Building Community through Discussion

Class Discussion Norms

(In my class, these become our Community Norms and replace any “rules”)

A world community painted on hands with doves
Build a community of empathy and caring in your classroom through academic discussion.
  • Equity of Voice: Monitor your airtime. As a group member you are responsible to be a speaker AND a listener. You are also responsible to invite others to speak. Equal(ish) airtime is the goal. Our community values all voices.
  • Active Listening
: Eye contact, nodding, being sure you respond to a comment with a related question or comment. Build on what others say. Our community believes everyone should feel heard.
  • Respect for All Perspectives
: You will not agree with everyone’s ideas. Work to understand their thinking. Our community values diverse perspectives.
  • Safety to Share: Your language, tone, body language and overall behavior should invite others to share differing opinions. Approach others’ ideas with curiosity and an open mind. The goal is never to be right, it is always to learn. Our community values safety.
  • Self-monitor use of Electronics
: It’s hard to feel like your ideas are important when you are speaking to the top of someone’s head because they are staring at their phone or their laptop screen. Our community values you and your ideas.

*Adapted from the norms used by the New Teacher Center during the best trainings of my life!


How Can We Create A Community that Values these Norms?

I gradually release student responsibility. Here’s how:

  • Sentence Stems & Explicit Instruction. Require their use. Fishbowl small groups. Analyze their discussion as a class. Data collection tip- let observers record tic marks for certain sentence stems or behaviors you’ve agreed are important. Current Events Discussions are a great way to practice these skills within an organized structure!
  • Conduct whole group discussions- focusing on the norms and sentence stems. REALLY focusing on them. With the same vigor you focus on routines and procedure in September. You hate yourself when you relax about them in November and vow you’ll never do that again. Do better with this. They need the structure to feel safe.
  • Pull small groups for discussions (maybe even half the class). Coach them. Invite a few students to be observers/ analyzers with you. Share the highlights with the whole class. Find observation sheets here.
  • When you feel they are ready, divide the class into small groups (4-5 students max). Let them discuss! While you monitor, record excellent phrases and interactions and share them publicly as soon as it’s over! Provide students an opportunity to reflect on paper after discussion. Download my free Discussion Reflection Activity when you subscribe below.
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Current Events Discussions

Current Events. It’s been done to death. And I get that. What I’m going to share with you is not about current events at all. The context just happens to be Current Events- but it could be anything. It’s about academic discussions- conversation. Do kids really know what that is these days? Chances are they do more discussing in school than out of school- but wouldn’t it be nice if there were more conversations happening everywhere? Fewer interactions, with cell phones in hand- and more eye contact, active listening and questioning? Ahhhhh!!! My teacher brain is in heaven just thinking about it! And my mom brain is pretty psyched too.

Rocks on a beach with text in front of them about discussions

A few years back, I was inspired by some AMAZING parents in my classroom. These parents were involved- I’m talking Family Book Club at 7:00AM before school involved. They would do ANYTHING. As a result, I tried to incorporate some type of authentic home school connection in all of our subject areas. These families inspired this series of activities- and it’s been successful with many classes since… even classes without that crazy- involved crop of parents;) What has remained the same though, is that having quality discussions in class- where everyone is set up for success– leads to more discussion at home (and in the lunchroom, and the hallway, and art class). When kids are engaged in a topic- ENGAGED- and have opportunities to discuss it in a safe space (our classrooms), momentum builds… and those discussions continue. And if we take our time, really go slow to go fast… they take those discussion skills and apply them to all of the relationships in their lives. They debate important topics with integrity, challenge one another, and change the world for the better. (No pressure!)

The Making of  Amazing Current Events Discussions

*Interact with an assigned topic. Listen to a podcast, watch a news broadcast, read something.
*Process that new information. (Complete assigned response sheets in Events in Our World)
*Participate in a class discussion focused on the questions that were answered while processing that new information. Check out my tips!
*Engage an adult in your life in a discussion about the topic. (More details in Events in Our World)
*Participate in a short class discussion focused on new perspectives from that discussion with an adult.
*Reflect & Self-Assess your discussion skills (Get my free guide when you subscribe below)

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My Takeaways

All kids participate when they are prepared and encouraged. For me, that meant that when I had some students who would not do homework- I made sure not to assign steps 1 and 2 as homework. Sometimes I assigned all students that work in class. Other times, I found opportunities for a few students to accomplish these tasks during the day. In all cases- those students participated in class discussions and engaged an adult. Also, I use “an adult in your life” very purposefully. For some students that has been a family member, for others a dance teacher and for others- the adult supervising Office Detention. All of those work.

