Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Explanation Game

During the first few weeks of school, it is important to spell out essential expectations, rules, and predictable structures with students so that they are able to fully participate and engage in learning (The First Six Weeks of School by Denton and Kriete).

To help her students inquire into how to safely use two different kinds of stability balls in her Special Education Setting III classroom, one teacher used the visible thinking routine The Explanation Game (from Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison). 

Note: Special Education Setting III includes students who spend more than 60% of their day outside of the general classroom. This teacher works with students in kindergarten through third grade who have emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD).


During The Explanation Game thinking routine, students were asked to take a close look at the two types of stability balls (pictured above) that they were trying to understand and then:
  1. Name it. Name a feature or aspect of the object that you notice.
  2. Explain it. What could it be? What role or function might it serve? Why might it be there?
  3. Give reasons. What makes you say that? Or why do you think it happened that way?
  4. Generate alternatives. What else could it be? And what makes you say that?
The teacher said that the routine worked "SO WELL!" She went on to explain that the ideas the students generated were much higher-level than they have done in the past. Their ideas included "using it for floating in a lake because I can’t swim" and "squeezing it when I’m really upset."

The teacher decided to allow her students to verbally respond instead of having them write anything down, which allowed students to freely share ideas throughout the activity. Then, on their own, the students decided to reach an essential agreement about the stability balls after they had gone through the thinking routine because they had decided the stability balls could be dangerous to themselves or others if used incorrectly.

The teacher also led the students through a similar process to introduce the squeeze machine (pictured below).

Although the teacher already had a rule sheet printed up (pictured below), she gave students the opportunity to independently come up with the rules before she showed it to them.

Allowing students to create the rules themselves gives them a sense of ownership, which may increase the likelihood that they'll follow them in the future.

After reading about how this teacher used the visible thinking routine The Explanation Game with her students in Special Education Setting III, how could you use this thinking routine with your students to look closely at materials they'll be using throughout the year?

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