Monday, February 24, 2014

Keeping Things in Perspective

Originally Posted on Twitter by @DocbobLA

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

See How Easily You Can Add Rigor to a Reading Lesson

Most of my students enjoy reading, some almost openly weep when I give them uninterrupted chunks of time to read in class.  Fortunately, and unfortunately, they devour books in great heaping spoonfuls of text soaked paper. Obliterating the shelves of my classroom library.

I do not expect them to do "something" with every novel they read, in fact we rarely assign novels, choosing to work on comprehension skills in shorter texts that we can move in and out of quickly.

Right now we are focusing our work on the concept of the Surveillance Society. Researching how our lives are monitored on and off line. They have read many short pieces of non-fiction, watched news reports and collaborated about what the current trends in surveillance may lead to in the coming years.

To bring in a literary slant to the study, the students are reading The Giver by Lois Lowry. They are also annotating for the first time, using a dialectal journal to keep track of evidence for the use of surveillance in the protagonists community.

Reading and annotating tends to be an individual process, often leaving students trapped in their own development. I wanted to bring in a piece of collaboration as a chance for them to see a social value to their work and gain a deeper understanding of how surveillance changes behavior.

As the students read I quietly moved around the room giving each student a sticky note, alternating colors as I walked from one desk to another. 

Then, using the work of Sandra Kaplan out of USC, I built a question that I felt created the necessary rigor and complexity that would lead to the understanding I wanted:

How does surveillance influence patterns of behavior in Jonas' community?

I asked the students to write down their thesis on the sticky note and then find two pieces of textual evidence in their annotations that would support their point of view. We have been working with these concepts most of the year, so they understood what I asked.

The use of colored sticky notes allowed the students to have a choice in who their partner was.  Of course I manipulated which color each student received.
After they wrote their thesis and found their evidence I had them partner up with someone with a different colored sticky note and share their ideas. The best thought I heard was how an unlocked door is a form of surveillance.  The students reasoning was if you cannot lock a door then you are always at risk of being "watched."

When they were finished, I revised the question:

How does surveillance influence patterns of behavior in our community?

I left the concept of community open ended and the students brought up a variety of scenarios and ideas they have experienced.  My favorite being the discussion of how behavior changes when the teacher is in the room.

As the discussion quieted down I had them thank their partner and return to their seats. Later this week when I have reading conferences, I will have the students use their sticky notes as a launching point for our talk. I am interested to see if their thoughts changed after their conferring with a peer.

Some big Ah-ha's I took away from this lesson:

  • Sticky notes are not a novel idea but put one down on a students desk with no direction and they are instantly attentive
  • Knowing they would have an audience for their ideas focused them on finding strong evidence
  • The small space of the sticky note made it a non-threatening writing experience
  • Sharing allowed them to see a social purpose to annotating early in the process 
  • Choice in partners, evidence and ideas kept a positive flow to the lesson
  • The structure of the question allowed me to begin a conversation about character motivation and for them to understand the text at a deeper level.
From beginning to end this lesson took about fifteen minutes, so it makes a nice break in a class that is fifty minutes long.  Please click this link for more resources and ideas on creating a rigorous classroom.