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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sharing the Love of Reading with Students and Teachers - Some Examples from Hattie Deraps

With Christmas vacation approaching, I am sure many of you have holiday plans - and are hoping to find a few delicious moments to immerse yourself in that book you have been waiting months to read!  Some of you will get up early before the kids rise, others will read past midnight (because you can't put it down). and still others will steal random guilty moments when you feel you should be working on something else.  But you will all love it - and do it again!!

As teachers, we struggle everyday, trying to figure out how to engage our students in reading  the same enthusiasm, excitement, anticipation, satisfaction!

Hattie Deraps, an alternative education teacher at Mt. Blue High School, shares two strategies she has used for students...

"The Chick Lit Book CLub at Mt Blue High School has been meeting every month for the past four years. Over the years, dozens of girls and female staff members have met once per month to discuss teen issues and Young Adult Lit. This club has relied heavily on books provided by a non-profit organization called Mainely Girls. Mainely Girls provides sets of books to teen book clubs state-wide. We are indebted to them for their commitment to providing exciting reading material for our girls!

The coordinators of this club are Maggie Robinson and Hattie DeRaps. Maggie, a library aide, oversees all of the organizational work of the club, while Hattie offers an independent study to students who are looking to earn credit for running the book club. This independent study is titled "Literacy Outreach", because the girls who complete the course are truly reaching out to peers and helping to engage them in meaningful, thoughtful discussions about teen lit. Currently, there are four girls who are enrolled in this independent study. All of the girls are responsible for reading each month's selection, developing discussion questions, creating interactive discussion materials, setting up for meetings, engaging peers in discussion during meetings, and for keeping a reflective journal during the year. Over four years, there have been thirteen girls who have participated in this independent study.

This book club has been a great success at Mt Blue High School. Every year, there is more and more buzz about this club and there are new girls who join. Hopefully, this club will continue to grow and stay successful so that future MBHS students can be engaged in reading teen books and discussing issues that matter to teens."

... and colleagues.

"I don't know if I've told you about the book club that a middle school teacher and I started or not. It's for English teacher-types in our district and it's been received very well. When I started it, some of the members wanted a space online where they could chat about the books, so I added a group to the English Companion Ning called YA Book Club. I've been maintaining it online for months now and we have 92 online members. Isn't that crazycool? Maybe this something that you could write about later on next year... Just a thought!

And, you're welcome to join our group on the Ning! ... here's the address:

To read more about Hattie's classroom, go to:   Literacy and Technology Pilot, BPI and WMEC. and read about her wikis.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Kristel - English Class at Jay H.S

On December 16, I visited Kristel's English class. They had been reading Chinese Cinderella, a great book.  Kristel, decided to focus her student's attention on the universal theme in the book by making a text to text connection with Machiavelli's The Prince.  She front loaded the session with information on Machiavelli and his book, using a variety of sources.  These were located on her class blog, Teaching in 201.  You will notice she used a variety of sources including NPR and google books.

During this section of the lesson students:

  1. made predictions based on the table of contents
  2. made connections between text to text, text to world, and text to self
  3. made connections between English class and history class
  4. made decisions in a pair/share format to prioritize and summarize a paragraph
  5. identified challenges in Machiavelli's text; vocabulary and syntax
  6. identified and applied the theme to their own lives
Next, Kristel had students apply this information to their own lives with the following point of view guide, adapted from Janet Allen's work

This was very successful.  The students were engaged and wrote without hesitation.

Bravo, Kristel.

Check on Kristel next week on Literacy and Technology Pilot, where she will be the featured educator of the week.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Melissa - Art Class, Jay H.S.

On Tuesday, December 15, Melissa was working with her class on the cumulative art project on their last unit.  Melissa had assigned students a project that combined all of the basic art terms they had studied: Composition, Elements, and Principles.

 They were given the first part of the period to work on their projects as a warm up or front-loading for the assessment that would be given at the end of the class.  Melissa gave them the following concept sort for an assessment.

Finally, Melissa gave them a written assignment for evaluating their final project.  Notice she asks for rationale and meta-cognitive reflection.  Similar to writing, visual art requires the artist to be aware of their audience and their audiences' reaction.

Stay tuned.  Melissa will be sharing a reflection with us soon on the universal strategies shared by art and literacy.

Mike Henry, Social Studies Class at Jay H.S.

On Tuesday, I visited Mike in one of his college prep classes.  He is a reflective teacher with 39 years of experience.  He has been concerned with his students' focus on "learning to the test," their use of memorization to learn, and with the limitations of the textbooks he uses.  During our last class meeting he reviewed one of Janet Allen's triple entry journals and decided to give it a try.

