One of the biggest challenges a teacher can face in the classroom is creating original thinkers. You know....students who do not regurgitate the thoughts and ideas of their teachers, peers, and the Internet. While we can always motivate and ask students to share their own thoughts, ideas, and analysis of the text/worldly events, our students struggle to do this for various reasons.
Throughout my classrooms visits this week, I was impressed and refreshed as I noticed the variety of activities and strategies our English teachers have put in place to produce original thinkers. Per the English curriculum, teachers are expected to assess how students read, write, and speak about a variety of topics and texts throughout the school year. In addition, we consistently challenge our students to create, analyze, and evaluate arguments. In order to do this effectively, we must first teach our students how, and then motivate them to do so on their own, using their own thoughts and by drawing their own conclusions.Students must also be able to locate or provide evidence to guide, support, and reflect on these arguments. In turn, we want our students to recognize and move beyond opinions, biases, and shallow thoughts. Yes, as I said before...this isn't easy. How do you promote original thinking in your classroom? Read on for a few lesson ideas I witnessed as I visited the English Department this week.
Ask your students to do something different when it comes to the text and skills you are currently assessing. In Ms. Paula Rossi's freshmen English class, she asked her students to craft a rap after evaluating a section of the text. The students were given 20 minutes to consider the most important parts of the text, write a rap that incorporated rhyme and meter, and perform for the class. Not only were the students critically thinking about the text, but they had to demonstrate their understanding in a creative, fun way. Students were laughing and engaged as each group presented their original raps to the rest class.
In Ms. Margarita Altidis and Ms. Kristen Victor's sophomore English classes, they used images in order to teach argument. During this visual literacy lesson, students were asked to evaluate images, determine the argument behind the image, and then provide two pieces of evidence to support their conclusions. While we typically use some sort of text to do this process, asking students to evaluate images allows them to put on a critical lens and produce original thoughts based on their interpretation. Students were extremely engaged, and Ms. Victor told me that the students produced impressive arguments and evidence based on their own thoughts/ideas.
In addition to these creative lessons, Ms. Susan Lynch uses her independent reading unit to ask the students to complete various tasks while reading a new text. She created a HyperDoc that includes the different layers of this process, but I really loved the Extend section of her assignment. After reading, completing a log, and creating a trailer of the book using a video maker resource on their Chromebooks, she asks the students to extend their learning by writing a letter to the author with unanswered questions they have about the novel and its characters. By asking students to reach out to the author, Ms. Lynch empowers student voice and gives them an opportunity to share their own ideas about a text. What a rich, powerful way to learn what the students are thinking!
Research papers and projects are pretty typical assignments included throughout a curriculum. While we can ask students to research a topic and produce an artifact of their learning, why not have the students complete inquiry projects of their choice that take them through a similar process but puts the ownership in their court. Many of our English teachers have moved past the traditional research paper and now challenge their students to develop their own research questions and arguments. With this, original thought is absolutely necessary as the students have full control of their question, research, and argument.
Ms. Corie Sanders and Ms. Kaitlyn Sparkman's junior students are currently at the end of their Inquiry projects and putting the finishing touches on their papers. Ms. Sparkman explained that there are different layers to the process, and she created a HyperDoc for her students to utilize for resources as they completed the project. One document that leads them in various directions for their assignment. Ms. Sanders utilizes Google Classroom throughout the process to share different resources and check their progress. As I asked students to share their research questions, it was amazing to hear the variety of topics chosen by the students, and it was evident through their facial expressions and ability to articulate their work that they were passionate about what they were working on. After all....it was their choice and developed by their own ideas and curiosities. After completing the paper, students will be asked to create some sort of additional artifact that showcases their research. Again, students have choice when it comes to this artifact and have to make it original.
Student-Led Academic Discussions
As I've discussed in previous posts, asking students to speak about a certain topic puts the ball in their courts in regards to understanding, analysis, and questioning. Over the past few years, academic discussions have become fixtures in the English classrooms at our school, and students are expected to speak academically, eloquently, and collaboratively on a consistent basis. Teachers take a step back and just listen, evaluate, and eventually, provide commentary on their students' progress. In doing this, students must take ownership, with the goal being that original, thoughtful, and insightful conversations occur. Ms. Christina Jakubas' junior classes completed an academic discussion this week, and while students sat in the middle to discuss, the rest of the class participated in a back channel on Today's Meet. With both activities, students took the lead and awesome questions, comments, and thoughts were produced. Today's Meet provided a digital outlet that kept ALL students involved in the process and gave them the opportunity to share their ideas based on what they were hearing from their classmates.
Mr. Mike Rossi's AP English class completed a similar activity, but the class was split into two groups - each group having its own discussion about a topic at hand. I was extremely impressed with the students' ability to articulate their thoughts and ask really thought-provoking follow up questions. This happened in both Ms. Jakubas and Mr. Rossi's classes. Ask your students to share their original thoughts with others, and by listening to these conversations, you can learn a lot about your students - both academically and personally.
This is nothing new but is still very powerful in the classroom. By jigsawing a lesson plan and incorporating multiple elements, students don't have time to lose interest in what they are doing because they have various tasks to complete. Again, we want our students to be original thinkers and to be able to produce their own arguments and conclusions; however, at times, we need to bring the class back as a whole to discuss their work and ask them to share what they have learned or still question. In Ms. Laura Dabezic's AP3 course, she jigsawed her lesson to give students time to unpack a difficult text by assigning different groups pieces of the text to discuss and evaluate. She used a shared Google Slide Deck, and each group was asked to add their work to the slide deck, producing a class-generated artifact that they can use for an upcoming academic discussion. After their group work, students were not done; instead, they had to split up and share their work and ideas with another small group, taking on the role as the teacher for that piece of the text. Ms. Dabezic had numerous layers to her lesson: group work time, teacher-led instruction, and student-led instruction. Students were working the entire period and producing original thoughts throughout the process. She explained that by adding the shared Slide Deck, students not only had to discuss the section of the text but had to articulate their discussions in writing for a whole new audience: the rest of the class.
Similarly, Ms. Alyson Cagney's junior classes spent time in groups discussing difficult topics from their current text. They had to produce arguments based on their understanding of the text as a group, but again, their work didn't stop there. Ms. Cagney pulled the class back together and led a complex discussion that pulled from student-chosen arguments and evidence. Differentiating instruction and jigsawing a lesson will not only engage our students, but it will force them to use various skills to demonstrate their understanding and thinking.
I love watching our students produce and articulate their own thoughts as they are learning. By asking for originality, teachers can promote curiosity and critical thinking in their classrooms. These two skills are what keep students on their toes and shape them into innovative individuals. #whatsup