Thursday, April 19, 2018

Multiple Perspectives

Do your kids look at history like, well, um, ... kids? Do they assume that everything in history  was inevitable? Do they assume that everything in history happened for a “logical, purposeful” reason?

Your kids aren’t alone. Plenty of adults also struggle with the idea that things in history were “meant to be”.

But not everything HAD to turn out the way it did and it’s useful for kids to put on their “Multiple Perspective Glasses” and see things through someone else’s eyes.

Here’s a strategy called “PMI” which is a way of looking at an issue from multiple viewpoints. It’s easy for us-in-2018 to look at history and see inevitability in how things turned out and think “of course things turned out that way! Was there ever a question?”


There were hundreds of questions in history that had many very real possibilities of turning out differently.

Instead of students believing in the inevitability of history, it’s important to look at history through the eyes of  people at the time period and examining it the way they might have.

A great strategy for this is called “PMI”.

P= Plus (or positives)
M= Minus (or negatives)
I = Interesting

Pose an interesting question from history -- a “what if” or a “what would you do?” question like ...
  • Should Truman drop the atomic bomb?
  • What if Radical Republicans kept reconstruction going strong for another decade or two?
  • What if Texas had remained an independent nation?
  • What if the Founders had left slavery out of the Constitution entirely?
  • Should the Cold War get “hot” and the US and USSR fight directly?
  • What if Kenya had invested in infrastructure during decolonization?
  • Should LBJ sign the Civil Rights Act of 1968?
  • Should Lincoln free ALL the slaves with an Emancipation Proclamation?
  • Should the Supreme Court be the best place to decide the 2000 presidential election?

Once you have a good, debatable, multiple perspective question, then you can ask the kids to  tell you the positives of the situation, the negatives, and interesting points.

As with any new skill, I would model this the first time. Then, I would have students practice using it in groups. Finally, I would let them try it out on their own.

Download one from here and let me know how it goes!

Multiple perspectives isn’t just a “nice to know”. It’s crucial for our students as future voters, as internet users, and as participants in civic dialogue about everything from building new roads to gun control to race relations to balancing the budget. Every topic in the news requires the skill of multiple perspectives -- and so do our EOCs and Final Exams!

As always, try it and let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


Quick! How fast can I cover this stuff before the testing calendar negates the whole month?  

Omigoshican’tbelieveimthisbehindinmypacing wherewillifindthetimetodoanything imnevergonnagetthroughallthis?

Sooooo, April, huh?

I don’t know about you, but I think this is a tough time of year. There are weird schedules for testing with half my class gone on any given day. The kids are in a fourth quarter slump. Spring break is now just a memory as they try (and we try) to hang on until summer.

Oh, yeah. And I’m behind on my pacing. Again. As usual.

Right now, I really understand the temptation to just bulldozer your way through the content, teaching and teaching and teaching and teaching nonstop.

But hold up and take a breath.

Stop. (Hammer Time)

If you’re moving that quickly, how do you know your kids are with you? How do you know if they’re getting it? How do you know if they’re keeping up?

You have to stop and check sometimes.

I know that there are a million ways to check for understanding. But some of them, like quizzes, one-pagers, posters, skits, etc.

So how about my favorite, FASTEST ways to check for understanding?

Here are the Fastest Types of Formative Assessment that I can find...
  1. One Minute Essay (or One Minute Question) -- A one-minute essay question (or  one-minute question) is a focused question with a specific goal that can, in fact, be answered within a minute or two.
  2. Two Minute Pause -- The Two-Minute Pause provides a chance for students to stop, reflect on the concepts and ideas that have just been introduced, make connections to prior knowledge or experience, and seek clarification.
    1. I changed my attitude about...
    2. I became more aware of ...
    3. I felt ...
    4. I was surprised by ...
    5. I related to ...
  3. Observation -- Don’t stop class. Just walk around and really look carefully at student notes, answers, or progress.
  4. One-Sentence Summary-- Students are asked to write a summary sentence that answers the “who, what where, when, why, how” questions about the topic.
  5. One-Word Summary -- Select (or invent) one word which best summarizes a topic.
  6. Muddiest Point -- This is a variation on the one-minute paper, though you may wish to give students a two minutes to answer the question. Here you ask (at the end of a class period, or at a natural break in the presentation), "What was the "muddiest point" in today's lecture?" or, perhaps, you might be more specific.
  7. Headlines -- Create a newspaper headline that may have been written for the topic we are studying. Capture the main idea of the event.
  8. Five Words --  What 5 words would you use to describe ? Explain and justify your choices.
  9. Question Stems -- “I believe that because...”; “I am confused by...”
  10. Twitter Post  -- Define_____ in under 140 characters  

How many of these have you tried? And can you try more? It’s important to do at least one (hopefully more than one) formative assessment check per period. Can you try a
new one or two of these? Pro Tip: Set a timer so you don’t go overtime.

