Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

What Happens When a Classroom Theme Drives Instruction?

With a new school year right around the corner, all the talk about back-to-school themes makes me miss my mom.  My mom was a teacher for over 35 years, and when anyone talks about classroom themes, I think of her.  My mom was a master of themes.  When she taught oceans, she turned her classroom into an oceanic biome.  Jellyfish hung from the ceilings, the classroom walls became the layers of the ocean, and coral grew from the counter tops. 

Her second and third graders ate, breathed, and slept oceans…until the next unit of study.  And there were many… the Sonoran Desert, tropical rain forests, pioneers, famous Americans, and on and on.  What made her themes special was that they weren’t just decorative.  If it didn’t have academic meat to it, she didn’t do it.  Her kids adored it.

Maybe that’s where I get my theme-tastic approach to a school year.  I’ve taught an owl theme, reading Owls in the Shower and conservation articles about owls, dissected owl pellets, collected owl data, and on and on.  I’ve taught a myriad of themes. 

This year, my classroom theme is my favorite: LEADERSHIP.  That’s right. We will be focusing on the power and impact words have on the world by looking at the words and actions of athletes, humanitarians, advocates and activists. 

We will be talking about the qualities of successful and unsuccessful leaders, the responsibilities of leaders, and desired leadership skills throughout the entire school year. 

I’ll begin the year by reading Perloo the Bold by Avi. If you’ve not read this book, you need to!  This story is a Lord of the Rings meets The Poppy & Rye series.  Perloo is a Montmer (a rabbit-like race) who has leadership of his tribe thrust upon him when the tribe’s Granter, from her deathbed, appoints Perloo as the next Granter.

Perloo is an unwilling leader who must fight for freedom for his tribe as the deceased leader’s son takes over their tribal government.  This novel gives students the opportunity to examine the behaviors, motives, and words of different characters who act as leaders...some good, some bad.

 Nonfiction Connections

While our novel study is ongoing, we will also be reading real-life biographies using Infographic Biography Mats that I wrote for this theme.  I’m so excited about these because they can be used in reader’s, writer’s and math workshop.  We will be comparing these examples of leaders to the characters in Perloo the Bold

Another way we’re investigating leadership is to examine famous quotations from real-life humanitarians, activists, athletes, and suffragettes.  We’ll be discussing what their words reveal about their characters and beliefs about the world.  In Perloo the Bold, there is a sage character called Mogwat the Magpie.  Mogwat has given a wealth of wise sayings to the Montmer tribe.  Many of these sayings are similar to those from our real-life examples.  We’ll be comparing and contrasting these and sorting them by the life skills they exemplify. Check out one of Mogwat's sayings below!

To see the world with the eyes of others is to stand atop a new mountain.

So why this theme?  I think it’s important for students to know that they have the power to impact the world in a positive way.  It helps them realize that they have a purpose in this world, which can give them hope.  And, hope is a powerful resource and catalyst.  It makes their learning more meaningful and purposeful.  Words of Power will become the lens through which we will experience the entire school year! 
                                     Happy Back-to-School my friends, and before you leave me, be sure to scroll down for an unbelievable opportunity!

If you’re interested in my Words of Power products, check them out below! P.S. And yes, they're decorative, too!

I  want to make you aware of a fabulous opportunity to win one of 3 $100 gift cards to TpT.  Check out this link to do so!  The Best of Teacher Entrepreneurs: THREE $100 GIVEAWAYS of TpT Gift Certificates!

I'm teaming up with some fabulous educators this month.  Be sure to check out their remarkable blogs below, if you'd like some more back-to-school reading!


Creating a Life With Arts Integration Series: MUSIC, Part 2

My earliest memories are of my mom singing to me.  She had a powerful soprano voice.  And she sang to me as a small child, always.  When it came time for me to go to kindergarten, I learned the "Hokey Pokey" with everyone else, my numbers, my letter sounds, but Mrs. Dunckel required that I learn my address by heart.   My mom did what any singing-teacher mom would do, she put it to music.  I went to school and sang my address to Mrs. Dunckel...kindergarten failure avoided. Do you know, I can still sing it? 

Music is a powerful medium.  How many times have you heard a song from your past and been transported back in time?  It might even trigger emotions.  When I hear "Stairway to Heaven," I'm back at a high school dance with my arms clenched around Wayne, my first boyfriend, my head buried in his shoulder.  I feel nostalgic. I remember the excitement of getting ready for that dance. That's what music transports us to different places and times in our lives...our memories are more vivid because music is connected to them. 

So as teachers, why wouldn't we use it to tattoo our students' minds?

Research has documented the limbic part of the brain is responsible for long-term memory.  This means that when information is imbued with music, there's a likelihood that the brain will encode it in long-term memory."  ---Eric Jensen

One of my favorite ways to use music in my classroom is to create piggyback songs.  Piggyback songs are songs that use a familiar tune with lyrics that you write yourself to teach a concept.  I've written piggyback songs about Core Democratic Values, to teach the steps to long division, and to unpack math vocabulary.  I've worked with teachers, grades K-12, and watched them write songs to help students remember geometry theorems, calculus content, the names of the months in a year, and on and on.  They've all report success. 

