Archive for August, 2009

Check out our fall lineup

We have many exciting titles to look forward to in our fall lineup. You can find out more information about each by clicking on the links! Happy browsing!

A Sense of Belonging: Sustaining and Retaining New Teachers
Jennifer Allen
160 pp • $20.00 • Now available!
Literacy specialist and coach Jennifer Allen offers school leaders a road map for providing new teachers with relevant, purposeful, and systematic support as they tackle the challenges of their first months and years.

A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades
Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough
216 pp • $20.00 • Avail. late September
Provides practical ways for teachers to create a classroom environment where students’ questions and observations are part of daily work—including “wonder centers,” gathering data though senses, teaching nonfiction craft, and creating a nonfiction book.

Conferring: The Keystone of Reader’s Workshop
Patrick Allen • 280 pp • $24.00 • Avail. early November
Argues that the benefits of conferring are well worth the effort of learning to do it well, explores the guiding principles of conferring, and provides questions that lead teachers through the reader’s conference from start to finish.

Metaphors & Analogies Power Tools for Teaching Any Subject
Rick Wormeli • 264 pp • $23.00 • Avail. early November
Shows teachers how to use metaphors and analogies strategically and for specific purposes, helping students discover, create, and deconstruct effective comparisons.

Igniting a Passion for Reading Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers
Steven L. Layne • 184 pp • $19.00 • Avail. mid-December
Packed with practical ways to engage and inspire readers from kindergarten through high school. From read-alouds to creating reading lounges to author visits and more, this book will help schools create a vibrant reading culture.

What Student Writing Teaches Us: Formative Assessment in the Writing Workshop
Mark Overmeyer • 136 pp • $17.50
Available in print and online preview now!
A concise guide to using formative assessment effectively in the writing classroom, with practical suggestions for standards-based planning, offering a variety of feedback, student self-assessment, grading, and record-keeping.

Add comment August 31st, 2009

Online book study group: A Sense of Belonging

If we invest in beginning teachers up front and provide them with more support in the beginning of their teaching career, then we will reap the payoff in the long run—skilled, thoughtful, reflective, and energized educators who are essential members within our collaborative learning community and committed to student learning and achievement.


A Sense of Belonging
In her new book, A Sense of Belonging: Sustaining and Retaining New Teachers, Jennifer Allen offers research-based, practical ideas on how to support new teachers while honoring and celebrating the innovation, idealism, and enthusiasm they bring to the classroom.

Join fellow teachers, literacy coaches, mentors, and principals in our online book discussion group as you read A Sense of Belonging, and discuss your thoughts and insights on how schools can offer sustained support for new teachers. Share what worked in your school, or for you personally, and what didn’t work.

The discussion will be moderated by Janice Driscoll, principal of Midlakes Intermediate School in Clifton Springs, New York, and starts on Thursday, September 17. Janice will guide the discussion, ask questions, and respond to comments. To participate in this free group:

  1. Order the book by Thursday, September 3 for guaranteed delivery by Tuesday, September 15 (see free shipping offer below). You can preview the entire text on our Web site.

  2. Visit the discussion group’s home page on the social networking site Ning.

  3. Click the Sign Up link in the upper right part of the page to become a member of Stenhouse on Ning. After completing the form, you’ll be redirected back to the group’s home page, which should now display +Join Book discussion: A Sense of Belonging near the top. Click that link to join the group.

  4. In the Discussion Forum window, click on a topic or thread that you would like to read or respond to. The moderated discussion will begin on September 17.
    *Free shipping offer extended*
    We’ve extended free shipping on A Sense of Belonging to Thursday, September 3. Just enter the discount code NLQ at the bottom of the “Summary” checkout screen at stenhouse.com. Orders placed by September 3 will be shipped for delivery on or before September 15.

Add comment August 28th, 2009

Poetry Friday: Strive for Knowledge and Subject to Flooding

This week’s poems about the lives of teachers come from Gayle Hobbs, who is an English teacher in California.

