Thursday, October 29, 2015

LET 'EM CHOOSE! Using Academic Choice Literacy Stations in the Elementary Classroom

We want our students to acquire the skills necessary to make good choices in their future. In order to develop those skills, a trusted colleague told me that we must create safe places where students can make mistakes.

Ruth Sidney Charney, in her book Teaching Children to Care, echoes this sentiment when she writes, "Children are growing up in a world with frightful persuasions and terrifying problems. Rather than providing prescriptions for them, we need to give them choices. Decision making must be part of the expected curriculum. There are many kinds of purposeful choices students may make in a regular school day." (p. 374)

One authentic way students can develop these decision-making skills is by giving them the power to choose how they'd like to spend their independent literacy learning time while the teacher is meeting with a guided reading group.

But when planning out the choices we'll give children to independently complete, what exactly can be classified as an Academic Choice Literacy Stations? Conversely, what isn't an appropriate option during this time of the school day? 

To answer these questions, I turned to the teachers with whom I work. Their responses are below:

Academic Choice Literacy Stations are:

  • permanent, but not always.
  • set aside for specific learning purposes.
  • physical spaces, but not always.
  • task-oriented with clear expectations.
  • more task oriented/hands on for younger students, older students need less task-oriented/hands on.
  • open-ended inquiry!
  • spots with ongoing routines.
  • organized and labeled.
  • introduced one at a time.
  • meaningful literacy.
  • able function w/o teacher assistance.
  • flexible and provide variety.
  • targeted to instill a love of reading and learning.
  • heterogeneously grouped.
Academic Choice Literacy Stations are not:
  • a closed-ended exercise.
  • new every day (teachers shouldn't feel under pressure to create new lessons each day!)
  • done without practice, students shouldn’t be expected to do independently until they fully understand it.
  • changed too often or all at once.
  • busy work.
  • fill-in-the-blank worksheets.
  • meant to sit idle.
  • activities that require a lot of planning by the teacher.
*The responses above are based on a reading from Guided Reading: Good First Teaching for All Children by Fountas and Pinnell.

Once we build Academic Choice Literacy Stations into our classroom routine, how do we keep students accountable? How can we assess students' efforts during this lengthy time?

One teacher developed the rubric below that her students will use to reflect on the choices they made while she was working with a small group. (Click the rubric below to go to the Google Doc that you can copy and edit for yourself!)

Rather than providing prescriptions for students, what choices do you give students throughout the day, but especially when they're learning literacy strategies, skills and dispositions? 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Reflection; an important part of the learning process

Giving students the opportunity to reflect on what they've learned, how they've learned it and why they've learned it is an important part of the learning process.

But who has time to set up that kind of reflection?! We hardly even have time to get through the actual lesson!

One teacher with whom I work has an answer. She has set up a reflection procedure with her students which allows them to meaningfully - and consistently - reflect on the learning they've done. Yesterday, I got to see the 
procedure first hand.

The class is currently digging into the idea that expansion transforms culture over time. During the unit, students are primarily exploring how European expansion into the New World transformed the European, African and Native American cultures.

During the lesson yesterday, the students were still exploring the concepts of expansion, transformation and culture but were thinking about these big ideas through a different context: the current refugee crisis precipitated by the violence, instability and economic troubles in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

To explore these ideas, the teacher lead the students through a Tug-of-War, a visible thinking routine from Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church & Morrison. She presented the dilemma, "Countries should be required to let refugees settle within their borders," and the students had to generate "tugs" or reasons that support one side of the dilemma or the other. Students then read through the "tugs" as a class, determining the strength of each.

As students did this work, wonderful thoughts and questions were shared and discussed. Connections were made to the push-pull factors the students had learned about when they studied the European Explorers. Students also made connections to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the treaty signed at the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees as well as the Ebola crisis last year.

At the end of the discussion, the teacher asked the students to reflect on how their thinking had changed, by inviting them to complete the thinking routine, "I used to think, Now I think," where students reflect on how their thinking has shifted and changed.

The teacher also required the students to respond to the following prompt:

front of the essential elements mat

back of the essential elements mat
Below are samples of some of the students' thinking.

These students simply answered the prompt, identifying two attitudes they demonstrated during the Tug-of-War discussion.

Another student was able to identify more than two attitudes demonstrated during the discussion.

The following students went beyond the requisites of the prompt and elaborated on their responses, explaining how they showed the particular attitudes they demonstrated.

Giving students the opportunity to reflect on their learning is an integral part of the learning process. After reading about how this teacher set up a reflection procedure with her students, how could you or do you give students the opportunity to reflect on what they've learned, how they've learned it and why they've learned on a consistent and daily basis?