Be the change, choices, student choice, Student Engagement

How Do I Learn Best – Setting Students Up For Learning Success Beyond Our Classroom

How do i learn best Design

I never planned on teaching through a global pandemic. I doubt anyone did. And yet, here we are, two months to the date when I last saw all of my incredible students in our classroom as I told them, “Take care of yourself, thank you for today, have a great weekend…”

Had I known that March 13th would be the last day of our face-to-face school year, I would have done so many things different. Loaded them up with books. Made sure they cleaned out their lockers. Taken their questions. Created plans. Made sure they knew who to turn to and how to get a hold of us. Told them how much our community has meant to me every day. Hugged them if they wanted to. And yet, now, two months into whatever we are calling this kind of teaching, I am so glad that there were things that we did do all year that has helped us as we transitioned to fully online, to this independent study with support from teachers rather than what school normally is. There are steps that we took as a team all year that our students now say pay off as they sit at home, trying to navigate this online world.

For the past ten years, I have tried to create a classroom where students are given the space to shape their own learning, to discover how they learn best, to go past grades to reflect more deeply on their own needs as learners and as humans and then act on those needs if possible. To create ownership over their learning rather than have school just “be done” to them. I have tried to create an environment where students help plan the lessons, shape how they will be assessed, and also what and how we should pursue our learning. It means that every year there are parts of our learning specifically set up to to do this and it is these parts that now help us have more success in whichever way we define success these days.

So I thought I would give a brief overview of these parts, but also let you know that how to do this is the central question of my book Passionate Learners and that I do virtual and in-person workshops on it as well. (If you would like to have me do this work for you, please reach out).

Part 1: How do you learn best?

This central question is one that we pursue in all of our choices because it is not just that I want a child to be able to be successful in 7th grade English, I want them to take the skills and knowledge they have gained about themselves and apply it to their life after 7th grade English. I want them to be able to walk into a learning situation and know how to advocate for themselves as well as make smart choices that will lead to success. Perhaps too big of a goal but a goal nonetheless.

So how do you learn best applies to where you sit, who you work with, how you approach a project, how do you want to be helped, and even how do you want to be assessed? It applies to every part of how we are in the learning community and how we reflect on ourselves and then use that knowledge to create better conditions for ourselves. A small way of working through this can be seat selection; do I learn best seated on a chair, a yoga ball, a stool, on the floor, standing or lying down? How does where I am in the classroom impact what I can do? How does who I work with impact my learning? How do I approach new topics in a way that makes sense for me? We try out, we reflect on our choices, we discuss, and we draw conclusions in order to move along in our journey. We also discuss how this applies to our “regular” outside lives away from school. How can we speak up and advocate for ourselves and others in order to create change?

This question is central to everything we do. It is where I feel I see some of the largest growth in our year together. It is where I see a lot of engagement shifts for students, especially those where school has not been something they have cared for or felt safe in before.

Part 2: What are your choices?

In order for us to know how we learn best, we have to try out a lot of things. This is why choice in many different aspects of their learning is such a cornerstone of everything we do. Whether it is choice in product, choice in who they learn with, choice in how they learn something, choice in how they are assessed, or even choice in their setting, every choice they are are offered and then make will give kids further insight into how they learn best. Because even what may appear as a “bad” choice is something you can learn from. And so always providing students with choice in some aspect of their learning is part of my planning. If I cannot provide them choice in their product due to state or district standards, then I need to make sure they have other choices to use. They need to have a say in as many components as possible in order to feel proper ownership and also be able to make great and not so great choices. This goes for all students, not just those who have earned it. So this means that even if a child repeatedly makes not so great choices, that we continue to dialogue with them and help them make choices that will support their learning. This doesn’t mean they always get free range but that all kids need to have at least some choices at their disposal, otherwise, we cannot expect them to ever make great choices on their own.

This is one of the things I love the most about being a teacher; providing a safety net for students to explore many different options even if they don’t lead to the type of success they, or we, had hoped for. Our schools should be a safe place to make mistakes. Often kids – and adults – assume that if a child doesn’t complete work or doesn’t use their time wisely that they have failed in the learning, and yet the experience of not being able to do something well is rife with chances for exploration and reflection.

Part 3: What did you learn?

Rather than assume a child has failed if a product is not finished, this is the chance to discover what they did learn in the process about themselves. Did they discover that they need to work with an adult more closely? That selecting the teammates they did, did not work out. That they didn’t do their part and that led to group strife? Giving them built-in chances to assess themselves and the process of learning they have engaged in in order to see what they need to change is a powerful tool in learning and one that needs to be central whenever there is a natural end to a learning cycle. This is also a chance to celebrate any successes they have had; what worked well? What should they replicate in the future? What do they know about themselves now that they didn’t before?