Strive For Knowledge
A Sonnet by Gayle K. Hobbs

To watch the students strive within their minds
And see them fill their brains with wisdom fair,
Will prove to us that this true lesson binds
The teacher to his charge with loving care.
The learning curve is greatly charged each day
By eager thoughts and enigmatic thrills,
Which, if delayed, requires an other way
Replete with strong, hard lessons full of drills.
So listen to your teachers and fair wisdom,
Who daily share their thoughts and hearts with you,
And grasp the cup of life’s education
To truly survive, and gain the treasures due.
A life lived filled beyond innate abilities
Is what we see when knowledge melds our dreams.

 

Subject to Flooding
by Gayle K. Hobbs

Flooded roads line through the open fields.
The rain pelts my closed windows.
Wet, foggy days full of winter’s shields
That protects my thoughts from blows.

Enchanted drops full of thoughts
Nourish the students’ abilities
And opens possible faults
Where ideas happily float free.

Many dry minds will sit today
Not a care towards their own future.
The nurturing rain needs to stay
And show those minds the simple cure.

Among these dry skeletal minds
Sit a few students who begin brooding.
These are the ones that snap the binds
And become subject to flooding.

Yet, when I arrive at work, I find
The sun has begun to peak within.
My students wither, and treacherously the grind
Is far from my fancy, and I start to… grin.

Add comment August 28th, 2009

Now Online: A Sense of Belonging

It took losing several new teachers for me to take a hard look at how we were supporting new teachers within our school…All their energy went into survival. All my energy went into helping them with the bare essentials of reading and writing workshops. It was clear that these new teachers were not getting the depth and richness of purposeful support that they needed to survive in the classroom.

In her new book, A Sense of Belonging, literacy specialist and coach Jen Allen offers school leaders a road map for providing new teachers with relevant, purposeful, and systematic support as they tackle the challenges of their first months and years.

A Sense of Belonging Through school-wide structures—mentoring, monthly new-teacher release days, and study groups—principals, coaches, and mentors can build an institutional foundation that helps new teachers survive day-to-day dilemmas while sustaining long-term professional learning. You’ll see how to create opportunities for new teachers to collaborate and learn from each other, observe other teachers, make the most of student assessments, and plan curriculum.

A Sense of Belonging serves as a model of a successful teacher induction program that develops and retains skilled, thoughtful, and committed teachers and integrates them into a collaborative learning community.

Print copies of A Sense of Belonging will start shipping early next month, and we’ve just posted the entire text for previewing online!

Add comment August 27th, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Defining digital storytelling

According to Sara Kajder, author of Bringing the Outside In: Visual Ways to Engage Reluctant Readers, the reading that teachers value in school is becoming further and further distanced from the literacy students experience in their outside lives. In her book she demonstrates ways to bring these two ways of reading and learning closer together. In this week’s tip, she defines what digital storytelling means. Read her book to find out how she implements these digital strategies in her classroom.

In an early class discussion exploring the compelling qualities and nature of storytelling, Rochelle shared that “stories capture our voices telling our own stories.” This is just what a digital story is—the melding of human voice and personal narrative, using technologies only as tools that bring these elements together into one text. Digital storytelling grew out of the work of Dana Atchley, Joe Lambert, and the Center for Digital Storytelling at University of California at Berkeley in 1993. Joe often explains in the workshops held at the center that “the digital story is more like fi lm for the rest of us.” Good stories require honesty and simplicity, not the skills of a great auteur or a techie. My students saw our work as the work of the storyteller, with the computer working only as a tool for eventual publication and sharing. Or, as Elliot explained in his journal, “we aren’t learning a technology; we’re using a technology to learn.”
Lambert identifies seven elements of effective digital stories, which helped to fuel much of our work: Point of View, Dramatic Question, Emotional Content, Voice, Soundtrack, Pacing and Economy (Lambert 2002). I like to group these elements, focusing on their use and importance “during writing” and “during construction” elements.

