gone wrong with genius hour this year?” My intentions was inquiry based learning that nurture students social awareness and social responsibility. The result was boxes of supplies to those in need. But it is clear to me that many of these projects showed their ability to help the community but did lack true genius.

I am in a state of reflection and revision. I am rethinking the requirements and going to have my students design a rubric in which to evaluate the genius process and product to help us engage in a critical conversation on passion and genius.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Tagged , ,

Close Reading Lessons Learned From Star Wars & Game of Thrones Diehards

star-wars-1

Images from http://blastmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/star-wars-1.jpg

My colleague has seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens four times over the past three weeks since opening night. During our daily lunch duty we have been talking about our interpretations and thoughts on the movie. Intrigued by his diehard interest in seeing the movie four times, I asked him what he looks for with each viewing. Here is what he told me:

First Viewing – Get the Gist of the Story, Make Connections, Ask Questions

Second Viewing – Dig Deeper, Make Inferences and Predictions

Third Viewing – Pay attention to Editing, Color, Symbolism, Foreshadowing

Fourth Viewing – Listen closely to music for more symbolism, foreshadowing, and confirm predictions for the next film.

The more he talked about his different viewings I realized I do the same thing with Game of Thrones. I watch the episode the night it first airs for understanding, making connections from previous episodes and the books, and posing questions. The next day I talk about my first viewing with all my colleagues, and then between the night the show airs and the next episode, I might watch again or even twice for a reread. In my second and third reading I pay closer attention to match on match edits, colors, and catching events and mannerisms I might have missed in the first read. I guess I can credit HBO with helping me to hone my close reading skills.

Close reading is a buzz word that has bombarded every English teacher since the introduction of the Common Core Learning Standards. The reality is that many Star Wars and Game of Thrones diehard fans are close reading experts who our students can model and mentor.

In Grant Wiggins’ blog post on close reading (May 17, 2013) he defines close reading as a “disciplined re-reading of inherently complex and worthy texts.” Wiggins goes on to includes Nancy Boyles’ definition, “Essentially, close reading means reading to uncover layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension.” He includes a quote from Tim Shanahan why close reading is necessary, “Because challenging texts do not give up their meanings easily, it is essential that readers re-read such texts.”

So here ELA teachers are trying to get students to peel back to the layers of the texts utilized in classrooms and many students might already be doing this with their fan favorite texts whether it be The Regular Show on Cartoon Network or the entire Star Wars collection. We must tap into our student’s fan favorites and identify the close reading habits already mastered. Then, teachers can introduce additional thinking habits that will uncover new information, inspire the desire to learn more, and allow students to become Jedi Knights of interrogating texts.

 

 

 

Tagged , , , ,

Unpacking Race in To Kill a Mockingbird and A Raisin in the Sun in Response to Ferguson and Baltimore

This week I presented at the annual Critical Questions in Education Conference in Baltimore, MD. I presented with my esteemed colleagues, Audrey Fisch and Susan Chenelle, authors of Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird (2013) and Using Informational Text to Teach A Raisin in the Sun (2015). 

Texts like To Kill a Mockingbird and A Raisin in the Sun are widely taught in language arts classrooms throughout the United States.

But how are these texts being taught? What kinds of questions are students being asked to think about in relation to these texts? How can we use these seminal literary works to unpack and uncover the difficult “hidden history” of race in the United States? How, using text pairings with informational and other literary texts, can we support our students in engaging in difficult but informed conversations about race in our classrooms? This panel will offer specific strategies and assignments developed in relation to best practices, research, and classroom experience.

With Raisin, for example, we offer strategies to incorporate readings on the violence associated with housing desegregation and on restrictive covenants and duplicitous housing practices like redlining and contract selling to underscore the kinds of obstacles families like the Youngers faced. We also offer strategies to incorporate readings about the current state of housing discrimination and research about the inequalities of opportunity in order to underscore for students the ways in which the issues in Raisin continue to resonate and impact society today.

With Mockingbird, we suggest ways to think through the troubled racial politics of Harper Lee’s 1959 novel, allowing students to explore the ways in which Atticus is not a hero and the blindspots in young Scout’s unreliable and incomplete narration of the events in the novel. Working with material about lynching and about African-American maids and nannies, for example, students can unpack Mockingbird’s complex racial politics. Sections from the new Go Set a Watchman can be used to further complicate our understanding of and the continuing relevance of both works.

In addition to these two iconic texts, we will share contemporary titles like The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore (2010) and Jason Reynold’s When I Was the Greatest (2014) that offer poignant glimpses into urban America. Participants will walk away with a list of more than a dozen contemporary Young Adult texts to expand classrooms libraries and build text sets that support units on race, ethnicity, and identity.

