Ideas for Teaching the Cognitive Processes of Questioning to Students with Emotional and Behavioral Challenges

Description:

This is a project I designed back in 2000.  It is designed to help emotionally and behaviorally disturbed high school students learn the skills they need to do better in school and assume responsibility for their learning.  I recommend that it be used with students who are in an alternative school setting and to use this curriculum as part of the process of reintegrating students to the mainstream.  This curriculum is designed for small groups (of about 6) so that there can be follow up and more accurate observation.  Ideally parts of this curriculum would be used in all classes to aid understanding and generalization.  This program will work well if there is already a behavior management system in place so that certain positive behaviors can be reinforced. There are also many ways you can update the activities for the 21st Century.

The teaching principles of this curriculum project include:  addressing several learning styles, relating information to real life, using teacher modeling, using systematic and explicit steps, making it interesting and age appropriate, and giving meaningful feedback.

Rationale:

By the time EBD students are in high school, they have had thousands of terrible school experiences.  To make matters worse, they might even have disabilities in processing, reading or writing.  My goal as a teacher in an alternative school is to get these EBD students back to the mainstream.  Most of the readiness has to happen with a change in their behavior.  We have found over the past couple of years that we need to prepare them better for the rigorous academics of high school.  Many of our students who transition back to mainstream end up out of the school and referred back to an alternative setting (if they don’t drop out first).  If we can help these students become successful learners then one of the hurdles has been jumped when they transition back.

My students have difficulty answering teacher questions because they don’t understand the meaning of some of the cognitive verbs.  They also have difficulty classifying and labeling, interpreting and inferring and explaining, supporting and predicting.  We get the shoulder shrug a lot when we ask them how their behavior affects others or when we ask them what would happen if they were to behave [like that] while on the job.

A curriculum designed to help EBD students learn to learn better could help in several ways.  First it could help the teacher reach the student potential more successfully.  And it could help the EBD student feel more confident in school.  Part of being a successful student is knowing how to answer questions and discuss topics—feeling more confident about their abilities might give them the incentive to stay in school, participate and take more control of their learning.  It can’t be much fun to sit and be a passive learner—no wonder their behavior takes over, they want some control.  I want to teach them to gain it in positive ways.

I recorded my eighth grade science class in order to be able to accurately record teacher questions and student answers to assess the student learning.  These students are emotionally and behaviorally disabled and they are in an alternative school specifically dealing with that disability.  The goal is for them to be mainstreamed back to their sending schools, though that is not always the reality.

On the day of taping, I had asked students to try taking notes from one of the paragraphs on their own as we had practiced before, with disastrous results.  Students were copying word for word from the book and they were not judging the appropriate main ideas.  I quickly put a stop to it and helped them as I had been doing since the start of the school year.  As I watched the recording I wondered why these students didn’t paraphrase the notes and why they had trouble evaluating the importance of information.

Goal and Objectives:

Goal:   To teach EBD high school students to recognize teacher questions and improve their questioning techniques.

Students will:

  1. understand question/answer and discussion patterns
  2. understand the meaning of some cognitive verbs
  3. understand the purpose of questioning and the rules of questioning
  4. understand some different roles of the questioner
  5. understand how to recognize what answer the teacher is looking for
  6. understand how to use questions to check own understanding of the learning

Objectives and Activities:

  1. Students will review the question-answer-discussion pattern of learning and analyze the value of questions and discussions.

Activity 1:  Twenty Questions

Before doing this activity, a teacher should let students know that there are certain patterns for discussion that teachers follow in school to help students learn better and to help them learn to think.  Students can learn these patterns to help them follow a discussion better and to help them anticipate what will happen.  This game, when followed up with a “debrief” discussion, will help students practice the pattern.  The format of the game is that the teacher chooses an item and students have to guess what it is.  Here are the rules:  students can only ask yes or no questions; no answers can be repeated; students can only ask 20 questions (total); students only get three guesses (total); students must ask their questions in turn; students must write down questions they want to ask; students must raise their hands to speak.  Repeat the game 3-5 times.  Afterward, ask students:  What questions were asked?  Which questions helped us get the answer more easily?  What do we notice about these questions?  (looking for things like:  they were specific, they were related to the other questions)

Activity 2:  Taped Talk-show Segment (or news interview)

The teacher will carefully select and edit a segment of a talk-show where there is questioning and answering going on (an interview will work the best).  A teacher might be able to find a segment with a group interview as an example of a discussion for the students to watch.  As the students watch, they should be filling in a graphic organizer while viewing to help them focus on what specifically they are looking for.  They should be looking for general things like how the interviewer presents his/her questions; how the people interact with each other (social skills); and how the interviewer’s questions relate to previous answers. Go over the answers students put on the organizer.

