As we were finishing Ishmael Beah’s powerful memoir A Long Way Gone; I remembered Picasso’s Guernica.
So I decided to guide our discussion of one of the final chapters (2nd draft reading (Kelly Gallagher) by using visible thinking prompts in order to analyze the painting:
What do you see, think and wonder?
Students worked in groups as they thoughtfully studied the painting, and responded to each other’s comments.
This was a different, rich pairing of texts.
I wish I’d had this Ted lesson to enrich and deepen the students’ understanding of the painting.
I plan to teach new material in the final couple of months of my career as an ELL classroom teacher. To this end I ordered 2 books.
1. So much has been written lately on learning how to learn and how to revise: the myth of the ubiquitous yellow highlighter and simply rereading the texts. I will present my ELLs as well as my 9th grade Skills class with a compilation of revision suggestions. In order to create a list of all lists, I have begun reading make it stick: The Science of Successful Learning.
2. My ELL Writing Workshop includes assignments such as composing a rambling autobiography, a poem to a friend, the perfect focused paragraph, as well as creating a compelling P.S.A. I decided that both my students and I need a new challenge – to write an essay. To help me with this I bought The Journey is Everything – Teaching Essays that Students Want to Write for People who want to Read Them. I look forward to our journey.
During an ELL Writers’ Workshop, we answered the following questions:
Who are we and what do we believe in?
I followed Larry Ferlazzo’s lesson plan and the results were revealing.
Some students found it frustrating to ‘arrive’ at their word by completing the 3 part Venn diagram. However, those who persevered were surprised that ‘visible thinking’ helped them identify their word.
The students then went on to come up with a sentence that encapsulates what they’d like people to say about them. Once again, I followed Ferlazzo’s lesson design. Students commented that they are too young, don’t yet know what they want to do, and don’t see themselves as having accomplished much in their lives. After a discussion, gentle prodding and encouragement; they realized that they have passions and beliefs.
One student came to her ‘ah ha’ moment only after her friends reminded her that, although she is now in 9th grade, she still regales them with stories from 6th grade. She laughed and willingly agreed to their/her one sentence:
I find it amusing that her one word is ‘journey’.
Many years ago, I heard a talk given by Heidi Jacobs at a NESA Conference in Bangkok. Before she began, Heidi introduced us to 2 empty cream colored padded dining room chairs behind her on the stage. Heidi went on to explain that those chairs were there to remind us that our target audience is always our students. (Today I’d put out a row of them.)
I was reminded of Heidi when I viewed Daniel Pink’s Pinkast on the empty chair. He explains that the empty chair represents the “most important person in the room who is not in the room.” In Heidi’s case it was the student, of course. Pink then goes on to explain that an empty chair can be useful in our work, especially when we write.
I was intrigued.
So I went online and ordered a box of plastic miniature chairs.
The next writing class, I viewed the video with my ELLs but paused it after Pink talks about the empty chair in meetings. It did not take long for my ELls to understand that the empty chair represented their reader.
Next, they eagerly and energetically chose a chair and got back to work.
So now, when conferencing, all I need to do is point to a chair if I am confused or need clarification.
By the way, pease notice one student’s reader, rubber duck , strategically perched on his chair.
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.
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:
By the way, over the years Jeff Wilhelm’s ideas have greatly inspired my teaching which, of course, benefit my students’ learning.
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 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’…
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.
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.”
The final resource to help me upgrade my ELL Writer’s Workshop has arrived
The first quarter has been spent on short, personal narratives and poems. We will now focus on the more formal persuasive writing, and I noticed that Chapter 4 (p.97) is devoted to those writing moves.
I look forward to providing feedback other than “How can you develop this idea?”
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.
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
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.
I then looked to Steineke and Daniels for ideas on first writing assignments.
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.
Students charted their own identity maps (p.32) and even managed to surprise each other with some of their personality traits.
Finally, they wrote a random autobiography.
How do you awaken the writing muse?
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.
I never thought I’d need my small collection of timers – especially the tomato.
I have just completed an intriguing, well planned short MOOC on Learning How to Learn. Dr Oakley and Prof. Sejnowsky give clear explanations on how our brain functions while ‘chunking’ information or tips on preparing for tests. The course is really worth taking since there is so much basic, practical information we can teach our students about test preparation, completing assignments, memory and procrastination.
Not only are the study techniques helpful to our students, but also to ourselves. I especially connected to the sections on how to reduce procrastination, and I was thrilled when I realized that I possessed the low tech tool to help: the veritable pomodoro.
Several big ideas were reiterated:
the necessity for focused and diffused thinking, practice, repetition, sleep, exercise, time, study buddies and using the pen or pencil.
Oakley and Sejnowsky stress the importance of teaching others as one of the best learning strategies. I now have some concrete, research based answers for one of the big questions students ask: How do we efficiently prepare for tests?
I will be redesigning certain units for my Skills9 course.