Tip of the Week
[Re-posted from "Simple Science Strategies," April 3, 2013]
Struggling to find time to teach science in a day full of math and language arts?
Trying to move beyond fun activities to authentic learning tasks that lead to big scientific thinking?
Wondering how to take your students beyond the superficial to the higher order thinking of a real scientist?
Get a copy of The Essentials of Science and Literacy.
Who Would Enjoy The Essentials of Science and Literacy ?
- Literacy support teachers who are in classrooms during science instruction;
- Teachers in priority districts, where the traditional focus has been on increasing literacy scores;
- Teachers who like to use an integrated approach to instruction;
- Instructional coaches who are charged with helping teachers improve their practice;
- Any teacher who wants to raise the level of rigor and engagement in their literacy and science work.
Read a review of The Essentials of Science and Literacy
For ordering information:
Click on the image, above, for information on ordering this text from Barnes & Noble.
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Homogeneous groups are a type of instructional group where learners are placed with other students who are alike in some way. Literacy instruction in most public school settings includes
time in homogeneous groups, usually based on overall reading level, using
instructional level texts as the primary reading material. This structure is
based on the work of Marie Clay, and others, who advocate that students should
be working on their instructional level,
with texts that are just a little higher than what they can read and comprehend
independently. Identifying a student’s independent, instructional and
frustration levels in reading has made reading instruction much more enjoyable
for students, and has led to better targeting of specific foci for instruction,
for groups of students.
While homogeneous groups have their place in instruction,
only using homogeneous, leveled groups can lead to some unintended problems in instruction:
- While they may progress within their instructional level groups, students in the lower groups often do not “accelerate” – that is, the lowest
performing students do not make up a year and a half’s growth over the course
of the school year, and end the year as behind as when they started the year;
- Learners work with their instructional level
texts, but students do not apply learned strategies to more challenging texts, nor learn
additional strategies for navigating appropriately complex texts (e.g., grade-level,
or above) – and these might not even be the same strategies;
- Although generally supported as a strategy for increasing performance of gifted and
talented students, scientific literature does not necessarily support homogeneous ability grouping for other groups;
- Grouping of students based on literacy level
creates de facto tracking, as other content areas may now be “leveled” because
of scheduling reading instruction;
- Students in the highest groups often do not receive an
equitable level of instruction, as they generally are more independent in
academic tasks, and can complete grade-level assignments without adult
assistance – consequently, while they start out and end the year ahead of their
classmates, they do not make a year’s growth, as they often receive less actual
direct instruction with appropriately challenging material;
- Homogeneous grouping may undermine the use of
collaborative groups and student discourse, as the lowest readers might lack
sufficient oral language skills or background knowledge to have extended discourse
and the highest students may be accustomed to working in isolation, rather than
Reading Level, vs. Literacy Level
Using the overall reading level of a student (such as her
DRA level), rather than a specific skill area, can also make instruction challenging
in homogeneous groups:
- Because reading is a complex task, reading
level, alone, is not specific enough to help the teacher select an appropriate
instructional focus for a student;
- Students in a “group” may be at the same DRA
level for many different reasons, and need different strategies from one
- The students in the lowest performing groups may
need many different skills, that planning appropriate, targeted instruction
for their groups becomes challenging;
- Reading level only measures some components of
comprehensive literacy: speaking and listening, word work, writing and other
areas are not adequately measured by the DRA or other similar assessments;
- Student groups may become static, as reading level changes more slowly than specific skill proficiency.
Why Focus on Discourse?
Forming mixed instructional groups to foster
student-to-student discourse is based on several principles:
- The best peer to model a particular skill or
strategy is one who most recently mastered it;
- Listening and speaking come before reading and
- Comprehension of a topic or concept exists
separately from being able to decode a text about it;
- Comprehension can be measured by how well a
student discusses a topic or concept;
- Talking about a topic or concept is a rehearsal
for writing about it;
- Discussion has to be explicitly taught, just
like other literacy skills.
Forming Discussion Groups
Here is one way to form groups that foster
- Rank the students in your class from 1-5 on
their English Oral Language, with 1 being a beginner, and 5 being the highest
with regard to their oral language skills (ability to converse, vocabulary use,
ability to listen to other speakers, ability to work around sticky points when
working with a group, etc.).
- Form groups of students with mixed rankings,
with a range of similar (but not the same) abilities (see the graphic for an
example), such as 1-2-3 together, 2-3-4 together, and 3-4-5 together.