beach scene with quote about discussions
When I worry about the success of a lesson, my inner control freak comes out. Early in the year, when we are beginning the work of discussions- everyone interacts with the same assigned topic and reads the same article or watches the same news broadcast… in front of me. But, guess what? It’s fine!!!! We make our way to the place where lots of differentiation is happening and my blood pressure stays under control. So- know yourself and do what makes you feel comfortable. Go slow to go fast. You are building a community.
I’ve also learned that kids are proud of their grown ups. Even the “too cool for school kids” who hate getting parent signatures. I’m totally shocked by this EVERY YEAR! I always devote way more time than I mean to in the beginning, to that- “how was last night’s conversation at home” discussion. Eventually kids discuss it in groups, so in 10 minutes everyone gets a chance to share and I can get the highlights. In the beginning though- it’s important that Joey and Alison both share about their discussion publicly if their hands are up. And they beam with pride!!!

 

Reflection: Ain’t nobody got time for THAT!

For the last two years I have been welcomed into many classrooms as a coach, or as my favorite mentor Jan so accurately describes: a thought partner. When she used that language two years ago during our first New Teacher Center Mentor Academy, I had no idea just how connected I would feel to that phrase today. I have partnered with some incredible thinkers over these two years. Some of these thinkers have been my fellow coaches, the teachers I support and their administrators.

Continue reading “Reflection: Ain’t nobody got time for THAT!”

How do your students self-asses?

Lately, I’ve found myself having conversations with many educators who think self-assessment is a good idea… but just aren’t sure about putting it into practice. Consequences of thoughtful self-assessment:

1. Students reflect on their process, performance, actions.

2. Students become more aware of their learning and/ or actions- in the moment!! “Johnny, don’t you ever think before you speak?!?” (which never has any impact, BTW) —-> “Johnny, I noticed you stopped yourself  before responding to Maria (how responsible of you)… tell me a little about your thinking.

3.  Students begin using on the language of the self-assessment in their classroom dialogue. (And I wasn’t even trying to teach content specific vocabulary!!)

Here’s a Scientist’s Self Assessment I plan to use this week in a third grade science class. You’ll notice I’ve embedded a home-school communication component as well!

Here’s a Self and Group Assessment Tool I created and have used successfully with grades 4-8 to encourage academic discussions.

Here’s part of a Behavior Chart Self Monitor program my teammate and I have used for a few years now. We tweak it regularly… The weekly self-assessment and twice quarterly goal setting have really strengthened student- family conversations around progress at school. We use the data (student-collected) as the basis of our Student-Led Family Conferences.

 

Before Open House, we complete this Personal Responsibility Self Assessment on our team. Then, at Open House, we weave in some of the elements of Personal Responsibility that we plan to encourage during the school year in our talks with families. We revisit this list often throughout the year, students add new ideas to it and we track our progress.

Here’s another self-assessment that supports student reflection and analysis around Quality of Work. I like to use it on days that we add work to our portfolios.

I hope you’ll consider trying these out! Modify them to meet your needs and please let me know how they impact your students’ learning.

How are you encouraging reflection, goal-setting and self-assessment?

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Formative Assessment Checklists

clipboard How do you capture all of the learning that occurs during discussions, hands-on exploration and collaborative group work? When there is a written product… we know we can collect and correct (ugh)… but that’s not always my first choice. When I collect and correct too much, I lose the ability to catalog and analyze and make instructional decisions based on the evidence. Instead, my school bag gets heavy Continue reading “Formative Assessment Checklists”

Week 4 Challenge: Assessment in Instruction

Dear Teachers,

Thanks for wanting to jump back in with us as we dig into Assessment in Instruction! This is the last of the 4 challenges- and I know you’ll finish strong! To get started, think about which level you feel most accurately describes your daily teaching experiences…

Level 1: There is little or no assessment or monitoring of student earning; feedback is absent, or of poor quality. Students do not appear to be aware of the assessment criteria and do not engage in self-assessment. There is no attempt to adjust the lesson as a result of assessment. -> Level 2: Assessment is sporadically used to support instruction through some teacher and/ or student monitoring of progress of learning. Feedback to students is general, and students appear to be only partially aware of the assessment criteria; few assess their own work. Questions/ prompts/ assessments are rarely used to diagnose evidence of learning. Adjustment to the lesson in response to the assessment is minimal or ineffective. -> Level 3: Assessment is regularly used during instruction through teacher and/ or student monitoring of progress of learning, resulting in accurate, specific feedback that advances learning. Students appear to be aware of the assessment criteria; some of them engage in self- assessment. Questions/ prompts/ assessments are used to diagnose learning, and adjustment to instruction is made to address student misunderstandings.   -> Level 4: Assessment is fully integrated into instruction through extensive use of formative assessment. Students appear to be aware of, and there is some evidence that they have contributed to, the assessment criteria. Students self-assess and monitor their progress. A variety of feedback, from both teachers and peers, is accurate, specific, and advances learning. Questions/ prompts/ assessments are used regularly to diagnose evidence of learning, and instruction is adjusted and differentiated to address individual student misunderstandings.

