Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Increasing the Rigor Through Class Discussions

With the adoption of Common Core comes increased rigor. I remember the first year my school started REALLY focusing on the CCSS. All I heard about was rigor. How did you step up the rigor in your room? Are your lessons rigorous? I never really had an answer and would just sit there and let others answer. I would think to myself, ok, I do that. Good.

After awhile I started to understand more. That's always the way, isn't it? The more you do, the more you get it. I think my ah-ha moment was during a conversation with a colleague across the hall after school one day. She really made me understand that rigor isn't just about having high expectations for everyone. Its about the students being supported in their learning and pushing them as far as they can go in order to achieve the high levels you are expecting. It's about the students taking ownership of their learning. It's about letting the students think through their work on their own telling you what they think. It's about each and every student showing appropriate growth because of the supports you put in place and the classroom environment that has been created.

The Glossary of Education Reform states, "In education, rigor is commonly applied to lessons that encourage students to question their assumptions and think deeply, rather than to lessons that merely demand memorization and information recall" (http://edglossary.org/rigor/). I LOVE this! Students questioning themselves, thinking deeply. That's real life. 

How many times have you done something and then questioned it? All. The. Time. Right? Take cooking for instance. You make a meal. Maybe its tasty, maybe its not. What do you like about it? Why? What went wrong? Why? How would you fix it to make it better? Would you even try the recipe again, or was it just terrible? I know I ALWAYS think these things. 

I'm even questioning myself right now. Is this really what I'm trying to say? 

Questioning is normal. Thinking through a process on your own helps you to understand it better. You may get opinions from others and take those into consideration, but you do what is best for you. Trying it out and then deciding for yourself if it went the way you intended, or if it worked or not, makes you a better learner.  

I want my students to understand that. Expecting them to do this on their own can be tricky sometimes, though, especially for young learners. They want to please in the worst way and are so afraid to make mistakes. At least, for most of them. So, they need to be supported, they need to be prompted, and they need to be taught. They need to build confidence in themselves.

One way I do this in my classroom is through discussion. I just started reading Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst and I was happy to see that they support the idea of classroom discussions where students are responsible for leading the discussion by questioning and using evidence. They call it an "intellectual community". Beers and Probst say that in an intellectual community, "students are encouraged to be risk takers, to be curious, to be willing to try and fail, and to be more interested in asking questions than providing answers" (p. 24). 

So how do you support an intellectual community? 

I start by providing my students with discussion prompts. 
This is a super blurry picture of what I had posted in my classroom to help my students during discussions. When I started this in my room, I would choose two prompts, give the kiddos a topic (maybe about a book I was reading aloud) and have them turn-and-talk with a partner. After they seemed more comfortable with the prompts, I put them in bigger groups (maybe 4) and had them discuss a topic together. It got to be where we would begin or end a lesson and I would say talk to me about ___. I could just listen to the whole group converse politely, taking turns, using vocabulary from whatever subject we were talking about, asking questions that others would answer, proving their learning and understanding all from me simply saying talk to me about ___. I noticed confidence growing and I was able to tell who truly understood a concept or who needed some more guidance. True learning was taking place and over time more and more kiddos joined the discussions. They began using these prompts on their own and in group work. It was wonderful! The best was when I would video their conversations. They LOVED it! 

So for this year, I decided I didn't want to write the prompts on sentence strips again. Instead, I made mini posters that I have displayed in my classroom near my calendar. This is where we always get together on the rug for read-alouds, number talks, mini lessons, and just about any type of class discussion. It's the perfect location to have these prompts always accessible to my learners. They can easily see them, and I can easily point to them as a reminder.
I even made smaller versions that I intend to put on rings for kiddos that could benefit from having it in front of them and for use in small groups or book clubs.

An idea I got from Notice & Note is to provide students with prompts to keep the conversation going, especially in the beginning. I was also thinking that I could give certain prompts to students who always use the same ones, as a way to encourage them to change it up. I'm so excited to use these!

It's very encouraging when the little kiddos start using these prompts. They are speaking in complete sentences and listening carefully and respectfully to others. And, it covers the speaking and listening standards:

  • participating in collaborative discussions
  • following rules for discussions
  • building on others' talk in conversations by responding to comments
  • asking questions
  • producing complete sentences
Very awesome if you ask me!

If you like, you can purchase these from my TpT store {HERE}. I hope these will be as helpful to you and your class as they are to me. 

Best wishes!
Hidden curriculum (2014, August 26). In S. Abbott (Ed.), The glossary of education reform. Retrieved from http://edglossary.org/hidden-curriculum

Beers, K. & Probst, R.E. (2013) Notice & note: Strategies for close reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.     

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