Point (of View)
Students’ digital stories need to be built from their own experience and understanding, using “I” as opposed to a more distant third person point of view. However, I place “of view” in parentheses in an attempt to signal the importance of the “point” of the story. Good stories take us somewhere. Every part of the story works toward a “point” which evokes some response from the audience. This focus is useful for student writers, especially those in my
classroom who often wrote for pages without knowing where they were going.

Dramatic Question and Emotional Content
Effective stories do more than work toward a point. Narratives that lead the reader to become invested typically pursue a compelling question that evokes interest and commitment, and sets the reader up for the eventual “payoff” at the close of the story. This was extremely challenging for my student writers who would either bury the question too deeply in the story or whose story structure fished around for a question. Only through revision and story circle activities (discussed later in this chapter) did students begin to shape their stories into a text that rewarded and surprised their readers and viewers.

Voice
This class of thirty-seven had several “unheard” and “unseen” students. They might enter the classroom, submit work, and leave at the sound of the bell without participating in discussion, group assignments, or any task that asked for their voices. The process of digital storytelling required that students exercise their voices as writers and as readers, sharing their drafts in a story circle that aimed at eliciting helpful, reflective peer responses to the text when read aloud. Further, students must absolutely record themselves narrating their scripts—a process that paralyzed even my most vocal students. They are the storytellers, reading (not reciting) their own words, their own ideas, and their own stories. Although it’s the largest obstacle at the start of the process, it’s often the most empowering element of the experience. As Ron explained in a reflective exit ticket after we viewed his class’s stories, “Reading stories made me hear things in my voice. Seeing stories let me hear people in this class in a whole other way.”

Soundtrack
We address soundtrack late in the construction process, emphasizing to students that there is a power to placing instrumental music under their voices and images as the story unfolds. I’m continually surprised by students’ skills when it comes to selecting and cuing music that allows them to take their intended meaning to a different, more powerful level. Where a colleague of mine argues that this makes the story a music video, students find that sound adds complexity and depth to the narrative. This also provides students with a lesson in music copyright that in an era of file sharing and Kazaa.com seems more and more pressing.

Pacing
I remember many childhood hours sitting up with my father, whose stories would unfold with a rhythm and energy that led me to cling to each word he spoke. That’s the art of the storyteller, made even more essential as students work within a digital space to compile and communicate their stories. In my notes from a digital storytelling workshop led by the team at the Center for Digital Storytelling, I have written in all caps and underlined the phrase “GOOD STORIES BREATHE.” Pacing is all about letting that happen. For student writers, this means pulling back or racing forward when the story calls for it, as opposed to when the time limit approaches.

Economy
I think that this is one of the most essential elements when students are working with digital multimedia. Too often, we’re led to add effects and bells and whistles because the tool is capable of it or because it helps us to replicate the visual onslaught that we see on MTV or even CNN. I argue to students that the effective digital story uses only a few images, a few words, and even fewer special effects to clearly and powerfully communicate intended meaning. Here, students need to work to include only what’s necessary as opposed to what’s possible.

Add comment August 25th, 2009

Poetry Friday: Inside Out

This week’s poem comes from middle-school teacher Linda Baie from Colorado. Linda teaches at The Logan School for Creative Learning in Denver, an independent school for gifted learners. She facilitates all subjects, mostly on an individual basis, with some whole-group work.

There is still time to submit a poem for our Poetry Friday contest. Write a poem about your teaching life and send it to zmcmullin@stenhouse.com by Sept. 1.

Inside Out
(teaching middle school)

I’m trying to learn about you
from the inside out.
Yet the layers
(some say like onions)
keep me tearful.

And it’s so hard
To peel them all away.
If you could only wiggle
a little,
And loosen the layers—
giving me a chance.
I’d stop scraping on the outside
Maybe bruising you
Without knowing.
And I could move right on to the
Inside—and out.

3 comments August 21st, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Family Literacy Experiences

This week’s Quick Tip, an essay by Lesley Mandel Morrow, explores how schools and homes can support each other in creating meaningful literacy experiences for students. Literacy learning doesn’t just take place in schools and teachers need to recognize and celebrate the rich diversity of literacy experiences students have outside of school. This essay appears in Family Literacy Experiences: Creating Reading and Writing Opportunities That Support Classroom Learning by Jennifer Rowsell.

