Monday, January 16, 2012

Week 2, Question 2 - Chapter 4: Melanie Fifield

"Creating Classroom Cultures that Support and Promote Student Thinking"

This book has struck a lot of chords with me so far. Chapter 4 made me think back to the 75+ Strategies when we were told to throw out all of the store-bought posters we may have. What hit me most was the purposeful use of language and teaching thinking skills.

In terms of language, I've always known deep down that my use of language in the classroom has a tremendous impact on my kids. I’ve thought about the vocabulary I use with kids, but some of the examples she gave and the way they validate a child's ideas and thinking and promote more of those ideas really made me think about other ways I talk to my kids. It made me realize that there are times when my frustration gets the best of me with certain kiddos and I fail to “elevate children in their own eyes as well as in the eyes of their classmates” (pg. 54).

My first question to you is:

In what ways do you “elevate” kids with your use of language? And how do you manage frustration in order to avoid having the opposite effect?

She has also repeated several times in the book already, the three bullet points on pg. 48: putting our thinking on display, intentional use of language, and making thinking visible, public, and permanent.

My next question to you is:

How do you go about making student thinking visible, public, and permanent? What kinds of charts/posters do you create (and when do you make them?!)?

The chapter, in summary, talks about creating cultures and promoting thinking within the classroom. I still have a few kids who only share when they know they have the “right” answer.

What do you do to create a culture/community within your classroom that encourages kids to share their thinking and gives them the confidence to do so, regardless of “right” or “wrong” answers?


  1. Modeling for students the thought processes you are going through when reading a book is the best way I know to introduce students to thinking processes involved with comprehension. Read Alouds both fiction and nonfiction are a great resource to model your own thinking as you make connections to the events and ideas in the book. These “think alouds” introduce students to valuable comprehension strategies that will help them construct meaning from what they read. Many students just don’t know how to get their ideas and connections flowing, and modeling can really give this a boost. When I read this I thought about… I was wondering about …. I am thinking… Do you think…… I noticed…
    I believe interactive writing is a great way to create displays for the classroom. The students are doing the creating with a little coaching from their teacher and each other. The language and reading skills incorporated in interactive writing are invaluable. In my Title classroom the only interactive writing we are able to squeeze in is writing about what we read in shared reading or read aloud books. I am reminded when reading what I wrote about thinking aloud that I need to incorporate more thinking aloud modeling in these activities. I believe that might be the most valuable part of doing these blogs you may learn new things, but more often you are reminded of something you did that worked.
    We know that kids learn much more if they are willing to take a risk. I encourage my kids to “be brave”, and I make a point of pointing that out when they demonstrate this. I also try to let them understand that I make mistakes and it is okay for them to make mistakes.

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  3. After reading this chapter I was thinking a lot about one of my reading recovery students. I have not been able to figure out her needs and she will not take any risks with me. Her learning is not being elevated and she and I are both frustrated.... So I decided to really look closely at my language to see if I could make it better, and find another way to talk to her. So today I actually video taped our lesson. I am embarrassed to admit that I was almost confusing myself because I was talking way too much. My new plan is talk less... much less and focus more on encouraging her to talk to me, even if it means slowing down my teaching for a bit I really have to get her talking and responding. So hopefully if I shut my mouth I can get her to open hers.

    Making thinking visible, public and permanent. Well one thing that I have been trying out this year with my fourth grade title students I think has been successful. We are focusing mainly on comprehension strategies with a lot of writing about reading and thought organizers. When I introduce a new book I like to get them thinking and interested assign a small section and then come back the next day ready to talk about what strategy we will be focusing on. I like to try and put some of their thinking down on the graphic organizer or thinking sheet that they will then use to build on as they continue to read. The kids get a big kick out of seeing what they said the day before down on a thinking sheet. It is not necessarily public to all, but it is public to our little group.

    Culture/Community: I really believe that a positive culture and community is built from day one. It is a mutual respect between students and teachers. This is not something that can just happen overnight we really have to orchestrate it carefully. Because one vent of frustration by a teacher can tear down many days worth of confidence building in a child.

  4. Making thinking visible, public and permanent: My students and I worked together to make anchor charts about reading strategies that the students can use when they come to a word that they don't know. Also, we made a chart about what good readers do. I would like to work on this aspect of my teaching more. Personally, I would like to model my own thinking process more for my students.
    Culture/Community: I agree with Alyson that a mutual respect between students and teachers is critical and it needs to start from the first day. It goes back to the idea that I want my classroom to be an inviting space where the students feel comfortable. As I said previously, I hope my students feel comfortable sharing what's on their minds and know that their ideas will be respected.

