Thursday, February 26, 2015

Socratic seminars, Common Core, and eyes opened

Always looking for new ways to engage kids in deeper, more analytical thinking, I decided about a month ago to have them read a short, two-page passage and be prepared to discuss it in Socratic Seminar.

I was trained in this method years ago, but never used it much.  This year, with the depth of knowledge required for the passages my students are reading, I thought it might help.  And it did.  Some of the time.  And some of the time, it just blew up.  Let me tell you what happened.....

The first time I did it, we discussed the rules of engagement and kids, for the most part, were totally engaged.  I had one class (of my three) where I felt like more kids needed to be drawn out, but for the most part, I was blown away by the depth of understanding, their willingness to go back into the passage to explain their thought process - it was all pretty cool!

So I decided to do it again, a couple of weeks later, with a similar piece of text.  My first class was knock-your-socks-off phenomenal!  Not only did the kids pull apart the piece and discuss their opinions with evidence cited, but they engaged quieter kids by asking their opinions and inviting them into the discussion.  I was really blown away.

....and then came my second class.  This group of kiddos has some with strong personalities, and boy, oh boy, did those personalities come out!  A couple of kids tried to take charge. I had to intervene and remind kids that Socratic seminar is a sharing of thoughts and opinions based on text but that it was neither a debate nor was there only one right answer.  And that kid who wanted to take control needed to relax and give room for everyone to express their thoughts.  A girl said that she felt like every time she tried to speak, so did other kids, and although they were all good about backing off, she felt like she never got a chance to get back into the discussion.  I saw heads nodding.  Uh oh.

How to create a more equal playing field?  I thought quickly and came up with checkers pieces that I handed out.  Every time you presented an opinion, you used a chip.  That seemed to help, although I wasn't thrilled with having to resort to that.

....and then came my third class.  In this one, four or five kids talked and many, many kids seemed truly uncomfortable with the idea of sharing their ideas.  When I stopped the discussion midway to ask why, they told me that the group was too large and they would prefer something smaller.  "How small?" I asked.  Four or five kids.  What?  Wow!  That was a real eye-opener for me, since my first class had been about 25 students!  We finished up the next day as they had requested.  My largest group had eight kids but most had only five.  You could feel the relief!

What an eye-opener this second session was!  I love how Socratic seminar forces kids to think more about what they're reading and how they learn from each other's explanations.  I will need to tailor the seminars to each class, and I suspect there will be more trial and error along the way.  But I'm committed to keep going!

Have any of you used it?  For what?  What do you do with kids who want to monopolize, or conversely, with kids who are reluctant to talk?


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Word of wisdom, a good reminder

I was telling a colleague about a great couple of days I'd been having with my students as we tweaked a way they were responding to open-ended prompts.  When I finished telling him about how engaged my students were, he smiled and said, "Huh....and you didn't use a single piece of technology!"  And then he went on a rant about how pushing technology into our classrooms isn't always the best thing for our kids.

Displaying IMG_0486.JPGI didn't agree with everything he said, but there is some truth about the level of engagement when you do something simple like hand kids paper and markers and let them collaborate and think aloud together.  Maybe because we use so much technology that paper and marker seems like fun?

I was moving our kids from a RADD+C form of response (restate, answer, give details, and conclude) to a RACER format (restate, answer, cite evidence, explain, and review). I call it a "tweak" of what they'd done because everything was familiar except the Explain part.

The first day, we worked on one together as I modeled a response to a test question they were familiar with.  The second day, I gave them another familiar test question and they had to create a graphic organizer and their responses on poster paper.  I was SO impressed with their conversations, how they handled different opinions, and how they came to consensus.

Displaying IMG_0487.JPG
Displaying IMG_0488.JPGThe third day, we did a gallery walk and discussed what we liked and what we thought needed to be improved from the posters we'd seen hanging around the room.

And on Monday, they will write out a response to something they read earlier in the week, and I'll get to for whom this format works, and who still needs a little help with it.

I'm really thrilled about what I saw.  And, as my colleague reminded me by his rant, just using poster paper and some colored markers can still be a fun experience for kids at this age!



Have a wonderful weekend!  We have snow in the forecast for Sunday night (again - but it's never amounted to much.)  Still, the thrill of snow is still exciting right now!




 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Hopes and dreams in 2015

I hope 2015 is a good year for you!  I was looking at a friend's facebook post yesterday and she proclaimed 2014 her best year yet.  And it was for her, with her husband and a healthy six-month old baby girl.  For me, losing my mom, brother, sister, and a dear friend within 9 months?  Not so much.

It's all in your perspective, isn't it?

And that's why I was so delighted with the writing my students did in response to Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" contest, sponsored by Scholastic.  Here are parts of their thoughtful writing:


Here's another one:

And finally,
And then he concludes:

When I get tired of all the sad news in the world, when I'm frustrated by people who think they know what's best for teachers even though they've never set foot in a classroom, when I walk alongside someone who's recently been widowed.....

....that's when I turn to my students' writing.  Because they are so full of hope, still so full of possibilities.  They are the next generation and their dreams are still big.  And my plan for 2015 is to keep their dreams alive the best I can.

Here's to a happy and healthy 2015!


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Good writing follows good reading?

Did you have a good Thanksgiving?  Are you still enjoying the bliss of a much-needed longer break this Fall?  I know I am!  

