Tuesday, April 28, 2015

6 Top Lies I Tole My Students

I lied to them all the time. Here are a few of the most common lies I told my kids.

6 . “I’m really 73 years old”. I just use really good moisturizer. I did this purely for my own amusement.  It was funny to watch middle schoolers try to decide if I was telling the truth or messing with them. They still want to believe in crazy stuff. PS  -- I was in my 20s when I told this. It was more absurd then :) I stopped telling it around age 30 when they stopped asking me if I was teasing.

5 . “That’s against my religion” My catch-all excuse for anything I didn’t want to deal with was that it was against my (fake) “religion”. Class parties were against my “religion”. Free time was against my “religion”. Candy was against my “religion”. Chewing gum was really against my “religion”. Texting in class was against my “religion”. It took a while before some kid asked what my religion WAS.

I now tell them that I am a Newmanite (since I’m Newman). My maiden name was Berlage so I was Berlagian before that. The kids realized it was a silly way of saying things weren’t “My Way” of doing things. They would tell new kids about things that were against the teacher’s religion. I still tell this lie to students.

4. “I will lose my job if you do ___” I told kids that the things they did would cause me to lose my job. I often made things more dramatic than they actually were. But it scared the heck out of my kids when I used this line about opening the windows of my classroom (a no-no, true, but not lose-my-job worthy), kids breaking stuff (like my projector or a desk), or about them cheating on tests

I was probably not going to lose my job over those things. But certainly fewer kids did them. And that’s saying something. I don’t really have to tell this lie much anymore. But it works when I do.

3. You really need to know this. They don’t, really.Not all of it. Especially not the details. At no point in my life -- even as a Social Studies Teacher(!) has anyone ever asked me in what year the Maryland Colony was founded or what happened in the Tet Offensive. Not once. Not even on Trivia Night! I got over this lie and I hardly ever tell it anymore.

2. I don’t have favorite students. I tried. I really, really did try! I tried to care about all the kids the same. But some kids are just more likeable than others. Some kids were easier to connect with than others. Some kids drove me crazy! Some kids I got through to  -- and some, I didn’t. But I could never admit that to my students. I couldn’t afford to lose the occasional attention of Jasmina by telling her she was annoying. I couldn’t afford to lose the connection with Javonte by letting him know that he got on my nerves. I couldn’t lose the rest of my class by letting them all doubt whether I cared about all of them or was just pretending. My relationship with my class was too important. I lied about that every day. Now that I don’t have my own students, I don’t get to tell this one. But I totally would.

1. You can’t do this so I will do it for you. I honestly believed for years that my kids couldn't do a lot. They couldn't read the textbook. They didn't have the background knowledge for the content I was teaching. They just couldn't do it.

So instead of teaching them how to do things, I did the things for the kids. Out of kindness and love. Seriously!

They couldn't read the textbook and glean the important info? I would put that important info in a power point! They couldn't understand important cause and effects? I would tell them the causes and effects! They couldn't write well? I would let them write short answers or bullet points! Their lack of background knowledge made them struggle through understanding of complicated pieces of history? I would simplify the moments into a cute worksheet or handout so they didn’t have to wade through the messy stuff.

When I believed that my kids couldn't do things, then I was right. My kids didn’t do those things. And I didn’t make them!

But -- the only way to get better at something is to practice. Can I keep my non-swimming kid on the beach for her whole life? Or do I teach her to swim? Buy her velcro shoes until she’s twenty? Or teach her to tie her shoes?

Do I stop expecting my students to read, write, and think -- or do I teach them and make them practice and practice and practice -- until they improve?

The biggest barrier to student success is a teacher who thinks they can’t.

I definitely don’t tell this lie anymore.

You know what made me stop telling this lie? The slight streak of competitiveness in me and a little ego. I heard someone say “Tracy, your kids can’t do x, y, and z”. And I thought “The heck they can’t!!! I will make ‘em do x, y, and z!”

And it was hard work and I had to try some different, out-of-the-box things. But, dangit, my kids DID do it! Who said they can’t?

I challenge you to look at the lies you tell -- especially this last one. Do you tell it? Or do you find a way to teach the skills your kids need? Struggles and ideas? As always, I love to hear from you! Email me! newmantr@pcsb.org

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Beyonce and Lincoln: Public and Private

There was a small internet kerfuffle recently when photos of superstar Beyonce -- without makeup -- were leaked online.

