Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Two Ideas for Keeping Kids Involved with Their Community

My co-advisor and I are so excited to take our FINS Student Senate to an all-day leadership conference in Madison, WI tomorrow. We are especially proud of them because they are taking on an extra leadership role to present a sectional entitled "School Spirit + Community Donations = SUCCESS!" All of our Senators have a speaking part in a play that they will perform at the their sectional for other student senators from around the state. The skit we are presenting showcases our school's idea to add community donations to each spirit day during spirit week to help out area organizations. This Animoto video is also one that will be part of the kids' sectional. It sums up the project we did last school year. We will definitely be doing it again this year!

We are also very excited about the Veterans Day project we implemented in early November. Every student in our school played a part in creating a giant American flag THANK YOU to all of our veterans. What's even greater, is that we displayed our flag at conferences on Nov. 11 and Nov. 13. Our FINS Senators worked a table near the flag where parents and students could add additional chain link thank yous to the flag. Way to go, Fort Atkinson students!

* What do your schools do to keep students and staff involved with their communities? We are always looking for new ideas to keep our students engaged in great volunteer work! 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

SL.7.1 - Fishbowl Discussion Activity

My co-worker, Erin, shared a great activity called a Fishbowl to help students truly practice the art of collaborative discussions. We have done several lessons about body language and purposeful talk so today was a day for students to truly be speakers and listeners and develop good habits of both.  These are the behaviors we have discussed over the past several weeks that students were expected to apply today during their fishbowl discussions.

I picked 5-6 students to be my 'fish inside the fishbowl' who would discuss with one another the question I posed about the book we have been reading called Touching Spirit Bear. (I asked each group 3 total questions.) Students who were not in the fishbowl were observers of the fish discussion, although I selected 5-6 of the observers to formally observe one particular 'fish' to monitor that student's contributions to the discussion. These formal observers used the sheet you see below. Every student got to be a 'fish' and every student got to formally observe another 'fish' through the 4 rounds of questions.

Students who discussed sat in the middle and had a copy of Touching Spirit Bear to reference and support their thinking. Students on the outside observed the discussion. Careful listening was in order for all students as I eventually opened up the discussion to the whole class after the conversation in the fishbowl 'died off'. (P.S. - It was Favorite Sports Team Day today at school so some kids wore hats.)

Formal observers received this observation sheet to record the contributions of one particular fish.

Here you can see one of my students watching her 'fish' with her blue observation sheet in front of her. She carefully listened to his contributions and recorded what he said and his behaviors.

As I mentioned earlier, I opened up the discussion to the rest of the class after the students in the 'fishbowl' were done discussing. I was pleasantly surprised with how many students wanted to respond to things that were said 'inside the fishbowl'. Some of our discussions for one question lasted 10 minutes. It was focused, respectful, and meaningful discussion!
The activity started off very slow and awkward. These kids are great at chatting in the hallway and at lunch about the latest gossip and who likes who, but when it comes to purposeful discussion intended to help our brains grow - they struggle. With this activity, students picked up on the tone, the organization, and the focus of this discussion and really impressed me. They sounded like miniature adults! Many students asked when we could do it again. I will definitely keep this discussion activity in my bag of tricks. Tomorrow I plan to have students self-reflect on the process so students can recognize their strengths and areas to grow for next time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Taking Notes, Donorschoose Books, & Thanking Our Donors

We continue to embark on taking notes to gather information from multiple sources about our focused topic. The topic I'm modeling with is spirit bears, as it relates well to the novel Touching Spirit Bear that is guiding a lot of our learning we are doing this quarter. Yesterday I modeled taking notes from watching a video about spirit bears. Today I modeled how to take notes from a website. This is the website I used:

As I read from the website, I noted key words and phrases that I felt were important for the public to know about spirit bears. I recorded those ideas on the graphic organizer below (and on the back!)

After I modeled, students tried on the skill of reading from a website and taking notes about circle justice, another topic from novel Touching Spirit Bear. I sent the website to their email to read online. 

Students added notes to their graphic organizer from this second source. This graphic organizer is one all disciplines in our school are using to help scaffold the writing process of any informative/explanatory writing task in any subject area. By consistently using the same graphic organizer, our hope is that kids will eventually be able to create one from scratch as they organize their writing in the future when we teachers are not around or aren't allowed to help them (a.k.a. taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment!)
 Notes that didn't fit on the front were written on the back.

Here is an example of one student's notes from the website about restorative justice/circle justice. Many students made comparisons to this factual information and how Ben Mikaelsen used these facts as part of his novel. My favorite quote from today was, "So, Miss Bongers - spirit bears and circle justice are real things? I thought Ben Mikaelsen just made those things up for his story!" Helping kids see these connections - that real authors pull in facts to write fictional stories will help as we draft our own narratives later.

