Sunday, August 17, 2014

Successful Student / Successful Teacher

At the beginning of the year, it is important to honestly discuss with students what traits and behaviors they'll need to succeed during the academic year. During this process, it is essential that educators and students speak honestly, so that everyone knows from the get-go what they'll be expected to do in order to reach the formidable goals that are set during the creation of their hopes and dreams.

One way to frame this discussion is by leading students through the Successful Student / Successful Teacher activity. Teachers could also lead parents through a similar Successful Parent activity during open house or early-in-the-year curriculum night.

One fifth grade teacher lead his students through the Successful Student activity to identify specific traits and behaviors they all would have to show in order to have success in the classroom.

First, the teacher asked the students to think independently of what traits, characteristics and behaviors a successful student must have. Students were instructed to write down ideas so they would be ready for the next step of the process: small group conversation.

In small groups, the individual students shared their ideas. Finally, the groups merged together and as a whole class, the students and teacher filled out their Successful Student on the whiteboard.

As students contributed their ideas, the teacher asked the students to tell him where they thought the characteristic or behavior would be located on the person. The teacher found the students highly engaged and that they really enjoyed the activity.

After, the students completed the same procedure for the Successful Teacher.

The teacher commented how telling it is that the students identified successful teachers as professionals who know how to teach students, who believe in himself/herself, and who are patient with students. Certainly worthy goals of any teacher!

After reading about how one fifth grade teacher led his students through the Successful Student / Successful Teacher activity to identify traits, characteristics, and behaviors one needs in a classroom to be successful during the academic year, how could you use this activity with your students?

Using Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate to create Essential Agreements

During the second week of school, the authors of The First Six Weeks of School (Paula Denton and Roxann Kriete) suggest working together with students to formulate and agree upon a set of classroom rules. In the Primary Years Program, this set of rules is referred to as the Essential Agreement.

The collaborative creation of this important classroom document should be preceded by naming and sharing hopes and dreams for the school year. Although this post's focus is creating the Essential Agreement with a Visible Thinking Routine, it is important to note here that the Essential Agreement should only be created once teachers and students have shared what they hope to achieve during the school year.

One first grade teacher led her students through the Visible Thinking Routine Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate (from Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison) to create their classroom's essential agreement.

After discussing with the students what their hopes and dreams were for the summer session, this teacher had each student generate rules on small squares of paper that would help them achieve those hopes and dreams.

Next, the class sorted the rules into meaningful groups, which they labeled in positive terms: be safe, try your best, be respectful.

The teacher emphasized the fact that these three expectations were all connected by drawing thick lines between them.

Then, students elaborated on the groups, adding three new behaviors: do what you're told, help friends, take turns when we want to talk.

Finally, the students all signed the Essential Agreement, agreeing to be safe, to be respectful, and to try their best.

After reading about how this first grade teacher created her classroom's Essential Agreement with her students using the Visible Thinking Routine Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate with her students, how have you or could you use this or other Visible Thinking Routines to create this important classroom document with your students?

It's about what you do within the walls, not what you put on them

Every August, two friends from college and I go on our annual back-to-school shopping trip to get needed supplies for the upcoming school year. We visit the local bookstore with free-roaming cats, the office supply store with folders for one cent each, the big-box retailer with their markers marked way down, and of course, the teacher supply store.

When we first started this tradition 10 years ago, we spent considerable time (and money) in that teacher supply store, buying name plates, borders, posters, decorations, and more to make our classrooms look the best they could for when the students arrived on the first day of school. Over the years though, the money that we've spent on these classroom decorations has considerably gone down. And for good reason.

In The First Six Weeks of School, authors Paula Denton and Roxann Kriete suggest that one of the goals for the first week of school is to display children's art, writing, and personal artifacts around the room. They go on to explain that involving students in creating the posters and labels that hang on the walls allows students to grow familiar with and begin to assume ownership of the room.