He introduced the lesson by explaining the concern he has for them and their style of studying; memorization is the lowest form of learning.  He went on to explain he wants them to think about and develop an understanding of history and this can not be accomplished with rote memorization of isolated items.  Next he explained chapter 11 was one of the tougher chapters and he wanted to give them a thought process to try on this text.  He introduced the following template and then modeled a few examples for them.

Mike modeled thinking regarding:

The significance of  the 5 pillars for Moslems.
It made him wonder: He chose the pillar regarding giving to the poor and then connected to his own knowledge of tithing in other religions.
Next he decided to google the information on the internet and see if he could find an answer.
Now he thinks:  He did and shared it with the class.  Answer: 40th of their income.

The students were engaged and focused.  He reiterated he wanted them to just try this and consider the process for their learning.  They began working and he circulated around the room, supporting them as needed.

Shortly, the students debriefed.  This was the first time they had tried this exercise and their questions were not bad.  They were personal.  Mike commented on the questions suggesting why it was important information for them to have.  There were all levels.

After the discussion, Mike asked the students what they thought about the process.  The answers were surprising and telling.  One student said memorizing was not learning.  She had learned that in a previous school and much preferred this method.  Other students felt they enjoyed the exercise, but it took time away from time to prepare for the test.  Interestingly enough, Mike gives mostly essay tests.  Another student suggested she would use this activity as a pre-reading process at the beginning of a unit.  She found it interesting.

Mike is planning to use this exercise as she suggested, allowing students to share the new material (it must be outside of the textbook) with the class periodically and then providing extra points on the test at the end of the unit for those who can answer questions regarding the extra info.

During the final discussion, the question of the validity of information was raised.  Several students wondered if they should rely on peers to locate and share information or if they would prefer finding it themselves.  Mike guided them during the discussion to consider how to validate information on the internet as well as information presented by professors and colleagues once they enter college.

Students were engaged and enthusiastic during this portion of the lesson.  They seemed eager to hear about college and learn some strategies for preparing them for the next big step in their lives.

Celebration!! Mt. Blue!!

It is time to celebrate at Mt. Blue.  During this coaching cycle, colleagues coached one another.  The coaches will be completing their training in March.  Along with the training, they have focused on their roles as Literacy Leaders and staff development in their school.

Below, each post for Mt. Blue will include a quick overview of the lesson and then areas commented on by the coach working with the peer this year.

Kudos to all for working so hard and being committed to what is best for students.

Meadow - English Class

On Monday, Sam and I visited Meadow's English class.  She had decided to use her question game format and adjust it for revision conferencing.  Her focus was on having her students: 1.) use reader response to formulate questions for writers struggling with specific pieces and 2.) engaging writers in revision through developing audience awareness.  Meadow required her students to select a piece of writing they were finding difficulty writing.  They were to read their pieces to their group and then to share their struggles with them.  Next the listeners in the group were to write three questions based on their responses and the reflection of the author.  Finally, they were to report out to the author.   Meadow got the students started and then circulated among the groups, providing support where needed.

Meadow tried this format for the first time with us sitting in the room.  Bravo, Meadow.

Sam commented on:
1.  the clear concise introduction of the lesson
2.  the steps outlined for the exercise
3.  the focus of this lesson for this particular group
4.  the high level of conversation during the conferencing
5.  the clarifying comments made to assist students
6.  Meadow's ability to access higher level thinking with this group

Melody - English Class

On December 14, Maureen and I visited Melody's English class.  The class is made up of a small group of advanced students.  They are about to study Mac Beth.  Like many teachers, Melody is concerned with her students' ability to infer and interpret the universal themes in classical texts.  She chose to use an anticipation guide in order to allow students the opportunity to connect and focus on the themes.  Here is her anticipation guide.

Melody handed these out to students and had them mark their before opinions.  Next, she had them position themselves on the appropriate side of the board.

As Melody projected the statements on the board, students selected their positions and then were asked their rationale for their choice.  Melody was totally noncommittal - skillfully encouraging each student to participate.  After listening to the discussions, students were able to change their opinions.

 Melody was totally noncommittal - skillfully encouraging each student to participate.  After listening to the discussions, students were able to change their opinions.

The discussion was intense, thoughtful, and demonstrated a high level of metacognition.

Maureen commented on:
1.  the high level of student engagement
2.  the benefit of observing these students (she knows in various contexts) in English class
3.  the benefit of setting up a before, during, and after framework for students with this anticipation guide
4.  the high level of metacognition when students asked questions, reflected on wording, make connections, explained their perspectives
5.  the benefit of helping students look through each other's perspectives    

Jake - Physics Class

On Thursday, I visited Jake B.’s physics class with Dan R., his coach. Jake had chosen to try the Cornell note taking system in conjunction with a three level study guide  – incorporating the Question, Answer Response outlined by Raphael. Jake has been helping his students find the most effective way of learning the material they are presented in order to prepare them for college. He presented this information to his students within this context. However, this time, he had the students apply this format to the physics textbook. Jake had decided to do this after observing the students struggle with the text. Since this class is a pre-college group, Jake is focusing on helping them develop their ability to read and comprehend longer, more context text – similar to those they will be required to read at the college level. He discusses the rationale for this lesson openly with the students as he begins the lesson.  Here is the study guide he displayed on his LCD and each student had as a copy.

