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.

Another Approach to Mentor Text

As you know, this year I'm attempting to be really thoughtful about the use of mentor texts in Writer's Workshop, and our class is just finishing our first unit 'writing under the influence' of those texts. For this unit I chose to use numerous mentor texts, creating a text set of feature articles.

Overall, I feel like the use of mentor texts were helpful for many reasons. Students specifically benefitted from seeing the titles, text features, leads, introductions and conclusions in our mentor texts. I can see the impact in their writing.

  • My writing wasn't the 'mentor'. Published 'real' writing could serve as our guide.
  • Mentor texts made the task more authentic.
  • Analyzing mentor texts allowed the inquiry cycle to live in writing.
  • Mentor texts were tools throughout the entire writing process, not just during immersion.

Next Steps:
  • I want students to independently use mentor text for assistance.
  • I want to specifically use a few, well written mentor texts as guides, instead of a text set.
So, with our next unit around opinion/persuasive writing I've found two text that will serve as our mentors. Storyworks is a great Scholastic publication, and I was able to find a few essays in their Debate section.  I specifically was looking for texts where the claim was shared at different times (beginning, end, etc.). I also narrowed the texts by looking for those that state both sides of the issue. The two texts I've found so far are full of voice and interesting to read. I'm positive that the use of these texts will better my teaching and student's understanding of opinion/persuasive writing.

March Post

This year I have been working with Michele to bring a sense of excitement and authenticity to my students writing.  In the past and at the beginning of the year, I would have students write first and then draw their picture with crayons at the top of the page.  We would always have a focus lesson but I was very strict about writing with pencils on the lines, etc.  Writing became very boring for myself and the students, so I began grappling with what I could do to bring some excitement to writing.  I really wanted the kids to love writing time and they were definitely dreading it.  During my coaching time with Michele we came up with a new plan.  I created author boxes (smelly markers, markers, gel pen, glitter pens, colored pencils, etc.) with any kind of writing tool you can think.  They each got a journal and we used Amelia's Notebook as our mentor text and we really went to town.  Now the kids can't wait for writing time.  In fact, in the morning they have a choice to just write in their journals and the majority of students are choosing this option (that means they are using this journal twice a day).  We are moving into fiction writing and we will continue to write in these journals in the morning.  We also will use them for ideas for our fiction stories.  This little shift of me letting go of words being written with pencils has really resonated for us during writing.  The kids cheer when we transition to writing.  Students don't want to miss school because they don't want to miss the author I believe I have successfully met my goal that I had at the beginning of the year.  It is funny, every year I find myself saying as soon as I let go of control it turned out GREAT!!!!!

Persuasive Writing Through Book Reviews

I was trying to wrap my mind around how I could get my kinder students to write persuasively every day in an authentic way.  We started out by writing why we like different things and then giving a reason for that opinion.  We practiced this skill for a while.  From there, I created a book review form for the students to fill out.  Now every time they read a book that they think other students should read, they can fill out a book review form.  The books in our room will have a piece of paper sticking out of them if they have been given a review.  They students must rate the book.  They then write if they liked the book and the reasons why in the book review.  It has been a very fun and authentic way to get the students to write persuasively a couple of times a week.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Marching along!

 Our inquiry group is delving into the topic of closing the achievement gap.  As we all know, this is a huge issue that can only be achieved through ending poverty.  I recently read an article by Paul C. Gorski titled: Building a Pedagogy of Engagement for Students in Poverty in which he reiterated that idea when he said, "The only surefire way to eliminate the achievement gap is to eradicate poverty.  Since that's not going to happen anytime soon, educators can still take many research-proven steps to foster equality of opportunity in education."

Paul Gorski outlined the following research based steps that we as teachers and staff can follow to nurture equality in education.

  • express high expectations through higher order, engaging pedagogies
  • enhance family involvement
  • incorporate arts into instruction
  • incorporate movement into instruction
  • focus intently on student and family strengths
  • analyze materials for class bias
  • promote literacy enjoyment
  • reach out to families early and often
As I reflect on these steps, I'm wondering:
  • Am I doing a good job at these?
  • Is our school doing a good job at these?
  • What can we do as teachers and a staff to grow?
  • How can we (myself and our community) do a better job?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

March Post

The year just keeps Marching along!  Another month of school is in the past and I am here again to remind you that your next post is due.