Activity 3:  “Debrief” Discussion

Students have a teacher-led discussion about what they did in the first two activities.  The teacher states that a discussion has the following form:  question-answer- response (which could be another question).  A student’s job is to participate in the discussion in all parts—answering, questioning and responding.  The teacher should model the questioning and follow-up student answers with additional questions while also inviting students to ask their own questions.  So they can see how to use this format with anyone, not just with the teacher.  The teacher can ask questions, but so can they.  On an organizer, have students first answer questions about a discussion.  For example, these questions might include:  What are some reasons for asking questions?  Where are some places (what are some times) where you will have to ask questions?  The teacher will then lead the discussion this way to move students to a higher order of thinking:

  1. Let’s list all of the things that were said and done that we can remember that happened during the game and the video. What kinds of questions were asked?  What kinds of responses were given?  What do we know about having a class discussion?
  2. Now let’s group things that seem to go together (for example, let’s group all of the questions together)
  3. How do we know these things go together?
  4. How can we use this information that we just gathered?  What does it tell us?

What things helped the questioning?  What hurt the questioning?

  1. What are some ways that questions can help with learning? With our job?
  2. Let’s predict some specific questions that could be asked in certain classes (students should write these down and also share them orally). How about in certain jobs?

Students then write a journal entry:  What did you learn about discussions?  What is the purpose of the question-answer-discussion pattern of learning?  How does it help a student to learn better?  Give some examples of questions you could ask in school.  How will questioning and discussion help you in your job later in life?

Evaluation

The teacher will be able to read the journal entry to see what the students took away from the discussion and activities.  The teacher will also be able to see their organizers and the questions they wrote during the twenty questions activity.  The teacher should also set up an ongoing “contract” with the students (this is based on a behavior management system already in place.  When a student asks an appropriate question during a discussion in any class then it is recorded and after a pre-determined number have been recorded then the student earns something). It is ok to remind students of their ongoing contract because after awhile it will become something of a habit for them and you won’t have to do much reminding.

  1. Students will determine the meanings of: explain, analyze, summarize, compare, predict, contrast and describe

Brainstorm/Underlining Activity

Students will go through sheets in their folders (worksheets, quizzes etc…) and they will underline all of the cognitive verbs from the list above that they can find.  They will count the number of times those words are used in their work.  As a group the results will be tallied.  The teacher will ask what the importance of this number is and then move on to “what do these words mean?”  The group will brainstorm some definitions (in a style appropriate for them…some drawing, some semantic mapping, some listing).  Then students will do a worksheet that has example scenarios that the students have to match with a word from the list.  The group goes over the sheet when it is done and they write down the correct definitions.

Vocabulary Activity

Students will again fill in scenarios (examples and non-examples) of the words.  This sheet will also have a section where students write their own scenarios for the words.  Discuss the answers as a group.

Semantic Feature Analysis

As a group, the chart will be discussed and filled in.  The main point that the teacher should now be expressing is that the teacher will choose the words according to what information he/she wants to find out.  Where and how can they be used?  Let’s find out.

Writing Questions

Students will write quiz questions using the words.  They will use their notes from a particular subject to do this.  Students also need to make an answer key for their questions (they need to answer their own questions correctly so that the teacher can see if the students know how to use the words appropriately).  Students can pass their question sheets on to other students if there is time and interest.

Evaluation

Students have activity sheets including written scenarios.  They also have their own written questions and answers.  The teacher can also get a feel for how the group understands the words when they discuss the semantic feature analysis (since there are at most, 6 kids in the group it makes it more obvious).  A teacher can also set up an ongoing contract where a student can earn 1 bonus point on work for every time they find and underline the words and answer the question correctly.

  1. Students will establish and use the rules of questioning and discussion

Discovering the Guidelines of Group Discussion

This is a teacher-led discussion for students to come up with some good practices for speaking and listening.  The quality of the information and the amount the teacher needs to lead the group depends on the group itself.  Students should take notes.  The discussion should be lead in the following way (and it will vary a little depending on the group and how much prodding the teacher has to do):

  1. a) let’s list/draw everything we know about speaking and listening
  2. b) what ideas seem to go together?  How do we know?
  3. c) how will these things help us communicate better with each other? How will good speaking and listening skills help us in school and on the job?
  4. d) where are some places we use speaking and listening skills? Why do we need these skills?  What happens when we don’t use these skills?
  5. e) Using what we know about speaking and listening, what are some good guidelines for asking questions? Let’s make three rules we should always follow.

Group Mock Interview

The teacher thinks of a “famous person” and the students need to figure out the identity of that person using questioning skills and keeping the guidelines (they just created) in mind.  Here are the rules for the activity:  each question must be related to something that has just been said (for example:  if a question is “are you living or dead” and the answer is “dead,” then the next logical question could be “what year did you die?”—this could be difficult for students to attempt right off—it could be something students start to practice after doing the activity a few times) questions must be asked one at a time and a student must raise hand to speak.  If necessary a teacher might incorporate a strategy to help with the questioning:  for instance, take one word from the last statement made and use it to form your question—this should teach students to listen to each other and it can help them keep to the topic at hand.   This activity should be recorded so that students can go back over it and judge whether or not their discussion topic flowed and their questions followed each other.

Partner Conversation

Students work with a partner and ask questions of each other on a topic of their interest.  They need to write down their topic and the questions that they will ask (but these can be revised based on the flow of the conversation).  Students should ask at least one question using one of the cognitive verbs and  the teacher can help them formulate these questions if necessary.  When students have practiced a little, then they can perform their “conversation” in front of the group.  The group should be evaluating the partners using a pre-made form.  There should be a discussion after everyone has performed.

