Friday, May 23, 2014

Informational Text Features

Second graders in the state of Minnesota need to be able to know and use various text features (e.g., captions, bold print, subheadings, glossaries, indexes, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text efficiently (Minneosta Academic Standards, English Language Arts, Reading: Informational Texts, (2010).

In fact, all elementary students need to be able to analyze the structure of texts, so that they have a better chance of extracting meaning from the text they're reading.

During an inquiry investigation, one second grade teacher had students brainstorm all the different aspects of informational texts that set them apart from fictional texts. Students came up with the following text features:
  • table of contents
  • heading
  • bold print
  • photo captions
  • map/graph/chart
  • diagram
  • glossary
  • index

Then, students were given photocopied books (Reading A-Z) to look for those text features. Because they were photocopied, students were encouraged to cut the books apart and sort the text features by the categories they had previously determined. Below is the result of their work.

Afterward, students made their own books, including all the text features that they had studied.

After reading about how second graders constructed understanding of the different text features present in informational texts, how have you taught this important understanding to your students?

Friday, May 16, 2014


In fifth grade in Minnesota, students need to meet 31 social studies benchmarks. Among those benchmarks are seven history benchmarks that fall within the era of "Revolution and a New Nation: 1754-1800":
  • Identify major conflicts between the colonies and England following the Seven Years War; explain how these conflicts led to the American Revolution.
  • Describe the development of self-governance in the British colonies and explain the influence of this tradition on the American Revolution.
  • Identify the major events of the American Revolution culminating in the creation of a new and independent nation. 
  • Compare and contrast the impact of the American Revolution on different groups within the 13 colonies that made up the new United States.
  • Describe the purposes of the founding documents and explain the basic principles of democracy that were set forth in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
  • Describe the successes and failures of the national government under the Articles of Confederation and why it was ultimately discarded and replaced with the Constitution.
  • Describe the major issues that were debated at the Constitutional Convention.
With so many knowledge-based standards, the fifth grade teachers collaboratively decided to focus on the concepts, or big ideas, of causation, change, perspective, and organization so that the students could construct an understanding of the statement that voicing perspectives stimulates change.

In order to examine different perspectives and change during the era of the Revolution and the New Nation, fifth grade teachers planned to have their students inquire into the following events. The whole class would study the French and Indian War and then small groups of students would inquire into the remaining events.
  • Imposition of taxes
  • Start of the American Revolutionary War
  • Declaration of Independence
  • Changing sides
Teachers were noticing though, that their students were having a hard time inquiring into these topics, as they had such little background knowledge on this time in our nation's history. So, to help guide their inquiry, the students in one fifth grade classroom used the Visible Thinking Routine: Think-Puzzle-Explore.

Think-Puzzle-Explore is a Visible Thinking Routine from the book Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Morrison, and Church. It is a routine for introducing and exploring ideas. According to the authors, students are able to activate prior knowledge, wonder, and plan their research with this routine. This routine is good to use at the beginning of a unit to direct personal or group inquiry and uncover current understandings as well as misconceptions (p. 51).

Together with the teacher, the students identified what they thought they knew about each event. (It is important to note here that the students understood that what they thought they knew might be wrong; but their thinking was still acknowledged and recorded.) Then, students thought about what they wanted to know, or what puzzled them. Finally, as a class, the students came up with resources they could explore, to help answer their questions.

As students investigate the different perspectives voiced and changes stimulated during this point in American History, they are able to identify misconceptions they had previously believed to be true. Furthermore, as they gain knowledge on the important people (who), events (what), dates (when), places (where), and causes (why), they are able to link their new knowledge with the questions they had posed before.

After reading about how one fifth grade class used the Visible Thinking Routine Think-Puzzle-Explore to activate prior knowledge, wonder, and plan, how can you or have you use this Visible Thinking Routine with your students?

Kindergartners and the research process

Students who are in their final year of the Primary Years Program are expected to carry out an extended, collaborative inquiry project, known as the exhibition.

