Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Strike a Pose: Modeling in Social Studies Class

“Have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?” Derek Zoolander from the movie Zoolander

Do you remember when you were a kid and your parent made you try on new clothes to model them? There are two types of kids in these situations -- the reluctant models and the “working-it” runway strutters.

When it comes to modelling in class, most of us social studies teachers do not strut. We do not swagger. We do not “work it” or own it.  We are reluctant models, if we model at all.

For many of us Social Studies teachers, modeling is one of the weirdest, least comfortable parts of gradual release and the teaching of skills. We understand that we should do an “I do” teacher-directed part before we get to the “y’all do” collaborative part and finally the “you do” independent part.

We understand that we “get” bike riding better after we watch someone ride a bike. We understand how to use a piece of technology after we watch someone show us how to do it. We know that we understand how to bake a cake after we watch someone bake the same cake.  

We get the idea. but what does modeling really look like in a social studies classroom?

Do you mean I’m supposed to GIVE my kids some answers? How will they LEARN anything if I give them all the answers?

Here’s an unexpected observation: kids learn MORE and you will have fewer “how do I do this?” questions when you model well.

So what do I  mean by “model” in a social studies class? It brings to mind modelling songs -- Madonna’s “Vogue” and Rupaul’s “You Better Work” . . . and America’s Top Model and all that fashion model stuff . . . and I am NOT that person...

If we want to see what clothes will look like, we don’t take those new clothes and hang them on a rack or a hanger to see how to wear them. We don’t describe them verbally. We see them on a model.

Same with modeling in social studies. We don’t describe a thing or show them a final product, hanging or projected on a wall. We show them how to “work it”.

Modeling is simply SHOWING your students how to do a thing by doing it yourself, so they can observe you.

We have talked before about gradual release -- and how it can only be used for skills. You can gradually release skills like a type of text marking or a timeline skill or a doc analysis process or a summarizing strategy. You can’t gradually release the causes of the American Revolution or the accomplishments of the Mauryan Empire or the definition of Federalism.

If you can’t gradually release them, you can’t model them.

But you CAN  model how you want the kids to number their paragraphs. You CAN model how they should come in and sit down quietly. You CAN model how you find chronology in a piece of text. You CAN model writing a thesis statement. You CAN model how to complete a graphic organizer. You CAN model how to find a claim and evidence in text. You CAN model your own thinking!

So what does that look like, really? It’s not rocket science.

  1. Describe what you’re going to do
  2. Break it into manageable chunks
  3. Show kids how to do it by ACTUALLY DOING IT in front of them. Your white board, smart board, or even just your screen are best for written work.
  4. Ask questions, make sure kids are with you and paying attention
  5. Think aloud -- verbalize what goes through your head when you do it.

That’s it. It’s really much more simple than you think

You DO the task or skill while you tell the kids HOW and WHAT you’re thinking when you do it.

For example, if i were modelling a Document Analysis sheet, I would put it on the ELMO or screen or whatever. I would read through the document, starting with the sourcing info, and start filling out the sheet on the screen while thinking aloud.

“So the first blank says ‘Document Number or Letter’ and I see the heading “Document B” right up here on my page. So I am going to fill in a letter B on that blank.

Next, the Doc Analysis sheet asks for a title. I can’t find a title here or here, so I guess there isn’t one. I’m going to leave that blank -- you all leave yours blank, too.

Over here it asks for the author. I see here, on the sourcing line that the author is Woodrow Wilson so I am going to write his name here, in the box labeled “author”. No, we can’t abbreviate. Does your paper look like mine so far?

Next, our Doc Analysis asks for a date. Look, I found it up here, in the sourcing line -- 1917. Do you all see where I found that?
Over here, it asks if it is a primary or secondary source. Hmmm. I remember that a primary source was written by someone who was THERE at the time and a secondary source was written by someone who heard about it or read about it. Since this was written by Woodrow Wilson and it was written during the time in which he was in office, I think it’s a primary source. I’m going to check the “primary source” box. Do you all see why I decided this was a primary source document?

Do you see how modeling needs think-alouds? I will leave you with my Ideas for Think-ALouds. Because we, as college-educated people, tend to be good readers, we do a lot of these things unconsciously. Here are some ideas if you need them for helping you through a Think-Aloud. I also have these Think-aloud strategies available digitally formatted for a bookmark, if you would like. Just email and ask me.

