To Be of Use

I heard this poem the other day and it has really resonated with me. It made me think about a past blog post I  wrote about Growing Your Own Practice.

I love the first line, it sets the tone for the whole poem.

The people I love the best jump into work headfirst without dallying in the shallows……

The only element I would add is the need to think and reflect before jumping in.  An enormous part of our job is to think and reflect because we are the decision makers in our schools, and classrooms.

I think the writer describes our natural instincts that we develop with experience as educators and leaders with the line:

They seem to become natives of that element,

I think this is what leaders do! We jump in, but not without thought or purpose. We plan with the end goal in mind, planning backwards! Teaching becomes very instinctual! Leaders can voice why are how those instincts have come about.

These are the people I love the best in my profession:

People who: 

experience empathy,

feel a desire to pause, ponder and dwell with a mindset to solve problems,

generate new ideas,

imagine new possibilities,

advocate and evaluate,

are engaged,

want to act  based on what they have read or learned and experienced,

show a willingness to struggle,

can describe their own progress,

can define and describe how their thinking has changed,

pursue compelling questions,

experience moments of insight or clarity.

It really made me think about the people I want to surround myself with. Thinking from an administrators perspective who would I want on my staff, from a parents perspective who do I want in my child’s classroom, or from a teammate perspective. As an educator within my school, my district and profession as a whole; who do I want others to see me as, and who do I want to be!

We could dissect it line by line, but think about growing your own practice and leadership in education as you read it. Let me know your thoughts.

To be of use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
Marge Piercy, “To be of use” from Circles on the Water. Copyright © 1982 by Marge Piercy.
Troy

Diagramming Difficult Concepts

Have you noticed that some readers can give you a routine synopsis of a text they have read, but not be able to explain many details with any depth? Students might confuse a concept or idea the writer presents which keeps them from understanding key themes or layered ideas. They may still struggle understanding some concepts and details even after rereading. What can you do about this?

When rereading a section of text, give students a specific question to read to answer or a definitive type of information to search for that will requiring them to put information together to reveal an inferred or suggested idea.

Another strategy that may be combined with the previous one or stand alone is to read several texts over the same topic. Students should build up a deeper understanding of the topic and start to understand information that may have been confusing to them at first. This has been called creating reading ladders among other names. Students can code the texts with a pencil or mentally  noticing information they already know versus new information.

 

+ = new information

*= I already knew this

When reading a second or third text on a topic or concept, it is important to help students notice that writers often share the same information as other authors but add more details to it. Students may end up coding a sentence with both a + and a *  when a writer broadens a readers understanding in this way. When students read multiple texts about a topic, they should be able to read increasingly more difficult texts because they are becoming familiar with content specific words and gaining background knowledge. Therefore writers will give more in-depth information that should build a students expertise. Students are reading up the ladder in two ways. If you are not increasing the difficulty of text then students will mostly likely not gain much new information they can add to their schema.

Readers need to notice when writers add on to their understanding of a topic or concept as they read more about it. They need to train their brain to notice and note differences which may include contrasting information and more in-depth information so they can add it into their schema.  If we do not instill in our students a mindset to read to gain knowledge and figure things out about life, they often do not do this. Striving readers often do not have this mindset. Students may have this mindset in other areas of their life but not for reading. This mindset has to be modeled and noticed and named in students’ own books as they do it.

Another way to help students understand more difficult or abstract concepts is to have them draw a diagram of the elusive concept or idea you noticed comprehension breaking down with. This is something that can be done in conjunction with the other strategies I have talked about.

This is something that does not work with every book, but can be helpful when the idea lends itself to being drawn. Start with a discussion. Notice and note key words and add in any of the strategies I have already mentioned. Then you can have students draw a diagram representing their understanding. I did this with a group a striving 2nd grade readers.  They were reading the level J book All About Bats by Donna Latham

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Students were understanding the basic information about bats the writer shared. Information like bats being nocturnal and mammals or an animal that roosts. Some of this information they could have already acquired from other sources. When it came to the concept of how bats use echolocation to find food, students understanding broke down. To help with this I shared a video, which showed an animated diagram of echolocation taking place. When you read across a topic, it can include videos, podcasts and stand-alone diagrams or infographics.

Then we went back into the text and reread the section on echolocation and looked closely at the diagram the writer included in the text. The video added a layer of depth to the students understanding, so when rereading that section students were able to turn and talk to each other and explain echolocation with me helping them pull out some key words to use.

