A Little Sunshine for My Students

I had so much fun doing my Sunshine post. I thought about things I hadn’t considered in years. As I was working on it, I couldn’t help but think, this would be great for my students.

With this in mind, my colleague and I worked on some kid-friendly questions. We decided only 10, being the average age of our fifth graders.

Ten Questions

  1. If you had superpowers, what power would you pick?
  2. What lessons have you learned from a parent (mom or dad)?
  3. Tell something about an adult (other than your parents) who meant a lot to you.
  4. If you could have dinner with anyone living or dead, who would you choose?
  5. If you could take anything to a desert island, what would it be?
  6. What song has lyrics (words) that speak to your heart?
  7. What do you do when you’re bored?
  8. What frustrates you the most?
  9. What are you afraid of?
  10. If you could go back and change one thing in the past, what would it be?

Random Facts: I think the “random facts” section is the most intriguing part of the Sunshine post process. What you pick says something in itself. So of course, students get to choose 10 random facts about themselves.

Passing on the Sunshine: Why not have students pass on the process? Students can create their own questions and  “nominate” other people in their lives. No numbers here, as many as they want.

I’m hoping to get a few things out of this process:

  1. Student self reflection — Everyone struggles with this. The more we do the better we get at it.
  2. Teacher information — I learned so much about bloggers reading their posts; I can’t wait to see what students will share.
  3. Seeds for memoir — Students, just like us, think they have nothing to say. But they do, it’s just buried in the day-to-day doings, just like us. Perhaps this process will help them find a few things that trigger an important moment that has shaped them.
  4. Seeds for future posts — I want students to use their blogs in a more reflective manner. Perhaps these lists will be a go-to tool for that purpose.
  5. Enhancing relationships — I’m wondering who they will pass the sunshine to? Friends, family, teachers, the principal.

So here’s to sharing the Sunshine with my students.

Making Room for Thinking

How did I learn this summer? I didn’t have a graphic organizer, charts to refer to, or questions to answer.  What I did have was a driving question — How can I get my students to become passionate readers and writers. I also had access to information and and resources to stimulate my thinking,  namely:

  • great PD publications including (Notice and Note, What Readers Really Do, Choice Words, The Book Whisperer and The Units of Study in Opinion, Information and Narrative)
  • “virtual talk” specifically tweets and blogs of the driven, passionate learners of Twitter.

What I learned made me look hard and question my teaching.  Are the tools I’m giving students driving them to become passionate learners? Am I giving them the opportunity and tools that will spur that learning?

Strategies, strategies..does it stick? 

I teach strategies, lots of them. The strategy for every situation and the matching chart to go with it.  All these lovely tools — modeled, practiced, available and ready to be used.  Nothing was wrong with the strategies themselves. But were they being used effectively? When the scaffold and I were gone, did the strategies transfer?

My Aha:

I stopped short,   Actually I had it backwards.  The strategies worked in a controlled environment, but student transference was weak. Not because the strategies were bad, but because my thinking stimulated the use of the strategy, not student thinking.  They weren’t thinking. They were mimicking my thinking. My big aha: provide room for student thinking.

images-1New Rules — Listen, pose open ended questions, acknowledge thinking and get out of the way

There is nothing wrong with setting up the strategy, modeling it and charting it to make it clear. The trouble was how I got there. The source of the strategy needed to be lifted from student thinking. Model yes absolutely. Then as students try it, acknowledge their thinking and then push in subtly, teasing out their thinking with powerful prompts and  questions. Peter Johnston’s Choice Words gives good direction:

           Say more.. What made you think that? What else connects to that idea?      

              Show me…How did you get that idea? How did you figure that out?

                     Why? Why would the author do something like that? 

Making Room for Student Thinking

As teachers we so want our students to “get it” we push in and in the process we disable and we disrespect their thinking process. We take away the possibility of  development beyond us because we don’t trust that they can. And they “get” that, so they don’t think. They don’t think they can.  Johnston’s choice words and questioning creates a wide and respectful yet structured space for students to put their thinking in.

This just in — Another Great Resource for Questioning:

photoProviding questions that will stimulate process, problem solving and synthesis without leading is difficult!  So here’s another great book to put on your to be read pile: Essential Questions  written by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins.  It offers a  structure for formulating questions that are  important, timeless, and recur throughout our lives, organically. They are universal questions. They don’t dead end with a one word or one sentence response. They are intriguing. They beg to be answered. They foster investigation. They require critical thinking.  Check out the link above and get a taste of what EQs are and aren’t.

7 characteristics of essential questions:

  • Open ended
  • thought provoking
  • requires higher level thinking
  • raises additional questions
  • requires support not just an answer
  • recurs over time, needing to be revisited
  • is important and transferable within disciplines

Here’s to a year of student-driven strategies.  Driven with questions and prompts that foster room for student thinking and questioning. Here’s to a year of passionate learning.