Monday, April 13, 2015

the right questions

At the New Teacher Center annual symposium in February (great conference, btw), I learned about The Right Question Institute and the Question Formulation Technique. Since learning about it, I have used this successfully in a number of my classes, and have coached teachers to use it with their K-12 students. This is a great strategy to use to activate prior knowledge, to encourage questioning techniques, and to develop critical thinking skills.

The technique begins with a focus statement or an image. Students read the statement or view the image in class. For example, students in an ELA class might respond to a statement about a character in a common text, math students might view a graph or science students might view a picture of an X-ray, and social studies students might view a painting of a historical event. It is important that the focus is not a question, but rather a provocative statement or image that might evoke many questions from students. 

Students in small groups (or whole class, dictated to the teacher in lower grades), produce questions that are raised for them in response to the focus image or statement. Before beginning, students should identify a note taker for the group. There are four rules for students when producing questions:
- Ask as many questions as you can
- Do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer the questions
- Write down every question exactly as it is stated
- Change any statement into a question
Additionally, students should write questions that remain relevant to the topic.

Give the students a specific amount of time to produce questions (3 min, 5 min, 8 min, etc.) and then have them reread the questions. 

The next phase of the process is designed to improve questions. Students should now review the questions and identify the questions as either open-ended or closed questions. Students will need some instruction on this before they will be able to identify questions accurately. Not all students will agree on whether a question is open or closed, and that's ok! The debate is part of the process, as students are analyzing each question. Mark open-ended questions with an "o" and closed questions with a "c." 

Next, students should discuss the value of the each type of question, both in general and for the specific questions for the focus. What knowledge would they gain by answering the closed questions? The open-ended questions?

Once students have identified and debated the types of questions, students should work to change one type of question to another. Students should alter an open-ended question to be closed and vice versa. Students can discuss what knowledge they might gain from this process with those particular questions.  

Next, students evaluate the questions they have written and prioritize their three most important questions. As they narrow, they should be thinking about why they select each of their most important questions. 

Finally, students should discuss next steps: how will you use these questions? How would you answer these questions?

This process is really about supporting students in asking questions, rather than the process of answering the questions. Teaching students to be inquisitive and curious through asking questions is an important skill, one that can be well-supported with this strategy.

Try it out, and then post back here how it went!

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

secondary STEM teacher? ask a mentor.

Ever have a question you need answered from an expert teacher? Ever want feedback on an aspect of your teaching? Ask a Mentor.

Because secondary teachers in the STEM fields are often the only specialist in their building (or sometimes even their district), it can be hard to find mentors that are content specialists as well as teaching experts for new STEM teachers. 

The New Teacher Center is offering a wonderful, FREE service for secondary teachers in STEM fields. You can select one of their vetted mentors, specialists in their fields, and submit a question (and can upload a video of your teaching too) for feedback. You'll receive feedback, either written or by video, within 48 hours of submitting your question.

If you check it out, post a comment about how it worked!
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Sunday, March 15, 2015

NTT Survey

Hello dear readers. I'm in the process of planning the upcoming months of New Teacher Talk posts. I'd love some information about you all so I can best plan posts that meet your needs.

I've created a survey, to collect data on the blog as well as to help plan new posts, located here.

If you have a spare 5 minutes or so, please help me out and complete the survey. The more information I have from you, the better I'll be able to plan meaningful, relevant posts to support your teaching and learning.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

webinars for new teachers

New Teacher Help is a professional learning community (PLC) that helps new teachers get advice and support, and share experiences about the first years of teaching.

In order to support new teachers, New Teacher Help provides a series of free webinars, live chats, and online discussions. The upcoming webinars are hosted
 by Shannon Holden, who has been a high school and middle school teacher and administrator, and a new teacher coach, in North Dakota, Texas, and Missouri for 20 years.

Check out the list below, and see if any of these webinars might be helpful to you and your practice!

Tuesday, March 10, 5 p.m. EST

Legal Issues Facing New Teachers

Tuesday, April 7, 5 p.m. EST
Why Formative Assessment is So Important

Tuesday, June 9, 5 p.m. EST
Using Padlet to Collaborate With Mentors & Colleagues

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

rethinking children's literature

There has been quite a bit of press regarding the need for more diverse children's literature. The We Need Diverse Books movement has developed into a nonprofit organization designed to advocate for more diversity in children's book publishing.

To put some numbers behind this, the Cooperative Children's Book Center School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison reviewed books received by the library each year beginning in 1985. In the first year of the review, of the 2500 books reviewed, 18 were by African American authors or illustrators. Fast forward almost 30 years later to 2013, and of the 3200 books reviewed, only 68 were written by African American authors and 93 were about African American characters; this means a little less than 3% of books published for children were about African Americans (though they represent over 15% of the student population in the US). Other racial/ethnic groups do not fair any better: by (18) and about (34) American Indians, by (90) and about (69) Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans, and by (48) and about (57) Latinos. In total, Though the student population in US schools is mostly nonwhite, our books are about people of color in only 8% of books published in 2013.

