Displays – an effective tool for teaching and learning.

School displays say so much about the school. For me, they reflect the school culture, values and often the philosophy of  teaching and learning. What you celebrate is what’s important to you, isn’t it? Think about it. What aspects of learning do you celebrate in your school?

I was lucky to start my teaching career with colleagues who were extremely passionate about displays. A highly accomplished veteran, Kusum Kohli, who now lives in Dehra Dun, introduced some of us novices, many years ago, to the beauty of displays. I remember the art work displayed in her class and outside, in the corridors. She was able to inspire students to achieve and create visual treats. With the help of other colleagues in school, she got art work framed and put up an exhibition too! She would always refer to books like the ones below, to brainstorm and develop her ideas. Our school still has these amazing resources for reference.

Other amazing colleagues like Neelam Saigal, Rashmi Wanchoo, Komal Kochhar and Kavita Chandhok who created the most beautiful displays in school, taught me about the importance of student centred work. I learned that creativity is appreciating, valuing and encouraging the difference generated by each child. I remember giant displays of Ram, Sita and Ravan (during Diwali) made by students of Reception class, I remember children modelling their own diyas and then waiting eagerly to paint and decorate them, I remember fondly, displays of cats, witches and pumpkins during Halloween, the stunning work of Vincent Van Gogh and Matisse on the boards of our corridors and so much more.

Displays, other than making a school look beautiful and attractive, are a powerful tool for learning and can be an enriching stimulus in a classroom. Use of anchor charts, learning walls and student work play different roles in supporting teaching and learning activities.

For one, student work on display, demonstrates the importance we give to students. Children swell with pride when they see their hard work celebrated, they swell with even greater pride when they get to choose the work they want displayed!

I remember displaying my students work in class and one child, who visibly, had not written much, was keen that I removed that piece of work and instead display the one he wanted up on the wall. The one I had displayed was not really reflective of his capability and he was clear about communicating it to me! The power of choice.

There was a time when I would dedicate a square /rectangular space for each child, labelled with his / her name on a display board. They were in charge of that block and they had to choose what would go there, to reflect what they were proud of or what they had learned. I remember photocopying a great piece of writing and displaying it because they felt proud of what they had achieved.

Displays are an insight into classroom learning. Parents and visitors get an opportunity to experience and witness learning.

A print – rich environment is always valuable as a learning tool. Children can take help from the print they see around them. If they get stuck on spelling thematic vocabulary, they might just be able to locate it on a display, thus enabling them to become independent. They may be able to find a formula to help workout a maths problem. They may be able to identify an odd or even number by referring to a prompt which explicitly states that it is the units / ones place that decides whether or not the number is odd or even. They may be able to identify the steps needed to complete a long narrative. They may have the necessary success criteria displayed, to enable them to complete a project successfully.

Displays make learning visible. There is so much research out there to support visible thinking routines. One way of making learning and thinking routines explicit in the classroom, is through meaningful displays.

Interactive displays go a step further. They aren’t just displays, but are invitations to engage more deeply with the matter. I recently saw a lovely display on meanings of names of students; a lift – the – flap display. Another great one with question prompts to support mathematical development and reasoning.

Responding to prompts on a display.
Children helping with the layout and planning of the display.
Seaside display by Year 2, using a range of recycled materials, created and developed by students.

Another wonderful display I recently looked at closely, was in one of the year 5 classes in our school, on rivers. The children had painted the river, there were topic vocabulary words all around with explanations to support learners in understanding key words. There was a poster on one edge about rivers and there were also question prompts to encourage thinking. The display is such that, it immediately attracts.

Involving children in displays is a great way to have them participate and engage in meaningful learning. From a very early age, children can support displays by helping teachers brainstorm and create the lettering for captions. An explanation of the learning intention and the journey undertaken to create the display can be very useful and aid the understanding of the process behind the scenes.

Pictogram
Pictogram – created by children, including the lettering.

In a recent workshop, I was exposed to the different kinds of evidence. A display is evidence of work. But sometimes, not all work can be displayed. A play, collaborative work or interaction are hard to capture or represent. However, these can also be displayed through photographs or speech bubbles.

A display does not necessarily have to be on a wall. It could be on a table which could be based on interest, it could be a role play corner (supermarket, clinic, research centre), it could be a project or a model.

Brainstorming sessions / activities, if erased or wiped from a board are a waste of a useful resource, whereas when recorded on the page of an interactive flipchart or on a sheet of chart paper (old calendars come in very handy) become material for reference and building on. Take for example a brainstorm on Monday on the different uses of fabric. What children share and the teacher scribes could be saved for Tuesday, when there may be an opportunity to revisit or recall previously discussed ideas and build on them with new learning.

