First Day of School? Here’s How to Get Students Thinking

As a social studies high school teacher, I faced over 25 years of the first day of school. When I first began teaching, I did usual thing – working through the class list (“do you prefer Patrick, or Pat?), a dry recitation of the class rules, passing out the textbooks. Blah, blah, blah – think of the message it sent to my students.

As my teaching style evolved from the lecture / work sheet model into a more engaged learning environment, I redefined how I wanted to introduce my students to my course. I also came to understand that it was imperative that I get all my students to contribute a few comments to the class during those first few days. Very quickly classes learn which students are the talkers and non-talkers. Once those roles are locked in – it’s very difficult for student for break out of them.

So I didn’t waste the opening week of school introducing the course – my students solved murder mysteries. I took simplified mysteries and split them into 25-30 clues, each on a single strip of paper. (Think of a fortune cookie).  I used a random count off to get the kids away from their buddies and into groups of 5-6 students. Each group got a complete set of clues for the mystery. Each student in the group got 4-5 clues that they could not pass around to the other students. They had to share the clues verbally in the group and that guaranteed that every student is a talker on day one.

Two different mysteries you can use:

Murder Mystery 104KB pdf

Bank Robbery 109KB pdf

My instructions to students:

“Today we are going to play another game that will help improve your discussion skills. Each of the pieces of paper I am holding contains one clue that will help you solve a mystery. If you put all the facts together, you will be able to solve the mystery. Any time you think you know the answers and the group agrees on the guess, you may tell me. I will only tell you whether everything is correct or not.  If parts of your answers are incorrect, I will not tell you which answers are wrong.

You may organize yourselves in any way you like. You may not, however, pass your clues around or show them to anyone else, and you may not leave your seats to walk around the group. All sharing of clues and ideas must be done verbally.”

Discussion Guide

  1. How were decisions made in your group?
  2. Was a leader needed?
  3. Was time lost getting organized?
  4. Was it ineffective for everyone to talk at once?
  5. Did problems arise because some people didn’t present their clues?
  6. Did any members ignore the clues of others?
  7. Were attempts made to encourage the participation of all members?
  8. Did anyone monopolize the discussion? Was this productive for the group?
  9. How did you organize the information to solve the mystery – time, person, location, etc?
  10. Could you have organized the information more efficiently?

Follow up:

Over the next few days we would process their problem solving skills, group dynamics, differences between relevant and irrelevant information and introduce the idea of higher-order thinking like analysis, evaluation and creating. We might even have time to try the second mystery to see if their group process and problem solving skills improved.

Suggestions:

Want more mysteries? The teacher can easily write clues for a mystery of his own creation, simply making sure that not every clue is relevant to the task. Some of the clues can serve as distractors, but these must be contradicted by other clues. The group might wish to attempt transferring their new skills to a subject-matter problem, one in which all students are in command of the basic information needed for solving it. Students can be supplied with units of information and use the same technique to organize and evaluate data and to draw conclusions. In some cases they can be assigned the task of simply organizing the information into categories. Or students could be assigned the task of organizing the material and then developing conclusions or hypotheses. Material can be drawn from a variety of primary or secondary sources, or you may wish to assign students the task of assembling their own information.

~ Updated from an older post from August 27, 2008 ~

Photo credit: Flickr / walknboston

Looking at Student Work: Teacher Led Professional Development

For the last few years, I’ve been working with a high school that serves a population of  high-poverty, urban students. In my previous visits we have looked at strategies to get students to function at higher levels of thinking (rigor) and with more responsibility for their learning (relevance) in a workshop setting, make-take sessions, and in classroom walkthroughs. The centerpiece of our third series of sessions is looking at student work. I met with teachers over three days in groups of 5-6 in 2 hour sessions. A rotating pool of subs covered classes. Some groups were structured by content area, others were interdisciplinary. Both configurations gave us interesting perspectives to review samples of student work and use them as a springboard for  collegial  discussion. Most importantly, teachers supported each other in school-embedded professional development.

