Full Circle Connections

Circles

Class is over!  Three simple words that can portray a very different meaning depending on the tone of the delivery. On some days, the utterance of these words indicates great joy as students scutter out of the classroom.  On other days, these words are aired with despair due to the excitement of the day’s activities. In both situations, the effectiveness of the ending is important to capture student learning and direct future decisions. Making the ending meaningful and effective for student learning takes planning, time, structure, and commitment.

There are several ways teachers choose to end the class period. Popular ways to end include the utilization of exit slips and written reflection.  Unfortunately, when pacing is off and time is escaping, class endings tend to be cut short, rushed, or eliminated altogether. While this is going to happen from time to time, habitual exercise of these endings ultimately impacts the overall effect and impact of student learning.

One of the class ending protocols that I find both enjoyable and impactful is what I call the Full Circle Connection protocol.  In this protocol, students are taught the routines of how to circle up in both small group formations and large group formations. Teaching students how to circle up in both formation increases variety in how this protocol can be used. Teachers may wish to use small groups for time-restricted moments or in-depth moments. The large group formation may be used when more time is available or to get a feel for the whole class experience.  Teaching student circle up routines should include moving furniture (desks, chairs, etc.) if needed and what it means to arrange the group or groups into a circle. Depending on the purpose of the circle, arranging chairs for a seated conversation should be practiced or standing in place should be modeled. Practicing body movement such as eye contact, body positions, and other good listening gestures can be highlighted to improve social skills and interactions.

At the ending of a class, devoting 10 minutes as a closing activity could be powerful. An example of what that might look like could be:

Summary Example:

  1. Project a prompt for students to summary the main points of the activity or lesson.
  2. Provide one-minute of think time.
  3. Provide 30 seconds of move time (to small group circles–yes, this can be done if the routine is practiced).
  4. Assign a leader to begin (could be a class job or in a creative way with objects, cards, descriptor…person wearing the most orange, etc.)
  5. Each student provides a brief summary (limited to a minute).
  6. After 5-7 minutes, groups return to seats or to whole-class formation.
  7. Leaders from each group provide a summary statement.

Formulating Questions Example:

  1. Project a prompt for students to write a higher-order thinking question based on the activity or lesson.
  2. Provide two-minutes of think time (this will take longer until students have practice with the routine).
  3. Provide 30 seconds of move time.
  4. Assign a leader.
  5. Each student takes turn reading his or her question without commentary from other students (10 seconds per student).
  6. The group decides on a question to explore.
  7. Each student takes one-minute to respond to the question.
  8. After 7 minutes, group returns to whole-class formation.
  9. Leaders share question with whole group.  A list is generated for future exploration.

For me, I would have students stand in a circle during these moments.  Each example could be expanded into a much larger lesson. Practicing these routines will eventually increase the flow and pacing. Honoring the learning can help with recall and it can lead to deeper discoveries.  Circles create an more intimate experience empowering students both socially and emotionally. Building this level of support in a classroom opens students up to seek clarification and explore topics at a higher level. If teachers respond to these connections, formative feedback can positively impact student learning.

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Generating Questions to Spark Action

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Spring is one of my favorite times of the year.  I love when trees and flowers start to show their colors brightening the days and moods of people abound. Spring is a time of rejuvenation.  It is also the perfect time to bring some element of novelty to the classroom and to teacher training sessions.

In searching for a way to bring novelty into a recent teacher team meeting, I modified the Color Question Brainstorming described in Groups at Work: Strategies and Structures for Professional Learning by Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman. In my version of the activity, I started off by asking the team a thought-provoking question or them to reflect on by completing a think-write-pair-share activity.  The purpose is for the participants thinking about a topic in a way that reduces judgment and opens thinking. Rather than ending the conversation at this point, the team is divided into teams of 2-4 with each team given a color: Green, Red, or Blue.

In three locations in the meeting space, a poster is hung where participants will generate questions.

