Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pass It On

Change comes in many different forms, and when it does, it hits with a delightful surprise. It is bliss to see teachers taking a teaching strategy and making it their own. The teaching strategy is called "Pass It On." Instead of a teacher repeating the answers of a student when they respond to a question, the teacher asks the student to select another student in the class to either repeat, elaborate or provide a different answer.

Here is an example of what I saw in a physical education class. After the student leaders had guided the class through the warm up exercises, the teachers had the students come together in a huddle at the front of the gymnasium. The teachers wanted the students to review the elements of doing a "set" and a "bump" in volleyball. The teacher asked a review question and then had students respond through using "pass it on".

In a 9th grade English class, the teacher used the "human thermometer" as a motivational exercise to get students to address one of the themes in a fictional selection they were about to read. After explaining the rules of where to stand to indicate their views, either agree, disagree, or neutral. The students had a brief time to discuss their thoughts as to why they stood in the particular side of the room. The teacher then had the students share out in which the students were responsible to "pass it on" to make sure the members of their team had a chance to express their view.

OK - so why am I still abuzz? What you just read was a brief glimpse of real world application of a teaching strategy as it looks in a classroom. A principal presents an idea and models the technique in a faculty conference. Usually it is the end of the day, and one hopes that teachers will experiment and try it out. It was so cool to see not only teachers experimenting, trying it out and making it their own in the classroom. Now that's cool stuff.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Photos of McKee on SI Live

Check out the following link:

You are going to see great photographs from the photographer Jan Somma-Hammel. You are also going to see the caption under each of the pictures. I am sure it will elicit a reaction.

By the way - be on the look out for an article about McKee CTE H. S. on Sunday, December 20, 2009. I have my finger's crossed.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Magic of Cooperative Learning

When we do group work, we typically ask students that we have placed together to now "work together in pairs, or trios or quads and complete a particular task." We frequently find that in each group, some students work harder than others.

The extra "bounce to the ounce" in cooperative learning is that students work on a common activity and they feel they need each other in order to succeed. They can't hide behind their partners. What do I mean? The group activities are organized in such a way that all students within the group have to positively discuss with one another, all students are held individually accountable, and the students are constantly communicating with one another. Dr. Spencer Kagan calls the activities for every part of how students are to communicate with one another - STRUCTURES. Let's start with the top 4 STRUCTURES that I have found to be very effective.

1. Jigsaw - Groups with five students are set up. Each group member is assigned some unique material to learn and then to teach to his group members. To help in the learning students across the class working on the same sub-section get together to decide what is important and how to teach it. After practice in these "expert" groups the original groups reform and students teach each other. (Wood, p. 17) Tests or assessment follows.

2. Think-Pair-Share - Involves a three step cooperative structure. During the first step individuals think silently about a question posed by the instructor. Individuals pair up during the second step and exchange thoughts. In the third step, the pairs share their responses with other pairs, other teams, or the entire group.

3, Numbered Heads Together (Kagan) - A team of four is established. Each member is given numbers of 1, 2, 3, 4. Questions are asked of the group. Groups work together to answer the question so that all can verbally answer the question. Teacher calls out a number (two) and each two is asked to give the answer.

4. Roundtable
---Roundtable structures can be used to brainstorm ideas and to generate a large number of responses to a single question or a group of questions.
---Faculty poses question.
---One piece of paper and pen per group.
---First student writes one response, and says it out loud.
---First student passes paper to the left, second student writes response, etc.
---Continues around group until time elapses.
---Students may say "pass" at any time.
---Group stops when time is called.
---The key here is the question or the problem you've asked the students to consider. It has to be one that has the potential for a number of different "right" answers.
---Relate the question to the course unit, but keep it simple so every student can have some
---Once time is called, determine what you want to have the students do with the lists...they may want to discuss the multitude of answers or solutions or they may want to share the lists with the entire class.

5. The Human Thermometer
A teacher says aloud 10 statements connected to the day's lesson. It is important to poll how the students feel by asking them to physically move to the side of the room that represents their opinion on the topic. Think of it as an anticipation guide. More importantly it will cause students to either AGREE, DISAGREE or be NEUTRAL. Have students stand in the center line in the classroom. As you say the statement students are to move to the side of the room that has the sign AGREE on it or DISAGREE on it. They are given 30 seconds to discuss and then select speakers from within the group to students indicate why they support that viewpoint. The more students are able to provide evidence from notes, or from the text then the higher the points.

To quote a famous detective, Monk, "Now here's the thing." Always explain the task BEFORE students go into groups.
1. Don't assume students know how to work together.
2. Practice going over the directions
3. Teach students how to get into groups, distribute materials, share, and use academic language
4. Define the roles and keep a reminder chart in the classroom.
5. State your expectations about the behavior when students are in groups

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Differentiating Instruction. What Again? Yes. Again!

There comes a point when one has to acknowledge that students learn in different ways. A teacher has to use different methods in order to reach the pupils in his or her class. What can be done.

Click here to see a quick reminder about the ways one can make a stronger, learner-centered environment.
---Display student work. Go to for ready to use rubrics to evaluate the assignments.
---Use ARIS to create your groups. Make your group assignments on different levels for the groups in one's class.
---Be consistent on the type of notes the students take. One can do guided note taking, Guided notes contain the main ideas and the related concepts of lectures as well as blank spaces for students to fill in during lectures. Key terms, phrases and definitions also may be included in the guided notes.
---One can insist upon writing notes using a T-Chart. One can also do the more detailed version of a T-Chart which is Cornell Note-taking. On the right are the content notes. One the left are smain ideas, key points that would connect to the notes.
---Informal assessments can be as simple as thumbs up or thumbs down or hands up and hands down in getting students to respond to how many understand a concept. There is also the traditional quizzes and tests. Why not mix it up and have students each have an index card. Some have concepts, Some have words. Give the students 2-3 minutes to find the correct pairing.

The point is that for differentiation to work, one has to try it. No one is perfect. Ideally, have one of your colleagues indicate whether you are on the right path for differentiating your instruction. Luckily, we have a UFT Center in which one can exchange ideas.

Interdisciplinary Vocabulary List

Looking to have students review common vocabulary terms within Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies?
Look no further than the vocabulary words and definitions that were identified and placed into this lovely EXCEL spread worksheet.
Click here to see the Interdisciplinary Vocabulary Word/Definition Chart. It is a great reference tool in which you can assign students the activity of making a foldable, using index cards, or decorating strips of paper and selecting words that are the same yet have different meanings across the disciplines.

Apture Multimedia