One of most favorite piggyback song efforts occurred while I was stuck in a major traffic jam on a 4-hour drive home from my parents' house.  My kids were having trouble with the huge amount of geometry vocabulary in our current math unit.  I was bored.  So, I "wrote" 8 geometry songs to cement the vocabulary.  By the time I got home, I had mentally outlined a script for a geometry musical! I wrote the play over the next three days, and the rest is history! There are three steps I've used to guide teachers in writing their own instructional piggyback songs.  Watch the video below to learn about them!

My best advice for writing your own piggyback songs includes:
  • Don't use the same melody for more than one song.  You want THAT particular tune to be attached to THAT particular concept.
  • Start out with easy ditties first, like "Mary Had a Little Lamb."
  • Don't forget to "unpack" the lyrics with your students. Use them as a lesson. Do a CLOSE READ with your song lyrics.
  • After you get more practiced, try writing them WITH your students.  They'll be even more motivated because they helped author it.
  • Put your I'm-tone-deaf-I-don't-even-sing-in-the-shower crud away.  Your kids do NOT care. Truly.
  • Revisit your songs often. They are a great way to review. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
  • Add movements to your songs and you'll double the learning whammy.  Bodily-kinesthetic approaches are just as powerful!
  • Laugh! Don't take yourself so seriously.
Working with non-musician teachers, I know how daunting it can be to incorporate music into your pedagogy.  So I've put together a little "I-don't-even-know-where-to-start" goodie for you.  If you click on the picture below, you'll find a freebie that outlines 20 ways to incorporate music in your classroom, a list of 30 instrumental songs that are perfect for classroom use (think "YouTube"), and a list of 41 melodies that work well for creating your own piggyback songs.  But will you do me a favor?  I LOVE hearing about how other teachers incorporate music in their classrooms.  If you've done this, please share  in the comments section.

If  you're interested in trying out some of my piggyback songs in your classroom, then check out the products below by clicking on the pictures.  There's another free resource here, too!                                                                  

If you'd like to read the first post in this series, click the light bulb below.

Consider following me here at Mossy Oak Musings.  This post is part of a series on arts integration in the classroom.  My next post is about poetry as complex text and how to use movement to explore the complexity!
                                           Until next time, teach on, my friend!


So, What The Heck Is Metacognition?

July 15, 2015. I blogged for the first time...about observational learning.  That was the start of my year-long focus on metacognition and Making Thinking Visible.  Prior to my first post, I had been exploring my questioning strategies and analyzing my students' responses intensively.  I thought I knew what metacognition was... Let me go back to the definition I originally cited:
  "...awareness and understanding one's thinking and cognitive processes; thinking about thinking." ('s 21st Century Lexicon)
Sounds easy enough, right?  This year I've become a firm believer in the adage, "The more you think you know, the more you have to learn." In the 2015-2016 school year, I worked with a quality instruction coach, because I wanted someone to observe me and chart my questioning skills and my students' responses.  This past year, I carried my action-research forward and focused on using the routines outlined in Making Thinking Visible (Ritchart, Church & Morrison). As I modeled my thinking and the routines outlined in the book, and took note of my students' thinking, I began to ask myself this question:  Is there a continuum of metacognition?  Check out the illustration below (you can grab it for yourself by clicking on the illustration. It will take you to a downloadable version).

As I worked with my students, I encountered students befuddled by questions like, "What are you thinking about the rhombus?"  While others could tell chapter and verse about what they thought and why they thought it.  I wrote out the above continuum, based on my observations, and fixed it to my conferring clipboard. I also put a copy of it in my guided reading binder and my math workshop binder. It became a guide for my instruction.  After using a visible thinking routine from Making Thinking Visible, I used the continuum to chart where I thought my students' thinking fell on it.  It changed my teaching...and my own thinking about metacognition. Then, I went through my Fountas and Pinnell prompting guide, provided by my school district, and marked questions that would help me dig into these levels of metacognition while conferring with my students.  Next, I began tracking which students needed even more guided instruction to move along my continuum. As a result, I saw my students' responses change and deepen as they responded through the thinking routines I taught them to use.  

It was an exciting year for me.  Next year, I will continue this focus by expanding my practice even more using Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools by Ron Ritchart. One change I want to make next year is to help my students think more about what thinking the routines help them...and how to choose routines themselves, without my direction.  Everything's always a work in progress, isn't it?  I think that's what makes teaching and learning fun, in the end!

                                                Until next time, teach on, my friends!

Pssssst! Hey you! Be sure to check out my visible thinking products below.  They will change your pedagogical life, I promise!

This month, I'm also linking up with some fantastic educators.  Check out their posts below!

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Creating a Life with Arts Integration

I'm so excited to share my featured blog post with Rachel Lynette. If you're interested in arts integration, then this post is for you! Click the fox below to read!