For the Love of Learning

I think that sometimes educators underestimate students’ desire to learn and better themselves.  And I’m including myself in that mix.  But I’m always trying new things in my classes to see which students will rise to the occasion.
The picture I included here is one that I also posted on our class Instagram account which was pushed out to Twitter.  I wanted to shout from the mountain tops that these students were writing JUST TO WRITE!
I’m not kidding.
I told all my students that they needed practice in how to write like a historian.  Meaning…they needed to learn to cite evidence to support their statements.  But more than that, they needed to be able to analyze primary and secondary sources in order to be able to effectively use them in their writing.
So I gave them three primary sources.  I told them that as a group (self-selected) that they had to choose which Big Idea they wanted to prove:  “The Tang dynasty used (ruthless/ingenious) methods to strengthen China’s government, expand its borders, and increase its economy.”  I pushed the assignment out through Google Classroom.  Then the students decided who was going to be the owner of the document and from there he/she shared the document with their peers.
The students then tackled the primary sources, annotating as necessary as they looked for evidence to prove their Big Idea.  Some students started with bullet points, but others delved right into writing a full paragraph.  It was a site to behold.
Now keep in mind, this was an optional assignment.  Students are typically not required to do Level 4 (analysis/synthesis) or Level 5 (evaluation) writing assignments.  Student choice for leveled learning opportunities is the crux of the history program at our school.  We use a revised version of Marzano’s learning scales so that it’s VERY clear what students need to demonstrate mastery of in order to earn a specific grade.  
Click HERE to go to a wiki resource that contains the learning scales for World History.
Students who want to earn an A or B in the history classes need to write and write well.  As I tell students on their first day of World History, “We don’t give a lot of extra credit in our class.  You will not pass this class with extra credit.  You will, however, pass this class with blood, sweat, and tears…not necessarily in that order.”  There’s always a bit of nervous laughter from students that follow.
The purpose of collaborative writing assignments is to give students practice in writing with their peers.  And not just writing individual sentences strung together, but actually writing together in which they are actually editing each other’s posts and leaving comments for each other.  This type of synchronous and asynchronous collaboration is exposing students to the 21st century classroom.  Not only are students learning how analyze primary and secondary sources, but they are utilizing the thinking skills of a historian as they find evidence to prove their thesis or in this case the Big Idea.  Students are not only practicing digital literacy skills but also History’s Habits of Mind.  And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

A Case for MI

I am a huge proponent of honoring MI.  From my early beginnings in education, I recall my teachers allowing us to experience the learning process in a variety of ways.  I remember being able to draw, sing, write, act…the whole shebang.  Learning was fun for me because it honored the way that I learned best.  And in my own classroom, I am continuing the process.

When I think about what I want my students to “experience” when they walk through the doors of my classroom, I look to the multiple intelligences to guide my lesson planning.  The purpose for this is to make sure that each and every student (at some point in my class) has a chance to shine in an area that interests them most.  I’ve given MI surveys off and of throughout the years and the trend for middle schoolers seems to lean heavily on visual and kinesthetic with a nice mixture between intrapersonal and interpersonal learning.

Yesterday’s lesson focused on visual, kinesthetic, and interpersonal learning experiences.  But it also included higher order thinking along with reading and writing literacy.  While all this might sound impressive…I must begin by giving credit to TCI.  I am lucky in that both middle schools that I have worked for have had a complete set of TCI materials for 7th grade World History.  TCI materials are awesome.  They focus on a range of skills for students to get them engaged in the learning process.  But because I rarely take things “as is”…I had to put a twist on the TCI Skillbuilder: Contributions of the Chinese experiential lesson.

Instead of having the students take a placard and run around the room to find the corresponding placard, I took all of the placards put them in a PPT and uploaded it to our HaikuLMS class.  Students shared iPads to view the PPT which forced them to communicate and collaborate with their peers (interpersonal).  The iPads also allowed students to zoom in (kinesthetic) to the placards so that they could see the most minute details.  In table groups (interpersonal) my students had to use their deductive reasoning skills (higher order thinking) to try to figure out which Chinese achievement was being depicted in the placard (visual).  In the first column of their chart, students had to write 3-5 characteristics (Keys to Questioning/Keys to Learning) that stood out to them.  In the middle column, students had to write what they inferred the Chinese contribution to be and then support their inference with evidence.  Students could have done this one of two ways: they could explain how the 3-5 characteristics led them to that conclusion OR they could go back into the textbook and cite the evidence that supported their inference.

The conversations that I heard throughout the day were amazing.  Students argued about what they were seeing, they questioned their tablemate’s inferences, they referred back to the reading to support their point…I mean, wow.  I wish that I could have recorded their conversations because it was a pretty awesome to witness.  Because students had to support their inference with an explanation or evidence, this activity will carry-over to Monday.

Come Monday, my students will fill out a GoogleForm with their inferences and then will be able to see if they were “seeing” the same things as their peers in other classes.  From there, I will reveal the Chinese achievements to them and they will fill in details/contributions in the third column of their chart.  But the activity doesn’t end there.  In table groups, students will go back to our HaikuLMS class and respond to several prompts about a particular Chinese achievement.  All of the prompts are connected to one of the Keys to Questioning/Keys to Learning.  This is where the reading and writing literacy comes in to play…

Gunpowder Example – WikiProject

Each table will be responsible to post their group’s response for one particular Chinese achievement in the WikiProject.  By the end of the day, students will have seven group responses for each of the nine Chinese achievements.  Do I expect them to read all of the responses?  No.  But the students who plan to do Level 4 for the summative assessment will no doubt benefit from reading what their peer’s have written.

This activity spans three (maybe four days).  And for a course that is allotted only one semester (don’t get me started)…it’s totally worth it.  The amount of skills that students are practicing and the fact that I’m also able to honor several areas of MI make this activity worth it in the end.

In fact, yesterday one of my students who saw the chart immediately smiled and said, “Oh!  I like this activity!”  And that’s, my friends, why I teach.