I was recently at an international school  in Thailand and during the tour of the primary school, I was drawn towards their walls. Learning appeared to be everywhere! The walls were, for the most part, chalk painted, to support scribing when necessary. There was almost no use of typed, printed or laminated material. Most work was hand-written, either by the teacher or by the students as deemed fit for the learning process.

Bangkok 4
Photo taken in the Primary department of the Bangkok Patana School.
Bangkok 7
Photo taken in the Primary department of the Bangkok Patana School.
Bangkok 2
Photo taken in the Primary department of the Bangkok Patana School.
Bangkok 5
Photo taken in the Primary department of the Bangkok Patana School.

Isn’t this what learning is about? Shouldn’t every shared, common space in school be a tool for learning? In an age where we are over-reliant on technology, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have hand – written displays which are genuinely used to enable and engage students in their learning?

Do respond with pictures of displays that you have been proud of.

I’m hoping to create a blog post, with the variety of displays I see in my workspace. A space for sharing great displays and ideas.

Some links for further reading:

http://mrkempnz.com/2014/09/why-classroom-wall-displays-matter.html

https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/displaying-student-work/

http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr274.shtml

 

 

 

 

 

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Can Creativity Be Taught?

I remember myself in a classroom, a few years ago, telling children ‘don’t forget to be creative’, while they were writing a story. I also remember cringing inside as I said those words because I had never really taught them what creativity meant! I had never shared with them how to think creatively. I had never primed their brains to be creative.

I rarely got a creative response or creative ideas back, barring from a few children, who were inherently more imaginative and creative and I know that wasn’t down to me.

I read. I learned and I now know that:

Creativity can be taught.

Creativity needs to be taught.

Creativity must be taught.

Creativity must be valued.

You were wired to be creative.”

Gerard Puccio

Before the new National Curriculum, the National Literacy Strategy, had references to reading documents and videos to enable teachers and develop them professionally. One of the key features ‘Talk for Writing’ was extremely valuable. It was then that I came across Pie Corbett’s videos.

Corbett believes in explicitly sharing the thoughts inside a reader and writer’s mind. He asks key questions. He asks leading questions. He provides prompts and scaffolds to open up thinking. According to him, ‘the first thought that comes to your mind, is not often the best thought’. Says a lot, doesn’t it?  We often grab the first thought and start, but have you noticed what happens to ideas when you wait, dig deeper and reflect on prompts a little longer?

Wait time is crucial. Do we provide enough wait time?

Why wait time?

In order to teach well, it’s important to make sure you leave time for students to actually think about your question and formulate a response.

The benefits for children are many:

  • Their responses tend to be longer. They elaborate more on what they have to say.
  • There are fewer ‘I don’t know’s, or silence, in response to teacher prompts.
  • More students volunteer responses.

Researchers have found that teachers who incorporate wait time are also better teachers:

  • They ask a wider variety of types of questions and in different ways.
  • They ask fewer questions, but better questions.
  • They ask more questions that require higher level thinking.

It is important to be aware that talk for writing is essential at every stage of the teaching sequence and writing process. When using the process effectively, there will be a critical shift from,  “Write your story” to “Let’s use our ideas to plan what the beginning of the story would be like.” “Let’s re-read the beginning to see what we can change or improve.” It is about the process of shared writing, shared reflecting and shared editing and it is then, when sparks of creativity are lit.

The goal is to help children with thinking processes and routines and make them visible in classroom practice. ‘It is this developmental exploration, through talk, of the thinking and creative processes involved in being a writer, that is called Talk for Writing.’

This process involves:

  • Generating ideas, including appropriate language and grammar
  • Planning ideas
  • Incorporating techniques learned from other writers
  • Exploring their personal and collective responses to a text

‘Writer talk is articulation of the thinking and also creative processes involved in all stages of the act of writing. It is talk that helps children to think and behave like a writer. ‘Writer-talk’ involves externalising these thoughts and making them explicit, through ‘reading as a writer’ and ‘writing as a reader’.
A three-step sequence for writing –  

From Imitation to Invention

Pie Corbett suggests a three-step sequence in ‘Talk for Writing’.  Writing is a process and takes place in a planned, deliberately structured system so that the quality of work and standard of writing produced is high. A structured process also ensures that children experience the  different stages of writing and feel enabled and empowered to engage in the process with greater confidence and independence.

Corbett outlines the following sequence and believes that this is the order in which writing progresses.

