Friday, May 6, 2016

Another Day With Michelle and Jigsaw

This blog will discuss my second visit from Michelle. This time the visit was even more exciting for me because she was able to show me the Jigsaw strategy to support student learning. Students were learning about how to solve for area of parallelograms and trapezoids. She was able to get students taking on most of the teaching and learning. Students were given 7 problems for hwk. They were divided up into several groups and each group was assigned one of the problems.Each group had to review and discuss their solutions and become experts with their problems. After 15 minutes, students were given the opportunity to join another group and each person in the group would be an expert for one of the problems. Students were able to review and discuss the rest of the problems and students that were confused in the group can look to the "Student Expert" for the clarification and explanation. It was awesome to see the students supporting and teaching each other. Afterwards, I asked the whole class to share their thinking. Students were given an exit ticket that would demonstrate to  me that they understood the learning. Most students did well but I still had a few that struggled. That told me that maybe I could get these students more support with this standard. Overall , I felt the lesson went great and I will most definitely use it again.
This blog will talk about my first visit with Michelle. It was a really long week and I was feeling unmotivated about the content and the teaching I had to do with it. Luckily, Michelle was coming to save the day for me. I really enjoyed watching her use the writing strategies to get me and the students more engaged. She was able to show me the strategies and how to implement it in the classroom in real time. It got students excited and really working together to share their responses and support each other. The students were also  on tasked with the science activity.  Michelle was able to get the students to have more lively discussions and get them to pick out important ideas and content as it related to the unit. These strategies got kids moving and thinking.I thanked Michelle because I felt the kids and I were really bored and she made the review exciting.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Final Reflection

So I'm playing a bit of catch up...but here is my final post!

Over the course of this PDU our math team has had a lot of conversations about what writing in math within second grade.  I really believe that discourse is the key to students being able to then express their ideas through writing, so I have focused a lot of my learning on what discourse supports student understanding.  I am also taking graduate classes and we had to pick an action research project for next year.  I decided to center my research around this topic. What role does student discourse play in the understanding of math concepts?  Do students who have more time to discuss math concepts with their peers have a greater understanding of more complex math tasks?  What differences are there in the understanding of math concepts when students utilize peer to peer conversations or can this lead to confusion of topics?  The purpose of my action research is to see if there is a correlation between the amount of time students spend in dialogic discourse conversations and the understanding of math concepts.  Are peer to peer conversations or teacher to student conversations more supportive or does this vary by complexity of the math skill or concept?

In our classroom we utilize the thinking strategies when tackling complex math problems.  My plan is to use a variety of math word problems in each of our units.  Within each unit I will give them a word problem that we have not discussed to get a baseline.  Next, we will have lessons on the conceptual understanding and then try another word problem that is similar, but not exactly the same. We will then have a few class sessions where students are able to discuss math concepts through guided discussions with their peers and then we’ll try another similar word problem.  I will also be creating a rubric so that I have a consistent grading method when looking at and analyzing student answers.  The next unit my plan is to do similar, but change when I provide the lessons surrounding the concept and when students participate in peer to peer discourse (allowing students to discuss their observations and use of thinking strategies first). The purpose of switching the order is so that I can see if it is the amount of time on a concept, the discourse itself changing the outcomes, or if there is not a change in understanding.   

My hope is to discover if there is a connection between student discourse and understanding.  If there is, I also hope that I will be able to learn if it is more effective providing students with an understanding of concepts and then allowing them to discuss their understandings and misunderstandings of those concepts, or if it is better to allow students to discuss and discover and then to teach the concept to affirm or clarify their understandings.

Final Reflection:
Through my work in this PDU with Michelle and reflecting with coworkers I have learned a lot about how to incorporate writing into math and science.  I have also worked really hard to allow my students more flexibility in their learning and to be advocates for what they need.  I no longer take charge of seating charts or learning partners-this took A LOT of prep work and open conversations for our classes to get to this point. Granted we've only been in the 'release' process for two weeks now, but I have seen many of them 'step up to the plate' and take on these responsibilities and hold each other accountable. I like the opportunity to learn along side my students and I feel as though this year we have been able to do that (through the good and the ugly!). 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Opinion Writing in Math

In March, we focused on monitoring for meaning and continued with our determining importance study.  We also looked at opinion writing through our equal groups unit (multiplication and division).    