- To distribute the groups among several
classrooms, you can now have a low, medium and high group, but the groups will
be heterogeneous. And, because you are grouping on a specific skill, you won’t
have “predictable” groups: e.g., you might have a student ranked as a 4 or 5,
based on oral language and group leadership, who is a struggling decoder,
Provide literacy tasks at a lower reading level
than instructional, because your focus will be on discussion strategies to
prepare a group oral response to questions. (Literature Circles work well for
To Form Groups across Classrooms
Rank the students for the whole grade level.
[NOTE: This example assumes the following distribution of
students, when ranked by oral language proficiency, just as an example. Use
your own numbers here.]
- Rank 1 – 8 students (new arrivals, with limited
English oral language proficiency)
- Rank 2 – 12 students
- Rank 3 – 20 students
- Rank 4 – 16 students
- Rank 5 – 4 students
You will want groups of 5 students for discourse. In this
example, there are 20 students per classroom, or 4 groups per classroom.
To form “leveled” classrooms (to prioritize
assignment of adult supports, for example), concentrate the 1’s in one
classroom, and the 5’s in another (you may have to adjust this, depending on
your specific numbers).
Distribute students of a given rank across a
number of groups, paying attention to dynamics among particular students
(remember, you want conversation, so you want to create groups of students who
will be supportive of one another.
Refer to the diagram, below, for one way to form mixed instructional groups, based on a oral language proficiency, across multiple classrooms. (NOTE: This same technique could be used to form mixed groups for any other skill, as well).
Regardless of the content area (math, science,
reading, writing), provide learning tasks that focus on discussion.
- For reading, instead of guided reading groups, create literature circles, and
provide discussion prompts.
- For math, provide complex problems with multiple possible solutions, and have groups collaborate to solve the problems.
science, provide a scientific claim that students must find evidence to both
support AND refute, before they select their stance on the issue.
- For social studies, create a gallery walk of artifacts for students to discuss and respond to.
- For writing, create peer editing/revising groups for process writing assignments.
Grade Level: Upper elementary
, reluctant readers
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I do a lot of work with schools that have high populations of Second-Language Language Learners, including "newcomers," students who are new arrivals to the United States.
In these classrooms, both elementary and secondary, teachers make great use of hands on activities and visuals, to separate the cognitive demands from the language demands of their instruction.
Here's a visual review of some techniques they've used recently:
1. Labeling: Classroom objects are labeled with their English names. In some classrooms, these signs are labeled in English, Spanish, French, Twi, and whatever other first languages are present in this high school classroom.
2. Visual Dictionary:
A "menu" book is created for school lunch items in an elementary school, with their names in English and in Spanish. Many times, there is not only a language barrier, but a cultural barrier, because the foods are not ones eaten in their culture.
3. Graphic Organizers: Graphic organizers help students see the relationship between pieces of information, even when the words on the page are not understood, making the input more comprehensible. Shown is a sheltered instruction general math class.
4. Visual Technology:
The SmartBoard is not only visually
accessible, but interactive, and students can manipulate maps, words,
numbers and other figures right on the board. Other helpful
technological visual aids include iPads, iPods, student responders, and
5. Student-created Visuals:
Timelines, maps, diagrams and other visual aids have added meaning when students work together to create them. Here, the visual of the timeline and the student-drawn images help make the timeline come to life in high school social studies.
6. Directions in Words and Pictures:
Using pictures to reinforce written words helps to clarify directions.
Directions for routine procedures are posted on large charts, where students can access them independently. Vocabulary in the directions is clear, and high-frequency, Tier 1 vocabulary words ("write", "draw") are used repeatedly.
Here, a high school science teacher in a sheltered English class posts the directions for a vocabulary game that students use to reinforce and practice general science vocabulary.
7. Target Language Goals and Words:
In this high school English classroom, language goals, and their corresponding vocabulary, are posted for a reminder to the teacher, and students, of the skills to be practiced in speaking and listening.
8. Word Walls: In this high school math class, the focus is on Tier 2 vocabulary words that will be used across content areas, and in all math subjects ("position", "round", "fraction"). In addition, high-concept, Tier 1 words are included ("move", "each").
Common phrases or questions are included.
Having the vocabulary in a pocket chart allows students and teachers to manipulate them for activities, or take them to their desks for reference, and allows the teacher the flexibility of rotating through vocabulary words as students master them.
My thanks to the students and teachers at East Hartford High School and Franklin H. Mayberry Elementary School, in East Hartford, for sharing their work on this blog.
The Race to the Moon, 1960's...
Back in the "olden days," before A Nation at Risk, before No Child Left Behind, teachers taught children in a free-form, holistic approach. I remember, as an elementary student, creating a mini-world out of moss and soldier lichens in a mason jar in 3rd grade, creating a cloud in a bottle in 5th grade (with the help of my teacher's lit cigarette -- I know, I know -- but this was the 60's...), learning how to play chess in 5th grade, and dissecting a humongous cow eyeball in 6th grade. We created weather maps, backdrops and props for school plays, and photo albums of our class field trips to a local pond.
