(During March, I am blogging daily as a part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge!)
What an historic event yesterday! #EdCampIowa was held at five locations across Iowa. A phenomenal bunch of educators gave up their Saturday freedom to participate in a day of collaborative learning.
Not familiar with an EdCamp? Official information from the EdCamp wiki can be found here. Additional information about #EdCampIowa can be found here. And Shira Leiboweitz wrote a great blog post about “Why I Hosted Two EdCamps?”
I was fortunate to attend the “Central” location organized by @JamieFath and held at #SEPolk which is 1.5 hours from my home. Many came from the Des Moines metro area, but others came to our location from Illinois, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Colorado.
The call for sessions filled pretty quickly, newbies were encouraged to tweet and make new friends and the talk quickly centered around student learning. The sessions often were posed around a question or two: What about those students who struggle? How do we know students are learning? Is it about reporting the learning (based on the standards) or is it about the grades? And in the ensuing conversations, I loved the fact that MANY people from a variety of districts were discussing instruction in terms of the “Gradual Release of Responsibility.” Google docs allowed group participation in note-taking with many listed/ linked articles and resources.
Were deep, thoughtful answers a result with 20-25 people in a room and a spirit of “conversation” not presentation?
I am not sure. One particular question stuck with me as I drove home. A second grade teacher had students that were having difficulty writing paragraphs and limited “evidence of thinking.”
How can we create success for ALL students?
It was the last session of the day. The room was full. Many people wanted to talk so monopolizing the conversation was not possible. Questions immediately came to my mind. How many students were having trouble? How did they respond to Questions, Cues, and / or Prompts – guided instruction phase of Gradual Release of Responsibility (Doug Fisher/Nancy Frey)? I needed additional information about response to instruction. Even the questions, “What did instruction look like? How many “models” of writing by the teacher? How many collaboratively by the students?” In hindsight, I might query, “Do the students talk in paragraphs (more than one connected sentence on the same topic)? Do the students ask questions?” or in other words, “What can the students do NOW?”
What do I wish there had been time to share, demonstrate, and practice?
Writing is often the “end product” for our youngest learners after much talking with a partner. What has to happen FIRST before students can or should be asked to write? I love to see students tell a story across their fingers, a la Lucy Calkins. No graphic organizer needed. What happens in the story at the beginning (touch index finger), the middle (touch 2nd finger) and the end (touch ring finger)? The student can orally rehearse the story as he/she literally tells the story by individually touching a finger for that all-important sequence development.
I would also consider the use of communication lines with students. Again these tie in nicely with Gradual Release and Quality Instruction as well in the productive group work phase. It’s also a chance for the students to get up, move, and refocus. Have you used them?
Typically a class is divided in half with two lines of students facing each other with about six-10 inches between the faces (Students 1 and 13 from chart below). Students in the same line are at arm’s length between each other so they can clearly hear their own two-part conversations (Students 1-12). The first chart below shows what those two lines might look like as the two “partners from Line A and B face each other” and take turns telling their story.
Then for round two, the students in Line A move three spaces (persons) to the left while students in Line B stay exactly where they began. Each partner group of two students facing each other again take turns sharing their own story with the new partner.
Round three is the same process with students in Line A moving three more spaces (persons) to the left and the students in Line B still do not move. With 24 students it is possible to do a fourth round depending on whether the students need the extra oral practice.
How do the conversation lines help?
All students have at least three opportunities to “tell” their story to a peer. They also have heard three different stories. The teacher has just increased the likelihood that ALL students will be able to write down the story that they told or that they can modify that story based on whether they want to “borrow” any details from any of the partners! Will it work for 100% of the students? No. But guess what? When a student gets “stuck” remembering their story, the teacher can redirect them to their last partner for further conversation. The students are less dependent on the teacher! Having partners share their written work at the end of the writing time also allows the partners a chance to “hear” how the stories turned out. (A video small group demo of conversation lines with ELL students is here.)
Why is this critical?
Students with IEP’s, struggling students, ELL students, or even students who have not done a lot of writing need large quantities of oral practice telling stories before they can begin to write those stories. It is not helpful for a student to sit and stare at a blank piece of paper. A story will not magically appear in the brain of a child. Quick, simple strategies to increase talk/ conversation are critical in order to maximize the amount of time available for writing!
What about older students in middle school or high school?
Many students struggle with using a “graphic organizer” for planning writing. They believe that the organizer is the task and then do not engage in the actual drafting. They also worry more about filling in the boxes/shapes than they do about the content of their responses. Other students don’t know if they have anything “worthy of writing” or whether it is “what the teacher wants.” All of these students would/could benefit from oral rehearsal before beginning to draft a piece of writing.