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Monday, February 24, 2014

Vocabulary Collectors: Day 2 - Moving beyond definitions

Last week, as we continued through our practice round of vocabulary collecting, I moved beyond definitions and brief products to synthesis. And boy, did my kids groan. In my world, groaning equals "I ROCK!"

Each class group was working together to decide which class and which term they wanted to use (and this backfired on them in the end). We went through the vocabulary collection process in I do/We do/You do fashion. They insisted they had the hang of it after three words. 

That's when I slammed them with this: Ok, if you have it, show it. I want you to write a five sentence story using the three words your class came up with. 

They were not happy with me, but they did it, and they did it well. Not every paragraph made the most sense, but is was a bit difficult to make some of the words work together. 

The samples below are from different classes, so you will see different words used. 

This week, the kids are on their own. I am keeping my fingers crossed. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Look, boss. De train, de train!

First, if you understood the allusion in my blog title, you are too old to know how to use the internet. How big do you have this text zoomed? Isn't it past your bedtime?

Once upon a time, the time when Fantasy Island was actually a weekly television show, or maybe a few years later, I fell in love with classic literature by way of Ethan Frome and Wuthering Heights. And I was fantastic at literary analysis with these pieces. I tortured my sophomore English teacher with Wharton's sexual overtones through imagery, and I dissected the significance of Bronte's moors and their role in mimicking emotion for my senior thesis.

For years, I was a book snob, reading only the best of the late 19th/early 20th centuries.  A few years into teaching middle school, however, I decided that I needed to read more young adult literature to be able to share with my students and motivate them to read. I suddenly had a new love, and literary analysis and classics faded into the distant memory of a former lover. For the first time since I was little, I found myself reading for pure entertainment. 

Fast forward a few more years, and here I am studying for a high school teaching certification because I decided I needed a challenge before getting any older, and my brain has blanked on complex literary analysis. We analyze in middle school, but it seems so different than the higher level expectations of the upper grades where the focus is completely different. I was looking at practice questions for the state exam last week, and my brain went into panic mode: What are these words? I don't remember any of this. I am so screwed. Whose idea was this anyway?

Well, there are a few things I allow myself to be egotistical about, and those include my intelligence level and ability to learn quickly. So I grabbed my handy dandy literature book (if you understood that allusion, you too young and should also probably be in bed) and got to work, focusing on the literary analysis of the short stories within. 

One of the first stories I read was "Hills Like White Elephants." I thought I had read this story before, but upon reading, I did not recall the story. I put on my literary analysis cap, exploring the conflict and indirect characterization. But I completely missed the symbolism within the story. After reading the analysis within the textbook, I had to go back to the story, and I could not believe I did not see the pregnancy (white hills) or the crossroads (train station). At this moment, I seriously began to doubt my own abilities, and I was ready to give up.

Last night, I was determined to finish Allegiant by Veronica Roth. I decided my stressed out brain needed a break. I wanted entertainment and nothing more. Who knew my darn brain would decide then and there to go into literary analysis mode. 

In the most cliched fashion, as I began reading the train scene in the epilogue of the novel, the light bulb over my head turned on, and fireworks began exploding inside my brain. The train. The train! Oh my gosh. There was a train station in "White Elephants." The train is a symbol. It was a symbol in Divergent, and it shows the same symbolism here. Oh my gosh. Crossroads. 

And just like that, the literary analysis is coming back. 

I got this. I can teach high school. 

Vocabulary Collectors: Explicit Teaching - Day 1

Due to a Monday holiday, a day-long meeting Tuesday, and my son getting in an accident with a hit-and-run driver Tuesday afternoon (he's fine), today was my first day back at school since Friday. And it was my day to introduce our new vocabulary collection routine. In years past, I probably would have handed the assignment out, gone over the examples, and left them to it. Now, I am much better at explicit teaching, and I think I did a pretty good job today.

I went through the presentation slowly - too slowly for some classes. I wanted the kids to have an opportunity to take notes and ask questions over my product requirements. Some kids wrote everything; others wrote nothing. We are going to finish our practice round tomorrow, so I will be curious to see what information the non-notetakers need again. 

Initially, the kids seemed to be turned off by the idea of coming up with their own words. My perception is that they lacked confidence in their own learning. To combat this, I picked a random subject and asked what they were learning about this week. The kids surprised themselves with the number of vocabulary words they were able to come up with - global warming, conduction, nullification, presidency, dividend, probability, factoring. The words spilled forth. They even realized that they were using the word conflict in both history and English. 

