Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Student Webs: Taut or Flaccid?!

Does your students' thinking suffer from loose connections? Are they unable to see how the smaller details fit together to make a coherent, larger picture? Does the word "flaccid" come to mind?! Fear no more! Periods 3 and 4 English 9 students can help your students take their thinking from flaccid to taut in record quick time! 

Yes folks, that's right, from a tentative spider-ish web of dangling and loose threads to an exemplary web of lines you could bounce a quarter off of, clear connections are the key to a good web. 

Montgomery Periods 3 & 4 Russian Revolution Web. Please click to enlarge.
 We used color coding: blue for terms, orange for people, and yellow for events. Then we voted about setting this up as columns or concentric circles. The vast majority of students liked the concentric circles. Pretty much buried in the center area is the subject matter, "Russian Revolution." 

In preparation for reading George Orwell's Animal Farm, a basic understanding of the Russian Revolution is helpful. You can see that student absences resulted in some missing events, people and terms, but overall, you get the effect of a web. 

The day we created the web, and the day we made the connections were a bit, ah, let's say "busy," but I like the overall visual impact of the work. For my students this was an opportunity to make learning 1) visible 2) tactile and, 3) kinesthetic. 

Webbing is a great organizational tool for NON linear thinkers. As terms, people, and events pop into their heads, there's a spot to plunk it, and then all the lines criss-crossing the space emphasize just how many connections can be made.

Webbing is a bit messy and chaotic for my linear thinkers, but they were flexible and tried to ride out the craziness. We've talked about how seemingly unrelated events and people, given the right circumstances, can change the course of history. 

Now, as we make our way through Animal Farm, we keep referring to this visual representation of the web of people, ideas, and events as they are allegorized in the novel. 

Writing Complexity: The Insight Garden Essay

When I first started teaching, I did not know how to teach writing. Well, actually, I did not know how to teach much of anything! I knew how to ASSIGN reading and writing. I knew how to ASSIGN literary terms and examples of those terms with my students. I knew how to put together what I thought were intellectually stimulating units based around a theme in famous novels. 

But I did not know how to actually teach my students who were not already accomplished readers and writers. Poor students!

Then a colleague introduced me to the 5 Paragraph Essay, and I thought, "WOW! I've just been thrown the biggest life preserver in the history of drowning teachers and students." I clung to that life preserver for years, despite the fact that I quickly saw that it became formulaic and boring. It was all I had. My more experienced colleagues recommended it. Students seemed to like the "plug in" formula. So I kept using it. The results, however, tended to be less than inspiring. 

So what happens when a struggling reader is given the task to write? This essay, entitled, "It's Cool to Be Kind" is written by the reader discussed in the previous post, "Reading Complexity." It's inspired by "The Insight Garden Essay" from Gretchen Bernabei's Reviving the Essay. This book is filled with ideas for teaching students structure without turning writing into a formula. 

Insight Garden Essay by BAHS 9th grade student 2016. Please click to enlarge. 
After reading Chill, we brainstormed some ideas for life-lessons, or powerful ideas that readers might take away from the novel. 

This poster version of Bernabei's "Insight Garden Essay" shows a student making genuine connections between a novel, a movie, and her own life. She writes candidly about it being "cool to be kind" and uses specific examples from each "text" to support her thesis. The font color of each paragraph was her choice. She explained that she wanted the poster to look nice, and she wanted to be a responsible author by making it as easy as possible for her readers to understand that this essay had 3 different texts supporting a single thesis. 

We decided to cut out her concluding paragraph and run it as a strip across the bottom of all the body paragraphs to emphasize how it was tying together all of her thinking and examples on kindness. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Reading Complexity

Many high school students have developed strategies to cover up their reading struggles. I've taught students who would misbehave so that they would get kicked out of class rather than read. I've had students feign headaches, lost glasses, and sore throats to avoid reading. 

