On my way back from NCSS 2018 (the National Social Studies Conference AKA: Social Studies Dork Heaven!), I was thinking about all the great sessions I'd gone to and amazing speakers I'd met. My biggest question was, "What new idea should I try first?"
As I paid toll after toll (thanks Chicago...), I couldn't stop thinking about the question formulation technique from the Right Question Institute. It is a way of getting students to generate, improve, then narrow down a list of questions about a topic to generate a student-guided investigation into something. My units are already pretty set in stone, but I wanted to try it on a smaller scale to generate interest and curiosity (especially so close to the holiday break). I modified the strategy to be one to spark curiosity and gave it a try, and I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT!
Here are the steps:
1. Explain the directions very carefully.
2. Project the picture and DO NOT give any information about it or answer ANY questions.
3. In groups of 2-4, the students round robin-style whisper and record questions they have about the image on a shared piece of paper for about 2 minutes.
4. Give the groups one minute to identify their "1 burning question" and circle it on their lists.
5. Each group shares out their question and you record the questions on the board or sheet of chart paper to be referred to during the day or unit to see if their questions have been answered by the end of the unit or activity.
New Teachers (or Teachers who feel new),
Congratulations! You've almost half way through the school year! If you're like I was at the beginning of my career, the following things probably ring true:
1. It's not at all like on TV.
2. It's a lot harder than you thought it would be.
3. You're starting to get the hang of it.
4. Just a couple more easy weeks, then a nice, long and restful holiday season!
Well, the first two are definitely true. But don't worry; everyone feels like that. The last one, though...
Well, remember how your students were right before Halloween? Multiply that by 10.
So, here are some tips and strategies to try out or keep in mind as we all get geared up for a restful break:
1. Lesson plan and make copies for at least the first week after break so you can actually rest and re-charge.
2. Plan less intense, more interactive activities that let your students talk - 'cause they will anyway. Harness it for learning.
3. Don't be afraid to try something new. If it works - great! If it fails miserably, your students probably won't remember it in two weeks after break anyway.
4. Lastly, relax over break. You are doing your best, and things will get better.
Relax, and Happy Holidays,
So, after you read my last blog post about what differentiated readings are, you may have found yourself thinking, "Wow! What a great resource, but why would I use them when I have a perfectly good textbook?" Well, here are my five reasons to use differentiated readings in your classroom today:
My first reason is the major reason I created these in the first place; they support struggling readers and special education students so they can feel and be successful in a general education setting. Most text books I've seen and all the social studies textbooks I've been able to use do not seem to have been written for middle schoolers, and certainly not for struggling readers. Besides being written at too difficult a grade level, they also tend to be overly long and boring. My differentiated readings are short, to the point and written in a way that interests middle schoolers.
My next two reasons both deal with skills. My differentiated readings are not just articles to read and discuss. Students use them to practice their ability to identify and record critical content and to summarize. They also practice using context clues to define new or unfamiliar words - a critical skill for bumping test scores! Finally, they are a great and very easy way to embed ELA practice into your social studies content!
If you would like to try out a free one, please click here or the picture below for a free differentiated reading about Early Humans.
So, when I was an instructional coach several years ago, one of my responsibilities was gathering and analyzing data for the 1-8 Montessori building I worked in. It was eye-opening. I had always suspected that there was a wide range of reading levels in a given class, but I had never seen the actual numbers. For instance, one 8th grade class had reading levels from about 2nd grade to above 11th!
When I got back into a middle school social studies classroom, I found myself constantly helping students struggle to read and comprehend our very out of date textbooks or supplemental readings provided by my district. As a result, my students greatest struggle was comprehension of the words, not the social studies content. I needed a solution.
Differentiated readings were it! At first, I spent a lot of time trying to find articles of similar length and identical content at the reading levels I needed. Believe me, that is a very narrow slice of the Venn Diagram for most topics! So, I started writing them for my students at our middle grade level and also ones of identical content and similar length at an upper elementary grade level for all of my curriculum's units.
If these sound like they might be just what you are looking for to help your struggling readers understand social studies content while your stronger readers work at their grade level, click here or the picture below for some free differentiated reading passages about Early Humans and check it out.
Has anyone noticed that middle schoolers' attention spans have been getting longer and longer lately? That their ability to stay focused through simple things like taking notes has gotten better?
So, a big theme in my development as a teacher has been to develop strategies and activities that are as interactive and fun as possible while still delivering content.
Interactive notes are a great way to present new information with opportunities for students to examine pictures, talk about what they are learning and sometimes even draw in an organized, student-friendly way. They are way better than my middle school teachers' sloppy handwriting on chalk boards, or the equally sloppy writing of my college professors on transparency films with hot and loud overhead projectors!
15 years of teaching has taught me that no matter how organized I make notes, when middle schoolers copy them, they become a hot mess (Why don't you indent, Mason? Why do you use a different color for each word, Meghan?). So, I also created student note taking sheets. If this seems like something you'd like to try, click the picture below for a free Google Slide interactive note presentation with a student note taking sheet and directions on how to use them below.