Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Step In & Back

Since the beginning of the 2013 school year, teachers at our IB PYP school have been investigating about how students think and what routines we can use to help our students think more deeply about big ideas (called concepts in the PYP). One way we've been exploring how to do this is by reading and discussing the book Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Morrison, and Church.

Recently, as a 6th grade teacher began the transdisciplinary unit Who We Are (for more info about this unit, see our school's POI), she used the Understanding Map to identify what kind of thinking she wanted her students to do. The Understanding Map was developed by the Visible Thinking and Cultures of Thinking Project at Harvard's Project Zero.

At the beginning of the unit, she wanted to give her students the opportunity and time to wonder what they were curious about regarding health, decision-making, and interactions with others. So, she decided to use the thinking routine Think-Puzzle-Explore. This routine allowed her to identify what students already knew, what they were wondering, and where students thought they could go to find answers to those questions. For more information about this thinking routine, read my post from May 2014: Think-Puzzle-Explore.

As students thought through what they knew and wanted to know, the teacher quickly began to see that many students were curious about Ebola. Wanting to leverage this curiosity, the teacher planned to teach the metacognitive and comprehension strategies from her reading curriculum unit with texts related to the current Ebola epidemic, which she found at the site Newsela

As students began to read, identify main ideas, and find details that not only supported the articles' main ideas but also answered their initial questions about Ebola, they seemed to come up with even more questions. It is important to point out that it was when the teacher gave content that was meaningful and worth knowing about, students suddenly were engaged in reading, understanding, questioning and most importantly thinking!

Now that the students had some background knowledge on Ebola, the teacher and I began to collaborate and we returned to the Understanding Map to decide that our next step was to ask the students to consider different viewpoints regarding this global issue. To help students do this, we decided to use the global thinking routine Step In & Back, developed by researchers working in Project Zero's Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Project (Veronica Boix-Mansilla, Flossie Chua and Melissa Rivard).

Since we expected students to consider a viewpoint different from their own, we selected a radio interview of Patrice Juah, a Liberian woman who recently traveled to the United States. As students listened to the interview for the first time, they took notes on what Ms. Juah saw, thought, cared about, and wondered. We also listened and took notes, modeling for the students how to listen carefully and think deeply.

After, students interacted with each other, noticeably showing respect for and valuing others' thinking as they listened carefully to each others' ideas. Once students had initially shared their thinking, we listened to the interview again. After the second time, students again shared their thinking. Below is some documentation of some students' thinking from the Step In part of the global thinking routine.

Next, as a whole group, we had a debriefing discussion on the process of using Step In as a framework for considering another perspective. Student responses included:
  • "It helped me know what I should be listening for. Without it, it would have been hard to listen to."
  • "Listening to the interview twice helped, because if I was writing down one idea the first time we listened, I probably missed another important idea. When I listened to it the second time, I could hear other important ideas I had missed."
Then, students were asked to Step Back and examine their own perspectives. Students were given two prompts:

  • What questions do you have for/about this person? Who could you ask?
  • What doubts did this raise about your ability to take this person’s perspective?
Students were given a couple of moments to write down their thinking and then shared with the group. The students' thinking regarding the 2nd prompt was:

What doubts did this raise about your ability to take this person’s perspective?
  • The interviewer and the interviewee were speaking quickly.
  • The accent was hard to hear and understand.
  • I haven’t lived through the things she’s lived through.
  • She didn’t talk about all the little details - we still have more questions!
With regards to the first prompt, we wrote down all the students' questions, synthesized them, found Ms. Juah on Twitter and posed the questions to her. Our interaction is below:

Click here to read Ms. Juah's poem, The Ebola Ride.

After reading about how one teacher had her students consider different viewpoints by using the global thinking routine Step In & Back, how could you use this routine to get your students to think about other angles of a particular topic?