We often assume that students will naturally take this time to internalize these reflections and know what works and what doesn’t, but in my experience this is not always the case. Often, we need to build in time to reflect so that the transfer of realization can happen for each child. We do this through surveys, reflection prompts, and conversations, whatever fits best for the moment. In the beginning of the year, the reflection is often fast and shallow but as the year progresses, I start to see further depth in their answers because we discuss what it means to know yourself. I also offer up more in class chances to share how they are growing as learners which then helps other students go through the process as well.

Part 4: How do you handle obstacles?

Throughout the year, we inevitably have a lot of failures and missteps, but rather than see them as such, they are only thought of as learning opportunities, both for the students and myself. Often these are small such as getting behind on a larger project, being distracted in class, or even just not using the tools provided in a meaningful way, but sometimes it turns into fully missed learning opportunities or complete breakdown in the learning. While this is frustrating for the student, and sometimes the teacher, when it happens there is so much that can be learned from these obstacles because inevitably students will face obstacles in the future that are similar. So rather than give up or assume that obstacles are out of our control, we work through them together and try to solve them together.

When I first started out as a teacher, I assumed that I had to solve every problem for a child, now I know my role as the teacher is to make sure they have an adult to help them solve something if they want to but that we solve it together. And also that sometimes a solution is not what we had hoped for but it will work for now.

Setting up opportunities for students to reflect on the obstacles they faced as well as how they navigated them is a powerful way to invite them into further investment into their own learning. It allows us, the teachers, a way to see which obstacles we have inadvertently placed in the path of students because often I find that it is one of my components or ideas that are causing problems, not just the choices or actions of the students. Sharing the ownership of the learning helps me grow as a practitioner in ways that are instrumental to the changes I make and seek out.

Part 5: Do you trust yourself?

I have to trust my students that they are trying. That they are giving me what they are able to give me in the moment. I have to trust that the feedback they give me is something that matters. That even choices I don’t understand are a way for them to grow. This also means that I have to continually give students chances to prove to me that they can handle further responsibility. That students constantly get a chance to try again and that I don’t narrow their choices because I think I know best and that they will not be able to handle something. Instead I state my concerns upfront and we come up with a plan.

So continually thinking about how responsibility can be shared comes down to how much we trust our students. Even if a child didn’t make a great choice the first time around doesn’t mean that they won’t now. And that is central to what we do; always resetting, always reflecting, always pursuing the learning that we need to do in order to grow as human beings and not just in English.

So you may ask; what does all of this have to do with what we are doing right now? Well, for us, it means lots of choices in their learning – 9 different learning paths options as we speak right now . It means that many students are able to reach out to get what they need or ask the questions they have in order to navigate the obstacles in their way. It means that students are giving me feedback on the learning we are doing and offering up ideas for how to make it better. It means that they are advocating for themselves or finding adults that can help them. It means that many students feel confident in English right now despite all of the format being differently because the independence and advocacy piece has been cultivated and grown all year. Even if that confidence leads to letting me know that the work is too much right now, because that is a win in itself.

And so as I look ahead at the potential for starting next year online, my mind is buzzing with ideas of how we will create the same conditions for next year’s class even if we do not start face to face. Of how students’ voices will be a central component to everything we do in English because that is what we do. Of how I can help guide kids through the reflections we need to do so they can disocver what they already are capable of and how they would like to grow.

The world may look different right now, but that doesn’t mean our philosophy has to change, just the implementation of it. And I am here to help if anyone needs it.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. I offer up workshops and presentations both live and virtually that are based on the work I do with my own students as we pursue engaging, personalized, and independent learning opportunities. I also write more about the design of my classroom and how to give control of their learning back to students in my first book, Passionate Learners.

authentic learning, Be the change, being a teacher, Personalized Learning, student choice, student driven, students choice

Choose Your Own Learning – 5 Opportunities for Learning as We Continue Emergency Remote Teaching

Note: Yes, you may adapt this to fit your own needs, please just make a copy because these are my original documents. Please give credit and also do not adapt it to sell it online or in any way benefit financially beyond your salary as an educator.

We got the the news yesterday; school will be physically shut until the end of the year. The emergency remote teaching will continue. I cried when I heard. I know it seems so silly in the grand scheme of things but I miss our community so much, we didn’t say goodbye, I worry about them, the work I am assigning and everything in between. While the year is not over, it still feels so final. Who would have thought that this was it when I told them to take care of themselves and have a great weekend on March 13th?

And yet, we have also prepared for this type of teaching and learning without even knowing it would be needed. As detailed in my book, Passionate Learners, we pursue independent choice-based learning in almost everything we do all year, not by happenstance but by design. We focus on creating opportunities for students to be independent while figuring out how they learn best as individuals. We focus on choice, personalization, and giving tools for students to speak up for their needs. We do self-paced learning throughout the year and have introduced tools to them as we need. We didn’t plan to finish the year apart, but we are as ready as we could be.

