Sunday, September 27, 2009

Similarities & Differences Part 2

At Friday's professional learning day 550 teachers, K-12, spent the morning going deeper with the what, why, and how of using "Similarities & Differences" as a continued instructional strategy. We reviewed the research and spent a lot of time talking about our own applications. Elementary teachers created a gallery walk of lessons, and secondary teachers shared successful strategies from their classes.

Why is explict teaching of similarities and differences critical for the learning brain?  And why does it work from kindergarten to calculus?  In The Strategic Teacher (ASCD, 2008), Silver, Strong, and Perini write:
  1. The use of comparisons increases our memory capacity. Two ideas linked together last longer than two ideas standing alone.
  2. Comparisons let us use old knowledge to make sense of new knowledge.
  3. Comparisons help us find connections and create new ideas.
  4. Comparisons make the invisible (or abstract) visible, the confusable (or easily mixed up with other content) clear, and the neglectable (or easily overlooked) unavoidable.
Gina, grade 4/5, reminded us that graphic organizers alone do not "teach" this strategy. Gina requires her students to add a conclusion statement to any graphic organizer they're using. Why does this work? It allows students to move from part to whole and synthesize their thinking and helps move their learning into long-term memory. And it requires them to make their thinking visible by communicating in writing.

We left the morning session with lots to process and try out. Here are some of the teacher resources from the workshop to add to our repetoire.

For teachers:

The Strategic Teacher: Selecting the Right Research-Based Strategy for Every Lesson by Silver, Strong, and Perini (ASCD, Paperback, 2008). See chapter 5 on compare and contrast and chapter 10 on metaphor.

Taking the Angst Out of Analogies from

IMS (Instructional Management System) on the Ohio Department of Ed site: Similarities & Differences.

Graphic Organizers galore from Holt Rinehart Winston. Remember to always add a conclusion/synthesis section.

And just for fun, I Never Metaphor I Didn't Like by Mardy Grothe (Harper, Hardcover, 2008).

For students:

Picture books using metaphor
Bang, Molly. 1998. When Sophie Gets Angry- Really, Really Angry
Carlstrom, Nancy White. 1991. Goodbye Geese
Chall, Marsha Wilson. 1992. Up North at the Cabin
Gregory, Valiska. 1991. Through the Mickle Woods
Martin, Rafe. 1992. The Rough-Face Girl
Mathews, Sally Schofer. 1991. The Sad Night: The Story of an Aztec Victory and Spanish Loss
Paterson, Katherine. 1991. The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks
Thomas, Joyce Carol. 1993. Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea
Van Allsburg, Chris. 1986. The Stranger
Yolen, Jane. 1968. Greyling; 1987. Owl Moon; 1992. Encounter

Picture books that use simile
Goble, Paul. 1982. The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses
Johnston, Tony. 1996. The Wagon
Lorbiecki, Marybeth. 1996. Just One Flick of a Finger
Sheldon, Dyan. 1991. The Whales’ Song
Turner, Ann Warren. 1987. Nettie’s Trip South
Yolen, Jane. 1987. Owl Moon

Why does this matter and what can we do?
  • Students benefit by having similarities and differences pointed out by the teacher in an explicit manner. This can include rich discussion and inquiry, but allows students to focus on the relationhship or bridge to the new ideas.
  • Students also benefit when teachers ask them to create their own strategies for identifying similarities and differences. (Source: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory)
Wrote one Holly Hill teacher at the end of the day, "I can assimilate these concepts more overtly in my classroom. Step by step."

What is working for you in explicity teaching students to make connections? Share with us and we'll post your successes.

See also Similarities & Differences Part 1

The Wordle ( was created from teachers' synthesis after our August professional learning session.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Huddle Up!

Not so long ago, being a teacher was like being a quarterback without a team. When I began teaching it was common practice to walk into the classroom in August, close the door, and walk out again in June. No team, no sense of community. I did the best I could every day. I called the plays. If I made a good call the students would advance down the field, but if I made a questionable play they might lose a few yards. I had no offense to help me plan the best instruction, and no defense to help me get back in the game.

