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The Power of Collaboration

Teams ought to take time to read Peg Tyre’s article, “The Writing Revolution” in the October 2012 Atlantic Magazine (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/10/the-writing-revolution/309090/2/). She focuses on the journey of a high school that seemed destined for closure, yet found its way to success.  Although the article is about an entire school, the lessons learned could certainly be applied to a middle grades team.

Here’s the story in bullets:

  • New Dorp High School was one of the 2,000 lowest performing high schools in the country.
  • Led by a determined principal, the staff identified poor writing as one of the reasons students were doing so poorly.
  • The staff was reluctant to look at their own practice.  The answer, they thought, was that the students were just lazy.
  • With the help of a persistent consultant-coach the staff dug deeper into what was holding students back.
  • They learned students couldn’t put together sophisticated sentences or coherent paragraphs.
  • Teachers began to reflect on their own practice.
  • Writing skills began to be emphasized in every class. Here is an example of how writing skills were approached: “By fall 2009, nearly every instructional hour except for math class was dedicated to teaching essay writing along with a particular subject. So in chemistry class in the winter of 2010, Monica DiBella’s {student} lesson on the properties of hydrogen and oxygen was followed by a worksheet that required her to describe the elements with subordinating clauses—for instance, she had to begin one sentence with the word although.”
  • Achievement and graduation rates have climbed.

This article details what happens when a staff focused on a common goal, collaborates.  They also were willing, eventually, to explore and change their own teaching practices. The result–students with a long history of mediocre skills and motivation began to perform at much higher levels proving they were neither dumb nor lazy.

Certainly a team could use some of the strategies described in this article as a starting point for addressing writing across the curriculum.  The bigger lesson, however,  is that when educators work together in a reflective manner toward a common goal, good things happen for kids.

For ideas on specific ways teams can collaborate to improve learning, check out Teaming Rocks! Collaborate in Powerful Ways to Ensure Student Success.

5 Ways to Use LiveBinders, A Great Online Resource Organizer

LiveBinders–Organization at Your Finger Tips!

LiveBinders allows users to organize online resources in one place. Think — digital 3-ring binder! Watch the video below to get an overview.

The site can remain private or be opened for public viewing. Plus, the originator can invite others to collaborate and add additional resources. LiveBinders is a versatile digital tool! I’m just learning how to create binders and have started one for a presentation on study skills in the digital age.  It’s public so that I will be able to share it with session participants at the annual NELMS conference in April.

5 Possibilities for Teams

LiveBinders is a useful site for teams.  Here are 5 ways to use this site to help students and team members stay  organized, collaborate with other teams in the school, and communicate with parents:
  1. Students can create their Binders to organize their online resources for a research project. Accessible 24/7 from any computer, students can get to it at school and from home.  If students are working in small groups, their information sources are stored in one place so any member can easily locate critical material.  Things don’t disappear into the bottomless pits of lockers and backpacks, and the information needed for citation is only a click away.
  2. Team teachers can create private Binders to keep track of resources for various units or lessons.  Everything is organized by unit in its separate Binder and stored on the teacher’s digital shelf.
  3. Team teachers can create public Binders to share with students and parents.  Recommended or required sites for assignments can be organized at this site.  A team might create a Binder for an interdisciplinary unit with supporting materials or one on homework help for students to access when they get stuck and can’t readily ask a teacher for clarification.
  4. Team teachers can collaborate with colleagues across grade levels or content areas to share resources.  With several people contributing online sites, the Binder will grow more quickly.  It can also be edited and updated every year.
  5. Team teachers can create public Binders especially for parents.  It’s an efficient way to share resources on pertinent topics that interest parents: adolescent development, parenting in the digital age, how people learn, etc.

Collaborate to Help Students Master Note Taking

Note taking–whether from print or digital sources–is a valuable skill to master.  However it is not a favorite classroom activity.  Students gripe as they struggle to figure out what is important to note and what they can leave out.  They  also often resist following formats that are complicated or tedious.  Some teachers hope that someone else has taught the skills and too often precede with assignments assuming students can successfully take notes.

A masterful middle grades team, however, realizes that if they collaborate on teaching and reinforcing this skill, their students will benefit.  Also by taking the time to teach/reinforce this skill early in the year, the teachers know that lessons will go more smoothly in the future.  Any lost time to teaching note taking will be made up later as students develop a certain level of automaticity with the process.