That would mean though that the walls of our classrooms are empty when students first walk through the door, which doesn't seem to be a very welcoming environment. In her article Consider the Walls, Patricia Tarr points out that teachers feel pressure to not leave their classroom walls bare. However she warns that when classrooms are decorated with commercially produced borders, posters, and informational materials, the important texts and images on them fade from students' consciousness and worse yet, distract from the children's concentration and focus.

As the video below points out though, Primary Years Program (PYP) educators must display numerous important aspects of the program in their classrooms: the essential agreement, the IB learner profile, the classroom schedule, classroom labels in the language of instruction and in the school's language B, the key concepts, the PYP attitudes, the transdisciplinary skills, the action cycle, all six units of inquiry, and the central idea and lines of inquiry currently being studied.

Note that this video is not an official IB publication.
However, it has proved to be helpful to many an IB educator.

In line with what Denton and Kriete opine, the video's narrator states, "As the teachers and students become more comfortable with these terms, they should work towards these displays being student-generated, instead of teacher manufactured."


Want tips for creating IB learner profile attribute posters with your students?
Click one of the links below.


As we create posters with students and decorate our classroom walls with them, we must also heed Parr's warning and acknowledge that even when wall displays are student-created, the important ideas on them are quickly forgotten as students are unable to interact with them. Therefore, in addition to displaying the IB learner profile and the essential elements of the PYP on the walls of our classroom, it is suggested that each student receive a personal copy of the Essential Elements, like the one pictured below. When each student has a copy of the Essential Elements at their fingertips, along with age-appropriate explanations of these complex ideas, they will more readily reference them as they investigate important concepts and reflect on their learning.

Click here for a PDF version of this Essential Elements Mat
(that includes the Transdisciplinary Skills on side 2)

Ultimately, it is our goal as PYP educators to focus on what goes on within the walls of our classroom, not what goes on them. Student-generated classroom wall displays and Essential Elements mats are simply tools that help us reach our ultimate goal: for students to be genuinely and independently using the vocabulary of the PYP in meaningful contexts in such a way that reflects their true and deep understanding of these abstract ideas.

Creating IB learner profile attribute posters with older students with several years of experience in the program

Older elementary-aged students who have been in the Primary Years Program (PYP) for a number of years will be quite familiar with the IB Learner Profile and other essential elements of the program. They should be genuinely and independently using the vocabulary of the PYP in meaningful contexts.

However, students at this level still should be given the opportunity to further explore the meaning of these abstract terms as they create posters for their classroom.

One sixth grade teacher used a Visible Thinking Routine as he invited his students to think more deeply about the IB learner profile.

First, he printed off the descriptors for the 10 attributes of the profile, cut them up, and gave each student one attribute and accompanying descriptor. Students read through the descriptor several times.

Then, students used the Visible Thinking Routine Step Inside (from Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison) to take on the perspective of someone who exhibited that attribute, as a way to gain a deeper understanding of it. Students were already familiar with this routine, as they had used it at other points during the class (Want to know more about Step Inside? Check out this post.)

Students reflected on the following four questions through the lens of their particular learner profile attribute. They made their thinking visible in their inquiry notebooks.
  1. What can this person see, observe, or notice?
  2. What might the person know, understand, hold true, or believe?
  3. What might the person care deeply about?
  4. What might the person wonder about or question?
After, students were given a blank piece of white art paper and created the border of their poster with the perspectives they had just explored. Inside, the students decorated their posters with their first-grade reading buddies, making it a true collaborative project.

By creating the IB Learner Profile attribute posters in this way, the teacher guaranteed the students were developing an understanding of each attribute as they collaboratively worked.

Have you successfully made PYP posters with older elementary-aged children who have several years experience in the program in a different way than the teacher in this story? Please, share your idea with others by commenting on this post.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Creating IB learner profile attribute posters with young children, who have a couple of years experience in the program.

