Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Meet New Information. Change Your Mind.

Russian nesting dolls photo credit: Mollypop on Flickr Creative Commons
It's Monday after work, and I'm sitting in a Just One Hour PD session with Tanny McGregor and a great team of teachers. Hope she doesn't find my laptop notetaking a distraction while she's teaching. Today we're reviewing SYNTHESIS, in the Thinking Strategy Series. My notes:

Tanny likes to explain synthesis to students using concrete examples. She used the simile of nesting dolls. "When you think of synthesizing, picture nesting dolls," she says. One idea within another. As students continue to change their thinking, their thinking develops and grows. The original thinking may be embedded and still existing, but the new thinking is larger and different.

And Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind uses the metaphor symphony. He writes, "Symphony...is the ability to put together the pieces. It is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair."

Love this quotation from Tanny: "Meet new information and change your mind."

Tanny tells about asking Steph Harvey to define synthesis. She shared Steph's defining sentence stem:
I used to think __________, but now I think _____________.

Debbie Miller used Thinking Quadrants when modeling synthesis for our primary teachers:
1. Right now I'm thinking...
2. And now I'm thinking...
3. And now I'm thinking...
4. Now that I'm finished, I think...
Each stem falls in a quadrant of a graphic organizer. Nothing fancy, Tanny says, just fold a piece of paper in fourths. Each quadrant captures student thinking before-during-after reading. "I really like the idea of the four square model for working with my English Language Learners," ESL teacher Rachel tells me.

Tanny shared a turn and talk strategy from Kylene Beers that helps student synthesize their thinking after reading text (fiction or non-fiction). Beers calls it "Say Something." Here are the rules:
1. With your partner, decide who will say something first.
2. When you say something, do one or more of the following: make a prediction, ask a question, clarify something you misunderstood, make a comment, or make a connection.
3. If you can't do one of those five things, then you need to reread.

We talked about and practiced genre reformulation. That is, take what you've read and turn it into something else.  Options: lyrics with a familiar tune, a graphic representation (logo, sketch), an alphabet list, a pattern book structure (like Brown Bear, Brown Bear or The Important Book).  

Tanny shared a six-word-synthesis idea adapted from Smith Magazine's six-word memoirs. Amy K shared that she had used the six-word-synthesis strategy as an exit ticket for her middle school students. The six-word-synthesis is a great way for teachers to check for understanding. 

Finally, we worked with partners and shared our own synthesis of the book Fox, by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks. (This children's book is so beautiful and its story so profound I think I'm going to recommend it for my turn at book club.) 

My six-word-synthesis of this Just One Hour: 
"Not literary analysis. Literary thinking. Anew."

Miss the session? Our next Just One Hour in the Thinking Strategies Series is November 30 on schema and inferring.


PS Here's the handout:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Getting to Know Gee

Have you met James Gee?

A virtual introduction is in order if you answer yes to any of the questions below.

  • Do you think our current use of textbooks could be improved?
  • Would you like to know how we can motivate students to love our lessons the way they love to play video games?
  • Should teachers support students as thinkers instead of memorizers? 
  • Would you like to understand how solid literacy instruction and 21st century skills can be taught in tandem?

James Paul Gee is the Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University, but that's just where he hangs his hat. His unique research extends around the world yet trickles down right into the classroom.  I first read Gee's work a few years ago when investigating the link between gaming and learning. It whet my appetite for more about kids in the 21st century and how we can embrace them as learners.

I could blog about Gee all day. Maybe you'd be interested, maybe not. The best way I can tell you about Gee, however, is to arrange a virtual introduction. Let's attend a lecture, read his bio and view a recent video clip. Then you'll see what I mean. Gee has a brilliant way of taking the here and now and merging it with best instructional practice.

Games, Not Grades
(from Edutopia, recently featured on Dan Pink's blog)

On Games and Learning
(from the MacArthur Foundation)

James Gee on The 4th Grade Slump
(from The Cooney Center)

Gee Bio Info
(from Wikipedia)

Visit these links and your thinking will be challenged and changed.

Every time I read or listen to James Gee, I walk away saying, "Gee, I never thought about it like that!"


(Graphic created with wordle.net)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What Did You Write Today? National Day on Writing

