Monday, December 22, 2014

Preparing for the Smarter Balanced Assessment

All year long, we have been learning various skills on how to be stronger readers and writers. In the beginning of the year, we also introduced the Smarter Balanced Assessment and began preparing students for what it is, how it's organized, and how to do well on it. These are the charts my students and I co-constructed in September as I taught them about the Smarter Balanced Assessment. 

In addition to explaining about the assessment, we also broke apart a sample Smarter Balanced performance task. We used highlighters and annotation to really help students understand all the parts that make up a performance task.

These were the focus areas and descriptors that we pointed out to students as we helped them understand the assessment. There are a LOT of directions, so we wanted to point out how much information is IN those directions and why it's so very important not to skim/skip over them!

We also brainstormed good test-taking strategies. Each strategy was added to this chart. You can see how each mini-lesson focused on a different strategy to help students be successful on the performance task.

In September, we had students take a sample Smarter Balanced performance task and as a school we collected baseline data to assess areas/Common Core standards where we needed to focus our instruction to help students increase their achievement. This data was also our baseline data for our School Learning Objective. In January, our students will be taking a second practice Smarter Balanced Assessment. We will compare the data to our beginning of the year data to see where students are making gains and where to continue to focus our instruction. The good news is that many of the Common Core English Language Arts standards overlap with ones students need to apply on the assessment. Our curriculum is directly related to the skills students are being assessed on and it continues to help them feel more comfortable with such a strange, new assessment!

Last week, I reviewed the performance task charts we created at the beginning of the year. To help prepare students for the mid-year Smarter Balanced Performance Task, I had students read a sample performance task and identify the topic, audience, purpose, and format of the task. The performance task asked students to read several sources about various winter holidays. Two of the sources they had to read were online articles. Student received a note-taking sheet to help them organize their notes.
Here is one student's notes sheet after having read the performance task and the first online article about Hanukkah.

We also had them practice the split screen feature to help become familiar with how the real Smarter Balanced Assessment will be organized on a computer. Text on the left - questions on the right.
Students problem solved with the best ways to take notes. We provide graphic organizers for students' beginning-of-the-year and mid-year practice tests so students can easily create something similar on their own when it comes time for students to take the real Smarter Balanced Assessment in May. On that assessment, students will only get scratch paper or an electronic notepad called "Global Notes".

Here's another look at the split screen feature with questions on one side and a source on the other. Two scroll bars enable students to scroll through two different documents on one screen.
Common Core stresses the importance of students knowing how to 'read' various kinds of texts. This includes being able to listen/watch a video clip to gather information. Two of the sources for my students' performance task on various winter holidays were videos. We discussed the best ways to take notes from a video clip - mentioning how important it is to pause and re-listen to parts that may seem important to the task. This is similar to what students will likely be asked to do on the real Smarter Balanced Assessment in May.
Here is one of my students completed graphic organizers. At the top, you can see she identified the topic, the audience, the purpose, and the format that was laid out in the performance task itself. She also identified that the task asked her to take notes on the symbols, traditions, and cultural beliefs of the four winter holidays discussed in each of the sources. She also recorded the source titles which will enable her to correctly cite her sources when she drafts her longer explanatory speech later in Part 2 of the performance task.
When we return from break, I will help students use their notes to answer short answer questions and draft their informative/explanatory speech as is outlined in the performance task.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

L.7.4b - Using Greek/Latin Roots to Determine the Meaning of Complex Words

With an understanding of Greek and Latin roots, students can determine the meaning of difficult words - or at least get closer to what those difficult words might mean. I started by connecting this skill to real life. I found two online texts that had words in their titles that were complex and had roots in them that we would study in our lesson.

This online text had the word benevolent in the title. Most students don't know what this word means when they encounter it, so I explained that I would be teaching them a strategy to help them get closer to its meaning.

I then showed students the following slide that had the word malice in the title. We discussed how the word malice is a complex word for most middle school students, but with knowledge of Greek and Latin roots, students can get closer to its meaning!

I used the following SMARTboard presentation to help me introduce the concept of using Greek and Latin roots as a word-solving strategy.

As a seventh-grade team, we decided on several roots that we felt were prevalent in complex words middle school students typically see in texts. The root 'bene'/'bon' was one root we decided to teach.

Students took notes on each word in the Language section of their Thoughtful Logs, and as I revealed each definition, students started to notice a common pattern - all of the words had something to do with GOOD.

We also decided that the root 'mal' was an important root to teach.

Again, students took notes on each of these words and recorded their definitions. There was definitely a common pattern to their definitions. They all had something to do with BAD.

Here is one student's notes from the lesson.

We returned to the two articles from the beginning of the lesson to relook at the words benevolent and malice. In addition, we watched a video clip of the "Malice at the Palace" to see what 'bad' took place during the incident. It was clear that players and fans fighting, throwing food, cups, and drinks at one another, and rushing onto the court supported the fact that 'malice' is not a good thing!

For guided practice, students completed this activity to start identifying roots in complex words.

The second part of the activity asked students to find a word in the dictionary with each of the roots and an appropriate "good" or "bad" definition (depending on the root they were looking up).

