Friday, October 9, 2015

The "Long Lost" Thinking Strategies?

Reminiscing about yesteryear is a long loved pastime. We can think about- and talk about- the "good old days" and really get to swimming in our memories, but were they are rosy as we remember? Are current times as tragic as they seem? All this talk about the "back when we used to teach the thinking strategies" really prompted me to look into what we have done for the last couple of years, and what we are doing this now- this week- this year.

Here is what I found: Everyone, every child at BES, has been explicitly taught, or reminded of, metacognition and all that makes it up. Building a Literate Community was absolutely about building students up as thinkers-- regardless of the content area. 
Knowing that most explicitly teach the strategies (then and now) inside of the literacy block, I'll just offer the current state of affairs when it comes to the Thinking Strategies and explicit focused instruction for our students. See what you notice. 

Teachers Taking Time to Teach Thinking

Kindergarteners are all about building their background knowledge. They  have made their schema hats, learned how to make text-to-self connections and will likely move to text-to-text connections very soon. The content calls them to connect to what they hear, see, read ,and write. 

First Grade has been doing a deep study of questioning. They started their unit with some concrete objects that students would generate questions about and quickly moved to Debbie Miller's Reading with Meaning lessons on questioning about text: Before the Text, During the Text, After the Text. And just like the "days of old" they are also digging back into Stephanie Harvey's Strategies that Work to investigate Thick and Thin questions. The books they use (related to animals and in the ABC format) may be ELA related and "new age," but the lessons and anchor charts are quite the reminiscent of the past. 

Second Grade is moving at a similar pace with digging into questioning. Lessons provide time to learn how, why, and when we would ask deep or shallow questions. Learners work to understand the purpose of asking and reward of obtaining those answers through further reading or research. Determining Importance is not far off the heels of questioning as readers seek to record the important information that would fulfill their curiosity, and as writers as they consider why it is important to stretch sentences.

Third Grade, without a doubt, has spent time on the thinking strategies.  Not only does their Unit 2 call them to determine importance, but it also introduces inferring. Students move quickly from the concrete to the text and continue with lessons that intentionally call students to learn more about and apply their skills as thinkers. They have to visualize when writing and determine importance to understand characters, settings, events and plots. Just look at their prewriting for their narratives and you will see evidence of their mental images! They absolutely have to infer to be able to reap the author's message or a text's theme. No skill and drill-  straying from the strategies- at this grade level.

Fourth Grade is 100% about determining importance and inferring, as well. It would be impossible and a disservice to kids to not teach them these thinking strategies and how to navigate them when reading and writing. As readers, they are learning how to write summaries and infer themes. (Can you possible teach either of those real life practices with out teaching kids how to think through a text? As writers, the kids must learn how to take and organize research notes. Note-taking to use later when communicating knowledgeably about a topic is ALL about determining importance. My gut says that many of our students' experiences in literacy workshop still follow along with chapter 10 of Stephanie Harvey's Strategies That Work.

Fifth Grade core experiences all tie into inferring. Students are immersed in Playing with Words and considering both literal and figurative meanings of words, phrases, and texts.  The ability to infer  without questioning and schema is rather impossible. Our late intermediate teachers must spend time really teaching inferring- all unit long-or the whole point would be lost, right?

So, what did you see? What did you notice when we really look at the evidence of today? What came apparent to me is that we have NOT abandoned the Thinking Strategies and have actually intentionally taught (or at least planned to teach) students how to access content through authentic strategic thinking. If this our current reality, can we really linger in a time when we only taught thinking strategies and happened to teach the content? Was that a better approach?  I'd argue no. Is what we are doing now perfect? I'd say not. But are we finding that balance between understanding how to teach content while also focusing deeply on teaching students to utilize thinking strategies in content areas... Yes. If for some reason you are still feeling like you're not doing this, NOW'S the time to Make some new Memories! Marry the power of the past with the potential of the present!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Making Mini-Lessons Magnificent

In our Buckner Literacy Project cadre we recently spent time really looking closely at the mini-lesson. We had previously studied the workshop as a whole- breaking down the purpose of each structure, routine, ritual and thinking of it as a system. But this month, we dug into the every complex mini-lesson. For being such a short component of time, it sure does offer a lot to think about. Who knew how complicated and messy a mini-lesson could be?

Three of our very own seasoned teachers let us into their rooms to watch as they navigated this beginning part of the workshop journey. We saw the both the traditional approach in reading as well as the catch and release in a more "upside down" workshop approach in math. Both offered us a lot of food for thought.  Below you will find a list of the cadre's noticings and a structure(template) for planning effective mini-lessons. No matter how many years you've been teaching, a little refresher about the essentials of mini-lessons never loses its luster.

Cadre members made powerful noticings about the importance of the following critical components:

Ø Using a specific text or problem that serves a purpose later
Ø  Sticky notes in book of ‘Think aloud” thoughts (variety of thoughts, alleviates forgetfulness)
Ø  Each and every activity
Ø  Knowing how  you will communicate the lesson linking to previous content and real-life experiences

  • Clear expectations
    Ø  Give or ask students what they will need
    Ø  Name specific materials, behaviors, and noise level
    Ø  Set timer for workshop structure
    Ø  Countdown to next “thing” (I’ll count down from 10. 10, 9, 8…)

    Importance of guiding questions for Teachers and Students.
    Ø  Posting the GQ
    Ø  Reading the GQ (e.g. teacher, or student, or choral reading)
    Ø  Having the students think about the GQ during the mini-lesson (e.g. telling them the importance, student turn and talk, few share aloud, or just offering 30 sec. to ponder it)
    Ø  Setting up students to work toward understanding in the indept time and circling back to GQ in the share

    Teacher Modeling & Think Aloud
    Ø  Thinking aloud shows strategy in action
    Ø Offers a way of doing something

    Anchor charts (or showing the previous day's work)
    Ø  Played a role in all of your lessons to anchor learning or review schema
    Ø  Scaffolding of students' understanding
    Ø  Intentional reference to them
    Ø  Adding on to an anchor chart to show continued learning

    Questioning (open-ended, probing for why)
    Ø  What were you thinking?
    Ø  What in the text made you think ___?
    Ø  So you think ___.Why do you think that?
    Ø  What  is your evidence?
    How does ___ know? Is there another way?

    A little discourse: 1-2 Turn and Talks
    Ø  Foster students' thinking
    Ø  Build shared understanding
    Ø  Offer equity of voice.
    Ø  Could be intentionally planned them, or "sensed" by kids’ needed to talk about the question.

     I hope this helps to recharge and renew your very valuable mini-lessons.