Image courtesy of cafrizell.
One of the many things our principal is doing well is introducing us to high yield strategies that we can use in our classrooms. I’m always up for trying something new so I’m on board with the idea of using anchor charts, performance walls, the gradual release of responsibility model and other various strategies. I also spend a lot of time learning from @KimMcGill, our fearless curriculum consultant, and I’ve really appreciated having her suggest new strategies for classroom instruction and assessment.
I am teaching two sections of grade ten academic level English this semester and being as this is my sixth and seventh time teaching the course, I wanted to rethink my assessments. The first major assessment I’m giving them is an opinion writing task. Normally, I would probably make it creative as in a Rick Mercer Rant style but because my students are writing the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test in just over a month, I thought this would be an important skill on which to focus. (I know I’m teaching to the test here, but I want to make sure I give them the proper preparation so that they don’t have any issues. The teacher in me is lamenting, but I’m trying to think of what’s best for my students at this point.) To make it a more exciting lesson, I used the gradual release of responsibility model as the foundation for my lesson and as a class, we co-created a model opinion piece. The best part, however, was our topic – who should win “The Bachelor – On the Wings of Love?”
The two sections of grade tens are VERY female dominant (in 50 students I have eight boys) so this topic was right up their alley. We had a raging debate about the two remaining girls and after the debate, I asked them to come together and vote on which girl we would write about as a group. As a class, we wrote an introductory paragraph as well as a body paragraph. It was great to see them debating over the structure, content and diction of our co-created work.
After co-writing those two paragraphs, we moved on to discussing the rubric. At one of the PLC meetings I attended in the fall, Kim was asking us to focus on what each of the categories “looks like” in the assignment rather than using vague descriptors. I decided that to make this more student-centered, I needed to take it to the students and hear their thoughts. I had the class move into groups and assigned each a category (Knowledge, Thinking, Communication, and Application) to consider. I asked them to give me concrete details or “look-fors” so the rubric would be more authentic to our writing process. I was actually pleasantly surprised with the outcomes. The students really considered what is important in each category and I had the opportunity for many discussions with the smaller groups. The group talks allowed me to encourage them to consider the process by which they could achieve a high mark in all the categories on the rubric and gave them a forum to ask questions and discuss their thoughts.
Yesterday I had the students create performance walls where they wrote paragraphs they thought would fit into the various categories. The students had a blast with this activity as I let them choose their own topics (which were quite interesting) and what I was really impressed with was the students that I assigned to create the level four (highest achieving) paragraph. The girls in that group put a lot of effort into their work and in fact slightly stressed over this task. They chose a topic that was important to them, they used a thesaurus to elevate their language and incorporated transition words and phrases effectively. As a class, we then discussed what each group created and this allowed the students to see how they could improve their writing.
Finally, I am having my students peer edit tomorrow in class so today they created peer editing checklists. I had the students use a carousel style strategy where they had to travel around the room and write down the most important ideas to consider when editing another person’s work. I also had them make suggestions about what good feedback looks like and how they can help each other receive good grades on this task. I’m looking forward to reading the feedback they give each other tomorrow and am hopeful that all this in class work will help my students improve in the writing process.
I would love to hear what others are doing in their classrooms when it comes to these kinds of teaching strategies so please comment to continue the discussion. Thanks!