The exhibition represents a significant event in the life of both the school and student, synthesizing the essential elements of the program and sharing them with the whole school community. It is a culminating experience marking the transition from PYP to further steps in education (information on exhibition taken from the IBO website).

All teachers at every grade level have a responsibility to prepare our students for exhibition. Recognizing this responsibility, one kindergarten teacher recently e-mailed me:

"I am wondering if you have any good ideas for the process of doing mini research projects in kindergarten. Today my kids came up with questions they have about animals. They all start with “I wonder…” The questions are like… I wonder why skunks stink. I wonder what elephants eat? I have done this in the past and find that I have to do all the research since the kids can’t really read well enough to do research. Usually we look things up together on National Geographic kids or other sites. Any other ideas?"

Below are samples of some of the students' questions.
"I wonder why does a skunk stink."

"I wonder why do snakes bite."

"I wonder why a whale shark is so big."
"I wonder why a zebra has a tail."
"I wonder why do giraffes have a long neck."
"I wonder why does a lion have claws."
"I wonder if a snake can get married."
"I wonder if a fish has families."
"I wonder how elephants eat."
"I wonder why zebras have stripes."
"I wonder why does a raccoon have stripes."

"I wonder why an arctic fox is white."
The next day, the kindergarten teacher and I chatted about the Research Process that we follow at Kaposia: Plan, Gather, Organize, Share, and Evaluate. Question generation is a part of the Plan phase of the process.

As we reviewed all the questions together, we realized that no two questions were the same. We felt that if we sought to answer every specific question with the kids, students would learn lots of random facts, but wouldn't have the opportunity to construct conceptual understandings. 

To focus on the concepts behind the questions, we decided that it would be best to sort the questions with the students to make their thinking visible and to find the BIG IDEAS. As I left the planning meeting, the teacher was going to continue the activity later in the week, so I forwarded her some helpful sites from the San Diego Zoo where they could gather information as they continued the research process.

The next school day, I received this inspiring communication:

"I couldn't wait until Friday to try to see if the kids could put the questions into categories because they were wondering what we were going to do with the questions, so I did it with them today. It was so interesting.

I guided them in the process but they really picked up on it quickly. One said we should call the category for, "Why do snakes bite?" "action" because biting is an action. Then we came to why do skunks stink and one girl clarified that skunks don't stink; they spray and it stinks. The "action" kid made the connection that it is an action to tell you to stay away just like the biting, so we changed the name of the category to "actions that tell you to stay away." I couldn't believe someone put that together!

We had the question, "why are whale sharks so big?" and the kids were saying that we should put that into the body part category, but a kid said no, that is size not a body part. I was impressed he came up with the term, size!

The girl with the question, "can snakes get married?" clarified that she doesn't mean can they have a wedding, she means do they stay together like they are married (I understood that she really meant do they bond for life, or bonded pair) so I lead that into questioning animals that live in packs or alone. We called the category, "Animal families."

I was so surprised by how they did with it. We have been doing comparing and contrasting with language arts and I really saw them carry that over. Thank you so much for the tip to organize the questions that way.

So our categories are:

  • Size
  • Color (why do animals have stripes, etc)
  • Parts of the body (why to giraffes have tails, etc)
  • Actions that tell you to stay away
  • Eating
  • Animal families (can snakes get married?)
  • Animal language (can snakes talk to each other?)"

Now that students will be able to focus on the big ideas related to their animal inquiries, they are ready to start gathering information. In order to research, the kindergartners will team up with their 5th grade reading buddies to investigate a particular animal's size, color, body parts (all adaptations), actions that tell you to stay away (defense), eating (diet), animal families (community), and animal language (communication).

As students gather new information, they will organize it in a way that they can easily share it with others. Finally, students and teachers will have to evaluate the process, reflecting on what went well and what should be changed in the future.

After reading about how a kindergarten teacher is leading her students through the research process, how can you or have you lead your own students through this easy-to-follow, five-step research process?

Double Bubble

The ability to make comparisons is an important life skill. We make comparisons all the time, to better understand our world and our place in it.