I've been using the CAFE model in my classroom for almost a year now, and while I really like it in theory, it's proven harder this school year, since we're using a new Reading anthology.  Which one?  Are any of you using Wonders, by McGraw-Hill?  Wow, oh wow!

I really believe that if my students can master this, any Common Core testing will seem like a piece of cake.  But there is a learning curve to this.  By the end of the year, they should be pretty good.  Right now?  Well, they're getting better.

We've had quite a few conversations about stretching our brains and making them work harder, just like exercising any other muscle.  Bless their hearts, they are hanging in there with this.  But let me say, it is NOT easy.

Is anyone else out their using this series?  How do you teach your students to analyze the way they're expected to?





Because this series is so intense, I allow students more time for creative writing during CAFE's Write To Self, something they seem to really appreciate.  I just had a half-dozen students enter the 'Wild Jungle Writing contest" through Amazing Kids magazine.  Sorry, the deadline for that one is right now :( .  I wasn't so quick about getting that information out.

But there's a pretty cool one being sponsored through Scholastic that's worth taking a look at!  I have quite a few students girls working on poetry and essays for this one.
 And finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the TpT sale that starts in two days.  Here's the link to my store if you want to take a look.


Enjoy the rest of your Thanksgiving break!
 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

It's November. Time for Currently

I happened up Kim's post at Finding Joy in Sixth Grade which makes me want to say, "Yeah.  What she said."

As little as I've been blogging lately, there's something about Farley's Currently that warms my heart and makes me feel welcomed back into this wonderful blogging community.  Lots has happened to take me away from blogging - three deaths in my family (I know, right?  Can we stop this trend already?), lots of new stuff at school, some fun weekends away from home.

But Farley comes through consistently month after month, and I return, just to share in the love!  So here goes....
Glenn's down in the basement working on some long overdo projects and I'm up here working on the computer.  No idea who's playing but it's a quiet background sound that tells me he's happy and busy!

We've had a lot of stuff the last month or so, and most of it's been good.  But after being away from home for a couple of weekends, I was SOOOO ready to come home and just putter around here.  Other than a fun get-together on Friday evening (with flashlights and glow sticks!) and church this morning, the pace for the rest of the weekend was ours.  YAY! 

I had to spend a couple of hours yesterday tracking all of my students' data.  There's good stuff there, don't get me wrong.  But I'd rather be planning what I'm going to teach, or coming up with an engaging lesson.  Just sayin'.....

After my older brother and sister passed away this year, I decided to take a close look at how I was eating and what that might be doing to my health.I met with a health coach over the summer and pretty much have said goodbye to refined sugar (actually not as hard as I thought) and wheat (a little more challenging, but there are lots of creative solutions out there).  It made a big difference in how I felt and when I got my blood test results last week, all my numbers had moved significantly!  Yay for healthy eating!

Have to admit I've been following more blogs about that than about teaching lately, but now that I've found a rhythm with that, I should be back to blogging again.

Have a great Monday, everyone!



Thursday, September 25, 2014

Calling all Christian and private school teachers!

Sometime this summer, an editor approached me about reading some books by Clark Burbidge.  The books sounded interesting, and made me wonder about ways to incorporate them as read-alouds with our school-wide system, which is based on The 7 Habits by Stephen and Sean Covey.

This is the story of a land where giants once roamed, taking care of the people who lived there.  One day they leave, surprising the villagers, and it is up to a young man, Thomas, to leave his wife and daughter behind in his search to find them and bring them back. On his quest, Thomas encounters wolves, a wise old man, and giants named Horsetender, Mountainbiter, Forestmaster, Threadweaver, Worldmaker, and Sonspeaker. 

The book reads like a fable in some ways, and it is filled with Thomas' thoughts about God, his prayers, and some important life lessons he learns about stepping in with courage to help others.  It is a little one-dimensional for me, with Thomas and everyone he meets being pretty wonderful and helpful.  But I think that's overridden by the message of becoming a "giant" in the world you live in.  For that reason, I think it would do well as a read-aloud because the messages are good and should be reinforced with kids!

I am a public school teacher, and so this is a book I can't read to my students.  However I have the first and second book, and if you teach in a school that would allow this, I'd be delighted to send you the books.

Leave me a message with your email address and I'll be in touch about how to get the books to you.

Have a great Friday!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hoo boy! It's been a while! Linking up with Monday Made It

How is it possible that this is the 9th Monday Made It of the summer?  Why is this the first time I'm linking up?  And why haven't I felt like working on school stuff at all?  Yup, yup, yup.  This has been a much needed rest time for me.  But I did make one thing today!
This idea has been germinating in my head ever since someone posted some bulletin board ideas on facebook a while back.  I took one idea and changed it up to better fit what I wanted for my sixth graders, so here it is.


Each page has the picture of the cover of the book, the first paragraph or two to "grab" the reader and a QR code.  The codes have a brief summary of the book.








I picked an assortment of about ten books, some of them new books I read over the summer (Oh, so THAT's what I did!) and some of them good books that just need to be read (like Out of My Mind and Wonder.)

Why only ten?  Because I want students to make the rest as they start reading their way through my books.

My challenge last year was to read 25 books.  The average was 32!  Well, 32.5 to be exact.:)

Should I push for 40 this year?  What do you think?