Here are some choices for you this month:

  • Michelle was here on Friday to talk about argumentative writing and building a claim with evidence.  React to that PD.  What resonated with you and why? How has that changed your instruction or your approach to writing?
  • You should have had an opportunity at this point to receive some coaching from Michelle.  How has that helped you refine your writing instruction?  What has been your goal?  Where are you in meeting that goal?
  • Our inquiry groups are in full swing and working on a question around writing, perhaps preparing to go public.  What successes have you had with that work?  Has there been one thing in particular that has really worked for you?
  • Something else?  You could also look back on your posts from February and January and update the reader on your progress.  You could also react to any comments that you received from another participant.  
This is our last post for the year. In April, you will receive directions on pulling all of your thinking together for our final peer review on April 26th. 

Thanks so much!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

T'was the night before Shark Tank....

Wow!  I forgot how multi-faceted teaching writing is.  Through my struggles the past two weeks, I have really had a lot of fun as a teacher.  My kids have been really engaged in this project, which is making learning how to write persuasively a little less painful for most of them.

I ended up finding three mentor texts after what seemed like hours of searching the web.  We read the three texts (I read, they followed along for the sake of time) with the question "How do writers convince their readers to agree with them?" in mind.  Through a series of turn and talks, as well as small group discussions, we came up with this anchor chart to guide our thinking.

The other chart we made from these mentor texts was what we noticed about author's craft in the three pieces.  This process was much harder for them.  They struggled "reading like a writer" as opposed to reading the content of the pieces.  After much conferring, collaborating and guidance we came up with this chart.

With these two charts as our checklists of sorts, we set out to create our own persuasive writing pieces to support their various problem solving magnet creations.  If you are super interested in how they turned out, you can read them (after March 3rd that is!)  on our blog here. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Is Writing in Math Really the Solution?

As of late, I have really had a hard time convincing the students and myself of the importance of writing in math.  Through all of my schooling and now the PLCs, I have come to realize something about myself...  I HATE to write.  There is no joy for me when I am asked to write.  I don't write lists. I don't write lengthy letters.  My texts are very short If you have ever received an email from me you know that I just get to the point.  I agonize going to the PLCs that I know will involve me writing a little piece in my writer's journal.

I have spent a lot of time this month thinking about the students that are like me.  I love word problems.  I love when the word problems are rigorous and force me to think about how to solve them.  I love using math to solve word problems.  The answers don't always "pop in my head" like the fortunate students I mentioned in my last blog.  But I can relate to those learners because I would rather say that I just know the answer than have to sit and write a bunch of sentences about how I got my answer.  My struggle this month is the writing component to math.  Do we take the fun out of math when we force students to write about their thinking and have them free write during math time?  In their high school Algebra class will they have to write major pieces about the process they went through or will they just have to show what x equals?

Friday, February 26, 2016


Teaching Writing and Challenging Math Problems

This year has been a huge struggle for me with writing in Math. Students still want to do as little writing or explanation as possible. I have tried to model how to attack multiple step word problems and the type of detail explanation that is needed to complete them. I think students are still stuck on the single or two step process of  problem solving. Unfortunately, in the age of PARCC, the 6th grade math curriculum has been changed greatly. What I taught in 6th grade two years ago is no where near to what kids are expected to do. Kids must be able to navigate word problems that involve 5 or 6 steps with multiple concepts in the same problem.  Also, the skills of the math students that are entering 6th grade are very wide. Many of the Robert's kids tend to be more prepared for 6th grade than students that are coming from other schools that may be less rigorous and lower performing. I have literally lost my mind trying to figure out ways to make concepts more understandable. I also struggle with trying to support students that are several years below level and students that are advanced. Students are also struggling with the concept of struggling. They want the quick fix and don't want to keep trying to figure out the problem. They give up easily. What strategies do you use?

