Monday, 15 February 2016

Critical thinking in everyday practice

Today my class has a lesson that ended in a different way than planned, in the best possible way.

This was the plan:
"WALT identify describing words for our characters.
Ashley talks about adjectives. T brainstorms all describing words about the witch. Use the Y chart to mind map adjectives. This done on modelling books. WALT on the modelling book and on the board. (15 minutes max). Archana works with 2 groups and Ashley works with the other two groups to brainstorm all describing words about the dragon(Ashley) and the witch (Archana). WALT on the modelling book and on the board. (15 minutes max)."

Here are the results, formatted in a graphic organizer called a Y chart -

                                     (The dragon)                                                 (The witch)

When we came back together, I was just going to move on to the next part of the plan, which was to use the adjectives identified in a character description. However Archana asked one of the students from her group to come up to the board and read their sentences out. One by one, they did, and I saw how differnetly we had done the same activity. Where my group and I had just written adjectives and some similes (left hand image above), Archana had written linking statements (right hand image). You can see an example at the top right of her page, where she had 'wears long tall hat' and 'dropping', both written in red. These two phrases, the students then linked into one sentence 'The witch wears a long tall hat which she keeps dropping' (or something along those lines). 
We had noticed last week that our students could not pull out keywords from a sentence, and now to reiterate the point, they struggled to use keywords to form a sentence.

We changed the plan, and went back into our groups and linked some of our descriptions together to make sentences (hence the different coloured circles on the left hand image). 

While my group was doing this, Archana's group began forming their sentences properly (as they had done it already). Archana got the students to form sentences, she wrote them out on strips of paper, cut them up word by word, and shared the pieces of paper out within the students. The students then had to re-form their sentences using all the key words and adjectives they had discussed. 

 They even referred to their Y chart for help when they started getting stuck without a teacher prompt to do so...

What I found awesome about this lesson was, not only did we focus on what they needed to know instead of just going with the plan (Note: It has been a learning curve for me to 'let go' of the plan), but also I got to see them develop other skills I otherwise couldn't have. 
During this activity, they were using their cooperation and collaboration, they were thinking critically, engaging cognitively and reinforcing their grammar and sentence structure knowledge by having to build the sentence together (read: argue about whether it should be 'a' or 'an'). It was especially awesome to see particular students who do not engage much normally, standing up for their decisions and debating about what made more sense and why, why the part about the 'plait' goes in the sentence with 'she has long ginger hair', etc. 

So, what did I learn from this?
  1. Let go of the plan - it's fine, do what it is the students need to learn. You can come back to that other thing. It's fine....
  2. Representing the same information in multiple ways not only hooks in those students have different learning preferences, but gives them the opportunity to review the information more than one. This leads to deeper understandings and a bigger chance of the skill being transferable. 
  3. Just try it. You never know what is going to hook in those outsider kids and get them interested.
  4. Watching the kids talk about their learning and critically think and reflect on their actions is awesome to see (and hear!), but makes me think how much of that am I doing??

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