Imagine the impact on students' daily educational experiences when students are reading 4 grade levels below the reading material of classes. Then add in the complications of specialized vocabulary for different content areas, perhaps a lack of personal experiences with a larger world, and feelings of inadequacy. It's a recipe for disaster. 

Here's a paragraph from Chill, a young adult novel with a LEXILE LEVEL OF 820. A Lexile Reading Level of 820, (820L), equates to 4th-5th grade level. In the CCSS adjusted "Stretch Lexile Levels", it equates to upper 3rd grade through early 5th grade. The "Stretch Lexile Levels" refers to the idea that at every level of reading, every reader has a range or band of comprehension. My lexile level for poetry is high (English major), while my lexile level for physics is lower (again, English major!) Every reader has subjects, background knowledge, and motivations which impacts our reading comprehension.

Back to our student in the 9th grade. Her struggles with saying and understanding words in a book designed to be high interest but lower reading level, indicate that she is a struggling reader. Even using the highest grade level calculation of 5th grade, AT BEST, the student is reading FOUR grades below grade level. 

The blue words are words one of our BAHS students stumbled over:

I heard Mr. Sfinkter's boisterous laugh. When I peeked in, I could see the teachers surrounding him, listening intently as he told a story about the whole ugly incident. They were obviously supportive, nodding sympathetically. Some offered comments: "...a terrible thing to happen...," "horrible...and to such a nice man," " should sue the station" (75).

So...Sfinkter. "Who wouldn't stumble over this one?" you might ask. Interestingly enough, our reader who has some letter-sound awareness (sound it out), stumbles every single time. Our reader who uses guessing and memorization, gets it right every single time! Why? I think our "sound it out" reader gets hung up on the odd beginning "Sf," and then gets thrown by the long "i." The name is an aptronym (it reveals something about the character). We had quite a discussion about sphincters, and why the character would insist that his name be pronounced with a long "i" instead of a short one. I love English class! :-)

Boisterous. It's a long word. The "oi" combination is somewhat unusual. I know, there's "moist," "hoist," "foist," and "joist." But really, "joist" and "hoist" are specialized to carpentry and engineering and sailing. "Foist," well as pithy a word as it is, it's falling rapidly out of use. That leaves us with "moist." How about "damp?" Isn't that easier? "Clammy" and "wet" are often used to mean the same as "moist." 

Where was I?

Oh yes! "Boisterous." Now that I've tried to convince you that "oi" is a relatively unusual vowel combination, you can see why our student stumbled on this polysyllabic wonder of a word. Yes?

Were you expecting "listening" to be on the list of mispronounced words? I was not. 

"Intently." I think I'm seeing the pattern of difficulty--letter combinations. The more letters combined to make a sound, the more likely this reader is to stumble. Sometimes the difficulty is in the initial sound, sometimes in the middle, and sometimes at the end. 

Our student also did not know the meaning of "intently," so even after I helped her with the pronunciation, she did not recognize the word. We talked about "intently" and what it means to listen intently. 

To keep this relatively short, I'll skip over the other words, trusting that you are seeing the difficulties for reading and understanding when a text is above grade level. I'll just mention my theory on the struggles with "sue." I think the student was thrown by the name "Sue." Why wasn't it capitalized? Isn't it a name? What does it mean to "sue the station" if you only recognize it as a name?

Excluding "Sfinkter" because it's a name, there are NINE words in one paragraph that were stumbling blocks. NINE WORDS. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

If THEY Build It, Will THEY Learn It?

by Megan Oliver

One of the many the aspects I struggle with in my field of English Language Arts  is vocabulary. As students read less and less, their vocabulary acquisition is noticeably decreasing. My struggle with this issue is compounded by professional, parental, and even student beliefs that memorizing and regurgitating random vocabulary words is somehow meaningful and will help plug the hole that has appeared as a result of their decreased reading and vocabulary acquisition. In the past, I used to prescribe to this way of thinking, but as I evolve as an educator, I began to question my own methods.

A little backstory.