Thank goodness things have changed! So far this year I have been part of several high school, middle school and elementary school Professional Learning Communities. I found myself in the middle of a team huddle. There were classroom teachers, Title 1 teachers, principals, intervention specialists and guidance counselors all having meaningful discussion about data, curriculum, intentional choice of instructional materials, etc. We were talking strategy. We were drawing Xs and Os. It was a real team effort with all the players... a winning combination!

In Results Now, Mike Schmoker describes how effective teamwork can produce a steady stream of successes, which in turn will create the magic of momentum. The secret is to "win small, win early, win often."

Professional Learning Communities are definitely a win. They create success and momentum through collaboration and informed decision making of all the team members. I hope to be a part of other PLCs this year. You might say... I'm their biggest fan. Huddle up!


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thinking: Coming Soon to a Reader Near You!

Yes! Maurice Sendak on the big screen! I just can't wait until October 16th. Where the Wild Things Are has been one of my favorite picture books since it was first read to me in the 1960's, and now Spike Jonze is bringing it back to me 40 years later. I recall begging my mom to read the book slowly, to draw out those 10 sentences so I could wallow in the eerie-funny-imaginative world of disobedient Max.

10 sentences read aloud by my mom. One half-hour of fantasy for me.

10 sentences written by Maurice Sendak. One feature-length film from Spike Jonze.

This is precisely what we desire for every reader, isn't it? Thinking that travels deep into and beyond the printed page, thinking laced with emotion and escape. So what can we do to maximize the chances that this kind of real reading is available to every student?

There are obvious opportunities we can provide. Read aloud each and every day. Allow for student choice of text as often as possible. Build classroom libraries full of high-interest, level-appropriate books. Publicly model your own personal love affair with reading.

We can also get kids into the reading/thinking habit if we begin to offer and prompt metacognitive experiences. Through the years I've been banking a collection of thinking prompts, gleaned from conversations with colleagues, lab observations and online chatter. Partial list below.

  • How do you know when you don't understand something?
  • What do you do when your brain freezes/gets stuck?
  • How can making mistakes help your brain grow?
  • What kinds of questions do you ask yourself when you're reading?
  • When do you know you should stop and reread?
  • What do you do when you're reading and something just doesn't make sense?
  • Why do you sometimes abandon a book?
  • What kinds of connections do you make while reading?
  • Have you ever noticed your mind wandering when you're reading? What do you do then?
  • Do you ever make predictions while reading? Have you ever been right? Have you been wrong? How do you know?
  • Which of your senses do you use in your brain while reading? Can you see? Smell? Hear? Taste? Feel?
Consider offering up one of these ideas at the beginning of class as bell work, or at the end of a lesson for closure. Sometimes you have an unclaimed minute here or there, or need a journal topic for a quick-write. Keep this list handy for times just like that.

Thinking. Let the wild rumpus begin!


Far too numerous is the herd of such, who think too little and who talk too much.
John Dryden

Monday, September 7, 2009

Professional Development Not For Sale

There is no doubt about it. We are a nation of consumers. We are constantly assaulted with advertisements, telemarketers, and junk mail. (Thank goodness for pop-up blockers!) Everybody wants to sell you something. In fact, there is an entire branch of science devoted to consumer psychology.

Everyone is a potential consumer, including educators. Publishers and professional development services vie for educational dollars with the persistence of crabgrass, overtaking mailboxes with glossy brochures promising to increase student achievement.

I'll admit there was a time when I fell for it. I was always looking for a professional development opportunity that would help me perfect my craft. The Magic Bullet. Now I realize, as Mike Schmoker states in Results Now, the experts are among us. Who knew?

Schmoker goes on to state that "effective team-based learning communities - not workshops- are the very best kind of professional development (p. 109)." These professional learning communities begin to build a new culture of teaching, as teachers realize that knowledge of improvement can and should be generated from within.

So, here's to you... my colleagues. I look forward to working with you and learning from you as we begin another school year. Let's put our heads together and "grow" our own professional learning communities. No crabgrass, please.