  5. "Elevate" with language - One of things that I do when I teach is try to increase student vocabulary, I do not simplify words for students but instead challenge their understanding. I do this by posing questions. Also, as far as putting thinking on display, wow, we do it all the time. Kids generally are curious in nature and so am I. I am always asking them questions to better understand their plan and thinking through a project as well as asking them questions just about things around us. Two of my favorite questions are "what do you think? and What would you do?" Of course those are followed with, "interesting or intriguing why?."
    Public and permanent thinking - We do a lot of art critiques in my room. In the lower grades, the kids see this as sharing and are anxious to participate. In the older grades, students are expected to provide on compliment and one constructive critique or pose one question. It is a great way to get the kids to talk about and think about each others work as well as their own. While this is public in our classroom, it is not always a permanent feature in each class.
    Culture to share - I agree with Alyson, you need to build that respect from the get go. I also stress to students that an art room is one place where everyone can have a different thought or answer and we will still all be correct. We work hard not to think of things as "right or wrong" but instead as "different or the same". I love having many different opinions in my room and praise those who share which seems to catch like wild fire.

  6. In what ways do you “elevate” kids with your use of language? And how do you manage frustration in order to avoid having the opposite effect?
    I try to elevate kids’ thinking by being specific in my praises; instead of just a general “good job.” This year, I have been particularly aware of how long I wait for a student to answer a question or attempt something musically I’ve asked them to try; I’ll wait until they do it. Of course, I may ask more leading questions or give more encouragement along the way to foster their confidence in responding, but I think too often teachers don’t feel they can waste time waiting- that there’s too much to get to. As Ms. Miller said on pg. 55, “Josh learns that if he hesitates to answer, his teacher and his classmates will come to the rescue. That’s no way to move a child forward.” If a student is extremely shy or unconfident, I may buy them more time by saying, “Ok, I’m going to hear what Apple has to say, and then I’m coming right back to you.” Usually when the focus is taken off them for a couple minutes, they’re able to relax and come up with an answer/confidence to try by the time I come back to them. Either way, I believe the policy of “not letting them off the hook” is a good confidence builder; it forces them to accomplish something out of their comfort zone.
    As for frustration, I think any honest teacher can say frustration has gotten the best of him/her while teaching; we’re human. I know it’s a cliché answer, but we need to correct our mistake when possible, learn from our mistake the next time we get frustrated, and move on.
    How do you go about making student thinking visible, public, and permanent? What kinds of charts/posters do you create (and when do you make them?!)?
    As I said in my answer to Dave’s question, it’s a bit harder to display student thinking in the music classroom, but I am looking for more ways to do so (any ideas, please send them my way!). My 4th graders are currently learning John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” We talked about what makes John Denver think of home, the lyrics he uses to describe it, and the picture he paints with his song, I then asked students to write 5 descriptive sentences that make them think of home. I encouraged them to make their sentences as descriptive as possible, then choose their favorite one, write it on a post-it and attach it to the wall. The post-its are creating a “road” about home across one wall of the music room.
    What do you do to create a culture/community within your classroom that encourages kids to share their thinking and gives them the confidence to do so, regardless of “right” or “wrong” answers?
    I think it is essential for other students to listen when their classmate is talking; even if they think it has nothing to do with them. I’d like to get better at fostering conversations among students, instead of each student talking to me. I will ask students to respond specifically to what Emerald said, and ask for more student responses before interjecting my own with each student. I’d conversations to me more student-directed; that way there is less “right/wrong” answers, and more confident conversation and healthy, educational social interaction.

