A summarization strategy: Unraveling the details…


One of the struggles that teachers have, myself included, is to determine how to get the quieter students to talk in class.  While there are numerous ways to do so, I found a useful (and fun) activity at a conference a few years ago.  The session I attended was led by Kathy Stevens of the Gurian Institute (http://gurianinstitute.com/).  I, like most teachers, embraced the activity and made it my own.  What is great about this activity is that everyone is able to talk and students are up our of their seats.  The first thing that I do is groups students into groups no larger than five.  Sometimes I predetermine groups before class starts to ensure a variety of skills are represented, and at other times I make up groups on the spot.  I have found both approaches to be successful.  Each student is given a  long piece of yarn.  One student will be the group leader.  The group leader is the one that starts the activity.  Let’s give the leader the name of Brian.  Brian will grasp one of the ends of his piece yarn between this thumb and pointer finger.  As he talks, and only when he talks, he will slowly wind the yarn around the fingers that are grasping the end of the yarn.  If he pauses, he has to stop winding.  If he goes too quickly, he has to start over.  Brian will start summarizing a short story recently read in class.  He will start with the exposition and work his way into the rising action.  When he runs out of string, he stops.  The person to his right, Jennifer, will start summarizing where Brian left off.  Her piece of yarn should be of equal length to Brian’s.  Once Jennifer reaches the end of her piece of yarn, the person on her right, Billy, begins where she left off.

This activity should really simplistic (and it is), but there are some issues that will come up.  What does the group do if Billy can’t think of what to say?  or What if Billy was absent when the short story was read in class?  Great questions!  Billy will start from the beginning and restate what Brian and Jennifer just said.  So, Billy has to pay attention to the details of what has been said.  When he reaches the end of his yarn, the next person will start from where he left off.

What if Jennifer said something out of order or mentioned a detail that was incorrect?  In this case, if Billy realized her errors, he can mention the correction during his turn and then continue the summarization.

What if the Billy finishes the summarization and Sam and Kelly still have to speak? In this case, Sam would start from the beginning and wherever he ends in the summarization, Kelly would begin during her turn.

This activity may sound a bit overwhelming to monitor.  The teacher’s role during this activity is to walk around the classroom and listen to the different groups present.  I often stand in a position, so I can see multiple groups at the same time.  Since the person talking is winding his or her piece of yarn, it is easy to see which students are speaking in each group.  If one group finishes before another group, the process can start over and the group can continue until each group is finished.  Sometimes, if a group finishes early, I have the students talk about the characters, setting, theme, etc.

At the end of the  activity, I will ask students to share out what happened in their groups, give an oral summary of the reading selection, or begin writing a summary paragraph of the reading selection.  The great thing about this activity is that since it repeats from person to person, students of differing abilities can participate and everyone eventually hears the main details of the reading selection.

image:  www.flaxandtwine.com


Letting Go….When to release the life preserver…

life jacket

In my last post I referenced my daughter’s swimming lessons, so today I thought I would reference my son’s most recent swimming lesson.  My son is pretty young, so he has been taking parent and child classes.  I have been the lucky parent to take him to most of his lessons.  Luckily, there are only two students in the class, which mean we have lots of one-on-one time with the instructor.  The instructor, by the way, if fabulous!  That aside, he was praising how much progress my son had made during his lessons and how confident my son now appeared to be in the water.  This has been pretty exciting to watch him use kicking motions with his legs and swimming strokes with his arms.  He also has no problem being on his front or back.  The great news is that when he is in the water, he has the ability to role over from his front to his back repeatedly to get his head out of the water.  This is where the danger lies…. my son has become so comfortable and confident with water that we have to make sure that whenever he is around the water we are careful to watch him in case he decides to randomly jump in.

So….how does this relate to teaching and movement?  Granted, this might be a bit of stretch…..  As I have observed teachers over my teaching career, many teachers are afraid of letting go of their own teaching practices.  In other words, what they have done for years has worked, or it has appeared to work, so what is the point of trying something new?  I have a choice to make with my son.  I could keep him in the same class and keep repeating the same exercises with him day after day and be happy that he is progressing at a comfortable level where he is absolutely confident. Of course, as I stated in my previous post, repetition is actually good until progress is no longer happening.  The other choice I have with my son is to push him toward a new direction.  I can enroll him in the next class and continue to teach swimming skills (and survival skills) necessary for him to be in the water.  As the work becomes harder, his confidence level with fluctuate.  This may cause me, as a parent, to be concerned or feel uneasy because he isn’t completely as ease.