Home and School Working Together
by Lesley M. Morrow

I have the wonderful opportunity to watch literacy development with my two grandchildren, three- year-old James and six-month-old Natalie. My daughter, her husband, and grandparents have read to James and Natalie daily from the time they were born. We look at books, talk about the pictures, and read stories. Books are all around my daughter’s home. There are accessible bookshelves in their rooms. There are books in the kitchen, the bathroom, and play areas. James sees his parents reading frequently—professional literature as well as novels, magazines, and newspapers—and at times they join them with their own books. In addition to books there are magnetic letters and numbers, paper and pencils, markers and crayons. Playing with these and books bring as much joy as playing with dolls and trucks.

Family literacy encompasses the ways family members use literacy at home and in their community. Family literacy occurs naturally during the routines of daily living and helps adults and children “get things done.” Examples include using writing or drawing to share ideas, composing notes or letters to communicate messages, keeping records, making lists, following written directions, or sharing stories and ideas through conversation, reading, and writing.

Although literacy activity is present in one form or another in most families, the particular kinds of events that some families share with children may have a great deal of influence on school success. Conversely, the kinds of literacy practised in classrooms may not be meaningful for some children outside school. Family literacy must be approached to avoid cultural bias, and activities must be supportive rather than intrusive.

Schools need to view families as partners in the development of literacy. Because no two communities are the same, family literacy programs need to be tailored to the needs of the individuals they serve:

• Hold meetings at varied times of the day and days of the week, in accessible locations that are friendly and nonthreatening. Provide transportation if no public transportation is available or if parents do not have a way of getting to meetings.
• Provide child care and refreshments at meetings.
• Work with parents alone, and with family members and children together. There should be sharing times when family members and children work together.
• Provide support groups for families to talk about helping their children and to find out what they want to know.
• Provide families with ideas and materials to use at home, including easy literacy activities that family members consider useful, such as talking and reading about childrearing concerns, about community life problems, etc.
• Include the opportunity for parental participation in school activities during school hours.

Likewise, teachers should help promote parental involvement in children’s education: informing families on a regular basis what is happening in school and how they can help their children; involving families in school activities during the day and providing activities for families to do at home. Families need to feel that they are welcome in the classroom:

• At the beginning of the school year, send home the literacy development goals to be achieved for the grade level you teach, in a format that can be understood by all.
• With each new unit of instruction or literacy concept, send home a letter to let families know what you are studying and what they can do to help.
• Invite families to school for parent conferences and school programs.
• Invite families to help with literacy activities in the classroom, such as reading to children, helping with bookbinding, taking written dictation of stories, and supervising independent activities while teachers work with small groups and individual children.
• Send home activities for families and children to do together.
• Require some feedback from the parents or child about working together.
• Suggest home activities such as writing in journals together, reading together, visiting the library, recording print in the environment, writing notes to each other, cooking together and following recipes, following directions to put together toys or household items, and watching and talking about specific programs on television.
• Participate in homework assignments together.
• Invite families to school to share special skills they may have, to talk about their cultural heritage, hobbies, jobs, etc.
• Send home notes when a child is doing well. Do not send notes only for problems.
• Provide lists of literature for families to share with their children.
• Hold meetings for family members and children about progress and projects.

We need the help of families to support the work done in school to promote literacy. All parents can help in some way, and schools need to be persistent in involving them in the literacy curriculum and finding how they can help in a way that is comfortable for them.

Add comment August 18th, 2009

Poetry Friday: The Circle of Summer

This week’s poem is from Carol Frey, a life sciences instructor from Baltimore Lutheran School.