Evaluation

The videotape and observations will help the teacher understand what the students took away from the learning.

  1. Students will determine different roles they can take in discussions

Redefining a Product

The teacher will begin this activity by first asking students if everyone participates in a discussion in the same way (hopefully students realize that the answer is no).  The teacher will then give examples of different ways people participate in discussions:  the leader, the summarizer, the “idea-generator” etc.  Students can then try to guess what role they usually play.  After the discussion, the teacher will define 4 roles:

the “idea-generator” who cranks out ideas/accepts feedback well

The nurturer who gives positive feedback to everyone and encourages by saying things like “that’s a great idea”

The summarizer who puts ideas together/takes notes “let me see if I have this right…”

The leader who mediates arguments/keeps time/decides order/asks questions to keep discussion going

The students are assigned roles and then given an activity to “redefine a product.”  They work for a company that has created 10 tons of radioactive jell-o and they can’t just dump it somewhere.  They are the committee formed to come up with a way to use it safely.  Their job is to talk about what to do with it and then make a decision to propose to the CEO.  This activity should be video-taped.

Create a Jingle

This is a continuation of the previous activity.  Students are given new roles:

The justifier who explains ideas and why they are important

The interpreter who talks about the value of the ideas

The arguer who is the “devil’s advocate” and thinks of all the reasons why an idea won’t work

The evaluator who makes decisions based on the best idea and what has the best outcomes and asks clarifying questions

The teacher will have to help students with their roles by leading a discussion about what these characters might say.  When that is set, the group goes to work on writing a commercial or jingle to market the radioactive jell-0 (also videotaped).  The jingle/commercial should be based on the decision they made in the first activity.  After the activities, there are discussion sheets to fill in and talk about.

What are some observations we can make about the two activities?

What was hard about the activity?  Easy?

Which roles were helpful to the group?  Why?

Which roles weren’t helpful—how do we know?

How would these roles be used in conversations with friends? Parents? At work?

What could happen if you stay in one role all of the time?

What could happen if you always argue or never argue?

What are some good ways to approach discussions?  What do you want to keep in mind about the roles?

Journal Writing

Analyze your conversational style.  What role(s) do you usually play?  Why do you like that role?  Analyze how the role is different at work or with friends? Set a goal:  how will you improve or change your conversational style?

Evaluation

The teacher will analyze the question sheets, videotapes and journal to evaluate the student’s learning.  The teacher should write meaningful comments (especially in the journal).  The teacher should also give meaningful comments as the groups are discussing.

  1. Students will recognize what answer the teacher is looking for when he/she asks a question

Brainstorming

Students will refer back to their semantic feature analysis and review the meanings of the cognitive verbs.  They will brainstorm knowledge they’d use to answer types of questions.  The teacher will give examples (for instance, when a teacher asks a multiple choice question he/she wants to know if the student knows a fact and when a teacher asks an essay question the teacher usually is determining if the student can apply the facts they know).  Students will also figure out what kind of information they can use to get the answer to the question.  Students will take notes during this discussion.

Scenarios

Students will be given a sheet with several scenarios on it (for example:  The teacher wants to know if a student can compare bacteria and viruses.  What kind of question (using your cognitive verbs) would he/she write to find this out).   Scenarios should also relate to work and home (for example:  You have to train a new employee to work the cash register at work tomorrow and your boss wants to make sure you can give that person the correct information.  What kind of question (using your verbs) might he/she ask you just to make sure you know the information?)  Hopefully students will write questions like:  “Compare a bacteria with a virus,” and “explain how to use this cash register.”

Index Cards and Wall Charts

Students will make their own index cards with reminders about types of questions and answers which can be laminated for them to keep handy.  Update this for 21st Century learning by having students use their 1:1 iPad instead of notecards. They can also make a wall chart for each classroom for a reminder as well.  They should include things like:  the definitions of the major cognitive verbs, and what kinds of answers (information) are being sought for certain kinds of questions.

Evaluation

The teacher can look at the index cards, wall charts and scenario sheet to evaluate the learning from these activities.

  1. Students will analyze how to use questions to check their own understanding and to get clarification

Role-Plays

Students will do role-plays of social skills that use questioning formats to gain understanding (following instructions, receiving negative feedback, negotiation, giving negative feedback).  Before the role-playing starts the teacher should ask “What are some situations where we might need to ask what is going on (get a better understanding of a situation)?”  Lead students to their social skills and then help them discover situations at home, school and work.  Have students role-play pre-made scenarios of difficult instructions to follow where they have to ask questions to check their understanding and/or get clarification.  Example:  You have to give instructions to your house to someone who has never been to [Burlington].  One person gives the instructions and one person is the “out-of-towner.”

Clarifying Directions

Students will be given a worksheet of directions for various assignments.  They must read the directions and write a specific question for each to check their understanding (to question the question).  This question is not something like “what do I do?” but it could be something like “I’m not sure what this word means…am I supposed to just list information?” and “What does this question ask?”  After completing the sheets, as a group, students pool their best clarifying questions and try to make them as universal as possible so that they can create another wall chart (and/or index card); They can also be given a list of Paul’s Critical Thinking Questions to help them with the index cards.