October 20 was the National Day on Writing sponsored by the National Writing Project. Early this morning I sent an email to a few teachers to see what students were writing today. Lots! 
  • "We've talked a lot about good readers making predictions," said Mr. Bertsch. Today his students wrote their predictions about the end of Arthur Miller's The Crucible
  • First graders in Mrs. Cramer's class wrote and drew about what they want to do at Sun Rock Farm. Field trip tomorrow!
  • Ms. Ferguson's freshmen have read Night by Elie Wiesel. Today they wrote in response to a section of a 5th grade German girl's social studies text used to promote Hitler propaganda about racial superiority.
  • In Intro to Video Productions, Mr. Hammer's students wrote short personal essays in the form of the "This I Believe."
  • "A White Heron" by Sarah Orne Jewett provided the prompt for Mr. Poince's class. "Today my students are writing symbolic and persuasive responses to the short story." 
  • Mrs. Wolff's 13-year-olds compared two nonfiction articles they read about detective work. High interest!
  • Macbeth's Act I was the backdrop for Ms. Yarchi's senior class. Today they wrote about Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's state of mind.  
  • AP Environmental Science students in Mr. Whitford's class wrote about forest fire management. 
  • Mrs. Henshey's eighth graders are writing personal narratives. "They're self-evaluating, peer editing and getting their papers ready for publishing," she said.
  • Today marked day one of Mrs. Ford's G/T students' after school Writing Club. They'll participate in the national Novel Writing Month, setting up online accounts to keep track of words written for the month and receive one-on-one creative writing instruction. 
What did YOU write today?
PS Count me in with 23 emails, one informational table, one blog post, two thank you letters, and four tweets.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

BrainPOP - A Recipe for Success

     It's easy...combine one classroom teacher, Ohio Academic Content Standards and BrainPOP. The result? A lesson that supports 21st Century Curriculum and Instruction, a digital learning environment and a classroom of engaged students who are not forced to "power-down" during school.

     BrainPOP is a web-based tool that creates animated, curriculum-based content aligned with Ohio (and other states') Academic Content Standards. Hundreds of short, animated movies are available with topics in Science, Social Studies, Math, English, Technology, Arts, Music and Health. In addition to the video animations, BrainPOP features interactive quizzes, graphic organizers and other activities to support student learning.

BrainPOP's user-friendly design allows teachers to:
  • introduce a new concept in a way that engages students
  • review material in order to consolidate learning
  • promote active viewing through discussion
  • provide exposure to content-area vocabulary
  • set a purpose for viewing by taking the interactive quiz before the content video
  • provide evidence of learning by using the interactive video at the end of the video
  • use supporting features that promote critical thinking and inquiry based learning.
  • collaboarate with colleagues on Facebook/BrainPOP and Twitter/brainpop.
     Evidence of the program's success is detailed in a study of 1,100 classrooms in Florida and New York. The study concluded that students who were in classrooms that used BrainPOP showed substantial gains in Science, Lanuage and Reading Comprehension on the Stanford 10. Students received 16-20 weeks of instruction, yet achieved the equivalence of one to two grade levels of growth when compared to the national sample of students in the Stanford 10 norm group.

     BrainPOP has also received numerous awards, including Learning magazine's 2010 Teacher Choice Award and the Technology and Learning award of excellence, 2007. Colleagues Heather C. and Jennifer H. give it the thumbs-up as well. Heather discovered helpful videos on the Educator's site (and also on Facebook and Twitter). Heather writes, "The [videos] show a few things that I'd never thought to do." Jennifer really likes the review quiz after each video. "When the students answer the questions they are immediately given feedfback on if they answered it correctly or not."

     But don't take our word for it... check out a video yourself. Click here to learn more!


Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons BrainPOP

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Virtual Text Trails

After enjoying condo life for 15 years, my family and I finally decided to go house-shopping last Fall. Even though the experience of finding and buying a house was stressful at times, there was one part I found to be enjoyable: Open House (not the occasional Open House I had to host...that was too much work... but the Open Houses of hopeful sellers). Every Sunday for 3 months or so, we'd pile in the SUV and check out what was on the market. How cool it was to walk through someone else's house, someone we didn't even know, and make inferences! (Maybe I need a life, but I thought it was fun. Doesn't take much for me, I guess.) After an Open House visit, I could tell you about the interests of the homeowners, how many people in their family, what colors and type of decor they favor. One of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, writes about the science behind this. In his 2007 book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Gladwell shows how just a walk through a room can help you learn a lot about the inhabitant. A person's space is a kind of definition of who they are. When I visited those countless Open House showings, I was following a trail of evidence as I walked from room to room.

A person's bookshelf is much the same, I think. One glance at my home office bookshelf and you'll know what I love: Frank Lloyd Wright, historical fiction, reading comprehension, The Beatles, old journals and Tracy Chevalier.  With every cover of every book, a memory is unleashed. I think about where I was when I read that volume and who recommended it or in what bookstore I purchased it. Sometimes I group books together by topic or color or genre. These "text trails" help me connect to my past and know just who I am.

With the advent of virtual bookshelves, however, now my colleagues and I can view each others bookshelves anyplace, anytime. I can know what Nancy and Mike are reading, what they've already read and what they plan to read next. I'm never without a great book recommendation, and I know my friends even better because I can follow their reading trails and they can follow mine. The books bring us together in amazing ways.

Since February 2008, I have enjoyed creating a virtual bookshelf at Shelfari.com. Shelfari is a great way to keep track of your own text trails, but other virtual bookshelf options are popping up everyday.

Library Thing
Chain Reading

Virtual bookshelves help you remember what you've read and what you want to read. They help you know yourself as a reader, and your colleagues, too. So blaze a trail! And let me know where to find you.

Happy trails to you,