The first round of choose your own learning was fairly successful. Many students appreciated the choices, many students enjoyed the opportunity to pick something that would fit their own learning needs right now and then pursue it with different levels of support from their teachers. Many students clearly showed off their learning and found it worthwhile, fairly stress free, and interesting.

As I would in our classroom, I asked for their feedback before kicking off this second round and tweaked a few things. I also added a new option for them; the daily writing exercises as a way for students to flex their writing muscles without worrying about a long piece. I added better instructions a few places, added in a check-in virtually for others. I am sure there is still much that can be done.

This second round will last a little more than two weeks hopefully. If we need to adjust we will, if we need to change it mid-flight we will. And yes, I share so that perhaps others can use it, please adapt it to your own students as this is made for the ones I know. I will try to give links here to everything that I can.

I welcome the students every time with a slide show posted in Classroom. This is where they will see me welcome them back in a video, see the choices and also make their selection on the survey toward the end. To see the slide show, go here it is short and to the point on purpose.

Three out of the five projects require a weekly meeting with me, students are simply asked to sign up on a form that looks like this.

So what are the choices?

Choice 1:  The independent reading adventure.  

On this adventure, you will use a self-chosen fiction chapter book to further your reading analysis skills.  Read and either record or write answers to questions that show your deeper understanding of your chosen text.

Students are given a choice board where they select 4 “boxes” to do with their book. Every box has a video to help them in case they are stuck. These are mostly lessons from me so if you use this, i would encourage you to make your own lessons for your students using language that is familiar to them.

This used to be a much more art-based project, I modified it to fit a written response, only because I am not sure if kids will have access to art materials. However, kids can still choose to illustrate and use art to answer their selected questions. All of the questions are review, so we have done this work before but they get to practice by applying it to a new book. This was inspired by the one-pager project, my colleague does and I am grateful for her work. 

This required more independence from students then I think some realized and so a tweak I have made for the second round is that students need to check in once a week with me to discuss their progress.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

Choice 2:  The picture book read aloud.

On this adventure, you will listen to a picture book being read aloud every day by lots of fantastic people.  Then you will write or record a response to a specific question every day.

This was a popular choice the first round because a lot of students felt it was easy to manage; listen to one picture book read aloud, write a response a day. I love it because it honors the picture book read alouds we have done throughout the year, and it allowed me to gather fantastic picture book read alouds that have been shared. I tried to make sure that all choices here are following fair use and copyright guidelines as I do not want to harm any of the creators whose work is being shared. Sample questions can be seen below and the rest is found in the links.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

Choice 3:  The Inquiry Project.

Ever wanted a chance to just pursue a major topic of interest for yourself?  Now is the chance, craft a learning plan for yourself with Mrs. Ripp, learn more about your topic and then showcase your learning to our community. The students who chose this in the first round, really liked it and said this was easier than they thought, so don’t be afraid to try this project.

Project requirement:  

  1. Identify an inquiry question you want to pursue – remember, inquiry questions are not straight “Googleable,” they will need learning from many sources or experiences to answer.
  2. Fill in the learning plan to show what you will be learning and how you will challenge yourself.
  3. Do the learning on your own, checking in with Mrs. Ripp every week virtually.
  4. Create a product of your choice to showcase your learning – you have many choices of what to create.

Independence expectations:

  1. This is a project that will require discipline and focus. Because you will not be creating a day-to-day product, you are expected to produce a larger final learning product to share your learning.
  2. The inquiry question you choose to pursue can be one that you already know something about or one that you know very little about, it is up to you. 
  3. There should be NEW learning though that happens throughout, not just a summary of what you already knew.

Students will be asked to do a learning plan, so I can support them if they choose this project. It looks like this:

We have done two other inquiry projects so I have seen students navigate this before, I am hoping this will give kids a chance to explore what they would like to explore rather than all of their learning choices being dictated by adults. The few students that chose this the first round loved it and I hope their enthusiam gives other students a chance to try it as well. It was wonderful to see students immersed in learning that they chose again and also thinking about how to showcase it in a way that they may not have used before.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

Choice 4:  The Creative Writing Project.

Have a story to tell?  Here is your chance to use dedicated time in English to pursue your own writing craft and put some of those sweet writing moves you have been working on into action. Decide how you want to grow as a writer, discuss with Mrs. Ripp, and then start writing.  Teaching points will be based on what you are hoping to work on. 

The few kids that chose this loved it. They loved the choice in lessons and the feedback that allowed them to write something meaningful to them. To help with lessons, students are given a video bank of lessons that they can choose from every day, as well as the option to find their own lessons and post those. They are asked to create a daily writing lesson plan so that I can see they are working. The once a week check-ins worked well as well because they were just like the writing conferences we would have in class.

