Category Archives: learning strategies

Students seated in a circle- what does it really mean?

Inquiry is collaborative/cooperative and we are proud of it.   They say ‘traditional’ schools don’t really practice cooperative learning, but competitive learning (I am not a fan of comparing schools, practices and philosophies but let me just quote to make a point).  At times, though, new students from trad schools work more collaboratively than other old-timer PYP students.  The fact is we trad students (yes I’m a product of a traditional convent school) are trained to work independently; consequences are more real to us as they are so lethal that we do what we have to do, whether tomorrow is the apocalypse or just another boring day; whether or not we understand what we are doing (and we do try our best to understand in order to avoid the lethal consequences).  I argue that learning to how work independently leads to a more successful collaboration- I guess trad schools are not that bad.  Depending on what the purpose of the group engagement, students must get that productive time to think, work and reflect independently then go for a structured group work kids would enjoy or learn from.  I think the biggest mistakes about collaborative learning are doing group work for the sake of doing it and assuming collaborative learning is happening just because the students are seated in a circle!

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What is cooperative learning?

Cooperative learning is not just group work nor team building activities.  It involves high quality of interaction, interdependence, individual accountability, collaborative skills and group processing.

“Face-to-face interaction is a bit counter-intuitive because it doesn’t necessarily mean face-to-face as in ‘in-person’. It actually just refers to direct interaction. So, it can be literally face-to-face, or it could be over the phone, on chat, via Skype, through email, etc. It’s just referring to the fact that group members have to actually interact in order to cooperate.  The second element is positive interdependence, which means that the group members rely on each other and can only succeed together. This goes hand-in-hand with the third element, which is individual accountability. As an interdependent group, each individual is responsible for his or her own work and can be held accountable for that work.  The fourth element of cooperative learning is collaborative skills. The group members must be able to work together, but the ability to do so doesn’t always come naturally; sometimes these skills need to be taught. And the final element is group processing, which refers to the fact that the group needs to monitor itself to ensure that the group, as a whole, is working together effectively.”  – Erin Long-Crowell

The ‘smart’ ones get frustrated because they do all the work then we tell them that they have to be more tolerant and open-minded.  Some students feel discouraged because the group simply won’t trust them do anything- so that they won’t ruin the work!  Then we tell them that they have to be more responsible and committed.  AND/OR the ‘smart’ ones dominate and develop more confidence and the ‘slower’ ones become chronic social loafers.   It’s sad, but I think every teacher who facilitated group work has observed these things happening.  And sometimes we accept it because kids are kids and they fight all the time, but it’s not okay.  Students have to understand that it’s not okay to be in a group and not do anything.  And that it is unfair for one student to just hog all the work.  Another thing- a mere discussion on ‘what makes a good discussion’ is a good start, but doesn’t guarantee a cooperative discussion.  Students need to have opportunities to independently organize their thoughts in order to contribute to a discussion.  There’s definitely a lot more to group work than just sitting with your group mates.

Aside from developing collaborative skills, cooperative learning emphasizes interdependence and individual accountability. We ‘prove’ that  individual accountability is happening because student have agreed on ‘group roles’ in their planners.  But are they skilled and willing enough to fulfill the roles?  Yes we discuss expectations, rubric or checklist developed with the students, yes they understand the purpose of working in groups, but are they skilled and determined to achieve the goal? Students should be given the support, achieve skills to learn how to work independently and do his/her part.  This way, they can count on themselves and on each other.  Then we can watch the quality of relationship, group dynamics and work grow.  Then we can watch them work happier within a group.  Then we can watch them…learn.  I guess the saying ‘you can’t help others if you can’t help yourself‘ is the gist of this article.

Players who know how to play football make a football team.  They may play differently, some better than the others, but they do know how to play football, they want to and they’re learning to.  However, the success of a football team lies on the fact that each plays better with another.  Likewise, let’s help our students become good team players by providing a good balance of quality independent and group tasks in order to make real collaboration happen.

 

 

Sources:

http://education-portal.com/academy/lesson/cooperative-and-collaborative-learning-in-the-classroom.html#lesson

http://asma-strivingforsuccess.blogspot.in/2008/12/15-common-mistakes-in-using-cooperative.html

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Math and Stories

We recently finished our Language Unit on Stories so my partner and I thought that it will be interesting to integrate stories with our Maths unit on Division.  We thought of tuning in our students into word problems by asking them to write simple division stories (with clues).  We wanted to see the language they’ll use, their understanding of the concept and we wanted to see how they’ll strategize and translate the concept into word problems or stories.  I’ve known about this engagement before, but this is the first time I’m tried it out.

This simple engagement brought about so much more than I expected.  I was amazed to witness how this engagement encouraged creativity and other skills like resolving conflict.  Though they were all given same clues (winning 175 tickets) yet they all came up with different stories that reflected how they handle problems.   Their stories also reflected how they see the world, their likes and dislikes.

This was something I and the kids truly enjoyed.  It inspired me to be more creative in planning Maths engagements, to give more open-ended tasks and to never underestimate what the kids can come up with!

