A Bit More on Descriptive Feedback!

This week’s Tuesday 12 post was on the topic of descriptive feedback.  We provided you with a variety of resources, but I forgot to include one! While browsing Pinterest (I really can’t stop!), I saw a great infographic that does an effective job summarizing descriptive feedback into one page.  When I read over this article, it gave me the idea to create a Tuesday 12 with a list of resources for descriptive feedback; however, I forgot to include the source of the inspiration!

Sept Cover_F.indd

Although I found this on Pinterest without a link to the original source, the article shows that the source is “The collective wisdom of authors published in the September 2012 issue of Educational Leadership: ‘Feedback for Learning.’ (Volume 70, Issue 1). Although I’ve never read Educational Leadership before finding this infographic, it seems to be an excellent resource and the September 2012 issue is devoted to descriptive feedback.

Computer Coding: An Essential Skill

We all wonder what our students and children will face in the future.  How will they be successful, what kind of work will there be for them, what skills are necessary to be able to be successful?  These questions are at the heart of everything we do!  We know that students need to be creative, able to problem solve and think critically.  Also, we know that our curriculum and our classrooms should be inclusive of technology.  But what about understanding where it all stems from?  What are we doing about that?  We need to realize that computer software coding is an essential skill that will be necessary for success. We need to be able to address this in our classrooms.

Here is a link to a wonderful video, where world class athletes, musicians and great business people, discuss the importance to this very skill.

Well, what does that mean for us? Visit the website www.code.org and find out how students can learn to code in elementary schools, how they can develop their critical thinking skills and problem solving skills. Share with us what you think and what you have tried.  It is never too late for anyone to learn to code!


Schools as Total Institutions

Schools as Total InstitutionsIn our previous post Why is School Important?, we discussed how school is a primary agent of socialization.  Todays post discusses the diverse ways schools attempt to de-socialize and re-socialize children.  When schools work to do so, they are termed  “total institutions”.

Total Institutions have four distinctive characteristics with respect to education.

First: teachers supervise all aspects of daily life; going to school means being separated from family and becoming a part of a new environment. Students are no longer under the supervision of a parent, rather under that of a teacher whose rules differed from those at home.

Second: the school is a rigid system which provides students with a standardized and organized way of life; At home, schedules are not as stringent or fixed as it is at school where events are scheduled for certain times.

Third: formal rules and daily schedules dictate when, where, and how students perform virtually every part of their daily routines; as previously mentioned, the rules in the classroom differ from those at home. Rules at school are in place to control what students do, how they do it and when they did it, as well as, with whom; whereas at home, routines are a little less structured.

Finally: a single rational plan exists to fulfill the particular goal of the institution.

‘De-socialization’ is the idea that individuals can ‘un-learn’ ideas and values, which most often takes place within the educational environment. This occurs when children, who share different traditions, beliefs and cultures, begin to unlearn what they have learned in the home.  Students are eventually able to recognize “bad” values, such as racism and sexism, and unlearn them. School helps students do this by exposing them to these topics and issues and re-teaching them.

We see this process in our schools but what happens to students who immigrate and have not been exposed to western culture? Would this work when students have reached an older age or would the process of de-socialization and re-socialization still apply?

Let us know what your thoughts are on socializing students.  What methods seem to work?

Helping Students Make Meaningful Connections Using Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week Strategy

“Part of the reason my students have such a hard time reading is because they bring little prior knowledge and background to the written page. They can decode the words, but the words remain meaningless without a foundation of knowledge” (Kelly Gallagher)

In one of my previous posts, I explained how I use Kelly Gallagher‘s excellent resource, “Teaching Adolescent Writers” (2006), in order to help my students learn how to write effectively.  In our school, we run TLCP (Teaching-Learning Critical Pathways) cycles focusing on a particular reading strategy throughout the year.  Currently, we are focusing on making connections, where students are to read a text and then respond to it by either making a text-to-self, text-to-text, or text-to-world connection. I often find that students will only skim the surface when making connections and I really want them to work on making a deeper and more meaningful connection to the text. Students have a difficult time making meaningful connections to texts because they lack sufficient experience and background knowledge.

Kelly Gallagher has developed an excellent strategy to assist with this dilemma: the Article of the Week.  The premise may be simple, but the effect is profound. Each Monday, students are given an article to read.  At the top of each article, Gallagher provides the following strategy:  “1. Mark your confusion.  2. Show evidence of a close reading. Mark up the text with questions and/or comments.  3. Write a one-page reflection on your own sheet of paper” (from kellygallagher.org/resources/articles.html).  At the end of each article, Gallagher provides possible written response topics.  A new article is provided each week with the same framework.