  • Imitation – re-telling of learned stories
  • Innovation – developing, extending and changing elements of a story
  • Invention – creating a ‘new’ story

Why imitation?

The first step is imitation. It is a confidence booster. If I am not ready just yet for creativity, the least I can do is imitate. Retelling is imitation. I could re-tell word for word or, if I am slightly more confident, I could re-tell using my own words. Why are we as teachers so put off by imitation in the classroom? It is a stepping stone. We have to get our ideas from somewhere – why not other people? Why not the person sitting next to me? Why not the peers in my class? Why don’t we encourage that? We often ask children to read aloud what they have written but how often do we ask others to ‘steal’ an idea from them?

Look at our planning meetings at work.  We are constantly working off and bouncing ideas off each other. We develop thoughts and plans by listening to one another. How often have you heard someone say, “That’s a great idea, I’m going to try it like this…” Often enough, I bet!

Children learn by imitation. They imitate first words, they imitate parents, they imitate role models and only later, after much imitation, do they begin to innovate and discover their own styles, preferences and passions.

IMitation 1IMitation 2

It’s alright to imitate. It’s alright if I am still at the re-telling stage. When I am confident, I will move to the stage of innovation.


Innovation – innovate what?

Let’s start small! Let’s start with what’s developmentally and chronologically appropriate for the learners. An easy, first innovation in writing, could be to change the title or re-write the blurb , change the last word in a poem and replace it with another rhyming word or to write another ending for a familiar story.

Then, move towards more complex matters such as the characters, the setting, the plot, exploring perspectives, points of view etc. All of these versions below are innovations. Innovations, but where certain elements of the story have been changed. INNOVATION!

The innovation stage can also be seen as an opportunity to explore various facets of critical thinking, such as, ‘What if?’

Now that Cinderella is no longer the main character and Prince Cinders is, what would happen next?

How does innovation (however small or seemingly insignificant) / changing one element, impact the rest of the story? It has  a ripple effect and everything has an impact. Thus, innovation, however small, leads to creativity / problem solving / anticipating next events.

If Cinderella’s chariot is led by dinosaurs / butterflies instead of mice, what would the repercussions be?

Aren’t these great questions which support creative thinking?

Isn’t innovation a WONDERful step towards creativity?

I see this reflected across the board in so many different ways. A teacher teaching dance, starts with showing steps, asking children to imitate them. She may show children dance videos. Some may already know moves to popular songs and may be able to imitate steps as seen before.  She may then, move them along to innovating and improvising in teams, groups or pairs, asking them to change footwork or add hand movements. Finally, the teacher may evaluate students on creating or inventing their own steps and dance moves or further move them towards developing and sustaining a series of movement patterns.

A coach may show videos of famous basketball players to budding players. Some may already have seen famous players and willingly try out their styles when opportunities are given to them.

What is crucial is providing the space (both physical and intellectual) for expressing the skills that they have either imitated and transfer the knowledge to innovate successfully.

Invention

The ability to invent something completely new and to create something novel, comes from the confidence of having practiced the necessary skill set related to the activity. It comes from  having acquired the nuances, and mastered the processes which have become automatic and internalised.

The How?

One of the approaches suggested by Corbett is to deliberately plan opportunities for creating ‘new’ stories orally, as a rehearsal and preparation for writing. According to him, storytelling and story – making are most effective when first done as a group, gradually working towards greater independence through paired work and then finally, using individual approaches.

Let’s spend a little more time identifying why this is a great way to progress through the writing process.

  • What are the benefits of group work in a writing activity?

The shared writing (group work) strategy enables teachers to make the writing process concrete and visible to students. It is a step in the process of moving students towards independent writing.  Text is composed together and everyone contributes their thoughts and ideas to the process. The teacher is the scribe, writing as it is composed. As the group composes, the teacher will ask probing questions to elicit more detail and to help children make their writing more meaningful. The tone of this discussion should be collaborative rather than directive.

The teacher might say something like, “We are going to write a paragraph about an ‘Awesome Dinosaur’. How do you think we should start? I wonder if anyone can help me with some starters.” The children may volunteer and share a few starters. The teacher will choose one and start composing. If the outcome of the lesson is settings, the prompts could be directed and the teacher may suggest, “Where do you think the paragraph about the dinosaur can be set? A city? A forest? A rocky mountainous region?”

The composition may begin like, ‘In the city of Beijing, there was once an awesome dinosaur.’

The teacher may ask leading questions like, “What made the dinosaur awesome? What was happening around the dinosaur in the city? Was the dinosaur on the road? Were there many high rises around the dinosaur?”

The session could progress until the teacher feels the skills and techniques essential for the outcome, are shared, understood and practiced.