Kids these days still do some of these things, but a greater portion of these activities has been condensed to less and less of the weekly schedule, to make way for more explicit skills instruction. We know the reasons for this, some political, some educational. And we have definitely seen that some specific groups of children have historically been "left behind:" students with disabilities, students of color, urban children, poor children, and students who are learning a second language. For many of these groups, our hyperfocus on skills has produced great gains, and we've learned to be better diagnosticians and better teachers. But, alas, we are seeing some of the unintended consequences of this skills-focus, as well: kids who passively attend classes, waiting to be "filled" with information; students who do not know how to think, question or wonder, or problem-solve; and children (and teachers!) who question the relevance of the material that is being taught to today.
The Giant Circle
Here we are in 2012. The Common Core State Standards have raised the bar for many educators and their students. The Next Generation Science Education Standards imminent release have schools scrambling to, once again, find time for science instruction in a schedule previously usurped by reading, writing and mathematics, the "testable" subjects. A sluggish American economy has forced districts to more and more with less and less.
There is a movement afoot to return to teaching rich topics, and infuse the literacy and numeracy skills required to learn important scientific and historical ideas: a rising number of "theme" public schools as choices in urban areas; a growing number of charter schools devoted to the arts or sciences; STEM magnet schools emerging across the country. Along with this, there are thousands of teachers trying to go back to the "old" way of teaching, with the "new" way of looking at skills and standards infused within.
I am having a great time working with teachers all over, as they explore favorite topics through the lens of the Common Core State Standards. Here is the first in a series of articles on creating integrated, standards-based curriculum.
Wildflowers and Seeds, an Integrated Study for Fall
I am building an elementary unit for the start of the school year, on wildflowers and seeds. I chose this topic because I have a desire to build a series of studies around short nature walks and hikes that can be conducted anywhere. One of the things the students will readily observe in September is an abundance of late summer wildflowers in flower and bearing seeds.
I know that I want to emphasize several key ideas:
- Nature Study
- Rules, Routines and Procedures for a New School Year
- Describing with Adjectives
Brainstorming, by Content Area
- seed dispersal mechanisms
- observation strategies
- science journals
- nature centers (learning centers)
- weather data (to accompany the skill of observation)
- exploring the 100 grid
- exploring the number line
- navigating the math text book
- exploring number facts (fact families, x tables..)
Everyday Math includes many activities such as these as the entire first unit in many grade levels. I want to include the specific learning task, "Numbers All Around."
- exploring time lines
- exploring maps & globes
The overall focus for social studies will be on building a community of learners.
English Language Arts
- Reading/Literature: Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney (done in "Five in a Row" style)
- Reading/Informative Texts: understanding and using field guides to wildflowers
- Reading/Foundations: using context clues to identify meaning of unknown words in context
- Writing: Perspective of a type of seed (strategy: RAFT paper)
- Language: adjectives and adverbs (strategy: "Dressed Up Sentences")
- Speaking/Listening: asking and answering questions
See links for additional information on the FIAR strategy and RAFT paper details, including purchase information, where applicable.
More About "Five in a Row"
Many homeschoolers develop integrated studies around high-quality children's literature by using a technique called, "Five in a Row" (FIAR). This curriculum building technique, developed by Jane Claire Lambert and Becky Jane Lambert, is an easy, fun way to build a collection of learning tasks that are connected to one another, by using a great book as the connector.
In the wildflowers and seeds unit I am developing, I know that I want to use Miss Rumphius
as my "spine," because the text has an engaging story line, interesting and deep characters, a moral and a clear connection to the science topic (seeds and wildflowers). Because of the quality of the literature, I know that I will be able to consider a great many connections to various content areas, giving me (and my kids) many different ideas for an integrated unit. (Click on the photo for ordering information).
In FIAR, a piece of literature (or a chapter, if it is a novel) is read (or re-read) every day of the week. Each day, learning tasks are developed which correspond to a particular content area. Let's consider Miss Rumphius for a moment:
Monday (Social Studies): All About Maine (geography, topography, history, climate and culture, coastlines... whatever fits my grade-level social studies curriculum)
Tuesday (English Language Arts): A Character Study: Miss Rumphius
Wednesday (Creative Arts): The Dry-brush Watercolor Technique (art response to literature)
Thursday (Applied Mathematics): Our Classroom Weather Calendar (sun index, length of day, high/low air temperature, rainfall... whatever fits my grade-level math measurement standards)
More About RAFT Papers
are a Project CrISS Strategy for helping students organize their writing. The acronym, RAFT, stands for...