The next day, students wrote each of their dictionary words and their definitions on two different post-its. We looked at each word and definition under the doc cam and discussed them. Several students came up with the same words so we grouped them. It was easy for me to see who understood this skill and who didn't. Some students wrote down words like 'mallard' - a type of duck. This was the perfect opportunity for me to discuss that not ALL words that have 'bene', 'bon', or 'mal' in them are related to the root, but many words are. 

I recorded each of the 'bene', 'bon', and 'mal' words students had found and put them on large chart paper to hang in our room for easy reference. Students are encouraged to find words with these roots in them in the books/texts they read on their own and in other subject areas. If they find a word, they are to let me know, and they'll get a smelly sticker in return for sharing it with the class. This is a wonderful way for students to independently identify words with roots outside of our classroom. (It's also amazing how much tweenagers love smelly stickers!!)

During a different week, we studied the roots 'man', 'manu', and 'corp' using these slides during the lesson. Again, students took notes and noticed patterns in their definition to infer the meaning of each root. 

Afterwards, students practiced identifying their new roots, in addition to the roots we learned the week before to spiral students' learning.

They also looked up 'bene', 'bon', and 'manu' words in the dictionary for each root and recorded the definitions, so long as the words' definitions had something to do with 'hands' or 'body'.

Friday, December 5, 2014

RL.7.6 - Comparing Two Perspectives in Touching Spirit Bear

I used this anchor chart to kick off teaching about comparing perspectives. The following questions guided our thinking about how a narrator communicates the different perspectives of characters in their stories. To model, I read aloud pgs. 137-139 from Touching Spirit Bear to refresh students on Cole and Garvey's perspective of the hotdog in the chapter 16. They have two very different perspectives! I also recorded what actions, dialogue, or thoughts as evidence the narrator provided for these characters that supported each of their perspectives. You can see my thinking recorded on the anchor chart below. (A) stands for an Action; (D) stands for Dialogue.

After watching me model how to record the two different perspectives about the hot dog in Ch. 16 and evidence to support each perspective, students practiced the same skills using the stick presented in Ch.17 on pgs. 144-146. Both Cole and Edwin view the stick differently.
 Students skimmed through their books to find actions and dialogue that supported each character's perspective.

The next day, we shared out about the two perspectives Cole and Edwin had about the stick. I recorded those perspectives on our chart. Then I had each student take a post-it and write one piece of evidence they found for either Cole or Edwin. We reviewed these as a class using the document camera. Many students found the same actions and dialogue which was affirming; it also helped me identify which of my students were still struggling.

Here's an upclose shot of the evidence students gathered to support Cole's perspective of the stick. This gave students who were absent a chance to quickly get caught up and a chance for students who didn't have enough evidence or the wrong kind of evidence to fix what they had.

This part of the chart helped us store evidence students found to support Edwin's perspective of the stick. Afterward, students worked to find evidence to support each character's perspective about the rock in Ch. 18.

Then it was time to use this information to respond to a prompt that asked students to compare two characters' perspectives about an item in the book. I brought out a previous anchor chart we had used for responding to a short answer question. We originally used it more in the context of informative writing, but I wanted to make the connections to writing about literature, too. One of the problems I've noticed in my students' writing is that they are good at finding evidence to support claims and main ideas, but they do very little to explain why the evidence supports their claim or main idea. So, as students shared with a partner about the evidence they found for each character's perspective about the rock in Ch. 18, I was sure to push them to use the following stems: One piece of evidence I found to support ____'s perspective about the ___ is _____. This dialogue/action shows that... Then when we shared out as a class, I was sure to have students use that same phrase. You can see I wrote it at the top of my board above the chart.

I modeled responding to the following prompt, using the perspectives of Cole and Garvey about the hotdog. My notes from the graphic organizer came in handy for helping me plan my writing!

We nearly ran out of time as I hand-wrote my model of responding to the prompt, so for the next class, I typed up my response and color-coded it so students could see each part of a strong response. (You'll see that these colors are also indicated on the checklist in the next picture.) I emailed this sample response to students so they had something to refer to when drafting their own response.

I had students use this checklist to help them organize their writing.

This writing assignment required that students do many things - refer to their graphic organizer of notes and the checklist, skim the book for appropriate page numbers and to clarify information, and type of their response. Talk about synthesizing materials to put them all together into one response! Because I modeled my response using the hotdog, students go to choose if they wanted to compare Cole and Edwin's perspectives about either the stick OR the rock. 

You can see that students color-coded their response as they drafted to 'prove' that had each part of the response. They also checked it off on their checklist.

Some students chose to hand-write their response but referred to my sample response to help guide them in drafting their own.

Students peer revised with one other person in the class by electronically 'sharing' their response. Peer revisors used the Google comment tool to highlight areas of the writer's work that needed more attention and leaving a comment about what to fix. Students then made the recommendation fixes based on their peer's feedback. Then it was time to print. Here is one student's final response comparing Cole and Edwin's perspective about the rock.
 This student chose to compare the two perspectives Cole and Edwin had about the stick.
We will continue to grow in our ability to respond to prompts using:
  • topic sentences
  • paraphrased or word-for-word evidence from the text
  • cited page numbers and sources
  • explanations for why the evidence supports the topic sentence
  • concluding sentences
It can't all happen overnight, but we're getting there!