Sunday, November 1, 2015

Inquiry in the Primary Grades, Part 3

Ok, if you have been following this series, you can probably tell, I am nothing, if not thorough. We are already at post # 3, and I've barely even touched on our main subject for inquiry...Bats!  Oh, well! The foundation has been laid, and it will serve my students and me well over the next few weeks.  Let's get started by looking at the first two stages of an inquiry cycle... Immersion and Investigation! (Stephanie Harvey and Harvey "Smokey" Daniels)

During the Immersion phase you will...

1) Plan with your Essential Question and topic in mind: If you remember from Part 1, I worked with the kids on constructing our Essential Question: How Do Bats Survive in their Habitats?  From there, I planned what skills and strategies I wanted my students to practice. For example: researching, non-fiction text features, main idea & detail etc... (all of these fitting nicely, into my district's current unit of study, for 2nd grade)

2) Gather materials and resources: Ok, this was interesting. This year,  I could not find one resource on bats, even in our largest public library. (It probably did not help that it was a few weeks before Halloween.) At first, I will admit, I started to panic a little. I mean the kids were all set to study bats. We had all these questions. I was worried that maybe we would have to scrap it, and start brainstorming a new inquiry topic. Thankfully, I kept my head, and realized that many of my students already had experience from first grade, using books to do research. I felt like the "teaching gods" were telling me that this was my opportunity to expose them to research in a different way. But, what?....Digital! Oila! There it was. One area I knew my students were weak in, was using digital resources.  So, I decided that those lessons would have to be incorporated into our inquiry unit.

Don't get me wrong. We are still are using books, too.  I had a few of my own, plus some Time For Kids and Reading A-Z books, that I had already printed out. One of our first grade teachers even game me an awesome non-fiction, Bat reader's theatre! But, online resources have definitely been, and will be, the heart of our learning.

(This is where I became really happy because I had found that awesome webmix from Matt Sutton on Symbaloo, and it is all about bats. You can find it in Part 1 of this blog series.  I, of course, previewed all of the resources ahead of time, so that I was familiar with their content, and what learning opportunities they could offer my students.

3) Immerse the students in the topic of inquiry:   In this stage, you are trying to build excitement, and curiosity about your topic. Before we dove into the fascinating world of bats, I had my students write down some things they already thought they knew about bats.  They wrote them on a post-it, and I added them to our bat chart.

We also did some shared reading, and kept track of our questions! We began using the language of learning and inquiry, to talk about our thoughts with our partners. "I learned..., I wonder..., I noticed..." What I love about inquiry, is that students really begin to realize that learning is a never-ending cycle. Each day that we learned something new about bats, we also had new questions! We posted our questions on our bat chart, too.

During this time, I also started to model how to take notes, and keep my learning organized.  I introduced bullets and codes like "L" for "new learning", and "Q"  for question. In addition,  I modeled how to "read" a photograph and diagram, and use labels and captions.

They even practiced reading and writing their own.

The immersion phase sets the students up for success in the next phase...Investigation!

During the Investigation phase you will...

1) Model for students "how to read with a question in mind": I pulled a pink post-it off of the bat chart. These are student questions. It seemed random to my students. But, I had already previewed their questions earlier, and had found the perfect question to begin our investigation. "Where do bats live?"  I gave credit to the student who had written the question. They love that!

Next, we made a T-chart for our topic. Notice that I wrote, "What We Think We Know About Bats." This is important, because we want students to be flexible enough to be able to change their thinking, when they are presented with new information.

I then modeled how to use a table of contents to find the section of the book that would answer the question. The students caught right away that they don't have to read non-fiction from beginning to end. We added that to our Fiction/Non-Fiction board from Part 2.  Yes! I love these kids!

Before I began reading,  I stressed that, as researchers, we have a responsibility to ensure that we share information that is correct. I gave them their purpose: 1) to listen for new information about where bats live, and 2) to verify, or discount, our original beliefs about bat habitats.  Then, I read aloud from the page about bat habitats, modeling my thinking and learning, while the students jotted their own thoughts, onto their whiteboards. Afterwards, we added the new information onto our chart, and placed checks next to the ideas that were confirmed by the text.

Then, after a quick review of our "collaborative rules," students practiced this in small groups, with additional bat books. They also used online resources during our computer lab time!

Woohoo! Look at those bullets! We are getting there!

At the end of the day, we came back together to discuss our findings. Some ideas were still unconfirmed, others were verified. We required others to confirm our new learning, and to cite their sources. Students agreed, and disagreed, with one another. We practiced our discussion etiquette, and students used sentence stems that I had provided for them.  In the end, we added quite a bit of new learning to our T-chart. (Don't forget to discuss the process as well, and add to your "Collaboration Rules" if necessary.)

We then repeated this whole process, the next day, with other questions from the bat chart. I chose questions from the chart about diet, adaptations, and the life cycle. The students went off to investigate their question with great enthusiasm! I walked around and conferred with groups and individuals, and took notes about accomplishments, challenges, and next steps.

