Wednesday, March 30, 2016

It Says/ I Say/ And So

** Welcome to a WAYBACK Wednesday email – where Tracy shares a tip from wayback – this time from wayback in 2012! Still relevant, still helpful, (I hope). Enjoy!

Michael Stipe of the band REM once said, ““Sometimes I'm confused by what I think is really obvious. But what I think is really obvious obviously isn't obvious...”.

Does that sound like your students sometimes? Or even your class?
Are your administrators looking for “higher-order” thinking in your classroom? Want to make it easy to prep and obvious to your walkthrough team or evaluating administrator?

Students often think that reading is a passive task – that once they read it (or even look over it) they will get a magic light bulb over their heads that will clarify and expand on the reading. And they get frustrated when that doesn’t happen. Hmmph. I get frustrated when that doesn’t happen too! (I’m talking to you, IRS and Turbotax…..)

One quick and easy way to help them learn to dig deeper into text, to help them react, respond, summarize, and infer is a quick strategy called “It Says/I Say/And So”. This strategy is good for using DURING reading and AFTER reading.

It’s not too complicated. The teacher poses a couple of questions. The students make a chart with three columns (four, if you count the questions as a column). The first column says “It Says”. The second column says “I say”. The third column says “And So”. They read the text (text means textbook, document, article, chapter, editorial, or whatever you want them to read.) and answer the questions through the columns about what they’ve read.

Column 1—“It Says”: As the students read they answer the first column, what “It Says”. By “it” we mean the text they are reading whether it’s a textbook section, a primary source, an article, etc. This is a brief summary. This is where students find information from the text that will help answer the question.

Column 2 – “I Say”: In the second column, they can put it in their own words or their own views. They can think about what they already know about that information or what they learned in class or in another reading

Column 3 – “And So”: In the third column, they can infer and extrapolate from what they learned. Combine what the text says with what you know to come up with the answer. I kind of like to use the phrase “This means” here (like I do on DBQ arguments). So here is where students have to practice their higher-order thinking. You can, of course, model this a few times before they “get” it. Real thinking takes practice!

Here’s an example, based on using a short excerpt the Declaration of the Rights of Man (from the French Revolution)

Here’s the excerpt:
1. Men are born free and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be based only on public utility.
2. The aim of every political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible (can’t be taken away) rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.
3. The sources of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation; no body, no individual can exercise authority that does not proceed from it in plain terms.
Here is what it looks like with a couple of questions:
What do the French think about government?
Men are born free and equal and the government can’t take that away.
The French treated most of the people (the 3rd estate) pretty horribly. They really didn’t have any rights before.
They feel like they have to spell it all out since they really didn’t have any rights before now. They want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
According to the French, who gives the government its power?
Rulers get their power from the people
If the leaders get their power form the people, that means it’s NOT from God or anything else.
That means we give the rulers their power – so we can take it away, too!
Think of it like the DOK levels. Level one, you can find with one finger on the answer in the text, like the “it says” column. Level two, you can find the answer with two fingers in two different places in the text, like the “I say” column. Level three, you can find the answer with three fingers – two on two different places in the text and one finger on your head to represent thinking about what you bring to the table, the “and so” column.

I would try it with a textbook passage, first, to help ME learn how to make the questions. I would also make sure I had some answers in mind for each section, so I know if I wrote a good question for this assignment or not.

Anyone willing to try this out? Or need help making a chart or questions? I can’t wait to hear how it goes! Have a great week!


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Washington, Trump, and Clinton

Despite my love of history and civics, I really dislike election season. I love to vote, of course, but I hate all the anger and trash-talk it brings. It’s why I don’t do a lot with social media. My tolerance for inflammatory political statements is pretty low.

We see people trash talk at protests, in political conversations, on social media, and in person. It bothers me more when that trash talk comes from kids. Kids are ugly to each other a lot. It can’t possibly help when, some days,  it seems like the whole country is setting a bad example of discourse.

Most teachers of US History remember George Washington’s Farewell Address. We often reference  it because it warns our country against political parties.

Primary source break!

sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

“It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”
Many folks say that this current election is the ugliest since ...  (fill in the blank with your favorite ugly election -- (1800, 1876, 1860, 2000?) There are many, many factors that go into ugliness in an election. I won’t dig into that here.
But we can think about conversation, discourse, and manners.
I would like to think about another George Washington resource I used to use in my classroom -- The Rules of Civility.  Our first president didn’t create these rules; they were a standard booklet that teachers used to make students like GW copy to practice handwriting and teach manners.   
But George Washington was known for referencing, quoting, and using these rules in his speeches, writings, and conversations. Here are a couple that I love:
1. Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.