(Stories unedited)

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“One day four children named Alisha, Shub, Geronimo and Mudra went to the amusement park.  In the bowling game, they earned 175 tickets.  In the mean time, Mudra started to fight and then everbody started because they didn’t get equal tickets.  When they were fighting Geronimo got an idea that they should divide the tickets.  They divided 175÷4.  They got the quotient 43.  They remainder they got was 3.  Each got 43 but they got three extra and there were 4 kids.  So they teared the tickets and lived happily ever. The end”  –  Shub and Alisha

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“One day, Malvika, Alisha and Vedangi went to the amusement partk just for fun.  First they played the bowling game and won 175 tickets but they did not know how to divide the tickets.  After awhile, we saw Ms. Katrina teaching Rishi division, so we three went there and asked Ms. Katrina to explain us division too.  Ms. Katrina said, “In division we have to make groups of equal amount and it is also called as repeated subtraction.”  Vedangi asked Ms. Katrina, “Ma’m how to divide amongst us?”  So, Ms. Katrina took out a paper and pens from her bag and solved the problem on the paper and showed us how to divide. So last only 1 ticket left so Malvika said now who can get the last ticket?  We all started thinking who can get the last ticket so Alisha said “Maybe we can give to Rishi.”  – Vedangi and Malavika

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“One day Tanav and Rishi decided to go to Karla Phoenix Market city, Timezone.  We called Vir, Chahit and JK with us to Timezone.  All of us won a lot of tickets.  When they were about to go and take a gift, they started to fight and all of them were telling, ‘This is mine!” We were keep on fighting.  Between our fight Tanav got an idea of dividing the tickets amongst us.  175 ÷ 5=35.  All of us got equal tickets and each of us got 35 tickets.  All of us played bowling.  We wen to the gift counter and bought our gifts.  We all went to our homes.  We played with our gifts.  We never fought again and if this situation occurs again then we will use division.  Thank you for listening to our story. ” –Tanav and Rishi

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“Me and my three friends went to the bowling alley in the amusement park and earned 175 tickets.  But we were fighting for the three tickets left after distributing.  Tanav said that the leader gets the remaining tickets, but Ramu didn’t agree.  Ramu advised that they should use the three tickets for everybody’s like on a game that costs 3 tickets they can buy it and all the four will own the game.”  –Devajna and Arnav

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“Derek, Arjun, Shivank and Vir went to the amusement park and earned 175 tickets in the bowling game.  The problem was that they had to divide the tickets equally among themselves.  They tried many ways to divide equally but they could not.  To find out how many tickets each person needs they have to divide 175 with 4.  Derek told Arjun, Shivank and Vir that to find out how many tickets, you have to use a technique called long division.  Arjun asked Derek how long division is done.  Derek said that he does not know long division but he can ask someone.  They saw a man and they asked him “What is 175÷4.  “He said 43.”  Then they thanked him and divided the tickets but 3 were left so they gave them to the man who helped them.” –  Shivank and Arjun

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Are you a “Jugaad” in the Classroom?

I’m currently reading a book called Jugaad Innovation, authored by Radjou, Prabhu and Ahuja.  “Jugaad” in Hindi means ingenious solutions to problems or turn adversity into opportunities.  The six guiding principles behind the Jugaad Innovation are a)  seek opportunity in adversity, b)  do more with less, c)  Think and act flexible, d)  Keep it simple, e) Include the margin, f)  Follow your heart.  I’ve seen different jugaad-in-action classrooms and schools all over the world- from the biggest things like having a non-traditional approach to education and starting an education revolution, to the little things like using old mineral water bottles as pencil holders.     Big or small, they equally inspire me to be a classroom innovator.

As I read through the different stories of individuals and companies who succeeded through innovation, this line made an impact on me:

“When you listen to your customers, you merely react to needs; when you empathize with customers, you anticipate their needs; but when you truly love your customers, you surprise them by introducing them to products they can’t even fathom.”–  Mauro Porcini, 3M Head of Global Strategic Design

This made me ask:

  • How often do we surprise our students?
  • What do we do to make our students go ‘wow’?
  • What something new do we do in the classroom?
  • How often do we do something new in the class?
  • How is innovation celebrated in our class?
  • Are there any new ideas we are willing to fight for?
  • What ideas do we have that seem outrageous but are helpful?
  • Have you done anything risky for the betterment of the students?
  • Do we follow our hearts in the classroom?
  • How else do we show our love for our students?

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I think we educators should consider ourselves not only as people who facilitate the class, but as artists who are capable of designing and engineering to solve problems, to do something for the marginalized, and to do something…inspiring– not only for our students, but for everyone else who cares.

Maybe the true signs of love for students are not just measured by how much we listen and feel for them.  Love for students is also measured by how we apply creativity in the classroom- to think out of the box and go out of our comfort zone for solutions that will address the issues in the classroom despite limitations, risks and personal struggles.