The first time I really broke away from the traditional vocabulary instructional model was not exactly by choice. At the beginning of a new school year, I discovered that over ⅓ of my college prep class had studied from the same level of vocabulary textbook in 9th grade that I was supposed to use with them in 10th grade. While this has happened in the past, it had never been such a significant percentage, and I felt that I could not, in good faith, move these students though material that they had already covered. So, I threw out the book and started having them select words from the works we read throughout the year. This worked fairly well, the words weren’t random, we were learning about them in the context of the texts we were reading but when I tried to transfer this method to a class at a different level, everything fell apart.

Flash forward to this year.

I continue to teach vocabulary with my college prep classes the same way as last year, but I still struggle with how to transfer this type of learning to students in my less academically motivated class, my more intermediate level class.  A few weeks ago, one of my students pointed out that we hadn’t done anything with vocabulary in weeks, and he asked if we were going to go back to it, he missed the “easy” grade. I couldn’t help but smile to myself, and yet also felt a little sick. I had moved us away from vocabulary because we were spending SO much time focusing on their writing skills, and the idea of taking any focus away from that learning for random vocabulary word study just didn’t make sense. I was also struck by his claim that vocabulary was an easy grade. I mulled this over for a few days; for this particular student, vocabulary was easy. This was due to two factors, he found short term memorization fairly easy, and he had studied these words the year before. So I asked myself, how do I start to challenge them with vocabulary in a more meaningful way? Last year when I tried to get students at this level to generate their own word lists from reading it was a disaster. But could I do it differently this year as I was now another year older, and another year wiser? When we started reading excerpts from the Iliad I saw my opportunity.

We are reading it out loud in class. For students who are quick readers, this means that they often tune out. For students who struggle to read, this means it is slightly more challenging to hold on to basic plot details. I decided that to combat these two problems they were going to learn to really take notes; and I don’t mean notes from a Google Presentation that I have organized and prepared for them ahead of time. They were going to learn to take notes about the things they found confusing as we read, things we would pause to discuss and clarify, or that I felt needed extra attention and focus to further their understanding. I also made each and
everyone take out a sheet of lined paper and write down, as we read, the words that they did not know, weren’t sure about, or thought they knew but could not define. At the end of each class, we reported out on their words and I recorded them on a list on the board. I also kept my own list of words that I thought they would struggle with as we read, and boy were my eyes opened.

On the left are the words I thought students might struggle with or identify. On the right are the words my students reported in class.

If you had asked me if I thought the average 10th grade student would struggle with words such as quarrel, inferior, or yearning, I would have said no, until this past week. Sitting in my room looking at that list of words, I could no longer ignore my students’ deficits (that being said, not ALL students in my class struggle with these relatively basic words). The next step for me was to figure out what the heck to do with these words.

All year long we have been working with vocabulary words in sets of ten. We had closer to 15 on the class list. I didn’t want to make the executive decision as to which words they needed to learn because I felt that I no longer really had a grasp of what words they knew or didn’t know. So, I decided to hash it out as a class.

I began with one last check to see if there were other words that students had recorded on their notes but had not shared with the class. A few more words were added to the list. I then explained that we were going to narrow down the list to ten words, and that those ten words would then become the vocabulary words we would study. I asked students if there were any words on the list that they felt we should keep, cut altogether, or save for a future list, and this led to a surprisingly heated process of advocacy and discussion.

Our first agreement was to keep the longest word on the list - ignominious - a word that I was not familiar with and could not have defined if asked - which I confessed to the class. Then we all agreed to take out one of the two words that rhymed, so it “wouldn’t be confusing.” And then the flame caught - some advocated to same them for later, others argued to throw out certain words altogether (though it was clear to me that those students had a much higher working vocabulary than most of the others). At times we had to vote; sometimes we would be split three ways, at others, there was a very clear majority. What I found fascinating was that we were having a heated, almost competitive discussion about words! WORDS! My students felt strongly about which words they wanted to study; words that they had picked out as they read! It was every English teacher’s dream.

