Posts Tagged ‘student control’

So, I’ve been thinking about class activities recently. In particular, I’ve been thinking about activities that are not class discussions about the reading.

I try to mix it up in my English class. We might have several days of general discussion, some passage analysis, but I also try to have actual activities. Recently, we have worked on several webbing activities. I wrote about this the other day. For complicated information, I think showing the interconnections of characters, ideas, themes, really has to be done in a visual way. Plus, it’s the kind of thing that is hard to take notes on when it is just discussed and not created in the course of the discussion. Therefore, the web or chart or diagram serves the additional purpose of being a note-taking model as well.

Another thing I am trying to do is give more responsibility to the students in terms of leading class. (Student responsibility and independence was the topic of #NCTEChat on Sunday 3/19. Great chat. Check the archive for details.) So, earlier in this semester, pairs of students led class. Although they had options, all chose to lead discussions. These discussions went well, mostly. However, I wanted the students to branch out and think about other class activities that would be valuable, that would help the group think more deeply about the writing, the time period, the characters, etc. Having students think about what type of activity would best support deepening their learning about particular ideas seems to be an important step in taking responsibility and ownership of their learning. To move this process along, I decided to put some more parameters on what ‘leading class’ could look like for round two. This time, students had to plan an activity for their group (small groups) that was anything except a straightforward discussion.

In advance, we brainstormed a list of some possibilities. I didn’t just throw them out there with no support. Many of the options were things I had done with the students at some point during the semester. The plan was for each individual to be in charge of one 15 minute activity for his or her group. We were on a tight schedule, but had enough days for all activities. Then, we had a snow day, which messed up our schedule a bit, but was oh so lovely.

One of the students planned for the group to make a web with the four main characters. She had her small group at the board. Two of them wrote and all (mostly) participated. They made a web and had some time to consider what it looked like. I came around to the group a few times. Within about 12-15 minutes they had this.

Web created by students reading Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

 

At that point, I joined the conversation and asked some questions to push their thinking beyond creation of the web to analysis of the web. We noticed that the character who, at that point, was trying to distance himself the most, seemed in some ways the center, or at least to have the most linkages. This was interesting to consider.

In another group, a student planned for them to make a Venn diagram of two presidents/characters. These two are part of the story, but not the main protagonists. Making the diagram was an interesting way to compare two seemingly very different people who had the same position and were faced with similar decisions. Here’s what they did.

Student venn diagram for Presidents Johnson and Nixon in relation to Vietnam War in  Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin.

Although there’s not a lot of detail there, what I do notice is that they have really gotten to some key big ideas that I would say are the point. These students are big idea people and history guys. And, while I think if I had asked them about the similarities and differences, they could have gotten there, I am glad that they found a way to get there on their own and thought that this was worth investigating.

What I see in both of these examples is not so much the web itself, but the thinking that the web enabled. There is nothing super impressive about the individual bits of information in either diagram. What is there is the potential to see a bigger picture and a roadmap to get there.

Advertisements

So, I’m still thinking about my commonplace book assignment for my senior English elective students.

So far the students have been collecting their own personal bits and pieces from the book and commenting on what they have collected. I have not necessarily checked these collections, but I do see that everyone has one. Some are on paper, others are Google docs, some are using Google Keep, another is using Evernote. A few times students have volunteered that something we were discussing in class was something that was part of their collections.

By Beinecke Flickr Laboratory [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image of 17thC commonplace book By Beinecke Flickr Laboratory [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I gave a test midway through the book and asked (among other things):

Please comment thoughtfully. What types of things have you been noticing so far? What kind of patterns do you see in your notations/collection? What are you looking for? What are you not noticing? What does this say about what you look for in a book?

