gallery walk

When Students Are Struggling: Thoughtful Punting with Gallery Walks and Academic Speed Dating Conversations

My school is in our first year adoption of the Lucy Calkins Units of Study for Middle Grades Reading.   Because some units are not published for 8th grade and because we are all bravely piloting the adoption together, all three grades have started with A Deep Study of Character for the first nine weeks.

The first session with a read aloud and guided discussion and practice with noticing character traits was this past Monday.  Though the lesson did not call for students to have a copy of the text, I realized after my first class my kids needed a hard copy of the mentor text.  During my planning that followed 1st period, I made copies of a marked up version so they could see the different sections or parts we would navigate in our read aloud.  In addition, I put together some slides to scaffold our conversations.  At the end of the day, I also typed up all the character traits we brainstormed across four classes and incorporated them into a set of mini-notes (these reviewed our big takeaways and the first part of our anchor chart on character traits) the students received to glue into their literacy notebooks the following day in class.

On Tuesday, students had the class period to practice our strategy for noticing character traits with their own independent reading novel.  I crafted a template to help students capture their character trait, their textual evidence, the page number, and the “what makes you say that” explanation to explain how the passage they selected exemplified the character trait.  Though I had even done some frontloading of this skill the previous week using the “Says, Thinks, Acts” strategy from Gravity Goldberg and felt I had followed all the elements of the Calkins read aloud lesson, I could see by looking at student work in progress many students were struggling with the concept of character traits and explaining how their textual evidence represented the trait.

On Wednesday, I used my phone and ProScanner app to snap some of the better pieces of student work.  I quickly printed and numbered these to create a gallery walk around the room using my always useful neon shop ticket pouches.  As students visited the stations, they used their literacy notebooks to record what the “exemplar” readers did in their work.

Once students visited as many of the 11 stations as they could in about 12-15 minutes, we came together as a group and talked about our noticings of moves the readers made with their work with character traits and how we might apply it to our own work moving forward.  The students then had the rest of the period to resume their character work with their independent reading novels.

On Thursday, students were asked to choose one of the character traits they had identified and a more in-depth reflection on how and where they were seeing that work in their books.  In addition, students made predictions about whether or not they felt the character trait would stay true deeper into the novel and why/why not.  Once students had completed these reflections (roughly a paragraph of 8-12 sentences), we did a speed dating activity to share our reflections.  I incorporated this into my instructional design to:

  1.  Give students an opportunity to engage in academic talk and their work with character traits.
  2.  Give students an opportunity to hear from each other about their books and characters.

 

In reading their final character trait work and their reflections, I feel these learning structures helped move students forward in their understanding of character traits.  Though I have not yet graded the assessment from this past Friday students took, I am hopeful the assessment will show gains in understanding as well as students were asked to read a short story and apply the character trait skills we practiced all week.  How do you go about “punting” and making adjustments when you see students are struggling with a particular reading or writing skill?

Visual Notetaking and Analysis of Poetry with Sketchnoting

Throughout this school year, I have been using sketchnoting as a medium for helping students craft visual notes and share their closer reading of a text.  Whether sketchnoting smaller chunks of a text or lengthier excerpts, I usually provide students some scaffolding for thinking about their sketchnote designs by giving them steps or talking points of ideas they may want to incorporate into their sketchnote design.

Students just completed a unit project on Dickinson and Whitman in which sketchnoting a poem by one or both of these poets was an option in the project learning contract.   Like all of their other creative product options, I provided a working “checklist” of ideas for designing their visual notes and analysis of a Dickinson or Whitman poem of their choice:

Our “Sketchnote Center” referenced in the support document was a collection of exemplary sketchnotes students had created last semester, and these served as “mentor texts” to inspire student thinking.  The “FSLL” method mentioned in the document is a strategy for poetry analysis I found in the summer of 2016 from a fellow teacher in this Facebook group.  I will compose a separate blog post on the FSLL strategy soon.

Here is an initial sampler of student work:

Supplies I provided students included:

  • 11X17 paper (plain white as well as pastel colored sheets)
  • Assorted colors of Sharpies
  • Magic Markers
  • Colored Pencils
  • Copies of the poems they wanted to sketchnote (I did printing upon demand for students)

Two of my classes were able to participate in a gallery walk in which we set up stations for students to view and provide feedback on the creative products (sketchnotes were one choice on a menu of possibilities)  that students created for their projects (students had the choice to work alone or with a partner on the project).  Of these two classes, some students in one section crafted “commercials” to pitch their project and orient their peers using the Seesaw app.

And here are some scenes from our project gallery walk (another blog post forthcoming soon) we did in our media center last week:

 

 

If you want to learn more about sketchnoting, these resources are my starting points, and I think you’ll find them helpful as well!

