Bond with James: September 2013

Saturday, September 28, 2013

For the Interactive Notebook: Strategies to engage students in writing

My district provides embedded professional development days known as Late Start for high schools. These occur on selected Thursdays throughout the school year. Faculty and staff start at 8a.m., and depending on the campus, engage in a variety of PD until 10am; school officially starts at 10:15am. I was asked to present strategies to engage students in writing for the Interactive Notebook at  a recent Late Start. 

I should note that several schools in my district were mandated to implement Interactive Notebooks INBs (or ISNs) in all core content areas - ELA, math, science, and social studies. The mandate occurred prior to the start of the school year and teachers who were unfamiliar with INBs had very little training and/or time to think about how they were going to utilize these in their classrooms. I was a little worried that this great tool for helping students would soon become something that our teachers would despise. Fortunately, many of the teachers realize the potential the INBs have for learning in the classroom. 

With that said, let me share with you some of the strategies I shared. I want to emphasize that I shared these strategies for writing as a tool for helping students with their thinking. 

Some key points to remember:

  •  Students may need more time to process content related information just taught. They may need more time to talk, learn, and/or investigate the concept.
  • Help students by modeling writing, as well as giving them tons of practice to build up their experience. 
  • Teachers must believe that students can be successful at writing at higher levels. It may take a lot of effort and scaffolding, but the eventual goal is to help develop students writing proficiency.

1. Photo of the Day

Use content or non-content related pictures to inspire students to write. The Photo of the Day could be used as a warm-up, during a break from the lesson, or as an exit ticket relating to the concepts learned that day.  Pictures can be utilized from various sources; however, National Geographic provides awesome graphics to help engage students in the writing process. The first time I went to the site I had only planned to browse for 10 minutes and ended up browsing over 2 hours! 

You may ask the students to write an observation, inference, and prediction concerning the photo. In Texas, for secondary EOC purposes, inference is a skill needed in all  4 core areas; while prediction is needed in math, science, and social studies. 

2. Prompt of the Day 

Similar to the Photo of the Day, you may use content or non-content related prompts to inspire students to write. Additionally, you may wish to include the prompt with a picture, song, video, animated gif, or article to help inspire students to write several paragraphs related to the prompt (I cannot remember where I located the Mario picture. It was from a blog, so if you know, please let me know so I can provide a credit).

-How is solving an equation like playing a video game? 
-Scientists have discovered a way to bring back certain species of dinosaurs. Discuss your thoughts on why this may be a good or bad idea.

3. Choice Menus** 
Differentiate! Provide students with choice and voice in regard to how they demonstrate their understanding of a concept. Students may show their understanding in writing by telling a story or creating a song, acronym, concept map, or rebus pictogram. 
**While preparing for the Late Start PD, I found this great resource from Jennifer Szymanski on Teachers Pay Teachers. Currently, it is a FREE product. The product allows students to showcase their understanding in fun and unique ways. Additionally, you can add more activities as the year progresses.Check it out: 

4. Writing Frames & Graphic Organizers
According to Besty Rupp Fulwiler (2010), students may not have received enough experience, modeling, or practice with different forms of writing.  Writing Frames scaffold student writing by providing a skeleton outline depending on the format of the frame such as: compare and contrast or providing opinions. 
These are useful for all ages and abilities as they help struggling writers activate prior knowledge in order to generate and organize their thoughts during the writing process.

I also had the participants engage in several strategies that I used with my students to get them up and moving; however, I will save sharing that for a later post. :)

5. Collaborative Poster
I wrote about this in an earlier blog post (click here to read about it). Depending on how you utilize collaborative posters, students may have an opportunity to read, write, listen, and speak. At least here in Texas, teachers would hit all components of the ELPS (English Language Proficiency Standards). Additionally, it is a great tool to provide students with practice and the experience needed to help them process content related information on the left-side of the interactive notebook.

Last but not least - resources:


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Science Department Equity Audits

As an teacher or instructional leader on your campus, can you describe inequities that may exist in your school/department? Additionally, how well aware are members in your school/department of these inequities? Generally speaking, in the state of Texas, campuses normally look at state achievement exam data such as TAKS and STAAR . Yes, state achievement exams are important as that is an area that contributes to campus accountability ratings; however, those exams are only a small piece of the pie.

My instructional leadership program opened my eyes in the area of equity and social justice and I developed an intense interest around these issues . During the program, professors often challenged our thinking and helped us to become aware (or more aware) of systems of inequity occurring throughout our school districts, neighborhoods, and country. As a result of the program and my position as a district leader in science, I felt compelled to at least help school leaders address such issues in their respective departments. It is my hope that science teachers / instructional leaders go further than TAKS/STAAR and look at the following issues in our attempt to address the achievement gap in science education (sample questions/scenarios also presented):
  • Teacher Quality Equity
-  Which students are receiving the most experienced / trained teachers in your department?
-  Which teachers receive the advanced or upper-class courses (i.e. do all the experienced teachers teach the PreAP/AP courses and the less experienced teachers teach the academic or lower track classes)?
-  What does the mobility of teachers in your department look like (i.e., is it stable or do teachers frequently leave - if so, what are possible reasons for this)
-  If there is a high ELL student population, does your department look for and/or encourage teachers to gain their ESL certification? Are ESL science courses taught by non-ESL certified teachers?
  • Programmatic Equity
- How are G/T students identified in your department?
- Are certain student groups under/over-represented in G/T science?
- How are your ELL students served (are they mainstreamed or does the department offer an ESL course)?
- How is student discipline handled by members in the department? Are certain student groups overrepresented in the referral process? If so, why?
- How is the science curriculum determined on your campus; and are decisions made via research and data?
  • Achievement Equity
- Are students encouraged to take the SAT and ACT exams  (the ACT has a science component)?
- Analyze and describe any achievement gaps in the EOC, AP, IB, and/or ACT data (e.g., the percentage of Black or African American students taking the AP Chemistry test is 88% yet only 12% score at/above the criterion level).
- Does your campus offer AP/IB science courses? What teachers historically teach these courses? What student groups are taking these courses and are successful/unsuccessful? If these courses are not offered, can you explain why; especially if these have not been offered for years. Do all students have access to such programs, or are some excluded? If students are excluded, what is the reasoning and who makes those decisions?  

I provided this topic as a task to campus science instructional leaders and provided an article (found here) to help them gain in-sight into the topic prior to starting the task. I feel as though I am not not adding more on to what these leaders are already doing as this task is actually part of their role and responsibility as an instructional leader in making sure all students have equitable access to a rich science education; especially if our goal is to close the achievement gap between student populations and provide access to programs for students who historically have been marginalized in our education system. The task fits nicely with the new accountability system in Texas. 
I really hope this task raises awareness in our schools and we can begin brainstorming how to address the issue of equity. I will keep you all up-to-date. :)