The Circle of Summer
Summer is ending – and it’s only early August.   (!)
Days of freedom shorten once again;
Promised projects are scratched off one by one from a list kept on the kitchen table since June;
Last languid lunches are spent with friends before the yearly gerbil wheel renews its spin.
Yet with this loss comes hope – new faces, new subjects, new adventures to be had.
Their youthful energy jump starts the year for all of us.
Their curiosity, their creativity, their enthusiasm gives all a fresh perspective on the year ahead…
…and now there are only 180 more school days until summer break!

1 comment August 14th, 2009

Questions & Authors: Taking writing outdoors

The outdoors is not just for science classes anymore. Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli, authors of Mentor Texts and Nonfiction Mentor Texts, offer some ideas for allowing students to discover nature through writing, sketches, and poetry. Children have a natural curiosity about colors and change and harvesting this energy makes for “joyous learning” and creates artist-writers with keen observation skills.

As teachers of writing, we recognize the benefits of extending our classrooms into the great outdoors – whether that is an urban, suburban, or rural setting – and allowing our students to rediscover the intricate complexities of nature with eyes of the artist-writer. With great joy, students take their nature journals to sketch, record observations, create poetry, or to write simple truths. Often such excursions outdoors occur in the spring, when teachers and students are itching to answer nature’s invitation. One of the advantages of keeping a nature journal throughout the school year is to be able to compare the subtle or sometimes more dramatic changes that occur with each season. There is as well, a comfort in knowing that change is expected, accepted, and can be quite beautiful.

We’d like to suggest two books that can serve as mentor texts to set the stage for a study of color in nature. Nature’s Paintbox: A Seasonal Gallery of Art and Verse by Patricia Thomas (2005) explores the seasons with specificity of color and word. Beginning with winter, penned in black and white, Thomas recreates each season with extraordinary description and insight.  Her craft is filled with specific nouns and verbs, hyphenated adjectives, use of ellipses and dashes, variations in print, and wonderful rhymes and rhythms. Consider her extraordinary explanation of the pastel colors of spring:

blurry, furry,
baby-chick, baby-duck colors…
fresh-green-fuzzy, baby-leaf,
baby-fern colors…
soft colors, showing slowly,
perhaps so the surprise
of color in a black-white world
won’t hurt your eyes.

Red Sings from Treetops: a Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman (2009) explores how colors paint the landscapes differently depending on the season.  Notice how the writer paints green:

Green is queen
in summer.
Green trills from trees,
clings to Pup’s knees,
covers all with leaves,
leaves, leaves!…

In FALL,
Green is tired,
dusty,
crisp around the edges.

Sidman’s text invites the reader/soon-to-be writer to savor words such as dolloped, squishy, lustrous, cerulean, sequined.  Her use of alliteration, personification, exact adjectives, onomatopoeia, colons, ellipses, and hyphenated adjectives make this text desirable for any age level.

Invite your students to compare and contrast both the text and the artwork in these books and think about ways the authors’ observations of the seasons could help them to shape their own thinking.

As students participate in their “outdoor” classrooms, a few guidelines will make their experience more rewarding and productive.  Here are some practical tips:

  • Take a tour of the area students will be using and talk about some possibilities for keen observation.
  • Invest in clipboards for your students so they can write in their books while standing or even leaning against a post or wall.
  • Visit local paint stores to acquire sample color strips that students can use to match the subjects of their observations to a specific shade.
  • Model how they can study one object from several vantage points. It would be a good idea to do a sketch here as well and include some labeling  (You can share this drawing when you go back inside)
  • Tell them you will be observing them, perhaps taking candid shots for a “Nature’s Walk” bulletin board display or to be included as black-and-white prints for their own nature journals. You could also create a videotape.
  • Perhaps suggest trying to write in the persona of the object the writer is describing (My Light by Molly Bang, Sierra by Diane Siebert, and Voices of the Wild by Jonathan London are some good mentor texts for this purpose).
  • Consider a rule of no talking in the outdoor classroom.  Students should save the talk for inside when they are able to compare notes, drawings, and interesting observations and descriptions.          

Searching for specific hues and tones satisfies the natural curiosity about color that children have from an early age. It helps students develop specificity in their writing and fosters a deeper appreciation of the world around them.  It is joyous learning!

