Tag Archives: Student

High Expectations …for kids.

A group of teachers  and I went to a workshop and watched a video of a grade 6 literature circle.  We had a chance to discuss it in our group and we thought that the students had done a pretty good job:  they were engaged and lively in their discussion, they talked about the book, they made reference to the book and talked about their connections to the main characters.  It sounded rather like a book club meeting I would go to.  When it was time to share with other table groups we were surprised that others had thought it was not a good discussion.  They thought the conversation should have been deeper.  They thought that the students should have referred back to the text more.  They thought that all students in the group should have spoken.  They thought that students should have not interrupted each other and used politer language (eg. Have you thought about this point?)  We wondered if our expectations were too low or were theirs too high?

A student in our school who spends a lot of her day with one-to-one support has been very unhappy by 1:00 p.m.  When we met to talk about strategies we began to realize that this young lady has constant “teaching” all day long because of the individualized instruction.  None of our other students are “on” for that long every day.  She probably needs more down time.  Maybe our expectations were unrealistic—most kids get lots of down time at school.

The grade 3 team was doing some teacher moderation of student writing.  We used our rubric to examine each piece.  As we get better at teaching, we also get better at knowing how to improve each student’s writing.  We needed to remind ourselves that many times this was good voice, good plot development, good arguing for grade 3.  Maybe the description was a little overdone; maybe the plot didn’t flow well.    Of course we could do better.  But they are just learning.

Our math teachers do lots of group work.  They have noisy classrooms.  Upon entering my first reaction is that it needs to be quieter.  But when I listen in on the conversations, they are all about math.  The students are all talking about math, all the time.  I don’t think that 30 grownups could talk about math quietly, so I shouldn’t expect that 30 students can.  In fact, I am impressed that 30 students are all talking about math for 20-30 minutes at a time.  There is an expectation that the students will be mathematicians who argue, and figure and ponder together.

So I have been thinking about all these things and wondering about the expectations we have for kids.  We want to set high expectations for all kids.  We want students to set goals and reach them.  We want our students to learn that it takes effort and hard work to achieve goals.  But, they are kids.

Imagine the following:

  • You have to sit on a hard plastic chair all day long. I hate long meetings.  I can’t wait for the break.  Sometimes I go to the bathroom just for a break, not because I have to.  Sometimes my head hurts because I have been concentrating so long.  Do we let our students stand, get up and move, go for a run around the school?  Should we purchase more exercise balls to sit on?
  • Your best friends are sitting right beside you but you can’t talk to them. Have you ever been to a meeting with your friends?  Don’t you talk to them?  Does your group at a PD session always stay on topic?  Do you ever laugh and joke around?
  • After you have worked a really long day, you have to take more work home (I know, you usually do; you’re teachers) and there is no research to prove that the work you do at home makes any difference whatsoever. A little bit of homework is ok.  But, in the grand scheme of life, is homework going to make or break a kid’s life?  And what if everyone else at work didn’t have to bring work home except you, because you didn’t really get it?
  • You’ve just been introduced to something new. You don’t quite get it. It’s new.  It’s different.  It doesn’t quite make sense.  Don’t you want someone to sit with you and explain it again?  Don’t you want some time to struggle with it before you have to show anyone?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have some feedback as you go along?  Don’t you want someone to maybe show you exactly what they mean?
  • You have to write a test. You have studied.  You paid attention in class.  The questions on the test don’t look like what you did in class.  You’ve never had to think like that before.  Some of you will relish the challenge but many of you will panic.

We are doing a great job of having high expectations.  It is always good to remind ourselves that they are just kids.  How does school look from their perspective?  High expectations are important; we want to make sure that the expectations are also reasonable for children-children who are curious, anxious to please, have lots of energy and short attention spans.  High expectations, yes; but not unreasonable ones, not ones that we wouldn’t expect of ourselves, not ones that don’t celebrate and recognize that they are children.

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Filed under classroom environment, classroom management, pedagogy, student behaviour

Is Teacher Lingo Good for Kids?

