Friday, November 8, 2013

Thursday Throwdown *Small group conversations

Time for another Thursday Throw Down with Erin from I'm Lovin' Lit...even though it's Friday...night!  I figure I get a pass since we had conferences Wednesday and Thursday until 8pm...

This month, Erin wrote about grouping/small group work, so I thought I'd take her lead. I thought it was quite timely since I am currently taking a MOOC online class through Stanford on Constructive Classroom Conversations (and I'm overdue on my homework for it...on to that after this blog post!)

Two Mondays ago, I was out for Jeff Wilhelm's workshop for MCTE (see last post) and while I was gone, my sub read Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed by Ray Bradbury. I had the kids focusing on foreshadowing and mood.  Tuesday, I didn't have plans set in stone (which is highly unlike me) because I wanted to see where the kids were at after the story, what we needed to review, and how to proceed.  I started the class by wanting them to self-choose small groups in which to discuss foreshadowing or mood, what they had found the day before, when one girl raised her hand and said that they really didn't know what foreshadowing was. That's where you hear the record needle scratch off of the record player, and the crickets begin chirping. I kid...

Anyway, I figured out with the class that they wanted to discuss it whole class instead of in small groups because they were fairly lost.  I proceeded to talk through examples, etc. for about seven minutes (really, seven peer leader observed me during 4th hour that day, and I had her keep a running record of my pacing!)  All seven minutes of all five classes the kids were blank. Not engaged. Not really following. It felt horrible

Once we wrapped up with mood and foreshadowing, I moved into summary/sequence of events work. To remedy the passive learning problem (I obviously hadn't planned it well, so it's one thing on my list of revisions to make for next year!) I decided in 1st period to have the kids form groups of 2-4. I wanted to make sure they got the gist of the story, so on one side of a piece of computer paper, I had them (everyone with their own sheet) come up with a Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then summary.  On the back side, I had them number from 1-10 and come up with a sequence of events.  Then, whenever two groups finished, I had them join and compare what they had, as well as come up with what they thought the main conflict and the turning point was in the story.

This seems like it would be a small, fairly dudly activity, but au contraire!  It turned out to be a fantastic activity.  The academic talk I heard while they were trying to figure out the sequence of events on their own (as well as the turning point) was AWESOME!!  The conversations they had when comparing what they had--the revisions and understandings--were AWESOME.  I was floored that something that seemed so simple would be so beneficial.  It forced them to actively make meaning vs just follow my lead. It was great.

And the time was 25 minutes :)

Aside from running a regular day during my observation (nothing *spectacular* planned...our observations are reflective rather than "graded") I also had in the back of my head that I needed to complete Assignment #1 (recording a short conversation) for the Constructive Classroom Conversations course.  I listened in on students and jotted several things down, but it was actually Wednesday when we read A Retrieved Reformation by O. Henry and did the same activity (the point of both, besides making sure they made sense of the plot, being that they got to choose between the two stories and fill out a detailed plot diagram on it for the final test...) that I really focused and wrote down a 30 second conversation between two of my students. 

Here is what I submitted for my assignment:

Context: After reading "A Retrieved Reformation" by O. Henry, students worked in small groups of 2-4 to discuss and complete a summary list and sequence of events list of the story.

Objective: RL 7.2 Students will determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.

Conversation prompt:  Working closely with your team, develop a Somebody-Wanted-But-So-Then graphic organizer to gain an agreed-upon and complete picture of what the story is about. Also, either listing or in a time line, identify roughly 10 events from this story.

(1)  Student A: What did he want?
(2)  Student B: Did he, like, want a normal life?
(3)  Student B: Is that right? (to me)
(4)  Teacher: Well, what would the rest of the story tell you about that?
(5)  Student B: He, like, didn't want to go back to his ways. But he, like,
     couldn't help himself.
(6)  Student A: No, no. I's like but his fiance owned a bank!
(7)  Student B: Wait, they were fiances, right? They were engaged?
(8)  Student A: Yah. How do you spell fiance?

I had to assess it on whether or not the turns built on each other and whether or not the conversation fostered learning/focused on the objective.  It was a great selection for both.  Obviously, not all conversations all day long 100% focused on the work they were asked to do, but honestly, they were pretty good all day!  This is definitely something I'll use again, and I have to say it was great timing with the CCC course in that I had specific things to listen for to gauge whether or not the conversation was focused and worthwhile.  I look forward to learning more through the course (it's offered via NovoEd by some really awesome people. Highly recommended.)

Hopefully that sparks an idea for at least one of you out there :)  I still have a lot to blog about (last Saturday I got to go see NCTE Vice-President Dr. Ernest Morrell speak at the Given's Foundation conference "Culture Matters"...interesting learning there, too!) (And...well...he's pretty easy on the eyes!!! I really mean to say that he had a lot of great ideas and information. ;)

Off to figure out what I have to do for this MOOC...and check Facebook to see if my brother announced the birth of my new niece yet (born this morning!!!  Homebirth, mom and baby fine, no name yet...)

Happy teaching, and happy weekend!


PS One of my future posts will most definitely be on the bullying prevention program we have at our school, the lip dub video we did on Halloween, and the huge problem a hypothetical teacher in my hypothetical 2nd period has with bullying right now (hypothetically of course, since HIPPA applies I'm sure), and how thst hypothetical teacher is trying to take care of it. It's hypothetically a really tough and horrible situation... 

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