We added a few pieces to determining importance before moving on, one being that after they highlighted words, they would use a black sharpie to cross out the parts they didn’t highlight and then give it to a partner to solve.  If their partner could still solve the problem, they knew they had determined the important parts-if they couldn’t they must have left something out.  It was a very fun activity and I felt like the kids learned a lot! 
When we moved to monitoring for meaning, we focused in the beginning on solving problems more than one way in order to check your work and make sure answer made sense.  Then we looked closer at word problems as we were reading to make sure we were understanding what the problems were asking.  We talked a lot about if the picture in our minds (mental images) were clear and related to the questions being asked. 
Our opinion writing came into play when we had finished working through all the multiplication strategies (we worked on nine).  They then had to write a piece about which strategies they liked using the best and why.  Also, for my more advanced writers I had them add in a piece about which they thought was more efficient. 


My challenge for the next month is to continue pushing the kids to use the thinking strategy language.  I feel like they are now at the point where they can name them when asked, but I’d like it to become less directed and more independent as we finish up the year.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Writing Constructed Responses

A large part of March was spent refining the art of writing an amazing constructed response.  Through exit slips and other avenues I found that many of my students were not correctly determining what they are being asked to answer.  Many of the responses I was receiving from the students did not answer the question.  I found that I needed to back up and focus on what was being asked in order to have them create the amazing responses.  In some cases the students were asked to write an expression and they wrote an answer.  In other examples students were asked to show work and explain, but all they put was an answer.  In one problem students were asked to write an explanation that included three bullet points that were listed above the explanation space.  Many students only included one or maybe two of the bulleted points in their explanations.   After guided instruction and modeling, here are some of the newly refined and perfected responses.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

March post!

For this writing PDU, I feel like I’ve been a bit all over the place in terms of my goals for this – but hey, that is part of the first year of teaching…right? J A few weeks ago, I had a coaching session with Michelle – she came in to see a lesson, and then provided feedback to me regarding the lesson. I think one of the biggest things I have learned through this is something we talked about in the debrief.

To provide some background information, the lesson focused on a PARCC practice writing assignment. The day prior, they read a passage, answered an essay question, answered multiple-choice questions, etc. For the lesson that Michelle observed, I partnered students together and gave them a well-written piece from a student and a not-so-well written piece. In groups, they had to give both “grows” and “glows”, and determine why the one piece did not provide accurate information. After, we discussed this as a whole group, and then together, we looked at a narrative writing rubric and thoroughly went through it, and translated it into kid language. Together, we scored both of the writing pieces – so that they could clearly see where some of the gaps appeared in the rubric so that they know to then revise to fill in the gaps.

I then gave them a copy of the rubric and sent them back to their seats to self-assess their writing piece. I conferred with students throughout this process, and asked them questions to ensure that they knew where they had to go next, and to help them grow. During this time, some students decided to give themselves grows/glows, confer with partners, edit/revise their work, work around the room, etc. During this time, I noticed that they were getting loud every so often (Michelle later told me that it was about every 7 minutes). Even though I was conferring with students throughout this whole process, I assumed that they were off topic due to the noise level and the task at hand.

Once the students left for specials, she asked how I thought the lesson went, and I expressed my disappointment in the end of the lesson. This brings me to my biggest insight/aha moment during this whole PDU. She said to let’s look around to see their work around the room to see if they were indeed off topic. As we meandered around, we noticed that every single kiddo was on task, albeit in their different and glorious ways. Obviously, I was very happy with this J Although this seems like a very simple thing (and it is!), I sometimes become too narrow focused and need to sometimes take a step back and look at the task from a broader lenses. Are they actually off task or do they just need a break? As adults we surely need breaks – and in our debrief, Val B. pointed out that in PLC, us teachers need many breaks and we all work differently! It is important to remind me that kids are definitely the same way – and they need more breaks! I have tried to do this in more of my teaching – not just writing. I inherently know that noise doesn’t necessarily mean they are off topic, and a strategy I can use going forward is to ask them about the noise. Is it positive, good-working noise? If so, great!