Young children who have been in the Primary Years Program for a couple of years probably are familiar with the attributes of the IB learner profile. However, as teachers of these students create attribute posters with them, it is important to take the opportunity to help the children develop a deeper understanding of these important 10 attributes of an internationally minded person.

One first grade teacher set up a learning opportunity that allowed her students to construct a more robust interpretation of the attributes of the learner profile.

First, the teacher told the students that they were going to be looking at the IB learner profile attributes through the conceptual lens of FORM as they asked themselves, "What does it look like?"

Small groups of two to three students received a book or two and a piece of paper with one learner profile attribute written on it. (For a list of picture books that support different learner profile attributes and attitudes in PYP curriculum, check out the PYPLIBRARY wiki space.)

Students were tasked with having to look through their books and use their background knowledge to develop a working definition of the learner profile attribute that they were assigned.

The teacher checked in with groups to check for understanding, to write down the students' definition, and then to prompt them to draw pictures of their work.

Finally, students shared their working definitions and pictures with their classmates.

These students, who created the poster for Reflective shared:

"Student 1: Being reflecting looks like thinking about the past or thinking about your acts.

Student 2: Being reflecting has three different ways to be reflecting. You can be reflecting about how you help others. And when you’re thinking, you’re being reflecting. Like when Alton was sitting there, he was being reflecting because he was like, “hmmm let me think.” And he was being reflecting.

Student 3: I do that a lot, but I didn’t even know that."

By creating the IB Learner Profile attribute posters in this way, the teacher guaranteed the students were developing an understanding of each attribute as they collaboratively worked.

Have you successfully made PYP posters with young children who have a couple of years experience in the program in a different way than the teacher in this story? Please, share your idea with others by commenting on this post.

Creating IB learner profile attribute posters with very young children, new to the program.

Creating PYP posters with students might be one of the goals of the first six weeks of school, but how is a Primary Years Program (PYP) teacher supposed to create such posters with very young children who are new to the program? The IB Learner Profile attributes (and all the other essential elements) are complex ideas. When students aren't familiar with them, how is a teacher supposed to help her students create posters so that they can construct meaning of these big ideas?

One kindergarten teacher created posters with her young students by using pictures to help them construct meaning of the IB Learner Profile attributes.

First, gathered together in a large group, she showed the students a blank poster with one attribute in large letters. In the example below, the students were creating the inquirer poster for their room.
Click here for a PDF version of these posters.
Then, the teacher displayed a series of pictures of children, all who were demonstrating behaviors of an inquirer.
Click here for a PDF version of the slides of pictures for each IB Learner Profile Attribute.

The teacher told her students that all the children in the pictures where inquirers. She then prompted the students to notice what specifically the children were doing. As her students offered responses, the teacher added them to the poster, finishing the phrase, "being an inquirer looks like ..."

After the children had contributed several ideas (being an inquirer looks like wondering, asking questions, being confused, looking closely), the teacher gave each student a small piece of paper, directing them to quickly draw themselves as inquirers. As the students finished, the teacher affixed the small drawings around the edge of the poster, so that every child's work was a part of the classroom display.

By creating the IB Learner Profile attribute posters in this way, the teacher guaranteed the students were developing an understanding of each attribute as they collaboratively worked.

Have you successfully made PYP posters with very young children new to the program in a different way than the teacher in this story? Please, share your idea with others by commenting on this post.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Micro Lab Protocol

For students to learn life's big ideas (key and related concepts), they must be engaged in thinking that allows them to construct meaning. In order for kids to be engaged and thinking, they must be participating in the learning engagements we have set up for them.

Students must be actively writing, conversing, manipulating, explaining, using, doing, reading, asking, sharing, listening, discussing, investigating, demonstrating, problem-solving, searching, finding, taking charge, THINKING, discovering, challenging, connecting, and synthesizing.