·         “I bet this is going to be about …”
·         “I bet that the Mongols are going to lose at some point …”
Ask questions
·         “Why did Mansa Musa do that?”
·         “What is the author talking about?”
·         “What does that word mean?”
·         “Wow! That’s amazing!”
·         “Well that guy just did a stupid thing”
·         “No, Harry Potter! Don’t do that!”
Make connections
·         “That’s like what we read about with Buddhism”
·         “That’s like the movie I saw last summer”
·         “That reminds me of a poem we read in Language Arts class”
Make mental pictures
·         “So the Aztecs are in Mexico, in the map I’m picturing”
·         “I bet those elephants of Hannibal were skinny and cold in those mountains!”
·         “I’m picturing that guy as tall and mean”

Try to model (strut, swagger, and work it!) a skill or strategy with your classes. Then, drop me a line and let me know how it goes! As always, I want to hear! newmantr@pcsb.org

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pumpkin Season

Pumpkin Season!

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it’s Pumpkin Season. When I was a kid, we used to have pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving and maybe some pumpkin bread and that was that. But the world has changed. Now, we have pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin dip, Pumpkin Pie Oreos, Pumpkin Spice M&Ms, pumpkin pancakes and even pumpkin vodka(!?!). (I’m not sure how I feel about that last one...)

Things change and tasty trends get huge. It happens in the world of pumpkin-flavored foods and it happens in the world of education trends.

Remember when we used to do group-work instead of collaborative structures? Did these “collaborative structures” become the new “pumpkin” -- the literal flavor of the week? Wait, how long has this pumpkin flavor thing been crazy anyway? (2008? 09?) Wait, what's the difference between group work and collaborative structures, anyway?

Surprisingly, the difference is more than you might think! And this pumpkin trend is here for the foreseeable future, anyway. And so are collaborative structures.

Group work is exactly what you think it is - when kids kind of work together or talk together while they're working. Collaborative structures are when kids engage in a specific learning task with (duh) structures in place. I used a lot of group work in my classroom that I wish had been collaborative structures.

We all know that collaborative structures have to have certain characteristics and we’re not always sure what those characteristics are or how to make them successful.

Let’s look at what makes a collaborative structure. It takes pies, or, I mean, P.I.E.S. Pumpkin, if you prefer.... Or apple pie, if you’re sick of pumpkin everything....

PIES is an acronym to help us remember what collaborative structures are all about.
P- Positive Interdependence (each team member’s efforts are required and has a unique contribution)
I - Individual Accountability (each team member’s work will shape their grade)
E - Equal Participation (each team member has an equal contribution to the learning & product)
S - Simultaneous Interaction (each team member is working toward the goal at once  -- not just one at a time)

What does this look like, really?

For me, the easiest way to turn my group-work into collaborative structures is twofold:
  1. give every kid a specific job
  2. be clear on my behavior expectations

First, I require my students to “get a job”. This is not optional. They can choose within their groups who gets which role. None of these are earth shattering and they generally depend on the collaborative structure.

  • leader/editor
  • recorder/secretary
  • fact-checker/researcher
  • spokesperson/webmaster/press secretary
  • materials manager
  • facilitator/encourager
  • timekeeper
  • summarizer
  • elaborator
  • quality control manager
  • runner (between groups)

I recently did a collaborative activity with a colleague. First period, I had forgotten the roles ( I was dragging that morning) and the activity went okay. During second period, I remembered the roles and the activity went sooo much more smoothly -- and the kids “got it” better that period!

Now, if you only have three kids per group then find the most important roles and make sure every group has the same three jobs as every other group. We don’t assign jobs because every kid needs to feel special. We assign jobs so every kid has an important role within his or her group.

Kids also generally need their collaborative behavior expectations spelled out. So many teachers have so many different expectations -- you need to be clear in your class. Do kids turn their desks? Sit on the floor? Can they move around? Can they multitask? Some of you have read this before, but I have a couple of rules I call the “Oh Group!” rules. It’s my cutesy way of reminding kids how to behave in collaborative learning. Please go with your own if you have favorites, but if you need a starting point, try these...

On task
On topic
On your seat
Only your group (talk to)
Ok volume (level 1)

There are specific collaborative structures to try, and we will discuss those another week. But in the meantime, try using these two rules (1. specific behavior expectations and 2. individual student “jobs”) to make your group-work a little more collaborative.  

Some trends last a year or two (remember the Chai Tea trend? or New Coke? Crystal Pepsi? Green Ketchup?) and some stick around (pumpkin pie. And pumpkin waffles. And pumpkin cookies. And, I think I’m getting hungry....)

Pumpkin P.I.E.S are classic for Thanksgiving dessert (even if they weren’t at the First Real Thanksgiving in St. Augustine) and P.I.E.S is a classic way of thinking of collaborative structures.

So go get a Pumpkin Mocha coffee and think about trends that have staying power -- and how to incorporate P.I.E.S and jobs in your class collaboration -- and let me know if you notice the difference in effectiveness and efficiency of collaboration. As always, email me at newmantr@pcsb.org

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Keep Calm and Struggle On

So, my four year old got a bike LAST Christmas but she was a little chicken about riding it for awhile. It does have training wheels, but it was still a big step up from a tricycle. Over the summer, she got brave and gave it a few tries.