  • Green Questions: Imagination, Ingenuity, Possibility
  • Red Questions: Facts, Figures, Data
  • Blue Questions: Judgments, Opinions, Values, Needs

Using the initial question in addition to any other parameters needed to focus thinking, teams generate a list of questions based on the word headings of their assigned color. For example, if team members were assigned to discuss adopting a new novel to use at a specific grade level, the following questions might be developed:

  • Green:  What might happen if the team adopted several titles for literature circles instead of large volumes of a single novel title?
  • Red: What is the data that supports instruction for whole-class novels vs. literature circles?
  • Blue:  What is the best way to meet the needs of students to experience an additional novel title at _____ grade?

After a specified amount of time, team members move clockwise to a different color. They spend time reviewing questions created by other team members and mark what they feel are the most important, vital, or interesting questions. They then add to existing questions for clarification, or they add additional questions.

After a specified amount of time, they rotate to the third set of questions and complete the same actions as they did with the second set.

The final rotation involves participants returning to their original posters to review marked questions, comments, and added questions. Teams discuss and then return to their seats.

Once teams have had the opportunity to rotate and discuss, a large group discussion occurs highlighting topics/questions that stood out. The team uses this information as a way to help direct action items for future meetings and discussions.

This activity stretches thinking and opens up the possibilities that may have been hindered with a simple brainstorming procedure.

Blue Tape Wonder

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Teaching writing to middle school students can be a “sticky” process.  There a variety of philosophies regarding structure and flow as well as purpose and state testing preparation.  Many students have anxiety around writing.  Some struggle with coming up with ideas.  Some fear being right. Some are perfectionists. Others have trouble with analysis and higher-order thinking processes. Forcing students to remain seated throughout the entire writing process can further strengthen these responses.  Getting students moving during the writing instruction and production can help alleviate these barriers.

This activity requires mild preparation and has room for numerous variations.  I like to call this activity Blue Wonder.

Prior to class, the teacher places a large strip of blue painter’s tape on each student desk. Each student is provided with a sharpie (or pen).  Students may vary how they proceed based on the writing focus for the lesson.  For the purpose of explaining the activity, let’s assume the teacher provided students with a claim statement.  Working in groups of four, students work on supporting the claim statement. One student may write down a topic sentence for a paragraph.  Another student might write a piece of evidence.  A third student might compose an analysis statement. The fourth student may work on a commentary statement.  The goal is for the group to work together to discuss the composition of a paragraph (or partial paragraph) to support the claim. Once the students are completed, they find an area on the wall and tape their paragraph together. They are reminded throughout the activity that a goal is to make their ideas “stick” (or memorable).

To add more movement to this activity, a body movement can be developed to remind students of the function of the sentences they are writing. These may be teacher created, class created, or group created. For example, for the topic sentence, students might connect arms followed by pointing to their heads to symbolize the importance of connecting the topic sentence of a body paragraph to the claim sentence reminding students to stay on topic while they are writing. These gestures can be depicted in a small sketch included prior to the writing of the topic sentence on the blue tape.  During the class discussion of the various paragraphs, group members (and/or class members) can perform the movements as each sentence is read or discussed.  The point is to not only add more movement but also to make a mind-body link to the writing process.

Adding movement and small group work to the writing process can help reduce anxiety and can help stimulate the thinking process. This activity can be modified for different writing forms. For example, when writing a narrative, various sentences may represent the importance of dialogue or descriptive language regarding the setting. When writing poetry, the blue strips may represent sensory imagery or figurative language.

Blue tape allows for students to reveal their ideas by unrolling it, or it can help remind them of the “stickiness” needed in their writing. It also can be a space saver; however, sentence strips or other materials can be used.  

While this activity has middle schoolers in mind, it can be adapted for any grade level.

Bubble Discussions

soap-bubble-386641_960_720I had the opportunity of listening to a keynote by Stephen Sroka last week.  At one point, Dr. Sroka took out a little bottle of bubbles, took a deep breath, and blew bubbles into the audience.  He took three breaths and blew bubble three times to simulate relaxation breathing. I sat there thinking that I wanted to use this technique in my classroom. I know that physical activity helps to reduce stress and anxiety as well as stimulate the mind. Purposeful breathing paired with reflection helps open the mind to deep thinking. I wondered if there was a way to incorporate movement, breathing, and discussing, so I began brainstorming ideas to combine all three.  This led to an activity I call Bubble Discussions.

This activity involves all three with the idea that in order for students to participate in deep-thinking conversations, they need to feel respected, calm, and stimulated to engage effectively.

