Saturday, January 30, 2016

Underground Railroad Lessons for the Primary Classroom

Each year, I teach my students about the work of Harriet Tubman and each year, I think it gets even better!  Each year, I add something to it to deepen my students' understanding.  It's been fun to work on making my lessons even more engaging and then checking their understanding.  This year in particular, I think has been one of my favorites and I wanted to share some of what we're doing with this topic.
We read several different texts that related to the Underground Railroad.  I took a picture of a few of them here.  My class' favorite this year, was Moses. I love Kadir Nelson Illustrations and throughout the course of the year, as the topic permitted, I've read several of his books to the students.  The emotion that he puts into the characters' faces is so poignant.  I trust that you'll add a few of his books to your collections!  Gorgeous stuff!
My favorite book to teach during this time is a wordless book named Unspoken by Henry Cole.  I would suggest making this the last book that you do in your series.  If you've never read the book, it is inferencing GOLD.  The kids would have to recognize the symbols of the Underground Railroad and understand the work of abolitionists in order to connect with the book organically.
This was a two day lesson for me.  On the first day, we reviewed our Underground Railroad vocabulary, and I went over my essential question and general learning expectations via a rubric. After I went over that, I picture walked the book with the students.  I had some question stems on sentence strips to help them discuss the things they saw in the book.  This helped scaffold for my learners who struggle with language and processing their thoughts in an organized way. I intentionally didn't show them the last few pages of the book.
I love how writing samples show me areas that I can support my students and extend their learning.   This was written without support on conventions.  The ideas and sentence structure are certainly advanced.  I will work on derivational endings, and spelling with blends more proficiently in upcoming lessons with this student.
After we discussed the images from Day 1's lesson, I had the students sit down and write what they thought the picture was trying to share.  It was really great to see how students were using the images to share a combination of schema and new information from the images. Throughout the lesson I corrected misconceptions and encouraged students to broaden their thinking where I could.
On the second day, I went back through the book. I told the kids my observations of the story.  Then I asked them to go and draw the ending of the story.  I wanted them to tell me using all the information we'd learned to date plus the information from the story to tell me how the story ended.  I was amazed at how much the students could tell me and how interesting their endings were!  Some students had the slave escape.  Others had the slave stay in the corn.  One of my students shared how the slave tried to escape and how the girl in the story was sad, but gave her food for the trip.  Then when the slave was chased by dogs she came back and lived in the corn! The picture had all the details and her story telling was so precious!
Read about how my students organically embraced this unit of study independently HERE.
One of the interesting off shoots of teaching about the Underground Railroad is that my students started to embrace the lessons even in their down time, or their personal play time.  I had a student bring her mom's hair wrap in from home.  That whole day, she wanted to be called Harriet Tubman, because I told her that Harriet was often pictured with her hair wrapped.  There were students that were creating quilt patterns from the stories that I told them about coded messages in quilts. I had a student create the 'Bear Claw' pattern.  When asked, my students can even tell you what the codes mean!  Each day of the study, I gave them a different quilt pattern math worksheet.  They loved trying to figure out which quilt pattern it was! We've been working on putting together a program with poems and songs from the time period.  I'm so proud of all they've learned and how much they've grown.  I hope you'll consider highlighting Harriet Tubman this month for your Black History Month Studies!

A sweet bloggy friend of mine, Tanesha Brewton from Rigor and Readers is compiling a link up of other posts that share what teachers are teaching during Black History Month.  Check out the other posts for more ideas.

An InLinkz Link-up



Wednesday, January 27, 2016

High Engagement Activity

You know, sometimes, as a teacher, you have this fun idea and you just want to try it out and see if it will work?  Well, this was one of those ideas.  Sometimes, it doesn't come with a cute worksheet or anything,  We just use what we have, make sure that the kids are engaged in solid content and GO FOR IT.  I've hesitated on writing this post, because I wondered if it would be okay without any bells and whistles attached, but I'm a largely no-frills kind of teacher, and I think that some great ideas could be shared if we all just decided to post things that were great ideas versus all prettied up all the time.
I am a big believer in activities that allow my students to grow together through dialog, discussion and proper partnering. This fall, I tried this idea with my students and I look forward to trying it again with another topic in the future.  I found that my students really enjoyed working collaboratively and it helped to deepen their understanding of the content to work together in this way.
The first step to having students work in a high engagement activity is

1.) Building up student schema with the proper resources.

I do this with lots of mentor texts, videos, audio recordings, songs, poems, magazines...whatever I can get my hands on to give the students context.  The more the better!  A truly high engagement activity requires structure and independence.  When my students are not able to be independent, typically it's because I didnt' give them enough schema to be able to complete the task without a high level of engagement from me.

2.) Partner students based on more than academics.

This is a key component to getting a successfully independent collaborative activity.  I prefer to pair students based on personality, to be honest.  I like to put groups together based on whether or not they will be comfortable asking for help and taking suggestions.

