From Big Ideas to More Questions: Exploring the Causal Model

Over the past couple of months, I have led professional learning workshops at the district, state, and national level. The focus of each of these sessions has either been on classroom discourse or critical thinking. Of course, both of these topics complement each other with students benefiting from thoughtful implementation of activities consisting of protocols generating the type of thinking required for each.

A couple of summers ago I attended Edufest, a conference on gifted and talented education, at Boise State University. During this week-long conference, I attended several sessions on inquiry-based thinking, critical thinking, and creativity. In one of the sessions led by Cloyce Weaver, Student Achievement Officer in Ontario, I became reacquainted with the Causal Model strategy. I have adapted the strategy adding collaborative learning and physical movement.

The Causal Model explores cause and effect. The activity begins with students focusing on the end result, the effect, and proceeding to determine the causes of the result. The activity is relatively easy to implement. Basic steps include:

  1. On a sheet of paper, write the end result in the upper left corner. For example, I might write, students are not engaged in class.
  2. Ask the students the question, “What caused this?” Students generate a list of causes. In this example, students may have determined the following causes: boredom, hunger, exhaustion, not challenged, social issues, etc.
  3. During the brainstorm of causes, pause to identify possible connections.
  4. When students have commenced with the brainstorm, create a Big Ideas section in the lower right. In this section, students choose one of the concepts and write a statement using a relational verb on the list provided. In my example, students may have chosen the concept, boredom, and the relational verb, affects: Boredom affects the energy level of students reducing the level of engagement in the classroom. The Big Ideas section is completed with multiple sentences focusing on varying concepts.
  5. Once the Big Ideas sections is complete, students determine whether or not they believe the statements are true or not. If they believe the statement is true, they keep the statement, and if they believe it is false, they eliminate it.

These directions outline the basic steps of the Causal Model. There are multiple ways to modify this activity adding collaboration and physical movement. When I modeled this activity in recent workshops, I used chart paper to begin. I wrote the end result, the effect, on the chart paper located at the front of the room. Participants wrote the statement on sheets provided. Together, we brainstormed a couple of causes before participants worked with a partner to create a list of causes.

While a list of causes was being produced in partner groups, I randomly handed out sticky notes to each participant. Participants chose a relational verb based on the color of sticky note they were provided. They then chose a concept and wrote one statement on the sticky note.

Purple: Creates, Challenges, Impeded
Pink:  Undermines, Inhibits, Destroys
Blue:  Affects, Reduces, Supports
Yellow:  Produces, Embeds Reflects
Green:  Influences, Enables, Limits
Orange: Challenges, Engenders, Enables

On my signal, participants stood an found a partner with the same color of sticky note.  They took turns reading their statements. If they both agreed the statements were true, they added them to their big ideas lists. The pair found another pair with a different color of sticky.  They took turns reading their statements, adding true statements to their big ideas list. As a group of four, they added additional statement to their big ideas lists using different concepts and different relational verbs.

The activity could end with class discussion and student reflection of the experience. Or the activity could expand by changing Big Ideas statements into “How” or “Why” questions. My example, boredom affects the energy level of students reducing the level of engagement in the classroom, could be written as How does boredom affect the energy level of students causing a reduction in the level of engagement in the classroom? The questions generated could develop into mini research projects for small groups, or they could become the start of a Socratic Seminar.

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

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.

Writing Connections With K’NEX

Knex-connexions-base

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.

Reflect, Move, & Shuffle

office-155137_960_720I recently presented a professional development session for high school teachers. Part of the presentation required time to reflect on previous work the teachers had completed.  Knowing there the participants ranged in years of service on the work team and comfort level with the topic, I devised a plan to reflect, move, and shuffle.

For this activity:

  1.  Each participant is given a notecard.  Depending on the number of participants, and depending on the desired size of discussion groups, at least four different colors of notecards are distributed around the room.
  2. Participants are given three minutes to write (or brainstorm a list) about previous work (since the last meeting, the beginning of the year, or some other timeline).
  3. Three areas of the rooms are marked with a number (1, 2, or 3). When the writing time has expired, participants are directed to move to a number. Each number can be prescribed, or participants can be given the direction to separate themselves according to their own, individual, criteria. This is completed without talking.
  4. In their newly formed groups, participants share with a partner, or with their entire group, why they placed themselves in the group and highlights from their notecards.
  5. After 3-5 minutes, participants are told to reorganize themselves according to notecard color. The newly formed pairs or groups discuss their reflection, as well as any other insights. When prompted, the groups discuss further work that needs to be completed.
  6. After another 3-5 minutes, participants are directed to return to their seats and a priority list of future work is developed.

