Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Introducing Non-Fiction

I recently started my non-fiction unit with my sixth graders.  To begin, I had them complete a Venn Diagram where they compared and contrasted fiction vs non-fiction. Everyone knew that non-fiction meant stories that were factual and fiction were stories that are usually made up. However, it did surprise me that they did not know the name of many non-fiction text features. Most students had even forgotten what a caption was.   After working on the Venn Diagram, I had them look through various non-fiction books and magazines to try to list the features they could find.  Afterwards, we created an anchor chart on the elements of non-fiction.

To end day one, my students were all given a Time magazine and asked to locate the featured article and then write down what text features were within the article.  They enjoyed this and it was a quick assessment to see that they were able to identify the features they just learned.    

On day two I introduced Text Mapping.  I found this idea through Pinterest and the Text Mapping Project.  A summary of text mapping from their website states that:

 Textmapping is a graphic organizer technique that can be used to teach reading comprehension and writing skills, study skills, and course content. It is practiced on scrolls, which are an alternative environment to books. Textmapping and scrolls can be used strategically, but they are not strategies. They are enabling technologies - simple, basic tools which can be used for reading and classroom instruction. The same strategies that can be taught in books can be taught more clearly and explicitly by using scrolls and mapping.

    I had been searching for a way to teach non-fiction that would really engage my students.  Watching my students work together to complete one of these was really neat. I introduced how to text map in small groups while the rest of the class was working on a writing assignment. After they learned how to make a key and code they went on their own and made their scrolls. I heard some great discussion while they were asking each other clarifying questions about coding their scroll. After everyone had coded their maps I modeled thinking aloud to highlight important and unknown words.  I can never stress enough to my students that the whole text isn't important.  So many times I find them underlining every sentence! I believe the visual helped them realize that only a few things needed to be underlined in each section. 
     This was a great way to start nonfiction as my students used a hands-on method to find multiple text features.  My standard students especially get very bored when they see they are going to have a read a long article.  By adding colors and working in groups they were actually excited about learning.

   Thanksgiving break is here and I am so thankful for some time to relax and time to (hopefully) get ahead.   What are youe Thanksgiving plans?  Have a blessed holiday! 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

November Currently

This week has been quite busy for me so I haven't posted much but I do want to join Farley's currently!

I need to finish planning my lessons for tomorrow but I'll leave with this song by Ben Howard called Keep Your Head Up.  By the end of the week, I think we all could benefit from hearing these lyrics.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Student Centered Learning

   This week I started teaching Ancient India.  So far this has been my favorite unit in Social Studies to teach, probably because of how I decided to teach it.  With the common core being implemented we are really pushed to use student centered learning instead of teacher centered.  For my Ancient India unit I put together a book project for my students to do in groups.  Each day the groups had tasks to learn by and then products to make for their books.  For example, for the day they were learning about religion they had to read a magazine I had with an article about Hinduism and then also an article about Buddhism.  They then made a Venn Diagram comparing the two religions in Ancient India.  While they are reading the articles each group member is also taking their own notes for their notebooks and then discussing what they are reading.  This really benefits me as I get to spend more time working one on one with students by pulling each group and discussing what they are learning.  I schedule 10 minute conferences for each group every day and write down informal observations on what they are learning and what I may need to teach to the class for better understanding.  My students are loving being able to work in groups and hearing their discussions really has shown me that they are capable of learning without me being in the front of the room.

What I have learned about student centered learning

1)  It has to be organized. Students have to know exactly what you expect them to learn. Just giving them an article and saying read this and takes notes isn't enough. They have to be guided with discussion questions and have already learned good note taking skills.  Each person also has to have a role within the group so that every person is involved and not just left copying notes from another group member.

2) It has to be modeled first.  Before I started this unit, I had already taught students how to work in literature circles, how to do group readings and how to take good notes.  Without these things I'm sure my students would have been off task and not learning what I wanted them to.

3)  Conferences are essential.  If I'm not teaching then I still have to be helping my students in some way.  It is nice not to be at the front of the room but that doesn't mean that I'm just kicking back grading papers. When I pull groups for a conference I ask each member to tell me something they have learned.  If they can't tell me anything then they probably are not participating and I then give them a new role in the group.  If they are lost then it is time for me to teach the group the topic they are confused with.  If they aren't taking good notes, then conferencing is the time when I model to them how find main ideas within a passage.  After each group I conference with, I walk around and make sure every group is on task before pulling the next group.

4)  It works different for every group of students.  I am only doing the book project with my advanced students.  My standard students are being taught the same information but as a whole class and then making their own products instead of as a group.  During this unit I am modeling how they would work with a group.  I'm thinking aloud and letting them hear me form discussion questions.  It may take me modeling how to work in groups another month before I turn the reins completely over to them.

How do you implement student center learning in your classroom? How do you differentiate instruction within student groups?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A management system that works!

     Last week I found a new classroom management system that I decided to give a try.  The main issues in my classroom were talking and off-task behavior. In order for one of my classes to really listen I had to have my eyes on all of them all the time.  It's really hard to conference with students when you have to be at the front of the room.  This is where Class Dojo helped me tremendously.
     Class Dojo is an online management system that can be connected to your smart phone. I added all of my students into the system and gave them all the same avatar.  Whenever students do something great I can go up to the board click on their avatar and give them a positive point for whatever behavior I would like to reward.  If they are off task they can also lose a point.  The system makes a sound for both behaviors that gives the students automatic feedback.  What I really like is how I can walk around with my smartphone and not have to be in the front of the room.  Students still hear the sound from the smartphone and everyone changes their behavior immediately.  
     I told my students that in order to get to change their avatar they had to have 25 points.  In order to get their student account where they can change it anytime they want, they have to have 50 points.  They also know that if they fall below 70% positive then I will send the report to their parents.  I also do the same if they are 95% positive or higher at the end of the week.  The reports tell what the students gained or lost a point for and puts it in an easy to understand pie chart.  My plan is after most of my students have earned at least 50 points to then start using points for an economy system where they can earn other prizes. 
    It has really amazed me how into this system my students are.  They have even changed their hallway behavior so that they would get a whole class point in the hallway.  It is also very effective to have them go up to the board to give themselves a point.  You would think they just earned a gold medal.  So far this has been the best management system I have found.  I really feel like my students are learning now because I'm spending less time dealing with behavior issues.  Have you used Class Dojo yet?  How do you implement it in your classroom?

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