At the end of the week, we had researched all of the questions most closely related to our Essential Question.  They were also given time to research their individual questions.  

It was a very busy week! But, also a week of tremendous learning and growth! I hope you are starting to see how you can make inquiry work for you and your students.

Check back next week for Part 4, on stage 3 in our inquiry cycle...Coalescing!


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Inquiry in the Primary Grades, Part 2

If you haven't had a chance to read Part 1 of this post on Inquiry , please click here.

Well, tomorrow officially marks the beginning of our non-fiction unit. I wish I could tell you that last week just clipped along, and that I was able to accomplish everything that I had planned.

But, that would be a lie. 

We ran into this little, inconvenient obstacle called....reality. What is reality?  

Rain in Southern California (Think, Chicken Little, here.)

Performance Task Assessments for both reading and math (Think,"watching paint dry", here.)

PLC (This was a good one! Think, Oprah Winfrey's Book Club, here.)

A fundraiser assembly (Think, The Price is Right, here.)

A firefighters assembly (Think, Magic Mike, here. Oh my, maybe that was just me.)

... and an earthquake drill (It was the first time we had done one during recess time. Enough said. )


This week, I was still laying the foundation for our inquiry work. Here is what we were able to accomplish:

Compare and Contrast Fiction & Non-fiction:

1) I usually spend the first 8 weeks studying and reading mostly fiction text with my students. So, the first thing we did was make a list about what we learned about fiction.

2) Then, the fun part begins! We start a mini-inquiry for non-fiction.  Our essential questions are, "How is Non-fiction different from Fiction?" and "How do we read Non-fiction differently than Fiction?"

I set out boxes of non-fiction books around the room, and have the students discuss what they notice. They chart their observations. For time reasons, I asked them to choose one recorder.  However, in the past, I have given each member of the group a different colored marker, so that I could hold each student accountable for at least one comment on the group poster. You're the "boss of the applesauce" here.

I was very pleased to see that this year, my second graders knew more than ever before, and that their understanding of non-fiction was more accurate than in prior years. (Thank you to our fabulous first grade teachers!) So, this is where we start from...

Quite a few gaps to fill in. But, a good place to start from, nevertheless. We will continue to fill in this chart as we go through our inquiry cycle. You will find that, since you are not frontloading all of the information, students will be super excited to find, and share out, new features to put on the wall.

3) Next, we practice applying what we know. At this point, there were a lot of students who were still confusing "fiction" and "non-fiction".  They knew they were different, but the titles were not clear in their heads yet. (If your students are clear on this, you can choose to skip, or accelerate, the next few activities.)

So, I grabbed a mix of fiction, and non-fiction books, out of my library. (TIP: Make sure you grab at least one non-fiction book that has illustrations, instead of photographs.  Otherwise, students will think anything with a drawing is,  automatically, fiction. The key word here is "Flexible") One book at a time, I do a "think aloud" about what I notice. "This book has photographs about real butterflies." "The title of this book is Bats. That doesn't sound like a character's name. It is telling me what the book will be about." "This book is called "Arthur's Tooth".  Arthur is a make-believe character." I do a few on my own, and then start asking the kids to look at a book cover, and make a prediction. They share with a partner, and must support their prediction with at least one piece of evidence.  I give my students sentence frames to support their language.

I think this book is ____________ because __________.
                       fiction / non-fiction     

4) When I feel like the students are close to "getting" it. I send them back to their tables. Each table has a stack of fiction and non-fiction books (one title per student). Students choose a facilitator, who holds up each book for discussion.  

The group decides if the book is non-fiction or fiction, gives reasons why, and then sort the titles into 2-3 piles.  (I say 2-3 because each group had at least one title where the author had chosen to combine both fiction and non-fiction elements. "Flexible.")  

Each group then presented. Each group member presented their book, if it was non-fiction or fiction, and the reasons the group came to that conclusion.  The audience gives a quiet thumbs-up, or down. It normally takes about 3-5 minutes per group. (Make a note during the presentations, of any misunderstandings, especially if they were class-wide. Plan your next steps accordingly.)

5) Last step for us this week was "anchoring" our learning with something we could add into our Reader's Notebook.  I gave students an old Scholastic book order, and a sorting sheet.  They cut out covers, and glued them into the appropriate category.  Then, students brought them back down to the rug, and they shared their work with a partner. We will place them into our notebooks, and refer back to them, as needed.

Afterwards, we talked about any other features of non-fiction the students noticed, and we added it to our compare/contrast bulletin board.

By the end of this activity, all but two students have the terms "non-fiction" and "fiction" clear in their heads, and are no longer confusing them.  Mission accomplished :)

6) Had there not been so many interruptions last week, I would have liked to have done a KWL chart for bats, with the class. That will have to wait for Monday.  You can see a KWL chart for bats that will be similar to the one I will use, by visiting my Pinterest board on Bats. Click below. 