All too often though, many of our students do not engage in the kinds of behaviors that they need to for deep thinking and thus true learning to occur. Instead, those with high status tend to dominate groupwork activities and leave those with lower status to take on a more passive role. (To learn more about status in the classroom, see Elizabeth Cohen's book Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom).

The Micro Lab Protocol (p. 147-151 of Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison) is "a simple structure for ensuring that all voices are heard and ideas attended to before the topic of focus is discussed." The authors point out that this strategy isn't a thinking routine per se, but it is a powerful tool for making students' thinking visible and assuring that everyone is engaged, thinking, and learning.

This summer, I had the fortune of working with a small group of 6th graders. We were working hard on adopting a growth mindset (for more on mindset, check out Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck or this blog post from July 18, 2014) as well as providing feedback to others in a constructive manner.

After watching a video that one of their classmates had created to explain a math concept, students worked in triads to share their thoughts on the video. They took one minute each to share what they thought the video's creator did well and what he could improve on in the future. While each student shared, the other members listened attentively without comment or interruption. After 30 seconds of silence, the routine was repeated for the second and third members of the group. After everyone had a chance to individually share uninterrupted, the group of three was invited to discuss freely and collectively come up with the feedback they would eventually share with the math video's creator. 

To reflect on the Micro Lab Protocol, I asked the students what went well during their sharing and subsequent discussions and what they could get better at. The t-chart below shows their reflections.

After reading about how 6th graders used The Micro Lab Protocol to ensure that everyone was engaged and thinking, how could you or have you used a similar equity strategy to guarantee that all students, regardless of status, are able to participate fully? 

Visible Thinking ROUTINES

The book Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison is chalked full of thinking routines that can be used with students of any age, with any content to get their thinking visible.

Making students' thinking visible benefits everyone involved. When students are able to think about what's going on in their own heads (metacognition), they begin to actively take responsibility for developing conceptual understanding, instead of passively depending on teachers to provide them with information. 

Seeing students' thinking also is beneficial for teachers. When we are able to see how students are thinking about the key and related concepts of subject matter, we're able "to confront students' misconceptions and design experiences to advance their understanding," (p. 27 of M.T.V.). To confront students' misconceptions, we must give them appropriate, effective, and immediate feedback that will push their understanding further and deeper.

When learning about Visible Thinking Routines though, teachers often focus on the importance of making students' thinking visible and they miss the fact that these tools and structures are meant to be routines that should become patterns of behavior. On his site, Ron Ritchhart, defines Thinking Routines as "patterns of behavior adopted to help one use the mind to form thoughts, reason, or reflect. We see these patterns emerging as the routines that are used over and over, becoming ingrained in us, both teachers and students. Once these routines become second nature, flexibility can emerge."

One particular fifth grade teacher understands the importance of using a thinking routine over and over again. Recently, during the summer session, this teacher used children's books as a way to help students construct understanding of the PYP attitudes. To help make sense of what was going on in the texts, the teacher used the 4C's thinking routine (p. 140-146 in M.T.V.), where students read a text and identify connections, challenges, concepts, and changes (for more information about the 4C's thinking routine, check out this post dated May 1, 2014).

During the first week, the teacher read the text Officer Buckle & Gloria by Peggy Rathmann to the students and completed the 4C's as a whole group.

As the class continued to read about, investigate, and construct meaning of the PYP attitudes, they also continued to engage with the 4C’s thinking routine. It was the teacher's hope that the habitual use of the 4C's would allow the students to get used to the activity so that it would become routine.

After using the 4C's multiple times over the course of four weeks, the students collaboratively used the thinking routine one last time as they read The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland, a text that focused on appreciation.  As they progressed through the 4C’s, the concepts section still seemed to be the hardest for the students to grasp, but the teacher was encouraged by the student work that was completed following the reading of the text.

After reading about how one class of fifth grade students used the 4C's thinking routine over and over, until it become ingrained in both teacher and students, how have you or could you use a routine over and over again until it became second nature to you and your students?