There are a variety of note taking protocols to choose from: Harvard outline, Cornell double column, webbing, etc. I came across the Tree Map approach through Stenhouse’s website that links to  http://www.screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cXQiFr0q2

The speaker is using a model for a Tree Map similar to the one below.

As you watch the video you will notice several things about the instructional process:

  • The nonfiction text she is using is a literature textbook.
  • She has already done some preteaching about headings and subheadings in a text book.
  • She is modeling the thinking that goes along with the note taking process.
  • She is using a gradual release of responsibility model–turning the thinking and writing over to the students after she has modeled the process.

Tree Map note taking will work in any subject.  Below are two other examples–one for Social Studies and one for Math.  The text I used was from Wikipedia, but it could be a traditional textbook.

Let’s watch from afar how Team Penobscot manages the process of teaching Tree Mapping:

  • The Language Arts teacher  introduces Tree Mapping to the team’s students in a very controlled lesson and follows up with an additional lesson or two.
  • Then the Social Studies teacher reinforces the note taking strategy in his class. By putting some of the information in the template the teacher uses  a think-aloud approach about what would be important to note and then turns the rest of the note taking activity into a guided practice.  The class continues to practice throughout the unit on the pre-revolutionary era.

Scaffolding a Tree Map for Boston Tea Party Note Taking

  • The Math teacher picks up two weeks later, still modeling the process, but leaving more and more blanks for the students to handle on their own,

  • Now  Team Penbscot is interested to find out how well the students can use Tree Mapping independently.  The Science teacher agrees to  use the technique as she begins a new unit and chapter in the science text. It will be a formative assessment of the students’ progress in acquiring this skill. She reminds  the students about the importance of headings and subheadings in a Tree Map.  She asks them to take notes on the first several pages of the chapter in the Tree Map format.
  •  She takes these notes to the next team meeting where the team looks at them and quickly sorts them into two piles: students who have demonstrated that they can do Tree Mapping independently and those who can’t.  Then they take a closer look at the the latter pile and identify 3 problem areas:
  1. About 5 students just haven’t internalized the process at all.
  2. About 10 are just copying every single detail into their notes–they can’t decipher what is important and what is not.
  3. About 7 students have too little information–they also have trouble figuring out what is important and what is not.

The team looks at their calendar and decides to use the upcoming study hall  to address the needs of  the students who are still having problems with Tree Mapping.

  • The Language Arts teacher is going to pull the five students who are really struggling aside during that time to reteach.  He is going to ask the special ed teacher to help him plan and implement the new lesson, thinking that the special ed teacher’s expertise in learning differences might give him a new perspective to develop a more effective lesson plan for these students.
  • The Social Studies teacher will take the 17 students who have trouble identifying what is important and what is not.  He will work with them using think-alouds and guided practices. The students really need to see the process modeled several more times.
  • The math and science teacher will carry on with the rest of the students in a quiet study hall.  Both have students in that group that need some additional attention.
  • The team teachers then agree that a follow-up formative assessment will be necessary to see whether or not the identified students are now able to apply Tree Mapping as a note taking strategy independently in their classes.

Teams in the middle grades have a tremendous opportunity to help their students succeed academically by collaborating and building scaffolded instructional plans that span the content areas–multiple practices and varied contexts. ACT’s report, “Forgotten in the Middle” stresses the importance of skills, attitudes, and habits internalized in the middle grades–they have more influence on students’ future academic success than anything that happens in high school.

Other note taking protocols that teams could teach in a collaborative fashion:

Cornell Style Notes: http://coe.jmu.edu/LearningToolbox/cornellnotes.html  and   http://www.solida.net/notes/

Topic and Concept Cards: http://www.muskingum.edu/~cal/database/general/notetaking3.html

Five Notetaking Methods: http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:57qHoBsoz1cJ:www.redlands.edu/docs/StudentLife/1Five_Methods_of_Notetaking.docx_UPDATED_7-09.pdf+five+notetaking+methods&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESgS17CnoF8BxKpKbyJp4UHzR7py1TQr1Yj-UG2F8Xw9spSMwMcsx-PxkRsSg3Ixk37GBf61w4taVe7VDt1rLRk8j42DmmmNDHGqF8fsMeHj5NBVIWohzktUXAScwf1YMOnkIy8z&sig=AHIEtbQEiqiJlWunxYVxcRG-bHSbs-PtGA

Virtual Cork Bulletin Boards for Teams

I’ve just discovered the coolest website — it’s an online corkboard — just like the one that was on the wall in my classroom! I found it via the Middle Talk list serve of NMSA (Thank you Gayle!).  Being able to participate in Middle Talk is one of the great benefits of NMSA membership–folks from all over the world discuss middle level issues, share resources, and provide support.