Project requirement:  

  1. Identify your areas of strength as a writer – what do you already do well in writing?
  2. Identify areas of growth in writing for yourself – how will this project challenge you?
  3. Actively work on those areas of growth through independent study of craft techniques and conferring with Mrs. Ripp.
  4. Choices:
    • If a mini-story:  Produce 2 or more pages of a full story.
    • If a longer story (part of a larger piece):  Produce a scene or chapter from beginning to end.
    • If poetry:  5 or more poems or a short story in prose form.
    • If a graphic novel or comic strips:  Discuss with Mrs. Ripp

Schedule a conferring time with Mrs. Ripp each week – that is twice over the two weeks.  These will be via Google Meet.

Independence expectations:

  1. This is a project that will require a lot of discipline and focus. Because you will not be creating a day-to-day product, you are expected to produce a larger final learning product to share your learning.
  2. The creative writing project you pursue should be meaningful to you and show growth in your writing tools.
  3. There should be NEW learning that happens throughout, not just a summary of the skills you already have.
  4. You will need to fill in a  learning plan and submit it to Mrs. Ripp for approval.  It will be posted in Classroom.

Those who chose it loved it but some chose to do poetry rather than story writing so I added some guidelines for that. I also added videos that were shared by students to our daily lesson video bank.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

Choice 5:  Daily Writing Exercises.

Have you wanted to expand your writing techniques and craft?  Here is your chance to be introduced to a new writing exercise a day and then trying it in your own writing.   

Project requirement:  

  1. Watch the video posted for each day (preview in the table below)
  2. Respond either in typing in the box or by submitting an image of your writer’s notebook if you are handwriting. 
  3. You will be given a separate document to record your answer in, this is what you will turn in.

I spent time pulling together ideas for stand alone writing exercises and am incredibly grateful to Amy Ludwig VanDerWater for sharing her daily writing exercises, as well as other resources out there.

I wanted this opportunity to be a way for kids to just have some fun with writing and also have a project that mirrored the manageability of the picture book choice, allowing them do one thing a day and not having to attend to a longer project. I am excited to see how this one will play out.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

A note on choices: Students will indicate their choice on the survey form – this will offer me a pathway forward so that I can send the proper resources to them. Because Google Classroom allows me to only give certain things to certain kids, I can easily provide them the next steps in their choices such as learning plans or other tools. I am encouraging them to choose something else than what they did the first round but have already discussed with one student who would like to continue working on their story. There will be exceptions made as needed in order to make sure this is meaningful to all kids.

A note on grades: You may have noticed that these projects encompass different standards, this is okay because both of these. rounds will be counted toward the same standards. I have also decided that if a child shows any kind of effort then it is an automatic “3” or higher. This is not the time for me to do deep assessment because all I am assessing then is their access to the learning, it is not fair to students, there are way too many inequities playing out for me to pretend that grades would be fair or objective. As far as if a child does not “show effort” then I will be reaching out and discussing with them.

A note on support: I will be individualizing support for my students. For some this will mean just check-ins, for others it will be sharing further resources for their learning. Most kids were successful the first round, some were not, so I will adjust support accordingly. I also have support from an incredible special ed teacher, as well as para educators that I can ask for help from.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. I offer up workshops and presentations both live and virtually that are based on the work I do with my own students as we pursue engaging, personalized, and independent learning opportunities. I also write more about the design of my classroom and how to give control of their learning back to students in my first book, Passionate Learners.

being a student, being a teacher, Reading, student choice, student driven

Stepping Into Inquiry – How to Use Google Search Better and Whose Voices are Missing?

Note: This is a continuation of the blog series I am doing detailing the work I am doing with students in an inquiry project into how to research better. The first post detailing the set-up and our first module, How to Write an Inquiry Question, can be found here.

Module 3 was a big one for us, spread over two days, not so much for the tips on how to use Google Search better although they were helpful, but more because we wanted our students to think about the types of sources they were finding, as well as whose voice was missing from their sources, so they could consider the impact of those missing voices.

This question; whose voices are missing, is a question we center our work around all year. Throughout the year, I have been actively trying to expand students’ historical knowledge of the world using an “overlooked history” segment every Friday for discussion and reflection, as well as spending a lot of time selecting the media that our students will be immersed in, in order for them to experience as many voices as we can. So we knew that searching for reliable sources to use would be a brilliant opportunity to put this more into their hands as our students don’t automatically consider whose voices they are using an dhow that will impact the knowledge they gain and the direction they take.

There are so many tips for how to use Google Search better, many can be Googled, so we wanted to introduce just a few that would potentially limit their results and bring them more specific results. We watched a video together that discussed some of the limiters, I didn’t love it and will probably search for a better video for next year. The students continued to practice their note-taking skills along with the video and then I walked them through a search so they could see how my results changed.