Step 1:  Students read a meaningful text.  The topic of this short text (no more than two pages) is high-interest with multiple interpretations possible.

Step 2:  The teacher chooses quotes from the text to display around the room.  In addition to these quotes, the teacher may choose to include visuals (pertaining to topic) and quotes from other power texts.  Between 8-12 pieces of paper are hung around the room.

Step 3:  Students walk around the room.  Using highlighters, they mark the texts identifying words or phrases that are meaningful or resonating with them at that moment.  If visuals are used, students highlight specific elements of the visual they find powerful.  For example, a facial expression or the lighting of an object in the setting may stimulate a connection a student is making.

Step 4:  When prompted, students will return to their seats. The teacher will provide three speech bubbles to the students.  Students complete each speech bubble with a thought they have about a specific observation they made viewing the texts.  Students then place each speech bubble next to the identified text.

Step 5:  Students walk around the room looking at the marked texts and reading the corresponding speech bubbles.

Step 6:  The teacher posts an overarching discussion question.  While students are reflecting on the activity and the question, students take out bubbles.  Each student, as directed, take a deep breath and blow bubbles.  They do this three times while thinking about the discussion question.

Step 7:  Class Discussion

This activity provides students with several moments to process.  They process the text they read, comparison texts and visuals, and the discussion question. Providing students with multiple opportunities helps them successfully prepare for class discussion.  At any point during this activity, the teacher can build time for students to complete a think-pair-share or a small group share.  

Untie the Thinking

shoelace-2211218_960_720One of the activities that I like to do was inspired by the forced analogy process.  For this activity, students are given a shoelace. I used to use pieces of yarn, but I have found that using colorful shoelaces (I ordered some from Amazon) are better because they are more durable, and they can be easily put in the wash.  

As a hook, I often will give students the shoelace as they enter the classroom. This gives students a type of fidget, but it also sparks the curiosity of the brain.

I call this activity Shoelace Construction. This activity builds to challenge thinking, build community, and deepen conversations.

  1. Students are given a prompt:  Using the shoelace, create a visual depicting your current thinking regarding_______________ and ______________.
  2. After students create their visuals, they share with an elbow partner.
  3. Students are given the next prompt:  Now with a partner, combine your thinking into a new visual.  
  4. After they create their visuals, they share with a neighboring pair.
  5. Students are given the final prompt:  Join with another pair.  As a group of four, create a visual that represents how________________ shapes our learning of ____________________.

The level of creativity is fun to watch.  Students will often choose to get out of their seats and create a larger visual using their bodies and the shoelaces. The prompts can be used in a variety of ways as well as a formative assessment.  The visuals + body connections enable students to solidify content to their memory. Taking snapshots of the creations can also be used to remind students of connections at a later date.

Throwing Koosh Balls to Improve Management

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Koosh Ball Toss

Koosh balls are used for a variety of reasons in the classroom. One of my favorite activities in the first few weeks of school is a Koosh ball toss.  This activity serves two purposes:  1.  Build community in the classroom, and 2.  Establish classroom routines.  

In order to help teach classroom routines, the teacher spends some time instructing students what to do when furniture needs to be moved, or when students are simply about to participate in a movement activity. Taking time to be explicit in movement expectations pays off in the long run and helps establish effective classroom management practices.

When I start this activity, I tell students that when they participate in a movement activity, no talking is permitted.  We practice standing up, pushing chairs in, and standing behind our desks. Even though it may seem elementary, I actually have students practice this a couple of times.  I make a game out of it by timing them to see how quickly (and quietly) they can do so.  Next, I divide the students into groups so they know where to put desks and chairs around the room to create space for the activity.  I model how to pick up and set down desks and chairs quietly.  We practice this a couple of times (again timed to see how quickly and quietly they can do so). After moving the furniture, I indicate where students should stand to receive the next set of directions. Depending on the length of the class period, this type of routine modeling could take a majority of one 50 minute class period.