To help students better understand life's big ideas (called concepts in the PYP), we have students make comparisons in the subject areas of language, math, social studies, science, arts, personal, social, and physical education. As students examine how things are similar and different, they have to use their thinking skills of comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Thinking in this way allows students to internalize conceptual understandings that they otherwise wouldn't be able to, without making these comparisons.

A helpful tool students can use to facilitate making comparisons is a Double Bubble Thinking Map. A Double Bubble is a type of Thinking Map® which is used to compare two things. The middle "bubbles" are used to show similarities between the two things. The outside "bubbles", are connected respectively to the two things, describe their different qualities. Note, Venn Diagrams are traditionally used to make comparisons, but in my experience Double Bubbles are much easier for younger, elementary students to create on their own. All you need is a blank sheet of paper!

Recently, in first grade, students were developing their conceptual understanding on how making connections across cultures cultivates tolerance. Students studied children's lives in other countries and then were asked to use a Double Bubble Thinking Map to compare different aspects of their life to another child's life elsewhere in the world. By using the tool of the Double Bubble Thinking Map, students were able to make connections across cultures, which cultivates their tolerance towards others who might be "different".

Notice in the following examples of student work, the "differences" tend to be what H. Lynn Erickson calls specific, factual knowledge. This type of information is locked in time, place, and situation. However, the similarities listed in the middle tend to be concepts, which are timeless and universal. According to Erickson, there must be a synergy between these two levels of knowledge if students are to develop intelligence. You can't have one without the other!

A comparison between this particular child and the Maasai people of southern Kenya.

A comparison of schools.

A comparison of houses.

After reading about how first graders used the Double Bubble Thinking Map to make comparisons, how can you or have you used the Double Bubble to make comparisons with your students?


They're at it again!

I have now twice (April 25, 2014 and March 28, 2014written about teachers in my school using the Visible Thinking Routine Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate (Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrisonas a way to help students uncover and organize prior knowledge to identify connections.

In first grade, teachers used this Thinking Routine to help invite their students into the unit of inquiry Sharing the Planet. Students will investigate the changes that animals experience throughout their life cycle. Part of the invitation step in the inquiry process is to pre-assess what students already know, understand, and can do prior to the study to help plan and guide further learning.

Teachers began the thinking routine letting their students know that they were interested in seeing and hearing the students' thinking about livings things.

Students then generated a "collection" of living things, writing and drawing on slips of paper.

Together, students sorted the living things into categories that they created. Students were asked to explain their thinking throughout the sorting process. After the categories were established, the class labeled their categories.

Next, students made connections between the groups, again being asked to explain what they were thinking. Finally, students elaborated on their groups, by adding other living things to the categories they had previously established.

It should be noted that during this process, as students made their thinking visible through their explanations, many interesting ideas and misconceptions were brought to light.

Is a rock a living thing?
How about water?
What about love?
How about blood?
What makes a living thing living?
Should a shark go in the same category as a whale and a dolphin?
Is a dinosaur living, if there aren't any living now?
Should we sort animals by what they eat or by where they live? Or perhaps by how they act?

As students explained their thinking, teachers made mental (or in some cases written) notes on what their students were saying. These notes will help teachers plan future learning engagements.

Below are the products of the Thinking Routine Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate from different first grade classrooms. Note that each one is different, because it was constructed by the particular students in each of the different classrooms.

This is the same Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate as above, just a couple of days later. The pink panda paper in the upper right corner of the picture is research that a student completed at home on her own without any teacher direction. Also, note the difference between the two pictures, especially the number of connections students made between the groups.

Note how the students basically crafted the central idea of the unit of inquiry in the middle of their sort.

"Love" made it through the first round of the sort, as did water. In this version, those items were taken off.

After reading about how first grader teachers used the Thinking Routine Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate to invite their students into the unit of inquiry about changes and cycles, how could you or have you used this Thinking Routine with your students?

Friday, May 9, 2014

I used to think ... Now I think ...