Last but not least, the video recording of Shawna and Tanny’s presentation:

Tanny has been such a wonderful supporter of my work with my students this academic school year, and I am thrilled to share that I will be presenting at ILA (International Literacy Association) 2018 in Austin, Texas with the amazing Tanny McGregor and Paula Bourque! Our hands-on workshop is “It’s Sketchy! Visual Notetaking for Every Classroom” and will take place this July. I’ll post more information once I know our session date and time. I am truly honored to be presenting with these two incredible literacy educators. You can learn more about the conference here.

Are you sketchnoting with your students?  If so, I’d love to hear about what you are doing!

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.

Tackling Complex Texts with Think Tank Groups, Silent Gallery Walks, Noticings, and Reflections

Last week, four sections (two Honors Level and two CP) of my 11th ELA took on the challenge of deconstructing our reading of an excerpt of Thomas Paine’s The Crisis, Number 1 as we explore examples of persuasive texts across time periods and around themes of resilience and resistance.

Our primary essential questions included:

  • How do writers use rhetorical devices like parallelism and analogy to convey meaning and persuade?
  • How do writers use ethos, pathos, and logos to persuade an audience of an opinion or position on a topic/issue?

As students came into the room, the seating chart by “Think Tank” groups was projected on the board to help students find their new groups quickly.  After introducing some key literary terms students would need to know for breaking down the rhetoric of the essay, students received copies of our annotation codes (adapted from the work of Cris Tovani) at their table groups; these were delivered via my neon shop ticket pouches.  We first read the essay together a section at a time (thankfully, I have a copy of a pretty good reading with the textbook audio CD), and students annotated the text as we worked through the essay.

Next, each group received markers, lined tablet paper, and a task card ( created a total of nine) with a quote or passage to analyze and deconstruct along with guiding questions to scaffold this task.

Students had roughly 30-35 minutes to collaborate on their responses to the guiding questions and create a poster with the chart paper to share out to the class.  I walked around and answered questions, served as a sounding board, or redirected groups that might be straying off-task.

Originally, I planned for students to do oral presentations, but after one of my Honors classes struggled to keep up with their jot notes on each presentation, I realized that perhaps this was not the best way for groups to deliver their thinking.  I punted and modified the “share” portion of the activity to be a silent gallery walk, a move to that turned out to be the right one.

For the gallery walk, students had to visit each poster at its station where I had duplicated the task cards so everyone could see the passage/quote as well as the guiding question.  The graphic organizer I had designed for students to jot down ideas from the oral presentations transitioned perfectly into a notetaking graphic organizer for the silent gallery walk.

Students then had to jot down 2-3 key ideas or their big idea takeaways from the poster.  During the gallery walk, students:

  • Could move about the stations in any order.
  • Could not talk or carry their cell phones with them–either would result in a loss of points for the noticings activity.
  • Students needed to choose another poster hotspot to visit if there were more than 4-5 people at that center.

Once students completed their noticings and notes, they returned to their seats when ready to the do the final reflection at the end of the graphic organizer.  Students were asked to reflect on this question:  What idea or ideas have you heard today FROM OTHERS that has helped you better understand the Thomas Paine essay? Explain in 4-6 sentences, please.  The responses overwhelmingly identified points of clarification, but many students also commented how the collaborative walk and looking at other student work helped create an “a-ha!” moment for parts of the text that may have been confusing.

The culminating reflective activity was a writer’s notebook prompt (differentiated by and within different course levels) that asked students to think about the text as writers and to do some reflections on the writerly qualities of this persuasive essay.  Many used their silent gallery walk graphic organizer in conjunction with their copy of the essay to help them craft their responses.

My 4A CP class was the first  to complete the activity this way; the next day, my 3B Honors students did the activity through this approach.   When my 4B CP class followed them, they hung their posters next to or beneath the 3B posters, and students had a “meta” sort of experience as students recorded noticings from both classes.  I think students were even more engaged with the opportunity to “cross-pollinate” their thinking across classes; an Honors students from Period 2A who dropped by for makeup work whispered to me, “Is this an Honors class, too?” because she was so struck by how intensely focused they were in the gallery walk.  When I responded, “No, but they are working just as hard!” she exclaimed “Wow!”