Events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere demand critical conversations in our classrooms about race and ethnicity in the United States. Teachers need to expose young people to diverse texts that help them understand the troubled history that produced the segregation, the urban blight, the hopelessness, and the abuses of power that characterize these troubling events. Our students need to have conversations about these issues that are grounded in historical facts and texts. Literary masterpieces, like Mockingbird and Raisin, are the ideal places to begin these difficult conversations, but only when these texts are thoughtfully conjoined with other contemporary and classic, fictional and informational texts and resources that allow our students to be informed thinkers.

Below are the slides for my presentation and a link to the valuable information from Audrey & Susan’s power point.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/dasdiouypyp0twe/Baltimore%20presentation2015%2010-31.pptx?dl=0

How are you using these texts or others to engage in critical conversations with your students?

I would love to know. Post your comments below.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Talking Race & Social Injustice with All American Boys author Jason Reynolds

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to be delayed at the airport with Jason Reynolds as we waited to board our flight to St. Louis for ILA. I guess it was the fact that I was reading Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman to pass the time and he asked me what I thought of the book (I will leave my response to that question for another post). We began talking about all different writers and books. He offered me a glimpse into his writing life, his writing mentors, and I was immediately in awe. Jason Reynolds is an award winning YA author who writes honestly and authentically about urban teens today. He was mentored by the late, great Walter Dean Meyers and spins new books out every six weeks — he already has ten books in line to be published with his publisher.  I am amazed, inspired, and motivated.

Jason Reynold’s most recent book, All American Boys (2015) co written with YA author, Brendan Kiely, is a must read. The story is told from two perspectives: Rashad (African American) and Quinn (White). When Rashad is mistaken for a shoplifter, a white police officer get physically aggressive and Rashad lands in the hospital with multiple injuries. But Quinn witnessed the police brutality and he must decide whether to speak up about what he saw or stay silent.

This book is so important today as we all turn on the news and are inundated with police violence, brutality, and racial stereotyping. As one reviewer on GoodReads wrote, “This is a book to start conversations, in our classrooms and with each other. It’s a book to make you take a step back and look at bias in your own life. The power in this book lies in the stripped down simplicity-two boys, two views, one incident, which, through the honesty and realness of the characters who are dealing with complex issues of race, community, perceptions, stereotypes, and assumptions, is able to address a timely issue in a way teens will be able to relate to without feeling lectured at.”

When I read the book I knew I had something powerful, timely, and important in my hands that I needed to share with other teachers and students. This was the first book that I my students read for our Twitter Book Chat. Last night my students and I had the opportunity to talk about the book and tweet with author, Jason Reynolds. This is a dream opportunity for any teacher, to have her students talking about a book with the author in critical and reflective ways. I am so grateful to Jason for taking time to speak with my students.

Here are the discussion questions used for our All American Boys Twitter Book Chat:

Q1: We frequently see videos and news broadcasts about black people in America being intimidated, beaten, shot, and murdered by cops, one after the other after the other. How does All American Boys inform your knowledge of this? 

Q2: What surprised you and shocked you in the text? 

Q3:In the text, the boy’s basketball coach tells the team to “leave it at the door” — Rashid’s beating and hospitalization. Do schools and teachers have a responsibility to addressing these incident? Why or why not?

Q4: Is what happened to Rashad, Quinn’s problem? Should he notify the police about what he saw outside the market? Is Quinn racist?

Q5: What makes Rashid and Quinn genuine characters? What make you believe their stories, their choices, their reactions? 

Q6: How has reading this book made you more empathetic, a more compassionate human being?

Q7: What will you do differently after having read this book? How does it influence your responsibility as an Upstander? 

Q8: What does this book communicate about non violence, civil rights, and passive resistance?

Q9: Who’s story do you want to know more about? Should readers to know more about Paul’s story?

Q10: What questions do you have for the authors? 

Jason Reynolds @ILA15

Tagged , , , , ,

The Need To Tell: Monologue Writing in English & Social Studies

Diane Arbus Photograph

Look at the person in the photograph.

Who is this person?
What is her/his name?
What is special about her/him?
Where is she/he?
How does she/he feel about being there? Why?
What does this character want, need, or dream about?
What’s stopping her/him from getting it?
What does she/he need to tell?
Who is she/he telling?
Why is this day different from any other day?

Objective:
1. To create an individual character and establish a foundation for characterization.
2. To write a monologue based on a photograph used to create a character.

