Class 11: How to Lead a Conversation that Builds Student Understanding

How to lead a conversation that builds student understanding

I admit to being guilty of dominating classroom discussion as a rookie social studies teacher. “Class, what were three results of the War of 1812? … Anyone? … Anyone??”

After years of facing this type of discussion, students learn that their comments are of provisional value until “approved” by the teacher. Over time, students stop listening to each other and only focus on what the teacher says or validates – “will that be up on a test?” When students are put in small group discussion, they rapidly get off subject. With no teacher to validate their comments, they naturally gravitate to other subjects where peer comments are valued – “what are you doing this weekend?”

How to lead a conversation that builds student understanding

Today’s class will explore strategies and resources for taking the teacher out of the role of information gatekeeper and encouraging productive student-centered dialogue.

In class we will explore the Structured Academic Controversy (SAC) model. Not all issues can be easily debated as pro / con positions. SAC provides students with a framework for addressing complex issues in a productive manner that builds their skills in reading, analyzing, listening, and discussion. It shifts the goal from “winning” the argument to active listening to opposing viewpoints and distilling areas of agreement. If time permits we will try an example Was Abraham Lincoln a racist? 251kb PDF

You might consider using the SAC process with my series “Great Debates in American History


Assignment

Students will develop and deliver a 30 min lesson in class.

11/13  – James, Nancy, Paxton
11/20 – Taran, Kelly, David
The lesson should a historical thinking skills lesson. Specific content of lesson is up to you. If you can get the timing right, we can offer you feedback before you use it with your students.
  • This lesson should be delivered as if we were your class.
  • Your peers will serve as participant observers noting lesson content, nature of the student task, lesson delivery and student workflow.
  • You should post your lesson on our site (due when you deliver to class).
  • Feel free to design a flipped lesson in advance and let the class know of your plans and required viewing.
  • If you have a significant amount of reading required, send it to us in advance.
  • After your delivery of the lesson go back and edit your post with synopsis of what you learned from our class feedback.

Image credit: Adobe Spark

Class 8: Teaching with Your Mouth Shut

Wanted for murder her careless talk costs livesDonald Finkel in his book Teaching with Your Mouth Shut, wrote “Our natural, unexamined model for teaching is Telling. The fundamental act of teaching is to carefully and clearly tell students something they did not previously know. Knowledge is transmitted, we imagine, through this act of telling.”

I admit to being guilty of dominating classroom discussion as a rookie social studies teacher. “Class, what were three results of the War of 1812? … Anyone? … Anyone??”

After years of facing this type of discussion, students learn that their comments are of provisional value until “approved” by the teacher. Over time, students stop listening to each other and only focus on what the teacher says or validates – “will that be up on a test?” When students are put in small group discussion, they rapidly get off subject. With no teacher to validate their comments, they naturally gravitate to other subjects where peer comments are valued – “what are you doing this weekend?”

Today’s class will explore strategies and resources for taking the teacher out of the role of information gatekeeper and encouraging productive student-centered dialogue.

We will begin with a peer review of student ideas the DBQ Assignment. Students will form two lines and have 2 minutes to pitch their DBQ design idea to each other and share some feedback. Then one line will shift and we repeated the pitch exchange. In all students will pitch their idea three times.

The goal of this phase is to gather feedback from peers regarding the following:

  1. You have an interesting generative / essential question worth answering.
  2. Your initial appraisal indicates there are suitable documents available.
  3. You have an idea for how students will interpret your documents. “What does it say, how does it say it, what’s it mean to me?”

The peer review will both reinforce the notion of getting the teacher out of the role of information gatekeeper and assist students in their DBQ Design process. Students will process the peer feedback using the Goal Setting Activity. (OETC Staff Development Strategies)

Next we will take part in another student centered discussion using the Fishbowl technique. Students will evaluate the activity as participant observers.

Finally we will explore a variety of student-centered discussion activities at OETC Staff Development Strategies and The Teacher Toolkit

Assignment:

Students will share their progress / reflection on the DBQ assignment as a blog post at EdMethods by Sunday Oct 26th. Here are some suggested approaches to the post.  Use what works for you. This will be a baseline reflection that you will look back on later to measure your progress with the DBQ design process

  • Explain how you intend to address the 3 questions above.
  • Use a sample document (or two) and related scaffolding questions to illustrate what you hope to accomplish.
  • Focus on the “big picture” of developing a DBQ that puts the student in the role of historian.
  • Reflect on the process we’ve used to peer review your ideas – has it been helpful?
  • What are the challenges you’re facing? What are you learning from the process?
  • How does (or doesn’t) this assignment build on the work we did on historical thinking earlier in the semester?

Image credit: Wanted! for murder : her careless talk costs lives ; Her careless talk costs lives

Keppler, Victor, 1904-1987 ; United States. Adjutant-General’s Office ; U.S. G.P.O. ; Distributed by Office of War Information 1944
Northwest University Library

Facts or Fiction? There’s a Genre for that!