Jake presented the lesson to the students, clarifying the level of questions, and then had them work independently as he circulated around the room providing individual support where needed – at the appropriate level. He is clear and specific with his support. He has  had his students work on prioritizing and summarizing their material for some time. Consequently, many of them took to this automatically and did an excellent job. The students Jake worked with are mostly those not as familiar with the text structure and text features of this particular text. Jake addressed this by suggesting what he did when he is deals with text.

The connection I made while watching Jake teach, was the  problem solving aspect of the lesson,  including the link he had included on his study guide for students to try out their solutions with a simulation.  For me, it demonstrated some of the new research on using engineering to teach problems solving as well as Costa's work on habits of the mind: thinking flexibly and striving for accuracy.

Dan commented on:
1.  the high level of student engagement
2.  the overall learning behavior of this group - he has many of the same students
3. the excellent integration of technology in the class
4. other possible opportunities for technology
5. the use of positive reinforcement to focus students and encourage appropriate behavior, i.e. the use of skype in class
6. the students' and teachers' use of strategic language applied to metacognition

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jim - History Class

On December 10, Hattie and I visited Jim's history class.  Jim has a student teacher and they have been planning a unit on the Constitution. Jim is an excellent mentor. Students were going to read the Constitution.  Jim had set the stage for this by providing them with a context - the connections to Europe - as well as a study guide written by his student teacher.  After reviewing the first part of the guide, Jim had them use the GIST to summarize and categorize various sections - familiarizing them with the text structure as well.  Students broke into groups and collaborated. 
Hattie commented on:
1.  the high level of student engagement
2.  the personal connections students made
3.  the students' sense of trust and safety, allowing them to risk being wrong
4.  the higher level thinking strategies students were using
5.  Jim's individualized support of students
6.  Jim's positive feedback for all responses
7.  Jim's clarifying comments and questions

Jo's Math Class

On December 10,  Beth and I visited Jo's math class.  Jo decided to use the Cornell Note Taking method as a guide for reading the beginning of a unit.  On the previous day, Jo made a presentation to the class regarding the procedure and purpose of this method.  The guide she used is on the left.  Students had begun work on the assignment the previous day and finished it for homework.  Jo required the students to limit their cues to questions.

Jo guided the sharing of individual student responses.  She built collaboration and problem solving strategies when she asked, "Does anyone else have anything to add?", "Does everyone agree?", and "What is your rationale?".  Together students shared their thinking and clarified their understanding.  Jo acted as the experts and pointed out several areas of confusion, giving the class a heads up to possible difficulties - including textbook structure. 

She brought the session to a close by asking students to evaluate this method of learning for them and inviting them to think about what worked best for them.

Beth commented on
1.  the use of effective student language during the pair/share format
2.  the students' high level of engagement
3.  the students' ability to reflect on their thinking when using the Cornell Notes
4.  Jo's analogy of the game of jeoporady to guide students' understanding to formulate questions
5.  Jo's reflection on the use of these strategies in her classroom
6.  Jo's goal to prepare her students for college
7.  Jo's focus on comprehending, understanding the many math symbols and terms

Lisa - Senior Spanish Class

     On December 14, I began the day with Lisa in her Spanish class. This group is very high level - mostly seniors. Today, Lisa divided the class into two groups. Several students - one listener and one speaker - were working in the hall with a student teacher reviewing their use of speaking Spanish while asking and answering questions. In class, Lisa was weaving reading, speaking, listening, and writing together skillfully as she prepared the group for their next steps. This inclued a vocabulary review, introducing a word sort, and giving the students a writing assignment - retelling stories they had read. Lisa did all of this skillfully as always.
     Our ahha came during our debriefing as we discussed her recent instructional choices. She had noticed her students were struggling with some of their reading and had moved back to an easier level. As she talked about her decision - matching instruction to the class - we clarified the challenge. Her students were having problems with nonfiction text. Many high school students are challenged by nonfiction text structures. When dealing with a foreign languague, the problem is compounded by different text pattern of the sentence and the foreign language. We brainstormed several ways to help students by having them look at text features first, predict what the text might cover, and then identify and use the text structure to zero in on the layout of the big ideas and supporting details.
     Kudos to Lisa. Many of our best students stumble and fall at the college level because they can not deal with a variety of text structures and dense concepts during their freshman year.
    Stay tune. Lisa will get back to us

