Sticky Notes

sticky_noteI’ve used sticky note annotations before with students. Using notes to mark questions, add thoughts, and draw conclusions helps students focus as they read. And it stops them from simply highlighting the entire book!  Last year, we were able to move that process to Diigo for those pieces of text I found online.

Next year’s eighth-graders won’t have their own laptops, so I am moving back to the sticky note mode (not for all reading, just for class books we will discuss together.) English teacher and author Jim Burke has some great examples and descriptions of  how his students do this in :Tools for Thought. I’m finding lots of other great graphic organizers in his book to help my students next year. Check it out!


Burying the lede, indeed

I had the same reaction when I read the Chronicle’s article about Dean Jose Bowen’s decision to remove computer equipment from his classroom. Bowen’s contention? That students will be more engaged without distractions from PowerPoints or laptops.

More than any thing else, Mr. Bowen wants to discourage professors from using PowerPoint, because they often lean on the slide-display program as a crutch rather using it as a creative tool. Class time should be reserved for discussion, he contends, especially now that students can download lectures online and find libraries of information on the Web.

But Alex Reid is right when he says it’s not about getting computers out of the classroom.

It’s about getting the lectures out of the classroom

Certainly slides of photographs that help explain a concept or a quick slideshow to jump start a discussion are not inappropriate ways to bring technology into the classroom. But to simply replace one kind of passive learning for another won’t solve anything. It’s NOT about getting technology out of the classroom. It’s about changing the way we ask students to learn.

So I’ll go one step further. Asking students to watch a lecture and then come to class to discuss that lecture is only slightly better. What about asking students to do the research? What about asking students to evaluate the information? Student-centered, inquiry-driven classes where students use tools to gather, create, decipher, judge, and share information will do more for developing learners and thinkers

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to make sure my students are reading, writing, and thinking next year. I don’t need PowerPoint, but don’t take the emerging technologies away, the very tools that will enable students to become active, engaged members of my classroom community.

Books That Matter

HoLearn Something Today Message Generator Learn somethingw Children Learn and How Children Fail, John Holt
Death at an Early Age, Jonathan Kozol
Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich
Mindset, Carol Dweck
Made to Stick, Chip Heath
The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller
The Schools Our Children Deserve, Alfie Kohn
The Global Achievement Gap, Tony Wagner
Understanding by Design, Grant Wiggins and Tighe
Schools That Learn, Peter Senge
Horace’s Compromise, Theodore Sizer

The Next Step

Ok, so now I will try to put into practice what I summed up as over-arching goals in the last post. Here’s my first attempt with the students’ summer reading. The department’s requirement is to do a learning activity with the summer reading, but beyond that, it’s up to us:

(I’d love some feedback from you UBD experts!) Dana?

The Giver by Lois Lowry


  • Students will understand that everyone is entitled to an opinion about a novel, but ideas must be supported with textual evidence.
  • Students will understand that rules and order can sometimes negatively affect a society.
  • Students will understand theme is explored through the characters’ action, dialogue, and thoughts.

Stage One:

The student will understand that:

  • Effective government requires a balance between individual rights and government regulation
  • Our memories, painful and positive, affect how we live and learn.
  • The author’s theme is developed through the characters’ actions, thoughts, and dialogue.

Essential Questions:

  • How much should a government be able to control our individual rights for the benefit of society?
  • Can we live without pain or suffering?
  • How are Lowry’s themes developed in The Giver?

Students will know:

  • the various literary elements such as plot, theme, characterization, and conflict
  • the story line of The Giver
  • how to support ideas with textual evidence

The student will be able to:

  • outline the basic rules of Jonas’ society
  • define terms utopia and dystopia
  • evaluate issues related to individual rights vs government regulation
  • create a new society with different rules from the novel
  • write an essay explaining the changes he/she would make and give examples to support that change

Stage Two: Assessment Evidence
Performance Task:
Students will work together on a group project, discussing and deciding how to change at least three or four things in Jonas’ society (to create a new society). Students will propose these changes as a group with a defense of those changes.
Other Evidence:
Self-assessment rubric for group work
Persuasive essay (individual) on group topic-rubric provided to be used as a baseline for future writing

Stage Three: Learning Plan
Daily details in teacher’s plans

Thinking about design

Our faculty is reading Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe this summer. I’ve already read it and try to utilize their work in my lesson planning. But reading the book again has given me extra incentive to really DESIGN my plans thoughtfully.1225274637_85fac883b1

Three other books have re-focused me this summer: Building Literacy Through Classroom Discussion by Mary Adler and Eija Rougle, Tools for Thought by Jim Burke and The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and Jeff Anderson. In some ways, taking all four of these books and trying the mesh and reshape the ideas for my classroom has been a challenge.

To do so, I need to start with my own goals for eighth-grade. This, which I borrow from research from the Partnership for Literacy of the Center on English Learning and Achievement, seems to capture what I am thinking:

  • Engage students in higher-order talk and writing about the disciplines of English

This encompasses much of what I need to help students do in eighth-grade. They need to learn to analyze patterns of information in writing and speaking, organize their own ideas in logical structures, make connections between literature and their own world, and articulate arguments about what they understand. Phew, that’s a lot!

Some of my mini-goals in designing lessons are to:

  • teach note-taking skills both in annotating a text and in listening to discussions
  • use blogs to encourage sharing and reflecting
  • offer independent reading to encourage more reading

John Dewey once said, “There is all the difference in the world between having something to say and having to say something.”

As Wiggins and Tighe say, it’s the difference between knowing and understanding. “Understanding is about transfer,” and making connections to what they know and will discover in the world. I hope the design of these plans will help students find their voice, whether writing or speaking.

photo credit