The limiters we decided to focus on were:

  • Using quotation marks for an exact phrase
  • Using boolean operators.
  • Eliminating unnecessary words.
  • Excluding words.
  • Including year range.
  • and using specific sites to limit their search – this one we just showed but didn’t expect them to use.

Teaching slides day 1

Then they started their work in their student slides (note, there are duplicate slides in here because I was out with sick kids and so they worked through slides I would have taught otherwise). We wanted them to specifically consider:

  • What they actually were searching for, so to clarify their inquiry question.
  • Which types of sources they would search for, we reminded them that video, infographics, and podcasts can also make for excellent resources.
  • We discussed the difference between primary and secondary sources in order for them to think of whose voices they should be listening to.
  • Then led a specific conversation about whose voices they would search for urging them to think of how someone’s perspective is going to change based on many factors such as their economic situation.

Once they had found the sources they wanted to use, they needed to consider whose voices were being represented so they could think of whose voices were missing. You could see a lot of aha moments here as students considered their sources and how they were incomplete. Then they had to consider whose voices they needed to add as well as the the impact those missing voices would have on their research. Honestly, this is the largest point I wanted students to walk away; getting to think about whose voice holds power and who is not represented. My teaching slides for day two had introduced this concept more fully and many students were spot on in theirintial analysis of whose voices were missing and why they needed to find better sources.

For my 2nd day of teaching, I had specific discussion points about changing perspective and why it is so vital we recognize our limitations of what we know and then try to learn more. This was a great discussion supported by the teaching slides and set them up for further work within their own slides.

Day 2 Teaching Slides

Reflection Back

I am still pondering what I need to change as there were many things I liked and some I didn’t. Like I said, I need to find a better video for them to take notes on. We also had our small groups work together on one inquiry question and find sources together for that question, but I don’t love how that limits their choice when it comes to what they are pursuing. Some of the limiters were not particularly helpful and actually increased their results rather than decreased them. But the conversation about perspective, missing voices, and the impact it will have on our knowledge were powerful and will be continued throughout the year because the few days of work we did around it here is simply not enough. It was a taste and something I am still actively working through as an adult.

The one area I want to work on through discussion is why we should be worried about whose voices are given authority and how power is given to certain voices and not others. While I touched on it, it was not enough (I am not sure what “enough” would look like), so I am mulling over how this can be added further.

Note: The unit after this was a lesson on how to use databases led by our librarian so I will not be sharing those slides as they are not mine to share.

After that came another big one: How to check reliability using the CRAAP method.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students

Reading, student choice, student driven

Stepping Into Inquiry – What is Plagiarism and How to Cite Using Easybib

Note: This is a continuation of the blog series I am doing detailing the work I am doing with students in an inquiry project into how to research better. The first post detailing the set-up and our first module, How to Write an Inquiry Question, can be found here.

In 7th grade, must of my students know something about plagiarism. They know they shouldn’t copy entire sources, they know they shouldn’t pass work off as their own, that they should be the creators of their own original thought, and yet…every year, without fail, we see kids plagiarise. The most common form is structure plagiarism. They see an article and they use the same structure of it to summarize, changing only a few words here and there. For some reason, they don’t see this as plagiarism but instead as summarizing. So we knew that while plagiarism is a much larger ongoing discussion that would require a lot of discussion and practice, we wanted to establish a baseline of what plagiarism is and also give them a few tips to avoid it in order to lay a foundation for future discussion.

Before we started, I had already checked their inquiry questions from Module 1 and students were, for the most part, ready to move on. A few kids needed some discussion in the crafting of their question, but almost all were ready to move on. Those that weren’t caught up in a small group or were asked to see me. Most inquiry questions were solid, a few were too broad or too narrow, and a few needed to be rethought, but overall, I was thrilled with how brad the interests were. A few sample questions students are pursuing:

  • How does being homeless affect your mental health as a child?
  • Why do people become abusive?
  • Why are dogs viewed as superior pets?
  • How can we reduce our trash production as a class?
  • How does air pollution affect everyday life in India?
  • How do you re-enter the job market after experiencing homelessness?
  • What is life like for a ragpicker?

I knew I wanted students to see some extreme plagiarism examples in order to hook them into the work and so we watched this classic SNL skit to much amusement. That type of plagiarism is easy to spot, but what about the instances that are not? I used headlines from recent music battles where artists have been accused of copying other artists, which helped the students see that plagiarism is a problem that permeates many aspects of life, and not just education. This also led to a discussion of what can happen in our district if they plagiarise and what to do if they iadvertently do it.

Then it was time to practice our note-taking again, this time providing us with an actual definition of plagiarism courtesy of this video from GCFLearnFree.org . Having something short and concise allowed students to have a commun definition, as well as some beginning tools of how to avoid it. We could then release them into their Student Module 2 where most of the work took place. This was a one-day event within our 90 minute ELA block with only a few students needing extra time.