Therese and Her Science Class

 On December 10, 2009, Matt and I visited Therese's science class.  The students would be working on five kingdoms.  Therese had outlined a project that would help her students organize and comprehend the infomration in their texts.  Like most classes, these students were challenged by the dense concepts, organization, and higher reading level of the science textbook.  Therese supplements the text with information and scaffolds the students' use of the text in a variety of ways - i.e. scavenger hunts, study guides, etc.  Today, she decided to use an anticipation guide to outline the steps of the project and the rubric that would be used to evaluate their work.  Her goal was to set a purpose for teading - understanding the connections  between the big ideas and the supporting information in this unit.  She reviewed the anticipation guide with her students and then they began.  Therese circulated around the room helping individual students as needed.  Students shared their responses as a group and asked clarifying questions.  Therese asked them to rate this process and they decided it helped.
Matt commented on: 
1.  the high level of student engagement
2.  the success of the guide demonstrated by student response
3.  the skillful use of  frontloading and think alouds by Therese
4.  the quality of the questions
5.  the effective conclusion of the lesson
6.  the use of technology - inspiration for mapping - as outlined in the project (a great tool for mapping connections among ideas)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Early Release at Mt. Blue, December 2, 2009

On December 2, Mt. Blue held another early release day that focused on literacy.  The literacy team planned - with staff input - to provide an afternoon based on  the school wide implementation of core literacy strategies. 

Teachers were asked to choose the perspective they wanted to study.  Two groups resulted.  One was a group of 9 that wanted to examine how the strategies could be embedded in all content areas, while group two requested in depth instruction on specifc strategies with hands on time to create lessons for their classrooms.  This was the larger group and necessitated creating three separate groups. 

All of the sessions were conducted by members of the literacy team.  They did an excellent job.  This type of staff development is invaluable - teachers teaching teachers - talking about students. 

Kudos for all staff members!  Your students are fortunate.  They will all benefit!

Friday, December 4, 2009

An Invitation to ALL Content Area Teachers at ALL Levels!

Reading to Learn 

ASCD Express is looking for 600- to 1,000-word essays on the theme "Reading to Learn."

This issue will explore strategies that help students learn to extract information and construct meaning from what they read, and it will identify the new or expanded reading comprehension skills that will be necessary in the 21st century. 

The deadline for submissions is Jan. 6.  Learn more about this issue and writing for ASCD Express.

I know many of you are qualified to write this article.  Please check it out!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Power of a Teacher

"Knowing how to read changes a person's life, and you make that happen every day!Barbara Teter, International Reading Association

I received this e-mail this week and was impressed by the simplicity and the truth of the statement.  As we move forward, trying to reach all students in all content areas, we need to keep this in mind.  We often get overwhelmed by all of the demands on us.

Here is a link to English Companion created by Jim Burke, renowned author and literacy expert.  It is free.   

I hope you will find it is a place you can ask questions, share ideas and receive support from a larger community that shares the common goal of literacy for all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Purposeful Language

   Last week, I concluded my second week of coaching for EDU 590 and 591.  All of the teachers demonstrated excellent teaching.  However, what impressed me the most, was the level of purposeful language I observed students using automatically.  Students were able to trace their thinking, give rationales for opinions, make connections, and collaborate to problem solve.  Students acquire this language as teachers model it - soooo - thank you all for doing such a fine job!

Meadow S., English Teacher at Mt. Blue, November 20, 2009

   The last teacher I visited on Friday, was Meadow.  She was reading MacBeth with her students.  This was the same group I had observed earlier.

   Students had been asked to read a meaningful section of text the night before and come up with three questions to bring to class.  Meadow began the class by passing out large note cards for the  students to write their questions on.  Next she divided the students into pairs.  Students then met and shared questions by: 1. swapping note cards, 2. writing answers to each others' questions, and 3. discussing answers and rationale for answers.  Part of this discussion included what the author of the question was thinking of when writing the question.  Meadow circulated around the room and listened, offering direction where needed.  The level of conversation was high.  This group had been working on interpretation and inference for some time and were doing a great job!
   At the end of the discussion, Meadow asked each pair to write three new questions based on their discussion.  Due to the nature of the conversations, the questions were higher level.  Students were then regrouped and followed the same process.
   Finally, the group shared their understandings - sometimes challenging, sometimes agreeing, sometimes adding.
   The level of meta-cognition was excellent.  Students were able to explain clearly and concisely what their thinking was around the text, the questions, and the answers.  What a difference in just a few months!  Bravo!