Comic Strip

Students will draw or create a comic strip or picture of characters involved in a discussion.  Characters are asking clarifying questions of each other to continue the discussion.  Show a teacher model of this so that students know what to do.  An example is included in the materials section of this project.  Before they begin to draw, brainstorm some situations where clarifying questions will have to be asked.

Guest Speaker

Students practice asking questions and having a discussion with a guest speaker willing to come in and talk about a topic of interest (of high interest).  The teacher should let the speaker know before-hand what the goal is and that the students are working on asking questions and participating in discussions.  The speaker can also model by being sure to point out what kind of information he/she is giving based on the student’s question (and the speaker can question the students in return).  For example:  a student asks “when were you born?” the speaker might respond by saying “that’s a simple fact, 1972.” Or a student might ask “what is the hardest thing about being a meteorologist?” and the speaker could say “well, I have to analyze a lot about my job to answer that question…”  In short, the teacher should prep the speaker.  It is also a good idea to have everyone sit in a circle for this activity—it will be more intimate and fun that way.  This can be videotaped for teacher review.

Evaluation

The teacher will use the video tape, the scenarios and comic strip.  The teacher should also fill out an evaluation form for the role-plays so that the students get feedback.

Ongoing Evaluation

Once the curriculum is done, the teacher helps shape behavior that is desired in the mainstream by using the behavior management system that is already in place.  For instance, a teacher will now point out “it’s great to have you participating in this discussion,” and “That’s a good clarifying question.”  Students receive “positives” or “points” toward incentives when the teacher observes and acknowledges this type of behavior.

  Sticking to one Topic:  How can Writers Plan and Write a 1 Paragraph Response to a Question?

This is a mini-unit I wrote several years ago.  It is targeted to a small class of 8th and 9th graders with significant reading and writing challenges.  Obviously, if you are in a 21st Century classroom, use any 1:1 application you can in order to cut down on paper use.  I would re-do these lessons within Edmodo or Nearpod for my 1:1 iPad classroom   This mini-unit goes along with the book:  Writing Skills (2004) by Diana Hanbury King

Lesson 1:  Categorizing: Sorting Information to Answer the Question

Objectives:

  • Students will understand how to take a list of brainstorm “ideas” and separate them into categories.
  • Students will understand that the “categories” indicate the “main idea” or “topic” of their paragraphs.

Materials:  pencils/pens or other writing implements, and paper

Special note:  to be done in conjunction with The Iliad

Steps:

  • Explain that writers stick to one topic in paragraphs and they plan it out. All good writers begin with a brainstorm.
  • “We’re going to brainstorm some items together. We’ve been reading The Iliad so we’re going to use subjects related to the book.  I will give the subject and you all will tell me things to write down.” (spend about 10 mins)
    • Characters from the story
    • Character traits of Achilles
    • Character traits of Paris
  • “Now we’re going to separate our lists into categories. Let’s look at the kind of items we listed for [name of list].”   Read each list and separate the items into categories.  If they have trouble coming up with categories for the lists you can guide them (for example, “Characters from the story” might have categories like:  “gods,” “goddesses,” “heroes.”  “Character traits of Achilles” might have categories like: “likeable traits,” and “unlikable traits.”) (5-10 mins).
  • Explain how the separate categories each become a topic with details related to it.
  • Practice individually with easy subjects like: “animals,” “items in [name a room of a house],” and/or “food.”  Help them come up with categories and list the items that go within the categories.  (10-15mins).
  • “Now you’re going to try it with a subject we’ve been discussing. Get a piece of paper and write down ‘everything related to being a hero.’”  Give them 2 mins.
  • “Now read your list and find at least 2 categories.” If they have trouble you can guide them with ideas like “physical traits,” “personality traits,” and/or “deeds.”  “Separate your items into your 2 categories.” (5-10 mins).

 

Lesson 2:  Topic Sentences:  Letting the Reader Know What You’re Going to Say

Objectives:

  • Students will give category names for lists of items and will continue to practice placing items into categories
  • Students will create sentences from category names and learn that these are called topic sentences

Materials:  writing implements and paper.  Prepare ahead of time:  words on post it notes for students to physically move into categories that they have named—give each student 10-15 words, each on a separate post-it, but related to a specific subject which can be broken down into at least 2 categories.  Use words relating to subjects such as:  hobbies, animals, foods, movies, rap songs, car parts…or others.   Put the post-its randomly on a large piece of construction paper (each student will get 1 large piece of construction paper with 10-15 post-its on it). Also prepare ahead of time:  a worksheet with several items listed so students can practice naming categories.  This sheet will also be used for writing topic sentences.