This activity was first presented to when during a playwriting workshop for teachers presented by Young Playwrights, Inc. This activity can work as a creating writing assignment or role playing in response to a story or specific period in history. For example, I use photographs of Japanese Internment and students choose a person in one of the photographs to write about experiences during internment. Integrating tools of creative drama and theater tools – like pantomime, movement, improvisation, scripted drama, oral interpretation, debating, storytelling, readers theater – creatively communicates ideas to others and requires students to become the people they read about and study.

Procedures:

  1. Post a photograph on the SMARTBoard. This will be used for a whole class brainstorm.

Tell the group that there are no right or wrong answers, as you will all be making this up as you go along. Ask the following questions:

Who is this person? – Get a specific answer. You may have to vote between 2 or 3 names.

What is her/his name? – Have writers begin to define the age, occupation, and general biographical information based on what they see in the photograph. Make a group decision who this person is.

What is special about her/him? – Have writers think about the way he or she talks, dresses, walks. We are looking for specific character traits.

Where is she/he? – Get writers to be as specific as possible.

How does she/he feel about being there? Why? Happy? Sad? Worried? Angry? What does the expression in the photography tell you?

What does this character want, need, or dream about? – We are moving away from what can be seen to inferring emotions and thoughts based on visual cues.

What’s stopping her/him from getting it?

2. Inform the group they will now have the opportunity to allow her or his 􏰂􏰋􏰆􏰃􏰆􏰂􏰅􏰌􏰃􏰁 􏰅􏰉􏰁character to speak. to begin writing a monologue or speech Instruct writers 􏰎􏰈􏰌􏰆􏰣􏰜􏰁(written in first person) bearing in mind what the character Needs To Tell. Add three new questions writers should answer individually:

What does she or he need to tell?

Who is she or he telling?

􏰖􏰁Why does this need to be told today?

The character doesn’t need to answer these questions in the monologue, but the answers should be what drives her or his words.

3. Expand the Activity – After students share out ideas based on the class character brainstorm, I have them choose their own photograph (I have a class set for students to choose from around seven or eight different photographs based on the theme we are studying) and complete the assignment on their own. It is often fascinating for writers to see how many different and distinct stories and characterizations can emerge from a single photo.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Text Dependent Questions

I want to continue my post from last week with a closer look at how to create text dependent questions that scaffold students’ reading and understanding of a text. I just finished reading Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey’s TDQ: Text Dependent Questions Grades 6-12 (Corwin, 2015) and it is filled with valuable resources for all content area teachers.

tdq

Close reading has been a buzz world in the realm of education since the introduction of CCLS. Fisher & Frey go into depth illustrating what close and critical reading lessons LOOK like and SOUND like in the classroom. The authors define close reading as, “an instructional routine in which students are guided in their understanding of complex text.” (p.1) Incorporating close reading practices into the classroom teachers must select short, complex passages that promote multiple readings and challenge the readers thinking.  Students are required to annotate the text: underlining, recording codes in the margins, circle key words, and writing in the margins. Most importantly, close reading requires collaborative conversations about the text, including argumentation. Close reading is not an independent act. Collaboration and discussion is key in helping students to think critically about a text.

Fisher & Frey state, “Close reading is not one and done reading. Rather, it is purposeful, careful and thoughtful. Complex text does not often give up their meaning quickly or easily. Instead, readers learn to look for different things as they interact with a given text during a series of successive interactions.” (p.5)

The authors identify four levels or phases of close reading:

What does the text say? — It is important to address the literal understanding and basic comprehension based on explicitly stated information in the text.

How does the text work? — Examining the author’s craft, vocabulary, and structure (Connects to CCLS Reading Anchor Standards 4, 5, & 6).

What does the text mean? — Look at the “layers of meaning” in the text, the hidden meanings, inferences, and the author’s purpose.

What does the text inspire you to do? — Create action oriented questions and tasks. Fisher & Frey write, “All writers hope to transform the thinking of their readers. . . Learning advances when students are able to transform information into products . . .learners to transform knowledge into something that is meaningful.” (p. 139)

These habits of thinking and inquiry help students collaborate, speak, listen, think critically, question, infer, synthesize, make connections, revise, and draw conclusions. These are life long skills that are not only part of the standards but necessary for academic success and apply in the world outside of school.

As I craft text dependent questions for my students in my English classroom I am more aware of asking Fisher & Frey’s four layers of questions so that I can help my students understand complex texts and push them to learn to ask questions themselves.

