Impact on learning: Author’s purpose

Inspired by a colleague’s presentation during the KIST ‘Teach together; learn together’ professional development event, I took a more formal approach to the impact cycle than I have in the past.

First, I copied the raw data from my students’ diagnostic assessments into an Excel spreadsheet. I added a row at the bottom to show the average result of each test item as a percentage, then used conditional formatting to create a visual perspective into the data.

Reading diagnostic data

This allowed me to identify a general area of need: Reading. Then I simply copied and pasted the test items with average results of less than 50% along with the corresponding learning outcome indicated in the test documentation.

Reading diagnostic data analysis

The common weak thread, in my analysis, can be expressed by the verbs ‘describe’ and ‘explain’. Surprisingly, in Bloom’s Taxonomy, these terms are associated with Knowledge and Comprehension, or ‘lower’ order thinking.

Glaring omission

One issue involves the outcomes related to author’s purpose. Put bluntly, there is no such learning outcome in the standards for Grade 4 at KIST. The students are being assessed in a high stakes manner on learning outcomes that the school doesn’t explicitly teach. I, of course, can add standards about author’s purpose to my working documents. Indeed, that is the purpose of this impact intervention. However, it’s clear that teachers’ voices are needed in the development of the school’s assessment and planning documents to ensure that they are relevant and in alignment with one another.

Intervention

My plan for having a measurable impact on student learning is to ensure that they are exposed to the idea of author’s purpose, and explore it in a variety of ways in our guided reading sessions. This can be done by direct mini lessons and reinforced by revisiting the concept whenever we encounter a novel or remarkable example in the texts we explore.

Another approach would be through precising and close reading of a master text. For this, the grade four team selected an abridged version of Swiss Family Robinson to be integrated with our unit of inquiry in April and May. This plan might be our students’ first opportunity to read a novel together. The text uses rich vocabulary and imagery, so I believe there will be many opportunities to analyze and summarize selections, and hypothesize about Mr Wyss’ purpose for various literary choices.

Measuring impact

To avoid over-assessing my students, I will plan to use the end-of-year English Diagnostic Assessment, of the same type as the one at the start of they year, to measure impact. Throughout the school year, I have assessed and gathered data on a wide variety of learning outcomes informally during guided reading sessions, but this will be the only formal assessment of the learning outcome of author’s purpose.

Integrating public speaking, peer assessment, and data handling

As a formative assessment task within a unit focused on advertising, my class recently completed a learning engagement which integrated persuasive writing, public speaking, peer assessment, and data gathering, organization, and analysis.

Public speaking

The first step was for students to apply what they had learned around the central idea, ‘People create and manipulate messages to target and persuade specific audiences.’, by presenting their own persuasive speeches.

One of the most powerful tools we explored were TED talks about children.

We followed a typical writing process which featured prominently rehearsal and peer feedback.

Peer assessment

By emphasizing peer evaluation, there were many opportunities for me to model sensitive and effective critique as well as coach individual students and groups to develop as assessors.

When the day of the presentations drew near, students contributed their ideas about features of a persuasive speech which I synthesized into our Persuasive speech peer assessment rubric

Every student in the class used the rubric to evaluate every other student’s speech.

Data handling

This provided an authentic data handling exercise as students used a Persuasive speech peer assessment data organizer to gain deeper insights into their peer feedback.


I believe that the authenticity and social elements designed into the activity led to every student being extremely motivated to learn the concept and application of average.

Reflection

A further step that I considered including but decided against would be to teach the students how to use Excel or other spreadsheet software to organize and analyze their data. However, it didn’t seem appropriate at the time and I would prefer that the students experience this process in the old fashioned analog manner before introducing digital tools. 

Equity in Gamification

I spent a short amount of time today substituting for an absent primary grade teacher. The lesson plan called for a sight word practice game. The teacher left instructions, but years of experience as a substitute teacher taught me that the students would give me the clearest idea of how the game is played.

The game

1 Each student has four word cards arrayed on their desks.

2 The teacher calls one of the words and students race to see who can select the correct word and hold it over their head.

3 The slowest student is ‘out’ and becomes the judge for the next round.

4 After being a judge, the slow students wait at the front of the classroom until only the two fastest students remain for a final duel.

The problem

The glaring problem with this game is that it is competitive. Especially in classrooms with 8 year olds or younger, games should be cooperative so that each individual’s success benefits the group, and the group supports the learning of members who are challenged. 