Steps:

  • Warm-up (together): “Let’s list everything we can think of relating to the Greek gods and goddesses.” (take 1 min to list—each student makes their own list).
  • “Make 2 categories for the list you just made.”  If students need guidance, give them some suggestions such as—“goddesses,” “gods,” “their domains,” “their symbols.” (5-10 mins).  Read and share.
  • “Now I’m going to give you each a bunch of words that have been grouped together.  You are going to figure out the categories.  Read the post-its and then move them into your 2 or 3 categories.” (5-10 mins).  When this activity is done, have students each read their category title and then list the items they moved into that category. (5-10 mins).  Each student should have at least 2 categories with 5-8 items in each.
  • On an overhead—quick review:  list several countries then have students give you the name of the category; list several snack foods and have students give you the category; list several brands of shoes and have students give you the category. (5 mins).
  • Hand out the sheet you prepared ahead of time with the lists of items.  They will individually practice naming the category. (10 mins)
  • “Now we need to practice writing our category names into sentences.  This will be practice for writing topic sentences for paragraph writing.”  Explain that you need to put the words of the category name into a sentence that will tell the reader what we are talking about.  Use examples from the quick review:  for “countries” write something like:  “There are many countries in the world.”  For “snack foods” get their ideas and write them down.  They might be something like:  “There are many delicious foods available to eat for snacks.”  For “brands of shoes” get ideas from students and write them down.  They might be something like:  “There are many brands of shoes to buy.”  Students can then practice writing topic sentences with the post-it categories they had. Students share what they wrote when all done. (10 mins)
  • Students then take the worksheet and write sentences for the category names.  Go over it together to make sure all students have written good topic sentences. (10 mins)

Lists of items to make into a worksheet (they will come up with the category name and during another part of the lesson write the category name into a sentence).

Group 1:  pencil, paper, eye contact, directions (things needed to do school work)

Group 2:  snowboarding, ice skating, skiing, ice climbing (winter activities)

Group 3:  brush teeth, eat breakfast, get dressed, comb hair (getting ready for school)

Group 4:  Achilles, Agamemnon, Odysseus, Menelaus (Greek heroes in Iliad)

Group 5:  Zeus, Athena, Apollo, Aphrodite (Greek gods and goddesses)

Lesson 3: Details and Keywords: Organizing What you Want to Say to the Reader

Objectives:

  • Students will practice turning sentences into keywords
  • Students will expand lists of details using the key word strategy

Materials:  writing implements, examples projected or where the group can see them with copies for each student with sentences relating to The Iliad and/or current vocabulary.  Individual worksheets as required with sentences (to be turned to keywords).  Worksheet from lesson 2.  Additional worksheet with lists of details to expand into keywords.

Steps:

  • Explain that outlining what we write or taking notes can be faster if we use just keywords from a sentence. We take the important words only.  Practice together with projected examples.  After a few examples, students should be able to tell you which words to use and continue working together for practice.  (5-10 mins).
  • Give them a different sheet for them to do for individual practice. (5-10 mins).
  • Explain: when preparing your details for writing, you have to expand them a little bit so you know what you want to say about them.  Take out the worksheet from lesson 2 and look at the first list of words (pencil, paper, eye contact, directions).  Write those down on a separate piece of paper.
  • “We know that the category is ‘things needed for schoolwork.’ Let’s expand these details a little bit.” Ask them “what about the pencil?” etc… or “why do we need [name of item]”?  Write down what they say—then turn it into key words.  Example:  They may say “you need a pencil to do the writing.”  Write the sentence.  Turn it to key words:  pencil/writing.  When you’ve done this task you should have a detail list in keywords for each of the groups of words from the worksheet.  Doing 1 or 2 more together should reinforce the pattern:  say the sentence, write the sentence, turn it to keywords.  They can finish the sheet on their own.  (10-15 mins).
  • Have another sheet handy for additional practice if needed. (10-15 mins).

Items for individual practice (sentences to be turned to keywords):

  1. Hector and Paris were brothers in ancient Troy.
  2. Paris was banished as a baby because he was going to be the downfall of Troy.
  3. Paris was secretly brought up by a shepherd instead of being killed.
  4. Paris returned to Troy and a joyous reunion from his family.
  5. Paris fell in love with Helen and brought her back to Troy.
  6. Helen left her husband Menelaus and the city of Sparta to be with Paris.
  7. Menelaus gathered the Greek troops and sailed for war with Troy.
  8. The war lasted ten years and many Greeks and Trojans died.
  9. Helen never really loved Menelaus if she left him so easily for Paris.
  10. The Greeks tricked the Trojans so they thought the Greeks had gone.
  11. The Trojans celebrated by bringing the Trojan Horse into the city.
  12. They didn’t know the horse actually had 25 Greeks inside ready to let the rest of the fleet into the city.
  13. Achilles was seething with Agamemnon and refused to fight anymore.
  14. Achilles wanted vengeance after his friend Patroclus was killed by Hector.

Items for additional practice:

Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Athena

Topic sentence:  Each god or goddess chose a side to help during the Trojan war and aided that side in any way they could.

(leave space for them to write the sentence then turn it to keywords)

Achilles, Agamemnon, Briseis, Fight

Topic sentence:  Achilles’ decision at end of the war had a big impact during the last year of fighting.

(leave space…)

Treaty, losing, coward, fighting

Topic sentence:  At one point during the last year of fighting, everyone thinks the war will end with a simple duel between Paris and Menelaus.

