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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 did not 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. (You can download one of the mysteries and rules from my website.) 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.
While the students worked to solve the mystery – I concentrated on learning the student names. After I introduced the mystery, I bet them that by the end of the first class, I could go around the room and recite their names. While they worked on the mystery, I circulated getting to know students and their names. Another message – in this class, we’re all learners.
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 another mystery to see if they got better.
By week two, I got around to passing out the textbooks. But by then I had already introduced them to what was most important about my class.
Image credit: flickr/pobre.ch
The recently released NAEP report suggests that only about one-third of our eighth graders and about one-quarter of the nation’s high school seniors are proficient writers. The results are not much better than the results of the NAEP’s last report in 2002. More
If we want to bring these numbers up, students should be writing on a daily basis in all of their classes. So how do we give students more opportunities to hone their writing skills without overburdening our secondary teachers with loads of papers to grade?
Why not use the QuickWrite strategy.
The QuickWrite is followed by short discussion. Teachers call on volunteers, drawing out divergent viewpoint:
This strategy stimulates students’ higher-order thinking about a concept from the previous day. Teachers can easily check for understanding before beginning a new lesson. The class is now ready to link this newly anchored understanding to the content of the upcoming class.
Most importantly, a QuickWrite gives students a chance to evaluate what they think is significant and share what they’ve learned with their peers. It restructures the typical teacher-led discussion that too often finds the teacher playing “guess what I’m thinking?”
For more ideas and resources, visit my literacy posts on this blog.