For a study of wildflowers to go with Miss Rumphius, how about a study of seed dispersal mechanisms?
- Role = a burdock fruit (burr)
- Audience = a neighborhood cat
- Format = a thank you note
- Topic = helping the burr move to a new home next door
- Role = a poison ivy berry
- Audience = a cedar waxwing (bird)
- Format = a persuasive letter
- Topic = why the two should become friends
- Role = a dandelion tuft
- Audience = the local meteorologist
- Format = a letter to the editor
- Topic = review of the local weather forecasts
- Role = a jewelweed plant
- Audience = little kids
- Format = instructions
- Topic = how to make a seed rocket
More Links on Miss Rumphius
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With the increased focus on the Common Core State Standards
in all content areas, science and social studies teachers are looking for ways to include additional, authentic literacy experiences in their instruction. Journaling and notebooking activities can be used to incorporate more writing task within your science classes.
"An Apple a Day" is the first in a series of science journaling pages that follows the apple tree
throughout the year. This first set focuses on the formation of the apple fruit from the flower.
See Simple Science Strategies
as additional sets are posted, including the next set (prepared for October), which will focus on the development of fruit and foliage color in the fall.
I recently had the opportunity to work with a group of teachers, grades 4-6, as they were developing literacy centers to help support independent learning during small group intervention times. The focus of our centers work was vocabulary practice.
Life in Ancient Rome
We chose Ancient Roman times as the focus of our practice work, as a couple of the grade levels have the history of ancient times as part of their social studies curriculum.
Our first step was to go through the chapters we were working with, and make a grand list of all kinds of words that we might use when working with the students.
Our goal through all our vocabulary work was for students to understand the vocabulary words in conversation and reading, and to use them correctly in speaking and writing.
Key Principles When Creating Vocabulary Centers
Before we begin developing vocabulary centers, we need to review some guiding principles for learning centers and working with vocabulary words:
Principle #1: Independence is the Goal
Remember that these are intended to be independent activities. Your grade level standards are the student performances that you would expect by the end of the school year, so whatever you design for the centers should be scaled back appropriately, or scaffolded.
When you think of scaffolding for learning centers, remember that you
(or another adult) are not supposed to be the scaffolds. So think three "p's":
Explicit directions, the kind of organizer you use, hint cards, etc., are all ways to use print to scaffold for independence. Likewise, using real props (books, realia, photographs, audio tapes/CDs, artifacts, manipulatives, pocket charts) provide support for students as they work independently.
Peers are an underutilized scaffold in classrooms. I don't mean having more knowledgeable students work with strugglers, but the meaningful grouping of students into collaborative units, where they converse and problem-solve. In my classroom, when I was working with small groups, I used the "Ask Three Before Me" rule for solving problems during centers time: 1) first check with someone in your group; 2) next check with your study buddy 3) finally, check with a class "expert" (we posted these in the centers area, so students new classmates who were "experts" on various topics.
Remember that centers are not intended to be silent work, but should promote discourse.
Principle #2: Relationships Rule
When working with words, students need to look beyond dictionary definitions and really get to know that the REAL meaning of words exists between them
. In other words, it is the relationship between words that carries the real meaning in a text.
Therefore, the activities that we provide within a vocabulary center should reinforce the relationship between words, the meaning of the word within the context of the passage, and the cognitive process we want students to practice with those words.
David Hyerle developed a series of graphic aids that reflect eight different cognitive processes we would want students to practice. He calls these Thinking Maps
. On the surface, they resemble the graphic organizers with which we have become so familiar in classrooms. One major way that they differ, however, is that students actually construct them, rather than fill them in. And there are only eight of them, as Dr. Hyerle posits that beyond this, organizers are just variations on a theme, and, for simplicity's sake, it is better for students to be very familiar with eight major ways of organizing information than a hundred subtle twists.
In the vocabulary training, I worked with teachers to create vocabulary activities that mirrored the various types of thinking maps and the types of thought processes
we'd want students to experience with vocabulary about Ancient Rome.
- Defining in context
- Describing using adjectives
- Comparing & contrasting
- Showing cause and effect
- Classifying and categorizing
- Ordering and sequencing
- Demonstrating part-whole relationships
- Illustrating analogies
For example, in the illustration, above, students are sorting vocabulary words regarding life in Ancient Rome, based on whether the word talks about the life of men at that time, women, or both men and women. There is also a category for words that the student is unsure of -- a great way to monitor for increased understanding over time.