The card game we played today accomplishes the opposite: Students who are ‘slow’ were, in a sense, shamed by standing for the rest of the game at the front of the room.

What’s worse, the ‘slow’ students who need the most practice play the game for the shortest amount of time. In fact, the slowest student is ‘out’ after the first round!

Equification

My improvised quick fix was to redesign the rules slightly.

The student fastest to hold up the correct word card would become the judge for the next round, a job that the students were excited to compete for.

The student slowest to hold up the correct card would choose the word for the next round, an opportunity for oral language support with the teacher and empowerment by being the leader of the game for a turn.

The result was a game which maximized student practice. Since no students were ‘out’, nobody was standing around doing nothing. Confident students were engaged in the competitive aspect of the game while those with less confidence had different chances for practice.

Evaluation

I wouldn’t claim that the game has been perfected. After all, it remains competitive. However, I think my modifications did reduce the severity of the competition. Students were more engaged because everyone could play every round and maximize the amount of time practicing.

Do you play any classroom games that could benefit from less competition and more cooperation and equity?

Infographics in the classroom

Who doesn’t love a good infographic?
I get my fix from Daily Infographic, but a quick Google search uncovers many more sources.
I’m often surprised how the layout, color palette, and design of a document draw me into a topic. To capitalize on this phenomenon in the classroom, I started building an infographics section on the wall.
The concept is so simple and fun. Just print infographics, laminate them, and affix them to the wall with magnetic tape. Students are welcome to browse during independent reading and inquiry periods. Having them mounted magnetically means they are portable. Occasionally, they become very excited about a particular graphic and share with each other.
Although it has been somewhat labor intensive to build a collection, the result is an engaging range that my sixth grade students find very inviting. Changing the selection always results in some kind of excitement, and learning with them builds visual media fluency and provokes inquiries in a novel way.
With such an emphasis on digital technology, it’s important to remember that people learn in many different ways. Providing a variety of approaches to learning is always the best application of educational technology.
Why not start your own infographics wall?

Compare cultures through literature

Spoiler Alert! The last line is “…until the day they were crushed to death in a shower of flying stones.”
One of my favorite inquiries is to deduce and compare the values of different cultures based on their “Cinderella” stories. Probably the oldest, and my personal favorite, is Yeh-Shen from China.

Student Blogging & Meaningful Connections: The Noobster

Using the Internet and specifically blogs to network classrooms around the world is a priceless learning activity, in my opinion. Writing for an audience provides incomparable motivation, receiving objective feedback provides authenticity, and engaging in developing as writers with other people promotes relevance and significance. I have blogged before about strategies for developing this network of connected young learners in the post, Engaging and Authentic Student Blogging.

A wild tweet appeared

More recently, during a #teach2blog Twitter chat, a wild tweet appeared:

While I was unable to properly participate in the chat, I did come up with a solution based on the Liebster award. Why not make a Liebster for student bloggers?

Introducing the Noobster

Student bloggers are ‘noobs’, and I think that the negative connotation that accompanies that term in online video games and chat rooms needs to be reappropriated into something positive. A Noobster is awared to student bloggers who are expressing themselves and sharing openly. A Noobster honors their courage as communicators.
The structure for writing a Noobster post is very simple. Be sure to include these directions in yours!

It should include: 

-The red  Noobster ‘Noob’ image embedded.
-One paragraph linking to the post in which the Noobster was nominated and describing your thoughts about receiving the award.

-Answer five questions about yourself.

-Write five random and interesting facts about yourself.
-Ask five questions to your own Noobster nominees.
-Nominate and link to five other student bloggers, preferably in different classes, to make your own Noobster nominations.
Comment on those five blogs informing the authors that you awarded them with Noobsters so that they can write their own. Don’t forget to leave a link to your Noobster post!

Have fun!

I’m excited to see if this works to help students to connect and get to know each other as authors and audience. Here’s a link to the first Noobster post. Watch your comment box for your nomination, noobs!