Here are some examples of what the students said (each paragraph is from a different student):

I have been noticing the theme of mindfulness and the role that doubt plays in the book… I believe that I look mostly at the characters in the books, and how they evolve and how they struggle to achieve their goals…

I have been noticing that Harbach’s style of writing is incredibly descriptive and heavily detailed. His words have a sort of “flow” where the book kind of flies by and the pages begin to “mesh” together and reading does not feel like a chore… I like the highly descriptive tendencies of Harbach’s writing, and I highlight a lot of his most beautiful sentences.

I see patterns like very thoughtful quotes and meaningful quotes throughout my commonplace book…It seems that I look for a book with descriptive and flowing language as well as many meaningful lessons that each character learns.

…In my collection I see a pattern of broad themes not specific details. I think that speaks to me as a reader as well as a writer. The big ideas and overarching themes are what keep me engaged …

In my commonplace book I am noticing that all the characters have their own personal issues which affect their interactions and speech patterns…I am looking for recurring patterns in characters commentary and their development. I am not noticing any characters that feel completely satisfied with their situations. This says that what I look for… is the characters flaws.

Mainly I have been noticing two types of quotes: ones that are inspirational/are advice and ones that have a strong use of literary devices that make the sentence pop out and come alive… After looking at all the quotes I have collected so far, it is clear to me that I enjoy reading books that have a sense of reliability with not boring text, incorporating literary devices to make reading more exciting and have an extra layer to the text.

In my common book, I have a mixture of two main themes. The first theme is with complicated sentences. I love detail, so certain sentences …really interested me… I am looking for sentences that make me want to read them over and over, never getting old of the complicated language… The second main theme in my common book is relationships…

I was really impressed with the patterns that the students found in their collections.

We are now more than half way through the book and I have been leading or at least coming up with the options for what to discuss in class. I’ve been alternating between big picture thematic discussions and closer passage analysis. I often come in with a list of options that we could discuss, more than enough for class, and ask what topic folks want to start with first. Sometimes I ask for suggestions in on online forum on our learning management page. The point being, it’s time to change it up.

After reading all the answers to the commonplace book question I have put the students in groups based on the focus of their noticings. I’m planning to have the groups meet to discuss particular passages that relate to their topic or think about some idea that is particular to their topic. Although I worry they will skim over some important parts, I see that they have real and specific interests that can carry discussions. I need to let them do that.

So, I’ve been thinking about tests and assessments in general. In particular, I have been thinking about students having choice around these tests.

I try to have a mix of assessments in my class. We write, we talk, we test. For our current book, Logicomix, we had a test. And, there were two field trips on different days, taking a few students from my class each day, and about half of my class gets extra time. What’s a thoughtful teacher to do?

I gave up having a single day for the test. We have a test and some short writing that needs doing, so this is what I put on my assignment sheet:

Due Tuesday, November 10th and Wednesday, November 11th

Over the course of these 2 days we will do the following:

  • In class you will pick one of the forum posts to expand to 400-500 words. You should have chosen what you will write and have made a plan before coming to class.
  • Test on Logicomix
  • I think the best plan, for those not on trips etc, is to do the expanded forum post on Tuesday so that there is time for review questions as well. Then, the test would be on Wednesday. If you would rather get the test out of the way on Tuesday, as planned, that is fine. I will be ready with it. IF you will be in class both days, and need extended time, plan to do part each day.

That’s a lot of options. And people came in ready to do various things. What I noticed was that each student had a plan upon arrival. Yay! Students were choosing what worked for them. Although I can make a guess at this, since I am not in their heads (and thank goodness for that), I just don’t know.

I had to make a chart to keep track of who was doing and completing what, but ok, I love charts.

Day 1:

  • 3 people out
  • 3 people doing the expanded forum post
  • 1 person starting on part 2 of the test
  • 5 people starting on part 1 of the test
    • Some of them moved on to Part 2, some will do it tomorrow.

