…she will need words that are on a developmentally appropriate, differentiated level.
If the words are on the right level…
…she will want to break them down for patterns, connections, and language concepts.
If she is breaking them down for bigger concepts…
…she will want to know why spelling matters in general.
If you show her why it matters…
…she will want to take ownership over the way she practices it.
If she is practicing spelling with more ownership…
…she will begin to find more autonomy elsewhere in her learning.
This “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” (by Laura Numeroff) thinking arose from reflecting on how spelling is great example of the need to challenge the status quo.
Spelling has looked the same for decades in many classrooms: everyone gets the same list on Monday, practices copying down the words throughout the week, gets tested on Friday.
This pattern often persists despite all we’ve come to know and continue to learn about spelling instruction and development (see the checklist for evaluating spelling programs on page 35 of this document by D.K. Reed at Center on Instruction).
Some of the most important changes include the following:
Instead of the same words, we should be differentiating. I enjoyed using the program, Words their Way for this purpose, as I was able to assess students within their individual stages of spelling. Quite apart from reaching students’ developmental needs, I also appreciate approaches that do not make spelling a one-size-fits-all situation that unfairly challenges only those who are below “grade level.”
Instead of mandating uniform spelling practice each day, we should be teaching students to recognize how to allocate their word study time. Even when spelling is differentiated, it will still come more easily for some students than others, which results in wasting valuable time. A framework that helped me adopt this approach was Daily 5 (for literacy; Daily 3 for math). It was wonderful to watch my students make informed decisions about their learning time rather than just passively checking everything off the teacher’s list each day.
Instead of focusing on memorization, we should be helping our students break down and investigate each word. This better scaffolds students in their language acquisition, building upon their grasp on patterns in phonology.
When we step back to see an even bigger picture, we see that these changes are not only about better spelling instruction, but about broader 21st century principles including student ownership, inquiry, and personalized learning.
Thanks to Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano sharing about her upcoming sketchnoting presentation this summer (all those near or able to get to Boston, you should go!), I was introduced to a pretty remarkable digital citizen today. Her name is Olivia, aka LivBit, and she loves books, sharks, and always doing “good things for this world.”
After experiencing bullying in second grade, Olivia’s mom helped her start LivBits for her to share her voice and rekindle her feelings of self-worth. Since then, she has shared weekly videos on books,
has spread her passion for sharks,
and has even presented in conferences!
My fav #digitalsummit quote so far: “it’s important to be who you are online just the same as you are in person”! @thelivbits SO true!
We may feel tempted to wait until they are in junior high or high school, but now is the time to help our young kids learn to harness this technology to spread their passions, make a difference, and do good.
My online bookmarks are a mess. The only thing that irritates me more than the fact that they aren’t doing me any good in their jumbled mess of folders is that they aren’t doing anyone else any good there either.
Fixing that today with this little graphic of resources, strategies, and ideas that I couldn’t help but bookmark over the years (even though I knew it meant adding to the mess). It also links to a few of my posts that included many of those bookmarks to further help me organize my favorite resources/strategies.
As you browse, please remember that innovative ideas will only make an impact when wielded by innovative teachers–individuals committed to thinking outside the box, encouraging student empowerment, and cultivating a personal growth-mindset. Also know that they aren’t intended as a silver bullet for classrooms everywhere; some might be more/less useful than others to you and your circumstances.
But I hope that you will be able to find something new, useful, and/or inspiring from this graphic!
I decided to frame the entire thing around the 4 C’s of 21st century education (I wanted to use the ISTE standards for students, but it proved too much for the visual I intended, but if you check those out, you’ll see a lot of parallels anyway). Please let me know what you found most useful, or if you have additional ideas to share! Enjoy!
When I began this extended parental leave from teaching, I could never have dreamed how much I would still wind up learning even while away from the classroom. How many people would be willing to teach me. How often my thinking would be pushed.
When I share blog posts and articles by others in my PLN on social media, I often include a quote that was meaningful to me. I want you to know that each time I do this, it’s because you’ve taught me, challenged me, and lifted me. And I am so very grateful.
Here are 20 articles that particularly made me think in 2016. Their impact has been such that I have continued pondering them long after reading them. They continue to shape and inspire my thinking, writing, and living. Thank you for making my continued professional learning possible, and for enriching my life in all facets!
“As I reflect on what I call the “transference of learning to application,” I wonder how this works for our diverse learners? Is drill and practice an option? How do the programs you have, work with your students? How do we adapt our lessons to meet their needs? We know one size doesn’t fit all, but where is the “give” that’s okay?”
Readers of this blog know I am a huge advocate for student ownership over learning. To me, Faige’s questions come down to the balance of asserting our timetable over our students’ progress vs honoring their individual pace, development, and interests.
