World Cafe and PLCing

This is the time of the school year that two works tend to enter the mind of educators everywhere: testing and reflecting. Of course, educators are giving assessments throughout the year, and they are reflecting on instruction moves, assessment results, student interactions, and so forth. I often am told that in the whirlwind of the end of the school year, teachers have limited time to take a breath, breathe out and reflect. Part of reflection involves being able to process what has happened.

In recent Professional Development sessions I have facilitated, I have led teachers through a reflection process utilizing the World Cafe Protocol. My version of the protocol is as follows:

Step one: Cover tables (for groups of 4-5) using large strips of butcher paper (or poster paper).

Step two: Engage in some sort of shared learning experience such as a shared reading or lesson. For example, in my PD session prior to this activity, I had participants read an article, mark the text, and then generate a series of questions using the Question Formulation Technique (www.rightquestion.org). This set a reading foundation and a session culture of asking questions.

Step three: Divide participants into groups of 4-5 and assign groups to a table. Participants will engage in a discussion using the shared experience as a foundation to reflect on student learning throughout the year. Questions for the discussions come from a PLC format. The first question groups will discuss is, “What do we expect our students to learn?” As they discuss, members will jot down notes or sketch notes capturing their conversation on the butcher paper covering their tables. Discussion time will vary, but groups should have about 5-10 minutes to discuss.

Step four: Groups will choose a “table host” to remain at the table. The remain group members will move to a different table. Once participants are settled, the host will provide a one-minute summary of the first question. Groups will then discuss the second question, “How will we know students are learning?” Discussion notes and/or sketch notes will be added to the butcher paper of the “new” table. Groups will discuss the new question for about 5-10 minutes.

Step five: The table host will remain and the groups will move to a new table. The host will review the first two questions for two minutes. The group will then discuss the third question, “How will we respond when students do not learn what is expected?” Discussion highlights will be recorded.

Step six: Groups will rotate a final time. The table host will review the first three questions before the group discusses the final question, “How will we respond when some students already know what is expected?”

Step seven: Participants will return to their original spots and review the documented conversations at their table. They will then reflect individually on the process before engaging in a large group reflection.

While this is time-consuming protocol, is provide opportunities for movement, small group discussions, multiple ways to process, and a focus on questions. Educators that have participated in this protocol have appreciated the time they are allowed to reflect on the year in an organized and focused manner. I challenge you to use all of it or part of it with your students and/or colleagues you work with.

For more information on the world cafe protocol, click here: http://www.theworldcafe.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Cafe-To-Go-Revised.pdf

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Moving Through Writer’s Block

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Next week I travel to Chicago to present a session at the ASCD Empower19 Conference. The session I present focuses on overcoming writer’s block. Overcoming writer’s block challenges teachers and students. As a result, many secondary student writers struggle to produce multiple types of writing for various purposes required to meet Common Core State Standards and new state standards. Explicit writing strategies can alleviate barriers and help students grow academically through purposeful and personalized activities. Physical movement paired with instructional strategies helps engage the brain, reduce stress and anxiety, build social and emotional skills, and motivate those who struggle with writer’s block.

The session I present will be fast and interactive.  Participants will engage in physical movement activities paired with explicit writing strategies they can use to motivate students to become proficient writers.

Provocations Continuum Strategy

One of the strategies that I am going to introduce was highlighted during a WAETAG (Washington Association of Educators of the Talented and Gifted) Conference workshop I attended in October. Kimberly Mitchell led a session on inquiry. A simple strategy she introduced was the Provocations Continuum. I have adapted the strategy as a way to brainstorm ideas for writing. In my version of the strategy, a provocative statement is displayed on the projector screen such as, “Tackle football should be banned for students under the age of 15.” Students will be given 1 minute to process the information and decide on a scale of 1-10 how much they support/agree with the statement (1-little or no agreement, 10-100% agreement) before they will be directed to stand. At my signal, usually some sort of music playing, students will find a partner and decide who is A and who is B. When the music stops, person A will share his or her position without interruption for one minute. After a minute, person B will share. When the music plays, a new statement will be shown, participants will have a minute to process before finding a new partner to share.

After 3-5 statements, participants will be directed to find their seats and write down thoughts on one of the statements. These thoughts may be of their own thinking or one of their partners. The idea is to provide participants with the opportunity process, discuss, and move within a safe environment. These actions help reduce anxiety with movement and processing time, offer choices for individuals, and provide early content for writing. This activity can vary. Instead of statements, short video clips could be shown or images can be projected. If the activity is used multiple times, variety will increase the novelty.

A few years ago I wrote an article for the AMLE Magazine titled, “Addressing Writer’s Block Through Physical Movement.” A link to the article can be found here.

 

Tableau #3 : Collaboration, Repetition, & Movement

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Summer!  I have had the opportunity to spend time at EduFest in Boise, Idaho.  Boise is a beautiful city, and despite temperatures over 100, I have been pleasantly surprised by the beauty, food, outdoors, and friendliness of the people.  EduFest has also been a great learning experience. The audience for this conference is intended for educators and administrators working with gifted and talented students.  Most of the strategies and activities presented in the various sessions would be beneficial for any student.

In one of the sessions that I have attended, I was introduced to a variation of the Tableau Activity that I have written about in previous posts.  In a tableau, individuals use their bodies to create a frozen picture representing an object, idea, scene, etc. The frozen picture should include expression, large gestures, and different levels. The session I attended at EduFest was led by Cloyce Weaver from Ontario, Canada. The idea behind the variation described here is to reinforce understanding through collaboration, repetition, and movement. I have modified the activity, but the premise is similar to the original idea introduced in the session.

The example we used in the session was photosynthesis, which I will use here to explain the basic concept in the steps below:

  1. Students find a space in the room.  The teacher provides the initial instruction, “Be the sun.”  Students create an frozen picture of the sun.
  2. The teacher directs students to find a partner. Students pair up and are given another direction, “The two of you represent clouds and rain.” The pair creates a frozen picture, which can become animated when directed, representing this part of the cycle.
  3. The teacher directs students to create a group of three with classmates they have not yet been with. Once the groups have been formed, the teacher gives the following direction, “As a group of three, become the seed of a plant that begins to grow.”  The group performs the action.
  4. Students are then directed to form a group of four.  “As a group of four, create four tableaus depicting the entire cycle.”
  5. After the group of four presents, the teacher has students return to their original solo spots to become the sun. Next, the students find the spots in the room where as partners they became the rain clouds. They find the spot and become the clouds.  The process continues until they perform the final group tableau.

The activity can be extended to include larger groups and eventually the whole class. It can be easily adapted for any nonfiction readings regarding a type of process.  It has also can be used to summarize fiction. Students could become the setting and characters as the various tableaus move the class through the plot or storyline. The tableaus could also include the big ideas in the reading, themes, figurative language, and basic analysis. These ideas would take a more processing time, but the repetition and movement may help students recall the information later and apply it to future writing and comprehension assignments.

Full Circle Connections

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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.

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.

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.