Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

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Arts Integration
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Reasoning with Evidence & Persuasive Thinking

I cannot live without brain work. What else is there to live for?
                                                                                                     -Sherlock Holmes

This past week, I brought out my Sherlock Holmes hat. I have a number of hats, funky glasses, and feathered boas that I use while teaching, but my Sherlock Holmes hat is my favorite. In room 13, we've been talking about evidence. We began our persuasive essay in writer's workshop. We've been writing theories about the main characters in our book group novels and mentor text for reader's workshop. We've been working on a smart goal that requires that we quote evidence directly from a text to support our thinking. Our need for evidence is everywhere

However, I didn't dust off my Sherlock hat for those endeavors! I saved it for our exponents investigation!  One of my favorite thinking routines to use is Claim-Support-Question. We've been studying powers of ten in our math workshop, so I came up with the question, "Do other multiplication patterns exist when we use exponents with other numbers?"

I began my lesson by introducing the Claim-Support-Question Routine. Using a slide show that I had created, we discussed the words "claim" and "support."  I asked students my math question, and then sent them back to their table groups to discuss it and write a claim statement on their table's chart paper.

After they had written their claims, they returned to the carpet to report out to the whole groups.  Then, we talked about how we might support our claims.  What procedures might they follow? They returned to their tables to investigate. 

This was fun to watch. All groups, except one, claimed that there would be patterns. Most explained that the data and patterns we had collected and noticed in our powers of 10 work had informed their claim-making process.  All groups chose a number and found the exponential products for that number up to an exponent of 10.  I allowed them to use calculators for this part, so it was more easily investigated.  We stopped briefly to remember that scientists and mathematicians want more than one set of data to prove a claim, and then groups continued to work with other numbers to triangulate their data. 

After making claims and supporting them with mathematical evidence, my students asked a number of questions, but two particular questions gave me goosebumps:
  1. If we multiply fractions exponentially, will there be patterns?
  2. If we multiply decimals exponentially, will there be patterns?
These questions turned into another math investigation. What happens when we multiply decimal numbers like 10.4 * 10.4 and 10.4 * 10.4 * 10.4? 

Next time, I want to use Claim-Support-Question to introduce powers of 10. I think it will help us observe and explore multiplication and division patterns. 

The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance observes.
                                                                                                     -Sherlock Holmes

Sometimes, the best thing about being a teacher who blogs is that I discover new ideas while I'm reflecting and writing about my practice. Writing this blog post has done that for me! I'm dreaming up future applications for Claim-Support-Question. This week in writer's workshop, my students will be writing their claims for their persuasive essays. I can't think of a more perfect way for them to do this than by using this thinking routine. Using the thinking routine organizer I made, they will be able to plan out their writing and record their research that supports their claim. The question part of the of the routine could help them examine counter claims, and their possible responses to them. 

In reader's workshop, my students are going to use Claim-Support-Question to deepen their character theories. They'll make a claim about the character, support it with evidence from the text, and dig deeper into their thinking with more questioning. 

If you want to read more about Claim-Support-Question, Making Thinking Visible, and Project Zero's work with thinking routines, be sure to visit THIS website. 


If you'd like a copy of the inquiry math lesson I taught click the picture below.

You might also be interested in the these visible thinking resources:

OR these exponent and powers of ten resources(there's a freebie here!):

Consider entering the WE TEACH SO HARD podcast $100 giveaway! It's going on for one more week! You COULD win! Click the picture to enter. 

This week, I've teamed up with some fabulous teacher bloggers for November's Teacher Talk. Check them out below!

Teaching & Learning Gratitude: Book Suggestions For Thankfulness

The heart breaks and breaks and lives by breaking. It is necessary to go through dark and deeper dark and not to turn.
                                                                                                      -Stanley Kunitz

I remember that I was wearing my scuffed mud-brown corrective shoes the day that Christine brought her birthday party invitations to school. I was wearing my ugly shoes because I had weak ankles and my knees turned in. Christine was wearing shiny red fashion boots. I longed for boots like Christine's. The year was 1976. I went to a small school, and I was the only girl in second grade. But my classroom was a 2/3 split class, so I was friends with all of the third grade girls. 