Erosional Landforms: Connect-Extend-Challenge

Connect, Extend, and Challenge : Erosional Landforms

In Science this trimester, we have be studying weathering, erosion, and deposition. Most of the work has been pretty straightforward with lots of work on definitions and basic understanding of the concepts .That is why I was pretty excited about relating erosion to their everyday lives. Students listened and read an NPR article on how a hurricane was able to erode parts of the beaches and how it impacts the communities around the beaches. Students were given the opportunity to examine all sides of the argument for and against beach nourishment and its cost. Many students were able to use their understanding of erosion and their experiences of going to the support their debates. . The debates were very lively and I think kids got the opportunity to understand how erosion has a very serious impact on communities. Lastly, students were given the challenge to write an essay pro or against beach nourishment programs. They had to choose only one side. I am in the process of grading the papers but I am excited to read their arguments.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Determining Importance and Synthesizing Information

Students were off to the races and quickly began working in their project teams to explore the question: Should more than six people be allowed at a lunch table?.  Engagement has been high, but frustration began to seep in as their emails were not being answered by principals. The other schools team and the interview team learned that gathering information from busy people was difficult, at best. However, they persevered, checking their emails each day.

The internet research teams finished up and consolidated their data as a source of evidence for arguments. We decided as a project team to delay the experiment since personal observation of the fifth graders could be used as evidence. Apparently, the six-person rule is only a guideline.

The most promising results were the student surveys. Students administered the surveys to one fourth, fifth, and sixth grade class. They quickly began to tally their results. Each team discovered that their surveys had small flaws, but they problem-solved past the issues. They also discovered that many of the survey responders did not read the directions and answered the survey incorrectly. Both were valuable life lessons for the teams.

Finally, as a whole class, students tallied the survey results and transferred them into three tables. Each student had their own copy of the data tables. They were required to reconcile the responses to the number of surveys and arrive at percentages. Students partnered up to complete their charts. Again, there was a high level of engagement during this process.

Once their tables are complete, students will have enough text evidence (survey data and internet research) to begin planning their persuasive essay. My final blog will explain our planning and writing process.

It's been an interesting journey to obtain primary source information. They've 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.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Anasazi, Native Americans, and Explorers OH MY

    As we navigate through our study of Non Fiction reading and writing, amazing things have been happening.  Kids are reading, researching, inquiring, and writing everything non fiction.  Conversations have gone deeper and deeper, discourse is alive and well, and, best of all, engagement is higher than I ever dreamed possible.  I've even won over my naysayers who thought they would "always hate non fiction."

    We began with learning about the Early Coloradans via reading a variety of texts on the same topic.  Small groups formed and pulled out the main idea and supporting ideas from these articles and created a poster to "teach" their learning to the rest of the class.  During these presentations, students took notes and discussed what new learning they took away, as well as conflicting data, etc.  One group had captioned a photo of a Native Americans "Here's a picture of the Anasazi".  Another student pointed out, there were no cameras during the time of the Anasazi so how could there be a photo of them.  From there we had a discussion about verifying facts within non fiction.

    When conflicting data was encountered, students discussed the possibility of "theories" being presented because there was no way to prove what happened.

   From the small group activity, we moved into individual research.  I created a padlet full of kid friendly resources focusing on the early residents of Colorado.  The kids spent a full 45 minutes their first day delving into these resources.  Engagement was high and the process of synthesizing and inquiry were fully evident.  From there, we did a mini lesson focused around thesis statements versus topic sentences.  We took a stab at writing what we had learned in the format most comfortable to them.  I got a variety of writing including:  Informative essays, Journal entries, and non fiction paragraphs.  A couple of the kids even incorporated poetry!  Overall, I was impressed with their work.

   Now we have moved into Trappers and Traders in our area of study.  Once again, we started with non fiction texts (only this time we focused on one article).  First, students read the article with different levels of support, and annotated the text as they read.  We came back together and discussed what they were wondering.  From their questions, we began to work on "What kind of a question is one that can be researched?"  This was tough at first, but as we worked on it over the next few days became quite clear.  Questions moved from "Why did they name Colorado "the color red"?  to "I wonder what the people saw when they came to Colorado before anything was built?  Did the land and landforms look the same as they do now?"

