What Were You Thinking!? #micon14 #micon15

06/08/2015 Update: Alice and I were asked to share this session again tomorrow at the Martin Institute 2015 Summer Conference.

What Were You Thinking!?Today and tomorrow Alice M. Parker and I are learning and sharing at the 2014 Martin Institute Conference. Alice and I are facilitating a session entitled “What Were You Thinking!?” Our goal is to help teachers learn and grow in their ability to develop students into the critical and creative thinkers they will need to be to thrive as citizens in the rapidly changing, information-rich world in which we now live.

Session Description: Blank stares. Ask your average middle school students what they are thinking, and all you’ll receive are blank stares. As teachers our primary goal must be to move beyond simply teaching content to helping our students develop the critical and creative thinking skills they will need to thrive in the modern world. This session will explore the value of critical and creative thinking and examine how to develop student thinkers by using visible thinking routines and creative thinking techniques across the curriculum and in all disciplines.

Session Outcomes:

  • Examining the importance of critical and creative thinking in today’s information-rich world
  • Insight into what critical and creative thinking looks like in a classroom
  • Familiarity with visible thinking routines and creative thinking techniques
  • Awareness of the 4 aspects of creativity and how to scaffold them into instruction
  • Reflection on current practice and transformation of classrooms into places that promote students’ creativity and critical thinking

Protocol/Routine Links:

The following are some resources for further exploration and learning:

Brookhart, S. (2013). Assessing Creativity. Educational Leadership, 70(5), 28-34. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb13/vol70/num05/Assessing-Creativity.aspx

Ciotti, G. (2013, June 22). Creative Thinking: How to Be More Creative (with Science!). Sparring Mind. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.sparringmind.com/creative-thinking/

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (20112011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tishman, S., Perkins, D. N., & Jay, E. (1995). The thinking classroom: learning and teaching in a culture of thinking. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

My Homework

homeworkSo… This morning, my friend Bill tagged me in a “Homework” blog meme. I have no idea how this whole thing started, but according to Bill, “this meme has an important purpose: To give readers a look behind the digital masks that writers show outwardly to the world.” So what masks am I wearing as I share in this space? Hmm. I guess I need to spend some time reflecting on that. After all, the goal for this blog is to have an open, honest space where I share about my life and professional practice. I’m going to need to come back to this idea in a future post. For now, I have a homework assignment to complete (and papers to assess, too), and I’ve needed to update this blog anyway. (Okay, task number one is complete.)

The second task of my assignment is to share eleven random facts that readers of my blog probably don’t know about me:

1. When I was 13, my dad took our family to Los Angeles for the 1984 Summer Olympics. We were in the stadium for the women’s 3000 meter final, and I was less than 50 feet away from the spot where Zola Budd and Mary Decker had their collision.  

2. I am a total chicken when it comes to horror movies. I absolutely refuse to watch them. In fact, I’m still traumatized by the original movie versions of Carrie and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

3. I have a crush on Dame Judi and have for a long time.

4. I love teaching 6th grade, which is funny because I always wanted to teach high school seniors and then become a principal. I struggle with a tension between wanting to teach students and wanting to lead a school.

5. I start reading lots of books that I never finish. I feel a sense of shame about it. What is that all about?

6. My wife is a better reader than I am. I love to read, but she’s a voracious reader. In fact, I dream of being able to read like she does. Seriously, she’s amazing. She’s also a better teacher than I am. It’s not a competition; if it were, it wouldn’t even be close.

7. I could easily eat a box of frozen fruit popsicles every day. Every. Single. Day.

8. I prefer books, movies, or music to sports. I don’t really follow sports. I do have season tickets for University of Memphis football, but they don’t really inspire fanaticism. I occasionally enjoy watching professional tennis, and I like GolTV on nights when I cannot sleep, but I’m not “with it” when it comes to sports. Having said that, I should tell you two things. First, I read Geoff Calkins almost every day. Second, my team is in the finals of my school’s fantasy football league championship. Go team!

9. I’m getting ready to train for another marathon even though I haven’t run my first one yet. How’s that for complexity?

10. There’s a fine line between faith and doubt. I always seem to walk that line teetering from one side to the other. I wish I didn’t, but I do.

11. In another life I’m a performer.

My third task is to respond to eleven questions from Bill:

1. Grande Soy Green Tea Frappuccino with Extra Whip or House Blend Black? I’ll have the black coffee, but I’m hoping you have enough sense to serve this.