I watched Christine prance down the classroom aisles in her shiny red boots as she passed out her birthday party invitations like a Las Vegas poker dealer just starting her shift.  I couldn't wait! She came down my row, and I was already imagining what gift I wanted to buy her for her birthday. Then, she sashayed past me. No invitation.  I waited, thinking that she had mine on the bottom of her pile. But she didn't. 

I remember completing my stupid spelling book assignment while I choked back my tears. And my shit-brown shoes felt like lead weights. I was the only girl in my classroom who wasn't invited to Christine's birthday party, because I was in second grade and not third grade. 

It was the truly the first time that I realized I was different, and that somehow, I didn't fit in with the people I thought were my friends. I've never forgotten that feeling, ever. And as an adult, when I'm  rejected or odd man out, I still feel like that second grader in the ugly shoes. 

That day in second grade changed me. 

You are down there alone, the stars seemed to say to him. And we are up here, in our constellations, together.
                               -Kate DiCamillo, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

Like every other teacher in an elementary classroom in November, I've been thinking a lot about gratitude. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo is a powerful book for teaching about gratitude. Edward is an arrogant china rabbit who learns about love and gratitude as he experiences hardship and isolation on an eventful journey. Recently, I had the privilege of observing a colleague teach a lesson using ...Edward Tulane. Her third grade students talked about feeling hollow and alone when they lose someone or something that they loved. It occurred to me, that they were empathizing with Edward. And after they empathized, they expressed gratitude for their happy memories. One child even suggested that Edward was learning to be grateful.

Out of the mouths of babes...I'd never really thought about how empathy is connected to gratitude, but I think my 8 year old friends are right. When we put ourselves in each others' shoes, we remember what it's like to be a rejected second grader wearing clunky corrective shoes, and we choose to connect with each other, instead. And because of that shared experience, we feel gratitude. 

They packed the food in baskets and in each one, Babushka put one of her homemade Hanukkah candles. 'So they will have the light of God in their hearts...and so that God will protect them and make them well again.' she murmured."
                        -Patricia Polacco, The Trees of the Dancing Goats.

The Trees of the Dancing Goats, by Patricia Polacco, is another fantastic empathy/gratitude book to share with students. Patricia's family is Jewish. Their Christian neighbors and friends are very sick with scarlet fever. Her family uses their Hanukkah food and gifts to feed their sick neighbors and cheer them. Later, her neighbors return the favor by turning the Christmas ornaments Patricia's family had made into a menorah for her family. 

And we learn vicariously, that "different" doesn't have to mean isolated,  hated or despised. 

For days she walked, passing through more and more villages...There was unhappiness and helplessness everywhere. The world, she sadly realized, was not as she had though it was.
                  -Jeff Brumbeau & Gail de Marcken, The Quiltmaker's Journey

Last year, I wrote about using The Quiltmaker's Gift, also by Brumbeau and de Marcken, to teach about generosity. You can read about that HERE. The Quiltmaker's Journey is the prequel to that story. It describes the quiltmaker's girlhood in a Utopian world. Everyone is fed, clothed and perfect. The village elders tell the citizens to never venture outside the village gates because there are horrible monsters. The quiltmaker is curious though, so she sneaks out one night. She finds that there aren't any dragons or monsters, but people who are suffering. She is shocked and overwhelmed by their misery. She decides to take responsibility and make a change for those in need. This begins her story of empathy, generosity and gratitude. In The Quiltmaker's Gift, she continues her outreach and teaches an arrogant king about generosity and gratitude. 

Everyone has a responsibility to create a more inclusive society and challenge hateful rhetoric. The safety and well-being of our community depend on it.
           -Sabina Mohyuddin, The American Muslim Advisory Council

This past week, my heart broke again as I imagined what it would be like for my Jewish friends to send their children to their parochial schools the day after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. I imagined myself going to church on a Sunday morning, only to encounter a gunman rampaging in the sanctuary. And, I listened to my friend cry tears of relief that her uncle hid and miraculously survived the synagogue shooting, and then later grieve for the community's tragic losses. 