(leave space…)

Patroclus, death, vengeance, Hector

Topic sentence:  The Greeks are losing the war, so Achilles makes a decision which will change his life and the outcome of the war.

 

Lesson 4:  Putting it Together: Planning your Response to the Question

Objectives:

  • Students will break down writing into small steps when given questions to answer in paragraph form:  brainstorming, categorizing, detailing in keywords and writing a topic sentence.

Materials:  questions (general—for practice together, and relating to The Iliad for individual work).  Examples prepared ahead of time with quick reviews:  sentences to keywords, keywords to sentences, category names to topic sentences.

Steps:

  • Quick review together:  change sentences to keywords; change keywords to sentences; come up with topic sentences (10 mins)
    • Sentence Review:  Yesterday, I went to the store and bought milk.  Tomorrow I need to go to the dentist.  Wednesday is the middle day of the week. (or similar sentences).  Keywords Review:  Burlington/city/Vermont; Iliad/story/war/love; Zeus/king/angry/lightening.  Topic Sentences Review:  things in a kitchen drawer; reasons to fight a war;  ways to say No to someone.
  • Let’s practice answering questions using our new brainstorming and keyword strategies.”  Give the question:  Write a paragraph that discusses different hobbies people enjoy and why they enjoy them.  “This is a question a teacher might expect you to write a paragraph about.”  Explain how to break down the task into steps using the strategies we’ve practiced.
  • Step 1 should be to brainstorm the hobbies you know and why people enjoy them.
  • Step 2 should be to narrow the topic by making categories and sorting the list.
  • Step 3 should be to turn the details into keywords.
  • Step 4 should be to write a topic sentence for the details.
      • They may come up with something like: photography/artistic; snowboarding/active/exciting; gaming/relaxing; reading/relaxing/enjoyable.  With a topic sentence like:  People usually choose hobbies that suit their needs.
  • Give another writing question for group practice:   Discuss the reasons people should graduate from high school.  Again, break it down into steps.  If they need another question for practice choose from these:  Should students have to wear uniforms—why or why not?;   Should students be allowed to use cell phones in school—why or why not?. (20-25 mins total for all group work)
  • Give individual practice sheet or examples—they should get a keyword detail list and a topic sentence for each question, the point is not to write out the answers in paragraphs…yet (10-15 mins)
      • Questions for individual work:  1. Discuss your reasons supporting whether or not Achilles is a hero.   2.  Is Paris a hero?  Why or why not.   3.  How would the story have been different if Patroclus had not died?   4.  What would have been different if Hector had not been killed?

Lesson 5:  Concluding Sentences and The Quick Outline:  Finishing What you Want to Say

Objectives:

  • Students will learn 4 ways to write a concluding sentence
  • Students will write concluding sentences for the questions they did in the previous lesson
  • Students will practice the Quick Outline method for planning their writing

Materials:  handout with concluding sentence ideas, quick outline handout, quick review, prepared concluding sentence topics (on overhead/worksheets).

Steps:

  • Quick review, group activity: putting sentences into keywords/writing keywords into sentences.  Use the following (prepared ahead of time on an overhead) Helen/Paris/love/war; Hector/Achilles/duel/death; King Priam bravely went into the Greek camp to ransom his son’s body.  Achilles was shot in the heel with an arrow which killed him. (5 mins).
  • Quick review, group activity: project 2 paragraphs for group discussion—students read them, identify the topic sentences and the supporting details.  They transfer the details to keywords. (5 mins)
  • Discuss the format for the brainstorming: it is called a quick outline.  Show them how to fill in the quick outline sheet using the details and topic sentences they have already written from lesson 4.  Fill out 4 quick outlines (one for each question).  Point out that the “C.S.” line is still not filled in because we are about to learn how to do that.
  • Hand out the “Concluding Sentences” sheet you prepared with the 4 types of concluding sentences. Read, discuss relationship of T.S and C.S.  Practice with prepared topics together. (10-15 mins).  Make a sheet of prepared topic sentences or just write them on an overhead—together come up with and write 4 possible concluding sentences for each TS on an overhead sheet.
    • Use these topic sentences for practice: There are many ways to spend a weekend day.  Sometimes directions people give are unclear.  The Trojan War was a long and useless war.
  • Each student should write 3 or 4 different concluding sentences for their Iliad questions begun in lesson 4—then they should choose the one they like best and write it on their quick outlines. (15 mins). These outlines will be used in lesson 6.
  • Review the steps to writing a paragraph response to teacher questions: brainstorm and categorize, outline the details using keywords, write the topic sentence and then the concluding sentence (use the QO form).  (5 mins)

Lesson 6:  Outline to Paragraph and Paragraph to Outline:  When you Stick to Your Plan, The Writing is Clear

Objectives:

  • Students will transfer paragraphs that have already been written into QO format
  • Students will write paragraphs from a QO

Materials:  prepared ahead of time—4 paragraphs that have topic sentences, details and concluding sentences; quick outlines of Iliad questions (begun in lesson 4 and finished in lesson 5).  3 paragraphs that have topic sentences, details and concluding sentences—but which have been written out of order.  2-3 sample quick outlines.