"I used to think ... Now I think ..." is a thinking routine from Making Thinking Visible (Ritchhart, Church, Morrison) that helps students reflect on how their thinking has shifted and changed over time. On March 20, 2014, I wrote about how this thinking routine could be used with Kindergarteners to show their thinking about cycles.

One of the advantages of thinking routines from Making Thinking Visible is that they can be used in a variety of contexts with a variety of topics over and over again. All teachers can use them, because all students need to think.

Recently, an English Language teacher proved the flexible nature of the thinking strategies when she adapted this thinking routine to fit her content and context. She had asked me if I would suggest a thinking routine that would help her small group of English Learners reflect on their writing and how they had improved during the academic year. After working with her students on this routine, I received the following e-mail:

"I took the 'I used to think' activity and turned it into a “We used to write…” for my small group of 4th grade girls. Since they hadn't done anything like that before, we did it as a group and I recorded their statements. It went well and I think I’ll keep using it in various forms. The girls had a lot of “Oooohhhhh yeah,” and, “AAAhhhhhh,” moments. It was great to witness. What made it even better is that we were sitting right underneath the sign of 'Reflective Alley'."

She also shared their thoughts she had recorded:

We used to write…
  • We used to repeat words over and over in our writing: and, and then, then, he said, she said.
  • We didn’t use “juicy” words at first. 
  • We didn’t really really describe things.
  • We used periods sometimes.
  • We wrote short, simple sentences.
  • Our writing was boring.
  • We used too much dialogue sometimes.
  • We used a little bit of expression or no expression at all.
  • We felt that writing was boring. 
But now we write…
  • We write in longer, expanded sentences.
  • We write with more expression.
  • We use more accurate punctuation.
  • We can write in paragraph form.
  • We use similes and metaphors.
  • We have a balance of dialogue.
  • We have a stronger author’s voice.
  • We feel more satisfied with our writing--we feel like real authors now. 
  • We feel like writing is not as hard as it used to be.
  • We can write for a longer amount of time.
  • We are more excited about writing projects.
  • We write multiple drafts and do peer editing and revising, and we still do editing and revising with a teacher.
  • We celebrate our writing.
  • We talk about our writing and reflect on it.
  • We share our writing by reading it to our peers and teachers. 
  • We use our typing skills more.
After reading about how English Learners used the Visible Thinking Routine "I Used to Think ..., Now I Think ..." to reflect on how their understanding, knowledge, skills, and attitudes regarding writing had changed over the academic year, how could you use "I Used to Think ..., Now I Think ..." in your instructional practice?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The 4C's

The 4C's is a Visible Thinking Routine used to synthesize and organize ideas. It comes from the book Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison (p. 140). According to the authors, the 4C's is used to make connections, identify key concepts, raise questions, and consider implications. It is a text-based routine that helps identify key points of complex text for discussion that demands a rich text or book.

What are the 4C's?*

Connections: What connections can you draw between the text and your own life and/or other learning?

Challenge: What ideas, positions, or assumptions do you want to challenge or argue in the text?

Concepts: What key concepts or ideas do you think are important and worth holding on to from the text?

Changes: What changes in attitudes, thinking, or action are suggested by the text, either for you or others?

*Click here for a more detailed description of the this Visible Thinking Routine.

In fifth grade, a teacher was looking for a learning engagement that would allow her students to get into issues related to human and natural changes to the environment. She was noticing that there was a lot of news that connects with this topic every day.

Specifically, the teacher decided she wanted to focus on water scarcity. In her class, the students were investigating how human development affects the water supply and water quality because there are so many obvious global connections to make. After doing some quick searching, the classroom teacher quickly learned that there was a lot of content out there on water scarcity. The trick was finding the right resource that contained enough information but was still fifth grade appropriate.

After finding some sources that fit the "rich text" description that this Visible Thinking Routine demands, the teacher identified a conceptual understanding she wanted her students to develop during the learning engagement: Students will understand that the availability of water affects human interactions with the environment.

In planning the learning engagement, the teacher used the inquiry cycle developed 
by our staff recently during a professional development day.