2. If you were going to write a book, what would its title be? Shut Up And Keep Spinning the Plates (Honestly, I have no idea.)

3. Rate graphic novels on a scale of 1-10, with 1 representing “useless” and 10 representing “simply amazing.” 5. I’m kind of indifferent in this debate. I’ve never seen a graphic novel turn a reluctant reader into a passionate reader, but some people may find them useful so I don’t have a problem with them.

4. What member of your digital network has had the greatest impact on your professional growth?  I cannot differentiate between my digital and non-digital network any more. I just have a network and those relationships develop in many places. I cannot name just one person either. After all, one cannot quantify learning no matter how hard he might try. Having said that, I admit the folks that immediately came my mind are Michael & Melanie Semore, John Spencer, Bill FerriterHadley Ferguson, Alice Parker, and Jill Gough.

5. How do you feel about the holidays? Stressed.

6. Rate the following movies in order from best to worst:  Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version). Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street (the original), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version)

7. What is the best gift that you’ve ever gotten? Romans 6:23

8. If you had an extra $100 to give away to charity, who would you give it to? HopeWorks would get the first $100. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital would get the next $100.

9. What are you the proudest of? Debbie and I have been together for 9 years. We will celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary next June. I’m crazy about her and our family.

10. What was the worst trouble that you ever got into as a child? As a teenager, I told a whopper of a lie to my parents. It was a big deal and it was awful. I won’t share the details. I just won’t. It was a day I’ll never forget, but I wish I could. I did other things that were stupid and/or mischievous, but this one haunts me. Now let’s move on.

11. What was the last blog entry that you left a comment on?  What motivated you to leave a comment on that entry? I left a comment on Bill’s blog primarily because he called me out in it. Sometimes Justin Stortz’s posts resonate so deeply in me that I feel compelled to comment.

The fourth task is to create a list 11  bloggers that now have to answer eleven questions from me. Here’s my list:

  1. Stephen Davis
  2. Bob Dillon
  3. Hadley Ferguson
  4. Jill Gough
  5. Yoon Soo Lim
  6. Jennifer Orr
  7. Alice M. Parker
  8. Edna Sackson
  9. Chad Segersten
  10. Justin Stortz
  11. Wanda Terral

The fifth task is to create a list of eleven questions for the above folks to answer:

  1. If you could take a “dream” vacation, what would it be?
  2. Hollywood is casting a biopic about you. Who should be cast in the lead role?
  3. The director changed her mind and has decided to create a reality show about you instead. What should the title be?
  4. What’s your favorite book?
  5. We take a trip to Yolo, one of those fill-your-own-cup frozen yogurt shops. What all do you put in your cup?
  6. It’s a busy night at the karaoke bar. You’ve got one chance to blow away the crowd and leave your mark. What will you sing?
  7. Who or what inspires you most?
  8. What was your favorite class in college or graduate school?
  9. If you could snap your fingers and magically change one thing (only 1) about your job, what would it be?
  10. Name one important thing on your “bucket list.”
  11. What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

So tag–you guys are it.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Post back here with a link after you write your response. Go ahead, you have homework.

#MICON13: Classrooms of Understanding

UnderstandingThis week Alice and I are sharing a workshop at The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence 2013 Conference.  We spend a significant amount of time in our classrooms helping our students scratch below the surface of what they are reading to deepen their understanding. There are several instructional tools we use to do this, and we were asked to share what we do. We’ve titled our session “Classrooms of Understanding: Scratching Below the Surface” and have provided the following description in the conference brochure:

What does student understanding look like? How do innovative teachers equip today’s learners with the critical and creative thinking skills needed to thrive in a changing world? In this excavation of understanding, we will uncover the essentials of student understanding, delve into routines and questioning strategies that develop habits for critical and creative thinking, and unearth best instructional practices in order to transform today’s classrooms into places of deep student learning. Join us. You’ll dig it!

