Friday, September 2, 2016

Podcasts: "Reading" an Audio Text Through Applying Critical Thinking Skills

While a significant aspect of reading involves making sense of written language, it's also important to support students as they learn how to make sense of audio language.

Many students are not audio learners, so podcasts provide an opportunity to develop this skill set as a facet of whole child literacy (reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing).

You Are There is a a CBS radio show that was developed between 1953-1957. As historians, students examine different sources.  This podcast can be used with other primary and secondary sources related to specific events in history. Below, you'll see some great podcasts from many commonly explored historic topics.

Here are the different episodes as podcasts,
You Are There: Radio Podcasts (84 episodes, usually 26-28 minutes each)

Scaffolds that might be needed:
1. an outline of the episode and stopping to check for understanding at different parts of the episode. Students might capture the big ideas (aka take notes) as the podcast takes place
2. teach challenging vocabulary that exists in the podcast
3. opportunities to process ideas in different ways (for example, identify a critical idea within this section and draw a cartoon in a story-board that communicates the key idea within the story)
4. provide opportunities to connect with the concepts that support the use of an episode

Social Studies: Traditional Literacy and Visual Literacy

I'm an advocate for social studies because I believe that education involves preparing students to participate in our society. Too often, social studies is removed from the day for elementary students because of heightened emphasis on literacy and math. Due to this heightened emphasis on literacy (reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing), this is EXACTLY why Social Studies must remain within every student's day. Let me uncover this idea for you with a series of belief statements.

Belief Statement One:
Traditional literacy involves students learning the skills to acquire meaning from traditional texts. Traditional texts include those that are informational or fiction written with sentences or paragraphs. Students have specific goals in learning how to think about, fluently read, and comprehend traditional texts. If this takes place in a "reading block," then social studies is a content area where students transfer and reapply these skills in authentic ways. Teachers elevate the effective application of these skills in social studies but they also simultaneously focus on the content of social studies. The thinking that leads to understanding of social studies content is critical. View the image as a support for this belief.

Belief Statement Two:
21st century literacy should absolutely include traditional texts, but it MUST also include instruction in reading nontraditional texts. Nontraditional texts surround our students every day and if we leave these out of the learning process, then we are are leaving out a massive amount of sources that we use to acquire information. At the heart of best practice in social studies and science, students should be reading and analyzing charts, maps, graphs, primary sources, artifacts, media, and timelines. View the images and video supports for this belief.

Belief Statement Three:
We must use thinking routines that allow students to engage in "reading" nontraditional texts. Since "reading" nontraditional texts involves visual analysis, we must embrace the application of core critical thinking skills in more flexible ways and ask students to regularly apply them across the contents. View the following links for ideas related to thinking routines for analyzing nontraditional texts.

Belief Statement Four:
We must use social studies as a content where students engage with all the types of sources that exist in our world. Students apply thinking and acquire content through the reading of multiple sources. This involves the transfer and reapplication of skills with traditional texts and the elevation of thinking routines with nontraditional texts.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Inquiry, Skills, and Formative Assessment Through the "Inquiry Design Model"

Today's classrooms highlight far, far more than knowledge. Today's classrooms know that deeper thinking is critical, and classrooms based on learning facts do not prepare students for the world that they are entering. In 21st century classrooms, students need to apply knowledge skillfully and teachers need to formatively assess student work and classroom conversations to evaluate whether students grasp the skills of a discipline. Students also need to apply knowledge to demonstrate understanding of conceptual ideas. Conceptual ideas provide students with opportunities to transfer their learning to multiple contexts thereby making learning relevant to life. Teachers need to formatively assess student work and classroom conversations to evaluate whether students grasp the concepts of a discipline.

Given these goals, sometimes it seems that planning for daily learning has become so complex that it's almost unbearable. But...planning doesn't need to be unbearable if you focus on core elements of good learning. I believe that the Inquiry Design Model simplifies the planning process while also elevating... 
1) inquiry based on concepts,
2) the intentional use of quality resources,
3) discipline specific skills, and
4) focused formative assessment. 

I LOVE how this model avoids overprescription!

As you explore planning with the Inquiry Design Model, access some of their sample inquiries as models and consider the following ideas:
  1. Inquiry involves the process of every student working to answer questions. How might teachers use questions to frame learning for students? What experiences will allow you to know whether students are able to answer the question using sources? (classroom conversation, writing to learn)
  2. Good instruction involves using quality resources and texts. What is the best resource for your students? Are you exposing students to non-traditional texts (charts, graphs, maps, images, infographics, primary sources)? 
  3. Good instruction involves students demonstrating skills. Some skills are applied during the reading/analysis of resource or text. Some skills are applied after students have extrapolated critical ideas from a resource or text. What skills are you looking for? Are you looking for students to demonstrate skills during their work with a resource or text? Are you looking for students to demonstrate skills after their work with a resource or text? What modeling do students need so they can successfully demonstrate skills?

