Inquiring, Sharing, and Igniting Idea Sparks with 5 Corners

On our third and final day of our Lanier Schools Academy Institute, we participated in a fun and engaging activity that reminded me of the Harvey Daniels written conversation strategies.   Lanier High teacher Brooke Webb and LSTC Rhonda Stroud led us through a variation of the Four Corners learning activity, dubbing ours Five Corners because we had five questions to contemplate in small groups about our district LMS platform, Desire2Learn.  Our essential question was “How can eClass (Desire2Learn) help my students with PBL?”

Brooke and Rhonda ensured we were in mixed groups of grade levels and subject areas by giving each teacher a sticky note numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.  We then went to our assigned table (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5) so that each group has an established starting point.  Each table had a question for the group to consider; the basic protocol was that you wrote your individual response, and then the group discussed and shared the responses.  We spent roughly 5 minutes at each table before rotating to the next “station’ or table with question.   You could also place a check mark next to responses from your peers that reflected your own practice or experiences.

As we moved through the stations, we could see what other groups had written and shared.  After we added our own responses and placed a check mark next to all answers that applied to our own practice/experience, we discussed the ideas shared from the other groups.  We rotated through all stations until we returned to our station that was our starting point.

We then looked at the responses shared by all groups at our initial station and grouped the responses into categories and tabulated our response to collect data to look for trends and patterns in the responses.  Some groups created simple bar graphs or charts by hand; we had a teacher in our group who was an Excel expert, so she created a beautiful graph for our group.

We then did a large group share out; this part of the activity was especially meaningful as fellow teachers not only shared the data, but teachers had the opportunity to talk about specific responses.  This small and large group work gave us ideas and strategies for using Desire2Learn in our classrooms and was a terrific springboard for the mini-lesson on Desire2Learn presented after the activity by Brooke Webb.  The learning experience and subsequent mini-lesson left me feeling energized and excited about incorporating Desire2Learn into my daily classroom instruction as well as PBL experiences for my students.

After we finished the activity and mini-lesson, Brooke and Rhonda hung up our work as a gallery on the ends of bookcases in the library (our beautiful learning space for the week) so that we could browse the work more closely during our collaborative work time and breaks.

This is another great variation on written conversation strategies that can encourage inquiry and crowdsourcing of ideas and knowledge.  I’m already thinking about how I can use this with my 11th and 12th grade readers and writers come August!  Kudos to Brooke and Rhonda for leading us through a rich and meaningful learning experience!

On a side note, the learning space also facilitated this learning activity.  I felt right at home in our beautiful media center because the Artcobell tables and chairs on wheels supported this kind of learning activity that involved movement as well as small group to large group work.  Over the last three years, I’ve been lucky to work in a library or classroom space where I had this kind of furniture; the one year I did not, I was absolutely miserable and felt stymied by immobile heavy tables and chairs.  These kinds of learning experiences are much easier to facilitate when you have a learning space that supports the design drivers of the kind of learner experience you’re trying to create.  As more schools incorporate inquiry driven and active learning activities, I think it is more important than ever for schools to closely examine their learning spaces and determine what they need to change in common learning areas as well as classrooms to support the vision for learning.

Crowdsourcing Our Knowledge With a Conversation Hotspots Gallery Walk

During the month of March, my period 6-3 (6th grade Writing Connections) selected drones as a topic they wanted to explore.  Over roughly 10 days, we read roughly 6-7 articles on the uses of drones; as we explored each article, we tracked the benefits and drawbacks to using drones as part of our front loading work for writing an argumentative essay.

I wanted students to have a way to talk about the pros and cons and see each other’s thinking, so I set up what I called “Conversation Hotspots” gallery walk after we had finished reading all of our articles and compiling a master list of pros/cons for drones.  I used pastel colored lined chart paper to set up 8 “hotspots” around topics from articles like drones and firefighting, drones and privacy issues, drones and farming, and drones and airplane safety.  Next, I assigned pairs and gave each pair a starting conversation hotspot.  Each group had 2 minutes to share a pro or con on that topic.  We then rotated to the next station where the next group had to either add a new pro/con statement OR clarify a statement that a previous group may not have written in specific terms.  While two minutes is a short time, it seemed to be just right for the students to review what others had written and to add something new.

After rotating to all the stations, each group eventually landed at their original station.  Each group then shared out the collaboratively built list of drones pros/cons with the rest of the class; this large group review/share also gave us an opportunity to add any ideas that may have been missed in our first pass during the gallery walk, and students could also update their individual pro/con lists.

The overall response to the activity was positive from the students.  The activity seemed to particularly resonate with one of my 6th grade students.   About six weeks ago, I got a new student who was very scared and anxious. He has had a chaotic young life and outside of band, very little academic success. He has also had a difficult time socially because he looks like a high schooler even though he is in 6th grade. He let me know right away he hated writing. Since arriving, I have watched his confidence grow and been proud of my students who have made him feel welcome. Flash forward to the end of our class today after we finished our Conversation Hotspots Gallery Walk. He came up to me and said, “Ms. Hamilton, are we doing this again tomorrow because this sure is FUN!!!!” I nearly cried hearing the joy in his voice and seeing his smile. That is something our state Milestones test can NEVER measure.