We talked about riding a bike. She watched mom (and a neighbor kid) ride a bike. We practiced in the driveway while I held onto the bike. You know, gradual release.

She wanted me to hold the bike while she rode the whole time, but you can only take that so far. At some point you have to let go.

So I did let go. And my kid crashed.

She skinned her knee, cried, and everything.

And then, after a pep-talk and a band-aid, she got back on her bike. I had to hold on for a bit again. She was timid about it but she gradually gained a little confident.

This time, she rode it a little further before she crashed. And this crash wasn’t as bad. No blood, no bandaid. Just a little scratch. And a few encouraging words.

And she was a little braver about getting back on.

The third time she rode by herself, she rode quite a distance. She didn’t crash until we were trying to maneuver an odd sidewalk curve.

And when she fell, she caught herself and caught her bike. She landed on her feet. No injury.

Now, she’s a kid who can ride a bike. She’s not “learning to ride a bike” -- she’s a bike rider. She has the skill. She has muscle memory and the confidence and the knowledge.  

I tell this as a metaphor for teaching social studies.

First of all, I did explain how to ride a bike. But I didn’t just tell her and then get mad when she fell off. I had a few steps in between. I used gradual release. I told her how to ride a bike. Then I helped her ride a bike. Then, she rode it by herself. That’s gradual release - “I do”, “We do”, “you do”.

Kids have to struggle through learning new concepts, new skills, new content. Gradual release will help.

You can’t just explain something and expect a kid to do it right the first time. That didn’t work when I learned to hit a baseball, when I learned to drive, and when I learned to balance a checkbook. So often, we try something with our kids and when it doesn’t go well, we give up.

We utter the Teacher’s Words of Doom -- “My Kids Can’t Do That”.

So what if your kids or your lesson crash? That’s how we learn to fix what we did wrong and do it better next time!

When you say “my kids can’t do that”, you’re really saying “I don’t know how to teach them how to do that”.

One of my favorite quotes that I keep by my desk is from Teddy Roosevelt. He said,Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell 'em, 'Certainly I can!' Then get busy and find out how to do it.”
If you don’t know how to teach your kids how to write a decent DBQ essay, go to DBQ training on Oct 20. Or ask for help from me. Or your DBQ Guru at your school. Or ask your English/Language Arts colleague how he or she teach essay writing. Gradually Release that skill.
Don’t just decide that they can’t do it.

If you don’t know how to teach your kids the complicated concept of the Electoral College, ask me. Or ask your Civics/Government colleagues. Or email the folks at the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship. Then, gradually release it.
Don’t just decide that it’s too hard for your kids.

If you don’t know how to teach your kids to work in collaborative structures, ask your reading, science, or math coach. Or me. Or your administrator. Or your AVID colleagues. Then, gradually release the collaboration skills.

Don’t just decide they can’t handle it.

Let your kids struggle. Don’t be so nice that you give them all the answers and never let them work to figure it out on their own. We have to let them fall down and scrape their knees, figuratively. We, as teachers, can’t do all the thinking for the kids. We can’t tell them all the answers. Let them struggle.

We have to let go of the bike.
Gradually released, struggles and all.

How do you approach new things with your kids? Do you gradually release them? Can you stand it when they struggle? How do you figure that out? As always, I love to hear from you!


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Facepalm! Assessment Questions from the Past

Facepalm!  Assessment Questions from the Past

Quick Quiz -- two multiple choice questions for you to answer --

  1. How many American troops died at the battle in Lexington?
a. Five b. Six   c. Seven        d. Eight

2. What signal did Paul Revere ask the spy to send?
a. The Bat Signal
             b. One lantern if by sea, two lanterns if by land
c. One lantern if by land, two lanterns if by sea
d. One lantern if Lexington, two lanterns if by Concord

True confession -- those are really, mortifyingly bad test questions from a test I wrote in MY class, circa 2007.



Somebody smack Me-From-2007 on the head and tell me why the heck a kid should know those things. What’s the point of memorizing those facts?

Embarrassingly enough, I don’t even know the answer to #1 anymore -- and I USED TO think it was so important that kids needed TESTS and GRADES on it!!! And now I don’t even know the answer.

(I can’t believe I just owned up to those bad test questions to all these people, digitally. Not only do you know the lousy tests I gave, but now it’s on the internet. Gulp.)

I read something once (in Bruce Lesh’s brilliant book Why Won’t You Just Tell Us The Answers? p.10)) that has stuck in my head for years. He is a Social Studies teacher who tried to learn a little about how other content areas taught. He says:
Doing math is not about having the teacher give students an answer, require them to memorize it, and then regurgitate the answer on an assessment. In math classes, students are taught whole, prime, positive, and negative numbers. Most important (or frustrating, depending on how you felt about math class), they are taught to “show their work”. Math is about understanding general principles that guide the behavior of numbers and then applying those principles in a variety of scenarios  to generate mathematical solutions to problems. To reach this end, students learn the tools, mind-set, and habits of thinking mathematically so that they can then apply those skills to problems. Math had a lot to offer my investigation of how to better interest my students in the past.

