Wednesday, April 28, 2010

4 Simple Strategies

I realized that, for a while now, I've shared some anecdotes and I've demonstrated my passion for education and my students, but I haven't really offered up anything of substance. One of my personal goals for writing is to grow professionally and help others grow if it is at all possible to learn from me and my experiences. I haven't done that for a while, so here goes...

4 Simple Strategies that work for ALL learners:

I've found that often times we go to workshops and find exceptional strategies that we just couldn't possibly implement without moving heaven and earth, changing our systems completely, and putting in a ton of work in advance of said implementation. These are STILL great strategies, and important to consider during breaks or while planning for next year. But sometimes there are small things that we are missing, things that would give us a spruce and a little bit of an edge when trying to conquer some of the concepts that we are teaching right now.

1. Use Color
No matter what grade you teach and what subject matter you're introducing, students respond well to color as a distinguishing feature in separating ideas and chunking information. A poignant example of this would be the map in the back of my room that has the United States broken down into regions by color. When we were studying Westward Expansion, one of my students raised his hand and explained that the people in the yellow states were beginning to explore a way to get to the purple states. In any case, he got the concept. Color can be used in math as well, especially when organizing complex problems into steps. I also have my students take notes in color as a study strategy. Each color represents something different (such as: important people, key events, vocabulary to know, etc). Integrating color can be fairly simple and it plays an important role in giving students immediate feedback about the role of a piece of information and its function.

2. Implement Routines:
Now ideally these would be established at the beginning of the year, but as this is a list about what you can do right now, do not despair; it is not too late! Start small. Pick something like spelling for example. Day 1: Pretest. Day 2: Pronunciation and Definitions. Days 3: Pictures to represent the meaning of each word. Day 4: flashcards and study with a friend. Day 5 : Spelling Test. Students will get into a pattern where they are comfortable with what is about to take place and can spend more time focusing on the meaning of the new content than on what's going to happen next. This is not to stifle creativity or ask that you never change things up. It is to give students some stability and responsibility for their own learning. Not only will this help with classroom management (my students walk in every day after lunch, get out their word dictionaries, and get to work) but this also allows students to forget about the "how" of things and focus much more importantly on the "what."

3. Have Students Show What They Know
I work with bilingual students, so sometimes (especially for my newcomers) language output can be a barrier. But I have found a quick way of getting information from students that allows me to assess for comprehension. Basically, before a unit to demonstrate background knowledge, during to check on what students have understood so far, or at the end to assess overall grasp of the material presented, I have my students create a web. This can be done in a number of different ways but the most important thing to do is allow for creativity (some of our learners are very linear sequential, but not all of them!). I give them a blank piece of paper and a topic, and students are allowed to organize information in any way that makes sense to them. The best part is, they get to DRAW the information (but writing can always be added if you feel that it is pertinent to the task at hand). Yesterday I had students web everything that they have learned about mummies in our Read 180 unit. Some of the students started at the beginning of the mummification process and drew each step sequentially until it was complete. Some of my students simply drew a mummy in the middle and connected lines around it of facts that they had learned. Either way, students were able to show me what they had learned and I was able to assess the areas that we clearly had not covered well enough.

4. Have Students Present What They Know
This is the brother of number 3. Once a student creates something like a web of information, the most efficient way of cementing the knowledge in their brains is to be able to present or teach it to someone else. I go about this a number of different ways. If I feel that it is important for my students to work on presentation skills, I have them present to the whole class. Sometimes I just have them share with a partner or get into a small group. No matter how it's done, it gives students an opportunity to learn from each other and gain pieces of information that they may have been missing in their own work.

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