In their Student Module 2, we wanted students to have further exposure to ways to avoid plagiarism, as well get some information about citations, not just why they are important, but also how they are different than say providing a weblink. We then wanted students to walk through creating an actual citation using Easybib, which is the preferred citation tool in 7th grade overall at our school, by citing an article that is relevant to our inquiry. Our geography teachers had already created easy slides to follow for how to use Easybib, so we were able to merely adapt those and have students use them.

Because we knew students came in with different skill levels for this module, we provided an extra activity for those who had time left over. At the end of the module, they would be able to play a plagiarism game created by students at Lyocoming College, an easy game that students thought was amusing and also informative.

Free plagiarism game created by students at Lyocoming College

My teacher slides for the unit can be found here

Reflection back:

This module went well, although, with viruses hitting us all hard, there were some kids that did not have their inquiry question ready. The good news was that they didn’t have to have that ready for this module, so we were able to work on these skills while still working on their inquiry skills.

Time management continued to be a hurdle for a few kids, and so we tightened up around that for the kids who needed it and I also tried to take up very little of their time in order to give them as much work time as possible. Circling around while students worked helped clear up some confusion.

While the Easybib slides were helpful, for some they were confusing and so in the future I may just have kids go to Easybib and try to follow the steps themselves rather than look at slides with steps on them like I have done in the past. I am not sure how I will tweak it, but the few kids that I showed how to use Easybib live found that demonstration easier than following the slides.

And finally, I am not sure this was enough exposure, I constantly feel like I should take the kids deeper and yet then also have to remind myself that it is exposure to level the playing field and to help them all have a more solid understanding as we continue to do inquiry throughout the year. I also have to remember that what may seem easy to me is not always easy for my amazing students and even if a few students finished quickly, it does not mean it was easy.

Next module: How to use Google Search Better.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students

being a student, being a teacher, questions, Reading, student choice, student driven, Student Engagement

Stepping Into Inquiry – How to Write an Inquiry Question

Last year, after we finished our first read aloud, we released our kids into their first inquiry project. While we had scaffolds in place, there was plenty of choice, and also specific lessons targeting research skills, my special ed teacher, Kelly, and I still stood back and felt like what we were doing was simply not enough. Or perhaps that it was too much. That somehow we were simply pushing kids through research and yet there were so many executive functioning skills and also simple research skills that we were assuming kids already had a handle of. And yet, they didn’t not all of the kids, despite the wonderful teaching that had happened before 7th grade. We saw it fall apart a bit when kids were really worried about the end product but not focused on what they were learning throughout the unit and they weren’t fully grasping the research skill lessons we were teaching because there was this larger pressure to produce a speech answering their inquiry question.

So this year, we knew we had to do something different. Rather than have students do a full inquiry project into a topic tied in with The Bridge Home, our read aloud, we wanted to create an inquiry project into the art of research itself, not worrying about a final product but instead walk students through specific research skills in separate modules. Sounds great, right? Yet what we quickly were reminded of was that the art of research itself is vast, which we knew, so we had decisions to make; which 7 or 8 research skills did we really want to focus on as a baseline for the kids as we introduced 7th grade inquiry skills.

Knowing that this was a great chance to cross-collaborate between other subject areas , we did just that; surveyed other teachers to see what they thought was important to establish a baseline in, as well as brought it up as a problem of practice in our consultancies with colleagues. The results were clear, we would love 7th graders to be able to have an initial understanding of:

  • How to write an inquiry question
  • How to take notes using the Cornell Method of notetaking
  • How to cite their sources using Easybib – MLA
  • How to avoid plagiarism and understanding what plagiarism was
  • How to use Google Search better
  • How to use our databases
  • How to potentially revise their inquiry question
  • How to use the C.R.A.A.P method to check for reliability
  • How to check for bias in their sources
  • How to find the main idea and supporting details
  • How to synthesize their information into original thought – a primer
  • How to evaluate whose voices are missing and how do those missing voices impact the validity of the research

But that’s a lot so how do we do all that without losing kids in the process? Enter in discussion with my new wonderful colleague, Chris, my fabulous literacy coach, Andrea, and also our incredible librarian, Christine. With the help of them I was able to synthesize some of the thoughts we had about what kids would be able to do as, well as look at which standards this would even cover because we would also need to find a way to assess what kids were doing. After looking at all 9 standards for the year, we pulled the following standards out:

  • Standard 2:  Draw and cite evidence from texts to support written analysis.
  • Standard 3: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.
  • Standard 5: Evaluate claims in a text; assess and express the soundness and relevance of reasoning.

Knowing this led us to creating 8 different modules for students to work on throughout the month of November. We knew we wanted choice throughout and also for students to feel supported and not feel ashamed if they wanted to work in a small group with the teacher and instead embrace the knowledge that they knew what they needed at that time to be successful.

