I want to start today’s post by thanking the NEISD GT teachers who attended yesterday’s after-school training. Many of them came even though they then needed to go back to other campuses to attend PTA meetings. Despite the extra long work day, their enthusiasm and cooperation were amazing. Yesterday’s session was, “Frameworks for Facilitating Deeper Discussions and Learning,” which you can read about on my Professional Development page.
One of the Visible Thinking Routines we practiced yesterday was “Tug of War.” We used an example from the original Making Thinking Visible book by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison. In the “Picture of Practice” for this routine, Clair Taglauer, an 8th grade teacher from Traverse City, Michigan, describes how she used “Tug of War” with her students when they began reading The Giver. This is a book used with 5th graders by many of the GT teachers in my former district. The Giver, by Lois Lowry, describes a dystopian society where as much as possible is “the same” to avoid conflict. Taglauer asked her students to think about the concept of an ideal society from the two opposing sides represented in the book: sameness and diversity. With this routine, students generate arguments that support each side, and then post them along a rope. A key part of the second step is placement of the ideas along the rope. Instead of just hanging them on each side, groups also determine the strength of each argument and rank them so that what they believe to be the strongest supporting statements for each side are at the opposite ends of the rope, growing increasingly weaker toward the middle.
“Tug of War” helps students to not only look at more than one side of a dilemma, but also to note the varying layers of complexities and justify their arguments. It’s a good routine to use whenever it seems like students are jumping to conclusions, and you can have multiple ropes coming together at one point if there are several sides to consider.
You can see one example of the “Tug of War” the GT teachers did yesterday below. (Note for those of you not from Texas: HEB is our beloved grocery store!) You can learn more about this Visible Thinking Routine by reading the book I mentioned above, visiting the Project Zero website, or clicking here for some videos and a downloadable template. I’m working on a Wakelet collection of resources for Thinking Routines, but in the meantime you can click here to see some other posts that I’ve done about them.
With all of the controversy about Critical Race Theory in the news (see this explanation if you would like to learn more), Colin Seale of ThinkLaw has recorded a video that reminds us that we are once again fixated on the wrong issue when it comes to educating our children. Instead of worrying about what information students are getting in our schools, we should be concerned about whether or not we are helping young people learn how to think independently. In other words, let’s switch the narrative from Critical Race Theory (CRT) to Raising Critical Thinkers (RCT). I don’t know one parent who would want his or her child to grow up “gullible.” So, let’s teach our students how to be curious, ask questions, look at topics from multiple perspectives, and weigh the reliability of information. Watch and read about Seale’s video here, and consider that the most oppressive governments in history have been the ones who have actively discouraged critical thinking by restricting access to information and establishing strict educational curriculums that allow for no divergence of ideas. We can make sure this never happens while maintaining the uniqueness and diverseness of our nation by raising critical thinkers.
For more Anti-Racist posts, be sure to check out this Wakelet and feel free to follow all of my free collections here.
A couple of weeks ago, I shared some of the activities that I’ve done in the past with my students as the school year comes to a close. I decided to put them in this Wakelet so you don’t have to search for them. On Twitter, Susan Barber (@SusanGbarber) shared a fabulous activity she did with her high school seniors, and I asked for her permission to share. (My post, Blackout Poetry Maker, has been one of the most popular ones this year, so I thought this might be something my readers would enjoy!)
My students had 5 choices for an end of the year activity. One was a college admission essay blackout or whiteout. Love the final products! pic.twitter.com/KTHJj7WgjV
Of course, once people saw her examples, they wanted to know more about the project. It turned out the students had several choices in addition to the blackout poetry of college essays. She later tweeted this Google Slides presentation so people could see the options and examples. As you know, I am a big fan of choice and open-ended activities that allow students to show their creativity, so I am a big fan of Susan’s idea, and I hope you can use it, too!
Rounding out this week’s collection of suggestions for things to do at the end of the school year, I have some that I did with my 5th graders over the years. In our district, 5th grade was the final year of elementary school, and some of the students in my gifted and talented class had been seeing me weekly since Kindergarten. So, it was always important to me to help them look back on all of those years in GT and think about what they had learned that they could take with them moving forward.
One activity that we did was to form “Dream Teams” of people who inspired them. You can read more about it in this blog post, and download a couple of the planning sheets we used. At the time of that post, the students used Puppet Pals to present their teams to the class, but there are plenty of other apps and free online tools that will work just as well.
Thinking about their values was a central theme with my 5th graders each year. To make these values more concrete and something that they could refer to as they transitioned to middle school, the students designed manifestos. I have a few posts explaining what we did with these. The students designed them using Canva. (You could just as easily use Google Drawing if you don’t have access to Canva.) The first year, I ordered each of them a t-shirt, with their designs. Some turned out well, and some didn’t. That can also be cost-prohibitive. What seemed to work better was to put them in some frames from the dollar store, as you can see in this post. If I was in the classroom this year, I would give them options to choose their final product, depending on the tools we had available (laser cutter, 3d printer, vinyl cutter, etc…), similar to this “One Word Project” that I did with my high school students. For more background on how I introduced manifestos with my students, see this post.
Another project that I’ve done with 5th graders to help them be a bit more introspective was, “Character Strength Floor Plans.” They loved doing these, and their imaginations could really run wild as they used metaphorical thinking to compare their strengths to the rooms of a house. If I were to do it again this year, I would allow students to choose from Tinkercad, Google Sheets, or CoSpaces to create their designs – or even make their own mini models from cardboard or other materials.
I hope these ideas, or the ones from my other posts this week, will help you to enjoy your last few weeks with your students before your well-deserved break!
To continue this week’s theme of year-end activities to use with students, I want to remind you of this blog post from 2016. We used “Whatzit Tic-Tac-Toe” quite a bit in my class to analyze and synthesize learning, and the open-ended prompts work very well for an end-of-year reflection for upper elementary students. The game comes from Critical Squares: Games of Critical Thinking and Understanding, a book written by Shari Tishman and Albert Andrade for Harvard’s Project Zero, but you can see what the Tic-Tac-Toe game looks like if you go to page 24 at this link. I explain how I used it for reflection in my 2016 blog post, but you will probably find that you can modify it for lots of curriculum ideas. It’s one more way you can still learn and have fun once the year begins to wind down.
This week, I am revisiting some of my tried and true favorite end-of-the-school-year activities. For today, I want to refer you to my post on hexagonal reflection. This was one of those ideas that could have completely flopped, but was way more successful than I anticipated. The students (2nd graders!) were so incredibly thoughtful in their responses that I regretted not having done this with every class since the beginning of my career. For one of my more recent posts about hexagonal thinking, which may be helpful if you are still doing online teaching, check out, “Using Hexagonal Thinking Virtually.” I know this is deep, and the end of the year is generally fun and games, but if you want to help your students connect the dots of everything they have learned this past year and really seal in new knowledge and insights, please give this a try!