This activity allows multiple voices to be heard. Movement activities help energize the reflection process and allow for purposeful processing time to be planned. Processing time is built in during silent writing, multiple times to share, and reflection time prior to devising a priority list.

Although this activity was used during a professional development session, it could easily be adapted for a classroom.  The activity could focus on prior learning, background knowledge, discussion questions, and so forth. Mixing up groups, guiding students to evaluate their learning based on their own criteria, and utilizing movement helps energize the classroom and build the foundation for deep discussions.

Calming the Speaker With Movement

communication-1991853_960_720

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.

Flying Through Reading

 

Flight Air Show Flying Formation Planes Contrail

Working with nonfiction texts can be a challenge for students and teachers.  Many nonfiction texts contain higher lexile levels and higher levels of complexity.  Maintaining a sense of focus for struggling readers may determine the comprehension success of the text.

When I assign a complex nonfiction text, I approach the text using the following steps.

  1.  Setting a purpose.  Since struggling readers sometimes have a difficult time understanding why a certain text is being read in class, it is important to set a purpose for reading.  Setting a purpose helps students focus on the “why” behind the reading.  When students have a clear focus, they can power through obstacles that may get in their way such as unfamiliar words, text structure, and text length.
  2. Chunking the text.  Dividing the text into manageable pieces helps build confidence and endurance. In a two-page article, I divide the text into a minimum of three chunks.  Of course, the number of chunks is dependent on the length of the text and the age of the students. When a text has clear divisions, such as headings and subheading, this is an easier task.  However, it is important to provide students with specific reading strategies to help them understand what to do during a chunk of reading, what to do at the end of a chunk of reading, and how to proceed to the next chunk of reading.
  3. Adding movement. With the struggling reading, as well as any reading engaging in a challenging text, I like to give students the opportunity to move at the end of a chunk of reading.  The type of movement used, and the purpose of the movement, may change based what students are asked to do with the text as well as the type of readers reading the text. For example, I may add movement to help students with comprehension, or I have students participate in a reading activity designed for deeper analysis.

Flying Airplanes

There are multiple uses for this activity.  I mentioned this activity in an earlier post, but I recently used this activity as a during reading activity.  The activity is basic, but it does get students up and moving while they are reading.

At the end of a chunk of reading, students are asked to identify textual evidence that supports the overall purpose for reading the text. Students write a piece of textual evidence on a sheet of paper and then they fold the piece of paper into a paper airplane. The class is then divided in half.  Half of the class lines up on one side of the classroom and half of the class lines up on the other side of the classroom.  The students fly their airplanes to the center of the room, and then they choose an airplane to take back to their desks.  At their desks, they read the piece of textual evidence and discuss it in a pair or in a small group.  The students proceed to read the second chunk of text. At the end of the second chunk of text, they repeat the process.  The activity continues until all three chunks of text have been read.

At the end of the reading, each student will have a piece of paper with three pieces of textual evidence to match the purpose of reading. A class discussion of the evidence may then occur, or students may be assigned a writing prompt.  The activity prepares students to look for evidence and analyze evidence of their peers. When writing, all students, regardless of their reading ability, will have textual evidence to use in responding to a prompt.

This activity can be modified in many ways.  Instead of textual evidence, students could draw pictures summarizing key points.  Students could also answer basic comprehension questions, or they could answer (or develop) higher-order thinking questions.

Providing students with the opportunity to stand during reading, gives them a chance to think about what they have read.  It also gives them an opportunity to refocus on another chunk of reading by breaking up the monotony of a being seated while reading a challenging text for an extended amount of time.  It also helps reduce stress and anxiety a struggling reader is faced with leading to a more positive and successful reading experience.

Image:  http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/static/photo/1x/Flight-Air-Show-Flying-Formation-Planes-Contrail-285568.jpg