Teachers were asked to bring two assignments with at least two samples of student work for each task. When possible, teachers brought in copies of the material to share among the team. Many brought writing samples or other assignments that offered students some freedom in how they approach the task. Extended responses or assignments that required students to explain their thinking led to the most rich discussions. Since the school has a major CTE component, some teacher brought in manufacturing projects.

The process

Each teacher began by giving a brief background to their artifacts  – course, students, context of the assignment. We then spent about 45 minutes individually reviewing the sample assignments / responses. Teachers were supplied with sticky notes to make observations on the student work. This provide useful feedback to the originating teacher. Many teachers shared their impression verbally via informal side conversations.

I then guided teachers a discussion using four levels of prompts  We kept our conversations focused on the evidence found  in student work – rather than specific students or teachers.

Level 1: The Details: What details do you see in the student work – voice, content, organization, vocabulary, mechanics?

Level 2: The Student’s Perspective: Looking at the work from the student perspective – what was the student working on? What were they trying to do? What level of thinking were they using? What choices were they making about content, process, product, or evaluation? How much responsibility do they take for – what they learn, the process they use, and how they evaluate it?

Level 3: Patterns and Conclusions: Do you see any patterns across the samples of student work? Did you see anything that was surprising? What did you learn about how a student thinks and learns?

Level 4: What’s Next? What new perspectives did you learn from your colleagues? What questions about teaching and learning did looking at student work raise for you? As a result of looking at student work, are there things you would like to try in your classroom to increase rigor, increase relevance, promote reflection?

Teacher Responses

Teachers were also provided with written version of the prompts so that they could write their feedback. Here are some of the comments / questions raised by teachers. For more on how I used my iPhone Dragon Dictation program to gather comments click here.

  • Choice is motivation!
  • I need to devote more time to students reading and evaluating each others work.
  • We need more sessions like this one. It’s great to hear different perspectives on the same groups of students.
  • Am I making my expectations clear? Can they see the value in the assignments?
  • I’d like to add a student reflection every each day.
  • I’m seeing new ways of looking at / evaluating student work.
  • When students create for themselves, they see greater value in their work.
  • I’ve got ideas how to make learning more independent, interactive – I want to stress more project, inquiry based instruction.
  • We need to reinforce the idea of more “open” solutions to projects and assignments.
  • Students are accustomed to answering questions that require memorization of facts and formulas, but the work that reflected student understanding used higher-level questions and left room for student interpretations.  
  • Incorporating reflection into answers reinforces the fundamental concepts
  • This session helps us develop consistent expectations throughout the school
  • This is a great model for sharing – must be efficient and concise like this so teachers are willing to participate.
  • What are we expecting our students to know and be able to do in preparation for the global society?

The National School Reform Faculty has many resources for looking at student work that helped me in developing my process and questions. Thanks! Additional kudos to dear friend and colleague, Patricia Martin for helping me to frame the workshop.

The Reflective Principal: A Taxonomy of Reflection (Part 4)

Reflection can be a challenging endeavor. It’s not something that’s fostered in school – typically someone else tells you how you’re doing! Principals (and instructional leaders) are often so caught up in the meeting the demands of the day, that they rarely have the luxury to muse on how things went. Self-assessment is clouded by the need to meet  competing demands from multiple stakeholders.

In an effort to help schools become more reflective learning environments, I’ve developed this “Taxonomy of Reflection” – modeled on Bloom’s approach.  It’s posted in four installments:
1.  A Taxonomy of  Reflection
2. The Reflective Student
3. The Reflective Teacher
4. The Reflective Principal 

See my Prezi tour of the Taxonomy

It’s very much a work in progress, and I invite your comments and suggestions. I’m especially interested in whether you think the parallel construction to Bloom holds up through each of the three examples – student, teacher, and principal. I think we have something to learn from each perspective. I think each can contribute to realization of the new Common Core standards.

4. The Reflective Principal

Each level of reflection is structured to parallel Bloom’s taxonomy. (See installment 1 for more on the model) Assume that a principal (or instructional leader) looked back on an initiative (or program, decision, project, etc) they have just implemented. What sample questions might they ask themselves as they move from lower to higher order reflection? (Note: I’m not suggesting that all questions are asked after every initiative – feel free to pick a few that work for you.)

taxonomy of reflection
taxonomy of reflection

Bloom’s Remembering: What did I do?
Principal Reflection: What role did I play in implementing this program? What role did others play? What steps did I take? Is the program now operational and being implemented? Was it completed on time? Are assessment measures in place?

