Greetings from Italy! I am literally typing this as my mother-in-law makes pasta from scratch behind me. I suppose that next week I will be saying greetings from hot and humid Florida as I will be home!
Thank you for your participation in this summer's #sschatbook talk! I usually go for history books but I read this for a work related book study and thought it would lend well to a summer chat--short chapters, nine of them (perfect for summer break), and most importantly, useful for immediate classroom application.
I am looking forward to your comments on the questions posed. I hope that this book will challenge your thinking and allow for some inner reflection that will make a positive impact on students in the coming school year.
What I love most about our PLN is that it is very organic--teacher driven not district. I know that we have the best of the best here who are willing to take the time to improve their craft. Questions will be posted each Sunday....chat away!
Part A (Choose 1 question)
Please respond to one of the following questions:
1. On page 15 Willingham writes, "[b]ut without some attention, a lesson plan can become a long string of teacher explanations, with little opportunity for students to solve problems." What are some ways that you can avoid this type of planning. For "seasoned" teachers", how have seen your planning "grow" as you became more experienced? For new teachers, what can you learn from seasoned teachers in your approach to lesson planning?
2. On page 15 Willingham writes on background knowledge, "[i]f they lack background knowledge, the question you pose will quickly be judged as "boring." In the social studies (especially), this is often tied to socio-economics. The kids that are well traveled tend to be more interested in matters of history, geography, government, etc. How do you help to bridge this gap for students in your attempt to build background knowledge?
Part B (ALL)
What did you take away from this chapter or what was your "ah ha" moment?
Bill I agree. I became really motivated to be a more dynamic classroom teacher when I taught an evening Alternative High School program. Some of the best lesson ideas I have ever created came about because I saw that I need to engage them.
A1: A way that I open the door for “problem solving” is through the introduction of a variety of primary sources into my classes and hopefully train them to become “historians.” When I first started teaching, I was stuck in the pattern of lecture, worksheet, and create some type of visual. I had to be the center and in control of how the learning was taking place in my classroom. Not realizing I wasn’t allowing the students time to process what they learned or teaching them the necessary skills they needed. I wasn’t allowing to my students to see why I was passionate about history and how useful studying history could be, other than my storytelling skills. Then I discovered the power of primary sources in my class. Now at the beginning of the year, I model how to analyze the documents and often find myself saying “Ms. K does this when…,” “I wander…,” or “I think this…because…” Over the years I have found that many of my students have never worked with primary sources as “hands-on” activities. They may have seen an excerpt or a visual flashed up on the projector, but rarely have they had a chance to delve in and truly experience the documents. Now I offer a variety of primary sources (visuals, graphs, written documents, etc.) to my students as “text sets” on a topic, which helps differentiating the material between student learning styles and abilities, especially in groups. In these activities, I give them essential questions to answer and/or analysis tools, and I walk around as a facilitator. The students need time to reflect, process, and think about what they are learning. Too often as a teacher I am in a rush to get to the next topic, but I have learned that they need that time and it allows for me to check for the students’ understanding of what we are covering. It does take some extra work in planning, but I believe the rewards in the students being able to critically think and discover the answers themselves is key.
B: Something that I am still working on is giving the students time to process information and reflect on the material we are covering. With the pressure of an end of course exam, I feel I have to rush through the material in order to get it all done. But often in the “rushing” I forget to give them that essential processing time. What stood out to me was what Willingham said about “slow[ing] the pace, and us[ing] memory aids such as writing on the blackboard that save students from keeping too much information in working memory” (Kindle Location 428-429). The students need to see their thinking. By making their thinking visual, it opens the door for them to process the material and allows for me to informally assess what they are learning. Though I do some of this, I realize I need to do more.
I am hoping to introduce primary resources and learn to model my thinking with the students. As I mentioned below, I am teaching middle school social studies for the first time, so I am not sure how this will go. I remember helping my daughter with her AP US History class and reading primary documents. Her favorite strategy was to right notes in the margin "in everyday words" so she could understand what was written. I really like your idea of text sets - something I read about a long time ago in my teaching classes, but had forgotten about. I will have to add that to my list of ideas for next year.