It is also essential to mention here, that if it is writing we’re looking for, then it is writing that we must model. Avoid typing on the screen.  The purpose of shared writing is to model the thought process involved in writing and allow students to focus and engage in the process.  ‘The teacher, acting as scribe, frees students from that aspect of the writing process so that they can focus exclusively on the thinking involved in writing.’  

Shared writing is a powerful method for teaching of key skills and concepts needed in the writing process.  ‘It is another level in the scaffold that gives students support as they learn the mechanics, conventions, and processes of writing. The strategy allows students to gain competence and confidence in their writing skills while it allows the teacher to demonstrate the usually internal thinking process that takes place as writers write.’ A variety of genres can be covered in a shared writing activity – descriptive narrative, retelling of a story,  reflective summary, recounting an incident, writing a poem, instructional text etc. These shared writing opportunities could be completed in one session or run over a few sessions, depending on the need and the purpose.

Here are two examples of shared writing.

In the independent writing phase the teacher will be able to see if the children are using techniques and strategies featured in the shared writing lesson/s.

  • From large group work to paired work

Once the children have been exposed to a variety of strategies, including the explicit teaching of the focused skill, the teacher could invite pairs of learners to brainstorm ideas for the next part of the writing process.

Working with a partner is not only less threatening than working alone, and is low risk, but it also supports collaboration and the opportunity to talk to someone about the thinking going on in the head.

After a shared composition activity, the teacher might ask pairs of learners to try and add a few more lines to the text. There may be prompts displayed on the board to help students think about what they could write next. The last thing we want is that children should say, ‘But i don’t know what to write’. If we anticipate and prepare for that response beforehand, it helps students stay on task and engaged. The children could be given white boards for brainstorming the sentences before formalising the process by expecting them to write on paper. The teacher’s role changes from being the scribe, she / he is now supporting the learners to think about their writing. It is the students who are now scribing. The teacher may also expect children to say what they will write before recording on the board. Another great strategy to help in the writing process.  

Paired activities inspire confidence. They prepare you for working independently.

  • From paired work to independent work

The demonstration and modelling carried out with the children will help them in the self composition stage. They should be able to use the range of strategies and skills taught explicitly in their individual work.

What I have shared above is one approach. There are multiple strategies that teachers use to develop creativity and creative thinking. Here are some more that have been highly successful:

  • Using visual / picture prompts
  • Open ended questions such as ‘what do you think…’, ‘where do you think…?’, how do you think…
  • Hot seating
  • Objects / props to trigger writing

As promised earlier, here  is a link to some word and language games from the archived National Curriculum website that you could try with your class before progressing to writing stories or longer narratives, demanding creativity. These are great ways in which students’ brains can be primed for creativity, good warm up activities to get the creative juices flowing and interesting techniques that can be used to enhance the development of vocabulary.

So, can creativity be taught?

Yes, it can.

Learning is a journey and it is the process, which is as important, if not more important, than the destination. I hope you found the post helpful and are able to try out some of the strategies suggested by Pie Corbett to enhance and develop creativity even more successfully.

What kind of activities have you used in the classroom to develop creativity?

Do you find any of the ideas above, worth trying in your classroom?

References

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140314-learn-to-be-creative

http://www.talk4writing.co.uk/writing-for-pleasure/

 

A jigsaw puzzle for a story?

I derive great pleasure in planning activities; more so, when I see them successful and when children say, “Can we carry on?” or even better, “Can I do another one?” This morning was one such experience for me. I was asked to plan a lesson for the Year 1’s (5-6 year olds) to help them achieve one of the writing skills, ‘I can sequence sentences to form a simple narrative’. I wanted the activity to be individualised and interesting. Of course, I would use visuals and introduce them to the idea of sequencing. They already knew and used time connectives (first, next, then, finally) to order events, so, a lot was revisiting and application of previously learned skills.

I decided to use three-piece puzzles, which I borrowed from my 2 year old daughter as the hook! These were perfect for story writing as each three-piece puzzle was a story! A terrific way to introduce children to a simple short narrative with a beginning, middle and end. I photocopied the puzzle and cut them into strips of visual stories. I had eight picture stories for those who preferred the ready-to-use visuals. For the more confident and risk taker writers, I gave three empty boxes for creation of visuals, to develop their own story.

first-puzzle-stories-djeco-1
The three-piece story puzzles!

