Sunday, September 23, 2007

A to Z Taxonomy

An A to Z taxonomy in the first few days of a unit works well to activate students' prior knowledge and get them excited about the overall theme of the unit. Students love this creative and fun activity.

Strategy steps:
  1. The teacher gives the unit's theme to the students. The theme needs to be broad enough and real-life enough that students can use their prior knowledge and cultural background to complete the task.
  2. This tasks works best in groups to really build excitement.
  3. The group's recorder starts lettering a large sheet of paper with A, B, C, D . . . . X, Y, Z.
  4. Group members create a list of words that they think are examples of the main theme or illuminate the theme in some way.
  5. Students do not need to progress sequentially through the alphabet. They just fill in the blanks as they think of words or phrases that start with a given letter.
  6. If students have difficulty completing the list, the teacher may allow one member per group to wander around the room for one minute and "spy" on other posters being created.
  7. The teacher may or may not allow the use of a dictionary and a thesaurus.
  8. Once all groups are completed, then the teacher may have people share their lists with the full class or have the class come up with an agreed-upon word or phrase for each letter.
With Brave New World in my World Literature class, students made an A to Z Taxonomy of science and technology issues they felt the world would be facing in the future.

I’ve had equal success with this activity with the word “relationship” with Othello. At the end of the Othello unit, students revisited their A to Z Taxonomies to see if Shakespeare had addressed all of their relationship words. With a little creativity and successful use of synonyms, students found that they could find an example from Othello for each word in their A to Z Taxonomy. Students really learned that Shakespeare is timeless and universal.

I will have students revisit their Brave New World Science and Technology lists too. They will then evaluate just how much of a futurist Aldous Huxley really was.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Tree Map For Peer Review

At the English 10 meeting, KC discussed using the tree map for peer review for the student's first essay. Each branch would be labeled with the six traits of writing--ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions.

Under each of the six branches, sub-branches for strengths (+) and weaknesses (-) would be drawn. As students read each other's essay, they list details under the appropriate + or - branch.

To facilitate this process, students exchanged notebooks with their peer review partner. The peer reviewer created the 6 Traits tree map in the author's notebook. That way, the author not only had the information ready for revision of this particular essay, but also the author had the tree map record in the notebook to review when writing subsequent essays.

This strategy reminded me of the time that I graded blue book essays by simply creating a strengths (+) and weaknesses (-) tree map on the front of each blue book. I then listed a few ideas under the - and a few under the +. Assessing essays this way was efficient since I did not write comments throughout the blue book, and the tree map was meaningful to students because they could see a quick summary of their strengths and weaknesses. Students also liked seeing that they did get at least one positive comment.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Key Word Notes Update

After Chris, KC and Sarah reported great success with the Key Word Notes strategy, I wanted to try it. I was amazed both times that I have used the strategy this week. The students were able to synthesize the information being learned into high level summary statements.

The first time that students completed Key Word Notes was Monday during setting presentations. Each base group presented information on the details of a different setting in Brave New World. Those presentations also included information regarding Huxley's intent for including such a detailed setting in terms of character development, symbolism or theme.

While a group was presenting, all other members of the class had to listen attentively and come up with a one-word summary of the entire presentation. Not only was I amazed that the audience was practically on the edge of their seats to cue into a key word, but also the words that were chosen were usually at the symbolic or thematic level. Words like sterile, brainwashing, unnatural, inhumane and conformity were captured on the Key Word Notes page of their notebooks. After each presentation, I asked a few students to share their words and reasoning, and again students displayed a high level of thinking during this synthesis activity.

In fact, the summary sentence at the end of the Key Word Notes chart was often a thesis statement for an essay on Huxley's intent regarding setting details.

The second time that I used Key Word Notes this week was during a classroom discussion. The last time that we had a full day of classroom discussion on the novel, I noticed that many students were tuning out, and I was kicking myself for not providing some type of formal reflection activity. So today, which was slated to be another full day of classroom discussion, I had students create a Key Word Notes chart. After about seven minutes of an open forum discussion (where students pose questions for other students to answer), I would say, "Timeout! Summarize the past seven minutes into one word."

After each reflection minute, I had a few students share their word and reasoning. I was disappointed that the words chosen were not as high level as the ones earlier in the week during the setting presentations. There was no unifying theme for the seven minutes prior to reflection time because two or three unrelated questions were posed by the students. I feared then that I had misused the Key Word Notes strategy in this artificial task.