Though as teachers we don't control what gets published, we do have a say in what libraries purchase, what books we ask for in public libraries, what we suggest to students that they read, and what we look for in bookstores. If you need help determining some high-quality diverse titles for your classroom library, check out the resources here. You can also download the free literary magazine focused on promoting diversity in children's literature to your tablet read about more great resources.

It's time to put the pressure on the publishing companies by letting them know that diverse books are in demand. Working together as a school to increase the diverse titles in classroom and school libraries is an essential part of helping students see their place in the world.
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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

organizing for student engagement

It's that time of year, at least in Minnesota, where motivation can be a bit lacking. We haven't seen the sun since 2014, though we have hardly any snow to show for it (unlike you, Boston)! Cold and flu season has been particularly brutal this year, and many teachers have been sick themselves as well as helping sick students get caught up.

But, you're more than halfway through the year. Spring is almost right around the corner. It's a good time to refocus, and one place to focus can be on student engagement.

There are many ways to do this, but Jackson & Zmuda (2014) write about four keys to engagement that teachers can control and consider when planning instruction.

First is clarity. From a student perspective, clarity means students can answer the question what am I aiming for? It can be hard to stay focused on the larger purpose, both as students and as teachers, especially at this point in an academic year. It's important for students to know why something is important, as well as what success looks like. This is more than just posting a learning target on the board. While helpful, students really need to understand the goal and refer to and use the learning target throughout the lesson. When learning targets not only refer to what students will learn but also what they will do (and are the criteria for success) so students know how to show that they've met the target (Brookhart & Moss, 2014).

The next key goes hand-in-hand with clarity, Teachers can focus on providing a relevant context for the lesson / learning target. This allows students to answer why should I care? Related to the idea of "starting with why," teachers should be able to answer "why do I need to know this" easily for students. Teachers can provide the importance and relevance of a new topic, and students can help fill in the real-world applications. Students should have a sense of why they need to understand something, both for current and future educational goals.

Another key to this work is to provide a supportive classroom culture for students. This helps students answer who is invested in my success and for teachers to answer how can I show students my support? This relates to students' self-efficacy, Students need to believe in themselves, certainly, but they also need to believe there is support from others in the hard work. Teachers show their support by anticipating confusion. explicitly identifying red flags and helping students understand how to avoid them, and providing interventions along the way based on formative assessment collected as students are learning something new. One way to do this is to allow for revisions, rather than just assigning a grade and moving on. Creating a climate that learns from mistakes, rather than just moving on, can be an essential way teachers support students.

Finally, in planning instruction to support student engagement, teachers can make sure they are providing appropriate challenges. This means students know how to respond to the question how is it working for me? Finding the right balance between challenge and skill, assignments that are meaningful and relevant, that require high-levels of thinking, that aren't "google-able" is a real challenge for teachers. When teachers can boil down to the essential ideas, and focus assignments on that, students will have a likelier chance of understanding the reason for the assignment and feel supported in completing the work. You want students to persist in times of struggle, and when an assignment seems relevant and do-able, they are more likely to stick with it.

Student engagement is such a complex component of teaching. It moves beyond student compliance, and focuses on purpose and support. With these keys, teachers can provide the context for learning that can lead to student engagement.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

modeling your thinking

One of the instructional strategies that has a lot of research to support its use is the think-aloud. This strategy can feel awkward at first, but is so beneficial for students of all ages in all content areas to see the work in action. It moves beyond modeling something, as it really seeks to uncover thinking, rather than just the "doing" of something new. 

The think-aloud strategy is most often applied to reading texts across content areas to support comprehension. Teachers model their thinking as they read aloud, indicating places in the text where they employ strategies. This can be used across content areas, particularly when students are being asked to read more challenging content texts. When you get started using the think-aloud, it can help to use Hmmmm... as a signal that you are transitioning from the text to your thinking, so students don't get confused about what is in the text and what is in your thinking.

Below are a few cues if you need ideas for sentence starters in read-alouds (adapted from Schoenbach, R., Greenleaf, C. L., & Murphy, L. (2012) Reading for Understanding. San Fracisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. and Wilhelm, J. D. (2001). Strategic Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton Cook:
  • I predict... (prediction)
  • I think the next part... (prediction)
  • Why did... (questioning)
  • What did... (questioning)
  • Why was... (questioning)
  • Should there... (questioning)
  • I picture... (visualizing)
  • This is similar to... (making connections)
  • This reminds me of... (making connections)
  • I got confused when... (monitoring)
  • I'm not sure of... (monitoring)
  • I didn't expect... (monitoring)
  • I think next time I'll... (monitoring)
  • I think this is mainly about... (summarizing)
  • I think the most important part is... (summarizing)
For these think-alouds, I'm talking broadly about "text" - math problems, learning objectives, lab reports, images, song lyrics, sports rules, speeches - you name it. The think-aloud is widely adaptable to the work of teachers, and is really effective for helping apprentice students into the thinking of any discipline.
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Interested in participating in research around NTT and induction? 
Consider taking the brief survey found here.