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!!!

 

3 Classroom Discussion Musts

Using Sentence Stems and Explicit Instruction for Classroom Discussions

Teaching discussion skills can be daunting! You know you want productive, positive discussions… but how do you get there? Here’s some of what works for me!

  1. Body Language & Politeness Matter
  • Eye Contact: looking directly at the speaker lets them know they have your attention
  • Inviting Posture: Facing your body toward the speaker with an open posture invites them to share. Avoid crossed arms if you can!
  • Use your group member’s name when addressing them.
    Ex. “Dan, can you tell me more about what you thought the author meant by…”

man crossing arms

2. Paraphrasing lets the speaker know you have listened and understand.

  • So,…
  • In other words,
  • …It sounds like…
  • There are some key points you’re bringing up…
  • From what you’re saying,…

3. Clarifying lets the speaker know you have listened but do not fully understand.

  • Would you tell me a little more about…?
  • Let me see if I understand…
  • Can you tell me more about…
  • It would help me understand if you’d give me an example of…
  • So, are you saying/suggesting…?
  • What do you mean by…?
  • How are you feeling about…?

Let students collect data on their use of these important behaviors! Encouraging them to formally reflect on their performance after each and every discussion instills in them the importance this work.

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Using Current Events as the Context for Structured Academic Conversations

Building a Classroom Community through Academic Conversations

DIY Projector Screen

You finally have your own classroom!!! No more shuffling around on a cart, lugging your whole life with you every period of the day… no more “borrowing” other teachers’ classrooms and hoping you left them as neat as you found them.

Now What

Now, you’re ready to make this new space work for you. One of the biggest challenges to classroom set up is that projector screen. It’s no one’s fault. It was hung uniformly, matching all of the other classrooms… probably with an antique overhead projector and transparencies in mind. More importantly though, moving it is not topping anyone’s to do list… there are much bigger fish to fry- from a property services standpoint. But, in your world- a thoughtfully place projector screen could make ALL the difference. It did for me! When I added this DIY projector screen to my classroom, things changed- and FAST! No more distractions for kids working on the class warm up. The problem wasn’t just that occasionally a classmate would block someone’s view while walking to their seat- it was that staring at the warm up on the screen in the front of the room at the start of class, provided an unintentional “social check in” for my easily distracted kids. empty classroom with projector screen in front

It didn’t matter if I moved their seats- it didn’t help them to “pay attention”… they were! But- every minute or so one of their besties walked right into their line of sight. That’s REALLY HARD for a middle schooler to ignore. For weeks I had joked with Distracted Danny that if he could pick where the screen went it would be better for everyone. Every couple of days he’d remind me, “you know, if you just move it up high and in the corner, we’ll all be able to see it better…” He was right. But I would never get anyone to hang a screen in the corner!

projector screen in classroom hanging from ceiling

So What

So, I tried a white sheet. I tried chart paper. I tried a regular sized piece of foam board… and finally this. An extra large piece of foam board from the Custom Framing department at Michael’s Crafts. I stuck some Command strip hooks on the back of it and used string to tie it to the ceiling tile spacers in my classroom. About $10 and 10 minutes to make a significant impact on student learning.

messy papers behind student reflection sheets              Projectable slides in front of book shelves base ten blocks on student worksheets

Phew! They’re Chatty!

One of my biggest take aways from a New Teacher Center Mentor Academy last year was, “the ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning.” The focus of that academy was Coaching for Equity, and we spent timing thinking about Conditions that Support Students with Exceptionalities. Early on in that academy, one of my amazing colleagues suggested that all students are exceptional, and that became our platform as a group. We had previously agreed that the strategies that best support students in Advanced Placement classes, provide similarly rich learning experiences for students who might struggle… so this was not a huge leap for us. I spent the rest of the year seeing opportunities everywhere I looked to get kids talking! If I reflected with teachers about one idea last year it was, “the ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning.” We thought hard in kindergarten, third grade and eighth grade about how to make the most of that statement. And we all watched the videos on the NTC Oral Language Development site together.

As I get to know my new community of sixth graders this year, I find myself reflecting on these ideas daily. We often spend a great deal of energy as teachers, doing what we can to diminish students’ chatter. “If not in September, then when?” we rhetorically ask each other as we defend our systems of consequences. This year, a nagging voice in my head keeps reminding me that, “the ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning.”

Now, I know that the kids who are talking about what happened in PE instead of setting up their desks for my class, are not (in that moment) doing the learning in my classroom. Believe me, I’m not proposing a ban on silent homeroom (how could I survive?), silent moments or organization, or silence anywhere else that it benefits student learning. I am wondering though… how I can capitalize on the fact that these students like to talk.

What I am proposing is that we take the chatter and grow it into academic conversation. Let’s turn these talkers into active listeners! I recognized on Tuesday that I am sharing a room with some very social 11 year-olds this year. Today, after a 60 second turn and talk responding to the prompt, “what do you know about a seed story or a watermelon story,” I was sure this was the right move.

One student raised his hand and said loudly (in a lunchroom voice), “Zachary suggested that a seed story was a story about one small thing that happened, but was really important.” He then turned and looked at Zachary for approval, who nodded, and added, “and I agree.” Next, I did 3 internal cartwheels and I calmly provided specific feedback about the way he used his partner’s name, and how actively he must have been listening to provide such a response, and smiled. Continue reading “Phew! They’re Chatty!”