Bloom’s Understanding: What was important about what I did? Did I meet my goals?
Principal Reflection: What are the the major components of the program?  How do they connect with building / district goals? Is the program in compliance with federal / state / local mandates? Will it satisfy relevant contracts? Is it within budget? Is the program meeting it’s stated goals?

Bloom’s Application: When did I do this before? Where could I use this again?
Principal Reflection: Did I utilize lessons learned earlier in my career? Did I build on the approaches used in previous initiatives? Will the same organizational framework or plan for implementation meet the needs of another program or project? How could my interaction with one stakeholder group be modified for use with others?

Bloom’s Analysis: Do I see any patterns or relationships in what I did?
Principal Reflection: Were the implementation strategies I used effective for this situation? Do I see any patterns in how I approached the initiative – such as timetable, communications, input from stakeholders? Do I see patterns in my leadership style – for example do I over-promise, stall when I need to make a tough decision? What were the results of the approach I used – was it effective, or could I have eliminated or reorganized steps?

Bloom’s Evaluation: How well did I do? What worked? What do I need to improve?
Principal Reflection: What are we doing and is it important?  Does the data show that some aspects of the program are more effective than others? What corrective measures might we take? Were the needs of all stakeholders met? In a larger context, is the organization improving its capacity for improvement? Were some aspects of my leadership approach more effective than others? What have I learned about my strengths and my areas in need of improvement?  How am I progressing as a leader?

Bloom’s Creation: What should I do next? What’s my plan / design?
Principal Reflection: What did I learn from this initiative and how would I incorporate the best aspects of my experience in the future? What changes would I make to correct areas in need of improvement? Given our experience with this project, how would I address our next challenge? Have I effectively helped our school forge a shared vision of teaching and learning? And has it served as the foundation of this plan? If this project will hold teachers more accountable for student performance,  how am I meeting my responsibilities to provide the inputs they need for success? How can I best use my strengths to improve? What steps should I take or resources should I use to meet my challenges? Is there training or networking that would help me meet my professional goals? What suggestions do I have for my stakeholders, supervisors or peers to foster greater collaboration?

The Reflective Teacher: A Taxonomy of Reflection (Part 3)

Teach/Learn by Duane Schoon

Reflection can be a challenging endeavor. It’s not something that’s fostered in school – typically someone else tells you how you’re doing! Teachers are often so caught up in the meeting the demands of the day, that they rarely have the luxury to muse on how things went. Moreover, teaching can be an isolating profession – one that dictates “custodial” time with students over “collaborative” time with peers. In an effort to help schools become more reflective learning environments, I’ve developed this “Taxonomy of Reflection” – modeled on Bloom’s approach.  It’s posted in four installments:

1.  A Taxonomy of  Reflection
2. The Reflective Student
3. The Reflective Teacher
4.
The Reflective Principal

 See my Prezi Tour of the Taxonomy

3. The Reflective Teacher

Each level of reflection is structured to parallel Bloom’s taxonomy. (See installment 1 for more on the model). Assume that a teacher looked back on an lesson (or project, unit, course, etc) they have just taught. What sample questions might they ask themselves as they move from lower to higher order reflection? (Note: I’m not suggesting that all questions are asked after lesson – feel free to pick a few that work for you.) Remember that each level can be used to support mastery of the new Common Core standards.

taxonomy of reflection
taxonomy of reflection

Bloom’s Remembering: What did I do?
Teacher Reflection: What was the lesson? Did it address all the content? Was it completed on time? How did students “score” on the assessment?

Bloom’s Understanding: What was important about what I did? Did I meet my goals?
Teacher Reflection: Can I explain the major components of the lesson?  Do I understand how they connect with the previous / next unit of study? Where does this unit fit into the curriculum? What instructional strategies were used? Did I follow best practices and address the standards?

