11th ELA

Scaffolding and Organizing Jigsaw Discussions

I’ve been experimenting this semester with different ways of encouraging meaningful academic talk between and among students.  I think giving students opportunities to engage in meaning making for themselves is important at all levels, and after reading Cris Tovani’s wonderful No More Telling as Teaching, I have been more intentional about ways to help students have opportunities to talk and share that help their growth and support that of others.  Some students relish these opportunities; others do not  always embrace them as joyfully.  There is also the challenge of helping students find the sweet spot of discussion and talk with others where the conversation stays on track and students don’t overtalk or undertalk with each other.

While my Honors students tend to be stronger with class discussions than my other sections, I try to give all my classes these learning experiences.  However, even my upper level classes sometimes struggle or get in a rut.    Last Friday, I decided to do a jigsaw discussion with one of my 11th Honors ELA classes in order to try to shake things up a little and incorporate more individual accountability for participation and contributions to a small group discussion.  On Wednesday, students took a grade level performance final exam; after the exam, they had class time to read an excerpt of “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.  They were asked to complete summaries of each section and to answer seven short answer questions by the beginning of the next class on Friday.

When students arrived, they could choose a seat anywhere.  I had desks arranged into four groups of seven and one seating cluster of four desks.  Once students were seated, I passed out numbered task cards so that we formed “birds of feather” clusters.  Students could move anywhere in the room to work with their fellow assigned task card group members and collaborate on answers to the questions on the task card for about 20 minutes.  For example, if you received Task Card 2, you met up and worked with fellow Task Card 2 recipients.

Students then broke for lunch; when they returned, we organized ourselves at the seating areas so that someone from each group–Task Cards 1-7–was represented.    They took about 5 minutes to follow these organizational instructions:

We then reviewed the procedures for the jigsaw discussion:

Students then had about 20 or so minutes to participate in the discussions and take notes on what each other had to say.  In spite of growing excitement about a possible early release due to snow, most students stayed on task and made a good faith effort to participate and contribute.

When students finished, they were asked to create a poster based on their discussions and collaborative thinking:

Students then were asked to turn in their task card work plus their jigsaw discussion notes.  Their individual assignment for homework was to compose a paragraph and choose the transcendentalist theme they felt the selection best represented and why; they were asked to provide at least two examples of textual evidence and accompanying commentary to support their response.

What are your favorite small and large group discussion strategies?  How do you scaffold student talk?  How do you nudge those who are reluctant or less than enthusiastic about participating?

Recommended Reading:

Introducing Students to Ralph Waldo Emerson with Gallery Walks, Notebook Time, and Speed Dating Discussions

We are coming down the home stretch of the semester in a fast and furious manner.  Because time is limited, I am being selective in the pieces of literature I want my juniors to read as we explore the key transcendentalist writers in American literature.  I first introduced students to Emerson with a gallery walk that invited students to read, reflect, and interpret 20 different quotes from Emerson.  Students had the opportunity to record their noticings about the quotes and what they felt the quotes meant; they also were asked to record themes of importance on their graphic organizer (a menu of themes was provided).  We did the gallery walk in the hallways just outside of my classroom:

Once students had completed the gallery walk, we used notebook time to record patterns of noticings and reflections on the quotes we read.  Some classes did this indoors with a nature video playing on the board (thank you YouTube), but the weather was nice enough last Tuesday for me to take one class of juniors outdoors for our writing time:

When we returned inside, students had the opportunity to read an excerpt of the first chapter of Nature, annotate that text, and do some quick notes on a graphic organizer to prepare for the upcoming next class session and our class discussion about the text.

Because we are on a modified block schedule, my classes meet either T/Th or on Wed./Fri.  For the second class session, I originally planned on doing a concentric circles discussion to help students engage in meaning making about the text.  However, after my first two classes, I realized that format wasn’t quite working, so I punted on Thursday during my planning period.  I rearranged the desks in my room and organized the students into “speed dating” interview/discussion groups.  This version of the activity (which I learned years ago from Dr. Bob Fecho at UGA) basically was accomplishing the same goal as concentric circles, but it worked MUCH better for my remaining three classes on Thursday and Friday.  I threw out questions based on the text, their gallery walk, and their writer’s notebook responses; while some students did not engage in discussion as much as I hoped, many really got into the activity and got as much out of the learning experience as they put into it.  Students were required to take notes during the discussion so that they could capture the ideas of their discussion partners.

When students finished, they began working on four post-activity reflection questions that asked them to not only reflect on the text itself and its connections to principles of transcendentalism, but they were also asked to reflect on their understandings they gained from the activity as well as their best discussion partner.

Because we had to give a performance final exam the first three days of this week, we will use the last two days of this week to bring it all together and share out our key ideas and understandings.  Though I had to do some fine tuning in progress and not all students engaged with the activities, those who did shared how much they enjoyed everything and how the learning activities connected and built upon each other.  I would definitely introduce Emerson in this manner again in the future, and I love the simplicity yet power of student talk and thinking instead of me being the “sage on stage” doing all the work and thinking for them.  Some students are not used to these activities and push back because it is easier to be lectured to and to answer some low level  thinking questions on a worksheet.  I’ll continue to encourage those reluctant to engage in critical thinking as well as those who love engaging in higher level conversation and meaning making with unfamiliar and challenging texts.

Fun with Text Structure: Paragraph Scramble Competition

About a month ago, I wrote about some rather sophisticated work my honors 12th ELA students did with deconstructing mentor texts.  However, not all students are ready to take on such a task.  How might you scaffold those learners and give them the experience but on a smaller scale and in a way that is more accessible?