Once we chose a word, we went through the entire process step-by-step. We tried to determine parts of speech and meaning based on word parts before resorting to the dictionary.We worked to put definitions into student friendly terms. I had students pulling out spirals from other classes and helping provide information. Then I had them each choose their own product to create (most chose the symbolic representation, but I had some pretty great rhyming poetry for dividend). 

After completing the products, we did a gallery walk (some of them knew what that was without my even using the term), looking for what worked and what did not. This also gave my strugglers and opportunity to see what their classmates were creating to help give them ideas. There was a great deal of conversation about the words and the products without much direction from me.

The best word of the day was unorthodox. The history sub, a former student of mine, used the word in class this morning (he said it could not have happened because he does not know big words). I had allowed my students to use their phones to help get ideas to draw. 

One of my lower students brought her phone with this picture:

My response: Um...uh...see, what had happened was... 

I am a liberal living in conservative Texas and working in a conservative school district. Mine is an all-loving and accepting classroom. But, I did not know how to address this one. I handed it off to my co-teacher. With a bit of prompting, the student actually figured it out on her own. 

Today I saw cross-curricular connections, and more importantly, actual learning. I cannot wait to see what tomorrow brings. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sixteen Word Poetry - Examples

Sixteen word poetry did not quite go as planned, but it still worked. I planned on two days for this lesson so that we would have time to work with on the Chromebooks and create a class presentation. On Thursday, there was district testing in every classroom in my hallway from mine down, so my students had to be absolutely silent, and I could not teach out loud. Friday, my first class couldn't handle the presentation, and they ended up deleting, rearranging, and redesigning their classmates slides. So, pen and paper it was for the rest of the day. 

Here are some of my favorites (so far):

Not too shabby for a shortened class on Valentine's Day. 

Vocabulary Collectors

Once again, Corbett Harrison has inspired me. This time, he suckered me in with his Vocabulary Collectors ideas and examples

I have modified this for the needs of my students. My school is working hard on promoting academic vocabulary, so I have designed my lesson to include words from the four core classes. I have also focused on products that should be review activities for my students. 

In my presentation, I have used a variation of our last vocabulary routine word, regress. I also created an example of each of the products that I will post on our student webpage for their access. I am looking forward to having their work to use as examples in the future. 

Testing season is creeping up. I am hoping that this activity might help them digest some needed vocabulary over the next couple of months. I will need to display these, and I am going to try out some activities (TBD from my recent word wall training) using the words that are posted. 

Here ya go:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sixteen-Word Poetry

This week, my students have district curriculum testing: reading on Tuesday and math on Wednesday. Each test mimics a real state test to help the kids prepare for the real deal in a few weeks. That means five hours per day, sitting in one classroom, rear ends in pain. 

Having finished a lesson on Monday and knowing that we have a shortened schedule on Friday, I was in need of something manageable and engaging for Thursday and Friday - especially since Friday is Valentine's Day. Corbett Harrison was kind enough to respond to my Edmodo post, suggesting sixteen-word poetry, using "The Red Wheelbarrow" as a mentor text. [If you are not familiar with Mr. Harrison, he is affiliated with Writing Fix, one of my favorite web sites.]

Following his model, I have created a presentation to guide my students through a sixteen-word poem assignment, following the format of "The Red Wheelbarrow." I am going to have my kids write about something they feel passion toward - pizza, Jordans, summer vacation. I wrote about reading, of course. 

Since we are 1:1 with technology, I am going to have my students create this assignment as a Google presentation, adding a graphic element. I am creating a master presentation for each period, and each student will be assigned a slide number on which to create his/her poem. This way, I will have five class presentations. 

Student samples to come. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Student self-assessment

Today I worked on incorporating student self-assessment, based on the information in Classroom Assessment for Student Learning. I started and ended the class with the students assessing their own knowledge and learning. 

We began with a poll about key academic vocabulary that are part of the assignment on which we are currently working. Students assessed their level of knowledge for terms, and we discussed anything they did not understand. My intention had been to do this with Nearpod, but something has changed with the web site, and I could not access the assessment I made over the weekend. Fortunately, I have the first period of the day off, and I reworked the assessment using PollEverywhere

An example slide with student responses from PollEverywhere
I think the lesson worked better with PollEverywhere. The students were able to see one another's responses without any associated names, and it gave us all the big picture for the class. They were impressed with a new toy ("I was first!"), and I was able to see that my students understood a great deal more than I expected. 