Participants will gain:

  1. Insight into what student understanding looks like
  2. Tools for developing (and assessing) students’ critical and creative thinking
  3. Familiarity with deep questioning strategies and visible thinking routines
  4. Awareness of the 4 aspects of creativity and how to scaffold them into instruction
  5. Reflection on current practice and transformation of classrooms into places of deep thinking and understanding

Here are the slides we used for the session:

by Philip Cummings and Alice Parker

One of the primary things Alice and I are sharing in our workshop are some of the visible thinking routines we learned through Harvard’s Project Zero and use regularly in our classrooms. We only have a limited amount of time, but we hope teacher’s will get to experience See/Think/Wonder, 3-2-1 Bridge, a CSI: Colour/Symbol/Image, Connect/Extend/Challenge, and I Used to Think…Now I Think… Our hope is that teacher’s and school leaders will use these routines to help deepen their learners’ understanding and raise the own awareness of the learners’ mastery.

 Below are a few pictures that came out of the session on Wednesday, June 12, 2013.

Classrooms of UnderstandingClassrooms of UnderstandingIf you’re in Memphis to attend the conference, we’d love to have you join us. We have another workshop at 1:00 PM today. We will be in room D109 at PDS.


Diving Into Project-based Learning: Feedback Friends

project-based learningAs a teacher, I found project-based learning incredibly chaotic and difficult to manage. I had four classes each investigating a different topic. In each class I had 7-9 different projects in development, and each project was unique. I wanted to help my students–finding resources, asking questions, suggesting options, but as soon as I focused on any one group another would demand my attention. Instead of feeling every day was a productive, meaningful day of inquiry, I left school most days overwhelmed that the classroom looked disheveled, the learning seemed scattered, the students appeared distracted, and I felt disorganized. Were we accomplishing anything? I knew project-based learning was going to require a paradigm shift on my part, but I didn’t expect to feel so beat up by it. I needed some quality feedback, and I knew from conversations with Mike that the boys needed feedback from their peers as well.

At the end of many days I found myself sitting on the couch next door in Alice’s room bemoaning the way things were going and trying to re-design plans for the next day. I needed a partner, someone with whom I could collaborate and troubleshoot. I also needed an extra set of eyes and hands. I didn’t feel I couldn’t give a group my full attention because I was so busy trying to make sure everyone was on task. Unfortunately, Alice was teaching the fifth grade at the time. Even though Alice was willing to listen and make suggestions, she couldn’t offer first-hand observations about what was happening in my room. She simply wasn’t there, and I needed someone who was.

Fortunately, my friend Jill Gough had scheduled a visit to my school. Jill and Bo Adams are famous (at least in my mind) for designing and implementing a project-based class called Synergy at their former school, and I had relied heavily on their work in designing my classes’ projects. Jill spent two days visiting PDS, and I had several opportunities to pick her brain about her experiences with project-based learning. (The image at the top of this post has my notes from lunch with her.)

Jill gave me some fantastic suggestions that I tried to carry out immediately. First, Jill suggested that I have the students complete a survey/reflection and give me some feedback on their own learning. My first plan was to give them a handout to complete that would encourage them to reflect on their learning and evaluate what they’ve done. I showed the handout to Jill and she gave me some great feedback on it. She also suggested that I use a Google form and not a handout to collect the data. You can view the Google Form I used to collect feedback here. Jill also spent about an hour in my room observing as I interacted with the boys. She took the time to point out to me all the good things that were happening and how engaged the students were. I needed to hear it. She gave me some constructive feedback, but she also built me up and offered specific examples of how quality learning was happening in my room. Sure, it was active and noisy, but it was still learning. Jill’s observations and encouraging words gave me the shot in the arm I needed.

In addition to the idea for reflections and the feedback on the class activity, Jill shared with me how, with Bo, she would have students do Ignite-style presentations on their products and allow other students to offer them feedback. Jill suggested “Ignite Lite” presentations (4 slides, 30 seconds per slide) to allow plenty of time for feedback in our shorter classes. I liked the idea and decided to combine it with Mike’s suggestion of using “critical friends” and the Ladder of Feedback from Project Zero.

I have Ladder of Feedback Anchor Chart that I use with students in my room to guide us through the feedback process.


For our Ignite Lite session, we used the Friends’ Feedback Ladder handout below to record our feedback on each presentation so the presenters could refer to it as they began revising their products and presentations.

Feedback Friends LadderHere are the PDF versions of the handouts: Ladder of Feedback Anchor Chart, Friends’ Feedback Ladder.

I walked the students through the process and kept reminding them to use the language the anchor chart and handout provided to keep the feedback positive and constructive. We’ve use the Ladder of Feedback all year, but I think it’s too easy to fall into the mode of being critical (meaning negative) and not more constructive. I also wanted to make sure we celebrated the good in each project. the boys really were doing some great work.