47. Mock not nor Jest at anything of Importance break [n]o Jest that are Sharp Biting and if you Deliver anything witty and Pleasant abstain from Laughing thereat yourself.
58. Let your Conversation be without Malice or Envy, for 'tis a Sig[n o]f a Tractable and Commendable Nature: And in all Causes of Passion [ad]mit Reason to Govern.

66. Speak not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest Scoff at none although they give Occasion.

86. In Disputes, be not So Desirous to Overcome as not to give Liberty to each one to deliver his Opinion and Submit to the Judgment of the Major Part especially if they are Judges of the Dispute.

I want to challenge you to think deliberately and carefully about how you teach civility in your social studies classes.

If we don’t teach respectful disagreement and civil discourse in social studies courses -- we are not helping our nation. I’m sure our election CAN -- and MAY -- get uglier. But I’d like to think that we can learn to fight more “cleanly”.

I have two suggestions for improving the quality of our political conversations. They actually go together quite nicely.

  1. Debate and/or Thrash Out: The more practice our students have with debate, the better they get. The more academic debates our students participate in, the more they learn how to disagree without name calling, insults, hostility, or manipulation.  Have them debate big, important issues in history, economics, and government -- or let them practice debating smaller issues.

And don’t forget your Thrash Out with your DBQ. This is the best pre-writing strategy we have. It gives kids the chance to practice their claims and evidence in an engaging and competitive way -- while ALSO teaching them polite debate skills. It allows them to argue something multi-faceted with academic evidence.

Has there ever been a time when the lack of these skills were MORE needed in our country than over the past few weeks and months?

2. Historical Talking Tools:  Many of you know them, but it you haven't used these sentence starters to teach your kids what truly academic civil discourse sounds like -- PLEASE use them! This is the poster version of the Historical Talking Tools and here is the bookmark version. These are sentence starters you can use to explicitly teach your students how to speak and debate academically and historically. They are so valuable in helping kids learn to debate.

Our country is based on debate. Our constitution is written to provide healthy avenues for debate. We want our students to learn how do disagree in productive ways.

George Washington warned us about ugly political parties -- and he felt strongly about manners and conversation. How do your students learn about this?

How do you teach civil discourse? I’d love more ideas! As always, email me at

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Countdown to Spring Break

I’m usually a go-getter. I usually work hard at my job and at home. I run a caffeine-fueled, high-energy work day. And then I go home and run full-speed with my little ones. And when they go to bed I run around doing chores and errands.

But .....

Wow. Have you seen that sun this week? Have you seen that beautiful blue sky today? Have you felt that 76-degree temperature? Have you counted down the hours until spring break?

I’m tired. I’m sit-on-the-couch-and-surf-the-internet-after-work-tired. Daydream-about-spring-break-tired. Want-to-relax-at-the-beach tired. Maybe-that-laundry/messy-floor/errand-can-wait-until-tomorrow-tired.

And I freely admit that I am not battling spring-feverish-adolescents all day! You all must be EXHAUSTED!!

I’m so tired, I am struggling with my own motivation to write today. I don’t always feel inspiration every Monday or Tuesday to be ready to share on Wednesday.

This is a tough time of year. The kids struggle with motivation -- and so do the teachers!

I can’t do much from a laptop to help with teachers’ motivations. I can help with

I can’t do much from my laptop here in a school to actually make your lives better for the next week and a half. And spring break really is 7 work days away. I do not have time travel powers to make that pass more quickly.

But I can help you think through motivation and hope that some of that can help with your students.

Here are some little things that neuroscientists have concluded ACTUALLY make a difference in student (and adult) motivation. What pieces of motivation science can help your kids (or your colleagues?

  1. Novelty: Novelty can get the brain’s attention pretty quickly. It’s why students zero-in on your new haircut but not on their scale. The haircut is novel. The scale is the same-old, same-old. Use a cartoon, picture, music, youtube clip, a stupid hat -- whatever --  to hook students and mix it up from what you usually do. Hold class outside. Answer with chalk on the sidewalk. Rearrange your desks. Do something different to get your kids’ attention.

  1. Laughter: Humor can relieve stress, raise endorphins, send oxygenated blood to the brain and create a memorable experience. Giggle your way through parody videos of Chinese Dynasties (to Madonna’s “Vogue”) or the Missouri Compromise (to Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice”). Try the Magna Carta Epic Rap Battle. Go ahead and laugh. It make you feel better and learn stuff.
...C’mon, you guys. They’re PARODIES!! You’re supposed to laugh! Of course they’re silly!

3. Curiosity: Mysteries are interesting. It’s why we want to know about Amelia Earhart or NCIS or the Malaysian Flight 370. Create a mystery in your class.
  • Why would someone count as 3/5 of a person?
  • What would happen if FDR hadn’t dropped the bomb on Hiroshima?
  • How can we figure out what Andre Jackson really felt about the Cherokee people? What will his writings tell us?
  • What kinds of people might have voted for a particular historical candidate?
  • What kinds of punishment or forgiveness should be involved with readmitting states to the union?
  • What Greek city-state should we “move to”?