NOTE: The words in red above are some of the cultural forces that play a part in creating a Culture of Thinking in our classrooms. To learn more about these Cultural Forces (there are 8 in all), read Intellectual Character, Making Thinking Visible, Creating Cultures of Thinking (all by Ron Ritchhart) or visit the page on his website that talks about these cultural forces.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Making Visualizations Visible

The ultimate goal of literacy instruction is to arm students with the literacy processes, strategies, and skills that they will be able to intuitively and independently use to extract meaning from text. "Text" can include the written word, videos, interviews, speakers, field trips, conversations, discussions, and more.

The teaching and learning of these literacy strategies is best done in authentic contexts. On page 70 of Making the PYP Happen, the authors state that "it is the school's responsibility to provide authentic context for language teaching and learning in all areas of the curriculum," [emphasis added].

In a Primary Years Program (PYP), the program of inquiry provides the authentic, engaging, challenging, and significant context for learners to develop and use language. In other words, teachers should situate literacy instruction right inside the units of inquiry. However, it should be clarified that although comprehension and metacognitive strategies are to be taught within the unit of inquiry, it cannot be assumed that learners will implicitly pick up on these strategies while studying content concepts. PYP teachers still must provide specific time and opportunities for their learners to explore, discover, practice, and construct understanding of these literacy strategies. When we teach literacy in this way, students are learning literacy processes and content concepts simultaneously.

Recently, I took the opportunity to teach a first grade reading lesson from our school's literacy curriculum. The objectives of the lesson were that students would retell story events and visualize & analyze characters during reading. Rather than use the text provided by the series, which would not have been authentic, challenging, or significant for the first graders, I choose a text that would help the learners understand their current Unit of Inquiry's Central Idea: Responsible choices promote balanced living.

A List from Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel.

In the story A List, Toad creates a list of all the things he'll do during the day. I selected this story because the list he makes contains many responsible choices that would represent a balanced lifestyle. (SPOILER ALERT: Toad never completes all the items on the list because it blows away in the wind and he subsequently goes melodramatically ballistic, which should not come as a shock for those of you who know Toad well.)

Before reading the story, I discussed with the students the importance of being able to really understand a story while we read. "After all," I said, "that's the point of reading! To understand what you read." In their book Strategies that Work, Harvey and Goudvis say that "different readers rely on different strategies to help them gain better understanding." One such strategy is visualizing. "Visualizing strengthens our inferential thinking. When we visualize, we are in fact inferring but with mental images rather than words and thoughts." The authors continue, "When we visualize, we create pictures in our minds that belong to us and no one else," (p. 130-2).

However, if we let students keep their visualizations locked up in their minds, students may become mentally overwhelmed. Rather, my goal of the lesson was to get students to make their visualizations visible so that they could more fully engage in thinking. "...it is difficult [for students] to do their best thinking because of cognitive overload, that is, because the thinking demands exceed their capacity. When our thinking is distributed, when we do not have to rely solely on our internal mental resources, we free ourselves up to engage in more challenging thinking," Ron Ritchhart in Intellectual Character: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Get It, p. 100-1).

I prompted students to visualize what was going on in the story as I read, but then to draw those pictures from their mind on a blank sheet of paper. After reading, we talked about what their pictures should include, if they really, truly understood the story. Together, we decided that students would need to have the characters of the story, the setting (time and place), and what went on in the story (the events).

To show students how to self-assess their understanding of the text, one student showed his visualization to the group while I modeled the kinds of questions the students should ask themselves.

Did I understand the story?
Did I include the characters?
Did I include the setting?
Did I include the important events of the story?
By reviewing all the students' visible visualizations (I included other examples below), the classroom teacher and I could clearly and quickly see who was able to adequately extract meaning from the text and who was not. Using this powerful information, the classroom teacher could form guided reading groups to support students' unique and specific literacy needs.

After reading about making students' thinking and understanding visible by having them draw out their mental visualizations, how could you make your students' visualizations visible with the "texts" they read, listen to, and view?