I feared that the words were so disconnected that the summary sentence would not make sense or be too difficult to write. Before I had students write the summary sentence, I told them that this sentence should capture their closing thought of the day; what they had gotten out of today's discussion. I was pleasantly surprised that the sentences shared were as high quality as the setting ones earlier in the week.

I've concluded that the Key Word Notes strategy gives students the framework to make personal meaning out of classroom discussions, even when a number of various topics and questions are raised.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tree Map for Classroom Rules

During the first week of school, I had students create a tree map for the class rules. I provided the tree branch headings of Work--Respect--Belong. (Thanks KC for those headings.) Students then decided what those concepts looked like regarding specific classroom behaviors. Classifying classroom behavior details in this manner allowed students to see what types of activities they should engage in to be successful in my classroom.

This process allowed me as the teacher to give some direction as to the general code of conduct while allowing students to take ownership in how the general rules would play out specifically in the classroom.

Those tree maps are posted in the classroom, and I refer to them when a student needs a reminder.

Anticipation Guide to Engage Students

An anticipation guide is a set of true/false or agree/disagree statements that are presented to students prior to informational text (including math chapters), films, and guest speakers. The strategy sharpens a student's thinking skills while building curiosity. When information is memorable, student learning increases.

The steps:

  1. The teacher writes several declarative statements that are based on the upcoming reading, film, chapter, speaker, etc. The best statements are possible yet open for debate.
  2. Before the reading, students decide on their response. Students could complete the anticipation guide with just their own opinions and then check with a partner or group.
  3. The group discusses some of the statements as a whole class, having students tell the reasoning behind the response. The teacher can prompt: "Why do you think so?
  4. Students read the assigned material and change their answers so that they leave class with the correct answers to study.

Generally, anticipation guides are used with non-fiction texts so that students can reason with prior knowledge. With fiction, the author could take the reader anywhere. However, anticipation guides can be successful with fiction when the agree/disagree statements get at the big ideas or themes of the novel.

Here are some example fiction statements for anticipation guides:

Huxley's Brave New World--
A society's stability is hindered by people expressing their individuality.

Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn--
A natural father's rights are more important than a child's welfare.

Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing--
Before deciding to marry someone, people need to agree with their parents' wishes.

This strategy is culturally responsive because students share their reasoning behind statements with small groups and the entire class. Since the reasoning is based on what students know, various cultural backgrounds will emerge. Hopefully, this leads to students appreciating other backgrounds and life experiences.

English 10 teachers used an Anticipation Guide during the first week of school where students agreed or disagreed with statements about life if high school. This activity worked well.

KC even created an anticipation guide of personal information as a way for students to get to know their teacher.

Math Thinking Strategies

Scott, the high school numeracy coach, and I have been meeting over the past few weeks to discuss ideas for Advanced Algebra. Since my math skills left me 25 years ago when I dropped Calculus II in college, these meetings have been a challenge for me.

However, my lack of knowledge may be paying off. Last week, Scott gave me a word problem to solve and asked me if I could use thinking maps to solve it. Being true to the belief that the brain thinks eight ways as represented by Hyerle's Thinking Maps, I set out on the task. I falsely started with a tree map and then realized I didn't even know the ideas to classify yet.

After backtracking to a circle map to define the problem, I felt much better about the problem. I then could make a tree map that classified the parts of the problem, which turned out to be the parts of the mathematical expression I needed to arrive at to solve the problem. The solution to the problem was just a quick flow map away.

I have to confess that it took me nearly 20 minutes to solve this one word problem from an Advanced Algebra sophomore class. Scott found my thoughts fascinating because I was talking out what I was thinking as I was making the Thinking Maps. Scott said that with students he never gets to hear the thought process; students usually just shut down and say, "I don't get it."

Scott and I came to the conclusion that my brain needed to go through the following three thinking processes to solve the problem:
1) a circle map to define
2) a tree map to classify
3) a flow map to sequence the stages of the mathematical expression

Since the problem solving process took so long (even with Scott asking me clarifying questions along the way), I wanted to test the idea that I had, in fact, learned something and could solve another problem. I wanted to show Scott that taking the time up front to get me to understand the process would pay off in the end when I made up time on future problems.