4. Tactile Learning:  Once, I got to read and touch an original copy of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense pamphlet as part of teacher PD. It was amazing. And memorable. And yes, I was an adult. Even adults learn in a tactile manner. Pass around an object, an artifact, even a paper photocopy. Have kids slide cards around a desk, spin a spinner, or build something.

Even grown-ups need to have hands-on learning. Teens do too.

5. Cooperation & Relationships: Kids are more motivated by interaction by their peers. We, teachers, need to get out of our classroom “silos” and interact with our peers, too. Brain research tells us that humans who don’t interact with others daily actually lose brain cells. Those who do engage with others daily grow brain cells. Cooperation actually increases the release of dopamine so we feel good. Help those kids get smarter and more motivated; have them interact with each other academically and regularly.

Oh, and you-the-teacher might find it beneficial, too.

How can you help your own motivation? How can you help your students? C’mon, friends! We only have 7 days left (after today)!! How can you make it more motivating and more bearable? As always, I love to hear from you! Email me at

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Old Dog, New Tricks

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

The older we get, the harder it is for us to learn new things.

In my 20s, I used to be one of the “techie” teachers. Since I don’t use it all as much anymore, I have noticed that I am falling behind the curve.

I’m not as good at learning new music and new TV shows anymore. I am behind in paying attention to new trends. I see the glimmering beginnings of -- gasp! -- turning into an “old dog”!

But, honestly, there is one good new-but-actually-old trick that I can do. And that I love.
It’s how I teach my young pups (my own children) to do new things. It’s how I want someone to teach me new tricks.

It’s Gradual Release.

Wait, wait, wait -- hear me out!

Think about any new skill you want to learn. Maybe it’s the new webmail Outlook 365. Maybe it’s yoga. Maybe it’s sailing a boat. Maybe it’s healthier cooking. Maybe it’s actually training your actual dog (instead of my metaphorical one).

But this old-dog trick still works. We may have renamed it a few years ago, but it’s still solid.

It works on ANY skill you want your students to learn. I know you all know it. It’s how many of you learned to play baseball, write your name, and clean your room. It’s how most of us learned to write decent papers for high school and learned our first job skills.

It works with how you want kids to find the answers in the reading, how you want them to text-mark, how you want them to clean up your classroom room after a chaotic activity, how you want them to write their thesis statements, how you want them to back up their answers using evidence.

It works for any skill, big or small.

It doesn’t work for content. You can’t gradually release the causes of WW1. Either you know ‘em or you don’t. But you can gradually release the thinking and reading and writing ABOUT the causes of WW1.

And honestly, you should have some part of Gradual Release going on more days than not.

I know you know this, but let’s review anyway. It helps.

Step One: I do it. (teacher does this part)
You-the-teacher do the task for them. Go ahead, contrary to what you thought growing up, you CAN give them the answers (for this part, anyway). Show them what the task looks like when it’s done well.  (I know it feels weird and a little idiotic to give them all the answers. Do it anyway.)
*Note -- this works 100% better when you show them HOW to do it. Model this with a THINK ALOUD!!
(full-support scaffolding)

Step Two: We all do it (do this whole-class)
The whole class works through the task. It takes twenty-some student brains  -- minus the teacher brain that only prompts the kids but doesn’t answer anything.
(take some scaffolding away)

Step Three: You all do it  (do this in small groups)
Put kids in partners or small groups so they have two or three brains on a task. Remember to use the five “O”s of collaborative structures, otherwise it will bomb.
(minimal scaffolding)

Step Four: You do it. On your own.
“Come on, now, I know you can do this on your own, kiddos!”  I can’t take the tests for the kids. I can’t vote in their stead. I can’t do their jobs for them. And so they have to start on their own at some point. Now is the time! This is where you push the little darlings out of the nest and hope they fly. And if they don’t, you scoop them up, help them again, and then push ‘em out of the nest again. For the few that are still unable on their own, this is when you-the-teacher give ‘em a little one-on-one time.
(Scaffolding is gone. Kids can try to stand on their own)

So, most of us are pretty good at step one and step four. We tend to be good at the “I do” and the “you do on your own”. It’s the middle we sometimes forget about.

But we can’t do all the work for the kids (step one) and we can’t push ‘em off the cliff (step four) without something in the middle.

It’s like learning to ride a bike. First, you watch someone show you how THEY ride a bike. Then, you ride with extra support -- training wheels or a grown-up holding on.

Then, the grown-up lets go and you ride (or crash).

Then, you try it again.  

Old dogs can learn new tricks. I can. Our kids can.

What about you? Email me