I’m very thankful for my time with this J Sorry the post is so late!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Writing Checklist and Peer Review

In my coaching with Michelle, I have focused on math writing.  Earlier in the year, I was focusing on conferring. Now, I feel like I have taken a step back to talk to her to decide on the purpose for my math writing.  I think about my next door neighbor, Ms. Schoneman, when I think about trying to figure out what the purpose is for math writing. If I can't figure that out for myself, how can I expect students to understand?  

A couple of weeks ago, my students and I came up with a list of elements that had to be in place in great math writing.  We realized that we had two lists: one about process, the other about the writing product.  We created an anchor chart and I transferred the list to a worksheet where students would be able to do all of their work on a story problem and have the checklist to refer to.  We worked with this worksheet as a guide for our writing and the students did pretty well with it, but at some point we lost steam, partly because I wasn't sure what the next logical step was.

Part of the routine we set in place includes time for peer review.  Students trade their papers and check off all the elements they see that are in place.  They give this feedback to their partner, then they have the chance to "call them out" to the whole group.  Then that person has the option to show us their work on the doc cam so we can identify everything they did well. The work then lives on the wall in the hall to display great math writing.

So, what's next?

--Communicate to students that this is something that we will do consistently every Tuesday and Thursday.  We can't spend this much time and energy on it and do it five days a week.  I think the predictability will help my students engage in this this process more quickly and meaningfully.
--Peer review routine.  Right now we do it in our meeting space with a partner, and it quickly became stale and lost its purpose.  Moving forward, I am going to come up with creative ways for them to find a new partner to share with eveyr time they write.  Without being purposeful about his part, students were pairing up with the same person day after day.
--Increase engagement.  I need to find opportunities to really highlight the great thinking that goes on.  In the past, they have given each other stickers, this sometimes devolved to students reviewing only the work of their friends.  Besides displaying the work in the hall, what else could I do?
--Integrate movement.  This group of kids need routine, but need to move!  I will integrate opportunities to get them off of the floor and moving while they review.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Determining Importance and Synthesizing Information

At the end of my last post, I was thinking that "it's been an interesting journey to obtain primary source information. Throughout the research process, students learned the value of perseverance, working collaboratively, and dealing with setbacks and frustration. It will be fascinating to see how students interpret and "fit" the data as evidence to support their arguments." As a reminder, the inquiry question on the table is: Should more than six people be allowed at a lunch table?

Now that we have all of the evidence and data, how do we format and fit it so we can use it to support our claims? Students spent a week creating bar and circle graphs detailing the results of their student surveys to use as supporting evidence in persuasive essays. As the saying goes, we are data rich, but how do I dig through it to find the evidence? This is a high-level skill, sifting through graphs or through complex text to find the evidence to support a person's thinking. That's why politicians have hundreds of people on their staff who do nothing but find just the right evidence then use it to support a claim. Fifth graders only have themselves and a teacher to guide them. 

One clear example is a student's use of a circle graph from our student survey. He initially wrote: "As you can see from the graphs, some people don't get to sit with their friends if they get hot lunch." This was an awesome teachable moment, so I stopped and demonstrated how to make a stronger statement. Instead, what if we say it this way? "As you can see from the graph, 68% of people who get hot lunch get to sit with their friends. That means that 32% of hot-lunch students get excluded from their friends' table." Students were able to clearly see and hear the difference, and we were dealing with the same evidence. It's not necessarily the evidence; it's how you interpret and use it that counts.

The skill of using text evidence is now being taught in all grades. However, the analysis piece is difficult for most kids and may take years to master. Students may argue that they used evidence from the text, but for what purpose? Most students think that just adding a graph to their writing is using evidence. I stress to them that they need to be doing the thinking, not their reader. We need to continue to model the analysis piece of the evidence, not the mere quoting of information. 

As with all writing instruction, it's about seizing teachable moments and modeling, modeling, modeling. During the analysis of evidence, word choice becomes increasingly important. In the above example, I then modeled how to use word choice to the writer's advantage. Adding just a few words can bump the persuasive impact significantly. "As you can see from the graph below, only 68% of people who get hot lunch get to sit with their friends. That means that a whopping 32% or almost one third of hot-lunch students get excluded from their friends' table!" 

Example of a whole-class teachable moment after conferencing with a student. Notice the original sentence edited out and the revised sentence after the impromptu mini-lesson..