Principle #3: Think Tier 2
Linguists have divided English words into three categories, or tiers, based on their frequency and manner of use. (NOTE: It should be mentioned that these tiers have nothing to do with the three tiers of RtI [Response to Intervention]). The three tiers of vocabulary
can be described as follows:
- Tier 1 -- High frequency, basic sight words (e.g., day/night, color words, positional words, etc.)
- Tier 2 -- High frequency words that exist across multiple content areas, have multiple meanings, or are frequently used in academic directions (e.g., root, cell, problem, base, array, justify, order).
- Tier 3 -- Low frequency words that are subject specific (hypotenuse, ecosystem, fiduciary)
When we choose words for explicity vocabular instruction, we should concentrate most heavily on Tier 2 words. Why? Because they are the kinds of words that we hear in mature, adult conversation, they occur in multiple settings and give us an opportunity to discuss meaning in context. In short, they give us the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time.
So we look over our big list that we created at the beginning of the session, and we begin sorting our words into Tiers. Our final list is going to be mostly Tier 2, with some really important Tier 3 words, just a few, added. We will add Tier 1 words if the needs of our audience require them (e.g., support of second language learners).
Another note about the photo here. You'll notice that I've included a blue card with the set number, the topic ("Gladiators") and the skill focus (concept comparison). I like to think that I'll remember, next year, what I used this packet of words for, but the reality is that this baggie of words looks alarmingly like the other 76 packets that I created last year. And I DON'T always put my stuff away in a timely fashion. So I need to remind myself!
Principle #4: "7 plus/minus 3"
I once visited a high school English class in a district that had adopted a district-wide focus on vocabulary instruction. The reaction of this teacher to the initiative was to write every vocabulary word to be covered that semester on his front white board -- about 150 words, words like alliteration, irony, foreshadowing, soliloquy, allegory, hyperbole, paradox, protagonist... All semester, those words sat there, staring at the students. I wondered if they had turned into one gray blur by day 5 of the semester.
Learning theorists have found that there is a magic number of "things" that the human brain can mull over at a given time, and it is far fewer than 150. The general rule of thumb is that new items to be processed should number around seven, give or take three, depending on the age/ability of the audience and the difficulty of the material or the task in which it is imbedded.
Think of the long numbers you have to remember: Social Security Numbers, bank account numbers, telephone numbers, passcodes. Notice that they are conveniently divided into groups of three or four digits. If they aren't, we do it ourselves. Some of us can remember a number larger than 10, but most of the important numbers we need to recall are 10 digits or less.
So, back to our big list. I like to generate the master list, which may have 30-40 words on it. But, for an individual lesson or activity, I then select a subset of 4-10 words that is a good fit for that activity. In the photo, above, I demonstrated how I would use different colors of index cards for different sets of words, differentiating the difficulty of the words based on the readiness of groups of students. Some words might show up in multiple sets; some sets might include more Tier 1 words, some might have a few more Tier 3 words, some might have more complex forms of the Tier 2 words (e.g., artisans
, instead of craftsmen
). But all sets would be limited to the rule of 7 plus/minus 3.
I have found that this thinking has an impact even on the vocabulary work of the elementary grades, where students are often given worksheets of 20-25 words and asked to work with them during the week. That's about twice as many as would be recommended.
Principle #5: Whole Group Before Independent
Whenever you introduce a new activity to students, before they can do the task independently, they need to have the activity defined, modeled and practiced as a whole group. Once they have demonstrated that they can do the task with support of the teacher, then, and only then, do we move on to doing the activity as an independent learning center.
Vocabulary activities as described here are a breeze in these days of Smart Boards. One fourth grade teacher that I coached was a master at creating vocabulary word activities, where he, and then the students, dragged virtual vocabulary cards around the Smart Board, as he conducted whole-group practice sessions with any new vocabulary activity. The students could then do the vocabulary activity in partners using the Smart Board (as a center), or using real cards at a learning station.
Remember, scaffolding can still be provided in the form of print, props and peers, as students move to complete independence in any activity.
One excellent way to accustom students to the activity as a whole group, prior to turning them loose on the activity in a center, is to involve them in the creation of the centers materials, as a class. Teachers thoroughly enjoy creating the activities using colorful index cards and markers -- and students will, too. Rather than spending your evening hours creating students' vocabulary materials, plan to introduce the words through the students' creation of their own word sets. The photo, above, shows all the materials you need to create engaging vocabulary sets for students. I used sandwich sized zip-style baggies to store the word sets. You can use sticky file labels to mark the baggies with student names.