On this note, I want to highlight that I did this activity across different “levels” of course sections.  I think one of the greatest disservices we do to students who are not in “Honors” levels courses is to exclude them from these kinds of learning activities that involve teamwork and deep thinking.  I made sure to heap the praise on at the end of class with Period 4B because their confidence has increased since the beginning of August, and I wanted to reinforce the belief I try to put forth each day we’re together that they are capable of doing academically challenging work.  The “glows” comments were also showered on my other CP class too as many of them do not see themselves as smart or able to do anything beyond a basic worksheet.  All students need opportunities to grow their academic capital as well as those social soft skills that are so important and come with collaborative learning experiences.   Sometimes it may be a struggle for both the students and the teacher when this kind of learning activity isn’t quite clicking, but it doesn’t mean we give up–instead, we scale back when needed and then try again from another approach or with additional supports to help students succeed.  Leveling and placement at the secondary level is a problematic issue, but that is another conversation for another day.

When my 2A class returned today, the group that originally struggled a bit with my original plan of oral presentations,  they completed their noticings by doing the silent gallery walk with three sets of posters–theirs along with Periods 3B and 4A.  In hindsight, I wish I had included the 4A posters, but it didn’t occur to me on the first day that a “meta” silent gallery walk would be a super cool learning experience for my students.

These photos are from this past Friday; today we had a third set of posters to grow our gallery walk, which I sadly forgot to photograph today but will add to the post in the morning.

Because this was a shorter text, I felt this was a prime opportunity to let students wrestle with a more challenging text and to build meaning together.  It is too easy to “spoon feed” students the answers we think they need to hear rather than letting them engage in meaning making for themselves.  I did provide scaffolding with the guiding questions and a menu of rhetorical devices on their task card, but aside from that, I did not provide any answers even when students wanted me to confirm they were correct.  Instead, I reflected the question back to them and would say, “What do you think?” and “How do you know?” to push their thinking.  The ninety minute block of time we have four days a week on our modified block schedule definitely lends itself to these kinds of learning experiences, and I feel it was worth the investment of time based on student responses on their graphic organizers as well as their writer’s notebook reflections.

How do you help students navigate complex texts and engage in meaning making?

Gettin’ Sticky With It: Post-It Notes for Formative Assessment, Sharing, Meaning Making, and Noticing

During the week of August 14-21,we read and discussed together the following Native American selections in all of my 11th Language Arts classes:

  • “The Earth on Turtle’s Back”
  • “When Grizzlies Walked Upright”
  • from The Iroquois Constitution

During that week we engaged in a good bit of collaborative work with station work and partner created Venn diagrams.  On Tuesday and Wednesday (we are on a modified block with A days and B days) , we used class time  to do some thinking, reflecting, and sharing on an individual level about the those Native American selections we read the previous week.  Students had the entire 90 minute block to complete the following graphic organizer over the three selections:

Originally, I envisioned students would visit the “stations” I had set up around the room with flyers containing the thinking prompt, QR codes with a virtual version of the hard/physical copy, and a parking lot to post the Post-It notes, but I realized prior to the activity that most of my students often need some quiet individual time for thinking before we begin moving about and get frenetic, or that is at least a need at this point in time.

Once students completed the graphic organizer, they transferred their responses to the sticky notes I provided them. I differentiated the required number of Post-It note shares; for some classes, students shared all 12 responses.  For other classes, I asked them to select their best “x” responses (example:  select and copy what you feel are your strongest 6 answers).

Students called me over to read their graphic organizer before beginning the Post-It note work; for the classes that had the modification of selecting their “x” number of strongest responses, it was interesting to see how many students looked to me to help them select their best responses.  In those instances, I simply asked the student, “What do you think and why?”, and he/she would immediately begin talking me through their self-selection process.  I loved hearing the students think aloud to me, and I think this process also gave many students a little more confidence in his/her decision-making.

Because we do have 90 minute blocks, students used Thursday/Friday (and some will finish on Monday, our “skinny” day) to do an individual or partner gallery walk (see below).

Students visit each “station” of responses and can jot down a response that was memorable or significant to him/her/them OR write about a pattern of responses he/she/they notice(s).   In addition, many students did a first pass of reading as they visited and taped up their Post-It note responses (air is turned off overnight in my building; consequently, the humidity kills the adhesive power of even the “super” sticky Post-It notes).

Many students shared positive feedback about the activity in terms of getting to read the content as well as the colorful look to our room.   I feel it is important to use all of the available wall space inside my room (and any that I can use outside of it!) to create galleries of student crafted work whether we are actively utilizing it for a community knowledge building activity or just simply sharing and celebrating our thinking in a visible way.  At the beginning of the year, I was very intentional about leaving wall (and bulletin board) space empty so that we would have places to share our work and create gallery walk stations; this belief was reinforced by this post from Megan Kortlandt of the fabulous Moving Writers blog.  Many thanks to Smokey Daniels for reminding me of this fabulous resource for envisioning the classroom environment from Smokey and Sarah Ahmed’s wonderful book, Upstanders.