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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Jay High School Teachers Demonstrate Literacy Strategies


On October 13, I spent a great day coaching teachers at the Jay High School.  I love visiting classrooms and observing skilled teachers and this day was a treat.  This district has focused on literacy - reading and writing - for 5 years.  Dr. Robert Wall, superintendent, has supported teachers by supporting the teachers with resources - staff development time, materials, subs, and other finances.  The majority of the teachers have completed one or two year programs and have received graduate credits or continuing contact credits.

Thank you, Dr. Wall.  Teachers must have administrative support in order to succeed.


I began the day with Michael H.  in a social studies classroom.  Mike is an experienced teacher who has developed many of the strategies we are exploring this year.  He is intuitive and does what he finds works.

We began the class by reviewing the vocabulary graphics Mike had given the students the day before.  He chose 8 key concepts and had students write the definition in their own words, write examples and non-examples and then illustrate the term.  Because this was the first time this class had used this method, Mike projected the student examples up on the board for the class to share.  Through out the review, Mike did a think aloud, modeling connections and questions in order to help students clarify their understandings.  Like many high schools students, Mike received a mixed response to this assignment and we brainstormed during our debriefing trying to think of ways to engage these students.  Illustrating is often a stumbling block for older students because they view drawing as a younger student activity.  However, as they begin to become comfortable with the process, they will hopefully begin to explore graphic analogies that will move their thinking to a higher level.  If any of you have any ideas, please comment and share with us.

During the second part of the class, Mike had students orally share their summaries of famous Romans who lived during the great age of the Roman empire.  Two students had been assigned the same character and reported out to the class and one another at the front of the room.  Mike used a pair/share structure for the entire group.  His guidelines were:
  1. One speaker shares the most interesting points of his Roman's life
  2. Speaker number two listens and adds any other interesting information they might have discovered
  3. The class is asked to:
  • take notes
  • ask clarifying questions
  • add any further information  they might have about this character
By using these guidelines, it assured the students were engaged and monitoring the discussion - something we all sttrive towards in our classrooms.

Thank you Mike!

Next, I visited Kristel A.'s room.  She is a young teacher, a graduate of UMF, who loves reading and writing.  Her period would be focusing on teaching writing - often a challenge with students of all ages.

Kristel began the lesson with an activity to organize a pair/share grouping for her entire class.  She provided students with a "social calendar" - a great graphic organizer - that each student had to fill in with a "date" for each day.  The students had great fun with this and moved along enthusiastically.

Once this task was completed, Kristel called them all back and explained to them how they would be using this information and what their focus of the class would be for this day.  She presented an awesome powerpoint - focused and to the point.  Her slides were engaging and she used analogies - PEE_WEE Herman and Superman - throughout the class to discuss supporting details.  Clear, concise.

Kristel then used a text, Clear Thinking and Writing by John Langan.  The book provided examples of paragraphs with supporting details - one with Pee Wee Herman details and one with Superman details.  Kristel modeled her thinking for the students in response to the first paragraph and then began to  provide students with scaffolded practice within the pair/share format she had organized - including a graphic organizer for responding.  This consisted of having a student write down their own thoughts, then sharing their thoughts with each other, and then choosing one idea to share with the class.  This all moved along at an appropriate pace and the students were engaged and on task.

However, what I was most impressed with was her way of teaching the power of the details.  She moved to real reader response by asking students what images stayed with them from each paragraph.  This is crucial and addressed metacognition in a real way.  Students get the opportunity, first hand to experience the power of good writing and trace their own response back to the specific text that generated it.  This strategy is crucial for reading especially at a higher level, for example when students are called on to inference.  Kristen continued to scaffold her students' practice for the rest of the period.

Great job, Kristel.


I ended my day with Sherry H. in science.  During this period, Sherry taught biology.  Her students thoroughly enjoyed the class and gave her many endorsements:)  Sherry is a reflective teacher.  She tries out a variety of approaches, using those that work best for her students.

Sherry is very comfortable with small group work.  She began the class by having students work in small groups and correct their previous quiz.  She then moved to word wall work (she has word walls for every class), using a word sort.  She introduced the sort by talking to the students about categorizing and using the books in the back of the room to explain there are many different ways to categorize.  Students then broke up into groups and Sherry distributed a graphic organizer to help students with the sort.  Sherry told the students they would be working on closed sorts, assigned by her.  She began by giving them the first category.  As students worked, she moved around the room supporting, guiding, and keeping everyone on task.  There were no confusions allowed.  Periodically, she would mention common concerns to the students and clarify for them.  For example, "This list will be short.  Don't be worried if it is short."  Her awareness of her students and her ability to individualize in this format is excellent.  This is what scaffolded practice looks like.

What impressed me the most, was the students' independent use of their textbooks and their old exams.  As I moved among the groups, I asked students how they were checking their answers.  Each one had developed a way to monitor their work by checking back to a primary source - not just throwing it out to the group.  They could explain how as well as talk about the effectiveness and how it helped them learn.  YES!

Sherry and I talked after the lesson about ways to support the students and help them stay focused.  What we talked about was eventually having them report out at the end of each sort and timing them once they had mastered the process for word sorts.

Super job, Sherry.

Thanks to the staff for an excellent day.


On October 14, I returned to Jay to visit Melissa A.'s room.  Melissa is a art teacher who participated in staff development last year and began to see parallels between visual literacy in art and the literacy strategies we are exploring this year.  Many of the strategies involve similar  processes.  I observed this during her lesson.

Melissa has posted a word wall of artists in her room.  The students are asked to look at the artists' work and then compare two artists' work that deal with similar content - and have some similarities in their composition.  This type of analysis - compare and contrast - is a strategy we use when dealing with ideas and text structure.

Melissa opened her lesson using comic life.  Students were very excited about using their computers. Melissa introduced the 7 elements of art with a powerpoint presentation and handouts for the students.  They then discussed the elements in relation to the pictures they were drawing - tying prior knowledge to abstract terms.  Next, she asked the students to use the cameras on their laptops to photograph different types of lines.  The students became quickly engaged and moved around the room looking for samples or creating drawings that demonstrated the specific descriptors Melissa had given them.   Students then used the comic life program to add the descriptors using the conversation bubbles.
They were so engaged, they were disappointed when the bell rang and some of them did not have the chance to  print their final products. 

Bravo Melissa!

If anyone has any ideas or questions they would like to share in response to these lessons, please post a comment or click on the reaction button at the bottom of the page.

Keep posted, we have more coming:)