I don't think there can be a more perfect time to teach about empathy, gratitude and generosity. I think our lives depend on it. 

KEEP READING for some cool opportunities (free resources and a $100 gift card)! You might want to check out these resources 
for teaching gratitude, empathy, and generosity. 



This month, I've teamed up with my WE TEACH SO HARD podcast colleagues to offer a giveaway opportunity for our readers and listeners. We are grateful for you! To enter, click below!

Be sure to check out my WE TEACH SO HARD colleagues' posts below! They're offering some great ideas, suggestions and free resources, too! Our sincere wish is that your holiday be filled with opportunities for gratitude. 

Visible Thinking & Vocabulary: When a Web is More Than a Web

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.
                                                                          -John Muir

I sat in my 8:00 a.m. undergrad class; let's call it "Teaching 101." It was Monday morning, and after a weekend of vigorous and social undergrad activities, I was near catatonic. My roommates and I were watching the thread of saliva that dangled precariously from the professor's top lip. We discussed his spit thread weekly, and we felt sorry for the poor souls who came late to class and had to sit in the front row. At some point, that thread was liable to fly, and we were entertaining ourselves by placing bets on who it would land on when it did. 

Our professor was an animated speaker. The first week of lecture, I thought, "This won't be too bad. At least he's putting some feeling into it." But by the third week, we realized that his voice and gesticulations were his monotone. Finally, the spit thread broke and flew onto the desk of one of the sorority sister Bobsy Twins. Margot passed me a dollar, while Amy high-fived me. That's when I heard the words, "All learning is about making connections. The brain learns only when there's prior learning to hook the new learning onto...this is on the test. Are you writing this down?"

Flash forward 10 years. I'm sitting in a week-long Eric Jensen workshop on brain-based learning. It's in San Diego. I'm cooped up inside, while outside the sun is shining, the ocean breeze is warm, and the fish taco truck is parked on the corner. And then I hear, "The brain likes connections. It thrives on them."

Most spiders eat and remake their webs every night.
                                                                                              -Alice Oswald

The reason these learning memories have stuck with me is because my brain is really geared at looking for patterns and connections. It's the first thing I do when I'm learning something new, and if I can't make those connections or see patterns, I struggle. Webbing has been one of my favorite strategies for as long as I can remember. In fact, I sometimes write my lesson plans in the form of a web!

Oooooh, Ms. Willis! We could go on and on and on with this web!
                                                                                         -Fifth Grade Student

I've been working with visible thinking routines for the past three years. I have my favorite stand-bys, but this past week, I wanted to try something new. I was teaching a lesson to introduce a new tier 2 vocabulary word and decided that I'd give Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate a try. The word we were exploring was accurate. We had already looked at it in context and dug around in a trusty dictionary for the standard definitions. Here's the thinking routine, in a nutshell:

1. Select a topic, concept or issue for which you want to map your understanding. In our case, we chose the word accurate.

2. Generate a list of ideas and initial thoughts that come to mind when you think about your topic. 

My students came up with these words:
Test, answer, exam, information, question, correct, perfect, precise, exact, accuracy, on point, sensational, aim, close, almost.

3. Sort your ideas according to how central or tangential they are. Place central ideas near the center and ideas not as related toward the outside of the web.

For me, this was the coolest part of the webbing process. It was fascinating to hear my students debate how the words were related to the vocabulary word. They created a category of words that addressed times for when accuracy would be important.

4. Now connect your ideas by drawing connecting lines between the ideas that have something in common. Explain/write a short sentence about how the ideas are connected.

Since this was our first attempt at this routine, we did this orally. Again, students debated with each other, and I reminded them to use the discourse sentence stems we had learned earlier in the school year. 

5. Finally, we elaborated on any of the ideas/thoughts they had by adding new ideas to our web that expanded their initial thoughts about the word accurate.

One thing that the kids talked about at this point was how we often use accurate to describe things that are close to being correct. Yet, when we looked at the actual definition, it refers to something that is exact. At this point, our web also grew to include scenarios and circumstances in which they would come across the word.