  7. Managing frustration: As I was reading everyone's responses, I found myself thinking about a particular 4th grader that I work with 1-on-1. He is an expert at waiting teachers out. He knows if he waits long enough the teacher will write for him or lead him in the right direction. Since I have him by himself, he has nobody to rescue him, but he still tries his avoidance strategies. He is also one of those students that will not admit to liking anything, so there is really no carrot to dangle in front of him. I find myself imposing minute-long "brain breaks" to refocus. We talk about something that is not frustrating him and he is usually able to return to task. If he is in an especially stubborn mood and I feel myself getting frustrated, we may take a quick restroom or drink break in order to clear the air.
    Elevating students: Since I work with students with disabilities, many of them have low self- confidence. I really look for any opportunity to point out something they did well and make a big deal out of it. I know the classroom teachers point out times when the students I work contribute positively in the regular classroom as well. Even when my students say something that seems way off in left field, I encourage them to complete their line of thinking so that we can better understand where they're coming from. This helps me to better understand what might be confusing them as well. I liked Miller's idea of keeping a notebook to write down things kids say to be displayed on anchor charts around the room.
    Making thinking visible: I taught in an LC district for 8 years, so we were constantly doing think alouds, even in the intermediate grades. Like Alyson, I sometimes have to remind myself to stop talking to give them time to think and process. We also did "tracks in the snow" a lot to help the kids to focus more on their thinking (or to remind them that they should be thinking while they read, which is difficult for some of my students who "word call"). I have actually gotten away from the tracks a bit and should get back to it because I felt like it really helped them. As we're learning new concepts (or even reviewing old concepts)I am constantly writing on charts that are posted around my room. As I alluded to in an earlier post, my biggest problem is finding the right place to hang that chart, and then having it actually stay where I hung it rather than falling on the floor, which results in them stacked on the shelf rather than being out where the students can use them. I have used the charts that are on rings so I can just flip back and forth as well, but then they weren't as accessible to the students.
    culture/community: I feel like sometimes in 4th and 5th grades as we're preparing the students for OAA we give the impression that everything is either right or it is wrong - black and white, no gray. I try to show my students that you are only wrong when you fail to support what you've said. I validate their responses and we talk about how there is more than one way to look at a problem, and we explore different ways to solve problems together. I also openly admit when I've made a mistake so that they see that nobody is perfect. My expectation is true effort, not perfection.

  8. In what ways do you “elevate” kids with your use of language? And how do you manage frustration in order to avoid having the opposite effect?
    I try to elevate my kids using language in different ways. In the kindergarten classroom, I still have parents that speak to their child in ‘baby-talk’. If a child calls a banana a ‘nana’, I make sure that they use appropriate language in the classroom. I also find that my students will give very ‘off-the-wall’ answers to questions. I have found myself digging deeper into their answer by asking more questions or having the student elaborate on what they are talking about. I have seen great success in waiting. It is sometimes hard for my students to wrap their head completely around their answer, so giving them time and encouraging them allows them to remember and elaborate on what their answer was. I try to also use language to encourage independence in the classroom. If a child is whining to me about a friend not sharing, I explain to them that they have a voice and can talk to them about their frustrations, etc. I have found having them talk it out gives them more responsibility and more independence. (Many handle situations on their own now).
    How do you go about making student thinking visible, public, and permanent? What kinds of charts/posters do you create (and when do you make them?!)?
    This is one aspect that I definitely need to work on in my classroom. I find it hard to get my students writing in order to make anchor charts, etc. I will be using the idea of making their knowledge or input relate to the lesson. I have a child who is a wealth of random information. I want that information to be shared with the other students, because it may create connections for them. We do KWL charts often and we hang them in the hallway for the rest of the students. We create bulletin boards (in the hallway) that give advice, tips, information that is visible for not just us, but the rest of the school students. (Ex: Fire Safety Tips and How to Be a Bucket Filler)
    What do you do to create a culture/community within your classroom that encourages kids to share their thinking and gives them the confidence to do so, regardless of “right” or “wrong” answers?
    At the beginning of the school year, I talk about how we are all a community/team. We need to listen to each other because what someone has to say may help you solve a problem you are having. I know that in my room (kinders) have a hard time with not interrupting or losing interest pretty quickly when a classmate is talking. I try to encourage good listening skills as well as when I am listening, I encourage that student. When one student is encourage or shown positive feedback for a behavior (or in this case, giving a confident answer) the others seem willing to share.

  9. Elevating kids and managing frustration - I elevate my students by being specific in my praise and praising my students often. Especially when I can see that they are hesitant about the work they are doing. In order to manage the frustration students may have, I let them know that it is ok to try even if they are frustrated. "Give it a shot and you may surprise yourself."
    Making student thinking visible - I do a lot of think alouds and I make the students' thinking public, but I need to work on the visual part of this. I like the idea of "putting your thinking on display." This is my goal for the week - create at least two displays of thinking to put up on the walls.
    Creating a culture - It is important to create a culture of respect from the first day of school. My students are not afraid to share their thinking because they know they can do so without being judged by myself or the other students.
    I look forward to using what I've learned so far in my classroom!