   We did another group project with the article in a jigsaw format.  Each group identified the main idea and supporting details of each section.  They recorded their information on a jigsaw piece and then put the puzzle together.  I loved watching them make connections to how things changed when explorers began interacting with the Native Americans.  This week they will delve into a new padlet of Trader and Trappers resources...I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Math Writing Priorities

In my January post, I wrote about conferring in math and my challenges in putting together a system for conferring regularly with my students.  Now, I think that I am trying too hard to try to create a routine that may work better for literacy than math.  Lately, my student teacher and I have agreed that we will have a set group that he meets with daily and I will have an invitation group that I meet with to meet with those kids who need a second look.  We have a very simple recording sheet where we keep track of who we have met with and which skills we are working on.  My thinking has stayed the same here, conferring is an important time of our workshop where we can hold kids accountable for their thinking and is a good time to evaluate kids' progression toward understanding. 

The other routine that I am really focused on is our reflection time.  I am carving out 10 minutes at the end of the lesson so that students can verbalize  and synthesize their thinking after the lesson.  I put a prompt on the board for students to write about. The prompt is usually related to their thinking and a thinking strategy.  An example is, "How did you determine which strategy was best when ordering fractions?"  They write and then we listen to several students share their thinking.   I have found this time to be a good one to check in with students' understanding.  It is also a good time to emphasize the focus on understanding, rather than on production.  I have found that student writing has improved with this routine, and I have also been impressed with student thinking during this time. 

My question at this point is: How do I translate this conferring time and reflection time to productive math writing time?  Should production be a priority? Is it important that we do formal math writing, or is it enough for students to do smaller math writing pieces that reveal their understanding as they explain thinking and strategies?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Back to the Mentor Texts

Since my last post, we have been building our schema around the early people of Colorado and analyzing feature articles as a way of sharing interesting information. Approaching this unit of writing through the lens of inquiry has allowed my students to recognize the authenticity of what we are doing, as well as become really engaged. Students naturally began to determine what characteristics feature articles possess as well as decision authors of features articles make. Yay!

As pleased as I was, I once again felt stuck. I knew we needed to 'write under the influence', but I didn't feel like we had 'closely studied' a mentor text to improve our own writing. After grappling with this for days, Michelle, helped me navigate my next steps. In talking with her I realized that our room is already full of mentor texts. Instead of looking at an entire piece, I've decided to use many different mentor texts to highlight different aspects of feature articles. For example, I have chosen a few articles with great leads that hook the readers. I'm also planning on finding a piece full of details and content specific vocabulary to compare to our own work. Do we as authors sound like experts on this topic?

Once again, as I type this it all seems so simple, but it's easy to get lost in the big picture. As I said in my last post, I'm following Katie Wood Ray's lens of inquiry, and I was getting caught up between two stages. When in the 'close study' stage I knew I wanted to purposefully use mentor articles but in my classroom I felt like we were ready to 'write under the influence'. I've come to the conclusion it will be more purposeful for my students (& myself) to closely look at mentor texts as we are writing. So, we're going to bounce back and forth between the two stages. Write a little, go back and analyze mentor text, write some more, look at more mentors, revise, write some more...

This was my big realization. In order for our mentor texts to be purposeful I need students to jump in and begin writing. Then, we can go back to the mentor texts as tools to help us. In past units, I think I've been caught up in finding the 'just right' text and using it/them at the 'just right' time. It's going to be a messy process, but we have a strong start. I feel like I'm growing in my understanding of mentor texts, and now, the hope is we will see an impact on my student's writing.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Persuasive Writing Through Shark Tank

A few months ago I borrowed this idea from a friend who teaches 3rd grade STEM classes in another district- SHARK TANK!  You know, like the tv show.  The kids had to solve a simple problem using magnets and then share their idea/invention in the format of the popular show.  Sounded like a great idea, so I did what I normally do- tell Brenna and then ask her how we will make it work.

I knew it would provide a high engagement factor, but that was about all I had going for me until Michelle shared her argument and persuasive writing concepts with us the past two Fridays.  Now things are starting to take shape a bit.  (It also helped that Michelle was kind enough to have a planning conversation with me.)

I narrowed it down to these basic writing goals: a persuasive piece both in an oral presentation form (Shark Tank Pitch) and a blog post (persuasive paragraph).

And these science based success indicators:  kids will be able to a craft a solution that is reasonably scientific and shows an understanding of the nuances of magnets and the relationship to energy (ie. attraction and repulsion, conductors for magnetic force, and limitation of magnets and force.  As well as be able to use scientific evidence and persuasive techniques to persuade a reader/listener.