The idea that we always feel like we are rushing resonates with me. I am sure that I need to take time to just let ideas germinate, but I feel like it is hard to pause and really, truly, deeply reflect. Providing processing time is really important. I like to have students create visuals early on in the unit and then leave them hanging around the room so we can go back to them, reflect and if necessary correct them. Returning to these touchstone visuals helps us to see how our thinking changes.
A1: When I read the paragraph that includes the above sentence, I started thinking about cognitive work and how my middle school students have different abilities to think abstractly. I found this with my own children and again when teaching middle school students. This is something I have to keep in mind as I plan my lessons so that the opportunities to solve problems do not become a string of my explanations/prompting trying to get them to come to a conclusion. As mentioned in the next paragraph of the book, I need to make sure they have sufficient background knowledge while not overloading the working memory. Since this is my first year teaching social studies, I imagine I will have some trial and error as I develop opportunities for problem solving that meets various levels of abilities. My idea right now is that we will do some of this in small groups or partners so they can discuss and “flesh” out ideas, and I will offer a menu of choices (structured around Blooms) for individual work so they can choose something that they are comfortable with.
B: What I took away from this chapter is to not overload the working memory. I am going to try to do a better job of not talking through every direction, but instead providing written directions and/or screencasts that students can access instead of trying to remember everything I said. I have found that most students tune out half the directions anyway, so about half way through last year I tried to do this more often. Ironically, the students hated it. They wanted me to give directions once, and then answer everyone’s individual questions too. I spent the whole class running from one student to another answering procedural questions. Part of solving this will be consistency on may part in directing them to the directions.
Lisa, I had this problem too, with my 50/50 classroom of sped and gened. I found that everyone was better off if I used some standard practices so that the procedural elements were always the same for certain activities (like getting into groups, retrieving materials, etc). Content related directions (that might vary by subject matter) were always on the screen, very large, with limited steps or requirements. Then I would just refer to the screen. It took months every year to get everyone on the same page with this, but it did work.
Hello, Kimberly - Great comments as well about putting the directions up on a screen. It amazes me how little they make use of the information we try to give them... I should do that more often, as it’s very clear when a student asks a question that’s clearly answered on the screen and all I do is wave at the screen and move on to someone who really needs assistance..!
Hello, Lisa - I totally agree with your comments on directions (the good, bad and ugly). I wanted to share one thing I’ve had success with. WARNING: It’s about as low-tech as you can get!
I call it ‘Paperclips’ and I use it when do group work. After they are in groups and I have given them a brief verbal overview of what I want, I start passing out written instructions. Attached to the instruction sheet are three paper clips. These are each groups’ Question Tokens. Every time they have a question for me, I walk over, take a paper clip and answer their question. Once they are out of paper clips, they can’t ask me any more questions.
The first few times I do it, there’s always someone who immediately asks “What page do we read in our textbook?”. I go over, take a paperclip and - boom - the group is down one question. It is *amazing* how quickly group members begin policing one another!! I tell them that group members are resources and I should be used like the Supreme Court - as a last resort. It only takes one or two rounds of this to get them thinking for themselves. It has lowered by blood pressure by at least 10 points!!
John, I love this idea - it is simple and effective! I will have to try it out next year.
Thanks for sharing this technique, John. What happens, though, if a group actually has four exceptionally thoughtful and important questions, the answers to which are beyond their resources, but within yours? Would you really not answer the fourth?
Honestly, Bill - in six years, the only times I've had a group have a legitimate fourth question is when it is something related to the directions - where I was not as clear as I could have been. If that's the case, I don't take the paperclip, announce "Attention Staff - important announcement: I screwed up!" and clarify the direction/procedure, being sure to give credit to the group that uncovered the issue.
So many questions that come out of the groups are ones that they themselves can answer, but choose not to (whether it's due to a lack of communication or just taking the easy way out by throwing up their hand and looking for rescuing).. Hope that made sense..