Though I provided a mini-lesson and two models for us to examine together, I realized this morning three sections of my 11th Language Arts were struggling with a modified Schaffer Two Chunk paragraph writing strategy. I quickly punted midday and came up with a modified activity to support students and give them an opportunity to practice recognizing topic sentences, concrete details, commentary sentences, and closing sentences.

After reviewing our template and one of the completed models, each table group received a series of sentences and a blank paragraph template.  Students at each table group were asked to work together and fill in the template with the appropriate sentence (topic sentence, concrete detail, commentary, closing sentence).  Each team immediately began working together to problem solve the text structure.  For fun, I played the Rocky theme song as groups worked together.  It was fun to listen to students debate the choices and argue with each other about why a certain sentence was the best fit!  When each team finished, they gave me their answer sheet; when all teams finished, we reviewed and discussed the answers together.

While this activity is very simple, it is a great way to engage students, especially if they love games.  It is a gentler way of students looking at text structure in a way that is approachable and encourages student talk.   As you can see from the video below, the energy level was high and lively!

Notebook Time: From Individual Writing to Think Tank Collaboration and Sharing

We are wading into our next unit and looking at a variety of essential questions across different time periods and genres in my 11th English Language Arts classes.  To set us up for work we’ll be doing with some selections from Thomas Paine in the next few days, last week we began with our latest Writer’s Notebook:  Entry #9:

After thinking and writing for 12-15 minutes, students worked in “think tanks” to collaborate and share out their answers as a poster using the following questions.  You will note three of these talking points ask students to pull together their thinking for the writer’s notebook prompts, and the fourth nudges them in a different direction.  Both the notebook prompts and instructions for our think tank work were housed in my trusty neon workshop ticket pouches!

Students collaborated on their posters for another 10-15 minutes before we did our group share out with poster presentations.  This way of doing notebook share time was not only different, but it gave students opportunities to interact and crowdsource their ideas in small groups and with the entire class.  Everyone contributed to the conversation in some level, and the ideas they generated in terms of current event topics as well as their word lists for the fourth questions will lead us into a new notebook entry late this upcoming week as well as a new writing assignment using Gretchen Bernabei’s text structures (I will blog that, too!).

If you are looking for a way to either connect your notebook time to content you’ll be reading or writing, or if you are looking for a way to jazz up share time, this “think tank” method with posters created at conversation hotspots (a fancy term for “station”) is very easy to set up and organize and yields significant returns in terms of student talk, thinking, and sharing.  I was most impressed with how well my students worked together, their ideas, and how they articulated their thinking.  I’m including a gallery below of some of their efforts!  How do you mix up your use of notebook time and share time in your Language Arts classes?

 

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Introducing Early American Literature Time Period Background Information with Writer’s Notebooks, Doors of Wonder, and Station Rotations

If you teach a high school course that has traditionally leaned toward a survey type course of a particular canon of literature, you know that getting students interested in the background information can sometimes be a challenge. After only a few days with my students, I knew that a traditional lecture or time period overview even with engaging visually oriented slides was not a good fit for my learners, especially not this early in the academic year (this is week 2 for us).   In addition, my school is on a modified block, so mixing things up and giving students a chance to move about the room, collaborate, and providing them with both quiet times and active times of learning are essential to keeping students’ learning energy up for 90 minutes.

Because our Writer’s Notebook time is already a fixed part of our learning routine, I decided to give students an opportunity to read a map from our textbook that provided a snapshot of where different Native American nations lived on the North American continent.  I wanted to give them space to:

A.  read or interpret the map and make inferences

B.  make connections to prior knowledge

C.  ignite curiosity:  wonder and ask questions

Take a look at our notebook invitation

Because of the detail of the map, I projected the image on the board and provided students with a copy to look at more closely; once again, my beloved neon ticket holders are a great tool for delivering materials to students.  Once students in both my 11th ELA Honors and “on level’ courses had 10-12 minutes to write, students could volunteer to share something from their notebook.  While I am not a huge fan of extrinsic rewards, the reality is that at 7:30 AM, some students need a little incentive to speak up, so I offered bonus points on their work for the day if they chose to share.  With the exception of one class, the level of participation was excellent and may have encouraged some of my shyer students to speak out.  I was truly impressed with the depth and range of their thinking in their responses, and I think the students enjoyed hearing from each other as well.

We then put our notebooks aside, and students received a second graphic organizer.  I then explained that I had summarized the background information for our first few selections that we’ll read this week and next; I also explained that I had broken the information up into “chunks” with 8 different reading stations (also housed in the neon ticket holders/pouches).

Their job was to read the information and decide what the three most important ideas/concepts/facts were to record in their notetaking graphic organizer.  They could write more, but three was the minimum.  When they finished all eight stations, they were to re-read what they had recorded and then write what they felt were their three big takeways from all the readings.

  

 

Students worked approximately 35 minutes on the stations; they had the option to work alone or with a partner. Students also had the option to snap photos of each station so that they could work wherever they were if a station was crowded.

Only one class had time to do our Door of Wonder activity, inspired by Matt Griesinger at Moving Writers.  Our wonderings came from notebook entries; publishing our wonderings was important, especially since so many students chose to share them with the class during our share out time earlier.  For many students, these wonderings will be a path to a mini-inquiry project we’ll do after Labor Day.  The rest of my classes will publish to their door or wall of wonder tomorrow and Friday.

I love that our room is quickly filling up with learning artifacts from the students!  Stay tuned for the next post as we infuse Post-It notes, new reflection stations after we read three short Native American works of literature, QR codes, and more!