This week I went to an engaging literacy workshop. I had a wonderful time discussing strategies and meeting with colleagues. I came away feeling like I “get it” even better and that is my definition of good professional development. And, I learned some new lingo: ‘Rules of Notice’ based on the work of Peter Rabinowitz in Before Reading. I liked, as a teacher, the idea behind “Rules of Notice” because it helps me, as a teacher, break down reading comprehension, develop mini-lessons, better understand how readers process text. (Here’s a link: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/collateral_resources/pdf/r/reading_bestpractices_comprehension_rulesofnoticechart.pdf). Among the literacy teachers we began to discuss things like:

– should this become an anchor chart?
– should kids know that these things are called “Rules of Notice”?
– how much of this language should we use?
– do kids need to ‘learn’ this?

Over the past few years I have begun to worry about how much of the language of pedagogy is being transferred to students, all with good intentions, and probably arising from the very clear research that states that students learn best when we give them clear learning goals and success criteria. But, do they need to learn the lingo in order to learn the stuff? And, do we get caught up in having kids learn the lingo at the expense of learning the stuff?

It is not uncommon to hear young readers having a lesson on “Making Connections”. The teacher is reading an engaging book aloud and the young readers are putting up their hands every time they “make a connection”. The worry I have is that the students are so focused on the singular task of “making a connection” that they are missing out on the richness of the story. And, often, many of their “connections” do not add to their deeper understanding of the story at all. It reminds me of the time I saw my daughter doing her grade 11 English homework. She was flipping through the novel while watching TV and messaging her friends. I asked her what the assignment was. “I have to make a connection. I’m looking for one. I’m really getting tired of this making connection stuff.” In both cases the lingo of teaching had become the task and the greater point of why and how readers use the strategy of making connections to understand text had been lost.

So how much of the lingo that is embedded in our current practice is important for students to understand? Can a student understand the associative property of multiplication without being to able to name it? Do primary students need to know the term “success criteria” in order to understand what to do to make their writing better? Can I, as the teacher, use the “Rules of Notice” to help students understand text without calling them such? I think so.

When I go to the doctor, I don’t want the doctor to speak to me in the same lingo that she speaks in with other doctors. When I go to the mechanic, I definitely do not want to speak the same lingo, and, in fact, I do expect him to understand ME when I refer to the thing-a-ma-jig that is rattling. And, when I go to a five-star restaurant, I do not need to know all the fancy cooking terms to talk to the chef. Now, one could argue that in all those cases I am not learning the material the “expert” knows, I am only conversing with them. But our students are not learning to be teachers–they are learning to think and create and do at the level that is appropriate to their development.

Learning goals and success criteria do not need to be hung in a primary classroom labelled as such. They certainly don’t need to be written in a kindergarten room where no one can read them anyways! However, a primary class could have an anchor chart titled “What Good Writers Do”. A junior math class can have examples of how multiplication works without labeling it the associative property and the distributive property. We need to begin to think about how to communicate the ideas to students in language that is jargon free and appropriate to their learning.

Educators know that clear targets, examplars, learning goals and success criteria communicated to students will help them to succeed. But, let us not mix up clear communication with rote learning of educational jargon. Let’s remember that they are just kids trying to make sense of the world. We, as their teachers, have a lot of knowledge about content and pedagogy. We use that knowledge to make sense of our profession and talk to each other. We are not teaching students to become teachers. The real gift of teaching is engaging students in discovery and wonder in ways that make sense to them. I don’t think the pedagogical lingo is helping.

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Filed under learning golas, pedagogy

Book Clubs and Non-fiction Text

I am guilty, as a female, of reading mostly fiction.  So when someone asks what I am reading, I invariably default to the novel in which I am engrossed despite the fact that at any given time, I am probably perusing at least 2-3 nonfiction texts as well,  the internet daily, and a few journals or periodicals. On a daily basis, I probably share more about my nonfiction reading with friends and colleagues than I do my novels.  We know as teachers that we need to engage our students in both fiction and non-fiction text.  We also know that many of the boys in our classrooms may gravitate towards nonfiction more readily than fiction.  A friend of mine was wondering about literature circles with nonfiction text and how those discussions might look.  And, as a teacher, how might one respond to reader’s notebook entries about nonfiction text.