My lesson started with a shared drawing. We drew a picture of a story. I made a mountain (hoping to get them oriented to what they would experience in Year 2 when they start writing stories using a story mountain) to introduce them to the concept of how a story is planned.

story mountain

However, on seeing a mountain, children started calling out, “I’ve been to a mountain”, “I’ve seen a mountain”, “I’ve climbed a mountain!” So, I decided to ask one of the girl’s help me make up a story. I did not touch upon the concept of a story mountain but we reached the top and back down nevertheless. We decided to take her and her mum and dad on a climbing adventure. We talked through the picture story.

This was our shared picture! The story was simple – a girl, her mum and dad were thinking about climbing a mountain (picture erased). They started walking up, took a little rest (look for the three chairs), walked again and when they reached the top, they said “yoohoo”! They decided to walk back down, which was easier and reach home in time for dinner (table with three chairs).

Story mountain
Our picture story!

We then moved on to our shared writing task where I had a simple 3 piece puzzle story as a prompt and we developed the story together using words like, first, then, finally. I told them to add details where possible and if they wanted.

Shared writing
Shared writing of a story using picture prompts. We re-read each sentence to check that it made sense.

The children were excited and ready to write their independent stories. Here is what they came up with!

Picture 1 newPictrue 1a new

Picture 2newPicture 3 new

Picture 4 newPicture 4a new

I thoroughly enjoyed working with the Year 1’s today. I was extremely impressed with their ability to write an extended story.  Aren’t they amazing? Most of them added more detail than just writing a line or two about each picture. Did they accomplish their goal? Yes! They were all able to write a short narrative in a sequence. How long did we take to achieve all of this? 45 mins! Yes, it’s possible!

Through this piece of work, there were some other end of year expectations that they also met:

  • Write sentences by saying out loud what they are going to write about
  • Write sentences by sequencing sentences to form short narratives
  • Re-read what they have written to check that it makes sense
  • Discuss what they have written with the teacher
  • Leave spaces between words
  • Join words and clauses using ‘and’
  • Begin to punctuate sentences using a capital letter and a full stop

Have you had any positive experiences of story writing in your class? What has been a great hook that has worked successfully in your class lately?

Is it a ‘doing – something’ word?

The suffix ‘ing’

An article, I recently read in an educational magazine called ‘The Reading Teacher’, identified various children’s books to help teachers teach suffixes by using stories. My focus in a Year 1 class recently, was the suffix ‘ing’ and it was their experience of engaging with this suffix. As recommended in the article, I chose the book ‘Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do you hear?’ by Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle.

Polar Bear

We started off with a quick brainstorm about words they’d heard of which had the ‘ing’ sound in it. They came up with a whole lot, including words like ring, king etc. I listed them too, but separately. I told the students they would become word detectives and signal to me when they heard an ‘ing’ word in the story.  I also shared with them that the ‘ing’ word needs to be a word that’s a doing-something word.  In the book, each page has an animal with the sound it makes, a word that’s doing something! So, they picked every word. We listed them into two categories.

Doing something word and not doing something word.

We revisited the not – doing – something ‘ing’ words like king, ring, spring and children could clearly understand why they didn’t belong in doing words.

I had two tasks prepared for the children to choose from, to practice their understanding of ‘ing’ words. The goal for this lesson was for them to identify ‘ing’ words which are doing something versus ing words which are not-doing-something. I was also hoping that children will understand that any action is a doing word and that ‘ing’ is nothing but continuous action!

  1. List the different sounds animals make (based on the story read) but with different animals. Find the Animals and sounds suffix ‘ing’ here.
  2. Cut, sort and paste ‘ing’ doing something words verus ‘ing’ not doing something words. ing paired sort picture cards and ing sorting sheet here.

Both were very achievable and children showed that they clearly understood the difference.

word list
List of sounds
Pictures sort ing words
Picture sort

We ended the lesson with some movement using ‘ing’ words like running, hopping, singing and then looked at the grammatical term, suffix and discussed what it meant. We looked at the root word ‘jump’ and I asked them what I needed to add to it, to make it jumping. They all said ‘ing’. I asked what is ‘ing’? They said ‘a suffix’!

Thank you for read + ing = reading

 

 

 

Why do we have to do this again?

An interesting question from a child in school today made me reflect and write this post. I’m not sure if it was interesting or scary. The question was, ‘Why do we have to do this again?‘ This was in response to the prompt to write a draft for a persuasive narrative. The topic that they had been working on for about 2 weeks now was, ‘Should animals be kept in zoo’s?’ They could be for or against it.

I was there supporting one of our teachers for the lesson, so, although I had not planned the unit or the writing process, I had to defend it! We decided to take a learning walk and my first question to the students was, ‘What if I asked you to write a persuasive letter about the need for zoo’s to exist?’ ‘What would happen?’ There was silence and that affirmed my belief that they didn’t know why they had been doing all that writing!