Tagged , , , ,

Media Literacy Lessons from the Jacob Burns Film Center Summer Teacher Institute

JBFC Sound Studio   Students as Filmmakers

This past week I had the privilege of attending the Jacob Burns Film Center Summer Teacher Institute in Pleasantville, New York. The week long institute included a sneak preview of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and a viewing of the documentary Jordowosky’s Dune. In addition to viewing the two movies, I also attended workshops to address teaching media literacy in the digital age. JBFC is launching a new media literacy curriculum online this fall that is aligned with the Common Core and centers around image and story as it relates to analyzing and creating media (movies, animation, images, and print text).

Here are some key ideas that can be applied in any classroom relating to teaching media literacy and film studies.

1. Teach Film Terminology – The Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC) has set up a great Visual Glossary with terminology relating to film and media. The site not only offers a definition of a cinematic concept but also includes multiple examples from film clips to illustrate the film technique. Teachers need to teach and utilize these terms with students.  When analyzing film or creating a media text we want students to understand that a filmmaker makes deliberate choices to convey a message or emotion the way an author selects specific words to convey meaning. This element relates to craft and structure as identified in the Common Core.

2. Films are a Text and they way we teach them in our class should mirror the way we teach Close Reading – In the age of the Common Core, teachers are asking students to “mine the text for details, ideas, and deeper meanings” (Fisher and Frey, 2014). Just as print text is layered with words, images, inferences, and evidence, so is film. If students are to develop deep understanding of texts, teachers need to model close reading skills to film too. When watching a film, students should view for content analysis and understanding, but also to understand the filmmaker’s point of view and purpose.

3. Students are Creators & Filmmakers – In teaching 21st century skills, students are creators. Teachers should allow students to create their own images and interpretations to text and information. There are a host of film projects that you can have your students create as described in a blog post I wrote earlier this month. The creation process is just as important as the final product. Let students understand the undertaking involved in creating a film from the story, setting, lights, sound, editing, to the characters.

4. Storyboards are Essential to Creating. It all begins with one idea, a seed, a spark, an overheard conversation, and an idea is born. Yet, a writer or filmmaker cultivates the idea, outlines, drafts, sketches the paths where the idea is to expand and reveal a story. Students need to outline and sketch their ideas like real writers and artists. Storyboards are great scaffolding tools to help students put their ideas down on paper, and unravel the threads of ideas that encompass their story. Allow students to review, revise, and reflect on their work. As mentioned above, it is not so much about the final product, but the process is just as important.

5. Movie Clips as Teaching Tools – So many wonderful shorts and movie clips were shared throughout the week to utilize with my students and teach various concepts and ideas. I have compiled a playlist of ten movie clips that I will bring back to the classroom. Think about how you can use these clip to help teach point of view, structure, and or image.


 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Photographs as a Teaching Tool

Image

Image courtesy of http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/buildings/litlrck2.JPG

“What do you see?”

“What makes you say that?”

“Who do you think they are?”

“What are they doing in the photograph?”

“Write down what the person is thinking in the photograph.”

“What might they be thinking but would never say?”

*   *   *   *

Historian and author, David McCullough was asked in an interview, “If you could give teachers one piece of advice, what would it be?”  His response was, “use pictures when teaching history.”  Whatever your content area, images and pictures are vital to students’ learning and deeper understanding.

Using photographs in your classroom repertoire help students synthesize, infer, connect, evaluate, understand point of view, rethink and revise.

Here are a few different activities to make using photographs more meaningful.

1. Photo Reveal – Cover photographs with sticky notes and reveal one sticky note at a time.  Students focus on the details and predict what the story of the photo will reveal.  Students write down observations of what they see looking closely at the details of the images to uncover the story in the photograph.

2. Photo Scavenger Hunt – At the beginning of a unit of study I offer my students a basket filled with images and I ask students to choose the pictures that capture their attention.  On sticky notes students catalogue observations and questions.  In small groups students share the images they have collected and begin creating categories for the photos.

3. Image Gallery Walk – Leave pictures on student desks with a blank sheet of paper.  Students to go around and leave responses of what they see, notice, think, and wonder.

5. Become the Person in the Picture – Have students volunteer to create a tableau (frozen picture) that mirrors the photograph and then have the picture come to life.  Students have to go beyond the literal image and infer a scene that conveys the story presented in the picture. Students can do this as an improvisation or write out the scene in their journal.

6. Compare and Contrast two images.  Students might look at the pictures in different ways when two images are presented next to each other.

7. Photo Connections – After the reading a text, students select a photograph that best supports the reading.  In their journals, students write additional details to support and extend the ideas presented in the text.

Tagged , , ,