Jim B., Social Studies Teacher at Mt. Blue, November 20, 2009

   On Friday, I visited Jim's history class.  I had observed this class before as they made their way through the dark ages.  They are a good group - engaged, inquisitive, cooperative.  Jim opened the lesson by asking the students to remove a shoe and place it on the desks he had grouped together.  Next, he asked them to categorize - making at least 20 separate groups.  The group were enthusiastic and they soon had exceeded the number of categories - analyzing, regrouping, rephrasing, rethinking (the categories were recorded on the LCD - over 30) .  The students enjoyed this process and talked back and forth, problem-solving and clarifying the process.  Jim summarized the process and then explained to the students that this process would be used throughout the new unit.
   Students then moved to clarifying definitions of words they had already used.  Definitions were located using the dictionary on their laptops and then used their own wording.  Jim moved among the group offering students help where needed.
   The rationale for this lesson was excellent.  During this unit, students will need to categorize information.  Jim decided to take the time to have them categorize - practice - with something fairly easy - a test run.  We often overlook this step when working with our higher level students.  This is unfortunate.  As teachers we know we can never assume anything - regardless of the level of the group!  Thanks to Jim, these students will be able to apply this process to the new concepts they will be learning.  Bravo!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Jo W., Math Teacher at Mt. Blue, November 20, 2009

On Friday, I visited Jo during her Geometry class.  I enjoy being in her classroom. 

She always has a seasonal bulletin board with jokes that require reading closely - usually a double meaning - just like math terms

...and visual aids posted focusing on recent concepts with accompanying formulas - a succinct GIST.

Jo began by explaining the students would begin a new concept and she wanted them to preview the chapter.  She walked them through, looking at the text features first.  As they looked at the text features, Jo had students summarize what they understood from the specific text feature.  She then had them read meaningful chunks and select the most important words.  Individually and then together, students created brief sentences to summarize the chunks of text.  While students reported out, Jo guided this process by doing a think aloud on the summarizing process.  Bravo!  This is a strategy they will need to use when they are reading problems.

Jake B., Physics Teacher at Mt. Blue, November 19, 2009

   On Thursday, I visited Jake's physics class.  Dan Ryder, his coach from 591, also attended.  Jake was in the process of concept mapping a chapter in the textbook.  He did this after reviewing students' notes they had taken during an introduction he had given to this chapter.  While they had zeroed in on the key concepts, they did not see the connections between the ideas and he was concerned - how could they understand if they did not know how they ideas were related? 
   In order to address this concern, he decided to have them use the program, Inspiration.  This is an excellent program for students to help them map their thinking.  As Jake moved around the room working with individual students, I could see students were having great success.
   What impressed me the most were the conversations students were having with each other as well as with adults.  They were clear that this process of mapping (students connected ideas as they made sense to them) helped them clarify their thoughts and they could explain it in meta-cognitive terms.  Interestingly enough, the maps were all different, but correct! 
   This is key for educators to understand.  Students think differently and we need to find ways to empower them. How many students receiving extra help just need to process the information in a slightly different way? This program is something we need to take a serious look at for all of our classes. - Bravo!

Melody T., English Teacher at Mt. Blue, November 19, 2009

   On Thursday, I visited Melody during her English class.  She was introducing a new unit and was frontloading the during this lesson in order to assure her students had a common understanding of the concept they would be looking at.  Maureen, her 591 coach was also present.
   Melody began by asking students to write in their journals whatever they knew or thought about civilization.  Next, they were to pick the most important word in their writing and place it on a note card to pass into the teacher.  She displayed these terms at the front of the room and asked students to explain why these were the most important (YEAH! meta-cognition). Melody clarified concepts by asking questions, helping students make personal connections, and cleaning up misunderstandings.
   Finally, Melody moved them into the frayer model format.  This was an excellent choice, as it clarified any misconceptions left.
   This will lead to the students reading Lord of the Flies.  Bravo!

Lisa D., Foreign Language Teacher at Mt. Blue, November 19, 2009

   On Thursday, I visited Lisa's classroom.  Beth W., her coach from 591, accompanied me.  I always love to watch Lisa teach.  Although I do not always get the details of the content (this lesson was in Spanish) I can still appreciate her teaching strategies and her enthusiasm. 
   Lisa focuses on meaning in all aspects of her lesson.  She immerses students in Spanish - even the directions are given in Spanish - and often provides context, using hand gestures, etc. to help students understand.  This is a universal way to communicate (I even picked up a few words of Chinese when haggling in markets this way:) ) and students respond very well.  She creates sentences to use context clues, presents vocabulary in meaningful chunks, and within the context of a story. 
   This is not memorization.  Students use these learned phrases within the oral, written, and read contexts - varying the use slightly every time.
   Comprehension in this class was checked two ways.  1.) Lisa read a story students had studied and asked them to identify the words they were having trouble with (and think why).  Next she asked  them to hold up fingers (1-5) indicating their understanding.  This is a high level of meta-cognition .  As students described their thinking, it was obvious they were comfortable with their meta-cognitive process.  Lisa spent time clarifying confusions and then...2.) Students were asked to answer questions (given orally) by writing their answers.  Interestingly enough, the students answered slightly higher than their indicated comprehension.  Bravo!