A member of the listserve mentioned a post on Larry Ferlazzo’s website Larry Ferlazzo’s Website of the Day.   This post discusses virtual corkboards or bulletin boards.  I had never heard of such a thing! I was intrigued! Larry describes 5 different sites:

Each site has its own peculiarities, so it’s important to read Larry’s post to find out which site best fits your needs.

Larry identified Corkboard.me as his favorite so I decided to see what it has to offer. OMG! as the kids say.  In nothing flat I created a bulletin board.

Virtual Bulletin Board Created With Corkboard.me

When you go to the site, it automatically gives you a personal URL.  This URL can be embedded into a website or simply shared with others so they can access it.  By clicking on a View Only button you can ensure that no one but you can edit the site.  Each message is on a stickie–you click, one appears, and you type. It’s that simple! If you are a technology neophyte or phobic, you will be able to  impress your students and colleagues by creating a virtual bulletin board.
What a marvelous tool for teams:
  • Set one up just for the teachers where you all can leave messages, brainstorm ideas, create to-do lists.
  • Build a safety net for subs by preparing one that has  information they might find useful.
  • Create one for students (post messages, leave to-do lists for projects, post vocabulary words of the week, and recognize and congratulate students for great deeds and superlative work).
  • Communicate  with parents.
  • Keep in touch with other teams in the school.
Students could use this site also:

  • share resources
  • brainstorm ideas
  • keep track of resources for a project
  • share interests

**** I think I would require students to give me their URLs for any school related work in order to monitor postings.

Because this site is web-based and you can create  bulletin boards from home, you don’t need to worry about server space at school.  Your students can access this resource from any computer–at home, at school, or the public library.

If you use one of these resources, please leave a comment.  Sharing our ideas is one of the benefits of this type of networking!

Develop Study Habits With Students

Generations of teachers have reminded students to review their notes nightly. Generations of students have ignored that advice and crammed the night before the exam.  Is there a way to turn that behavior on its head? Perhaps.

Teachers send messages about what they value by the amount of time they spend on a topic or skills or procedure. If we want students to develop the habit of regularly reviewing class notes/work, then we ought take the time to teach them how to do that. The middle grades are an opportune time to help young adolescents develop study habits that will serve them well in high school, college, the military, or on the job.

Looking closely at the team schedule may reveal time where team teachers can build in guided reviews of class notes and materials.  Perhaps it’s during homeroom or the fifteen minutes before lunch that often gets frittered away. Set up a schedule–Tuesday is social studies, Wednesday is science, etc.  As a team come up with easy prompts to get the students talking about the material they are reviewing:

  • What are the 3 things you bet will be on your quiz on photosynthesis?
  • Think solving algebraic expressions–List 3 things you know so well you could could me who hasn’t studied algebra in 20 years, two things you still have questions about, and 1 thing you will do to answer your own questions.
  • Use this 3 x 5 index to card to write down everything important from your notes from the past two weeks.
  • Have students work together to create a visual representation of the big ideas they are studying.

    Big Kids!

By collaborating to build in regular study time, the team sends a strong message to their students and parents that they value regular and consistent review.  When you see results from this review, be sure to celebrate with your students.

Here are a couple of variations:

  • Overtime allow students to take control of the review.  Help them become responsible for building their own study habits.
  • Talk with other teams in your school and build a systematic approach 6-8.  Over the three years gradually release the responsibility for studying to the students so that by the last quarter of eighth grade, most of them are on their own.  Some may still need additional scaffolding.

Gradual Release of Responsibility Model

http://www.literacyleader.com/?q=node/477

  • I do it  (Modeling)
  • We do it together  (Modeling)
  • You do with a partner  (Teacher coaching and giving descriptive feedback)
  • You do it independently (Students demonstrating what they have learned)

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