At the end of class, I had the kids rate their learning comfort level for the day's lesson. I was concerned that they might not be honest with their postings, but I had some students come tell me that they really didn't get it, so they were going to post it on the white poster. And again, for me, I was surprised to see that they understood more than I expected. 

The overall goal was to work on formative assessment and student self-analysis. I believe that we all the students and I all won in today's work. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Acknowledgement feels so goooood

When I got to school yesterday, I had an email from a friend who works at another school in the district:

I had not idea what she was talking about. 

It turns out that my not-so-little-anymore blog was mentioned in the Texas Literacy Initiative newsletter for January for my reflections on the vocabulary routine that has been this year's focus. 

Go me!

You can read the full newsletter here

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Deconstructing Content Standards: Take 2

Tuesday, I got my feet wet with deconstructing a content standard after a presentation over the information. Today, I am studying this section of Classroom Assessment for Student Learning, and I quickly learned that although I was on the right path the other day, I was not quite where I needed to be. So now am I teaching myself how to do this the correct way. 

To begin with, I am using Kentucky's Deconstructing Standards Flowchart to guide my thinking. 

This week, I am going to be working on the following standard to wrap up "Flowers for Algernon":
  • TEK 8.6 B analyze how the central characters’ qualities influence the theme of a fictional work and resolution of the central conflict 
When I played with this process a few days ago, I had not used one of the TEKS but had instead focused on my classroom objective regarding a TEK. That is not what the deconstruction process is for. It is designed to help break down the complexity of the standard itself. 

With my analysis of 8.6B, I realized that there are only two targets: knowledge and reasoning. 

  • Knowledge Targets: What does a student need to know and understand to attain mastery of this standard? (p 61)
    • I have broken this down into as many pieces as possible. To attain mastery, each student needs to have a basic knowledge of analysis, central characters, character traits, the elements of plot, theme, and the meaning of influence.

  • Reasoning Targets: What patterns of reasoning, if any, are required to attain mastery of this standard?
    • With all of those knowledge pieces, each student needs to be able to us thought processes to:
      • infer character traits
      • create a theme
      • figure out how the character traits connect to that theme
      • identity both the conflict and the resolution
      • make a connection between the conflict and resolution
      • determine how that information connects to the theme
      • put it all together
For one standard, that's a lot of understanding and thinking!

Now I need to synthesize all of this to figure out how to put everything into student friendly terms.
  • I can explain how Charlie's characteristics influenced how the story ended. 
  • I can explain the message of the story. 
What do I do with this after the breakdown? Prior to this deconstruction, I would have gone through a series of questions and then told my kids to write a response. At least that is how I was putting everything together a few days ago. Now, I am going to start with a formative pre-assessment to make sure my students actually know the knowledge pieces. I have created a presentation that I am uploading into Nearpod. This will allow me to instantly see who knows what and determine if I need to go into more detail with any of the knowledge components. 

Example of Nearpod poll

Once we have gone through this process and discussed/reviewed any information that kids need, we will move on to the reasoning stage. I have a set of prepared questions (I did not make this) that guide them from point A to B based on the TEK. I think I will have the kids working on these in small groups to bring back to a large group discussion. 
In the end, I want them to put together a paragraph that synthesizes all of this information. But, I am now realizing that assigning this is not teaching it, and if I am not teaching it, I should not be using it as a summative assessment. Instead, I think we may end up writing the paragraph together. 
So if I do all of this formative assessment, how do I do a summative assessment? My curriculum instruction specialist put together a list of extension questions based on some of our TEKS. I believe if I use the following question, my students should be able to go back through the analysis process and create a unique writing product. At least I hope so!

I am about to test my own teaching and my patience. Let the games begin!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Instructional Model: Self-Assessments

I am a good teacher. A very good teacher. A great teacher at times. But this instructional model pilot program is already proving to be enlightening, showing me areas where I still have a great to deal and significant room for improvement. My ego is a little bruised, but I want to be the best I can be. I appreciate having this opportunity to look at and reflect upon the work I am doing. 

I am sharing my self-assessments with you, and I want your own personal input. If you see areas in which you do well, share what you do to get there. I am here to share, but I am also here to learn.