Please share your thoughts:
Does this model simplify planning of social studies? 
Does this model honor conceptual thinking? 
Does this model honor skillful thinking? 
Does this model help you, the teacher, to focus on student application of skills and concepts?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"Drawing to Learn" as a Component of "Writing to Learn"

There IS a difference between learning to write and writing to learn.  Writing to learn includes a multitude of opportunities where teachers intentionally pause and engage students in low stakes writing practices so students can think critically, clarify ideas, capture big ideas, and transfer thinking down on paper. (In a digital world, the process of blogging is connected to writing to learn.) To learn more, read another blog post of mine on the core ideas of writing to learn.

This brings me to the focus of this post; is drawing to learn a component of writing to learn? Yes! Absolutely! Most definitely!  Let me explain...if the practice of using writing to learn is focused on its purpose, then surely drawing can serve the exact same purpose. Drawing can be used so students capture the big ideas. Drawing can be used so students transfer thinking down on paper. Drawing can be used to think critically. In fact, using drawing may be a greater benefit to students who are more visual. (Personally speaking, I AM a visual learner. It DRIVES ME CRAZY when I can't explain my ideas through drawing or a graphic organizer.)

When I reflect on this graphic, it reminds me that teachers can always use brief writing and drawing experiences to support thinking. These experiences are intentionally designed so students are able to to express their ideas without feeling like the writing is a formal, published piece of writing. Don't get me wrong...we want students to express their ideas with clarity - we want students to use academic vocabulary - we want writing to have a sense of organization...but we must be cautious to ask for products that involve planning, revising, editing, and publishing. Writing is NOT always the writing process, writing is frequently connected to the thinking process. You might think of the difference as "high stakes writing" and "low stakes writing."   (In addition, writing to learn provides the perfect pathway for students apply critical thinking skills of analyzing, comparing/contrasting, summarizing, synthesizing, etc. Here's a comprehensive list of critical thinking skills.)

Writing to learn is about communicating ideas informally in multiple ways. While words can communicate ideas, so can drawings. In "education speak," we often think of drawings (and graphic organizers such as Thinking Maps) as being included in the general group of nonlinguistic representations. We can encourage students to think abstractly and in different ways as they step out of their comfort zone to demonstrate ideas in drawings. Now that you're with me, take a peek at this video on Why Nonlinguistic Representations Are Important.

So, how might you use drawing as a way of supporting student thinking? Here are some potential ways.

  • When young readers employ the strategy of visualization, we might ask students to draw what they are visualizing.
  • When young historians learn about an event in history, we might ask students to capture the event in a drawing and write a few sentences to describe the event.
  • When young scientists are learning about chemical reactions, we might ask students to draw the chemical reaction and use words to describe what's happening in the drawing.
  • When we ask students to "take notes," we're asking students to capture the big ideas and supporting details. We might ask students to include simple drawings with each big idea. 
  • When young geographers gather data about a physical region, we might ask them to draw a picture that shows how a particular element of the physical region would impact people.
  • When young mathematicians are working through a problem, we might ask them to draw the problem as a tool to think about the problem solving process. 

To learn more, access some of these links.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Report Cards for Teachers: Gaining Authentic Feedback from Students

As teachers, we constantly search for ways to improve our instructional practice. We do this so that learning experiences are more engaging and rigorous for students. As a social studies teacher, you probably have some goals related to instruction. Establishing goals is part of a continual growth process, and it's important to consider student perspectives in your growth  (since we make changes for the benefit of student learning). You might gain this feedback through a paper survey or you could create a survey in Google Forms.

Below, you'll find some sample statements that might be included in your survey about instructional practice within social studies.  Students might respond with:
1. Completely agree
2. Agree
3. Disagree
4. Completely disagree

  • As a class, we use Learning Targets effectively as a tool to evaluate the success of our thinking and work.
  • Because we do not concentrate on memorizing facts, I want to make sure you know the skill, process or conceptual goals in our tasks. 
    • As a student, I know when I am simply gathering and organizing factual information that will be used in different tasks. 
    • As a student, I know when I am being evaluated based on my ability to use facts when answering one of our inquiry questions.
    • As a student, I know when I am being evaluated on my ability to apply a skill or thinking process that is unique to a historian, geographer, economist, or citizen.
  • As a student, I feel that the teacher effectively models what thinking looks like or what work looks like. 
  • As a student, I feel that we are given enough opportunities to talk with other students about our learning. This might happen in partner conversations, small group conversations, or class conversations.
  • As a student, I feel the we are given enough opportunities to use writing as we learn. I also feel that we are given enough opportunities to write about our learning. 
  • As a student, I feel that our "classroom expectations for conversation" are helpful. We regularly refer to these expectations so we are successful. 
  • As a student, I feel that our "classroom expectations for using writing in all content areas" is helpful. We regularly refer to these expectations so we are successful.
PLEASE NOTE the following key ideas shared by teachers who ask students to do such evaluations...
  1. Students must be familiar with the language in this evaluation. If you are not using this language in your instruction, students might not know what you are talking about when you ask them to evaluate you.
  2. Students must understand that you plan to take this feedback seriously. Just as you do report cards in a way that is about honesty, you hope students provide honest feedback to you.
  3. Go over the data results with students. Talk with students about how you plan to use the feedback. Encourage students to use their report cards in the same set new goals and improve as students.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Establishing Routines and Strategies for Collaboration and Conversation