Steps:

  • Quick review, as a group:  scrambled paragraphs.  Read the scrambled sentences and put them in the proper order. (10 mins)
  • As a group put the first of the 4 paragraphs into QO format, then have students individually put the other 3 into QO format on their own. (15 mins).
  • As a group, look at the first sample quick outline and write it into a paragraph.  Emphasize how the topic sentence is already there, putting each detail into sentences is just like what we practiced with keywords to sentences, then the concluding sentence is already there. Practice with another group one if necessary and do the last one individually or have them practice with the last 2 on their own.
  • Students should then be able to write their QO’s from their Iliad questions into 4 separate paragraphs.

4 Paragraphs that you can use for this lesson:

  1. Monday is an unpopular day of the week.  People look at Monday on the calendar and realize that they still have 4 more days to go through until they get to the weekend.  On Monday mornings, people sometimes have trouble getting up because they are used to “sleeping in” on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  In popular culture, Mondays have often been associated with bad feelings and loud groans.  If people could sleep through Mondays altogether, they might be able to avoid all those bad feelings.
  1. There are many animals that are endangered due to human activity.  Many species of whales were hunted nearly to extinction in the last century and now they are having trouble recovering.  Pandas are losing their natural habitat in the bamboo forests of China because of humans using the land for their own purposes.  Polar bears have less ice to live and hunt on because of the warming oceans and climate change due to human activity.  Humans need to change their ways if animals and humans are to live together in harmony.
  1. Summer is a favorite time of the year for many people.  Because it is so warm, people are outside more and enjoying the weather.  There are many things to do in the summer that can’t be done in the winter.  Students are on vacation and can spend their days doing things they enjoy.  Summer is an amazing time of year.
  1. Reading is an important, yet rewarding skill to master.  There is a ton of information that can be obtained from the pages of a book, so knowing how to understand the information is important.  When people read for fun, they are “transported” to a whole world where they can escape reality for awhile.  When someone reads well, then lots of things are easier for them to master.  Everyone should have the opportunity to learn to read better.

3 sample quick outlines for this lesson:

TS:  There are many things to enjoy at the fair.

Ride/rides/enjoyment/fear

Eat/food/spicy/sweet

See/animals/vegetables

Side shows/laugh/question realism

CS:  At the fair, there is something for everyone to do and enjoy.

TS:  There are several Greek gods and goddesses who the ancient Greeks attributed to parts of the Trojan War and its outcome.

Aphrodite/love/golden apple/Paris/promised Helen

Zeus/king/forbid others help/enjoyed humans toiling

Athena/wisdom/guided Greek Heroes

Hephaestus/blacksmith/forged armor/Achilles/new life to Greeks

CS:  If the ancient Greeks and Trojans blamed all their fortunes or misfortunes on gods and goddesses, then they didn’t need to take responsibility for their own actions.

TS:  There are several legends, all involving one man, that are said to have caused the famous Trojan War.

Paris/not killed/baby/secretly raised

Eris/not invited wedding/mischief with golden apple

Paris/Aphrodite winner/awarded with love

Paris/Helen/leave Sparta

CS:  There were many accounts told by the ancient Greeks that supposedly led to the Trojan War, but no single person could ever be responsible for such a tragic chain of events.

3 paragraphs you can scramble (from National Geographic Kids Magazine  September 2007):

 

  1. Rabies is a dangerous disease, but it is relatively rare.  Only 1 or 2 people in the US develop rabies every year, but thousands are exposed.  Stay safe by never handling wild animals or petting neighborhood animals whose owners you don’t know.  Rabid animals are rare, but if you are bitten seek medical attention immediately.  When you know more about the risks, you can prevent yourself from ever getting Rabies.
  1. The last thing anyone expected to see in the middle of a road was a seal pup.  But, there it was, eight miles from its ocean habitat in the North Irish Sea.  Luckily, the seal pup was healthy and unharmed, so it was released back into its habitat.  The mystery remains unsolved as to how it got so far away from its home. At least the story has a happy ending.
  1. Washington pygmy rabbits are some very lucky bunnies.  These pocket-sized rabbits were hopping toward extinction just a few years ago.  Wildfires and farming in Washington State had destroyed most of their habitat.  Wildlife experts started breeding them in captivity.  Now the pygmy rabbits are protected and are bouncing back.

Common Core and Special Education

I hope that as more and more research is done on reading and writing that we use our common sense about it.  It is, in some ways, regrettable that there is so much standardized testing and assessment because it shifts the importance of learning from “becoming a good person in society and making good decisions” to “making sure students meet the standard.”  I believe that the research we do sometimes ends up having a negative effect because we see all these things that need to be done and in order to do them we have to hold people accountable so we put qualifications and standards in place that seem arbitrary sometimes.  We lose sight of “the student” while nit-picking details and making comparisons.  We forget to ask ourselves, “How can society as a whole contribute to making children the best possible people they can be?”   Instead we put pressure on teachers to “bring children up to snuff” and we fit them into molds they might not fit into.   We blame teachers and wonder why they need more money when they work in a “failing school.”  Until we see education as one small piece of child-rearing, of making a child ready for society, then we aren’t going to make huge changes in our population.