New Year’s Resolutions & Goal Setting Success

As a student, I always saw September as an opportunity to rewrite my story. I could make a good impression on my new teachers. I would keep better track of my materials and assignments and maybe even be one of those kids that seemed to “have it all together.” These days, I still find myself resolving to do better every September, and… I’ve gotten much better at actually making progress toward the goals I set!

One goal at a time. I am more likely to make progress toward my goal if I focus on one at a time. This is really hard for me, but I remind myself that it worked the year I vowed to “use a classroom website in a meaningful way” as well as the year I hoped to “involve families in academics.” The years I pledged to significantly change my assessment methods, overhaul reading conferences and exercise every day, I did not feel nearly as successful.

Share with a supportive colleague. This makes all the difference in the world for me! Having the opportunity to share my goal and talk through it with someone is valuable, especially if we schedule time to reflect on it regularly, and check in on each other. Having a partner prevents me from getting stuck and giving up because we can trouble shoot together and provide support and encouragement. Feeling responsible to someone else keeps me focused and decreases the likelihood that I will get so busy I completely forget that I set a goal!

Know Success. I am much more likely to be successful if I decide in advance what achieving my goal will look like. The year I set a goal to “be more organized” (always a much needed goal for me) I never felt like I had achieved it. I definitely made positive changes in planning and tried out a binder system an amazingly organized colleague showed me… but, I wasn’t clear with myself from the start. Now, I like to brainstorm what success might look like and revisit it and revise it as I work to make progress. (Here are my ideas about what this year’s goal might look like in action.) This way, once I’ve achieved my goal I can think clearly about moving on to another or expanding my work in the same are.

Self-assessing followed by goal setting is a process that supports me in developing or changing my practices. What goal are you working toward this year?

image from doblelol.com
image from doblelol.com

 

 

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… Naturally

I’ve been following the release of each week’s #yearatMH video clip since hearing Sam Chaltain speak at this year’s NTC Symposium. These clips are a prime example of the value of respectful relationships within, around and between members of a school community. If you haven’t watched one yet, make today the day. I believe these videos to be powerful on so many levels, not the least of which is shaping our expectations (& those of non-educators) of school culture. Share with a parent and watch how quickly they find themselves able to articulate what they want from their child’s school! Think too as you watch and listen, about what pieces of this experience you can bring into your classroom. What do you notice about the language of learning (both verbal and non verbal)? How do adults and students show respect for each other, the school and learning? Happy viewing! I hope this is your first if many visits to this site!!
~Alicia

Week 3 Challenge: Creating an Environment of Respect & Rapport

‘An Environment of Respect & Rapport’… This is an area I find myself discussing quite often with teachers. At least once a week, I have conversations with teachers about how tricky they find this particular domain/ standard to assess. Recently, I attended a presentation about how some teachers and mentors are tackling this very topic. Before we think about how to improve our practice, let’s think about where we are beginning…

Level 1: Patterns of classroom interactions, both between the teacher and students and among students, are mostly negative, inappropriate, or insensitive to students’ ages, cultural backgrounds, and developmental levels. Interactions are characterized by sarcasm, put-downs, or conflict. Teacher does not respond to disrespectful behavior. -> Level 2: Patterns of classroom interactions, both between the teacher and students and among students, are generally appropriate but may reflect occasional inconsistencies, favoritism, and disregard for students’ ages, cultures, and developmental levels. Students rarely demonstrate disrespect for one another. Teacher attempts to respond to disrespectful behavior, with uneven results. The net result of the interactions is neutral: conveying neither warmth nor conflict. -> Level 3: Teacher-student interactions are friendly and demonstrate general caring and respect. Such interactions are appropriate to the ages, of the students. Students exhibit respect for the teacher. Interactions among students are generally polite and respectful. Teacher responds successfully to disrespectful behavior among students. The net result of the interactions is polite and respectful, but impersonal. -> Level 4: Classroom interactions among the teacher and individual students are highly respectful, reflecting genuine warmth and caring and sensitivity to students as individuals. Students exhibit respect for the teacher and contribute to high levels of civility among all members of the class. The net result of interactions is that of connections with students as individuals.

Level 1-> Level 2

Moving from level 1 to 2 on this rubric means that interactions in the classroom become generally appropriate. In level 2 the teachers attempts to respond to disrespectful behavior.

Level 2-> Level 3

Moving from level 2 to 3 on this rubric means that interactions in the classroom become generally friendly, caring and respectful. In level 3 the teacher’s response to disrespectful behavior is successful.

Level 3> Level 4

Moving from level 3 to 4 on this rubric means that interactions in the classroom become highly respectful, genuinely warm and caring. Students contribute to the high levels of civility among members of the class. (Notice that the level 4 refers to student contribution to civility as opposed to teacher’s response to disrespectful behavior. I read: classroom runs like a well-oiled machine or a mini-city between the lines here)

How would you rate your typical daily classroom experiences?

I attended an excellent session at the New Teacher Center’s Symposium last month called, Using Student Perspectives to Enhance Mentoring Conversations. As part of the presentation, teachers of a variety of grades shared how they administered surveys to their students, what they learned from the surveys, and what types of adjustments they made to their teaching as a result. It was incredibly inspiring to hear teachers share the impact of their willingness to be so vulnerable with their students! I can’t wait to use a student perspectives survey in my classroom!

How might you use this survey to guide your work? Do you think it would support your work in this particular domain of the Professional Teaching Standards?

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