Monday, June 23, 2014

Quiet Classroom? Get Students Active and Engaged

A typical day in my classroom is rarely quiet, with the exception of writing and reading days (which certainly have their place!). When planning lessons, I strive to keep students active by planning learning activities that promote cooperative learning, collaboration, and conversations. If students are active and engaged, they are interacting with the context and utilizing key literacy skills. In my summer school reading class, I have noticed that students are quiet. They are attentive, want to learn, but they are quiet. We have only been together for a week, and students will attend four different high schools. While independent work, journal writing, reading, and self-reflection are critical, if students work in isolation all the time, they will miss out on opportunities to speak, write about and listen to ideas that differ from theirs, and even read texts that they might hear about from friends.

This weekend, I made it a point to carefully consider what I could do to get them active and ultimately, excited about reading. When students are excited about coming to class and reading, they are more likely to retain the strategies that we are learning and more importantly, develop a love of learning.

1. Super-Six Strategies Poster

Today, I wanted students to review the strategies that we explicitly learned last week, but instead of applying them independently, I wanted students to get out of their seats and talk about the strategies with their peers. During the first period of each day, I have been asking students to journal about a high-interest question from a great list provided by the New York Times Learning Network entitled "184 Questions to Write About" and follow up their entries with nonfiction reading based on the selected topic. Instead of simply having them write about the text and focus on applying one strategy in their seats, I had them use butcher-block paper to apply all six strategies in a visual chart. Asking students to collaborate, create a visual that we can reference multiple times, and become a little more kinesthetic opened up the classroom and forced kids to share what they thought of the topic. The classroom was abuzz with conversation and now we have created visual references that we can continue to talk about for days.

2. Think-Pair-Share (with someone new!)

Think-Pair-Share is a strategy often used in a classroom. It allows students to reflect on a topic independently, collaborate with one person, and then share out what they have learned with the class. When given the choice of who to engage with during this activity, however, students will always choose someone they are comfortable with and more often than not, they always choose the same person.

This week I have created a few parameters for Think-Pair-Share that challenges students to get outside of their comfort zone. For example, students have been told to Think-Pair-Share with someone who is not going to the same high school, same height, similar shoes, and who has a different color hair as he or she is. Asking students to mix-it-up and interact with others allows them to gain perspective, fosters classroom relationships, and allows them to learn about each other. In addition to sharing an answer to a prompt, students have to share a favorite childhood story, talk about their favorite movies, show a unique talent, or simply talk about what they are most excited for about the upcoming school year. Encouraging these conversations in addition to completing tasks has created more conversation in class and also encouraged new relationships among students. Getting creative with grouping can lead to great interactions among classmates.

3. Anticipation Guides

I love asking students questions that are tough to answer. Creating a sense of dissonance in their minds about a topic we are reading about can make students excited about learning more about a particular topic. It can also force them to think! By asking one, five, or more questions that students must agree or disagree with, they can begin to use critical thinking skills and apply evidence to prove a conclusion. After spending a little time grappling with a particular question alone, I have students get out of their seats, move to different sides of the room, and then take turns in the hot seat. In the hot seat, they are allowed to share their opinions and may be probed with more questions from their peers or me. Creating a class debate and challenge us all to think deeply about a topic, of which we will then read and learn more about. Again, this is certainly a strategy used by many in a variety of ways, but it works at getting students out of their seats and excited about course content!

4. Soul Reading

This one is new to me this year. I have used the popcorn reading strategy before, but this takes choral reading to a new level. While I hesitate to use choral reading in a class where students are apprehensive about reading, this makes it fun and provides students with a little more flexibility. Soul Reading involves one person beginning the reading while other students listen. Then, as another student feels moved to do so, another person jumps in. At first, students did not want to participate, but as some of their peers struggled with words or a funny name appeared in the text, they began to jump right in. They proved that they were following along and that they could find humor in reading aloud. Students were also able to practice an important fluency skill, as they felt comfortable. They were not put on the spot and told to read by a peer; instead, it became an opportunity for them to participate in a reading experience with their peers.
5. Why I Read Walk

When working with reluctant readers, it is crucial to get them talking about the different purposes of reading and encourage them to realize that they read much more than they think. And they love it! Reading text messages, social media posts, and articles that they come across while surfing the web is a constant occurrence for them. While this type of reading might not always been the rich texts we hope they spend hours of sustained time reading, it is still exposure to text! When they realize that they are reading and like reading for this purpose, they begin to open up about what else they read, when they read, and why it is important. By providing students with sentence starts and a pack of post-it notes, students can walk around the room, consider what and why they read, and even leave comments for their peers.

This semester, I used the prompts:
  • I read ______ to learn because... 
  • I read ______ for fun because... 
  • I read to gain information when... 
  • I read ______ to understanding... 

Students had to answer each prompt, which was posted around the room, on a post-it. Then they had to respond to three classmates prompts after walking around and reading responses. This activity was then followed up by a reading interest inventory, self-reflection, and class discussion about why we read, what we like to read, why reading might be difficult, and what we can do to become better readers. There are also great responses that can be found on Twitter. If my students had computer access this summer, I would definitely consider having them use this hashtag, if they had Twitter accounts.

6. Zoom: Team Building Activity

Team building activities are awesome! I love having students complete team activities every occasionally to keep them active, connected, and thinking critically. The media specialist at my school shared this new activity with me. He used the children's book Zoom by Istvan Banyai to encourage his soccer players to learn how to work as a team. First, he photocopied each page and mixed up the pages. He distributed the pages at random to students who were then tasked with putting the pages in a logical order. This book is a picture book and while it may seem easy to determine the correct order, it was quite challenging. I am hoping to use this strategy with my students to discuss not only how to collaborate as a team, but also how to determine and ultimately analyze plot. While there are no printed words in this text, it still tells a story. Discussing plot, while keeping them on their feet, makes the direct instruction about plot meaningful and memorable.

These are just a few strategies I hope to incorporate this week to keep my readers engaged, connected, and communicating about what they are reading and what they are learning as a result. Varying activities and applying learning strategies meaningful helps not only make learning a more positive experience for students, but it also keeps them excited about what they are doing in the classroom. Hopefully, that excitement will foster a greater appreciation and love of learning.
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