In my opinion, this strategy is perfect in every way:

  1. Students are provided with an article on a high interest topic that will capture their attention and motivate them to read (hopefully!)
  2. Topics can change each week and can reflect current events, student interest, or connect to other curriculum topics
  3. The reading strategy is consistent with each article (the three steps provided at the top of each article)
  4. Students are provided with a consistent task, where they apply their skills on a regular basis
  5. Students and teachers can easily monitor student progress by reviewing weekly responses over a certain time period
  6. Students will be building their knowledge base and be provided with the background to make meaningful connections when reading other texts
  7. This activity can easily be scaffolded with teachers slowly removing direct support when students become much more sufficient in breaking down the text and responding to it
  8. Differentiated instruction is easily attainable, as students can receive different articles on the same topic but at different reading levels or teachers can continue to provide more support to struggling students, while other students are able to work more independently
  9. Assessment for and as learning are addressed on a regular basis, as teachers can keep track of student comprehension, learning, and skill development, while students can use self-assessment to determine how well they are applying their reading comprehension strategies over time.

Kelly Gallagher has provided years worth of archives for the Article of the Week. The Articles of the Week are further subdivided according to the grade level Gallagher taught when that article was used. Since Gallagher teaches high school English, many of the articles are a bit too difficult for my grade 7 and 8 students.  Not a problem, as I have been scouring various sources for interesting articles that I can use in my own classroom.  Even if you do not teach high school English, this approach will work with your students, as the framework is extremely effective and focused on improving student reading comprehension in a regular and methodical manner.

Why is School Important?

Why is school important?Schooling is a fundamental part of all of our lives. Not only is it present in our everyday lives, but it is also viewed as one of the primary agents of socialization. From the time children enter school, until the time they leave, the socialization process continues. In addition, schooling broadens a child’s social world to include people with social backgrounds that differ from their own, while simultaneously meeting other individuals who may share similar interests, social positions, or age.

Socialization is defined as the process through which we learn to become members of a society or a community. Simply, it is the general process of acquiring a culture. Through this process we learn the language of that culture, patterns of behaviour, issues related to the community, rules and ideologies of society, forms of spirituality, as well as, other social processes as we advance. This learning process starts shortly after birth and continues throughout our lives, especially as we enter the schooling process.

As students enter and develop within the school system, they are pushed to re-analyze and sometimes disregard what they have learned in their home to be more accepting of the environment and diversity around them.  This attempt to socialize students into the mainstream means that schools must develop methods to de-socialize and re-socialize children.

What have you seen in your school, classrooms, or community to attest to this?

Next time, we will be discussing Schools as Total Institutions.

Focusing on the Eyes: Visual Skills Can Be Developed

Focusing on The EyesI read an article recently, which stated that vision is learned.  Being a mom of two, I knew that children develop their vision as they grow but I did not know that we can help develop and improve their visual skills.  Three essential skills that are important for children are eye focusing, eye calibration and eye tracking.  Students can practice these skills to improve overall vision skills.

Eye Focusing is the skill of being able to look at something that is near and then quickly and accurately switching to something that is far away.  Immediately I think of students referencing something on the board, or overhead with their notebook.  This skill can be practiced simply with a pencil and a calendar on the wall.  Standing about 10 feet away, have the students hold a pencil about a foot away from their eyes.  The students are to switch their focus between the pencil and the calendar.  Instruct students to not switch to the other item until the one they were looking at initially is in focus.   Repeat 10 times.

Eye Calibration is the ability to move the eyes inwards in order to focus on a very near object.  This mimics the same movement of the eyes when reading.  If students do not have this skill developed, then they will tire quickly after doing “close” work (reading a book, measuring, worksheets,  word searches are some examples).  To practice this skill all you need is a pencil and a partner.  Hold the pencil vertically about 16 inches away from the nose.   Have students focus on the eraser of the pencil and move the pencil slowly closer.  The partner is to watch the eyes and see when one of the eyes turns in or out.  Have the student note at what distance that is.  Then slowly move the pencil out/away from the nose.  The eyes are to both be staring at the pencil eventually.  When this occurs the partner is to note the distance.  Note that a student with normal eye calibration would be able to keep both eyes focused on the pencil until about 3 inches away from the bridge of the nose and can regain both eyes on the pencil at about 4 inches.  Repeat 5 times.

Eye Tracking is the skill that allows students to read sentences without losing their place or reversing the order of letters.  Furthermore, this skill is part of hand and eye co-ordination (playing sports).  Eye tracking allows students to follow a moving target smoothly.  If they do not have this skill developed, then students could have jerky eye movements, overshoot or undershoot targets or lastly could move their head side to side when reading instead of using their eyes.  Using a string and ball (and a partner) can develop this skill.  Attach the ball to the string and put a sticker on it so the student can focus on the item.  Three different activities can be done:

1) Swing the ball back and forth and have the student follow;

2) The partner is to swing the ball side to side.  The student should follow the ball without moving his/her head;

3) Have one student lie on the floor (on their back).  Have the partner swing the ball in a large circular motion.  The student on the floor is to follow the ball circulating until it comes to a complete stop.  Again, instruct students to follow with their eyes and not their head.

I hope this helps students and you recognize that their vision skills are essential and need to be practiced.