Bloom’s Application: When did I do this before? Where could I use this again?
Teacher Reflection: Did I build on content, product or process from previous lessons? How does this lesson scaffold the learning for the next lesson? How could I adapt the instructional approach to another lesson? How could this lesson be modified for different learners?

Bloom’s Analysis: Do I see any patterns or relationships in what I did?
Teacher Reflection: What background knowledge and skills did I assume students were bringing to the lesson? Were the instructional strategies I used the right ones for this assignment? Do I see any patterns in how I approached the lesson – such as pacing, grouping? Do I see patterns in my teaching style – for example do I comment after every student reply? What were the results of the approach I used – was it effective, or could I have eliminated or reorganized steps?

Bloom’s Evaluation: How well did I do? What worked? What do I need to improve?
Teacher Reflection: What are we learning and is it important? Were my assumptions about student background knowledge and skills accurate? Were any elements of the lesson more effective than other elements? Did some aspects need improvement? Were the needs of all learners met? What levels of mastery did students reach?  What have I learned about my strengths and my areas in need of improvement?  How am I progressing as a teacher?

Bloom’s Creation: What should I do next? What’s my plan / design?
Teacher Reflection: How would I incorporate the best aspects of this lesson in the future? What changes would I make to correct areas in need of improvement? How can I best use my strengths to improve? What steps should I take or resources should I use to meet my challenges? Is there training or networking that would help me to meet my professional goals? What suggestions do I have for our leadership or my peers to improve our learning environment?

image credit: flickr/duane.schoon

The Reflective Student: A Taxonomy of Reflection (Part 2)

reflective student
reflective student

Reflection can be a challenging endeavor. It’s not something that’s fostered in school – typically someone else tells you how you’re doing! At best, students can narrate what they did, but have trouble thinking abstractly about their learning – patterns, connections and progress.

In an effort to help schools become more reflective learning environments, I’ve developed this “Taxonomy of Reflection” – modeled on Bloom’s approach.  It’s posted in four installments:

1.  A Taxonomy of  Reflection  
2. The Reflective Student
3. The Reflective Teacher
4.
The Reflective Principal 

See my Prezi tour of the Taxonomy

2. The Reflective Student

Each level of reflection is structured to parallel Bloom’s taxonomy. (See installment 1 for more on the model). Assume that a student looked back on a project or assignment they had completed. What sample questions might they ask themselves as they move from lower to higher order reflection? (Note: I’m not suggesting that all questions are asked after every project – feel free to pick a few that work for you.) Remember that each level can be used to support mastery of the new Common Core standards. 

taxonomy of reflection
taxonomy of reflection

Bloom’s Remembering: What did I do?
Student Reflection: What was the assignment? When was it due? Did I get it turned in on time?

Bloom’s Understanding: What was important about what I did? Did I meet my goals?
Student Reflection: Do I understand the parts of the assignment and how they connect? Did my response completely cover all parts of the assignment? Do I see where this fits in with what we are studying? 

Bloom’s Application: When did I do this before? Where could I use this again?
Student Reflection: How was this assignment similar to other assignments? (in this course or others). Do I see connections in either content, product or process? Are there ways to adapt it to other assignments? Where could I use this (content, product or process) my life?

Bloom’s Analysis: Do I see any patterns or relationships in what I did?
Student Reflection: Were the strategies, skills and procedures I used effective for this assignment? Do I see any patterns in how I approached my work – such as  following an outline, keeping to deadlines? What were the results of the approach I used – was it efficient, or could I have eliminated or reorganized steps?

Bloom’s Evaluation: How well did I do? What worked? What do I need to improve?
Student Reflection: What are we learning and is it important? Did I do an effective job of communicating my learning to others? What have I learned about my strengths and my areas in need of improvement? How am I progressing as a learner?

Bloom’s Creation: What should I do next? What’s my plan / design? 
Student Reflection: How can I best use my strengths to improve? What steps should I take or resources should I use to meet my challenges? What suggestions do I have for my teacher or my peers to improve our learning environment? How can I adapt this content or skill to make a difference in my life?

Image credit: flickr/Daveybot