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.

Developing a Toolkit for Retirement

Retirement.  How I loathe that word.  It is so passé.  It is not even fashionably retro.

Anyway, my PD this year has 2 paths: my professional development as a teacher and my personal navigation towards becoming a productive, creative retiree.

I am beginning this new journey with Tim Ferriss’ latest book: Tools of Titans.

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Having read the first couple of pages, I already identify with something Arnold Schwarzenegger writes towards the end of his foreword:

“I’ve always treated the world as my classroom, soaking up lessons and stories to fuel my path forward.  I hope you do the same”.

As teachers we are always encouraging our students to be life long learners.

As teachers we know we have to model our mantras as much as possible.

I think this quotation is a perfect bridge between my two paths.  The answers will come from many sources as I continue to fill one toolbox and begin a new one.

I thank the many contributors I will be consulting  and writing about in advance.

Visible Thinking in Metaphors

I read about metaphorical graphic organizers in Kelly Gallagher’s thought provoking Deeper Reading.

We have finally come to the end of The Call of the Wild and before the students respond to the novel with group discussions and Teaching Channels’ interactive stations, I handed them a recipe template for Buck.

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The students looked up their favorite recipes including lasagne, souffle and muffins. It seems we have some serious bakers in our midst. They noted cooking terms such as whisk, knead, mix, add, beat etc.  They then referred to Buck’s attribute list: tenacious, survivor, confident, leader and defiant.  Finally,  the students listed Buck’s ingredients, wrote directions and put him in the oven.

I am in awe (no exaggeration) and so proud of my ELLs’ creativity:

3 cups of menacing environment

1 liter of love

a pinch of shyness

whisk like you’ve never whisked before

2 full cups of tenacity

1 cup of frugal

and I could go on.

My French speaking student ended his recipe with ‘la cerise sur le gateau’.

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This activity demonstrated how well they understood the choices and decisions Buck had to make in order to survive.

And they had fun!

Students As Teachers

We know that learners make effective teachers. However, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised when my 9th grade ELLs created a compelling introductory lesson to the plight of the refugees.  This was part of our broader unit based on the purpose question of ‘Why do some people survive?’

I gave the students some relevant links as well as guidelines for designing an effective lesson such as a hook and  engaging activities.  They divided themselves into groups with each one taking responsibility for one part of the lesson.

They introduced the topic with  a TED ED video, and continued with a slide show.

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They concluded the lesson with  a handout of a Venn Diagram to check whether we understood the differences and similarities between refugees and migrants.

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The students exceeded my expectations, and I told them so.

I will close our long unit by reading aloud the powerful The Journey, by Francesca Sanna,

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and the stunning, award winning book hiding behind it, Shackleton’s Journey.  Actually, it has occurred to me as I finish this post that this book will make a powerful paired text to London’s The Call of the Wild which we have read as a class novel: dog/man against nature.

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.”