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Lesson Study 1: Sixth Grade Book Genres

 Content:

Throughout the year my sixth grade Language Arts class is introduced to different genres of books so that they can practice how to best read the material for comprehension and overall enjoyment. By the end of the year, the goal is for each student to read at least one book from the different genres discussed. This introductory lesson is meant to familiarize the students with the concept of literary genre as well as facilitate a discussion about how to categorize books into specific categories based on the book’s content. Take note, this lesson is meant to span over two or three days so the students will be able to really solidify their understanding of genre as a concept and a tool to use throughout the school year.

Process:

Students are accustomed to completing a daily warm up in their composition notebooks each day. Today the warm up will be more open- ended in that students will be asked to give their opinion. The question they must answer will probably go something like this:

What makes a book interesting to you? What are your favorite parts of this interesting book? Take the next five minutes to list as many different reasons as you can for why you like this book. You don’t have to write in complete sentences.

After a short while, I will ask the students to share their opinions with their table groups on what the word ‘genre’ means and how the students’ descriptor words that they came up with in their warm up might help put books into different subject categories.

After the students are done sharing within their table groups, I will hand out a quick little handout that gives a brief overview of the different components of each genre. The handout will provide an overarching definition of genre at the top and list the various other types of genres. The students will be able to use this as a guide in case they forget a particular genre throughout the school year. I will choose random students to read through the genre definitions at this time.

But wait! There’s more!  The students will then be given a task to create a poster for around the room. They will create these in a group and will be assigned one particular genre from a list of genres at random. Using the given definition and their own brainstorms from their warm up, the students will be asked to create a poster that describes their particular genre. They will be given magazines, markers, glue, and whatever craft supplies their hearts’ desire to create a poster that gives examples of the genre along with key words associated with the genre. This will take some time to accomplish but once the posters are finished the students will be hang them up around the room. The posters will be a visual guide for the students so that they can quickly recognize different parts of different genres. The groups will then share their genres with the whole class and essentially ‘teach’ their peers all about their genre and the key words associated with the genre as well as give some examples from their poster.

Product:

The students will have a produced a poster that shows their understanding of their particular genre. Because this is a pretty lengthy introductory lesson, the overall goal is to connect students’ own understanding of a particular genre with terms and examples they already know.  The students should be given an opportunity to create their own idea of what a particular genre entails by using words and images that they understand. The idea is to create a foundation in which the students are asked to make their own connections to that is relevant and useful to them in the future.

Evaluation:

At the end of the first day of this lesson, I will assign the students to write a one page reflection in their composition notebooks about genre for homework. This reflection will ask the students to pick their favorite genre and explain why it is they like that particular genre using the key words and images they talked about in class. The students will also include their least favorite genre and why they don’t like it/ have trouble with it. Their reflection should include insight as to how the student can use genres as reading tools for categorization in Language Arts. This is somewhat informal in that I will use these to judge the lesson plans and provide the supports needed to the students who have difficulty understanding different categories of genres. The more formal evaluation will be the poster which will be grade mostly on content and originality as opposed to presentation and style.

What kinds of thinking will the students need to do to participate in the lesson?

Overall the students will need to:

  • Know the content
  • Differentiate or comprehend the differences between different genres
  • Create a visual aid that explains the particular genre using students’ own key words and phrases
  • Reflect on their own opinions and preferences about genres and how they can use genre as a reading tool in Language Arts

To what extent do the students have options or choices regarding these lesson components?

While I must provide the lesson materials, the students autonomy really boils down to the creation of their posters and the discussions they lead within their table groups. The group discussion is essential to creating an understanding between peers. Not only will discussion facilitate cooperation, but also give kids to share their different insights and concerns about the concept. The lesson is structured, but is also give the kids a chance to create a tool that will best suit them in understanding the content.

Reflection:

When I first set out to create this lesson plan I had an idea about how I wanted to incorporate more student autonomy into the process and finished product. What came out of my lesson was a snarling monster of note-taking and fill-in-the- blank that would have stifled my students’ creativity and essentially smashed any dreams of them owning their own education. So I did what felt right, and I deleted that lesson study. I threw it out, emptied my virtual trash can, and never looked back. Lesson #1 learned from our peer editing class was something simple and yet crucial to being effective and engaging in the classroom: Throw things out. Start over. Invent that new wheel. And if your lesson plans turn into yet another snarling monster that needs to be tamed, you fight it head on and start over. Your kids will thank you one day for saving them from the burden of a lesson plan that didn’t require their special talents in defeating a particularly hard concept.

Lesson #2 learned through the peer evaluation process required the lesson plans to be tamed rather than slain. The valuable information that I received from my two peer reviewers helped me to see the flaws I was dealing with in my lesson plan. The information may have been there, the delivery and student participation were minimal at best. Thanks to my two evaluators, I was able to take a step back and see how the lesson was relevant to my students. Were they making their own choices? Were they being allowed to use what they already know and construct their own ideas about the concepts learned? Were they allowed to interact with peers during the lesson? It’s these sorts of questions that I should have been answering in my first set of failed lesson plans and the same questions that I hoped to address in my second, improved lesson plan.

Photo title: Rural Wales needs £16,000,000

Photographer: Geoff Charles (1909-2002)

Accessed:  Europeana Libraries Project