So the final modules with their standards assessed became:

  • Module 1: How to formulate an inquiry question – Standard 3 
  • Module 2: What is Plagiarism and How to Do Citations – Standard 3 
  • Module 3: How to use Google Search better – Standard 3 and 2
  • Module 4: How to use our databases (taught by our librarian) – Standard 2 and 3
  • Module 5: How to assess the credibility of a source – CRAAP method ALSO Do you need to revise your inquiry question  Reg – Standard 5, Enriched Standard 2
  • Module 6: How to recognize bias – Standard 2 and 5 
  • Module 7: How to pull out a main idea and supporting details that tie in with your inquiry question – Standard 3
  • Module 8: How to synthesize information without plagiarizing – Standard 3

We launched the inquiry unit while still immersed in our read aloud, The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman. While we did a lot of reading work, we also kept an I wonder page that we would visit now and again. We wrote down large questions we had about society as it tied in with the story we were listening to and moved away from predictions.

Sample wonderings included:

  • What do parents do when their children run away?
  • How does being homeless affect your mental health?
  • Who started the idea of landfills?
  • How can we reduce our waste as a family?
  • Which types of diseases affects children living on the streets of India?

Then it was time to launch our very first unit and what better way than to use a picture book?

Bringing us together with our readers’ notebooks we laughed at the whimsy within the pages and then I asked; what do you wonder about within the pages of our read aloud? As students shared, I encouraged others to write down the questions they also had as potential inquiry questions. I love when students nodded and agreed that they had questions about something similar. This also afforded me an opportunity to reiterate that their inquiry question should somehow be connected to the read aloud but should not be answered by the book, but that they instead needed to do research in order to come up with their own answer. We also stressed the importance of this being of interest to them, and while we had potential inquiry questions ready for those who refused or found it hard, we have found we haven’t needed them. This discussion then planted the seed for how to come up with a proper inquiry question.

Our next component of the day was taking notes on a video using a modified version of the Cornell notetaking method. We wanted to introduce kids to a way of taking notes that they can easily use in other classes and also encourage them to make them their own. Rather than do a stand alone lesson, my colleague, Chris, suggested having students take notes throughout as an integrated part of the units which is what we did. This has worked really well and much better than if I had done a separate unit on just note-taking. I explained how to set up their notebook and we watched the first video, How to Develop an Inquiry Question, uploaded to Youtube by Kansas State Libraries. The video was a good introduction to why developing a strong inquiry question was important before kids went any further with their work. We took some notes throughout as I paused the video and then introduced the final component; the reflection questions.

One of the things we discussed in our planning was that a major reason for this unit was for students to understand the transfer of these skills to other subject areas, and also to life outside of school. However, this doesn’t always happen without the proper time and reflection. Therefore, our students have four questions to answer every time they finish a module. They are collected in a packet that I hold on to for ease:

  • What do you think you will remember learning from this module?
  • How is this skill useful to you in life?
  • How is this skill you useful to you in school?
  • How could you use what you have learned in this module in geography/STEAM/or science when you have to do a research project?

After this, we released students into their student module 1 – note this was over the course of two days with 90 minute blocks of English and each student was given a copy of the slides to fill in. The student module 1 allowed them to watch another video that discussed the levels of inquiry questions, look at examples of inquiry questions, and then write different levels of inquiry questions. At the end, I asked them to please come up with a potential level 3 inquiry question that they would be interested in pursuing the next few weeks and then submit it to me. And then I held my breath, how would it go?

Reflection back:

After my first ELA block, I tweaked the student slides to make them easier for them to use and took out some unnecessary steps. There was general confusion between level 2 and 3, which I had suspected would happen and so we discussed as needed and I stressed that as long as they were out of “level 1” territory then I was happy. Some kids created much too broad or much too narrow questions and so I left them feedback or had conversations as needed, however, this is also something that will be assessed more in module 5.

One major thing we are still working on is overall time management, some kids are using all of their time well and thus working through everything with time to spare while others are not. Starting tomorrow, I will be asking students to join me in the small group to do the slides together in order for them to stay on track and not fall further behind.

I also tweaked my teaching slides, in order to get to their work time faster and not have so much talking from me.

Teaching Slides Day 1

Teaching Slides Day 2

The next module is Module 2 – What is Plagiarism and How to Do Citations – a one day module, hopefully.

I will continue to share as I work through all of this, the sharing helps me reflect on what I am missing and at times others share great resources as well, so feel free to ask questions or share resources.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students

being a student, being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, Student Engagement

Creating Foundational Rights for Students Within Personalized Instruction.

A conversation I find myself having often with other educators is just what to do next for curriculum. How do we get everyone on the same page? How do we ensure that what we do is actually happening in different classrooms with different teachers? How do we ensure that the very kids we are entrusted with have somewhat similar experiences within our classrooms all while protecting the art of teaching?