I love gallery walks because they get students sharing knowledge, talking with each other, fact-checking information, and an opportunity to physically move about the room (an aspect that is important for wiggly middle schoolers!).  How are you using gallery walks in your classroom to create “hotspots for conversation”?

10th Grade English Students Take on the CRAAP Test Rumble

Earlier this week, I did a new twist on the write-around written conversation strategies by using it as a learning structure for students to evaluate different sources of information. This entry, originally posted today on my media center blog, shares our learning experience with the CRAAP Test Rumble!

Update 1/16/17:  The original post on the Hooch Learning Studio site has a more detailed explanation, so you may want to visit here to get a fuller picture of the learning activity.

Update 2/26/16:

By popular demand, here are the Word documents for the activity:

CRAAP Checklist Feb 2016

Small Group Response CRAAP Feb 16

The Hooch Learning Studio

Image created with Canva

Earlier this week, we had the great pleasure of working with Ms. Boudreaux and her two sections of Honors 10th Literature/Composition.  We used Monday to give students a hands-on experience in evaluating a variety of information sources.

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We began with a quick chat about the importance of evaluating and assessing allinformation sources in the context of one’s research task and topic, not just websites.    We then introduced the CRAAP test and showed a short video to familiarize students with the principles and questions to consider; students also received a CRAAP test checklist (see below).

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After the video, we explained to the students our hypothetical research task and topic (aligned with their actual assignment), and we reviewed the procedures for participating in our write-around, our learning structure for students looking at the different information sources and using the CRAAP test as our set of conversation prompts…

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Modifying Conversation Strategies: The Mini Write-Around

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Today’s guest post is from my friend and former colleague at Norcross High, Dan Byrne.  Both Dan and his wife, Dr. Melinda Byrne, are accomplished teachers; Dan was our Teacher of the Year at Norcross HS for 2014-15, and Melinda was one of the finalists for the same award this fall.  Collaborative efforts with Dan were featured last year on the blog, and I am delighted he is continuing to integrate pieces of that work with his students.  Earlier this semester, Dan listened to his students and their points of need by modifying the large group write-around strategies we had done in 2014-2015.  Here are his reflections of that process!

The Mini Write-Around

I teach IB History to highly motivated juniors and seniors.  By highly motivated, I mean the kind of students who will read six chapters the night before a test just to make sure they feel confident.  IB History is different than many subjects because it rewards a high level of conceptual thinking that is paired with their choice of very specific facts that back up their concepts.

That is why I like “Write-Around” as a strategy.  I often give students a quote, an old IB test prompt, or even just a theme and have them add their ideas as they work cooperatively.  I find this a non-threatening, fun, change of pace for students to review, build concepts, or practice skills of supporting or refuting ideas.

Students sometimes remark that they enjoy Write-Around, but that they wish they could take all the ideas with them.  (Apparently, the iPhone photos that so many kids take of content in the classrooms are never looked at again.)  Because of this, I decided that I would try to shrink my Write Around by writing on a standard-size piece of copy paper instead of using a display-sized sheet.   Here is what we did:

  1. Students initially walked around and responded just like a regular write around.  However, they soon decided it was more efficient to pass them from desk to desk, so they passed the sheets.  (Like I said earlier, the challenge was the amount of information they had in their heads). In my smaller classes, students worked in pairs; in larger classes, students worked in groups of four.  Students were writing significant ideas/themes/facts for aspects of WWI.  The kids wanted this information/ideas to keep for review after class ended.
  2. Students then engaged in small and whole group discussion.
  3. After the class discussions, students “starred” the comments from the write-around they felt were notable, exemplary, or important in some way.

Once students had completed the activities , I copied their Write-Arounds so each student could have a packet of copies of their peers’ responses.

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Students liked the Mini Write Around because they felt “less pressured” to get all the information down (sometimes these kids lose the forest for the trees).  They also liked that the paper fit on a standard desk. We were also able to have more “writing stations” than we would with the traditional write-around.  The only drawback was that some students remarked that they didn’t have enough space to develop their ideas.

My main complaint about this modified approach was that students got very “facty” on this assignment.  I think this was partially due to the paper size and partly due to the fact that I did not have good prompts for them to build concepts around.  I think another strategy to try would be to provide students with the opportunity to spend time taking notes at the end of the activity.  That would force them to distill the ideas on their own rather than depending on me to give them a shotgun approach.   Another modification for the future:  groups of writers need to be smaller so everyone can see the paper; I also feel that three is the ideal size for my kids so that you have enough to generate discussion but not so many that they are butting heads. I also need to give them more time to write (I think I thought, “less paper, less time”).  Last but not least, the students need to write in ink so the copier clearly picks up what they wrote.

It’s Your Turn

How are you all integrating and modifying written conversation strategies to meet your students’ needs?  Please share your experiences and variations in the comments below!