With the six to a table rule people with hot lunch can’t sit with their friends because they have to wait in line to get their food. and Wwhen they get to the table where their friends are sitting there are already six to a table so you have to sit by yourself. As you see in the first graph only 68% people with hot lunch get to sit with their friends that means 38% of people don’t get to sit with their friends that is A LOT. In the second graph 48% of people want the rule  graphs some people don't get to sit with their friends when they have hot lunch. In the second graph Most people in 6th grade don’t like the rule.

Persuasive writing continues to be a challenge for adults and kids alike. Academic persuasive writing must be viewed as a unique genre and very unlike op-ed writing. Organizing a compelling piece of academic persuasive writing must include "weaving and thinking" the evidence into the argument. The most effective way to help children hone their persuasive writing skills is to demonstrate this weaving of and thinking about the evidence.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Bringing Purpose to "Writing in Math"

My coaching sessions with Michelle, as well as my work on a math newspaper with my inquiry group this year, have been eye opening.  In the past, when we have focused on "writing in math" as a vertical team or staff, I always ended up working with kids on explaining their thinking about a particular math problem.  Lame.  And boring. And lacking real purpose...

Our PD sessions with Michelle inspired our inquiry into what "writing in math" could really look like.  We came up with the idea for a math newspaper, which on it's own wasn't what changed the way I thought about writing in math, but definitely provided some content with which to play around with.

My first go at writing feature articles consisted of telling the kids we needed articles about math and setting them off.  Can you tell I haven't taught writing in a few years?  What they came back with was fine, I suppose.  I didn't have a clear picture of what I wanted, so of course my kids writing didn't reflect anything.

Cue Michelle and her PD on writing inquiry- specifically using mentor texts to help guide students and teach them about specific genres of writing.  I began gathering math comics (my next newspaper assignment) to use as mentor texts in our mini-inquiry with the end goal of writing our own math comics.  Comics are hard to write well (and even harder to actually make funny), but with the help of the mentor comics, my kids came up with some pretty good comics of their own.

As I tackle this month's newspaper assignment, feature articles, I plan to employ this writing inquiry again by gathering mentor texts, analyzing them with kids, and then attempting our own in the style of the mentor texts.  Hopefully these will end up more successful than those we wrote just a few months ago.

What I have Learned Through Mini Inquiries

Well....we have concluded two mini inquiries in writing around the topics of "Early Residents of Colorado" and "Trappers and Traders".  What have I learned?????   Resources, Resources, Resources,   Conferring, Conferring, Conferring and Modeling, Modeling, Modeling!!!!

These inquiry projects focused in on our Colorado History units.  I began by front loading enough information to "hook the kids" and provide them background knowledge to launch their "wonderings".  This front loading looked different with each unit.  With Early Residents we read three articles about Mesa Verde, the Anasazis, and the Utes.  Small groups read the articles and made posters highlighting what they had learned.  They presented these posters to the class, thus teaching (synthesizing) the class their learnings.  They then fielded questions.  From there, students were introduced to a Padlet created specifically around these three topics.  This took A LOT of time to compile as student readability was a huge factor for students to access the information.  Students were set loose to peruse the padlet and record their questions.  They wrote down questions which we then used to narrow down the focus of their inquiries.  I modeled how to research a question I had and how to go about it using provided resources.  As students worked I conferred along the way...Our end project was a piece of non fiction writing answering their question.

Our second inquiry was on Trappers and Traders.  This time, we jigsawed a piece about this period of time in our history.  The focus was to be able to identify the main idea of each section of the text and identify supporting details.  We then literally "jigsawed" the information together into a giant puzzle.  Then they were let loose on a new Padlet specifically built around Trappers and Traders.  The inquiry questions this time were deeper.  Student focus in writing was to identify main ideas and provide supporting details.  These questions and answers were recorded into a Monopoly like game board where students landed on "Main Ideas" and learned about a section of Colorado History as written by a classmate.  These ended up being pretty cool and students had a lot of buy in in the process.

The padlets have proven to be an invaluable resource.  Starting small and building up resources has worked really well rather than just setting the kids free.  Interestingly enough the kids that struggled the most were my GT learners who are used to being able to find an answer to their questions quickly.  This time, they had to sort through a lot of different information and needed to use their inferring skills to make meaning.

Not sure where we are headed with the next inquiry...but with testing next week, and Spring Break after that....I have plenty of time to figure it out.