Once the boys had presented and received feedback, they began revising their projects and making them better. They weren’t required to make every suggested improvement, but they had to consider the feedback. Overall, I know our project-based learning improved because of the Friends’ Feedback/Critical Friends process that I got from Jill and that the boys gave each other. Now, I’m beginning to think about how I can use this type of feedback into other aspects of our learning.

What do you think about the friends’ feedback/critical friends process? what experience have you had with it in your classroom? What other ways might it be useful? I’d love to know what you think.

This is the ninth post (I know, right?) in a series on my “Dive Into Project-based Learning.” If you find this post interesting, consider reading about my professional goalmy research and resourcesthe genesis of the ideaour project brainstormsthe rubric designour need to knowour inquiry, or our innovation.

Transformative Learning and Classrooms of Understanding #MICON13

transformative learningWhat’s on your calendar June 12th and 13th? If you have those dates open, I highly recommend you consider attending The 2013 Martin Institute Conference held at my school. This is the third year PDS has hosted the summer conference. Having attended the previous two, I must say this conference is one of the best kept secrets in the edu-sphere, and that needs to change.

Fortunately, my friend and colleague Jamie Feild Baker, the executive director of The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence, has decided to offer a discounted early registration for just $95.00 through March 31, 2013. On April 1, the price increases to $150.00. On June 1, the fee will increase again to $195.00, so you should go ahead and register early. You can register here.

It’s going to be an incredible two days of learning here in Memphis. The theme this year is “transformative learning,” and author/speaker Will Richardson and Superintendent Pam Moran (Albermarle, Virginia) will be the keynoting the conference.  Some of the extraordinary educators offering plenary sessions are Bo AdamsJohn Hunter, Grant Lichtman, and Gabriel RshaidMary CantwellRobert Dillon, Jill Gough, Eric Juli, Jessica Ross, and Ira Socol are among those offering workshops, too. To quote my friend Bill: “I’m pretty jazzed about this conference.” And you should be, too. Memphis-area educators and anyone else who can get here in mid-June ought to make the effort to attend.

Alice Parker and I will facilitate a workshop at the conference. Our session is “Classrooms of Understanding: Scratching Below the Surface.” Here’s the description:

What does student understanding look like? How do innovative teachers equip today’s learners with the critical and creative thinking skills needed to thrive in a changing world? In this excavation of understanding, we will uncover the essentials of student understanding, delve into routines and questioning strategies that develop habits for critical and creative thinking, and unearth best instructional practices in order to transform today’s classrooms into places of deep student learning. Join us. You’ll dig it!

Session Outcomes:

  • Insight into what student understanding looks like
  • Tools for developing (and assessing) students’ critical and creative thinking
  • Familiarity with deep questioning strategies and visible thinking routines
  • Awareness of the 4 aspects of creativity and how to scaffold them into instruction
  • Reflection on current practice and transformation of classrooms into places of deep thinking and understanding

I hope you’ll make plans to attend The 2013 Martin Institute Conference, and if you do, consider attending our session. Alice is a truly amazing teacher, and I’m excited about the things we plan to share. The whole conference is going to be a fantastic event, and I think it’s more than worth the cost of registration. Let me know if you plan to attend. I’d love to connect. Who knows, maybe Debbie and I will open the Cummings’ Bed & Breakfast for friends coming in from out of town…

Full Disclosure: The Martin Institute of Teaching Excellence is an innovative venture by my school, Presbyterian Day School, and our partners to provide world-class professional development to teachers in public and private schools. I am a full-time teacher at PDS.

The Threads That Run Through: Student Voice

student voice

Returning full-time to the classroom last year, I longed to add more student voice to my class design. When I began teaching, I bought into the idea that as the teacher–the lone adult in the room–I was the one who best knew my students’ learning needs. I viewed educating as something we did to the students and not something students owned and shaped themselves. After all, others made most decisions connected to my formal education–even my early professional development. In all honesty I wasted most of those learning experiences. When finally I took ownership of my learning (in graduate school), my professional growth and development swelled. If my learning increased through my owning it, then I wanted the same for my students. In my class I want my students to know that they matter, that their opinions count, and that their insights call for attention from others. I want my students to have a voice.

