Homework Poster Presentations

A lot is being written about the value of assigning homework.

I explain the assignment (usually a first draft reading), and make sure my ELLs have everything they need in order to successfully complete it.  I often tell them how much time they should set aside in order to compete the task.  Next lesson, the students deepen their understanding by sharing their ideas in the form of chat stations, guided discussions or answer an open question using a backchannel such as TodaysMeet.

We are going to read A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah;  and  in order to give the students background knowledge, I assigned an Upfront article on child soldiers.  The goal of the reading was to notice big ideas and confusions.

This time I tried one of Larry Ferlazzo’s TOK homework presentations.  In class I grouped the students, and each group had to clarify one section of the text by designing a thought-provoking poster using each other’s notes.

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Then each student in the group was responsible for deepening their peers’ understanding by presenting her/his poster.  The goal of the presenter was to infer, question, and add to their “first draft” knowledge.

The students collaborated well, produced interesting posters and some insight.  The audience, for their part, had to generate high level questions.

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Needless to say, this was a great way for me to check their understanding as well as their ability to go beyond the text. However, we need to continue practicing crafting high level questions.

I will be using more of Ferlazzo’s homework presentations and hope they will engage my students as much as this one.

Using Art to Teach Theme

I was always very proud of my hanging files of laminated images of clothing, climate, and food which I used when I taught French as a foreign language.  Back in the day.    I never thought twice about showing a print of a Matisse painting to practice creating dialogues on hobbies.

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However, although I decorate my class room with various prints, postcards and original student art and photographs; I hardly ever use them as a springboard to discussion in my intermediate to advanced ELL courses.

Until I read the following:

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By the way, over the years Jeff Wilhelm’s ideas have greatly inspired my teaching which, of course, benefit my students’ learning.

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We are currently reading American Born Chinese by G.L.Yang,  and Wilhelm’s lesson plan on visuals and identity seemed taylor-made for our discussions on growing up.  The  students completed a see, think, wonder chart,  and I was surprised at how much guidance they needed in ‘close’ reading of an image even though we’d already practiced noticing detail in photographs.

My takeaway was obvious.  There is a need for more analysis of visuals.  I have chosen several images to promote thinking and writing on how culture shapes who we are.  I am looking forward to a lively discussion. My students from countries such as France, Spain, Angola, Russia and South Korea are well aware of the small changes they have had to make in order to fit in to an American international school.

Thanksgiving: a celebration of gratitude

Thanksgiving is full of rich learning experiences. This year my high school ELL class sat in the cozy, colorful elementary school section of the library.  Some even dared to relax on the carpet.

“Are you sitting comfortably”? asked Ms Ilana as she showed us the cover of The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper.  I , meanwhile, experienced a flashback to the welcoming, warm opening of the BBC’s ‘Listen With Mother’…

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The students settled into a quiet, listening mode as our narrator told of the grandfather who explained to his grandson the universal meaning of kindness.  We did not discuss the message, but held on to our thoughts as we completed thanksgiving cutouts on what we are thankful for.

On our way out, we stapled our gratitude to the thankful  tree.

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The idea for the next part of the lesson  came from McGill’s timely post ‘An Open Mind’

I asked each student where she or he is from and as  I teach in an international school the replies were diverse.  While viewing  ‘The DNA Journey’, the students jotted down ideas on an index card to help them articulate ideas for the discussion and written response.

My ELLs were shocked and intrigued; pointing out that we are so quick to define our differences rather than our similarities.

As one student responded:

“Just by spiting in a tube you can know where you are REALLY from.”

 

Ready, Steady, Write: 4 assignments to begin the year.

Very often, some of my students are in ELL Reading and Writing  for 3 semesters.  This means that I must build a repertoire of engaging texts as well as writing assignments.

This year I have added a few exciting resources to help me upgrade my Writing Workshop: Texts and Lessons for Content-Area Writing by Nancy Steineke and Harvey Smokey Daniels, the latest edition of Nancy Atwell’s In The Middle and Linda Rief’s Read Write Teach. In addition, I am following a great new blog: Two Writing Teachers.  There is one more resource on the way.  But more of that when it arrives.

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We always break open our new composition books with lists of topics the students are interested in exploring and writing about – Atwell’s writing territories.  However, this year they wrote their first list on a territory map – a place that has become their own, personal space: bedroom, basketball court, beach and book shelves

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For the first couple of assignments, to get the ideas flowing and build confidence, the students chose topics from their territories.  I now call these assignments A Slice of Life which is a delightful idea I read about in Two Writing Teachers’ blog.  We even display an anchor chart so the students can easily refer to the expectations of this assignment.

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I then looked to Steineke and Daniels for ideas on first writing assignments.

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A getting to know you interview (p.26).  This was a timely assignment since we had just discussed how asking high level questions deepens thinking, discussion and understanding complex texts.  This was a perfect assignment to begin generating interesting, high level questions.

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Students charted their own identity maps (p.32) and even managed to surprise each other with some of their personality traits.

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Finally, they  wrote a random autobiography.