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PYP Exhibition Theme Synthesis

In the New Year, my sixth grade class will undertake our school’s inaugural PYP Exhibition. Here’s the description of the event from the International Baccalaureate Organization website:
“Students who are in their final year of the programme are expected to carry out an extended, collaborative inquiry project, known as the exhibition, under the guidance of their teachers.
The exhibition represents a significant event in the life of both the school and student, synthesizing the essential elements of the programme and sharing them with the whole school community. It is an opportunity for students to exhibit the attributes of the Learner profile that have been developing throughout their engagement with the programme. It is a culminating experience marking the transition from PYP to further steps in education.
Schools are given considerable flexibility in their choice of real-life issues or problems to be explored or investigated in the exhibition.”
In the past years, I have visited several Exhibitions in Tokyo and explored the online presentations of dozens more. There are as many unique approaches as there are people participating! Designing an environment in which the exhibitioners will thrive is a grand and fascinating challenge and an ideal example of metateaching.
One aspect all examples I have viewed share in common is that they fall under one of the IB PYP Transdisciplinary Themes. However, in the Exhibition Guidelines, it states that one of the essential features should be to “synthesize aspects of all six transdisciplinary themes”.
“synthesize aspects of all six transdisciplinary themes”
I thought of one way to attempt this by way of inspiration from refrigerator poetry magnets. I simply printed the key terms from the six transdisciplinary themes, laminated and cut them out, attached magnets and arrayed them on a corner of our whiteboard. My class and I had a brief discussion of the themes and the goal to draw items from them of interest to us and rearrange them to create our own theme description. From that, we can create a title for our theme which can serve as a title for our Exhibition.
They began by playing, which is exactly what I had hoped for. The point is to play with the words to begin to explore our ideas. As our ideas become more organized, so should the words. I am extremely excited to begin our Exhibition inquiries, and have been planning activities all year as practice and preparation. I view it as an archetypal Independent Inquiry, and the first formal test of many of the principles of inquiry we have been exploring.

Peace Cranes

Being a connected educator is not easy. Often, a single tweet or blog post will disrupt my plans for the day, bring my train of thought screeching to a halt, or overturn part of my philosophy of learning and teaching.
And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it! One of the best tweets I’ve received was from Melvina Kurashige, in Hawaii, inviting my class to exchange origami peace cranes as part of the Peace Crane Project. Who wouldn’t want to do that?!

It was a simple and meaningful activity which involved writing messages of peace on paper, folding them into origami cranes, and sending them off. Just before sending ours, we received a package from Hawaii containing the beautiful cranes and postcard in the photo.
To bring our classes closer together, we held a brief Skype session in which the students asked each other questions about their schools, where they live, and their interests.
The activity connected perfectly with Shibuya Peace Day, one of our schoolwide events. I could imagine a class participating while reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes for a strong literature connection or as part of an arts & crafts unit on origami.
This fun global collaboration was most meaningful due to having a simple and worthy goal: to promote peace.

Silent Discussion

Classroom discussion is a valuable opportunity to share ideas and develop communication skills, but often, the full benefits are enjoyed by the most extroverted and precocious students in the class. While I do believe that everyone should develop skills in all areas, especially those that are not as strong, I also believe that teachers, or better yet, metateachers, should design learning activities that provide equitable opportunities for learners with different strengths. The ‘Silent Discussion’ is just such an activity.

Simply explained, it’s a way for a group to hold a discussion without speaking. I tried it recently and the results were fantastic, so I thought I’d share.

In our current unit of inquiry into Rights & Responsibilities, there are three lines of inquiry we have been following:

How rights are viewed globally
How rights are granted
Actions required to protect rights

Everyone knew that the lines of inquiry would guide our learning for the next few weeks, and the unit had been provoked by a guided inquiry into the Bayaka people of Central Africa. The Silent Discussion was intended to develop our understanding of the concept of Rights and focus our attention in a socially creative manner.

Organizing the Silent Discussion
1 Print the lines of inquiry, one each, on large paper (we used A3).
2 Place the papers at different corners of the room, or around a central table (consider elbow room).
3 Everyone browses silently with their favorite writing implement, writing comments and questions about the lines of inquiry.
4 Read others’ comments and questions, reply, continue.


The activity started slowly, and grew in energy during a fifteen minute session. I injected some provocations and modeled different ways to engage with the activity (drawing pictures, circling and connecting different comments/questions). Finally, we posted the sheets and reflected on our thoughts and interactions.

I believe that the activity works best if it begins with abstract concepts or statements, rather than topics. It was also helpful to play thoughtful music (I generally stream KUSC).

It occurred to me that a techologized version of the Silent Discussion could be possible, but I rather like the museum-like energy generated by thoughtful browsing and the visceral nature of physically constructing our collective understandings on paper.

Another detail that would have extended the activity would be to post provocative images around the room, and perhaps provide videos or news articles to further contextualize the lines of inquiry.

Have you learned or taught through an activity like the Silent Discussion?