3.) Share your expectations for success and create a simple rubric for the collaboration AND for the academic component.

It's important for the students to know that you are not only evaluating them on the academic components: ideas, conventions, factual accuracy and independence.  You are also looking for students who excel in: problem solving, sharing ideas, supporting your teammate and staying engaged.  For this particular assignment, students were to retell the story of the Pilgrims from England to the first Thanksgiving.  I gave each group a template to trace the illustration 'bubble' with.  We discussed the important elements as a class and decided what four images we would recreate for the timeline.  After this, I just did a whole lot of watching...which is my favorite part! :) I'm someone who appreciates positive verbal affirmation, so, I get to do that while I am watching the engagement and giving the kids specific verbal feedback on things that I enjoyed seeing.
We did things in parts...for example...the first day, after we discussed the rubrics and rules, they illustrated.  The next day, we did a draft of the sentences that would accompany the picture.  The next day, I had the students work together to peer edit the sentences that they wrote.  If you're interested in how to work with students on this, I have a blog post you can see HERE.  After the peer editing stage, I checked it over and helped a few students extend their thinking.  They were given final draft strips and two additional days to work in their groups to complete the strips and practice their presentations for their final grade.

4.) Model proper presentation style so that students learn how to share their thinking with their classmates for their culminating activity.

I took the kids outside and attached their projects to a fence around the playground.  I had them practice sharing their presentations with their group a little bit away from them so that they could work on amplifying their voices.  I tell ya...they can holler when they are on the playground...let them have to give a speech and that same volume is gone. :(  So, playground practice it was! :) Each student had to share the section that they did and read their thinking.


I hope you enjoyed this idea and will try it with your own learners!  This was a lot of fun, and a great way to get my students, up, moving, and chatting about content, while learning to listen to and work with others.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Engagement vs. Compliance

Students don't need to be quiet all the time.  They need to be engaged.  They don't need to be corralled into one school of thought, they need to be encouraged to learn how to think independently. They need to be able to have a voice in the community you invite them to. There is a trend in education that is troubling.  It's a trend towards increased compliance over student buy in.  I believe in a classroom that runs smoothly for the benefit of all the students. I don't advocate chaos.  The idea that every student has to move in lock step with my every prescribed behavior and then immediately rewarded with a 'clip up', a ping on a program, a cheer, or some other form of reward sounds more reminiscent of Pavlov's dog experiments than what should be going on in a classroom.  With the rise of PBIS models in schools, there's more and more demand for things to implement that show teachers in 'control' of their students every move.  It's a sad trend, and I'm doubtful that this was the original intent of the program.
It looks even worse, in my opinion, when that is all done in the name of 'controlling' a certain type of student, or a certain student population.  Conditioning is not the precursor to deeper knowledge.  With the drive toward compliance in a lot of schools, I am wondering how much attention is being given to the engagement of diverse student populations.
It is important to distinguish between engagement and compliance.  Just because a student is compliant...does not mean that they are engaged.  Just because they are quiet, doesn't mean they are listening, internalizing and taking their next step as you are talking. Engagement means that they are facilitating their own learning through questioning, response, active listening and collaboration.  This is what we should aspire to as often as possible!
Sometimes, what happens is...there is an organic moment of that...and we miss it, because we are focused on compliance. Sometimes, students are having a side bar conversation, and it's not about something off task, they are cross checking their understanding with a peer.  We discipline them for the talking without inquiring as to what they were talking about. We could go a step further to allow them to engage others in that discussion to see if they were alone in that thinking. When we don't I believe we do them a disservice.

When the student becomes the teacher...

In my classroom, when students are done with their morning work, they are allowed to read.  Usually I tell them to read to themselves.  This week, I while I was working on the field trip money count and answering emails before I started teaching, I heard some noise behind me, while other students were still working on their work.  When I turned around to get ready to shush someone...I saw this.
The rule is read to self.  Here's a picture of my girls....being non-compliant.  I'd read that book in class TWICE.  I think my substitute *may* have read it a third time...and here is one of my students reading it again...to her friends who had finished their work and loved the story.  There is 100% engagement on the person reading...and as I continued to watch for a few minutes, I noticed my student asking questions and the girls were answering--correctly. So many different social and academic skills were covered by this moment.  This isn't really non-compliance.  It's AMAZING. They were done with their work and engaged in a meaningful activity on their own.  Most likely had they asked me if they could all read like this, I would have said no...because I wouldn't have believed that they could do all the things they did...INDEPENDENT of my DIRECT CONTROL.
I am so grateful that this happened, because it illustrates the greater point that students can be independent thinkers, solve their own problems, and engage in meaningful activity when the parameters are set for them properly...and TRUE independent thought is encouraged.  I'm so very proud of them. So, even if you are in a system that prioritizes compliance over true engagement...here's what I suggest.

Look for ways to praise students for their problem solving.


Create opportunities for your students to work collaboratively so that you are an observer, rather than a participant.


Remember to praise your students for who they already are, rather than what they do!

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