Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Research and the Hidden Power of the KWL chart

Wow! Where did September and October go? How can it possibly be November? I am sure you can relate, but I just got sucked into the routine of school. Every time I would want to write something, I put it off because I had something pressing to finish for school. I am working toward balancing both.

So what have we been up to... I am so excited to say RESEARCH is my new favorite mode of delivering information. I never understood how powerful students questions were. I also never understood the point of the KWL chart until now. I was taught this organizer in college and to be honest I thought it was pretty dull. Who cares what you already know, and by the time you got to the learned part I was over the chart. It was a something I included in college lesson plans, but when I got to teaching in my actual classroom I didn't understand the value.

Well let me tell you the KWL is now my favorite organizer for research!

In my school our RTI focus is on reading fluency. To accomplish this we establish a baseline fluency score simply based on correct words per minute. We divide all the students in the entire building into intervention groups based on about 10 word per minute groups. I happen to have one of the highest fluency groups in third grade. These students are already reading around 135 CWPM, so they are considered fluent. Instead of continuing to practice fluency passages we have decided to open them up to the world of research. 

I pull a fluency passage and we read through it and pick it apart. Using the information fromt he passage for the KNOW part of our KWL. Then I simply open it up to questions that they want to know. Students copy the same KWL into their journals so that they can record their answers as they go. As you can see below we were researching the Great Wall of China. The students ask great questions, and they are so excited to jump in and find the answers. (in this setting the kids are all on the same higher level, however, I have done this with my entire class and it was still very successful).

After your questions are developed you turn them loose to research. I am lucky enough to have a classroom with a 2:1 iPad ratio. I use KidRex, Searchasaurus, and Fact Monster. If you don't have access to mobile technology then you can print out articles and have them read through for the answers. Just provide lots of choice. You don't want just one article that all the kids are searching through (that is too much like a regular assignment). I encourage my students to take notes. I don't want my kids to just "tell me". I want them to write something down, note taking is all about determining importance, and that is great practice for summarizing or determining main idea. 

You can record ideas in a couple different ways. Students can call out their answers and you can record them on the chart. Students can come up and write their answers on the chart themselves. You can stop the class the last 10 min. and record your answers together. One thing I do that the kids love, it to record their name next to the answer they offer. 

As my principal says "The process is way more important than the product". So this gives you permission to just find the answers and move on to another topic...or you can turn your answers into a paragraph, or flipbook etc. If you have mobile technology then there are great apps out their to create a product. I love Explain Everything ($) and Educreations (free) (slide show presentations with voice over capabilities), Hakiu Deck (free) (beautiful slide show presentations).

The possibilities are endless, and it has opened up a whole other world of instruction to me. Especially, in science and social studies. Imagine letting students discover the water cycle instead of reading about it in their science text book. Or discovering the patterns we see in the sky instead of me telling them about it. Simply by throwing up a KWL chart! Even if student's didn't mention the questions you needed them to find out, you could easily add questions of your own mixed with their questions.

 I know this is not new and earth shattering. I know that teacher's have been teaching this way for a long time, just not any teachers I know. But this is changing, by the hidden power of the KWL.

Stay tuned for details on our intensive Veterans Day research project.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Independent Reading (reader's workshop)

Lots of us use all different kids of reader's workshop models. I teach reading using the Treasures basal, with combinations of whole group instruction, guided reading centers, mini lessons, word work, and independent reading.

Previously our district has used Accelerated Reader for our indpedent reading piece. I had used it for over 10 years and was comfortable with it; however, we never used it to its full potential. I hated that students would only read the books in my library that were marked with an AR sticker and ignore the rest of my fantastic books. I hated the fact that at the beginning of each year I would have to give a disclaimer about not picking books just because they were worth a bunch of points. I hated that kids would read books at the bottom of their reading range just because they could easily earn their points. With this program I never had a conversation with students about what they were reading unless there was a problem. 

Well this year we got rid of AR and replaced it with the independent reading modeled in Fontas and Pinnel. This year we are encouraging our students (third and fourth graders) to read 25 books by May 1st. These books are divided up by genres and we are expecting our students to be exposed to many different genres. This was never a focus before, and I am excited to see my students reading many different topics.

What is independent reading you might ask? In our school it is a 20 min. period that we strive to include everyday. It is really hard to fit it all in, and I'll be honest days when I run guided reading centers it doesn't happen. If I can get it in 4 days a week I am stoked. During this 20 min. period students are spread out all over the room with their books and sticky notes. I am conferencing with 4-5 students per period. During a conference I ask about what they are reading. I ask questions based on what we have learned. What genre is your book? Who are the main characters? Could you describe your character's traits? Could you summarize your book or give the main idea? This has been great to see what they are learning in a 1:1 situation. There is no other students to hide behind, it is very enlightening. It is also very personal. Students love the time with you and once you get the process started then they are requesting to conference with you.

I currently have 23 students with me for reading. So I usually have 7-8 students who are writing me a letter in their reading response journal. This counts as their conference for the week. The other 15 I am conferencing with 1:1.

Below you will see how I organize my conferencing notes. I will admit this is not an orginial idea, but a combination of many teachers ideas. The students names are written on post-it notes, then the whole thing is laminated. This keeps the post-its from falling off. Then you lay a new page on top.

 I indicate a L for students who are writing me a letter. The rest of the notes are from conferences. I circle things they need help with and this assists me with determining the mini-lesson needed. This process works great because then you have the students in the same order, and essentially have annecdotal records on each student. As you can see, this was early in the process and my students were writing their second letter. They were not answering any questions I had asked in my letter back to them. They had just written me a brand new letter.

This is a picture of their Reader's Response Notebooks
I know it is rotated wrong but I couldn't get it to flip.
Hope this is one of those simple ideas that blows your mind. I know it sure made things easier for me.