Day 2:

  • 2 different people out
  • 1 person out for second day
  • more tests get finished and started
  • some forum posts get expanded upon

Next several days:

  • 3 other times students had to schedule to finish bits and pieces
  • several extra follow ups required by me

Reflection:

Part of why I could make this work is as an administrator, I don’t have a heavy teaching load. I have the flexibility to chase after people a little more and be available to supervise completing work at odd times. But, I also know that a colleague of mine who has a typical teaching load also does a lot of personal meetings with students for review and retesting. So, it is possible personalize the process.

I still liked that students owned some of the timing and decision-making around the test. It was not a secret test in that it followed a known format and review sheet so sharing information about it was not going to matter. I had already shared it. I didn’t like how much follow-up there was for me.

Would I do it again?

I think I might. However, I think I be either less or much more ambitious. Here’s what I mean. Less ambitious would be:  the test was a little shorter (it was a little long, I admit), the other work was not a turn-it-in situation, but rather a work on something that is ongoing (too much for me to keep track of), I would not do this at time when there were lots of absences/trips planned. On other hand, more ambitious would be: here are 4 days and a selection of products that need to come in. Tell me what you plan to do each day, stick to your schedule, come in and work quietly (this is key) at your own pace.

Hmmm. What do you think?

So, I’ve been thinking about how some of my lessons changed over time. In a recent post I wrote about coming up with new ideas. One thing that didn’t make the final draft of that post was the idea that sometimes a plan is good the first year, but then a lot better in later years. Here’s an example.

One year, I came up with the idea of having a “descriptive language Olympics” lesson. We were reading Tuck Everlasing and it was spring time and there was going to be some visitor. I remember this because we got an email from the assistant division head asking if any of us were doing anything particularly “outside the box”. When I thought about what I was planning for that next day, I realized it was firmly in the box and decidedly not that interesting. So, out it went.

Why is it that sometimes a simple question like that is all it takes to get me thinking about something better? Could I not ask that question myself? Does this happen to other people too?

Anyway, I believe it was in the shower that I hit upon this idea. There would be 5 events. In groups students would contribute passages from the text that best exemplified the particular kind of figurative writing for the event. I would judge and award 1st place, etc. I made a super-quick PowerPoint with the olympic rings on it and the following categories:

  • mood madness
  • sensory overload
  • figurative language freestyle
  • wonderful words
  • show not tell showcase

How did it go? Well the first year, it was pretty good, if I do say so myself. And, it was too long, too many “events”, and since I wanted to spread the winning around, the judging left a little to be desired.

The next years I tried a few little changes: fewer events for classes that were not that interested, having students come in with passages ready.

Then, last year, I made a bigger change. To be honest, I was partly trying to cut down on the time it took. In the end, the time was not that different, but the outcome was a lot better.

  • Instead of having the students collaborate on what to “enter” into each event, I asked them to enter 3 of 5 events digitally on our class blog for homework. Each entry was to have a passage and an explanation of why it was a good example of the given kind of descriptive writing.
  • Then in class, we discussed how to evaluate each entry (we decided on 10 points available for each entry-5 for the passage choice, 5 for the explanation).
  • The students collaborated on giving the medals to individual entries. No one judged an event in which they entered a passage. The judges posted their decision on the blog.
  • There was a brief and moving medal ceremony at which each judging group called up the winners for gold, silver, and bronze medals. There was cheering etc.
Judging team evaluating entries with scoring notes.

Judging team evaluating entries with scoring notes.

So, why was it better?

  • All students entered passages.
  • Even though everyone had to enter, they had choice about which events to enter.
  • Explaining the passage was added and important.
  • Students were involved in how to evaluate the entries.
  • Students actually did the evaluating. (And, this is the biggest bonus I think. There was a lot of discussion about this. In the end it was often the explanation that won someone the event.)
  • I did less and the students did more.
  • A lot more of the class time involved thinking, collaborating, and communicating. There was a lot less waiting around time.
  • There was more suspense, and everyone had a horse in the race.
  • There was cheering.
  • The winners were spread out across all sorts of people, without me engineering anything.
The medal ceremony. Note different height pedestals.

The medal ceremony. Note different height pedestals.

Medals all around!