I invited one of the children to show the class the jotter and look back at the first writing activity they had undertaken on persuasion two weeks ago – it was a writing frame with the three parts stated clearly.

  • Introduction
  • Main body with three arguments
  • Conclusion

The topic was the same as that shared above (zoo’s).

The next activity in the jotter was of elaboration. Step by step, children had to elaborate on the three arguments, stating reasons and supporting those with valid points. This was done over a week, it seems.

The following (this week) was a focus on the opening or introduction and closing or conclusion.

While we were looking at all these, we also touched upon the fact that in lower classes the expectations would be simpler and the steps in the process fewer. The process had obviously helped clarify the steps but then what was missing? Why did some children question the need to write a draft?

Finally, I showed them the blank sheet, in which they were expected to write their draft and asked them why they think they  went through the parts? Their response was to make the whole! They got it!

But I learned something in the process.

Do we explicitly walk children through the process?

Do we ensure that they understand why they do things the way they do?

Do they know why focusing on the parts is essential to completing the whole?

Do they understand the purpose of writing? 

After this short but significant explanation, the children seemed more convinced. The discussion then became more meaningful and moved towards the use of written feedback and it’s purpose in the framing of the first draft. One child, clearly upset about having to rewrite his ideas, responded by saying “I don’t like English”. Oops!

Another, who is a reluctant writer, chose to do nothing and sat twiddling his thumbs. Most of them even the one who said he disliked English ended up finishing his introduction and his 1st argument within the next 10 mins.

Coming to the reluctant writer. He was given the same empty sheet of paper as everyone else. We decided that, obviously, the task seemed daunting to him. He was not going to initiate all that writing. There was not enough matter in his jotter anyway. We quickly changed the layout of the sheet for him and gave him writing prompts and a one – on- one chat with clear expectations and a positive word or two, got him started. He too, finished the introduction (although shorter) and the 1st argument. A little improvisation goes a long way!

As far as I’m aware, the children will be completing their drafts next week, self editing and then publishing it using technology.

My fears:

  • the lengthy process (we’re looking at at least 3 weeks on one topic),
  • repetition, as they are all writing about the same topic so, their narratives are going to be more or less the same.

Luckily, for me, I’ve also been working closely with another class on persuasive texts, a younger class. Their overview comprised three phases.

Phase 1 – An exposure to a range of persuasive stories, paired role playing of instances where persuasion is used in everyday life (mum and child, dad and child, student and teacher), shared writing of persuasive reasons for a topic of personal significance e.g. wanting a free choice lesson in a week.

The next phase included, persuading someone in leadership what they believe, by sharing the reasons they wrote as a class. Then they had to write three reasons for a topic of choice (out of the ones pre-selected by the teacher). Just the fact that they had choice, they took more interest! 

reasons-11-e1488524767519.png

Finally, after careful modelling and shared writing of a persuasive letter, the audience was identified, rubric for criteria created and children were able to write their own letters. The process was finished in three weeks and their writing is now on display. I think the fact that they had choice and there was en element of novelty and newness throughout the cycle, the variety and quality of work was high.

sochiro-letter-1 sochiro-2

rubric.png

My take away about the writing process:

  • Keep it short and achievable to ensure that boredom or repetition does not set in. When something carries on for too long, interest is lost.
  • Give choice – provide a range of interesting topics. Every child does not have to write about the same topic.
  • Explain the process at the beginning. Better still – create a timeline and refer to it regularly. Don’t slavishly follow the writing process visual below, the process is fluid.  the-writing-process.jpg
  • Provide writing-frames to those who need them.
  • Ensure the process includes opportunities for shared writing, joined or paired work, scaffolded writing and then independent writing.
  • Include talk for writing
  • Writing should be for a purpose and must be meaningful
  • Identify the audience for the writing – it will automatically lend more meaning!
  • Share the success criteria / rubric before the writing activity.
  • Pre-decide whether the writing activity needs to be published or not.
  • Keep feedback simple. Too much corrective feedback is not strong feedback.
  • Refer to anchor charts to support simple procedural writing.
  • Teach writing as a process not product.

Please feel free to share other such essential pointers that have helped your learners during the writing process.

Active Reviewing

Last Friday, I attended a workshop led by Roger Greenaway in New Delhi on ‘Active Reviewing’. The session started with the famous lines below, with Greenaway’s own addition to it, as an acknowledgement of the importance of reviewing.

confucius

                                    I do and Review so I Learn and Develop and Grow.