Most importantly I realized that I need to SLOW DOWN this process.  I have adjusted my timeline to include the use of mentor texts and videos.  The extra week I've given myself will allow me to more purposefully plan the critical mini-lessons to include modeling and mentors.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Math Word Problems

As we all know, math word problems are one of the hardest things to tackle.  We have all struggled with how long it will a train to travel across the country at a certain speed or if Alice has five apples and gives two away, just how many apples will Alice have left.  However, the math problems have certainly increased in rigor and length.  Even my highest math students have had to grapple and show perseverance to come up with an sensible answer for many of the word problems I present to them. 

My main focus with math and writing this year is for the students to determine what is important in the math problem and to identify the various steps that are needed to solve the multi-step problems.  My expectation is that the students will write the steps taken, to justify their answers and to also support the validity of their answers.  For many of my students it is very hard for them to do these three things.  I have several students that are so lucky to have the answer "pop in to their heads."  It is my hope that by expecting them to slow down and detail the steps they take and also justify and convince me that their answer is reasonable, that we can bridge persuasion and math.  I am also hoping that by the end of the year I can find a way to have the students write a persuasive piece justifying an answer to a complicated word problem.  Anyone have any ideas to share ??

Friday, February 12, 2016

February 12th post

As I was looking through one of the books at the end of PD, I found a fun way to kick off persuasive writing. Similar to looking at the Derrick Rose commercial, students would kick this off by immersing themselves in a variety of ads – commercials, print ads, billboards, images, etc. We would then talk about what we notice in all of the different ads; then, the focus would be on what are they selling (because every ad is trying to sell something) and how did they make us want the product. After discussing this, students would then create their own ad in groups. What are they trying to sell? How are they going to do that? From this, they would then create their ad in groups. After presenting their ad to the class and everyone trying to figure out what it is they are selling, we would then transition into how does this connect to writing. I want to take this fun ad activity and then have them write about their own ad: what were you selling? What strategies did you use to “hook” in the person looking to buy your product? How does this connect to writing, in particular persuasive writing?

After collaborating with this in groups, and then together, we would then take it to a persuasive piece in our curriculum – how did the Anasazi disappear? We have discussed this, and many students expressed their ideas of how they vanished. So using the information we gathered as to how to persuade someone to believe something, they will write a persuasive piece outlining the above, but with purposeful guiding and outlining.

My beliefs in writing to support understanding continue to grow throughout this process, PD, and my year in general. I continue to find that having examples, mentor texts, or different ways to look at something is really beneficial, in terms of student engagement and also, student work. My mindset definitely keeps progressing! 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

February-Progression in Writing to Support Understanding

Through our professional development discussions, team dialogue, and meetings with Michelle, my beliefs around writing continue to be solidified.  The idea that students need to be exposed to multiple examples (mentor texts) of a particular type of text so that they can study the craft moves of the author, along with studying the text features of a particular genre is one of my strongest beliefs about writing.

For example, right now we are studying non-fiction texts and their features.  What I really enjoy about this unit is that students are looking at non-fiction texts such as: interview transcripts, documentary videos, and articles about the rain forest.  These are types of non-fiction texts that I have typically not used before.  Students are guided through taking notes on the various text features, as well as comparing and contrasting the different forms of non-fiction.  Below is an example of one students text features notes.  Through our immersion and close study, students will become very familiar with the text structures of non-fiction so that they can be confident in creating their own as our culminating project.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

February Post

In 2016  you have a bonus day, February 29th.  Great day to write your blog post or comment on someone else's!  Last Friday, Michelle Jones was with us to talk about opinion, persuasion and argumentation writing.  Continue with the Connect, Extend, Challenge routine and write about one of the following:
  • Tell the reader about how that work resonated with you and your teaching practice and the ways that you will use that PD with your students.
  • Write about your progression in writing to support understanding.  As you reflect on your post from January, what is your thinking now?  How has your thinking changed or stayed the same?
As always, these are suggestions on how you can structure your writing.  You are welcome to stray from the Connect, Extend, Challenge routine if you feel it is not working for you.  Adding pictures, work samples, student reactions are a great way to really drive home your work for the reader.

This post is due on February 12th, comments due a week after that.  Keep it simple, keep it concise, do it before the 29th!

Thanks all...