The student list recorded each day, POST class discussion & selection process. Circled words are the 10 we will use for our vocabulary list. Words written in green will be saved for future word lists. Crossed out words have been cut entirely. Numbers indicate alphabetical order.

After we settled on our ten words (five were saved for future use, and one was cut as it had been listed twice) we moved on to the next phase. Instead of using vocabulary textbooks with this class, I present words (from the grade level textbook)  to them via a Google Presentation and have them fill out word maps as we go; what I have found with this method is that we generally have more discussion and fun with the words than if we were using the books. It also removed the cheating on the book exercies issue that I had run into for years.

Here is the final list of words, the student who will be responsible for that word, and the number of the slide each word is associated with.

I made a template of the presentation ahead of time and assigned it to the class in Google Classroom, that way every student would be able to easily access and edit the same document. Each student either picked or was assigned one of the ten words (a few students were out that day, so the numbers were perfect - I don’t quite know what I would have done if there were more than ten, we’ll see in the future). Their job was to fill out their word’s slide with the part of speech, definition, a sample sentence, and at least two synonyms and antonyms. They could use any resources they wanted to find this information, and they went at it. While this didn’t take a large amount of time, in the end, we had all ten words defined, and I went around individually to check on the sample sentences, resulting in conversations about how if the word was used as a verb, did this sentence make sense, etc. Later that day, during a “free” moment, I went through and cleaned up formatting, I don’t know how they can make such a mess of formatting, but they always do.

We will use this list to complete our vocabulary word maps, study, and eventually take a quiz. We will repeat this process with our next reading from the Iliad, and hopefully future readings as well.

Maybe this will be a bizarre blip for this class, but maybe, just maybe, I can encourage them to examine what they read more closely, ask themselves if they understand what they are reading, and inspire them to look something up once in awhile. At the very least, I am giving them ownership over their education, which is not too bad for a Tuesday.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Accountability & Standards

One of the ways I'm trying to remediate students' work not meeting standards is by having students write letters to their parents. Although this feels punitive to the students, what I am attempting to offer them is a reflective and educational experience.

Honestly, I'm not shooting for perfection in myself or my students. I would, however, like to see some motivation, some academic growth, and some sense of responsibility or accountability in my students. 

I shared my letter with guidelines to the students, school-wide, today (March 23), so that my students in your studylabs could be reminded that they can be working on it.

I'm just wrapping up attempt #1, and the results to date, are observational and interesting:

  1. My students are not pleased about missing the movie of Romeo and Juliet, while their peers who did meet performance indicators are enjoying it.
  2. My detailed directions force, I mean GUIDE, guide students into writing a reflective letter that requires they look at the work, the performance indicators, and their responsibilities in not meeting those performance indicators. 
  3. Students must revisit all the documents I shared with them in Gclassroom to find the information they did not pay attention to the first time. They really DO need to read and follow directions. 
  4. My colleagues are extremely supportive of students and colleagues! Some have emailed me, or sent students to me, so that our mutual students can work in studylabs on the mandatory letter. 
  5. Some of the questions my students have asked me as they work on their letters are disheartening for me: they clearly missed important information. A few of them missed the whole point to SSR...the insertion of the reader to make meaning by questioning, connecting, and observing. Some students still do not care. 
  6. Through my students' letters, I can see some of the weaknesses in my planning, and have made notes about different ways to organize for next time.
  7. Parents are drawn into the work of their students' letters, and receive an explanation FROM THE STUDENT for a failing grade.  
No parent feedback yet...

Tech and Teaching Practices

The Daily Genius "Periodic Table of Education Technology" divides up technology into useful categories. It helps me to think about how to use technology in ways that align with my beliefs about teaching and learning. 

For example, in Sodium's location, the periodic table of Education Technology has Em or Edmodo. I use some of Edmodo's features to share information and resources with graduate students, with an online book group, and as a data collection resource for performance indicators (PIs) for my students. Edmodo features customizable assessments for many reading and writing performance indicators. I can select which PIs at what grade level. 