The significance of reflection and reviewing cannot be stressed enough in education. As students and teachers we constantly need to reflect on the learning journey and it’s outcomes. The need for both the learner and teacher / the mentee and the mentor / the student and the coach / the participant and the leader, to engage in active reviewing is what makes the process meaningful and ensures a sense of development and growth for all involved.

Some of the reasons reviewing is essential are:

  • Learning from experience is more effective
  • Improved confidence in translating words into action and trying out new ideas
  • Soundly based resolutions and action plans
  • Helps clarify and achieve objectives
  • Transition of learning more likely to happen
  • Helps gain the perspective of the learner
  • Develops the learner’s communication skills
  • Develops learning skills
  • Adds value
  • There is evidence for evaluating
  • The participant becomes more alert and responsible
  • Learners enjoy it!

The term reviewing is often used interchangeably with ‘debriefing’ / ‘reflecting’ / ‘processing’ but what differentiates it, is that in reviewing, both parties engage in the process. Reviewing is a social activity which helps one to see multiple perspectives. Debriefing, on the other hand, is led by the teacher / trainer. It is the participant who is being ‘debriefed’.

Greenaway spent the day sharing strategies that could be used to engage in active reviewing. I will be sharing the few that I found useful or applicable in our context:

  1. Storyline – Use a rope to tell a story. Each facet of the story can be expressed through the contours of the rope, the ups and downs, the highs and lows. The picture below shows you that a story / journey is never simply an up and down. There are plateaus, ascents, troughs, dips etc and I found this a great way to depict that learning journey. Once the person arranged the rope, the others walk along or listen to the journey. A few key questions (appreciative questioning) to ask could be:                                                                                                                                                                                                               What helped you to get to the top or overcome the low?                                                           What helped you recover or turn things around?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The idea is to acknowledge the lifts, the moments of triumphs, however small. The purpose is to share strategies for success. ‘What helped you overcome the dips?’ are strategies and they can be used again and again!
    img_77071More often than not, the focus tends to be on what went wrong. We must focus more on the positives and develop a growth mindset.
  2. Horseshoe (Where do you (U) stand? – We have often used a continuum  to get participants / students to express their position on an issue e.g. moral dilemma. However, the horseshoe promises to be more meaningful and more appropriate for encouraging dialogue and as a forum to exchange ideas.                                                                                                                                                      horseshoe                                                                                                                                                                        Let’s say the issue is, ‘Is summative assessment essential’? There are three parts to the horseshoe.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Silent statement – Everyone declares their position by standing at a point in the U.                                                                                                                                                            Friendly neighbour – Discuss your view with someone close to your place in the spectrum (your neighbour). If you are at an extreme, find one closest to you. This friendly neighbour will help validate your views. From one, you become two, a stronger voice to put forth your view!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Where do you stand? – Finally you debate and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your reasons as a group.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Some essential principles:                                                                          There must always be a place in the horseshoe for ‘I don’t want to declare my views’.                                                                                                                                                                      It is important to give participants time, during the dialogue, to move their position if they agree or disagree. They may move along the horseshoe to show that the person has been convincing or persuaded them enough, to change their original thoughts.
  3.  Turntable – Similar to the horseshoe but different because participants have to physically move after every minute of sharing their perspective. You may have two people for, two against, two neutral and two facilitators. Each person moves around the horseshoe until all perspectives are shared by all people. It is a great activity to see things from multiple perspectives by physically standing in someone else’s shoes / position.
  4. The active reviewing cycle – 5 playing cards is what you need for this activity!

playing-cards

The red diamond – ‘What happened?’ Look at facts. Each person could have different sides, points of view, perspectives.

The red heart – ‘How did you feel?’ The feelings associated with the activity / story / journey / review.

The black spade – ‘Why did things happen?’ Dig deeper into the story. Ask questions.

The black club – ‘What will be useful in the future?’ What strategies / thoughts can we take away to apply? What are the next steps? Questions help to explore further.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The joker in the middle is a constant reminder of freedom and flexibility.

For any review cycle to be truly effective, all these aspects should be visited. The facts and feelings are the basis for digging deeper and asking questions that promote learning for the future. The relationship has to be based on trust and the belief that ‘growth’ and ‘development’ is at the core of active reviewing.

5. Appreciative competition / collaboration – A tool for reducing many good ideas into one great idea. What you need is a range of pictures. Let’s imagine, I’d like my team to come up with an image that represents the nature of ‘growth’. I lay out a range of photographs, visuals, pictures on the table. For paucity of time, I found this collage online.

growth

Each person on the table chooses the picture that they think best represents the spirit of ‘growth’. They think of 3 reasons to support their picture. Then, each person finds a partner and presents their picture with the 3 reasons that supports their choice. The partner listens and then adds value by giving an additional reason. The 2nd person then presents his / her picture and the partner acknowledges and adds value by sharing one more reason.