One way, Alice and I engage student voice in the 6th grade reading class is by having students design our class bookmark. For years, Alice has provided the boys a bookmark as a tool to remind the boys of metacognitive strategies to use while reading. Last year, in oder to allow for more student voice, Alice and I asked the boys to design the class bookmark based on what they know a thoughtful reader does. The result thrilled us.

In addition to designing the bookmark, I engage student voice by giving students choices when possible. While our school requires summer reading, I let students read whatever they like for two of the three required books. Additionally, I introduced book clubs, my rethinking of literature circles, last year encouraging the boys to choose the books, roles, and projects and empowering them to set the schedule and assignments for their clubs. The boys loved the book clubs, and seeing several boys develop as leaders inspired me as well. I’m looking forward to giving further control of the book clubs to the students this spring.

Student voice plays a role not only in our reading but also in our writing. One way students voice their opinions is through Broken Spines, our book review wiki. Students can write a book review for the wiki any time they finish a book. All my students share reviews, but several students also serve as wiki managers, too. As I reflected on in the thoughtfulness post, I’m still working to include blogging in the class design. Hopefully, students blogs will help further develop student voice in my class and give them voice beyond our classroom as well.

Currently, we are attempting project-based learning having just finished reading The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 and Journey to Jo’burg. Through brainstorming and class discussions, my four classes have each chosen a different issue of injustice that they are researching. Their goal is to make a difference related to the issue. They selected some big problems–racism, sweat shops, chronic unemployment, and poverty/homelessness. They have chosen both the issues and the projects they will complete. It’s a messy process (and one I plan to write about later), but their level of engagement and the ownership they are taking for the process is extraordinary.

I recognize I still have room for growth in embracing and developing student voice in my class, but I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished over the past two years. What do you think about the steps I’ve taken? What do you do to embrace and develop student voice in your classroom? What questions or feedback do you have about these ideas?

This is the fourth post in a series of reflections on the throughlines for my 6th grade reading class. Check out the overview of the series or the posts on thoughtfulness and making connections.

The Threads That Run Through: Making Connections

making connections texts human experienceAn important skill readers use to comprehend a text is to make personal connections to it by accessing their own background knowledge. We link what we are reading to what we already know by making text-to-self, text-to-text (text-to-media), and text-to-world connections.  As I design my 6th grade reading class, I want my students to connect not only to the books we read but also to other people and their experiences. I want them to recognize that reading and writing help us develop empathy for others. Reading and writing deepen our understanding of experiences we might not personally have. When we read and write, we are not only making connections with the text but also making connections to people’s experiences.

To help my students connect with the texts and with the lives of people from different backgrounds I have selected books from around the world that address global issues. We begin making these connections when the boys read the assigned summer text: Andrea Warren’s Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps. Surviving Hitler tells the true story of Jack Mandelbaum, a 12-year-old boy taken prisoner during the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939.  The story serves as an excellent introduction to the Holocaust and the boys really connect with Jack. The book ties in nicely with the theme of conflict studied in our sixth grade social studies classes.

In the first trimester of the school year, the boys read Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars in small group with Mrs. Parker and Anne Holm’s I Am David in small group with me. The characters in these books are easily accessible to 6th graders and the boys make connections with many of the experiences in the stories. After reading each book the boys complete a project where they make stronger, personal connections with the book.  In my class we focus on making strong text-to-self connections while reading I Am David, and our work culminates in an “I Am” project where the boys create a 3-D metaphorical monument that represents their connections to the experiences of David.

For the second trimester all the boys return to my room for core group reading. (Alice teaches small group reading with fifth grade.) We focus our study on human rights reading The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis and making connections to the South African apartheid novel Journey to Jo’burg by Beverley Naidoo. With these books we focus on making strong text-to-text connections between, and the boys show an understanding of how global the problems of racism and discrimination are. My students are privileged people, but I’m impressed with how deeply they connect to the struggles of the characters in our books. They also have a strong sense of justice and develop feelings of empathy for those facing injustice. Their compassion is inspiring. Currently, the boys are designing their own project-based learning as they move from connecting with someone’s experience to taking action to help that person in need.

During the last trimester my students will have more choice over what they read and how they approach each book. I have selected several works I think the guys will enjoy including: The Giver by Lois Lowry, Nothing But the Truth by Avi, Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen, and When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt. (I’m considering adding a few others so please let me know if you have suggestions.) After I introduce each book, the boys will select which book they want to read and organize a “book club” that they will plan and lead. I’ll occasionally sit in on face-to-face book club meetings as a visitor, but also I’ll primarily keep up with their discussions through the Livescribe pencasts they’ll share in Edmodo as they go. A primary goal of their book club discussions will be making text-to-world connections as they read and discuss the novels.