I went through the same three-step process with a second problem and arrived at the correct answer in only five minutes, and I had sketched out the three Thinking Maps. I was amazed at my ability to solve the second problem, and I was actually enjoying math.

After this session with Scott, I pulled out Hyerle's Thinking Map binder to look if he had addressed math problem solving steps. He had! I can't believe that I neglected to look there first, but in retrospect, I am glad I tried to construct meaning on my own. Hyerle proposed using the same three-step process that I had arrived at on my own--the circle map, the tree map and the flow map in that order. Arriving at that process independently further strengthened my belief that the brain does think in those eight ways.

Scott took my completed maps back to the math department. One teacher couldn't believe that I had thought that way to solve the problem. She felt I should have done it another way. Scott said that he realized then that people have different frames of reference when solving math problems and there are probably students sitting in the math classes needing to think out the problems with all the steps that I needed.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Writing in Math Class

Scott's math students are writing their robot stories on his blog, I love that students are writing for math classes as part of their homework. Now if only I could figure out how to teach math across the curriculm.

For more information on Scott's work as the EHS Numeracy coach, visit his blog at

Levels of Questions

Students in World Literature create their own questions about the novels that they then pose to the class for open forum classroom discussions. To get students beyond simple content questions, I reviewed with them the three levels of questions that I learned both from an NUA session a few years ago and from Augsburg's Paideia Institute.

This is how I worded the types of questions for my students:

Stage 1 Questions: (Re-tell the story.) These are content questions where the answer is right there in black and white. These questions are similar to reading quiz questions. You may ask a stage 1 question when you feel clarification is needed regarding the facts surrounding the plot, settings or characters.

Stage 2 Questions: (Extend the story to themes.) These theme questions uncover the deeper meaning of a text. What is the author's central meaning or life lesson? Theme questions get at eliciting people's opinions that are supported with textual references.

Stage 3 Questions: (Connect the themes to personal experiences or world events.) These questions allow students to express their opinions about personal and world issues that they feel are relevant to their lives. Opinions and debate abound when these questions are posed to the class in an open forum. You will almost hear Socrates whispering, "good job," as you take World Literature: A Senior Seminar to this highest stage of discourse.

Soundtrack Assignment

As a final project for Catcher in the Rye, American Lit teachers will have students create a soundtrack of the songs that remind them of the books themes or characters. Each soundtrack song is accompanied by one paragraph that explains why the song was chosen. This assignment really allows students to showcase their teen culture.

Here's a full description of the assignment:

The Catcher in the Rye Soundtrack

Most movies today come with a soundtrack of songs and music heard in the film. These songs sometimes are incidental (i.e., not important) to the film, but other times they add meaning to the plot or highlight the emotional aspects of particular characters.

For this assignment, you must create a soundtrack for The Catcher in the Rye that represents theme, illustrates growth of character, and reflects the plot meaningfully. The soundtrack that you create should be appropriately and respectfully representative of the novel.

Here are specific criteria:

1. You must have a minimum of eight songs. You may choose any kind of music. You may want to think about having a “theme” to your music; that is, have all music be from one genre. (WWHLT? What would Holden listen to?)

2. At least three of these songs must be for specific characters. That is, find a song that best represents each character you choose. In essence, this should be the character’s “theme song.”

3. At least three songs must be meant for specific scenes of the novel. Focus on specific, meaningful scenes. Ask yourself: if this scene were made into a movie, what music would be played in it?

4. At least one song must represent a theme found in the novel overall.

5. Not all the music you choose must have lyrics. Instrumental selections are also appropriate.

6. For each song you choose, you must write a paragraph explaining your choice. Comment on the connection between the music and the novel. The song must fit the character/scene/theme well. For each song, use at least one quotation from the book as support for your choice. Also, you will probably want to quote specific lyrics in your discussion. Make sure you offer insightful reasons to justify your selections and connections.

7. You must either provide lyrics for each song or make a tape/CD with the music on it. You may wish to just present the lyrics that would be heard in the movie, or you may provide the entire lyrics since the full song would appear on your soundtrack.