The two decide to choose the better, more convincing picture and find another pair to do the same with. Now, two pairs have two pictures. They follow the same process until there is one picture that 4 people support. In the end there may be 12 people supporting one picture. The activity ends with all previously ‘discarded’ pictures being shown to the whole group to acknowledge all choices. During the session by Greenaway, many agreed that this activity also helps one practice the art of letting go!

The interesting thing about attending workshops like these, is that each person takes away strategies that they can apply to their context, in their role. Not all of these may work for you but you could try and modify them to suit your need. e.g. The storyline with the rope could be used in any classroom when introducing story writing. Instead of using a paper and pencil for a story mountain, the string or rope could be used to represent the story.

Do share different ways in which any of the above could be applied to your setting and context.

Jigsaw flipped over!

My new role in primary school as teacher – mentor (teacher leader / teacher trainer / teacher – coach / teacher – critical friend / teacher – guide) this year, has been exciting, challenging and full of new learning and experiences! One of the many ways in which I play my role, includes leading assistant teachers from across the primary school, in mini workshops or training sessions to enable and up-skill. This term, I had three such sessions. The third one, which took place yesterday, was very powerful for me and I do hope, for the participants (my colleagues) as well.

In our last meeting, 2 weeks ago, I had chosen six different readings, some which included latest research on education and some that I have enjoyed reading (blog posts, articles, excerpts from a book) and shared them with the team on google docs.

  1. Making thinking visible – David Perkins
  2. 20 Collaborative Learning Tips and Strategies For Teachers  – Miriam Clifford
  3. What Doesn’t Work : Literacy Practices We Should Abandon – Nell K Duke Edutopia
  4. The Culture – Friendly School – Simon Rodberg
  5. Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites 20 Instructional Strategies that Engage the Brain – Dr Marcia L. Tate
  6. From Seatwork to Feetwork  – Ron Nash

Each teacher signed up for one reading, based on interest. As in a flipped lesson, they had to read and engage with the article, blog post, excerpt and make meaning before coming to the next class (session).

readings
Teachers signed up for readings. Names in red.

In the following session, expert groups were formed, by referring to the choice of each individual. We had improvised the traditional jigsaw approach for cooperative learning. Keeping effective group sizes in mind, there were only 3-4 people in each group to ensure quality discussions and participation from all.

Teachers in their expert groups were given about 15 mins to discuss their findings, brainstorm and decide what information they would like their learners (the rest of the teams) to know. The focus was not on how much the expert knows but on what the learners need to know.

A very interesting book that I am currently reading, ‘From Seatwork to Feetwork‘ by Ron Nash, has planted in my brain, a very useful and effective question, which seems to work in any context of teaching and learning. ‘Who is doing the work?’ If the teacher is doing most of the work then the students are doing less of it!

The session helped reinforce this understanding in my ‘classroom’ yesterday. I, as leader had to ensure that the materials were ready, technology was working and the HW I had set out for my students (teachers) had been completed by me as well! All the work, was being done by my students. They were working hard, not me. Isn’t that what classrooms should be like? Often, as stated in the book, it is the teachers who work harder than the students. Not only do they spend hours planning and preparing material that they think students need, but they do the talking and the reading! They do the marking and give feedback too. They do the work!

The teachers presentations were thought provoking and meaningful. The content was relevant and appropriate to the needs of the learners and so making meaning for each one, by sharing examples and linking with their own classroom experience was easy. After each presentation, the team got a chance to reflect and record any take away’s or understandings on the google doc (which was co-creation of new knowledge)!

Here are a few pictures of the session with my learners (teachers) working hard!

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I will sum up, using one of the articles above. Was this session a reflection of appropriate use of cooperative learning to develop new understandings? Did it challenge the belief, that the teacher is the fountainhead of all knowledge, which is still rampant in schools?

I respond using some of the key points shared in the article:

  1. Establish group goals
  2. Keep groups midsized
  3. Establish flexible group norms for the quality of interactions
  4. Build time for reflection
  5. Consider learning as a process
  6. Group work reduces anxiety and is low risk
  7. Use real world, relevant, everyday problems
  8. Be aware of the diversity in groups
  9. Use of technology makes collaborative learning easier – yaay to google docs!
  10. Learning is social in nature

Have you used any cooperative learning strategy in your classes lately? Which one do you find most successful and Why?

In your class, who does the work?