Therese H., Science Teacher at Mt. Blue, November 19, 2009

   Last Thursday, I spent time in Therese' science class.  She was dealing with two very complex concepts - adaptation and evolution.   Therese had decided to use a scavenger hunt format for her students to introduce them to the key concepts in the text. 
   In order to do this, she had created a scavenger hunt that required her students to search the chapter and answer questions based on key text features, i.e. bold words, charts, diagrams, etc.  The class had worked on this the night before and were debriefing during this session. 
   Therese uses this format in order to assess where the students are and clarify any misunderstanding.  She does this by asking clarify questions, making clarifying comments, modeling her thinking, and helping students make personal connections to their own lives. In other words, comprehend the big ideas. 
   This is often a challenge when text books are too difficult for students to read.  Often this results in students becoming disengaged and passive.  The conversation in Therese's room was anything but!  Bravo!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Melissa A., Art Teacher at Jay H.S., November 18, 2009

On Wednesday I ended my day with a visit to Melissa, a art teacher at Jay.  Melissa is an enthusiastic participant in our literacy initiative and has found many links.  Today, she decided to have her students work on textures.  She was helping students make the link between textures they feel and textures represented in drawings, painting, etc. 
Melissa introduced the idea of texture and explained to the students why this lesson was important to their next unit on drawing.  Students felt different textures on the table and described them.  Next, they were asked to find three textures in the room and reproduce them by making rubbing of them on the paper.  Students then took the textures and created collages.  At the end of the lesson, the students debriefed with Melissa and she displayed examples of texture in drawings.  This was an excellent example of frontloading a concept and building a baseline understanding of key vocabulary word.  Bravo!

Sherry H., Science Teacher at Jay H.S., November 18, 2009

On Wednesday, I visited Sherry during a biology class.  Sherry is an experienced teacher who reflects on her students' needs.  During this lesson, she was working with her class on muscle names and had been thinking about a way to help students make sense of the names, providing a hook for them to remember (meaning is always the most powerful hook).  By reflecting on her own understanding and process, she decided to create a three level study guide, as follows.

   She presented the new graphic organizer and explained her purpose and thinking.  Next she asked her students if they would like to do this as a group or separately.  The students opted to do both.
Sherry modeled the first part of the lesson and then had students try it, providing them with guided practice.  The class worked their way through the first two levels of questions within this framework, as Sherry moved around the room adding clarifying questions and comments.
   What I noticed about the class, was their ability to interact collaboratively within the group.  They were focused, used resources (including their textbooks), and purposeful language as they built a clear understanding of the concept.   Bravo!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mike H., Jay H.S., November 18, 2009

On Wednesday of this week, I visited Mike H. during a history class.  The previous day, the class had been given a list of topics and were told to pick three.  After researching them, on the internet, they were to write a summary for each one.  
Mike began the class by explaining the assignment to his students.  He told them he would pair them up and wanted them to share (tell) their summaries with their partners.  The partner would then be expected to briefly summarize one of their partner's topics for the rest of the class.  Finally, the partner who had written the original summary would evaluate the retelling.
Throughout the lesson Mike embedded purposeful language when he:
  1. explained the importance of summarizing
  2. explained the importance of listening
  3. explained the importance of speaking
  4. suggested students act as teachers when sharing summaries
  5. shared his own story of an embarrassing moment when he had to choose to continue his theatrical performance
  6. modeled think alouds and added information following summaries
  7. asked students what was most difficult with the assignment
  8. asked students why that was the most difficult part
  9. asked students how they could address that difficulty.
The entire class responded favorably to this session and learned a great deal.  The integration of reading, speaking, and listening is crucial for students regardless of the grade level.  Bravo!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kristel A., Jay H.S., November 17, 2009

On Tuesday, I visited Kristel A. at Jay H. S. during her English class. 

Kristel was introducing a new book, Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah. 

Kristel had spent a great deal of time, looking at this book through the eyes of her students, identified challenges the books presented for them, and then formulated supports to assist them in their reading/comprehension.  The class began with a quick write dealing with any type of abuse students had experienced at the hands of an adult.  Kristel modeled, after students wrote, sharing their experiences with their classmates. This was linked to the main character in the book, providing a way students could relate - building a bridge between two different cultures and beginning to develop a universal theme.

Next, the class moved to the end of the book and the historical context for the story.  Each student was given a different event from the story and asked to place it in the correct chronological order in a timeline created on google documents and displayed on an LCD. This helped students clarify the sequence of the story in order to navigate the heavy historical element and later link the two, providing a springboard for inferring.