We also need to maintain our focus on children as individuals; not every standard fits every child—some children are more emotional than others, some more delicate, some more rigid.  Education can’t end up being so “cookie-cutter” that every child is seen as a carbon copy who needs to fit in, meet a standard or otherwise get special help.

Special education costs are rising all the time as we fine-tune and re-assess.  Does this need to happen? We’re at a point now where new laws have made it tougher for children to be identified as special education in order to keep costs down—this just makes these children fall behind because they don’t get the help they need early on.  I hope in my lifetime that special education isn’t special education anymore—that all education is special, individualized for each child–where smaller schools are set up that meet certain needs rather than having schools like we do now where everyone must fit or be taken out.

Everyone needs a place to belong and if it is quite apparent that school isn’t where one belongs, they’ll find a different place, usually a negative one.  A lot of special education can be “cured” by proper teacher training and enough money in education to train and hire the right people for the job.  Without a whole community’s support to help children grow and help people overcome their difficulties, then we’re going to continue to blame each other and then wonder why all these great standards, expectations and assessments aren’t making us a more literate nation.

Professions, Respect, and American Priorities

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we love fame and glamour

I’ve been having trouble lately getting inspired to write. I’m trying to make writing more of a habit, but work and home often intervene and I usually end up just wanting to watch Criminal Minds episodes on Netflix. But yesterday I had a conversation with a student, similar to countless conversations I’ve had over the last 17 years. He mentioned wanting to be a pro basketball player or a pro football player when he grows up. I asked him what he might want to do if that didn’t happen. He said, “Probably a pro skateboarder.” It emphasized for me, not only the unrealistic expectations that some kids have for themselves (given that they think being a pro athlete is easy), but also on what we, as a society, emphasize as important, respectful, or glamorous.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a student who didn’t want to have more money as a grown-up than they have now.  In fact, many of my students want to be “rich.”  They see reality TV shows and believe that people get fame and fortune easily. They think being a professional athlete is easy because you just play a sport all day, even if you’ve never played a sport in your life.  They think they can go to a city and easily become a RAP artist or famous DJ.  They think that kind of glamour means they’ve achieved a certain status.  It’s not entirely their fault though.  They watch how professional athletes and famous people are treated like royalty and with respect, and they want that too. After seeing how certain professions are treated in the media, who would want to be a nurse, a teachera social worker, or any kind of public servant?

My daughter has thought about wanting to be a middle school language arts teacher when she grows up.  I love that she wants to enter such a noble profession, but it worries me at the same time.  American teachers don’t have the respect of the media.  We are poorly paid and told that we hardly work.  Our unions are under constant assault from corporations and union busters.  We are blamed for the ills of society.  Why would I want my daughter to do something that so many people demonize?

I saw an excellent post on Buzzfeed the other day which asked the question: “What would it be like if teachers were treated the way professional athletes are treated?”  An excellent question.  If you look at headlines and tabloids you will see where America’s priorities are, and it’s not on the education of their children.  So when my students say to me that they want to be professional athletes, what they are saying to me is that they want to be rich and respected.  It’s what Americans as a whole deem as important, and the message is not lost on the young.

Edmodo and Group Collaboration

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2 middle school students read and prepare to collaborate as a group using Edmodo.

Today one of my middle school literacy classes worked on continuing to read the story “The Ransom of Red Chief.”  While they did that they prepared to ask each other questions using Edmodo (a social media tool).  I’ve talked about this resource in a previous post, and it is a resource that I love to use, and my students also enjoy it a lot.  Click here to see the conversation that has been started about the character “Red Chief.”  As the teacher, it is important that I keep the conversation going, so I’ve prompted them with a question to help them continue the conversation the next time they are in class.  Today is the first time they have used this tool to collaborate, so I only expected 1 response from them so they can get used to this format.

What I like about Edmodo is that my students can talk to each other in a way that is familiar to them because it’s kind of like Facebook; but this is also a safe place for them because no one has our class code and can randomly insert themselves into the conversation or find my students.  This also is a good record of student progress and academic achievement.  My students all have learning disabilities, so I know it is tough for them to write, but just seeing that they’ve written semi-complete sentences and connected their comments to each other’s makes me feel like they are accomplishing some good work.  I was really proud of them today; they had good focus and they followed directions beautifully to get some real academic work done.

I also used the quiz feature in Edmodo today.  Teachers can create their own quizzes with multiple choice, short answer, true/false, or fill-in-the-blank questions.  They are easy to grade and the teacher can comment on each question while correcting the quizzes.  My 6th and 7th grade students particularly enjoyed the quiz–they ENJOYED it–a quiz!  Through Edmodo’s create a quiz feature, I was able to make a quick assessment to determine if they are ready to move on.  Even though I’ve been using Edmodo for a few years, this is the first time I’ve made and used a quiz.  I really like it, and I will continue to use it because it can make a great exit card and help me form the basis of my next lesson or to see what I need to review.  The quiz today was only 4 questions, but it was enough to inform my instruction for tomorrow’s class.