The class design helps students connect to the experiences of others. However, the course needs further development in actually connecting with people beyond our classroom. In the future, I want to use Skype, the Global Read Aloud, and blogging as ways to connect with people around the world. Instead of reading about apartheid-era South Africa, I’d like my students to connect with South Africans living in and striving to overcome the prolonged effects of apartheid. My hope is that someday my students will not only be making connections to our books, but they’ll be making life-changing connections with others.

What’s your opinion on these ideas? What are some more ways that I can help my students better connect with others and better understand the human experience?

This is the third post in a series of reflections on the throughlines for my 6th grade reading class. If interested, you might want to read the overview or my post on thoughtfulness.

The Threads That Run Through: Thoughtfulness

reading metacognition thoughtfulness

This is the second post in a series of reflections on my class throughlines. You can read the first post and general overview of the throughlines here.

At PDS reading is a core class all by itself. Strong reading skills are key to becoming an independent learner and thinker. Therefore, our students have a separate reading class as well as a regular English class focused on language arts.

How can we become more thoughtful readers and writers?

Prior to my current position, most of my teaching had been in traditional English classes. I had taken classes on teaching reading, but it had never been my primary focus. I wasn’t certain how to teach 6th grade reading. Fortunately, at PDS my classroom is next door to Alice Parker’s room, and Alice is an amazing and experienced reading teacher. Through conversations with Alice, I narrowed the focus of my class. By observing Alice teaching, I discovered practical ways to help my students develop into more  critical and creative thinkers. I want my students to think well, and I want them to become better thinkers through awareness of their thought processes and through reflection on that thinking. In other words, much of my class focuses on students’ reading metacognition.

Alice and I teach the first trimester of 6th grade reading together. We take the 6th grade classes and divide each into two small groups. Alice teaches one small group while I teach the other. Her group reads a different book than my group, and after six weeks the students switch teachers. As they read, students mark their books using metacognition strategies they have previously learned from Alice in the 5th grade. (She teaches small group reading to fifth graders, too.) During one of the first activities Alice and I ask our 6th graders, “What does a thoughtful reader look like?” Then, we break the students into collaborative teams to brainstorm responses to the question. Their answers show their general understanding of the need for reading metacognition.

In addition to having my students document their thinking, I also directly instruct my students in certain thinking processes. For example, I teach my students how to brainstorm effectively. They know “the guidelines for brainstorming,” and they know kinesthetic movements that help them remember each guideline. I also teach them to use the Ladder of Feedback protocol when making observations in the classroom, but I confess I need to revisit the protocol with my students more often.

Not only do I have my students check their reading metacognition and teach them specific thinking processes, but also I use thinking routines in class instruction to make students’ thinking visible. I’ve written before about using See Think Wonder on the first day of class, but I also use it occasionally when introducing a new concept or theme. In addition to See Think Wonder, so far I’ve incorporated the following thinking routines into my reading instruction over the past two years:

When using these routines, my student write down and share their thinking with the class so that we can talk about it. I try to allow time for student reflection after each thinking routine, but I admit it’s an area where I need to improve. When I first identified the throughlines, I imagined my students blogging regularly but that hasn’t materialized. We  write in our “thinking books” often, and we occasionally share our writing, but I’m not satisfied with the amount of writing we do nor with our lack of an authentic audience.

I want my students to write, but I haven’t found the balance between reading and writing in the class yet. Thoughtful readers should also be thoughtful writers, but I’m still trying to figure out the writing aspect of it. I’m also wondering if I need to expand my definition of writing. I tend to think of writing in terms of traditional text or manuscript. Should I revise it to include other forms of creative expression (art, film, music, speech, or physical expression)?

Overall, I believe I’m making progress in designing toward the How can we become more thoughtful readers and writers? throughline, but I can improve. I want us to write more. Specifically, I want us to write for a more authentic audience. I want my students to blog. I also want to integrate more fine arts and more reflection into the class.

What do you think? Does any of this make sense? What questions do you have about this thread or how it’s woven into the class?