Finally, Kristel introduced a double entry journal for students to use in order to highlight key points of the first part of the story.

The pace was brisk and moved from group to individual work seamlessly.  The frontloading and support offered to the students certainly made the book more accessible while increasing the engagement of the students.

During our debriefing, Kristel and I discussed her choice of text.  She spoke  passionately about her desire to instill in students the love of reading and the necessity to get them hooked on "good stories" with universal, accessible themes.

Bravo, Kristel.  You have clearly achieved your goal.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hattie D., at Mt. Blue, November 16, 2009

     Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting Hattie's class in the morning.  She was doing some frontloading with her students to prepare them for reading the novel, Monster.  
   The class began the period with SSR.  I saw a marked difference in these students.  I had observed them last year.  They were focused and highly engaged.  When Hattie checked on their progress, they had all read a good number of pages - silently and focused.  No goofing!   Last year they read 6,000 pages, this year 9,000 so far!

   Next, students continued to listen to a NPR tape on ghetto life.  This was a tape with two real ghetto children who were honest and realistic about their lives.  Hattie chunked the tape into meaningful sections and paused to ask clarifying questions and help the students make meaningful connections.  Life in this urbane setting is difficult for our students to grasp.  Mores of this culture is also difficult for them to understand.  However, Hattie's questions and modeling connections opened the door for her students.  After listening to the tape, the students filled in a Venn diagram comparing Urbane and Rural settings.

   As Hattie and I debriefed from the session, we discussed how the shift had been made with this group between this year and last year.  We kept coming back to the concept of "real" - audiences for writing, issues that are part of their lives, and reading they can relate to.  This seems so simple, and yet if you look at our curriculum - it is often loaded with topics students may or may not every need to know.  Language Arts tends to have more than its fair share.  How many of us have asked our students to pretend to be ___ and tell why___?  What investment is there for our students who have so many real issues in their lives and surrounding them?  Aren't we sending them a message - they are too young or too "limited" to deal with their own lives?  How do we help them transfer the strategies we teach them as they "pretend" in various roles?  Would it not be more useful to have our students use strategies on real situations and leave our schools prepared for life?  Does this connect to Wilhelm's essential questions?
    Something to think about!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sam D., Mt. Blue High school, November 16, 2009

I spent the day at Mt. Blue High School, coaching teachers in year two. As always, it was a treat.

I started the morning by visiting Sam D., a geography teacher. He was working with a ninth grade A.P. class.  They were working on the concept of poverty in the U.S. 
Sam began the lesson by having students use the frayer model to formulate a definition of poverty.  They were asked to choose their characteristics, examples and nonexamples from the materials they had explored so far: a video, lists of facts, and essays written by each of them.  Sam also suggested they could visit the web if they wanted further information.  Students engaged in this activity easily - having used it before.  After an appropriate amount of time, the students reported out as Sam asked clarifying questions and helped them make connections.

Next students were asked how the government could assist families.  While students brainstormed, Sam recorded responses using inspiration and an LCD.

Finally, Sam passed out a article that coordinated with the theme of government help.  Sam asked the students read the article and then write a GIST.

Throughout the lesson, students were highly engaged and Same kept the class at a good pace.  Students offered eagerly.  Poverty is a complex concept and this lesson helped build groundwork for the rest of the units.  Bravo!

Reflection on the Literacy Fair at Mt. Blue

Priscilla C., a high school teacher with 44 years of classroom experience shared this comment with us as she reflected on Mt. Blue's Literacy Fair at the end of October.


The Literacy Team's presentation at last week's Early Release was impressive.  The Early Release activity provided me with useful tools to implement NOW in my classes.  It was nice to be made aware that the activities are similar to what I am currently doing but known by a new title.

All participating members were so eager help and share.  Hattie really impressed me!  I liked her strategy with the pebbles!!!!   I have already begun walking around my neighborhood collecting pebble and I recently purchased various jars of paint.   Dan's tools can easily be adapted to my subject area.  Jo showed me how I could link her creation to my Accounting 1 class.  Meadow and Melody extended affirmation on an idea I developed to include literacy in classes.  Thanks friends.   Jake, Jim and Dave Ronald were so willing to share developed forms with me.

The entire afternoon proved to me that you really can teach an old dog new tricks!
Please convey my thanks and appreciation to each team member.  I look forward to more sharing regarding Literacy.  This day was wonderful.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Priscilla!  

Friday, October 30, 2009

Guided Inquiry Equals Inquiry Circles at the High School Level?

In a earlier post, I mentioned that a group of teachers from Livermore Falls High School, engaged in a 3 year literacy initiative, are reading and implementing the instructional framework from the new Harvey and Daniels book, Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action.  While this appears to be a huge leap for most high school staffs, this group had been working on implementing literacy strategies for 2 years and this text organizes the strategies and takes them to the next level - guided inquiry.