Principle #6: Rules, Routines & Procedures
Many an excellent learning station has gone south, quickly, when a teacher has neglected to be extremely explicit about how to "work" the station. I never assumed anything, when working with new routines. If I wanted the students to put finished work in a certain basket, I told them, as I physically put the paper in the basket. Then I marked the basket, "Put finished work here!" Otherwise, I found it on desks, under desks, in desks, in backpacks, on the floor, by the water fountain... And not just in elementary classrooms, either.
I usually advise teachers to look over their weekly plan books as they ponder them (I usually did this on Sunday afternoon!). Then I identified one or two rules, routines or procedures that students would have to master in order to be successful at the activities I had outlined, and then I planned explicit mini-lessons for those routines: "Working With a Partner," "Selecting 'Just Right' Books," "Signing up for Conferences," "When You're Finished..." It saves hours of time (maybe weeks?) during the school year, to take the time right off the bat, to make sure that we are of one accord in the classroom.
The Guiding Reading Book, by Fountas and Pinnell, has mini-lessons for many classroom routines -- ask your literacy coach if your building has a copy of either the elementary or middle grades version.
Our Vocabulary Activities
We developed an assortment of vocabulary activities that stretched students' thinking beyond the normal "word on one side, dictionary definition on the other" routine (links are provided for downloadable resources for each activity):
"Children of Ancient Rome" -- Students work with differentiated word sets, color-coded by the difficulty level of the word sets. Using the VOCAB strategy, students work as a cooperative group to arrange their vocabulary words on the bulletin board, creating a web that shows the relationship of the words to one another. There is no "correct" answer, but students need to be prepared to share their thinking.
"Life in Ancient Rome" -- Pairs of students sort their word sets based on whether the word relates to the life of a Roman man, Roman woman, both men and women of Rome or unsure. After sorting their cards, students transcribe their sort onto a sorting frame to submit.
"Roman Gladiators" -- Students delve deeper into the various relationships between words, using a concept of definition frame to show what they know about Roman gladiators. Because this is a sophisticated tool, the teacher might pre-"program" portions of the frame to scaffold for independence (remember, "print" is one of our scaffolding techniques in independent learning centers).
You will notice that the materials include a summary after each vocabulary activity. It is important, when using any organizer or handout, that students are able to summarize what they overall learning of the activity was.
Have a joyous, peaceful, sunshine-y summer!
Schools all over the state (and country) are communicating data to stakeholders through the use of data walls. Businesses have been doing this for decades. This article reviews some of the considerations when using data in various school settings, based on some of the observations I have made in schools over the past several years, as well as teacher feedback.
Personal Data Walls:
Teachers have re-discovered the importance and impact of sharing a student's progress with the student, and inviting that student into the data-driven decision-making process. Special educators have had students track their progress (fluency graphs, sight word checklists, DRA levels, etc.) for years. More and more, classroom teachers are having students do the same in the general ed classroom, and are seeing the impace on even the youngest learners.
First-grade teachers at O'Brien STEM Elementary School in East Hartford use file folders as personal data walls for their students. Students graph their writing scores five times a year and post the graph on the left side of the folder, as well as keep track of their mastery of their first grade sight words in a graph on the right side of the folder. Photocopies of the graphs are sent home periodically to communicate with parents, and the students use their folders during conferences. The folder format creates a handy way to send scores and student work to the receiving second grade teacher at the end of the year.
Classroom Data Displays
In a previous post ("Getting Data Teams Up and Running, 2011
"), I shared one of the best classroom data displays that I've seen, where the second grade team at Mayberry Elementary School in East Hartford created a "walking data wall" to show student progress in the DRA2. Teachers at O'Brien found that placing their student reading group table near the display helped keep students focused on their goals. They also met with parents at this table, so that parents could see where their children fell in relation to their peers, in their reading progress.
Public Data Displays
When it comes to displaying data outside the classroom, teachers and schools have to make some decisions:
- Who is the intended audience for this display (parents, other students, other teachers/staff)?
- If parents, what is the intended purpose of the display (to inform, to teach, to call to action)?
- If students, how will students (in your class and others) use the data? How will their attention be drawn to it?
- If other teachers, how will the data be highlighted? What will be the intended action?
Recently, I met with teams of teachers at O'Brien STEM Elementary School, in East Hartford, where we discussed how to make hall displays parent friendly. Here are some suggestions for sharing data with the community:
- Use a small amount of data to show the reason behind the current classroom work (e.g., a bar graph showing DRA2 data to show why 'retelling' is the current area of focus in Grade 2). Parents can support school focus more easily if they understand why it is important.
- Avoid "sorting" words like "below basic," "proficient," "substantially deficient," etc. While we may use these words as teachers, they do not evoke positive and encouraging thoughts in parents. Better to provide the goal, and visually show progress toward the goal. People will get the picture, without the "punishing" words.
