meaning making

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.

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.