"Inquiry helps kids to think creatively.  When you capture their imagination they begin to think creatively and creativity solves problems for life."   taken from Guided Inquiry, Learning in the 21st Century.

We decided to take on this challenge for two reasons:  1. the literacy team's proven expertise in the area of literacy strategies and 2.a need for increasing student engagement.  We viewed this approach as a way to invite students in and make the mandated curriculum pertinent to them by teaching them how to make connections as well as ask and answer real, individual questions.  WOW! what a tall order and a lot of work!

Early on, I followed the conversations on the English Companion NING book club it became apparent that implementation of this format might look different at the high school level.  However, the staff decided to give it a go and on October 28, 2009 I coached 4 teachers.  Using the following framework from Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action.

"Students gain competence by being guided through an inquiry process by teachers and librarians...Guided inquiry is grounded in sound research findings and built on solid professional practice.  Through Guided Inquiry students gain the ability to use tools and resources for learning in and beyond the information age while they are learning the content of the curriculum and meeting subject area curriculum standards."

_ Immerse   _Investigate     _Coalesce     __Go Public    

__Student Voice and Choice
__Questions and Concepts
__Collaborative Work
__Strategic Thinking
__Authentic Investigations
__Student Responsibility
__Interaction and Talk
__Teacher as Model and Coach 

__Cross-Disciplinary Studies 
__Multiple Resources
__Multimodal Learning
__Engaging in Discipline
__Real Purpose and Audience
__Caring and Taking Action
__Performance and Self-Assessment

Following is a brief summary of three excellent lessons demonstrated as we start to implement this new instructional framework.  Stay tuned as we follow our students and teachers.

Guided inquiry to Teach Theme?

The first lesson I observed was presented by Sarah F.,  English teacher.  One of the challenges all teachers face is how to teach students to how to infer/interpret theme.  During our pre-conference Sarah stated clearly that she believed her students had to be able to connect literature to their own life or it was a meaningless experience for them - so she had devised a plan for them.

Students were given the overall framework of the lesson which consisted of: 
  1.  Students broke into small groups.
  2. Each group received 4 Aesops fables to read.
  3. After reading the fables, each group was to do the following:
    1. using a quote from the fable, state what the theme is
    2. rewrite each theme in modern English
    3. brainstorm and list at least two modern experiences (per fable) that can teach the same lesson as the fable
NEXT Groups were asked to:

  1.  Think about four lessons and the experiences that today can teach us the same lesson
  2.    As a group, decide which theme is most relevant and universal and come up with an argument to prove it
  3. Report and support your decision as we debrief
As students worked, Sarah moved around the room asking clarifying questions and supporting the group process.  Students were held accountable for their interactions as a group, following many of the guidelines outlined for inquiry circles.

__Listen Actively
__Speak Up
__Share the Air and Encourage Others

__Support your Views and Findings
__Show Tolerance and Respect
__ Reflect and Correct

Students moved through this process smoothly.  Groups were heterogeneous.  This is an example of immersion.  Sarah was clear with her students regarding the purposes of this lesson: 1.  reading books this year, would focus on theme and 2.  theme comes from one's life and experiences.  The lesson was a great success.

Social Studies/Research Meet in a Guided Inquiry Unit.

Michelle B.


 Cathi H.

introduced a 9th grade social studies class to a guided inquiry unit on countries.  The lesson was very well written and taught. 

 Michelle and Cathi balanced teacher choices and student choices extremely well.  For example, Michelle chose the countries while she allowed the students to choose 10 topics from the ABC's of World Culture poster. Both teachers modeled think alouds, prioritizing, webs, etc. - a number of pertinent literacy strategies.

Next Cathi previewed types of books available to the students, modeled how to locate information on
MARVEL, choose the just right level for them, and then reviewed the boxes of books prepared on each topic.  By framing her comments around what was just right - as well as Michelle supporting her by reiterating what just right is - students were comfortable with the idea of differentiated reading materials.

Michelle then turned the last set of decisions over to the student groups.  Each group was allowed to choose a country to research - based on what number they drew.  However, every team member had to agree.  This worked well for all but one group.  Next, students were set to the task of writing contracts for group expectations - re: responsibility, behavior, conversations, etc.  Michelle collected the lists and agreed to write rubrics based on this information for students to use during the project.

This lesson was a powerful example of slowly releasing teacher responsibility and turning decisions over to students.  It is also an excellent example of teaching students the basics of information literacy - starting with how to locate and choose information accessible to themselves.  We need to remember that information literacy is a new concept - especially when combined with technology - and most students come to us with little or no background regardless of grade level.