Image is copyright free from  (

These shoes work well together. You can see the difference in each pair while recognizing that they seem to complement each other. To me, THIS is collaboration - unique, diverse students who complement each other with thinking... and students who are able to work well together.

As part of best practice, teachers develop routines and structures within the classroom, including those that support effective collaboration. When these routines and structures are established, students are given daily opportunities to interact verbally, share ideas, collaborate, and think "out loud". It's critical that students have opportunities to talk with peers about their learning. Why? Consider research connected to: 
  • students as social learners,
  • the need for students to engage in "oral rehearsal", and 
  • the need for students to formulate thinking. 

These conversational experiences lead to deeper understanding and greater clarity in student thinking and understanding. In the end, students might also find themselves transferring ideas from conversations into writing (experiences we connect with writing-to-learn). To support students in their development as collaborators, we might provide opportunities for them to evaluate themselves (self-evaluation) and consider possibilities for change.

Establishing routines for students to talk about their learning supports the 21st Century Skills of Collaboration and Critical Thinking and Reasoning. As you establish these routines, expectations, and strategies, consider these additional tools:

Friday, February 7, 2014

Critical Thinking and the Development of Disciplined Minds

One of the most difficult things is escaping tradition.  In education, we have strong traditions influenced by our of those involves memorizing information to regurgitate it on a test.  While developing factual content knowledge is still a significant component of student learning, there is SOOOOOO much more to a 21st century education.

In the 2008 ASCD edition of Educational Leadership, this notion is challenged in an article on Disciplining the Mind.  

Students need more than a large information base to understand their ever-changing world. They need to master disciplinary thinking. 
(Source: Boix Mansilla, Veronica, and Howard Gardner. "Disciplining the Mind." Educational Leadership. 65.5 (2008): 14-19. Print. <

But, what is disciplinary thinking? Disciplinary thinking is directly connected to the fundamental shift in how we look at our role as educators in the 21st century. Shift happens...and shift MUST happen if we are to prepare students for their future (and NOT our past).
  • We don't teach students writing, we teach them to be writers.
  • We don't teach students reading, we teach them to be readers.
  • We don't teach students art, we teach them to be artists.
  • We don't teach students music, we teach them to be musicians.
  • We don't teach students science, we teach them to be scientists (biologists, physicists, chemists).  
  • We don't teach students social studies, we teach them to be social scientists (historians, geographers, economists, and informed/engaged citizens).
As educators, when we embrace this shift, then we start to utilize instructional practice that teaches students to have disciplined, engaged minds. This is precisely what it means for students to practice the 21st century skill of CRITICAL THINKING and REASONING.

The first part of developing the disciplined mind involves incorporating the most common cross-content critical thinking skills and strategies in EVERY content area.  While our tradition might involve learning and practicing these skills and strategies as part of reading instruction, they are crucial to the thinking that takes place as students engage with information and resources in EVERY content area.  Students must transfer and reapply these skills all the time. (To remind yourself about cross-content critical thinking skills and strategies, take a gander at this list.) The image you see shows thinking skills at the top and shows how those skills are transferred and reapplied every day in every content area.

The second part of developing a disciplined mind involves looking at skills, or what students should be able to do.  Today, teachers are engaging with planning documents that consistently call out skills, or what students should be able to do.  As educators, we must challenge ourselves to look at these goals and ask ourselves, "How do these skills ask students to think like the practitioners of these disciplines?"  To build your thinking about disciplinary thinking, check out this collection of quotes that I gathered. In the image below, you see how cross-content skills are transferred and reapplied in every content area. It also shows how students apply discipline-specific thinking. This is the type of thinking that takes place within a particular content. For example, how does a geographer think? How does an economist think? How does an astronomer think? If we are to bring education into the 21st century, we must USE knowledge and resources to help students THINK like PRACTITiONERS of a DISCIPLINE.

It's easy to hold on to traditions, especially the tradition of knowing as much information as possible. I challenge you to let go of that tradition, and embrace instruction that highlights THINKING.  When you do, you'll begin to see the thinking minds of students like never before.  When we (as educators) open our minds to new ways of thinking and new ways of approaching our work, our students and the larger society are the ones who benefit.  WE ALL BENEFIT!