This thinking routine blew up our understanding of our vocabulary word. The kiddos' depth of thinking was exciting to witness. In addition, engagement was through the roof. Everyone was involved in the conversations. 

What would I do differently next time? I always ask myself that after trying a new teaching approach. Next time, I'll spend more time on the "Elaborate" part of the routine. By doing so, I think their thinking will deepen even more. My approach to concept webbing has changed because of this thinking routine, and I can't wait to try it again!

P.S. If you're interested in finding out more about teaching tier 2 vocabulary or visible thinking routines and strategies, check out these resources! They'll rock your classroom world!

P.SSSSSSSS. You can read more about teaching tier 2 vocabulary HERE!

Interactive, Mentor & Read Aloud? OH MY! Choosing Your Next Read Aloud

I swung my knee-socked legs back and forth as I slumped in my seat. My head rested on my desk top. I might've been rocking my new Dorothy Hamill haircut, but Mrs. White's not-so-rousing rendition of Little House in the Big Woods was kicking my butt. I stifled a yawn and tried to use my newly acquired American Sign Language skills to message my best friend, Nicki. I couldn't get her attention, so I decided to use the bathroom pass instead. The after lunch read aloud always had this effect on me...Snoozeville.

Back in the day, and I know I'm dating myself, terms like interactive read aloud and mentor text didn't exist. The place of any read aloud was after lunch and recess. As a teacher's kid, I had the inside scoop on this practice. My mom used to say it was to "calm the troops." It did just that, probably better than any valium or tranquilizer a doctor could prescribe. 

Every teacher knows the power of a good book. But how do you wade through the terms used to describe them? They seem to be interchangeable, but are they really? And how do you choose the right book for the job? Sometimes, it can feel like you're Dorothy as she navigates the witch's forest..."LIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS, OH MY!"

Read alouds hold an undisputed place in the reader's workshop. Years and years of research points to their effectiveness and power. One thing I've learned over the years is to model a balanced reading diet for my students. Your read aloud is the perfect time for this. Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you read a nonfiction book aloud to your kiddos? Have you recently read a poetry book aloud to them, outside of National Poetry Month? It's important to talk to your students about their reading diets. Are they reading around the genre wheel? Are you reading around the genre wheel in your classroom read alouds? 

So what in tarnation is an interactive read aloud? It wasn't my fourth grade experience, I can assure you. Interactive read alouds are the basis of my reader's workshop. When I read aloud to my students, I frequently stop and ask them about their thinking. I might share my own thinking via a think aloud. I do this to make my comprehension processes transparent for them. My students may be sketching or webbing in their reader's notebooks while I read. We turn and talk A TON. I teach them discourse sentence stems. We use them every day. 

The interactive read aloud is usually separate from my mini-lesson. However, it feeds "the beast." When it's time for my mini-lesson, I will return to the excerpts from the interactive read aloud to teach reading strategies and skills. 

What are mentor texts? My read alouds become mentor texts when I use passages from them to teach reading or writing skills in my mini-lessons or guided reading/ strategy groups. For example, when I'm teaching about internal characterization, I will pull  excerpts from Tuck Everlasting where Natalie Babbitt reveals Jesse, Miles, and Tuck's differing perspectives on immortality. The text becomes our teacher, and we examine how the author presents different perspectives. 

When I'm teaching about cause and effect text structures, I pull excerpts from the nonfiction book we read to help students understand the structures, cue words, and organization of that text type. Any text can become a mentor text. If you keep your interactive read alouds close to you throughout the year, you can return to them again and again when you teach reading skills and strategies. The best part of this approach is that your kids will know those books inside and out, so you'll need to prep them less when teaching your lessons. 

What's everyone doing for a read aloud? I need a new read aloud!
This leads me to my soapbox. Forgive me while I step onto it. Read alouds are potentially powerful. Interactive read alouds can rock your teacher world. Mentor texts can have earth-shattering impact. Seriously. That means that we need to be thoughtful about our choices. Don't throw away your instructional opportunities by following the Disney train to another book that has a movie. I get why we do this as teachers. I really do. And it's okay to do this, IF the book you're choosing fits your instructional purposes. Be clear about your purpose. If your purpose is to simply entertain, then jump on the bandwagon and choose the latest and greatest published book. But if your purpose is to elevate your students' reading lives, then be thoughtful about what you choose to share with them. Ask for suggestions, but ask with purpose:
What's everyone doing for a read aloud? Anyone reading something that would be great for teaching characterization?
(End of sermon.)