Beyonce, of course, has tons of public pictures of herself available to the average Googler. She’s a pretty big star and has been for almost twenty years!

But there’s a difference between a picture Beyonce meant to share and one she didn’t. There’s a big difference between public and private.

The internet is full of the problems like that from politicians to starlets to regular Joes. Because, really, we write and create things for two different purposes -- for public (published) use or for private use.

When we look at history, documents tend to fall into the same two categories -- public (published) and private. Meaning, stuff that’s meant to be read and stuff that’s not. Often, there’s a difference between the two.

Abraham Lincoln is a person who sometimes wrote one thing in his personal writings and said something very different in his public writings and speeches.

For example, what did Abraham Lincoln REALLY think about slavery?

His private letters say:
"Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would, directly, or indirectly, interfere with their slaves, or with them, about their slaves? If they do, I wish to assure you, as once a friend, and still, I hope, not an enemy, that there is no cause for such fears. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume IV, "Letter to Alexander H. Stephens" (December 22, 1860), p. 160.

But another private letter says;
"I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume VII, "Letter to Albert G. Hodges" (April 4, 1864), p. 281.

But the Emancipation Proclamation says
“all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free;” Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation January 1, 1863

What beliefs were personal and which were political? What did he really believe? Did his beliefs evolve? Or was there a big difference between public and private beliefs?

It’s complicated.

And, it’s hard to tell without a lot of context surrounding the documents.

And, it’s possible to be anti-slavery without being an abolitionist. Politics are complicated. People are complicated.   

When we read historical accounts, we find documents that were meant to be read by others -- newspapers, speeches, legislation. We also find documents that were NOT necessarily meant to be written by many others -- shopping lists, receipts, diaries, personal letters.

We do this personally, in our own modern lives, too. Sometimes we post things publicly on social media or in emails where we expect others to read them. And then sometimes, we write things just for ourselves -- like lists, receipts, notes.

So while the idea of writing for public OR private readers is not new, it’s time to transfer that idea to our classrooms.

We have two basic types of writing in class:
·         We can have our kids write for public -- that is, for publication, for others to read, for a 

red pen and a big grade. We can have them do final writing assignments where we expect fully-formed thoughts, correct grammar, and real punctuation, like essays, articles, posters, blog posts, final projects.


·         We can have our kids write for private -- for learning, for themselves to read and think through. “Thinking is clarified by writing” says the DBQ Project’s Core Beliefs. We give kids “writing for learning” tasks -- lists, brainstorms, quick writes, document analysis sheets, exit tickets, etc. -- writing where kids are thinking-on-paper and figuring things out. Writing where kids don’t necessarily have to have all the right  answers or use full sentences. (This is the kind of writing I LOVED as a teacher because I didn’t have to grade it too closely.)

It’s okay to do both. Really, it’s important to do both.

“Writing for publication” is often used as a type of summative assessment -- to see how much the students have learned.

“Writing for learning” is usually used as a type of formative assessment -- like a check-in to monitor student learning and see where our students are with content and skills and how we need to adapt or adjust our teaching.

For ideas of “Writing to Learn” assignments, check out this handy list from Colorado State University http://wac.colostate.edu/intro/pop5.cfm

Take a look at your assignments. Are they “writing for publication” or “writing for learning”? Are you getting to both in your class?  What does each type of writing tell us about Abraham Lincoln’s views on slavery? What does each type of writing tell us about what our students are learning? As always, I love to hear! Email me newmantr@pcsb.org


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: Making Connections

Do you remember the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” that went around the internet a few years ago? In the game, players try to see how many degrees of separation are between any single actor and Kevin Bacon, who has been in wide variety of movies.

For example, Elvis Presley’s Bacon Number is 2. Elvis was in Blue Hawaii with John Archer who was in the Little Sister with Kevin Bacon.

The game, which has spawned two websites and several apps as well as a Google search (‘Bacon number: Elvis Presley’) is even touted as the “precursor to social media”. Twitter thanks you, Kevin Bacon!

It’s fun to make connections.

Like we talked about last week, our students really struggle with Level 3 thinking. Level 3 thinking often involves thinking abstractly, making connections, and planning with evidence.