Let me know how they go! As always, email me at

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Somebody Wanted ...

Summarizing is an important skill. It’s kind of a big deal, which is why it always surprises me when soooo many kids struggle with it!

But it is really hard for many kids! Maybe it’s because the internet summarizes things for them, whether it’s a movie trailer, a product review, or the 700,00 versions of “Cliff Notes”, kids don’t really have to summarize much any more. So when we ask them to summarize and they highlight the whole page, it’s not because they’re stupid. It’s because they need help with the skill of summarizing.

One of the quickest and easiest ways to summarize is a simple strategy called “Somebody Wanted ... But/So... Then”.

This strategy is useful for any student who struggles with summarizing, whether it’s an ESE or ESOL student or a regular student who has trouble summarizing and prioritizing info. It’s actually helpful for keeping our gifted students on track and out of left field, too.

It goes like this ...

  • Somebody (who?) Wanted something (what?)
  • But (what was the problem?)
  • So (How did they try to resolve the problem?)
  • Then (What was the result?)

History and Social Sciences are FULL of moments when a person or group wanted something, which becomes a catalyst for other events.

Like this ...  (real 6th grade student answers below)

  • The Abolitionists wanted freedoms but the South was worried about economics so they made reforms. Then, the reforms made people pay attention.
  • Women wanted equal rights but they were faced with challenges like their ideas and words being denied by men, so the women had a convention at Seneca Falls where they decided to argue and protest for their rights. Then, it took a long time before they had the right to vote.  

Wow! If I could get my kids to boil down the info of a chapter or topic into one of those awesome sentences, I would have WON the teaching game!

Because once they know the summarized basics, once they can sort out the important info from the less-important info, THEN we can really think and analyze and dig further into the content.

I even found a teacher somewhere who made a song (with accompanying video) that is electronic dance music style ( watch?v=N6EMIaoE9_Q ). It may or may not be your style but it’s repetitive and your kids may like it.  

Try it this week. It’s quick, easy, and a wonderful way to help kids practice summarizing critical information.  Then, give them the initials (SWBST) and have them summarize on their own. Use gradual release. Start with the scaffold of this strategy, have them practice it whole class, and then in small groups,and then independent practice. Finally, remove the scaffolding so they can use it independently.

How can this strategy improve your students’ summarizing skill? How can you practice it this month? How is it going? As always, email me at

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

That's So Meta

Image result for metacognition memeMetacognition is often defined as “thinking about thinking”. . Kids need metacognition for learning so that they can improve their reading, thinking and learning.

  • Metacognition increases students abilities to transfer or adapt their learning to new contexts and tasks.
  • They can think about the task and the context of different learning situations.
  • It can help them think of themselves in different contexts.
  • It can help kids become aware of their strengths and weaknesses as learners, writers, readers, test-takers, group members, etc.
  • It gives kids the awareness of problems that need to be solved -- whether knowledge gaps, behavior issues, or social concerns.

The short argument is that metacognition helps kids learn. It helps them remember what they learned last year (or yesterday) and combine it with what they’re learning today. It helps them apply strategies from one lesson to another. It helps them know their own strengths and weaknesses  -- and then strengthen the weaknesses and build on the strengths.

The end-goal is for kids to become self guided. We can’t always do all the guiding. Someday, our little birdies will fly out of our nests and they need to be able to assess the situations that may arise and make to make in-flight decisions on their own

It makes kids become a part of their learning process. It helps us make learning something we do WITH them not, TO them.

It’s putting the “why” behind everything, everything you do.

It is an executive skill that helps kids MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.  

But it’s not a natural thought process for all kids. So how can we teach them to think about their thinking?

We can intentionally build it in to our classes, particularly with Formative Assessment (i.e. checks for understanding).