To actually begin the ball toss activity, the class is divided into two or three groups.  A leader is chosen for each group. The leader tosses the ball to another person in the circle (not to his or her immediate right or left). That person tosses the ball to another person and so on until every person has received the ball one time.  The ball is then tossed back to the leader.  If at any time the ball is dropped, the progress starts from the beginning.  The idea is to pass the ball around the circle without dropping the ball.  The passing order does not change.  Once the group has successfully completed a round, the group is timed.  Each group is timed to determine which group is able to pass the ball (without dropping it) the fastest. The competition can go on as long as the teacher wishes to do so.  There are also variations:    1.  Students could state the name of the person they are passing the ball two.  2.  A second or third ball can be added so greater concentration is needed as more balls are being passed.  3.  After the small group toss, students can participate in a large group toss.   

Once the activity is completed, the teacher can instruct how to put the room back to its original setup. If this was modeled initially, this process should be able to do quickly.  Or, the teacher can move into a classroom discussion.  When I completed this activity, I often moved into a Socratic Seminar setup.  Since the desks were already pushed aside, I modeled how to set up an inner and outer circle discussion arrangement. We then discussed the purpose of the activity as well as how the activity can act as a metaphor for our year together.

By the end of this activity, I have modeled how to stand for movement activities, how to move furniture to the side, how to set up for Socratic Seminar discussions, and how to be quiet and efficient overall. By doing it once, I can always remind students later in the year (once they are comfortable in the classroom setting) how perfectly they were able to move.  Thus, classroom management issues are minimized.

Modeling routines at the start of the year is critical at any level regardless if teachers are teaching at the elementary, middle, or high school level.  Adding movement early in the year sets a precedent for the remainder of the year. Plus, it becomes natural for both the student and the teacher.

 

Vocabulary Tableau, Technology, and Movement

3672794277_c1a12f8d3fVocabulary retention is increased when words are used in context. In an English Language Arts classroom that often means using vocabulary words correctly in writing.  Writing assignments vary from sentences to creative writing prompts, to essays. Using physical movement during vocabulary instruction adds a mind-body connection increasing the likelihood of adding these words to one’s personal word bank. Not only does physical movement create a mind-body connection, it also may utilize the creative and innovation outlets the brain craves as these connections add a sense of novelty.  Furthermore, adding technology reinforces contextual learning as well as creativity. Combining physical activity with technology may be overload for some teachers, but there are some simple apps that can enhance the vocabulary tableau activities I have mentioned in previous posts.

 

Simple Videos: Built-In Cameras

One of the easiest ways to add video technology in the classroom is by using the built-in camera on a tablet or smartphone. For this activity, students work in groups of 3-4.  Each group receives a vocabulary word.  The task for the group is to create a 15-second video of a vocabulary tableau. Groups can either choose one formation that they freeze in for the entire length of the video, or they can create two formations in which the move from one frozen pose to the next. These videos are then uploaded to Google Drive with URLs shared with the teacher. The teacher organizes the URLs in a Google Sheet for students or groups to access.  Students can then view the videos to determine the vocabulary words each group was assigned. The activity can end here, or students can be asked to demonstrate the tableau “live” in class when words are encountered in the text.

 

Photos + Narration:  Shaddow Puppet EDU (http://get-puppet.co/)

This activity adds another layer to the built-in camera option. For this activity, students create an audio slideshow of their vocabulary tableau. Students upload a picture of their tableau to the iPad app, Shaddow Puppet EDU. Students can add a narration of the tableau.  This narration may include synonyms/antonyms or other clues to the physical tableau.  Students can also add other photos available on the web to create a larger slideshow mixing media formats. These slideshows can also be uploaded to Google Drive and shared. Adding audio clues with the tableau utilizes higher-level thinking strategies challenging students at all levels.

 

Photos + Narration + Animation: Tellagami (http://tellagami.com)

Another layer of this activity can involve animation. Tellagami is an easy iPad app that allows students to pick characters and settings from a menu of options. Customization is available with the option of adding pictures from the camera roll to the setting. Students can add pictures of their tableau and then add narration to characters. The narration may include a storyline with the vocabulary word in mind, or it may involve clues similar to those in the audio videos. These videos can be uploaded to Google Drive.

 

Each of these tools can enhance vocabulary instruction. Adding movement, technology, and personalization helps students use and retain vocabulary.  Of course, this entire activity progression can be used with the comprehension of fictional and nonfictional texts instead.