- Use lots of visuals to show, rather than tell. Classroom teachers can share photos and vignettes of ways that they addressed the data focus, to show parents the kinds of activities that support learners in that area.
- Provide a pocket folder with "take-home" ideas. One fourth grade teacher at O'Brien provided parents with ideas on how to support the grade-level focus at home. Other teachers provide a classroom newsletter as part of the display, to make the display interactive.
- Turn your display into a "waiting room." If there was something I wanted parents to see, I placed a desk next to it during parent conferences. Waiting parents could interact with the display while they waited for their turn at conferences.
The photo at left shows one school's approach to making hallway data displays parent-friendly. Click the photo to see their description of the display.
School Data Displays
I was at E. C. Goodwin Technical High School last week, and got a chance to take a good look at the data display they had in their main office conference room, before the school data team meeting convened. Here were the components of the display, simply tacked to the bulletin board):
- The School Improvement Plan (front page with main goals showing)
- CAPT data graph, showing 5 years of standardized assessment data (reading, writing, math and science) for 10th graders
- NOCTI data graph, showing 5 years' performance on the standardized trades exam
- The school professional development plan and calendar for the year
- CMT and CAPT (state assessment data), disaggregated by student graduating cohort)
- Guiding questions for the School Data Team
- CAPT data graph showing 5 years of reading scores and 5 years of writing scores
- The Reading Action Plan from the SIP
- The most recent English Department Data Team process summary (i.e., their most recent data team minutes)
- A narrative description of their current strategy focus (a teacher-created strategy to make more meaningful connections to literature)
- Dipstick data on a scoring rubric
- CAPT data graph showing 5 years of math scores
- The Math Action Plan from the SIP
- Math screening data (from STAR Math) - grade-level profile
- The most recent Math Department Data Team process summary
- A narrative description of their method of selecting a targeted group of struggling ninth graders for a focus group on working with exponents
- Dipstick data (via "quizlets") for the targeted student group
- Office discipline referrals for the year, by month
- A narrative of school-wide strategies being implemented to address ODRs
- CAPT data graph showing 5 years of science scores
- The most recent Science Department Data Team process summary
- A bulleted instructional plan to address the current student learning focus (developing a problem statement) in Science
- Summaries of professional development to address literacy, numeracy and comprehension strategies in the trades
The display clearly showed the alignment between district, school and departmental goals, as linked by their four guiding questions (as shown below). On a montly basis, the team gathered for brief reports, by department, then discussed school-wide strategies to address themes that emerged across disciplines. For example, their most recent debrief revealed a student learning issue around making meaning from text that was technical in nature: assignement directions, math word problems, scientific procedures, technical manual specs, etc. They then discussed the adoption of a school wide strategy for paraphrasing technical texts (going from part to whole), as well as a school-wide strategy for analyzing problems and procedures (whole to part).
For more examples of public data displays, see my Pinterest board on School Data Walls
. The examples show different formats that schools have chosen to present data. Choose the format that best suits the purpose and culture of your team and school. I will continue to add to the board as I see examples to share, so check back often.
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We know that there are ways to review quiz results that are less than effective ("Okay, folks, number 4 is x+2... number 5 is 14... number 6 is..."). But we also know that we can't spend a whole class period working through each problem.
Here is a way that one department uses their SmartBoards to create an engaging, effective way for students to review quizzes and assessments.
SmartBoard Item Analysis
Students, especially as they get older, don't like to ask for help or share when they get an answer wrong. But most of us (adults included) don't mind at all when someone asks us which problem we got right.
Several science teachers at East Hartford Middle School
, in East Hartford, Connecticut, have students come up to the SmartBoard and plot a "smiley" (or a star, in another class) next to the number of each problem that they completed correctly.
In this example, the total number of students was 23. Most items had 21 correct responses (91%); the lowest correct response rate was the last item, where 19 students scored correct (83%).
After students plot their responses, the class can talk about items that were particularly problematic, or which stood out from the others. Because of the anonymity of the task, a teacher can ask, "Why might so many students have given an incorrect response to number three?" and students can begin to analyze the problems that occurred in that item, without talking specifically about their own work:
- "It said to 'justify your answer,' and I wasn't sure what 'justify' meant..."
- "Maybe they weren't sure which were the dependent and independent variables, because it wasn't given..."
- "If they didn't draw their line graph well, they couldn't really find out the intercept..."
- "Maybe they didn't understand what the question was asking..."