As always, I began to think about how real readers (usually me) interact with nonfiction.  We need to treat our students like real readers and give them the same authentic experiences.  When we read nonfiction we are generally looking for information.  So when students discuss that information they might:

  • discuss the cool and interesting things they discovered
  • talk about how their new learning fits in with what they thought before
  • reread any confusing parts and try to make sense of new information or things they don’t understand (often we reread nonfiction many times as we grapple with new concepts)
  • talk about how the diagrams or pictures support their new learning
  • evaluate whether they think the author is reliable (and this is very important when doing research, reading websites, looking at primary sources)
  • think about other texts or places to gather information that they may now wish to know since their interest has been sparked

If part of your literature circles or readers’ workshop is to have students write letter to you about their reading, the above points could also be part of their letters.  As a teacher, it is important to write back as a reader.  When other readers tell me about their nonfiction reading, I usually relate it to things I already know about the topic, questions I might have about the information, and why the person is interested in the topic.  So if a student was reading about hurricanes and had written to me, I might respond back with some comments about the facts s/he had told me, some questions I may have about hurricanes, and maybe a confusion that I might have.  I could ask the student to tell how his/her interest in hurricanes had come about and what, if anything, they were planning to do with this new information.  I might relay some information I had about hurricanes and wonder if it were correct according to the student’s source.  We could even chat about whether depictions of hurricanes in film and literature were truthful according to the facts.

Don’t shy away from talking about nonfiction text with your students just because your comfort level is fiction.  Next time you are reading some nonfiction, think about yourself as a reader and how you are interacting with the text.  That is always the best way to guide how you can help students to learn to be a proficient reader as well.

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Filed under Authentic Tasks, Literature Circles

Open-ended Tasks: Worksheets???

We have begun to have some discussions about multiple entry points.  Given that our classes are not homogeneous, if we really want all students to be engaged and challenged, then it would make sense that students can enter the work at the point where they are comfortable.  Creating multiple entry points requires the teacher to see the big idea which is permeating the lesson and to understand that all work students do, builds on something else they know.  It requires the teacher to know how students evolve in their understanding towards that big idea.

For example, students may come to math with little or no knowledge about solving for the area of a circle.  They may not know pi, radius and diameter.  However, they do know what area is and they do know what circles are.  Students may not come to geography knowing the factors that influence migration, but they have probably all moved, they know about making decisions, they have worked with maps and graphs.

When we are thinking about multiple entry points, it is worth thinking about how we present work to students.  As a teacher, I have spent countless hours scouring teacher workbooks looking for the perfect worksheet or textbook page.  I almost never found one.  Does that mean we should never give out worksheets????

Worksheets are nice because…

…you can prepare them in advance

…they are easy to mark

…kids are generally quiet while working on them

…they can provide good practice of topics learned if I am at the   practice stage

However, there are numerous drawbacks to worksheets as well…

    1. They are  very hard to differentiate.  As a kid either you know it or you don’t.  Most worksheets are not open-ended and do not provide for a  variety of responses.  That is fine for some things but not for others.  If you know all the answers then you are done very quickly without having been challenged.  If you  don’t know the answers then you are simply stuck and probably can’t       resort to what you do know to help you.   Open-ended tasks are much more likely to engage a variety of  levels of learners.
    1. A bundle of pre-photocopied worksheets assumes that you as the teacher already know what the kids will need to practice before they have even begun to learn the topic.  If we are heading       towards formative assessment driving instruction, it is hard to determine in advance how much and what kinds of practice students need.  And the bundle of worksheets suggests  that all of your students will need the same kind of practice.
    1. Often  worksheets provide practice on skills in isolation but not in context.  For example, a worksheet that requires students to put end punctuation rarely transfers to students using end punctuation correctly in their written work.  Students can practice using a formula but will they understand when to use the formula or what to do if they forget the formula?
    1. Many  worksheets can be completed without the student actually having to think  very hard.  Lots of worksheets  require one word answers and, sometimes,  a lot of colouring.  When choosing a worksheet you want to  ensure that deep thinking is required.

When you are determining whether or not to give the worksheet, you may wish to ask:

–          Will I know more about what my students know and don’t know after they complete this worksheet?

–          Is there a more authentic way to get at the same information?

–          Will it be challenging for those students who already “get it”?

–          Will it support the learning of those students who are struggling or will it be “task completed” for them?

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Filed under Differentiation