This is year two as principal of Mt. Blue High School for Monique. she and members from the staff attended the Model Schools Conference in Atlanta, Georgia this summer and spent a great deal of time planning the 2009-2010 school year. Monique and I met in August to schedule staff development days, she was very clear on the high school's intent to focus on literacy until it had been embedded in all classes. This had been the message at the Model Schools Conference - be focused, consistent and thorough when dealing with schoolwide staff development. In this time of state and federal mandates, it is refreshing to hear the voice of common sense and best practices. Bravo, Monique.
On October 15, I visited the following teachers.
A few key points common to all Frayer use in the content areas.
- non-examples are the hardest, but require the highest level of thinking
- teachers scaffold students during group work
- many contents, like physics, are like a foreign language to students, so teaching key concepts in depth is definitely not a waste of time
In order to provide the students with the opportunity to learn through conversation and collaboration, here are a few key points common to think, pair, share.
- there needs to be a framework for the use of this strategy
- think, pair share should begin with each student writing a response to the assignment
- students need to be given a time limitation and be notified halfway through
- students need to have purposeful language (discussion extenders) modeled for them
- students need to use appropriate, purposeful language during the pair share
- debriefing is key, giving the rationale for choices
As I watched her, I was reminded of the similarities between her class and the others I had observed that day. Truly, content at the high school level is often like learning a foreign language. It is concept dense - both in vocabulary and experience - and the texts, much like the language structure in Lisa's class, are presented to students in a text structure format they do not know.
Our challenge is to provide the bridges for our students to cross in order to access and comprehend the information. All of these lessons supported students to that end.
On October 16, we began our first year of peer coaching. Teachers who have completed year one spend year two refining and expanding their literacy strategy teaching in the classroom with students and colleagues alike. Based on Costa's meta-cognitive coaching framework, teachers teamed - one demonstrating a strategy, the other observing and debriefing. It was great!
I began the day with Jocelyn W., a math teacher (demonstrating), and Beth W., a special education teacher (coaching).
Jo completed the lesson with a concept sort. She used a closed sort, having students identify types of triangles from examples she provided.
Jo demonstrated several key factors teachers need to think about when activating prior knowledge or frontloading.
- ask clarifying questions in order to identify confusions
- clear up confusions - the extra time is worth it in the long run
- have students use prior knowledge in order to firm up understandings as well as embed the information in the students' schema
The class was transitioning periods of history and Jim was front-loading information with them. He began the period with British terms - historically appropriate - some known, some new. The students were engaged and enjoyed this. My favorite was candy floss - ask Jim:)
Next, he introduced the frayer, with a twist. Instead of a word, he used a concept - attitudes towards women in the middle ages. Jim followed this with a read aloud from The Fishmonger, a book by Edward Rutherford. He modeled a think aloud as he read the book, making connections from text to text, text to self, and text to world. During the think aloud, he invited the students to participate and make connections with him. In conclusion, he asked the students to infer attitudes as discussed by the book and the connections - extending the attitudes to the students' mothers lives. This was higher level thinking at its best! He kept the pace moving along and every student engaged. The link between historical fiction and nonfiction at this level can enrich the students' understanding of history and make it come alive.
Reflecting on Jim's demonstration, I drew three conclusions to offer you.
- Adjusting the strategies to your content area is what good teaching is all about - as long as you keep the cognitive process intact, as Jim did.
- Read alouds when combined with think alouds are powerful for all grade levels. New language along with different text structures need to be presented in this manner, building a background for the student. This is time well spent in all content areas and will assist students later when trying to access text independently.
- Many teachers use literacy strategies intuitively. Teaching them explicitly and using the common terminology shared by the rest of the staff assists students in acquiring and applying them sooner.
"I personally want to see that students are engaged and actually working/discussing. I also want to make sure that students are actively reading and showing understanding and synthesis. I think some of them have a tendency to say "good enough". This should show them that YES the selected poem works well or NO the selected poem does not."
The lesson I observed was part of a unit that began with the entire class reading, The House on Mango Street. Meadow and the class then recognized and labeled the key themes explored in the book. Next, students paired up and were asked to find pictures, quotes from poems, books, and songs that supported the themes. Meadow completed this activity by demonstrating how to make a text to text connection (including inference) and instructed the students to review their choices using this format.
As I observed this process, it was obvious Meadow had assessed her students accurately. They did struggle with this process as outlined regarding the text to text connections. Meadow moved around the room, scaffolding students as needed.
Lesson learned: regardless of level, all students can use support in the area of literacy strategies and higher level thinking.
On Monday, October 21, I visited 3 of the teachers involved in the second year of the literacy initiative - and what an awesome day! While all three presented great lessons, I want to focus on the teaming they were doing.
Dan R. and Sam D. are co-teaching a humanities course - social studies and English. With the support of the administration they planned and scheduled the course this summer. They have 30+ students with the two teachers in the room at one time. While I could go on at length about the literacy strategies they have incorporated, our discussion today demonstrated the rich opportunities they are providing their students. During class, they shared with the literacy team a think aloud they teamed on - one read and did a think aloud for the first paragraph followed by the other teacher for the next paragraph. They switched off all the way through the text. What better way to collaborate and model interdependency?
As we continued to debrief, they shared the following insights.
- The content overlaps and creates a natural fit:
- Grade 9 English deals with issues of identity, belief systems
- Grade 9 Social Studies deals with geography and contemporary issues
3. The course is formatted as a pilot, building on students' learning styles
4. Students were selected for the pilot by identifying those who don't work well in traditional
5. Students are taught to recognize their own needs, i.e. which article can you read?
6. Students are challenged to think in a way they haven't thought before
Matthew A. and Maureen P. are teaming in another way. Matthew is a math teacher and Maureen is a English teacher. They are teaming around one of their freshman classes where they have a large number of students who overlap. They went in a slight different direction.
Recognizing the link between literacy strategies and thinking strategies, this team went in a different direction. Matt and Maureen co-authored a graphic organizer to teach students to read math problems and solve them.
Students were asked to write what they know from the problem as well as any other pertinent information. Next, they guess what the answer might be and then they attempt to solve the problem.
This is an excellent format. It requires students to engage in a cognitive process involving:
- identify the important information
- decide what strategy (mathematical process) to use to solve the problem
- predict what the answer might be
- perform the process
- check the answer against the prediction (guess)
For freshman this is crucial. There is a large body of research that supports the difficulty of the transition freshman are faced with and unfortunately, many students are so defeated by this experience they decide not to pursue post secondary education. Some even decide to drop out.
Lesson learned: all four teachers have identified a need specific to this grade level and have put in place a plan to assist their students, targeting literacy strategies used in all content areas. We will follow these pilots as the year moves ahead. Stay tuned~