Here are my favorite ways of addressing Metacognition through Formative Assessment:

  1. Misconception Check: Give kids a common Misconception statement about a topic. Have students quickwrite to explain why they agree or disagree with it.
  2. Anticipation Guide: Choose several statements from the lesson you are about to teach that can be answered as True or False (make sure to have a few of each). Before the lesson, ask kids to give their best guesses and answer each statement. AFTER the lesson, ask kids to answer the same statements -- but this time, their answer should be based on learning. THis helps kids see where they learned and grew within a lesson.
  3. Muddiest (or Clearest Point): At the end of a lesson, ask kids “What is the ‘muddiest’ point from today?”, meaning, what are you still confused about. You can drill down further and ask “what do you find unclear about the concept of Manifest Destiny?”. Alternately, you can ask about the “clearest point” and discuss the portion of the lesson that your students DO understand the most clearly.
  4. I Used To Think But Now I Know At the end of a lesson, have kids complete the  sentence to see what they have learned about the lesson. “I used to think ______ but now I know ____________.
  5. Four Corners: Have students choose a corner based on their level of learning for a particular topic. Once students have chosen their corners, allow them to discuss their progress with people who are in a similar point in their learning. Then, pair Corner 1 & 3 and 2& 4 for peer tutoring. For example, choose a corner based on your knowledge of the impact of Constitutional Rights:
    1. Corner 1: The Dirt Road (There’s so much dust, I can’t see where I’m going!)
    2. Corner 2: The Paved Road (It’s fairly smooth but there are a lot of potholes)
    3. Corner 3: The Highway (I feel fairly confident bbut have occasional slowdowns)
    4. Corner 4: The Interstate (I’m travelling along and could easily give directions to someone else)

How can you teach your kids to use metacognition? It will increase everything from their reading to their content knowledge to their test-taking to their real-life problem solving! I love to hear how you teach metacognitive skills in your class! Email me

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Start Me Up

So, when Mick Jagger sang “start me up”, I am pretty sure he wasn’t talking about sentence starters.

But I am.

I have learned a lot of things over the years about kids and learning. One of those things is that kids often struggle to know where to start when a teacher gives them an assignment. They also struggle to use academic language. (I can’t tell you how many times I got a writing assignment with a “lol” somewhere in there!). They also struggle to figure out what the teacher wants from them. Sometimes they struggle to understand the question.

Well, I have one idea that will cover those issues.

It’s a sentence starter.

Seriously.  It sounds so silly, I know. Some of us think of early elementary school, and think it’s not useful for our secondary students, but I would respectfully disagree.

I think a good sentence starter can help our kids first know where to start with a task, whether it’s a writing assignment or a graphic organizer or whatever. If you start a sentence for the kid, it will lead their thinking where you want them to go. Your kids will be more successful at thinking and at writing about the topic.

I also think a good sentence starter can help students use academic language. It doesn’t come naturally for many kids, especially kids who don’t hear more formal language at home. Heck, I don’t use formal academic language at home. (or here, either, when I say “heck”). Kids are not naturally academic speakers and writers and so we need to teach them how and when to use academic language.

Sentence starters help the kid figure out what the teacher is looking for. If you ask a kid for the causes of the Civil War and you give her “Three important causes of the Civil War are _____”, she can better understand the question and better frame her answer.

I also love sentence starters because they are a fabulous way to differentiate. Do you have English Language Learners? Sentence starters are a quick and effective way to help students who are acquiring the English Language to understand and express your content.  

I also think it helps with some of your “out of the box” thinkers. The kids who are smart but can’t keep their assignments on track without going off on a tangent -- it can help them too.  You can also differentiate “up” to challenge your more academically successful kiddos by asking them to do more than one thing with a sentence starter.

Wait! I want to clarify! Please know that when I talk about sentence starters, I don’t mean cloze notes. Cloze notes have one answer that goes in the blank. They’re basically copying made easy and unless your student has been learning English for two years or less, they’re not appropriate for middle or high school students. By sentence starters, I mean the teacher has begun the sentence for the students, to guide them, but then releases the students to finish their own thoughts with their own words.  Cloze notes are low level. Sentence Starter is higher order.

Cloze Notes: The _________ of the Civil War were __________ and __________/  
Sentence Starter: The most important cause of the Civil War was __________________________ because __________________________________________.

So, let’s wrap this up. Sentence starters help your kids get started, so they can be more successful. They help you differentiate for both English Language LEarners and kids who just need direction. They increase the practice your kids have with academic language. They are not the same as Cloze Notes.

How can you use sentence starters in your class and not make a grown man (or woman, or kid) cry? How can you start them up so they will be more successful with their thinking and writing?

As always -- I love to hear! Email me at