After students finished reading their second source and taking notes, they read Ch. 6 from Touching Spirit Bear. In this chapter, Cole (the protagonist) encounters the spirit bear for the first time. There is also narrative in this chapter about Cole's circle justice hearing. Our research helped inform students about both of these topics so that their comprehension of the text would increase.

In our next class, students shared the notes they recorded from restorative justice website. Before they discussed with one another, we reviewed our rules for collaborative discussions.

Partners practiced these behaviors during their discussions.

Students recorded any facts their partners shared that they did not have on their own sheet.

Then we came together as whole class, and I had every student share one thing they learned from the website as a way to 'hear all voices'. This was the final set of notes for one student after independent work, partner chats, and whole class discussion.

In other news, our shipment of new books came from Amazon as a result of our project getting funded at Check out all the great new titles that will now be in the hands of our 7th grader! Thank you to all of the community members (parents, grandparents, friends, and strangers) who donated to this project. I wanted to give a special shout-out to U.S. Cellular who funded the projects of MANY teachers all over the country. Thank you for supporting education!
The kids were excited to get their hands on these new books today!
 (PS - It's Superhero Day at our school, so some of our students have costumes and hats on!)

I am very grateful to the donors who were so kind to help fund our project. Because we want them to know how thankful we are, we wrote thank you letters to all of them. So, to Mom & Dad, Libby Jones, Pat Jones, Michelle Hase, Dusty Jacobson, Meghan Cropp, Heather Trevino, and U.S. Cellular - THANK YOU for keeping the excitement of reading alive in our 'tweenagers'!

And one more picture because one of my 7th graders ROCKED Superhero Day with his pink tights and cape:

Monday, October 13, 2014

W.7.1 - Informative Writing & RI.7.8 Taking Notes from Digital Text

At the end of the day last Friday, we looked at an informative article and recorded some of the characteristics of good informative writing. Students recorded the information in the Writing section of their Thoughtful Logs. Today I posed the following prompt, selecting non-fiction topics that we are reading about in the fictional novel, Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen:
Write an informative article about spirit bears. 
To start this process, I recorded 10/14 (I accidentally wrote tomorrow's date) next to the two characteristics of informative writing that we would be focusing on today. Spirit bears was the topic I modeled with and recording notes about spirit bears from a variety of sources was the process I started today using a media text (video).

I modeled recording notes from a video text entitled National Geographic: Searching for Spirit Bear. I paused the video multiple times to record information about spirit bears on this graphic organizer. Note: all content area teachers are being encouraged to use this same graphic organizer to promote writing in their disciplines.

To have students follow this same process of taking notes about a focused topic from a media source, I gave students the following prompt: Write an informative article about Circle Justice. I emailed students a link to a video about Restorative Justice. Students watched a short video about Restorative Justice as it is used at a high school in Colorado. As students listened, they took notes that would help inform/explain to the public about Circle Justice.

 Here are the notes one student took about Circle Justice as a result of watching the video.
 Here are the notes a different student took about Circle Justice as a result of watching the video.

RL.7.6 Character Maps, W.7.2 Writing Prompts, & L.7.4 Context Clues

I modeled for students how to use a character map to show how an author develops a character in a story. My students don't normally struggle with finding examples from the text to support each trait, rather they struggle to explain why the example is evidence of the trait. To help push their examples to a higher level, I had students color code their writing. Text in black was the paraphrased example from the book. Text in red was their own thinking for why the example supported the character trait.
 For guided practice, I had students complete a character map for the characters of Edwin and Garvey. Early in the story, both men serve as mentor characters to Cole. We first brainstormed character traits to describe Edwin and Garvey. Here was our list:
 Students pulled up the character map on their Chromebooks, typed 'Edwin and Garvey' into the character box and selected three character traits from the board that they wanted to prove and explain with evidence from the text. Students skimmed chapters 1 & 2 (which we had read on a previous day) to find examples.
This student found two examples from the text that supported the fact that Edwin and Garvey are wise, helpful, and patient men.

Our next lesson required students to use their character maps to respond to a prompt about how Ben Mikaelsen develops characters in Touching Spirit Bear. I modeled how to analyze a prompt by color-coding each of the expectations of the prompt. As I started drafting, I color-coded each section to show where in my draft I addressed each part of the prompt.

Students then went in and color-coded their writing to identify areas where they weren't answering the prompt. This process helps students realize there are many things a writer may need to pay attention to in a prompt in order to receive full credit. The Smarter Balanced Assessment will definitely require students to analyze a prompt and respond to multiple parts!

The next day, students read Ch. 3 & 4 on their own and practiced using context clues independently. As they read, they recorded two examples of difficult words as they read, what they inferred them to mean, and the context clues that helped them understand better.

 Later on that day, students shared their words/charts with a partner.
 Partners picked two of their words to create a Context Clues poster together. The following expectations were posted on the board for students to use as a guide.

Here was the sample Context Clues poster I made so students had an idea of what the final product should look like. 

 When students felt they were 'done', I handed them a mini-checklist to help them assess whether they had everything they needed on the poster.