You may think that textbooks with daily lessons are the answer, and for many it appears to be, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As Dr. Allington reminds us, “…no
research existed then, or exists now, to suggest that maintaining fidelity to a core reading program will provide effective reading lessons.” (What Really Matters When Working With STruggling Readers, 2013) . Yet, fidelity has become a major selling point as we see many programs being touted to schools who are unsure what to do next. Fidelity has become a point of judgment; how closely aligned are we? Do we use the same texts? The same worksheets? The same words in order to ensure the same experience for all? I was once told by a well-meaning but ill-advised administrator that “I better be on the very same page of the textbook as my colleague next door” as he passed from classroom to classroom.

And yet if there is one thing I know about teaching, it is that our kids are not the same. From class to class, from year to year, the kids have needed different things. Have needed educators that are adept at adapting, that are unafraid to try something new, that know their research, but also know to seek out others for more ideas. Who know their own areas of growth so that they can provide better and better experiences year after year. Sure, use a program to start you off, but don’t forget about the very art of teaching that asks to be responsive to the very kids we teach, that require us to be disruptors of inequitable practices that have shaped the educational experience of so many.

I teach in a district that puts an incredible amount of trust in their teachers and fellow staff who support our students. Whose very core of teaching is autonomy, responsibility, and professional development. Who believes in developing teacher craft so that students can be vested in classroom experiences that speak to them personally and not just whatever the pacing or curriculum guide has told them to care about. Who believes in disrupting inequitable education experiences and providing the room to do so, supporting each teacher on their journey. But how do you then ensure that students aren’t unknowing members of an educational lottery where their growth is based on the experience and know-how of a single teacher? How can you create room for your teachers to personalize while still ensuring that certain experiences are in place?

The foundational idea is deceptively simple; create student rights together. A living breathing document that shows which experiences every child should have in every room, no matter the teacher. Live by it. Work by it. Discuss and change as needed.

But in practicality, how do you get there?

The first step is to have time to discuss what the experiences of students should be. What do we, as the practitioners, believe every child should have as rights in their English (Or whichever curricular area) educational experience? Reading books they like, having a librarian and time in the library, abandoning books, picking writing topics, a teacher that will confer with them, discussing relevant topics. Brainstorm as many things as you can. Group them to see patterns. And then step back.

What is missing? This isn’t something that is done quickly, after all, this will be a guiding document. Do research on best practices within your curricular area. What do you not know about? What do people like Dr. Rudine Simms Bishop, Dr. Richard Allington, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, Zaretta Hammond, or Dr. Louise Rosenblatt say about the experiences students deserve?

Then group all of the post-its or thoughts together. What are the clusters? What clearly speaks to all of you as a team? Try to come up with words that can tie it all together. Which patterns do you see? The right to read, to speak to one another, to have texts and materials that reflect their experience and the experience of others? The rights to connect with others? To free write? To skillful instruction? Again, pay attention to your own gap areas, which parts of instruction are you not thinking about? Do these potential rights mirror an entire experience or only parts of one?

Then translate the goals into actual experiences, such as if your team believes in student choice in reading, what will that actually look like? When will there be guaranteed time for that? How often do they get to choose? How will you support their choice? Who else will support it?

Then it may look something like this…

If students need…Empowerment – then we will commit to giving them choice throughout their time with us.

How: Choice in their independent reading book, choice in their topic of writing when possible, choice in who they work with, choice in who they share with, choice in how they work through learning. Space to reflect on their experience, speak up about it, and shape the teaching that happens.

If students need to read and write every day, then we will commit to giving them dedicated independent reading time every day and writing time every day.

How: Start with 20 minutes of independent reading focused on developing their relationship to reading and reading identity. An emphasis on free writing when not otherwise steeped in their own writing. Planning reading and writing experiences every day.

It may end up looking something like this then.

Go through each foundational right as a team and then commit to it as a team. Bring it up throughout the year to see whether you are actually living it. What are the opportunities for the students throughout the year? What is missing and needs to be added?

Having a foundational understanding of what the experiences should be for every child provides us with a guide of which direction to go while also being able to see our own gap areas. Where do we need to grow as practitioners? What are we not yet providing for students and how is that impacting them? How do our choices in our learning tie in with these rights?

So often we look at curriculum and think that is where to start with any changes when really what we need to do is step back and look at the foundational beliefs and rights that support and determine the curricular choices we make. Because those beliefs are what shape every single experience kids have with us. Because those beliefs sometimes hurt the very endeavors we are trying to accomplish. While I know our documents and guiding beliefs are not perfect, nothing ever is, it gives us a place to start when we discuss what we are working on, what kids need, and the disruptions that need to continue happening for all of our students. Perhaps these guidelines can help others as well.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.I . f you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.