In the spot traditionally reserved for Ti (Titanium), this table has KA...Khan Academy...beloved by my homeroom math whizzes! 

It's helpful to me to have a one-stop resource for ideas for social networks, online learning, multi-media, and classroom technology, to think about dragging my bookworm self into the tech-rich lives of my students. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Reading vs. Skimming

When we give our students text books with end of chapter questions, those questions have taught our students to skim for answers. Likewise, chapter study guides have turned our readers into skimmers. 

If you truly want to help your high school students to continue to grow as readers, assigning longer and more complex texts is only part of the work of teaching. Continuing to use end of chapter questions or chapter study guides merely reinforces the idea that skimming for answers is the same academic experience as actually reading for understanding. Skimming is not reading for understanding. 

For example, I can skim in my content area, English, and be fine. If I skim in the sciences, I am sunk. I know enough about myself as a learner, and am honest enough with myself as a student, to recognize that different ways of reading are part of my academic life. This awareness is not necessarily true for high school students. 

Instead of study guide questions, I like to ask my students to make their own notes. In English and social studies, Peter Rabinowitz's "Rules of Notice" is an extremely useful reading comprehension tool. You can click on the label cloud's "Reading" label to get a reminder about Rabinowitz's "Rules of Notice."

Another reading tool is Story Impressions. Doug Buehl's Classroom Strategies for Interactive Learning is a terrific resource for all teachers. You are welcome to borrow my copy anytime. Story Impressions begins as a very scaffolded teaching tool in which the teacher goes through the chapter or section of text and picks out key names, terms, and events. These are the "impressions"--as in, you get an impression of the reading by looking at this list of key terms. 

Here's a science example for Story Impressions. You can do this with ANY content area. Most often this is cited as a pre-reading strategy...a way to help students see what they already know and need to learn. I think it is a great POST reading strategy too! It's a check for understanding, a reminder of key terms, names, and events or concepts. 


  1. The first Story Impression should be teacher-created. 
  2. Students MUST use the "impressions" in the order in which they are listed. 
  3. It's helpful to have students underline the "impressions" so that they are easy to find when you're looking at students' work.
  4. After some practice with the teacher generating the impressions, you can have pairs of students generate the impressions and then swap with another pair. This really challenges students as readers to select only the most critical impressions!
  5. Another alternative: have students add 1 or 2 impressions to the teacher list and include them in the writing...this gives students a voice because they are selecting a couple of things they thought were important but perhaps the teacher did not. 
  6. I like this set up  (give it a second to load) for Story Impressions better than the one shared in the science example.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Retired Social Studies Teacher on Testing and College Readiness

Kenneth Bernstein, a retired social studies teacher, originally published "A Warning to College Profs from a High School Teacher" in Academe. It's been reprinted in The Washington Post blog "Answer Sheet."

A bit lengthy, but Bernstein touches on the challenges of class size and teaching thinking and concise written expression of thinking, the limited scope of testing in measuring deep learning and organized thinking, and his frustrations with non-educators determining what should happen in schools. It's an interesting read.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Social Book Marking

Social Book more tech savvy friends introduced me to this concept when I started whining about my school-issued laptop being collected for re-imaging each summer. All those bookmarks deleted from Safari, or Google Chrome, or Firefox...woe is me!

Not any more! I've been using a FREE account at Diigo for a number of years. I can add it to my tool bar so that I can quickly copy and paste a link to any website. I can make labels and categories to keep all my Shakespeare sites accessible and separate from all my teaching writing websites. 

Some ideas: pinterest, delicious, linkedin, reddit, are just a few of the many free social bookmarking websites available. 

Here's a link to a down n' dirty list of the top 10 social bookmarking sites for educators.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Classroom "Conversation"

Whole Class Discussion

Studies of classroom conversations reveal that in many classrooms what we might typically label as whole class discussion, is actually not discussion at all.