Can you imagine how silly that would be? Can you imagine giving kids the following list of values and saying “Now, you have a test on these on Friday.” I may write the question in different ways, but these are the values you need to remember.
  1. 77
  2. x=3
  3. y=234
  4. 42

But have you ever done the same thing in Social Studies -- and NOT FELT SILLY ENOUGH? Have you given your kids a list of terms, names, and concepts and then had them essentially identify or match those terms with their definitions or descriptors?

Scroll up and look at my bad questions again. Don’t worry. I still have my face in my hands so I don’t have to watch you do it. Did you notice that they are just as bad as the math example above? You can guess what the study guide looked like --something like, “Know how many people died at Lexington” and “what was the signal for Paul Revere”

Who cares? Knowing how many people who died in the battle of Lexington is the same as know that x=2. No one cares if you know the answer -- if you don’t know HOW to think about the content. I can’t THINK of a reason why anyone would need to know either of those things.

Seriously. Facts don't mean anything if people don't use them for something more than trivia. I don't think that facts without skills have a lot of purpose.

Neither does the state. Or the district.

The truth of the matter is, the days of teaching only low-level, recall is over, if it ever really was a thing to begin with.

If we really think about it, we DO want kids to think civically, historically, economically, geographically. That’s what I want from the kid who votes and serves on a jury. That’s also what I want from the person who fixes my car, works at my grocery store, does my pest control, cleans my teeth, or maintains my parks.

Our assessments*, as maddening as they are, are not just facts, dates, vocab lists, and battle winners.  Our assessments ask kids to analyze, compare, explain, connect, and interpret. They ask kids to THINK about our country, our world, and our governments.

*By “our assessments” I mean the state EOCs (for 7th grade Civics and 11th grade US History) as well as the DD-EOCs (district-developed exams for all other SS courses)

Those tests follow the 20-60-20 rule. The percentages are rough, not exact. What’s the 20-60-20 rule?
  • Twenty percent of the questions are Level 1, low level complexity (recall questions, hopefully about something bigger-picture than “how many people died at Lexington”)
  • Sixty percent of the questions are Level 2, moderate level complexity (describe, explain, compare, classify etc.)
  • Twenty percent of the questions are Level 3, high complexity level questions (evaluate, use evidence, draw conclusions, etc)

So how do we help our kids transition from questions like my lousy ones above to these moderate and high level complexity?

We introduce more Level 2 (moderate complexity) and Level 3 (high complexity) questions into our teaching and our classroom assessments.

It’s tough, I know.

But if we want our kids to be historic, civic, geographic, and economic thinkers, as well as successful test takers, we need to help them think at those higher levels and we need to have them practice using those types of questions.

Check out this cheat-sheet below of ideas for teaching and assessing at each level. Then, practice using questions and teaching activities from each level -- shoot for (eventually) the 20-60-20 proportions...

Recall and Reproduction
(DOK 1)
Skills and Concepts/Basic Reasoning
(DOK 2)
Strategic Thinking/Complex Reasoning
(DOK 3)
·         Identify who, what, when, where, and why
·         Recall facts, terms, concepts, trends, generalizations and theories
·         Use a variety of tools
·         Recognize or identify specific information contained in graphics
·         Identify specific information in maps, charts, tables, graphs or drawings
·         Describe or explain how or why
·         Give an example
·         Describe and explain issues and problems, purposes, patterns, sources, reasons, cause and effect, multiple causation, significance or impact, relationships, points of view or processes
·         Compare/contrast people, places, events, purposes, and concepts
·         Classify, sort items into meaningful categories
·         Convert information from one form to another
·         Use concepts to solve problems
·         Use evidence to justify
·         Propose and evaluate solutions to problems
·         Recognize and explain misconceptions
·         Cite evidence and develop a logical argument for concepts
·         Reason and draw conclusions
·         Disseminate among plausible answers
·         Analyze similarities and differences in issues and problems
·         Apply concepts to new situations
·         Make connections

Lisa Simpson (of The Simpsons, the-still-running-in-its-26th-year TV show) once said, “Grade me, look at me, evaluate and rank me! Oh I’m good, good, good, and oh so smart! Grade me!”

I’m pretty sure that she would love these new style of assessment questions. But the rest of our kids? Not so much.

We have training coming 10/22 on this topic for 6-12 grade SS teachers. Stay tuned. And turn up the complexity in your class.

Need to mock me for my bad questions? Have thoughts on higher complexity assessments? As always, email me at newmantr@pcsb.org