I want to challenge you to have your kids use Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (or a number of connection strategies below) to help them think about connections within and outside of content.

Here are my caveats:
a.            Don’t tell them the answers! Please..... no matter how “off” they are. Make THEM come up with better answers.
b.            Model the Thinking! Demonstrate how you would do this. Show them what it looks like!
c.            Gradually Release it! You do the strategy. Then, try it whole-class. Then, do it in small groups. Then have them do it on their own. That’s how skill-learning works!

So here are a BUNCH of strategies to help kids practice Level 3 thinking. I challenge you -- I double dog dare you -- to try to use one every day. Mix it up or keep it consistent. But do SOME Level 3 thinking every day.


Agree or Disagree – WITH EVIDENCE
a.            How? Have kids decide if they agree or disagree with a particular statement AND give evidence from text.
b.            Like? Statements like “The Red Cross is the most helpful International Organization” or “Brown vs. Board was the biggest event in the Civil Rights movement” or “The executive branch has more power than the judicial branch”
c.            Why? If they can use evidence to justify their opinions, they can recognize when it’s used elsewhere.

2.   Hypothetical Situations
a.            How? Have kids create plausible hypotheses about what they know about government – and defend their hypotheses with evidence.  
b.            Like? For example:  “Abraham Lincoln would believe _____ about federal income taxes based on…..” Or “If there was a major hurricane to hit Tampa Bay, the organization _____ would be the biggest help to people in need because … ”
c.            Why? One of the “types” of Level 3 thinking is making predictions and using evidence as support.

3.   Reason and Draw Conclusions
a.            How? Help the students to practice drawing conclusions based on a reading that doesn’t explicitly state them.
b.            Like? For example, have students draw conclusions about what group(s) the 14th amendment was talking about when it was passed and what groups might be debated  about, under the 14th amendment today.
c.            Why? One of the types of Level 3 thinking isreasoning and drawing conclusions”.

4.   Now and Then
a.            How? Have kids apply certain principles to historical and modern scenarios.
b.            Like? For example. What might have been an example of the “right to bear arms” during colonial times and what might be a modern example – and why are the two examples different?
c.            Why? Another facet of Level 3 thinking is applying a concept to a new situation

5.   Compare and Contrast (with nuances)
a.            How? Have students compare two different constitutions, amendments, court cases, international organizations. They need to come up with more than just one similarity or difference and they need to get past the obvious.
b.            Like? For example, Plessy vs. Ferguson and Brown vs. Board are not just different because they had different “answers” to separate vs. equal. They’re different because one involved an adult, the other, a child. One led to MORE segregation and the other to LESS segregation. Look at the justice’s opinions they gave.
c.            Why? Comparing and contrasting with evidence and nuances is a Level 3 skill.

6.   Explain a pattern –
a.            How? Have kids explain a certain pattern.
b.            Like? For example, give them two different years’ electoral maps and have them explain the difference in the voting results. Give them two different federal budget categories and have kids hypothesize or explain why spending rose, fell, or held steady.
c.            Why? Explaining a pattern is another example of Level 3 thinking

7.   New Situation
a.            How? Give kids a scenario and see if they can apply a Civics concept to that new scenario.
b.            Like? For example, how does the 1st amendment of free speech apply to online bullying? How does the concept of social contract apply in areas with extremely low civic participation?
c.            Why? Being able to apply a principle or concept to a different scenario is another example of Level 3 thinking.

8.   Evaluate effectiveness
a.            How? Have kids evaluate the effectiveness of an event, a law, or a concept, using evidence.
b.            Like? How well did Brown vs. Board desegregate schools? How well did it desegregate America as a whole? Where did it work best? Where did it work least? How well did the Federalist Papers influence Americans and modern politics? In what aspects of modern life do people still believe in its concepts? Where don’t they?
c.            Why? If students can evaluate the effectiveness of something, they first know enough and second think deeply enough about a topic to make those decisions. They key is WHY

I double-dog dare you to try one of these every day until your EOC to give your kids consistent practice in Level 3 thinking.

Did you try one? Or more than one? As always, let me know! And who’s your favorite Bacon connection?

By the way, my Bacon Number is infinity. Because, you know, I haven’t been in any movies. But Charlie Chaplin has a Bacon Number of 2! Who knew?


