Purposeful Introductions: Using “As You Enter” to Share One’s Story

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Last week I presented at the Conference on English Leadership Convention in Houston, Texas. It was a great convention providing me with several opportunities to talk with other leaders about ELA instruction, practices, and teaching philosophy.

The session I presented was titled, “7 Steps to Establishing a Discourse-Rich Lead Team.” The infographic below shows the progression the 7 steps. Details of each step were elaborated on during the presentation clarifying the list of descriptors.

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Applying any of these steps will help the overall performance of a lead teacher team, but applying multiple steps, or better yet, all of the steps will promote better efficiency, trust, discussion, and opportunities to try new ideas.

There may be multiple interpretations of what a lead teacher team is and the overall purpose. If I were to boil the definition down, a lead teacher team is any group of teachers coming together to make decisions about student learning. In my previous post, I explained the Working Definition Walkabout activity.  I used this activity to define what it means to have discourse-rich lead teams.  The two working definitions the group explored were:

Lead Team Discourse refers to the communication of ideas via verbal and written interactions that occur amongst lead team members in small group and large group settings. These interactions include processing, critical thinking, interpreting, expressing, reflecting, debating, agreeing, and disagreeing (adapted from Cathy Seely).

Lead Teams can be defined as any group of educational leaders coming together to collaborate on the needs of student learners.

Neither definition is in its final form allowing participants to freely edit and share their understandings and expertise.

While I used a variety of movement activities during the presentation, the one I started with helped set the tone of the presentation.

As You Enter

For this activity, participants are given two options.  The two options offered at this convention were:

Option #1:  Using your device, select an image that represents your experience so far in Houston. On sticky notes, write three words (one per sticky note) describing your rationale for choosing this image.

Option #2: On a sheet of paper or sticky note, sketch a picture that represents a course of action you want to take when you return to your place of employment. On sticky notes, write three words (one per sticky note) describing your rationale for sketching this picture.

After a couple of minutes, participants shared their words with a partner (or in a group of three). Partner A introduced him or herself (name, position, location), showed the image/sketch, and then shared the three words. Partner B followed the same format. With the time remaining, the pair expanded understanding with questions, comments, and/or clarifications. The protocol ensures that both individuals get to share. Adding time for questions, comments, and clarification adds to one’s story.

Each person chose one, two, or all three words to post on the Thinking Wall at the front of the room.

The activity prompts were chosen to add reflection and to honor the experience of the participants. I read a few of the words out loud and asked participants to keep these words in mind as we continued to learn together. I returned to these words throughout the presentation making connections to the activities we participated in. At the end of the presentation, reflection was built in to consider these words and the experience of the participants,

While any activity asking participants to interact with one another and share their stories would help build relationships, this activity connected to the actual experience of participants and the learning taking place. Doing so adds purpose to the introduction and ultimately builds more buy-in to stories shared during future introduction activities.  Offering choice recognizes individual thinking and provides more opportunities for one to communicate his or her own story. These stories are crucial to establishing the groundwork for a discourse-rich experience.

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Mixed-Ability and Mixed-Grade Literature Circles

Tying shoes. A simple activity that’s typically performed one or more times daily. Once people learn how to tie shoes, they can do so almost without thinking. One of my favorite activities to do with teachers and students is to teach them how to tie their shoes in a different way, one that is supposedly quicker and more efficient. The task challenges thinking. It builds community with groups of educators who know each other and those who are meeting for the first time. Once groups move…

Source: Mixed-Ability and Mixed-Grade Literature Circles

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.  

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.