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How do you awaken the writing muse?

Chat Stations

This is a gallery walk of chat; a great activity to deepen understanding of a text, or as Kelly Gallagher would say, ‘2nd draft reading’.  In addition, this task promotes group discussions

I got the idea from Jennifer Gonzalez from the Cult of Pegadogy, a direct approach to student engagement.

My ELLs are in the midst of our ‘text tour’ of a unit on survival.  One of the texts is on the survival skills of the cockroach (an idea I got from Jeff Wilhelm).  To deepen their understanding of this complex article, I generated a few questions. By the way, I copied several questions from this excellent blog post.

We then reviewed the protocols for respectful group discussions.  (I have written about this in more detail in a previous post).

I then simply followed Gonzalez’ clear directions.

Next time, after learning about generating high level questions, the students will come up with their own questions.

3 Activities for the begining of the Year: setting the tone, building confidence

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Rather than hand out rubrics for expected student behaviors, the students themselves create a list of habits that make a good class.

Activity #1 Setting the tone of the class.

A few years ago I came across a handout with an important purpose question:  What makes a good class?  (Unfortunately,  I have no idea where I got this from).  The students complete this from two perspectives: theirs and the teacher’s. In order to help the students clarify their ideas they list  3-5 things a teacher and student must be, say or do to create a safe environment for students to succeed.  They worked in pairs and then in groups of four.  One student from each group reported out.  After listing the behaviors, we analyzed what habits a teacher and student share.

This is the anchor paper that is strategically placed in my class.

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The final step of this activity  is to complete the analogy:

A good class is like …

Here are some of the answers.

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I love the idea of a good class is like

a restaurant: you enter hungry and leave full or

a tree with many branches that grow of the teacher.

 

Activity #2 What the learners can expect to be doing in class.

Although I am obliged to read through and discuss the course guidelines with the students, they are not engaged.  However, I simplify a lesson plan created by Jim Burke  which gets them thinking, generating questions and discussing.

We look at the image of Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich.

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The students note where he is, what he is doing, and the details/objects in the image.  We then discuss how the wanderer reflects the beginning of their 9th grade journey; their hopes and fears.

Activity #3 What is success?  What does it look like?  Does it matter?

Each student drew the symbols of success on small whiteboards.  Then they read  (a jigsaw activity) an article on the habits of champions,  identified the big ideas and created a slide show.

Finally, as an exit note, they created a frozen statue of success.

This was as far as I was willing to let them go.

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Technology and Teaching

Technology should be an “agent of change in our teaching.” (N. Chatzopoulos).  Each time I choose a tech tool (what?) , I question my rationale (how? and why)?  I even keep a notebook with ideas on how to incorporate technology into my lessons,  so that my ELLs are creating and producing rather than simply consuming.

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With this in mind, I purchased The Teacher’s Guide to Tech by Jennifer Gonzalez.  I needed a reminder of the great tools that are out there, as well as to learn about some new, intriguing tech possibilities for teaching and learning.  I am familiar with Jennifer’s engaging blog so I was not disappointed with the guide.  It is clearly designed and Gonzalez gives you a comprehensive list of tools divided into categories with easy explanations and links on how to use them.

I often use TodaysMeet and Quizlet, and will continue to do so.  However, while scrolling through the guide, I learnt about so many other great tools students can use such as:

collaborating on the big ideas of an article with Padlet,

engaging in literary discussions on Skype,

and  creating multimedia PSA posters with Glogster.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I bought The Teacher’s Guide to Tech by Jennifer Gonzalez.

The Pomodoro Technique

All of a sudden the red tomato kitchen timer has become ubiquitous.

At the moment I am in the middle of Dave Stuart’s  engaging workshop – Teaching with Articles (more of that in the next post).  One of the issues Dave addresses is grading, of course. His #1 advice  is to use the pomodoro technique.

I will discuss with my students how they can apply these tips to their study habits.  The video pairs very well with the Learning How to Learn course I blogged about a couple of weeks ago.

 

 

Welcoming New Teachers, Nourishing Experienced Teachers

Shira is leaving.  We celebrated her short, enthusiastic teaching career at our school: brunch with friends.

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Shira, in her farewell words to us,  quoted from an insightful article on how to welcome new teachers.   She thanked her ‘marigolds’ – the colleagues who helped her develop and flourish (sorry for the pun)as a Science teacher and Senior Project adviser.

We have read countless times about surrounding ourselves with positive (marigolds) rather than negative (walnut trees) people.  However, the metaphors in Gonzalez’ article make the advice so much more memorable.

I plan to give a marigold together with a copy of Find Your Own Marigold: Th One Essential Rule for new Teachers to the new,  as well as more experienced members of our ELL team.

In August, I will greet each of my students with a glorious marigold.

I wish Shira luck on her journey as an international educator.

By the way, this summer I have decided to plant a small vegetable patch.  I have never gardened in my life.

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But guess what?  I will scatter marigold plants amongst my tomatoes , cucumbers and fragrant basil to help them grow strong and healthy.