To help you through the witch's wood, I've created a starting point for you. If you teach grades 4, 5, or 6, this freebie is for you. It's my featured freebie this month. It's a five page list of picture books and novels for teaching synthesizing, inferencing, theme, characterization, and plot structure and conflict. You can snag it below by clicking on the picture. 

If you're interested in reading more about reader's workshop, you should give THIS a read!

This month, I've teamed up with some fabulous teacher bloggers. You won't want to miss out on their ideas and resources. Visit them below!

Tug-of-War in the Math Classroom

At the beginning of every new school year, I go through a mourning period. It usually hits me at the end of the first week of school. This year is no different. I asked my fifth graders, "What do you think?" And I looked out at a sea of blank stares. Crickets. I even tried applying the old-uncomfortable-silence-during-wait-time trick. I stood silently and waited for someone to say something. Usually, it works because people become so annoyed by the silence that they'll say something just to break it. Again, crickets. 

Outwardly, I smiled brightly, the picture of virtuous patience, but on the inside, my brain moaned and groaned, "I miss my kids from last year who couldn't wait to think and talk." It was time to break out my thinker's tool box. I needed my visible thinking routines. They had become so automatic in previous years, but the summer was long, and I was as rusty as my students. The next day, we began again.

The Problem

We had been working with the concept of area. The focus of our lesson was that the area of a rectangle could be represented by square inches and square feet.  Students were working with grid models of area using mixed and whole numbers.  They were struggling to understand that the area of the picture in front of them could be measured in two different ways. 

Allison and Justin were laying tile in their bathroom floor. Allison said they needed 5 square feet in tile. Justin disagreed and said they needed 20 square feet. Who is correct?

We zoomed in on the Allison and Justin problem together. After reading it over, one student volunteered to give the answer. He stated that Justin was correct. To my delight, controversy exploded! Many students agreed that Justin was correct. Others argued that Allison had the right idea. The debate became heated, so it was the perfect time for the visible thinking routine Tug-of-War. I gave each student a sticky note and asked them to write their stance and thinking on it. After doing so, students placed their sticky note on the side of the tug-of-war line I had taped to the board. 

The next day, we returned to our tug-of-war line and the controversy. I arranged my kids into "councils of thought." This was a fancy-pantsy way of putting them into discussion teams. The Justin team met together to formulate a common solution. The Allison team did the same. Both were trying to use pictures and words that would prove their stances and convince those on the other side of the tug-of-war line to move their sticky notes, to change their minds. 

After the councils had met, the debate continued. Each side presented their evidence. The Justin team, with the erroneous thinking, shared their evidence, and the Allison team challenged their thinking! The Justin team then gave a rebuttal. Then it was the Allison team's chance to present their evidence. 
They presented passionately. At the end of the debate, most students moved their sticky notes to the Allison side of the tug-of-war line. Here's what was cool about this: 
1. There was no crying or sense of failure because the Justin team could explain their error in thinking, and the Allison team could completely understand how that happened.
2. Students practiced the secondary goal of the math lesson: To practice mathematical discourse. It was remarkable to hear "I disagree...because..." and "Can you tell me more about that?"
3. Every single student was engaged. I'm serious. I had one of those tingly teacher moments when I watched them debate. No one was idle. Not one student.
4. When we were done, I asked students how their understanding had changed. Every one of them was able to identify how they had changed. It was a fabulous day for exit tickets!

Sometimes, teachers need their students' blank stares, because they are reminders to bring their very best strategies and instructional tricks to their lessons. I guess students aren't the only ones who get rusty during the summer months!
If you're interested in reading more about visible thinking routines, you can read more HERE and HERE

You might also like to check out these resources! Simply click the pictures to visit.