1 comment August 13th, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: The first day of school

The first day of school is just around the corner and this week Rick Wormeli, author of Day One and Beyond, has some tips on how to keep the excitement and momentum of the beginning of the school year going, while also getting to know students and creating an atmosphere of learning.

In the first class on the first day I ever taught, I learned one of the biggest lessons of my middle school teaching career: the students are out for the teacher’s success just as much their own. On that Tuesday after Labor Day, I called roll.

“Brown, William?”

“Here.”

“Cavelletti, Antonio?”

“That’s, ‘Tony.’ And, here.”

I crossed out “Antonio” in the attendance book and wrote “Tony.”

“Thank you, Tony. I made the correction.”

Then I came to the third name. The last name was D-U-C-H. The first name seemed Cambodian or Vietnamese, so I didn’t think that the name was pronounced “Dutch.”

“Okay, this next person’s last name is pronounced ‘Duck,’ I believe,” I started with the class, then paused. I stared at the first name. No, it couldn’t be. I looked again. The first name was spelled “P-H-U-C.” If I said that phonetically, I would be calling the name of “Fuck Duck” (phonetically) in the middle of a group of thirty young adolescents. I naively plowed ahead. 17

 “Phuh [using the short ‘u’ sound] . . . Phuh . . . Phuh,” I started again. The room was getting warmer. My cheeks burned. Great, I’m making a fool of myself on the very first day, I thought. I can’t do this. Suddenly, the class called in unison, “It’s ‘Foo,’ Mr. Wormeli, ‘Foo.’ The ‘c’ is silent.”

I exhaled in relief, smiling sheepishly. “Thank you,” I mouthed. The students grinned back at me. “Foo Duck?” I called phonetically (pleadingly, too).

“Here,” Phuc said, and we continued with the roll call. We were going to be okay.

The biggest fears I had before that first day of school were how to plan out the year, whether or not the students would like and respect me, whether or not I knew enough about my subjects to teach them, and most important, what I was going to do with that first day and week of school. Once I was up and running, I thought I could handle it. “Just get me started,” I pleaded with the teacher gods.

It turns out I was barely ahead of the students in terms of learning the material that first year, and the planning for the rest of the year went well thanks to the patience of my colleagues, who tolerated twenty questions a day from me for that first quarter. My students seemed to respect me and, I hoped, enjoy my company, but I found out later that respecting me and enjoying my company weren’t the main goals of good teachers. It was the list I maintained of what I would do differently next year that kept me sane and hopeful that I’d make it as a teacher in the middle school world. The following year, I made those changes, especially in how we began the year, and it has made a tremendous difference every year since.

Mixing Academics with Get-to-Know-You

A sad thing happens to novels when readers have to stop after every chapter and write a summary or analyze literary devices: the story is killed; it’s no longer engaging. One of the worst things you can say to a language arts or English teacher is that a child learned to hate the subject as a result of his class. It’s the same with teachers of other courses.

As teachers, we are “selling” our subjects to our students as worthy of their pursuit. We are convincing them that they can be competent regarding our subjects and even find meaning in them. At the same time, students enter classrooms in September with the inclination to do well, to think in a scholarly manner, and to produce great thoughts and works. Really, they do. They are a grade higher, they reason, more advanced. Things will be challenging, and this is a fresh start. As their teachers, we need to ride this momentum wave as far as we can. The expectancy and ability are there; all we have to do is get out of the way.

With each period of nothing but endless forms, get-to-know-you activities, and reviewing classroom protocols, we kill that excitement. Students grow increasingly disillusioned. We miss a golden opportunity for them to dive into the subject material with neurons firing on all thrusters. It’s probably the most significant time of the year to hardwire students’ minds to embrace our subjects; we don’t want to lose it. Yet we still have to get to know the students, ask them to fill out those school forms, and teach them classroom protocols, such as where to turn in papers and where to go during a fire drill. So how do we do all of this and keep the fires burning for our subjects at the same time?

