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.

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.

Red Card, Black Card, Move

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The utilization of movement varies from grade level to grade level and from teacher to teacher. I was visiting with a teacher recently, and she mentioned how the use of “brain breaks” is different from elementary to middle school.  Middle school teachers were labeling time to get up and pass in papers or sharpen pencils as brain breaks.  Elementary school teachers were incorporating dance moves or stretching as brain breaks.  I think both, depending on how they are used, or the outcomes of the movements could be considered brain breaks.

I also often hear teachers request the use of movement to enhance content, or the use of movement in conjunction with content.  Many of the activities on this site are, or can be, used alongside the delivery of content.  I also hear from teachers the need for the use of movement in their classrooms to be simple and easy to implement.  This activity is both simple and easily adapted to any content.  A colleague of mine was explaining the activity in the following manner:

Each student is given either a red playing card or a black playing card. In the front of the room, one of the unit’s essential questions was written on a red piece of chart paper, and a second essential question was written on a black piece of chart paper.  Each student was also given a sticky note. When directed, students answered the essential question according to the playing card they received. Students then found a partner with the same playing card and discussed their answers (and made any modification) to the essential question they were assigned.  The sticky notes were then placed on the corresponding chart paper.

This is a simple activity that does not require a lot of thought. It can be modified in many ways. Students could pair up with someone with the opposite color of playing cards and have a conversation. Students could have a large group conversation after dividing themselves up into two large groups.  As the unit progresses, students could be asked to answer the other essential question and repeat the activity.  The same can happen at the end of the unit as a check to see if the essential questions were addressed throughout the unit.

Using movement in the classroom does not have to be flashy.  It can be simple and enhance the normal flow content delivery and classroom discussions; therefore, all teachers should be able to add more movement to their classes on a daily basis.

Writing Connections With K’NEX

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Everyone has experienced some type of writer’s block. For some students, this occurs more frequently than others.  There ar many causes of writer’s block which may include: structure, classroom environment, brainstorming of ideas, topic, class, focus, time, health, boredom, interest, and so on.  This list can be endless.

There are multiple ways to address writer’s block. In order to combat issues related to stress, anxiety, focus, and lack of ideas, physical movement and tactile manipulation can help calm inhibitors and stimulate the mind allowing writing to occur more freely, or naturally.

Struggling students often need structure to give them stability and guide them through the writing steps they need to produce an effective writing piece. The delivery of the structure can vary from class to class (and year to year), but providing students with options and clear connections between a topic and the writing process is often critical to success.

For this activity, K’NEX (http://www.knexeducation.com/) are used to help inspire creativity and to help illustrate connections in the writing process. K’NEX are building toys consisting of colorful rods and connectors.  The various K’NEX building sets range from simple parts and machines to elaborate systems utilizing pulleys and levers. K’NEX are utilized in some schools to accent STEM activities, but they can also be used in a more simplified manner to help teach students the writing process.

One way to utilize K’NEX is through teaching a basic writing structure. For example, a paragraph may consist of a topic sentence, a detail sentence, an explanation of the detail sentence, followed by a second detail and explanation sentence, and ending with a connecting or concluding sentence. Of course, there are many variations of this and the type of writing and age level will influence this structure. This can be stretched to an essay including an introduction paragraph, body paragraphs, and a conclusion paragraph.  The elaboration of the structure varies from text to text. After an introduction to the writing structure, student groups (or teams) are given a pile of K’NEX. As a group, they create a visual representation of a paragraph, essay, or other writing text. Since K’NEX are color-coded and have the ability to connect in multiple ways, as well as bend, these visual representations can be quite powerful. As an alternative, the instructor can assign elements of a paragraph a color, so students may have to figure out how to connect pieces based on their role.  Since the rods are different sizes and shapes, teachers can use this as a formative assessment to determine the understanding of paragraph/essay structure.

A second way to use K’NEX with writing, is to have students use building sets in relation to an assigned topic. Students can work in teams, or individually, to construct a representation of their topic. The physical manipulation, and the creative outlet, helps students move beyond initial writer’s block allowing them to proceed with the writing process.

Adding more movement to the activity could include a gallery walk or a human representation of the K’NEX creations. The hands-on activity, followed by the physical movement, provides needed mind-body connections that further enhance the academic progress with writing.

Calming the Speaker With Movement

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Public speaking is a fear many people face.  There have been multiple moments in my teaching career when I have encountered a terrified student sweating about giving a presentation, whether it was a presentation meant to be delivered individually or as a group.  In some cases, the student spoke so softly hardly anyone could hear the presentation.  In other cases, the student claimed to have forgotten what he or she was supposed to talk about, so an awkward silence would fill the room.  There were times where a one-on-one presentation opportunity was given to alleviate the burden of public speaking.  Yet, there were also moments (more often than not), when the presentations went smoothly with little hint of anxiety present.

Using physical movement can help reduce stress and anxiety public speaking tends to build in students.  There are multiple ways to add physical movement before public speaking moments.

  1.  Rubric Gallery:  Before starting the presentations for the day, post the rubric around the room.  Ask students to walk around the room to remind themselves of the expectations. As they do so, inform students to generate a goal they have for their presentations. Their goal should include a plan and an indicator to measure their success.
  2. Main Point Tableau:  Students take notes of the main points a speaker is making during his or her presentation.  At the end of the speaker’s presentation, students should stand.  On the teacher’s signal, the students should freeze in a body position that represents a main point of the presentation. The teacher may ask a couple of students to explain their poses and a brief review of the speech can take place.
  3. Wall to Wall Practice:  Students line up on one side of the classroom.  On the signal, students slowly walk to the other side of the classroom reviewing the main points of their presentation. When they get to the other side, they turn around and return to the other side of the classroom.
  4. Speaking Ball Toss:  In groups of five, students toss a koosh ball around the circle.  When they toss the ball, they say a main point of their presentation.  They can also orally state the main components of their speak outline.  For example, they might state a three-word reminder of the hook of their introduction during their first toss.  On their second toss, they might state a phrase from their thesis, and so on.
  5. Small Group Walk:  Journey outdoors (or into the hallway) and have students complete a walk and talk presentation.  In groups of five, one of the students delivers his or her presentation to the rest of the group (and the teacher). The student can walk during the entire presentation or pause as often as he or she feels the need to do so.

Public speaking is scary for many people, but it doesn’t have to be the beast it is perceived as being. By listening and observing the feelings of students as they prepare for and anticipate presentations, teachers can counter some of the fear and anxiety students are expressing. Adding movement is just one way teachers can begin to address this fear.  Providing students with the appropriate skills they need can help them conquer the fear and feel a bit of success.