8. Create the cover jacket for the CD soundtrack jewel case (front and back). The cover should include the name of the CD and at least one visual reference to the novel; the visual(s) should also connect to the characters/scenes/themes that you emphasize on the soundtrack. Other text that you may wish to include on the front or back: a list of the songs/performing artists, credits, recording company information, dedications, lyrics. Push your creativity here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Using Blogs

Many of our NUA CoP members have implemented blogs this year in the classroom. I have linked a few to this blog so that you can further see how NUA strategies are coming into the classroom. KC's blog even has photographs of the Thinking Maps on the white board. I need to pack my digital camera to start capturing class information like this.

Jim Hatten has developed this website to help students get started on creating their own blogs. Jim's site is awesome, and I'm sure it will help my students when they start creating their own blogs.

If you want to link your classroom blog to this site, just let me know the URL, and I'll add it as another way to keep our learning community going.

Key Word Notes

The Key Word Notes strategy allows students to restate information from readings and lectures in their own words to increase comprehension and retention.

Strategy Step by Step:

  1. Students make a chart of boxes (see above) in their notebooks.

  2. The teacher divides the reading into four sections.

  3. Students read the first section of text and then stop to reflect. During reflection, teachers may want students to discuss the reading with a partner or base group.

  4. After reflection and/or discussion, students write just a few words in the appropriate box. Alternatively, students could write the key words first and then discuss with a partner about why they wrote those specific words.

  5. Students repeat the process with the next three sections until the top four boxes all have key words noted in them.

  6. Then in the bottom box students write a summary sentence (two at the most) about what they learned in the reading. Students may or may not incorporate the key words from the top boxes in this sentence.

The Key Word Notes strategy also works with lectures. Students may be taking detailed notes on one page of their notebooks, but then on another page they have their Key Word Notes chart. This chart will provide for summary and reflection as the teacher pauses four times during the lecture to let students jot down and discuss their key words.

Key Word Notes also works well for students during a research paper or project unit. Students simply record a few key words from each source in a box. In fact, this strategy was devised from a high school teacher concerned with plagiarism during a research paper unit.

The number of boxes can also be varied if a reading or lecture fits logically into 6 sections, etc.

Chris Dalki, KC West and Sarah Burgess (nee Striffler) have all reported great success so far this year with Key Word Notes. Enriched Sociology students used the strategy with a nonfiction piece.

Enriched English 10 students used the strategy to share information from their summer reading journals with a partner. Students wrote down ideas after their partner sharing in a Key Word Notes chart set up with boxes labeled: main character, other characters, images and big ideas. After writing their summary sentences, students then discussed the themes that they saw in the book. KC and Sarah reported that this was an awesome lesson.

I will try this strategy in a few days during a discussion of Brave New World to give students a chance to reflect on the discussion occurring in the classroom and to capture those key ideas.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

EHS NUA Cohort Calendar, 2007-2008

Cohort 4

Members: Arne Bolstad, Kim Caster, Natalia Kissock, Jeff Mace, Ellen Mundt, Chris Dalki, Claris Springob, KC West and Jane Yanda

10/25/07: Large Group at Adath, 8:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
11/01/07: Site Visit at EHS, 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
11/29/07: Site Visit at EHS, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
01/17/08: Large Group at Adath, 8:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
02/12/08: Site Visit at EHS, 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
02/28/08: Large Group at Adath, 8:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
03/20/08: Site Visit at EHS, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
05/7/08: Large Group Celebration, site TBD, 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Cohort 5

Members: Sarah Jarrett, Jenn Carter, Eric Nelson, Jenn Cordes, Elizabeth Neary, Amanda Koehler, Kurt Hunter, Scott Woelber, Rachel Tholen, Emese Pilgrim, Ann Little and Kristin Benson

11/01/07: Site Visit at EHS, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
11/8/07: Large Group at Adath, 8:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
11/29/07: Site Visit at EHS, 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
01/23/08: Large Group at Adath, 8:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
02/12/08: Site Visit at EHS, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m.
03/06/08: Large Group at Adath, 8:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
03/20/08: Site Visit at EHS, 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
05/8/08: Large Group Celebration, site TBD, 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Flow Map of Vocabulary Words

When teaching vocabulary words for Brave New World this year, I am going to try something new to bring the words alive and give the students a sense of the story's sequence at the same time. I will give them all 30 vocab words upfront--that's two a day for 15 reading days.

On day 1 of the reading schedule, the students will glue the vocab list in their notebooks. They will also make a 30-box flow map, spanning at least two pages of their notebook. I will make sure that students leave space below the boxes to have the luxury of space to add a few written details to the story sequence.