There is no quick, easy answer to this. But I strongly believe that every measure we take to be aware of this balance and to prioritize our students’ needs over external agendas/pressures is worthwhile. Here are 10 strategies I have found to be helpful in this pursuit.
“For example, the inquiry into invertebrates has potential for students to develop a greater understanding of interdependence, cycles, growth and adaptation. Once we are aware of this, we can stretch students thinking beyond the ‘topic’ itself and compare and contrast the learning we are doing in this instance with conceptually similar contexts in the past.”
This helps place skills and abilities from standards into better context as students make connections within broader, more meaningful/relevant scale.
2. Encourage autonomy & metacognition in skills practice. I am a big fan of the Daily 5 routine for literacy skills (& Daily 3 for math) for this very reason–it’s one framework that not only allows students to choose how to spend their learning time, but helps them learn how to discern how to spend their time. In other words, help students stop waiting for you to tell them what skills they need to work on, & start teaching them how to identify that themselves.
3. Use Visible Thinking Routines. This practice helps strengthen metacognition and allows you a way to document thinking in a setting that provides much more student ownership and expression than perhaps a worksheet might.
4. Model reflecting on progress frequently. In the above article by Kath Murdoch, she lists possible questions that might help students to better understand the learning process, such as “What have we been doing to find out about this? What have been some of the most effective resources? How might we go about organizing this information?” This allows students to take greater ownership over the learning process, better understanding when and why practice might be necessary.
5. Make assessments as metacognitive & student-centered as possible. 5th grade teacher Jess Lifshitz shared a phenomenal example of this in the revision process with her students. Their “Revision Checklist” for their fiction writing unit prompted students to examine not just what their writing was like, but the specific reasons their writing improved.
6. Use standards-based grading over traditional grading. Younger grades are generally already good at focusing on the standards instead of grades and averages. But for older students in particular, it’s crucial for them to break away from the mode of doing “enough” for the grade, and that starts with a shift in mindset to the actual progress. An ASCD article entitled “7 Reasons for Standards-Based Grading” gives a great example of what this kind of grading might look like:
7. Keep whole-class instruction to a minimum. Rely more heavily on student conferencing, small group sessions, and, when needed, whole group mini-lessons. You’ll be better equipped both to differentiate and to keep up individual conversations on students’ progress and what practice is needed.
8. Use creative problem-solving to promote student voice & to assess. We have countless digital tools at our fingertips today to help us solve old problems in new ways. A recent example of this was when Taryn BondClegg introduced back-channeling to her 4th graders so they could share and discuss ideas during their read aloud–without actually interrupting the read aloud. She even uses the transcript as a formative assessment of their reading comprehension. An ingeniously authentic way to both ascertain and develop their abilities.
9. Allow students time for personal inquiry. This goes by many names– Genius Hour, 80/20 time, Passion Time. Allowing our students time to pursue their questions gives them the opportunity to practice & build upon many of the skills they are learning in a way that’s meaningful and directly relevant for them.
10. No “Secret Teacher Business.” This is one of my favorite phrases learned from Edna Sackson, and it makes complete sense. We are all be on the same team, and students should be familiar with all the vocabulary, longterm goals, standards, etc. that are in place for their progress and benefit.
Student ownership is key for taking practice from a place of “doing school” to a place of purpose and context in our individual learning journeys.
Professional development meetings are usually an aside, right? We often want to hurry and get them over with so we can get back to our classrooms and students.
But what if we deliberately embraced them as part of our learning process? And no, I don’t mean a general, feel-good, kiss-up-to-the-admin kind of embrace.
I mean, what if we identified one genuine learning moment, and then (here’s the important part) shared that learning with our class when we returned?
It was easy for me the first time I did this, simply because that particular professional development training had been a particularly engaging and enlightening session.
My students had always asked where I’d been when I returned from meetings. But this time, rather than my usual quick response of “meetings,” so we could get back into our learning, I opened up:
(them) “Mrs. Wade, where did you go?”
(me) “A meeting for teachers to learn about how to become better teachers. Did you know we do that? And guess what?! Do you know what I just learned about? Reading workshop! Want to try it?”
My enthusiasm was contagious, and they were instantly curious. I couldn’t have planned a more perfect opportunity to introduce the very concept we’d been encouraged to start implementing.
I continued sharing with them about how I’d learned that we could model reading workshop just like we do writer’s workshop; namely, a mini lesson, guided practice, and wrap up. I shared how I’d discovered that they can make connections during reading workshop that will help them strengthen their writing, and vice versa. And I shared how excited I was because discovering and practicing reading strategies in this way seemed much more interesting than reading comprehension worksheets.