Students then drew their own diagrams and explained them to each other. I then had students write a description next to their diagram.  This really help them understand how echolocation works.

 

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     I did not focus on spelling with this part of the lesson. My focus was for students to write show their understanding of echolocation. They were able to verbally talk about their understanding more accurately then writing about it. My lesson objective was for students to use details from the texts to verbalize and write about how bats use echolocation. This group of students was able to understand echolocation with more depth than other previous groups.  I aways change one or more aspects of a lesson to make it meet the current groups needs and to improve upon it from previous teachings after careful reflection. I write a new lesson plan each time I teach a book no matter how many times I have taught it. I use the notes I took on the previous one as my guide.

 

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The bat sends a high sound and the sound bounces back to the bat and the bat eats the insect.

As you can see this student mixed up the words bat and insect, but was able to verbally explain echolocation correctly. This was first draft writing. I can build off of the strengths in his reading and writing.

You can even pull out certain sections of other texts that include the concept you want to focus in on with students. Students do not need to read entire texts when you know where and with what concept their meaning was breaking down.  As teachers we need to make those instructional decisions of where to focus student thinking. Sunday Cummins inspired me to dig into this type of work through her book : Nurturing Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking, and Writing Across Content Area Sources.nurture

Troy

Engagement and Assessment

I am teaching a book study for my district using Ellin Keene’s book Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning K-8.

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One of the class activities was to participate in a Twitter chat. My district holds weekly Twitter chats over the school year. I wanted my class to chat about what they had been learning about engagement from Ellin’s book and how their thinking had changed about engagement or had not. A theme of assessment had already been chosen for the twitter chat of the month in question, but I was able to come up with some questions relating engagement and assessment together.

NKCchat 1

I want to thank @EllinKeene for jumping in on a few questions.

As I reflect back on the chat and what I have learned from the book myself and my peers taking the class, I have come to a several conclusions. First engagement is something you have to be talking about from the beginning of the year. Secondly, I think you have to ask students to draw on their personal experiences outside of school when first talking about engagement. Once you have established what engagement is and feels like together you can ask students to notice and think about activities they have been engaged in at school.

Then you can discuss times when you have been engaged and lost that engagement, or times when you do not feel the desire to engage in an activity but do so anyway, and end up absorbed in it wanting more. I think acknowledging these feelings happen to all of us is important. Then you can discuss how to reengage yourself into an activity, or how to choose to open yourself up to the possibility of engagement eventually occurring. Now this will obviously look different at different age levels.

You can then talk about choosing to be open to engaging in specific times when you have noticed students’ engagement lagging. Assessment could be one of those times.

     I know when students become aware of something, like engagement, they will be more willing to hold themselves accountable. When students become aware of something then they can start to assess themselves and think metacognitively about it. 

     I think you could create a self-assessment where students keep track of their own engagement all year long. Then they can visualize and verbalize goals and strategies that may help them engage in the areas where engagement has consistently been  weak. This is a tool that will look different at each grade level and possibly year to year within your own classroom.

Then, when it comes to engagement during district and state assessments towards the end of the year, you have evidence to fall back on and will have, already had conversations about engagement. This should help students recognize when they start to get restless and their mind wonders. They should be able to bring it back because of that awareness, with a little redirection.

I think another key ingredient for engagement during testing is for students to establish themselves as flexible thinkers. This can be done through modeling and talking about experiences. Being flexible is a mindset. Once they are flexible with their thinking students focus on being problem solvers. Students have to have a desire to figure things out and understand that they will be required to solve problems and look at tasks with an open mind. This needs to be established as an everyday expectation. In our classroom you will be challenged daily and often. You will have to be open to changing your thinking as you learn. And let them know you will be there to help them as they go and that you will be learning together. Let students know that in this classroom we will struggle sometimes and that we will pick ourselves back up and figure it out.  Students must aspire to figure tasks out and have a mindset to not give up as they wrangle with it.

Engagement will come and go for our students, so we have to give them the language and tools to notice and chose to engage or reengage when they sense they are losing focus. I think it should be an ongoing and adaptive conversation of modeling and discussion all year long. You need to center discusses around those intrinsic feelings that engaged people feel while immersed in an activity, not the extrinsic rewards they may get after the activity. I want students aware of what it feels like being in the action of deep thinking and engagement.  The have to know and be able to verbalize what learning feels while engaged. The know what it feels like when they are not!

These are a few quick thoughts on engagement and assessment. Hope you can find them useful. I would love some feedback! Troy