On day 2 of the reading schedule, I will discuss the two vocab words that students encountered as they read their assignment the night before. Then students will write one vocab word in each of the two first boxes of the flow map and then illustrate those words.

I hope this technique brings the vocab words to life for my students and provides them with a graphic review (like a comic strip) of the novel.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Thinking Map Frames

Every Thinking Map should have a frame around it. Some people think that the frame only goes around the circle map because the posters show only that one framed, but that is really an error in the posters. Last year, RuthMary drew frames around all of her posters to emphasize the point that EHS's first NUA consultant, Rick Olenchack, used to say, "It don't mean a thing if it don't have that frame."

The frame around the maps provides an extension of the thinking and helps the teacher understand the students frame of reference. Frames help bridge the culture gap because multiple backgrounds come across with references to personal and cultural experiences, values and belief systems. When a Thinking Map is done as a group activity, the frame can even be split into sections to indicate which portion came from which student. This emphasizes that each student brings a different frame of reference to the classroom activity.

Below is a tree map from Thinking Maps Inc., Training Manual on uses for frames of reference.

NUA Insights and Applications from the CoP

On the last day of the high school NUA CoP, people shared the following summary statements from their key word notes page to provide a quick review of the weeks activities:
  1. NUA strategies address culture, language and cognition and require students to think about their thinking.

  2. NUA and Thinking Maps address classroom management by bridging the culture and achievement gaps.

  3. NUA provides a variety of strategies to assist students in learning with particular attention to culture, language and cognition.

  4. NUA strategies provide a common language to foster equity in learning that sometimes doesn't occur.

  5. Thinking Maps connect all disciplines to all cultures.

  6. I have a better grasp of NUA foundations. The research with Gifted and Talented students has mixed results since 10% of students said their writing skills declined because of Thinking Maps, but students were self reporting.

In addition, CoP members shared the following specific strategies that they plan on implementing in the classroom in the coming weeks:

  1. Ann will use the multi-flow map with students to discuss the causes and effects of controlling their asthma and the double bubble map to compare and contrast rescue inhalers with preventative inhalers.
  2. Elizabeth will implement the notebook this year to cut down on photocopying and help students get organized.
  3. KC, and the other English 10 teachers, are using an anticipation guide for community building in the first few days of school. KC has teacher facts on one anticipation guide. Another one English 10 will use is "High School Anticipation Guide" with questions about academic honesty and high school concerns. Many of the questions will be answered in the syllabus.
  4. Jim is doing his anticipation guides on and linking to his blog.
  5. Betsy pointed out that blogger just added the poll option so that teachers could do a weekly poll on an issue.
  6. Jackie has a flow map of the semester units on her bulletin board to build interest. Heidi (not a CoP member but an NUA Cohort member who shared this idea) is building a flow map across her wall as a unit progresses. Scott will consider doing this in his math class on his back white board. He could have each day's outcome summarized with a Thinking Map which flows into the next day's map summary or items learned list.
  7. Jackie is also adapting many of Baruti Kafele's classroom management ideas. She has a vision statement on the bulletin board, a wall of fame in back, teleflip text messaging for positive comments, student goal setting on a multi-flow map, highlighting students through their Ipods, and putting an essential question of the day and agenda on the white board each day so that students know what they are supposed to get from each day.

Text Messaging Teleflip Tip

At the NUA CoP we discussed using text messaging to build relationships with students and bridge the gap between teen culture and teacher culture. Using allows teachers to use Microsoft Outlook to send text messages to students. All you need to do is type on the Outlook TO: line the phone

I'm planning on getting student cell phone numbers on the first day of school, and I will try to text a few students each day. I will use text messages to remind students of missed assignments or if I need to meet with them, but mainly, I plan on using text messages as positive reinforcement for something I witnessed them doing well in class.

My husband read about teleflip in PC World, and he reminded me that sending the messages in Plain Text from Outlook will make the messages easier to read on cell phones. To get to plain text, simply click on the drop down menu where the HTML default is located on your email message.

The Star Tribune had a story on text messaging using email today, and they said how easy it is to do if you know the recipient's cell phone service provider. I guess the reporter had not heard about which requires no provider information. It's even easier than the Star Tribune realizes. Sometimes it pays to have a Tech Geek, PC World reading husband.