When I asked them if they wanted to give it a shot, they were all-in. And when we actually started, we kept the open dialogue going. I would say things like, “What did you think? How did that compare to the way we used to do that? How could we improve this process?
There was an openness, an energy, and a collective commitment to make this work. And I believe this stemmed from trust. Because the truth was, I was a novice at reading workshop. I had just barely learned about how to implement it. So I know that had I instead pretended to be the expert, rolling it out in a grand introduction of authority, we would have lost that precious element.
When we let our students see our authentic learning process, we build trust and respect and cooperation because they know we’re in this arena, too. And when we let them in on the vision (even if all the little pieces are not yet in place), they are more willing to bring it to life together. Our students need our genuine, messy learning process more than they need a polished and perfect appearance of control.
Years ago, toward the end of the school year, I felt like our class was in a rut. I wasn’t sure what we were missing–Autonomy? Inspiration? Creativity? All of the above?
Whatever it was, I decided to do something drastic. I had recently come across a story online of a teacher who encouraged her students to create videos, and it seemed like a great idea to me.
So the next day, I checked out the laptop carts and dived head-long. I told them they had to work in small groups. I told them they could create any commercial they wanted. I might have had slightly more structure than I can recall, but if there was, it wasn’t much. And I stepped back, awaiting the student-centered magic to come to life.
It was bedlam.
Shocked and dismayed at the chaos and the discord and the aimlessness, I cancelled the whole thing the next day.
Today, a small part of me still wants to leave this experience forever buried in the corner of my memory labeled, “I-can’t-believe-you-actually-tried-that.”
But the rest of me knows that our failures are rich with learning opportunities. It reminds me of a teacher’s remarks during a PD session on inquiry this fall in which she expressed a wish to hear more about inquiry attempts that have crashed and burned. So, having come a long way since then (I hope!), I think I’m ready to finally retrieve that memory from its dark recesses and shed light and learning on it instead.
Here are 5 major elements that I now realize I was missing:
1. Purpose. It’s been so long that I honestly don’t even remember whether the commercials were intended as an extension of a unit. But I do know that a defined purpose and invitation to wonder and explore were missing. My students were eager to try it out, of course, but there was a lot less deliberation, and a lot more mania. Today, I find Kath Murdoch’s diagram of framing inquiry particularly helpful in establishing purpose, starting with “big ideas” and “context for learning.”
2. Metacognition. While I had always wanted my students to take more ownership over their learning, I had never explicitly taught them to consider their own thinking processes. I appreciated Trevor MacKenzie’s (@trev_mackenzie) recent article about bringing inquiry into the classroom in which he describes how he sought out metacognition in the inquiry process with his students with the visual below:
“Students should feel connected to their learning, certain about how to plan their inquiry, and comfortable with its responsibility. The Types of Student Inquiry structure our coursework and learning in a gradual release of control model, one where students learn essential inquiry skills throughout the year rather than being thrown into the deep end of the inquiry pool right away.
Each of my students has a copy of the swimming pool illustration above, and it hangs on our classroom wall.”
I had undoubtedly thrown us all into the deep end without equipping my students with proper ownership over their own inquiry skills/processes.
3. Scaffolding. Mackenzie’s diagram is a great representation of the scaffolding I was missing; there was certainly no gradual release of control. One inquiry teacher who I find does a great job of scaffolding is Taryn Bondclegg. Her class blog, Risk & Reflect, is packed with examples; a recent instance that stood out was when she introduced back-channeling to her fourth graders. You’ll notice how they “tested out back channeling in a low stakes way” before diving into her ultimate purpose of using it during read aloud time.
4. Questions. Beyond general supervision and feedback, neither my students nor I had any driving questions to help them ponder, fine-tune, or reflect. I now know the critical role powerful questions play during provocations, wrap-ups, visible thinking routines, and just about everywhere else in an inquiry-driven classroom.
5. Skills. We had never made movies in my class before. None of us had the slightest familiarity with the movie-making software on our laptops. And while I have a lot of confidence in my students’ ability to independently figure out much of technology, it was simply too open-ended and complex for my fifth graders to handle, especially when combined with the general lack of structure. Another one of Kath Murdoch’s visuals of the phases of inquiry illustrates many other skills in the inquiry learning process that we neglected: finding out, sorting out, synthesizing, reflecting, and more (I highly recommend exploring her blog and other resources here).
As much of a train-wreck as this activity was, it was the beginning of my journey toward becoming a more inquiry-minded teacher, a journey that I am still on today. The experience taught me that increased student ownership requires much more purpose, structure, and nuance than I had realized. So, however naïve, I’m grateful that I took that first leap, laying the groundwork for more deliberate future attempts.
Do you have any stories of inquiry fails that you learned from to share? Please do in the comments!