Researchers label what I tend to do as I-R-E... Initation-Response-Evaluation. I ask a question, a student answers it, and then I evaluate the answer and move on. Here's an example, done transcript style.

Teacher: Why does Steinbeck start each chapter in Of Mice and Men with a description of the setting?

Student: He does this because the setting tells the story. I mean, where things happen matters. Like the opening of the novel with the description of the river and the mountains.

Teacher: Yes. Good answer! Ok. Can someone explain why Steinbeck never gives Curley's wife her own name?

Student: Because she's a girl?

Teacher: Not exactly. [Now comes the part of the "conversation" where I get to show how smart I am by telling the kids the answer, or sometimes, the answer for which I was looking!]

You can see how I ask a question (initiate), some student volunteers an answer, and then I evaluate by saying, "Yes. Good Answer." I move on to the next question/initiation. 

This following link will take you to a quick read and very smart tips on making classroom discussion authentic discussion that accomplishes meaningful academic work and social learning for students.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Note-Taking as Thinking Tool

Notes on Rules of Notice (R.O.N.) problems after looking at 9th grade exams.

Note-taking is an art. There are different systems for taking notes in an academic setting, but in the end, I always come back to my core belief that the notes must make sense for the student. I am a different kind of note-taker in different disciplines. In English, my notes are sparse and full of doodles. In my last statistics class, I wrote down EVERY SINGLE THING the prof said. If he burped, I probably put that in my notes! 

Above is a fairly typical sampling of notes in the discipline in which I am most confident: English. I'm making these today as I correct 9th grade exams. Observations I would make:

  • nobody told me I had to do this (motivation).
  • I noticed patterns of problems and wanted to remember them so that I could think about them and attempt to fix them (sense of responsibility).
  • Doubt or question...WHY, why, wHy are my students still struggling with this? Do I stink as a teacher? (curiosity with a side serving of self-doubt).
  • the notes are messy, but I can read them (distinguish between personal and public use).
  • the notes appear to be cryptic, but I can look at these weeks from now and understand what I was noticing and thinking (useful).
At the start of the year, I made an overt effort at modeling note-taking for my students. Then we moved on. Looking over my students' exams reminded me that they are still learning to be note-takers. 

The writing on their exams suggests that they are not distinguishing between personal and public use...some of the exams are extremely difficult to read. GruMbLe GRUMble. 

Finishing up 45 minutes early, and not taking me up on my offer to give an alleged essay "the once-over," when it is 3 sentences long, and maybe needs a little revising, seems like a profound problem with motivation and sense of responsibility.

Is this a case of teachers doing more work than students, by handing out notes, or study guides, so that students don't have to take notes? Are we de-motivating our students by doing too much for them?

What opportunities and responsibilities do our students have for making their writing, visibly and intellectually clear and useful, especially when it is meant for public consumption (like on an exam, paper, or project)?

Do students actually find their notes useful? I know I have not given an open note test or quiz in years, so what am I asking my students to do with their notes? What am I doing to value curiosity so that my students are willing to experiment with a note-taking system that works for them, and feel a need to take some notes?

Would it make sense for us, as a learning community, to make a co-ordinated effort at note-taking? I'm not necessarily promoting the use of a single note-taking system, but wondering how departments or individuals are navigating issues around useful note-taking?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

PConvos: Apathy

What do we do about apathy?

I've got students who come to school, but they do no work. No work at home, and absolutely as little as possible in school. Oh, sure, if you were to walk by my room and glance in, these students would appear to be working. They pose with books. They tap away at keyboards or move pens across paper.

A closer look reveals that they've been "reading" the same page for 15 minutes. They are teenagers. Even the books they self-select bore them. 

And the writing they appear to be doing? If a keyboard is involved, more likely browsing on Craig's List for a car or car part, rather than engaging in the processes of writing and thinking. If it's putting pen to paper, well, it could be anything from a doodle to a love note. 

I used to think that the way to cure this was with pop quizzes, chapter study guides, and a reading pace designed to leave these laggards in the dust. A string of grades in my grade book was the visible proof of my efforts at engaging, and failing, these kids.