The staff in our building used the Visible Thinking Routine "I used to think .... Now I think" to show their understanding of inquiry. Their responses were then synthesized together and fit under three major parts of inquiry: invitation, investigation, and demonstration.

Invitation: During the invitation stage of an inquiry, the teacher is responsible for igniting an authentic interest in the students and capturing their hearts, brains, and spirits. 

In order to do this, the teacher had the water fountain turned off after gym class so the students didn't have access to water, especially when they needed it the most. She gave the students a Dixie cup that they could use to walk upstairs to the office to get some water.

Investigation: During the investigation stage of an inquiry, students need to discover information from a variety of sources, construct knowledge and understanding by digging deep into the material, and make their thinking visible.

To investigate the topic of water scarcity, the students watched a video about Gladys and how The Water Project helped her village get access to clean, fresh water.

Students then were introduced to the 4C's activity and were given the article Food for the Hungry Establishes Clean Water Systems for 200,000 People Worldwide. Students individually read the article and were instructed to write down any connections, challenges, concepts, and changes they thought of while they read (a copy of their recording sheet can be found below).

Demonstration: During the demonstration step in the inquiry process, students are given the opportunity to reflect on their learning, while they generate additional thoughts and questions.

To demonstrate their thinking and learning, fifth graders came together and shared their connections, challenges, concepts, and changes in a discussion. Students continued to add to their recording sheets as they heard the ideas of others.

An example recording sheet of the 4C's.

The teacher continually asked students to back up their responses with evidence. As students would share their statements, assertions, or opinions, the teacher often would ask, "“what makes you say that?” or “tell me more about that", which is the Visible Thinking Routine, "What makes you say that?" also from Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison's book Making Thinking Visible (p. 165).

After reading about how 5th graders used the Visible Thinking Routine of 4C's to identify key points of complex text for discussion, how could you or have you used this Visible Thinking Routine to make your students thinking about key points in complex texts visible?

First graders and the research process

As a way to develop their understanding that making observations leads to discoveries, first graders complete a research project where they investigate a particular dinosaur. The research process that one first grade classroom followed can be found on our school's media website, under the tab "Research". This is a five-step research process where kids plan, gather, organize, share, and evaluate.

Plan: The children wrote down a question that they had about dinosaurs on a sticky note and stuck it to a piece of chart paper.

Then, as a class, the students sorted the questions into categories and came up with four general questions that covered all the individual questions they were asking.

  1. What did they look like?
  2. What did they eat?
  3. How did they travel?
  4. When and where did they live?
Note: This process is the beginning of the Visible Thinking Routine, "Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate" from the book Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison. Students first generated questions and then sorted them into their own categories with which they would organize their thinking and research. Creating categories this way, instead of using prescribed, teacher-created categories, makes the research more engaging, relevant, challenging, and significant for the students. It is construction of knowledge and understanding. It is INQUIRY! 

Gather: In groups of three, students used information pages that the teacher had found and books to answer their questions on one particular dinosaur.

Organize: Students used a flap book (a folded piece of paper with the top half cut into four flaps. Students wrote the questions on the top flaps and the answers were written on the inside underneath each question) to record the answers to their questions that were driving their research. 

Share: The first grade students worked in the computer lab for two days, transferring the information contained in their flap books into Google Presentations. The first day, they typed everything in. The second day, they added pictures and went back to check for periods and capital letters. They obviously didn’t catch all of their errors, but they did “edit” them.

from the Velociraptor presentation

from the Tyrannosaurus Rex presentation

from the Triceratops presentation
from the Ankylosaurus presentation
Then, on the third day they presented them to the class.

Evaluate: After each presentation, students in the audience asked questions and offered comments to the presenting students. Student comments included things they liked or found interesting in each presentation.

The classroom teacher evaluated the students by observing them throughout the research process.

After reading about how 1st graders followed the research process of plan, gather, organize, share, and evaluate to learn more about dinosaurs, how could you or have you used the research process with your students?