There are Four Key Elements in this Component:

Assessment

Which one do you consider your strength? Is there one you will focus on most this week? Set a goal for yourself for this 1 week challenge. To increase your chances of success, make it public by sharing it in the comments. Check out my Assessment Learnist Board and my Assessment Pinterest Board to get the ideas flowing!

Let’s make it a meaningful week of growth for your students and for your practice!

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PS~ You may want to connect your thinking to the related RIDE_assessment_Rubric or I3_Assessment_rubric

 

Respect & Rapport… starts with us!

What better way to develop an Environment of Respect and Rapport than by developing a 1:1 relationship with each student??Watch Rick connect with students about their reading during conferences. What does he do/ say that develops an environment of respect and rapport? What does Rick communicate to his students with his verbal and non-verbal language? I’ve seen similar successes with Experimental Design Conferences in a middle school science class as well as Think Tank conferences in a high school math class. In each instance, teachers demonstrated great respect for their students’ thinking by honoring scheduled time with everyone. How could you make something like this work in your context? What do you & your students stand to gain?

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SPIDER Web Discussion Strategy

Whether you teach math, social studies or general music- if you want to facilitate truly student-led inquiry in your classroom discussions, you may want to give Alexis Wiggins’ version of the SPIDER Web Discussion strategy a try. She has been refining this strategy for seven years and shares her experiences and her rubrics!

While students are the ones discussing, the teacher is still the referee and master of knowledge, offering up the right question at the right moment, redirecting the conversation, correcting misunderstandings, and ensuring that students are being civil to one another.

Maybe that lesson you have planned for Tuesday of next week needs a kick… Try adding this strategy to your repertoire, and let us know how it goes!!

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Dittos & Worksheets & Packets, Oh my!!

So, your school department actually has a manual for you and it’s full of printables… They were designed by educators and statisticians… and people that must know more about teaching this content than you do… so why aren’t you students engaged? Well, I am writing this post to make sure you don’t “throw out the baby with the bath water!” Before you throw away every workbook and ditto in your classroom… let’s put our heads together.

You are right, experts did design these materials, so there’s probably something that works in here…

 Don’t reinvent the wheel- Re-purpose it instead!

Here’s a template for a cube (as well as other amazing ideas- amazing wiki). Why not put the best questions from your packet on the 6 sides of the cube and let students roll and discuss in pairs? Your goal (with the packet) was for students to think about the questions, right? Imagine all the ideas they’ll get from their partner when rolling the cube??!! Two heads are always better than one.

You could listen in on student conversations and assess their Speaking & Listening Skills or their content knowledge. Another idea is to assess student learning with an exit slip at the end of class. When you encourage students to have conversations, arm them with sentence stems and accountable talk to make it as productive as possible.

What will you re-purpose this week? Let us know in the comments & you may inspire someone else to take a similar risk!

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PS… I’m looking to give away a TpT gift certificate to a lucky blog commenter this week! Spread the word- bring a friend!

Student Engagement… Buzz Words Demystified

According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), the 4Cs: Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and Innovation are infused in learning.

Watch and listen to how ASCD describes 21st Century Skills. 21st_Buzz_word

In the video P21’s video library, the section titled “In Practice,” features sample lessons incorporating 21st Century Skills for any grade level/ content area. This is a video jackpot! I’d love to know what videos you found most valuable and to which you made connections. Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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Carol Ann Tomlinson writes, “The idea of differentiating instruction to accommodate the different ways that students learn involves a hefty dose of common sense, as well as sturdy support in the theory and research of education (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000). It is an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms.”

The teacher in this video creates an opportunity for all students to be successful with a very challenging written assignment. Watch this 5 minutes video to see what he does to support all students. Any ideas or questions come to mind for your own teaching? Share in the comments!

In my upcoming posts, look for go-to strategies to ramp up already planned lessons and ways to re-purpose assignments, lessons and resources that need a 21st Century kick! Also during this challenge, a lucky teacher who supports readers by sharing his/her experience in the comments will receive a TpT gift certificate!!

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