Running Thoughts: Fuels, Tools, and Mentors

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I had a crazy weekend beginning immediately after school on Friday and never had the opportunity to sit down and write. Well, that’s not exactly true because I chose to watch the Memphis-Arkansas State football game during the time I did have to write on Saturday, but I digress. This post is about my running thoughts from my run on Friday morning, September 7, 2012. Writing Time Limit: 45 minutes

I ran 5.28 miles in 51 minutes. It was a better run that the other runs last week. I maintained a 9:42 pace and ran well up until the last half mile.

I’ve been reading about and experimenting with whether or not I eat something before my runs. I’ve found mixed information online, and it’s hard to tell what’s trustworthy. I’ve been told Jillian Michaels says you must eat within the first hour after you wake up. I usually head straight for the streets and don’t eat until I’ve been up for 90 minutes or longer. But I have experimented with eating a little fruit, a piece of toast, or some graham sticks. Before this run, I went high tech and consumed a packet of Chocolate Outrage Gu. Honestly, I had to choke it down. It was really strong, and I’m not sure chocolate is the best choice for my first taste of the morning (Mocha Latte, perhaps…). After the initial swallow, the Gu became much more palatable. And I did have a good run…but I’m not ready to assign causation just yet. (I have no connection to Gu.)

This leads me to my connection to learning. How important is it that students eat a good breakfast? How much does it impact their learning? When I was growing up, my parents made us breakfast every morning. My kids tend to fend for themselves making cereal, grabbing pop-tarts, or microwaving sausage biscuits for breakfast. I do try to insist they eat something, but I probably need to do a better job of monitoring what they eat. Maybe I should use my early morning time to prepare them something instead of running and writing. I need to research this more and see if I can provide some better food options for them for breakfast.

Note: I have started a group Posterous with Scott Elias as a place to curate recipes and healthy meals for busy educators. It’s called Fuel 4 School. If you would like to be a contributor, we’d love to have you. Just send me your email (a DM on Twitter will work) and I’ll add you to the group.) 

As I mentioned in a previous post, leaking water bottles aren’t much use on a run. I pitched mine in the recycle bin, and bought a new Amphipod water bottle last week. I decided on the Hydraform Thermal-Lite™ 20 oz. model, and it was great! The thermal cover keeps my hand from freezing, it’s shaped so that it is easy to squeeze, and it doesn’t leak so I wasted no water. I also purchased an ArmPod SmartView™ for my iPhone. I’m not as crazy about it, but mostly because I’m used to carrying my phone in my hand and I look at it way too much. that said the ArmPod worked very well. It’s nice to have useful tools for running. (I am not connected with Amphipod in any way other than as a consumer.)

Good tools are also useful in the classroom–especially when it comes to instructional technology. I’ve spent a lot of time learning about tools (apps, resources, etc.) over the past few years. Here’s a list of few of the places I go to first, when I’m looking for digital tools for teaching:

A final thought about Friday’s run was about mentoring. I’m leading a 6th grade mentor group this year at school, and I’m also mentoring/coaching a Martin Institute resident. I’ve been blessed to have some great mentors over the course of my life. These days much of the mentoring I receive as a teacher comes face-to-face with Alice or online through connections with other teachers. Because I love lists, here’s a short list of just a few of the people who have become not only friends, but mentors for me as I continue this journey of personal, professional reform:

There are others I could certainly add, but I have found these folks extremely thoughtful and generous. Also, they are willing to push me a little, and I appreciate them for it. You should read their stuff and connect with them.

Well, I’m out of time. I’d love to hear your thought son any or all of this.

See, Think, Wonder, 6th Grade Reading (2012)

This is a collaborative post co-written by Alice Parker (Yoda) and me. We are cross-posting it to both of our blogs–Through the Looking Glass and A Retrospective Saunter.

The beginning days of school should be magical ones. While students meet their new teachers, view the classroom design, and try to sort out what it is they may learn during the year, it is imperative for teachers to create a culture of thinking and learning, as well as a climate of group collaboration on those first days.

This year we, Alice and Philip, combined our magical forces to teach as a team during the first week of school. We decided to improve upon last year’s See, Think, Wonder — from my (Philip’s) first days of school lesson and extend the students’ thinking further while creating new classroom dynamics. As we had made significant changes to the physical styles of our classrooms during the summer, we knew that the students had much to observe.  Additionally, we, along with Julia (our Martin Institute Resident), flavored each classroom with many hints about us as people and teachers of reading.