As a teacher, I am very comfortable and confident in what I do in the classroom.  Like many of my colleagues, I consider myself a good teacher.  I know what I do works in the classroom.  The difference is that I am willing to try something new, even if I am a little skeptical about what it might be.  I get frustrated, at times, with my colleagues who are unwilling to try anything new because they believe that what they do works.  Granted, it may work; however, if we, as teachers, are trying to help our students be the best that they can be, then we have to be willing to continue to perfect our own teaching practices.  We have to be willing to let go of the “easy” moments and work toward the “dangerous” moments.  We need to always have the big picture in mind, the students mind, and ourselves in mind as we make decisions about what we do in the classroom.  I love to challenge myself with what is uncomfortable.  This is where I learn that most about who I am as an educator and how I can reach all of the students in my classroom.

As I have mentioned before, some teachers are uneasy about using movement in the classroom.  I was one of those teachers!  The only reason I started using it was because I was desperate.  The results have been amazing. This is why I am advocating all teachers to let go a bit.  They can still keep their classes within their own life preservers,  but if they loosen the straps a bit, eyes can be opened.  This is what I love about teaching.  When teachers try something new and realize they can improve the awesome things they already do in the classroom.  The excited looks on the faces of teachers is just as rewarding as the exciting looks on the faces of students.  If we can get students up and moving we can help energize their minds, improve our classroom management, decrease student disruptions, and get excited about trying something new!

The Power of Repetition? Swimming through the repetition waters…


Summer is a great time for reflection (at least for teachers).  I think it is also a great time for discovery…or even enlightenment (in some sense).

I was watching my daughter at swimming lessons the other day and a thought hit me.  In the past, we have signed her up for weekly lessons at a local indoor pool.  We were pleased with the lessons.  She seemed to be progressing to the point where she would have to take the class two or three times before proceeding to the next level.

This summer we decided to sign her up for daily swim lessons at a local outdoor pool.  Each session runs for two weeks and then students are given a progress report for whether or not they move on to the next session.  My daughter has made strides this summer.  Of course, there are many possibilities to the improvement she has been making.  It could be the teacher(s), the setting, her age, her motivation, etc.  I can’t help but think it is also due to daily repetition versus weekly repetition (as in once a week).

I’m not sure what to make of this observation.  Swimming involves physical skill, which can be easily observable when progress is being made.  It is harder to observe measurable progress in reading and writing (although it is still there) as quickly as I have seen in my daughter’s swimming lessons.  Rule #5 of John Medina’s Brain Rules, emphasizes the need to “repeat to remember”:  http://www.brainrules.net/short-term-memory .

I am wondering if it makes a difference in whether or not the repetition needs to be daily or weekly.  During a unit, I practice repetition (I think  most teachers do).  As I have reflected over the years, I have changed my teaching practice to involve more skill-based learning.  My thought is that the skills themselves need to be repeated over and over.  Perhaps this needs to be done daily and weekly throughout the year until mastery by most students has occurred.  Or, perhaps it needs to be done in with differentiation in mind.  Regardless, the repetition of skills needed in a English class help make the learning automatic, which is why, over time, improvement in reading and writing skills can be measured.

As I plan for the upcoming school year, I hope to integrate purposeful repetition in my lessons as I consider what it will take for my students to meet the ELA Common Core State Standards.

As far as using physical movement in lessons, I believe in the repetition of physical movement as a way to teach specific skills or as a way to introduce (or review) content through a different lens.  For example, when I teach vocabulary, I often have student transform their bodies into a shape that represents the definition of a word.  Each time we review the word(s), I have them recall the position.  In a sense, this type of repetition has students associate a physical trait with a verbal definition; therefore, they have a better chance of recalling the definition later. I will describe this activity in more detail in a later post.

Taking It All IN….Around the Room Notes

purple wall

I referenced this activity in a previous blog post.  Besides Stand-Sit Review, it is an easy way to add movement during a class period.  Many teachers (at the secondary level) shy away from adding movement activities to their lessons.  One of the reasons they do so is because they are afraid of potential chaos.  The Around the Room Notes activity is an easy activity to add to any lesson.  Teachers often have students take notes regarding key topics, vocabulary, and general content concepts.  I use this activity frequently in my classroom.

1.  Decide what it is you want students to take notes on.  I will often have students jot down academic vocabulary notes or notes on writing concepts or literary terms.

2.  Type the notes you want students to take.  It is important to limit the information.  Notes are meant to be brief (in most cases).  Limit one term per piece of paper.

3.  Print the notes out and tape them to the wall around the room.

4.  When it is time for students to take the notes, have them walk around the room and take the notes in any order.  I limit 3 students per piece of paper (I tell them they need to go to another term and copy it if there are too many students at one piece of paper). I also inform students that this activity is a silent activity and they are not allowed to talk throughout the activity.

Variations:  Sometimes I cover the notes with a blank piece of paper so students have to lift up the piece of paper in order to take the notes.  Also, in order to help my ELL and special needs students, I print out the notes, leaving blanks, so they only have to fill in missing words.

At the end of the activity, we review the terms/notes  (or we review them as the lessons progress).

Again, this activity is easy and students love taking notes in this manner.