At Seymour High School
, a physics teacher has students use their cell phones as "responders," taking a common formative assessment that collects the answers in a shared spreadsheet on Google Docs
. The teacher can tell what time a student takes his quiz, and from where. He closes the "window" at a certain time -- anyone who hasn't logged in by that time is locked out of the quiz. Then he creates a graph of the responses for each item, that he posts on his SmartBoard, for the students to review. He can highlight the correct answer, and focus on incorrect responses that seemed to trip up a chunk of students.
Of course, if you are fortunate, you can purchase student responders to use with your SmartBoard, like the Connecticut Technical High School System
has. Practice tests and quiz review were never so much fun as when you can see the responses real-time, like a game show.
For more articles on technology and feedback in the classroom, see below:
In other news...
Here are the other interesting tidbits that have passed over my desk this week:
Last week I posted some information on data teams, including some links to other schools' websites, with forms, schedules and videos. The Connecticut State Department of Education has posted videos that Connecticut educators can access using your educator identification number (on your State Teaching Certificate). See the CALI (Connecticut Accountability for Learning Initiative) page
, sign in using your email and password, then click the "Media" tab.
If you loved Classroom Instruction that Works
and The Art and Science of Teaching,
then you will really love Visible Learning for Teachers
, by John Hattie. A group of teachers and consultants pored through this book as part of a Data Teams training recently, and we were astonished about the true impact (or lack of...) of some of our tried and true strategies. I won't spoil the surprise. Definitely one for the adminstrator bookshelf.
We Give Books
is a website where students can read children's books online, for free. Books read by online readers are matched with donations of books to one of several charitable causes aimed at putting books in the hands of children around the world. Bookmark the website for your computer center.
"I Need a Strategy to Help My Kids _______..."
This month, I have spent a lot of time with teachers, developing lesson plans and analyzing assessment data, and selecting targeted strategies to meet specific, data-based needs of students. Here are the highlights from March:
Based on the use of 12 Structure words, this strategy for explicitly teaching mental imagery is helpful for teaching students how to infer, develop more specific details in their retellings and writing, and to comprehend the author's selection of words and images in the story.
Here are some selected links for teachers interested in learning more about this powerful strategy:
QARs(Question-Answer Relationships) (Raphael)
Students often write weak responses to questions when they respond to literature, because they don't understand 1) what the question is asking them to do; 2) what KIND of question they are answering and 3) where they would look for the right information to answer that question. QARs explicitly teach students how to determine the TYPE of question they are reading, in order to determine where they need to look for the correct information to answer the question.
This article contains a clear and concise overview of the research and the use of QARs in the classroom, and includes planning tools to help teachers prepare a variety of question types, and to help students work with various questions during guided and independent reading activities. A great resource.
This engaging, simple and effective tool is useful for building background knowledge collaboratively before beginning a new unit of instruction, for monitoring understanding and reflecting during instruction, and as an organizer for cooperatively summarizing learning before students independently summarize their own.
I have found this to be a very successful strategy with students from the earliest primary grades, through adult learners. And, incidentally, it is one that most of my teachers want to try first.
Looking for an easy way to organize your planning to meet the Common Core State Standards? Wondering how to show students that literacy is a balance of guided reading, self-selected reading, writing and working with words? The Four Blocks Model using a simple graphic to organize your planning around these four areas. All of their materials are coded by these four blocks, making it easy for you to see if you have all areas covered, and making it simpler to convey to students what part of literacy they are working on with a given activity.
Teachers.Net has a web page dedicated to sharing ideas on using the Four Blocks Model for planning and instruction -- see "4 Blocks Literacy"
for access to plans, chat boards and other resources.
Teachers from primary grades to high school struggle to get some of their students to understand main idea and supporting details, or to choose the most powerful and effective evidence to support their arguments in writing. The Four Square Writing Method helps students conceptualize the relationship between a topic, a main idea/thesis statement/argument, and the details that support it. It also helps younger students distinguish between interesting facts and important details when they write and respond to literature. By using a simple four-block graphic organizer, students gradually work from simpler conceptual relationships to longer writing pieces.
I used this method when I worked with my students and found it to be a very versatile and effective thinking and writing tool.
Teachers at Vermilion Parish Schools developed an online tool
for students to use, to help them use the Four Square Writing Method.
Thinking Maps are learner-created maps that demonstrate the structure of a particular cognitive process. On the surface, they resemble graphic organizers in their non-linguistic format. Unlike graphic organizers, they begin with a blank page, and are learner-created, based on the cognitive process we want the learner to use: defining, describing, categorizing, comparing, sequencing, showing cause and effect, showing part-whole, and illustrating analogies.
You will notice that all of these strategies involve talking and thinking more than filling out papers. Why would that be so? What is this telling us about teaching? What is this telling us about our kids?