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Next Level

At one point in our late-twenties (after moving between more apartments than we could count), my roommate had an “aha” moment. All of a sudden, she realized that “U-Haul” meant “you haul it”. Ha! It was funny!

Have you ever had a “U-Haul” moment? When you make a connection that wasn’t there before?

Our kids really struggle to make connections sometimes.

So, across the district, we-the-secondary-social-studies teachers have rocked the Level 1 and 2 questions. Our kids are doing well with those.

But overall, our students really do lousy with Level 3 questions.

I mean really lousy. They would do better if they guessed.

Our kids have trouble connecting. They have trouble connecting what they know with the world around them (“What? You mean Rome is a real place still TODAY?”) They have trouble connecting what they learned in English/Language Arts class to History (“You mean I should capitalize in this class too?”). They have trouble connecting what they learned in a previous year to a current year (What? We learned about the Declaration of Independence in Civics class last year? For real?) They have trouble connecting what they learned LAST SEMESTER to this semester (No way! I’ve never heard of The Progressive Era! What’s that?) They have trouble applying class content to their real lives (Seriously? I should be really responsible with my money?)

Even kids who are traditionally better academic performers sometimes struggle with making connections from one class to another and one concept to another.

One of the things that DOK Level 3 Thinking asks kids to do is make connections.

It’s really hard for their adolescent brains.

Let’s look at the Depth of Knowledge descriptions. I found these Social Studies-specific examples from Dr. Karin Hess with the National Center for Assessment. Take a real look at the Level 3 column.....
DOK and Social Studies Examples
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

Level 3 is where our kids really, really struggle.

You know why? I think it’s tied in with their struggles to make connections.

We have talked quite a bit -- and done numerous trainings -- about using Level 3 questions in your class and on your classroom assessments.

But we haven’t really thought too much about how to teach  and practice  Level 3 thinking in class.

One of my favorite strategies is the Connect-Extend-Challenge, based out of the Harvard Project Zero thinking routines.  If you have never heard of it, check this out. If you have heard of it, now is the time to dust it off and use it!

It goes like this.

I know that you know to first explain it, second model it, and third have the class try it whole-class before you assign it as an individual task. Gradual Release and all...

Here’s how it works.
  1. Teach something. Honestly, just teach anything new.
  2. Explain the three terms to you class, like I just explain them to you below
  3. Ask them to tell you if what they just learned (in step 1) CONNECTED (backed up), EXTENDED (added to) or CHALLENGED (went against) what they already knew about the topic. It’s the end of the year. It’s pretty likely that the kids have SOME background knowledge by this point.
  4. Kids can answer with more than one answer if they want – “This part EXTENDED my knowledge, but this other part just SUPPORTED it”
  5. Have them write their answer and explain it in a couple of sentences.

Previous knowledge can be from the previous class period, from English/Language Arts, from the movies, from life, from anything.

Don’t limit where they get their previous info from. Goodness knows it’s rare and precious enough!

  • CONNECT: Students can write how what they just learned CONNECTS (or supports or confirms) to something they already knew (“I can connect that I knew Rome was a city and learned when that city was founded” or “I can connect that the United Nations is that same UN we saw on CNN student news”)


  • EXTEND: Students can write how what they just learned EXTENDS (or adds to) their knowledge. (“I already knew that we had a Civil War. Now I know that South Carolina was the first state to secede and start it off” or “I already knew that the Vietnam War was about communism. Now I know how the North was Communist and near China”)


  • CHALLENGE: Students can write how what they just learned CHALLENGES (or goes against) what they already knew. Or what challenging questions do they have now?(“I thought China was capitalist because of all the Chinese goods we buy. Now I know that China is communist, but a different kind of communist” or “If Reconstruction was so good for African-Americans, why didn’t it “stick”? )

Please don’t tell them “the” answers”!

This is a powerful strategy to help kids a) connect new content to previous knowledge and b) evaluate that new learning. This helps kids make connections and build schema and get in the practice using Level 3 thinking.

Will you try it? Will you try it frequently and see if your kids can get more comfortable with Level 3 thinking? I had traditional 6th graders at a struggling school really rock this beautifully yesterday -- I know your kids can do it too!

Let me know how it goes! newmantr@pcsb.org