Read Part 3, in this series on Inquiry.

Thanks for stopping by,


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Inquiry in the Primary Grades, Part 1

Just wanted to let my readers know that I have posted Part 1, of a series of posts on Inquiry, over at The Elementary Chalkboard.  Click below to read more.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Flashback to One Year Ago: 5 Truths about Back to School Survival

I started writing this post after the first month of school last year, and never published it.  Last year was...well.....tough.  I learned and grew a lot as a teacher, as we often do when stretched to what we think is our perceived breaking point.  When I reread it, I thought it had some good "notes to self"- as we all go back to work.  I hope some of you can relate, or take inspiration from what I have suffered learned.

August 2014:

I started my 19th BTS season 3 weeks ago, still bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

I had a wonderful and relaxing break.  My room, after 4 consecutive years of purging and organizing, was ready pretty quickly.  I felt like the stars had aligned, and this year was destined to be the best ever.

Fast forward to today.  This has been the WORST.  BTS.  EVER!

I am absolutely exhausted!  I was in a meeting with some teachers, and we are looking around at each other and everyone nodded to each other…knowingly…in mutual suffering.

One of the ladies in the group said, "It's kind of like childbirth…after awhile you forget what it was like, and then you fool yourself in to doing it again".  I definitely am suffering from selective amnesia.  I had forgotten how much work it is to guide 24 students to understand and follow so many new routines and procedures.  I had forgotten how I would probably have to give up part, or all, of almost every break/recess to spend time practicing said rules and procedures, with the little darlings who love to test their boundaries in the beginning of the year.  And, I had definitely forgotten how EVERYTHING takes 10x longer than it did last year, by end of the year. Can I hear an Amen!?

So now, not so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I am here to tell you 5 things I learned from BTS 2014:

1)  Be stubborn:  I know this sounds negative.  But, this I can be a good thing when you are a teacher.  It helps me stick to my "relentlessly consistent" mantra when it comes to discipline.  I am tired now, but I know I will be thanking myself for putting in the time upfront to deal with behavior issues right away.  This has included staying in during recess for 2-3 minutes (Turns out that is a lifetime to a 2nd grader!) to practice sitting "criss-cross applesauce", or putting papers away in their folders, or Reading to Self without disturbing others.  I never phrase it as a punishment, but more that I am here to guide and teach them until they can do it on their own.  I am teaching responsibility and self-control.  So, be stubborn.

2) Be flexible:  I know this seems contrary to what I just said above.  But, as stubborn as I am, I'm seasoned enough to know when a child needs a hug instead of a lecture.  Children are not perfect.  They make lots of mistakes. Sometimes, what we deem as baby steps, are actually huge steps for a child.  Case in point:  I had a child one year who was very bright.  He was a strong-willed, spirited little guy.  He decided when to tune in, and when to tune out with little regard for when I was actually teaching.  Sometimes he did what I asked of him the first time, and sometimes he chose not to.  Each time, we practiced following directions.  Practiced attending to the teacher.  Practiced raising our hands instead of blurting out.  Well, lets just say we did a lot of practice. It got to the point where I began to wonder if I had met my match.  My stubborn twin, if you will.  Well, it turned out that his mom showed up for Open House and stayed around until everyone had left, and then thanked me most graciously for all the good changes she had seen in her son in the short time he had been in my class.  He was happy.  He wanted to come to school.  He was sitting for lessons (which I guess wasn't the case the year before).  This information saved me!  This child, much to my surprise, had made some huge advancements from last year.

3)  Tricks Galore:  You can never have enough tricks in your bag:  Seriously, collect as many as you can when it comes to classroom management and engagement strategies.  I have a  Pinterest board with some great classroom management tips.

In the past, I've used 1-2 at any given time. This year, I have had to change things up constantly.  What worked last week, quickly loses its potency with this group of darlings. Keep it fresh.

4) Take Care of You:  This is always a tough one for me.  I'm mean let's be real.  I don't have time during BTS to eat right, exercise, and sleep 8 hours a night, right?  Wrong!  My body is already showing signs of stress, and I've been down this road enough times to know that if I don't take care of me, I'm going to end up 15 pounds heavier, and with anxiety as my new, constant companion.  No thanks and pass!  So, darn it, I will have to prepare my lunches the night before (I hate doing that.), I will have to wake up early and work out (I hate doing that.), and I will have to go to sleep at 10:00 p.m. (even when my favorite show is running a marathon late into the night).

5) Surprise, Surprise...In the End, it was All Worth It!:  Fast forward to 2015.  Can I tell you how bizarre it is to me that when I see the class from last year, my heart misses them so?  AND what is even crazier, is that they miss me too!  At the end of the year, I thought for sure they would never want to see me again.  I mean, I was Mrs. Toughlove.  I had to be.  But, I did love them...and they knew it.

Hang in there friends,


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

5 Tips for Effective Writing Conferences

Head on over to The Primary Chalkboard to check out my latest post on writing conferences.



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