It seems to me that the students most in need of encouragement, most sitting in puddles of apathy, are the least likely to be motivated, or engaged, by quick coverage of topics, by grades, or by threats. 

So here's my first PConvos: Apathy. What do you do about it in your classroom? Any observations, frustrations, or ideas you'd like to share? Is it possible that we now do too much for our students, and so they have become apathetic?

As SNL's "Coffee Talk" hostess, Linda Richman would say, "Talk amongst yourselves!"

Monday, January 4, 2016


Some of the best conversations I have are around the photocopier. It's one of the places we all congregate. So to pay homage to the machine that can make or break our day, to share via technology the impromptu conversations that happen there, I give you "PConvos." in PhotoCopy, or perhaps Professional Conversation? Or maybe slightly wickedly, as in "Politically Correct" is intended to be a thought, or observation, or question to spark conversations in the mail room, during shared duties, at the water fountain, and of course, the photocopier! 

One of the things that my old job allowed was time for prof
essional conversations. Colleagues had time to meet formally (or not) and to discuss what we were reading, to talk over challenging situations in the classroom or the college, or to ask each other questions. 

Anyone who spends one day as a high school teacher knows that kind of time does not exist in a public school setting. 

Sometimes I think we deprive ourselves of any rare opportunity for meaningful professional conversations by moving too quickly from problem to solution. Sometimes, I observe that we become our own worst students, and act in ways that do more to demonstrate our frustrations and perceived lack of autonomy than to be open-minded, thoughtful, professionals. Other times, the timing is poor, like the afternoon before a vacation, or we're all strung-out from grading, prepping, and teaching. 

So...I'm puttin' some stuff out there, trying to give life to conversations around education issues...if I've pricked your professional pride, or offended you in some way, and you need to so in the comments section of the blog. Or by school email. Or private email to me. I don't intend to offend, but would like, once in a while, to engage in conversations with colleagues. I always learn something new. Perhaps this could be BAHS' version of the editorial page of the newspaper. 

"PConvos" will be part of the title and also the tag...coming soon!

Exam Prep: Plea and Proposals

I'm beggin' ya...don't deprive students of the meaningful cognitive work of making THEIR OWN reviews or summaries as exam prep! 

I know it's efficient if teachers make a tidy handout for students, but then all the work of the review, the sifting and the sorting, the thinking about what's been learned, the decision-making, the writing and processing, is done by the teacher. 

Some ideas for how to do this as group work:

  1. Have students work in small groups with each group responsible for the presentation of important knowledge and skills from a particular unit of study. You know your students, and the sizes of the units, so determine how much time is group work time. Give a specific limit for presentation time too. You could also require a product: a one page summary to photocopy and share with peers, a poster, a Google Doc to post to Google Classroom or to share with peers...
  2. Student-generated questions for review topics. To keep things organized, the teacher could assign topics or categories to pairs or small groups. Each group could come up with 5 questions of increasing difficulty for their categories. This could be done "Jeopardy Game Show" style or as a straightforward quiz or practice session. 
  3. Make a Google Doc and share it with everyone in a class. Set up sections and have individuals, or pairs, or small groups post knowledge and skills to their assigned section. Students could do this as homework or in class.
  4. Game of Four Corner Fun. You're doing most of the work with this one, but if you feel you must be the selector of important knowledge and skills, this game will give you that opportunity. It also has students moving around the room. 
  5. Game of Baseball Review. Again, you're the arbiter of importance, but it does put a coating of fun on what could be a review. 
  6. open-ended option and a closed one. Tried and true and covered in a brief article.

Exam Literacy

Ninth grade students need help understanding exams...schedule, importance, preparation, navigation, and calculation in semester grade! Whew!

(Click on pic to make larger)

Here's a little Google Slide Show I share with my 9th grade English students. You are welcome to copy the file and make changes or  use it as is.

This will take you to the slide show as a convenient 2 page printable doc.