Through balance. Each day, make sure students learn something brand-new in your subject area, not just something they are reviewing from last year. Add to this one or two new forms to complete, one get-to-know you activity, or one or two new classroom protocols and you’ll have a pretty good period. Give academic homework on the first day of school. It sets a tone of serious study and responsibility. They may never admit it publicly (though many have privately), but after two months off from anything cerebral, students welcome the mental engagement. They’re doing something purposeful. Teach from the very first day.

To figure out what to offer them academically and administratively in that first week and month, go back to your planning for the year. Give yourself three to four weeks to teach all the classroom procedures, do the get-to-know-you activities, and fill out the forms. Don’t cram it into the first week or two. You’ll never have time to grab the students with your subject. Just make sure you complete the forms that let students get their lockers first!

Each day for the first two weeks, I do about 50 percent academics and 50 percent “administrivia.” This works pretty well. By the way, don’t forget your teammates if you’re on a team. One person doesn’t have to do all the forms. Spread out the responsibilities for completing forms across all subjects on the team so one subject isn’t always associated with paperwork. It’s wise, however, to have one teacher who collects all the forms from students. At a meeting later, all teachers on the team can help process them.

 Getting to Know Students as Individuals and as Learners

If we want to be successful, we have to know our students as individuals and as learners. Often these overlap, but they are not the same dimension. Choose a balance of activities that elicits both types of information. Let’s take a look at three effective get-to-know-you activities appropriate for any subject:

 “The Best Way for You to Learn” Cards

When students enter my room on the first day of school, they find an index card on their desks. Students are asked to describe on the cards how they best learn. The prompt can be something like, “What will it take for you to learn well in this subject?” or “In what ways do you best learn?” or “Give me advice on how to be the best teacher you’ve ever had in this subject.”

It’s amazing how insightful students are each year. I get comments like, “Give me a lot of examples. I don’t get ideas without examples”; “If you write it on the board, can I get a copy?”; “I need to see it, don’t just tell me it”; and “Speak slowly, I get confused with a lot of noise and speed.” Many young adolescents are beginning to know and advocate for themselves as learners. What they offer in these cards is invaluable. To get the full picture, I send parents a card and similar prompt to complete on that first night, referring to their child’s learning. Between the two cards, I have enough information to make some early decisions about lesson design, grouping, and interacting with students. I reference them all year, and I sometimes ask students to complete them again in February to see if things have changed over the course of the first few months.

Interest Surveys

Interest surveys are one- to two-page polls that ask a variety of questions and give students an opportunity to express sides to them that don’t otherwise get revealed. The prompts or questions must not be invasive, of course, and students always have a right to pass if they don’t feel comfortable. Information that might be requested includes:
a favorite book from childhood
the farthest point you’ve traveled away from home
a recent movie you enjoyed and what you liked about it
your favorite place to be and why
your favorite food
your favorite kind of music
your favorite sport
organizations/teams/clubs to which you belong
someone you admire and why
two common activities you do after getting home from school
a responsibility you have
a wish you have for someone else
what you want to do for a career
something about which you daydream
something about which you are curious
the title of a book about your life
some advice you would give yourself if you could go back two years ago
a description of yourself as a friend
a description of your best friend

Learner Profiles

Learner profiles include any information about a student that affects his learning: six schools in as many years; divorce; ADHD; Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; learning disabilities. They also refer to those surveys/assessments/instruments that students complete in which they demonstrate their proclivities/strengths/preferences for how they best learn. There are many instruments available to middle school teachers, some costing money and some not. Ask around, as there are probably some in your building already. Many publications about multiple intelligences and learning styles have instruments free for your use. If you’re using an Internet search engine, I highly recommend the Dunn and Dunn Learning Style Inventory, Anthony Gregorc Scales, and Myers-Briggs Personality Type indicators. There are also many good Web sites and publications with multiple intelligence surveys. Students can often do the assessment as well as its analysis with direction from you, so don’t worry about analyzing the results of 150 student assessments. You just have to read the results and incorporate the information into your planning. No small job, I know.

2 comments August 11th, 2009

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