To begin the lesson, we asked students to develop their own driving questions about the design of the 6th grade reading classes, the 6th grade reading teachers (including Julia), and 6th grade reading. Before starting, I (Alice) took a few minutes to review with the boys what makes a good question, focusing on the idea of writing deep, open-ended questions rather than questions that could be answered with one or two words. Our sixth grade guys easily recalled their past lessons on “Fat Questions” vs. “Skinny Questions.” We asked the students, “What do you want to know?” and allowed them a few minutes of think time. Then we asked them to write their questions on sticky notes. Using the group discussion connection rules as a platform, the students shared and posted their questions that would help focus their inquiry and drive the See, Think, and Wonder activity that would soon follow. The following are a few samples of the students’ “driving questions:”

  • “Ms. Parker, why do you have brains in your closet?”
  • “Why does Mr. Cummings like Phineas and Ferb so much?”
  • “How does all this stuff connect to reading?”
  • “How will the books we read connect to our lives?”
  • “Why do you both teach reading?”
  • “What do you do to prepare for the school year during the summer?”

After deciding “What Inquiring Minds Want to Know About 6th Grade Reading,” the students began exploring the rooms looking for answers to their driving questions. The students moved from room to room investigating the closets, checking out the bookshelves, noting posters on the walls, examining pictures on the shelves, and analyzing the arrangement of the rooms.  The only areas “off limits” were the teachers’ wallet, purses, and backpacks.

The students returned to the desks and began making lists in response to the prompt: “What did you see?” They recorded their lists on a sticky note. After a few minutes, the students shared their best discoveries. Then, they came up to the board and posted their “Sees” for the class. The following are a few of the things they noticed:

  • strategies for reading
  • Phineas, Ferb, and Perry
  • Flying Pigs
  • various types of books to read
  • places to go read
  • many types of paper
  • school supplies

Once the students had returned to their seats, we discussed what it means to make inferences and draw conclusions. “How does one make an inference?” The guys then responded to the prompt “What do you think?” making another list on a sticky note. After a few minutes they started sharing their thinking aloud. As teachers, we neither confirmed nor denied whether their conclusions were true. We only responded with an additional question asking “What makes you say that?” requiring the student to support his inference with evidence based on what he had seen. Here are some examples of our students “Think” statements:

  • “I think the books will somehow connect to what we are learning in other classes.”
  • “I think collaboration is important.”
  • “I think Ms. Parker’s room is wacky and random, but Mr. Cummings’ room is cool and organized.”
  • “I think there will be some freedom and independence in Mr. Cummings’ and Ms. Parker’s class.”
  • “I think our teachers are optimistic.”
  • “Mr. C and Ms. P like their students to use knowledge to build projects.

Each student shared his “think” statements by posting them on the board for the class to see.

Next, we asked the students to consider what additional questions they have now that they have explored the room. We explained that we wanted them to go deeper with their questioning. They responded by creating another list to answer the prompt: “What do you wonder?” Again, the following are a few samples of the responses they shared with the class:

  • “I wonder how old Mr. Cummings is.”
  • “I wonder if we’ll ever go outside to read.”
  • “I wonder what the differences between the two classes will be.
  • “I wonder why they are both so relaxed.”
  • “I wonder how will the fun affect our performance of reading in school and out.”
  • “I wonder how sixth grade reading will be different from fifth grade reading.”

At this point we were almost out of class time. As the students posted their “Wonder” statements on the board, we told them that their “ticket out” for the day was to come up with a “Headline” for the day’s class. We reminded them that good headlines capture the main idea and inform or entertain the audience. We stood at the door and gave high fives as the boys informed and entertained us with creative headlines, a few of which follow:

  • Class Time Thoughts
  • Classical Creativity
  • Pigs and a Platypus: The Perfect Combination
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Creativity
  • The Odyssey of Reading
  • Getting to Know Cat Daddy, Cat Momma, and Their Cribs
  • See, Think, and Wonder So Much to Ponder

We have found See, Think, Wonder to be a great way to introduce ourselves, the subject of 6th grade reading, and our individual classroom design to our students on the first day while engaging them in inquiry and encouraging them to think. If you have never tried See, Think, Wonder with your students you can find an explanation of the thinking routine here.

What is your reaction to our first day lesson? How do you engage your students’ minds on the first day of school? We’d love to hear from you.