Are you a ‘jugaad’ in the classroom?

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First Rule of the Year: Let go.

I am more than thankful for my almost 2 years of managing my own place and life in India as I learned that what I own, I am responsible for. I am thankful for the previous years of working hard to fix and “beautify” the classroom as I learned that having a beautiful classroom prepared by the teacher is neither a sign of preparedness nor high quality of teaching.  I am thankful for my coordinator who gave me the opportunity to think, despite my lack of confidence, and gave me the freedom in the classroom, for I learned from my mistakes, and how to be independent, self-reliant, curious, hungry and creative. I am thankful for the years of struggles and confusion with teaching as I learned that with adversity, time, perseverance, resilience and prayers I will figure things out.

I am thankful for all these learnings because they all led me to my first rule of teaching for this year:  let go.

For the first time in my 5 years of teaching, I have decided not to fix the classroom and left it as how it was before I went home for the summer break.  I figured that it is time for me to let the students take ownership of their classroom and most importantly, their learning.  Little things, like letting them decide how the classroom should look like, what corners should we have, where they should be and how our routines are, already made an impact to my students and to me as well.    It’s not only that I felt effortless fixing the classroom or thinking about our routine and all.  It was more   than that.  For the first time in my 5 years of teaching, I felt that I was teaching. I felt I was giving them the little lessons that matter. For the first time, I feel that we all started the year right.

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It WASN’T THAT EASY watching them do the classroom magic.  Along the way, I felt the tensions within me as there were things that I didn’t really agree with or things that I found ‘wrong’ with their decisions.  However, I continuously reminded myself to let go and just let them create their own learning and fun space.  After all, it is not my class alone, it is all ours. I believe that one big aspect that supports inquiry in the classroom is having a ‘safe’ and ‘secure’ environment, where the members show trust, respect, tolerance and empathy toward each other.  This is not just a professional goal that I have, but a goal that I share with my students. I realize that when we share the same goals and aspirations with our class, we get to have a more meaningful relationship and learning. We learn how to dream big together.  We learn how to work as a unit.

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Letting go doesn’t only mean letting them be.  Letting go means putting aside your own intentions and sharing the space, time, emotion and learning that you haven’t shared before. And most of all, letting go means accepting each other, sharing the same freedom and responsibilities….both with the little things and the big things.

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Read aloud with a Twist!

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Last March 6, we celebrated the World’s Read Aloud Day with a twist!  My class celebrated it by reading aloud the Indian folktale “How the Summer Queen Came to Kashmir” to a Grade 4 class from an international school in Hong Kong.  The read aloud was done through Skype.  We thought that by reading aloud the said tale, it will help students from Hong Kong know more about the rich culture and places of India.  The other class read aloud poems from the book called Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman.  We had a great time listening to the poems as they read it creatively.

It is the first time that my class had this engagement.  There were challenges like communication, arranging the schedule and the quality of the internet connection.  In the actual read aloud, it was hard to hear and understand each other, but somehow we got through the event smoothly.  Everyone seemed to enjoy, especially the part when my students and the other class were given the opportunity to say hi to each other.  I think in away, my class was amazed seeing other kids from another part of the world.

What I love the most about the engagement is that first of all, it promoted global mindedness by taking part on an event that is celebrated worldwide.  Tanja Galleti, a primary Librarian from an international school in Hong Kong, just twitted about the event.  I replied back as I was interested with it.  She had this wonderful idea of reading aloud through Skype, and I thought that was a good opportunity for my class.  Without her help and initiative, this event would have not been possible.  She was the one who arranged the schedule between me and Andrea Onken, the Grade 4 teacher from Hong Kong, despite her busy schedule.  Of course, much thanks to Andrea as well, as she was also open to do the read aloud with my class.  With this simple interactive activity, we know that we have encouraged reading around the world.

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Secondly, I like that we showed that education is border-less.  In that simple 30 minutes read aloud from both classes, my class learned how to observe and listen, how to model certain behaviour from other students from a different country, and how to use technology to help us learn.  That simple 30 minutes was an opportunity for my students to be communicators, to be open-minded, and a chance to develop self-management skills.  That simple 30 minutes gave us the opportunity to have new friends.

Thirdly, I like how the three of us- Tanja, Andrea and I- were all strangers to each other, yet are united by the same aim and love for collaboration, technology and a global approach to learning.  I don’t know them personally, and I’ve never even worked with them before, but this certainly showed that when there is a goal, openness and some sense of familiarity, strangers can be great company.  Thank you Tanja, Andrea and your wonderful students.  More and more educators are collaborating on-line and I believe that this is one of the best practices a teacher could ever take advantage of.  So thank you for all the selfless teachers out there who keep on sharing and sharing and sharing!  It’s a small world after all, and there is this simple girl in India who highly appreciates you all.

Like what I said, simple as the engagement may be, it brought things that are essential to teaching and learning.  Simple effort like this gives an opportunity for us and our students to be internationally minded.  I’m definitely looking forward to doing this again.

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What Charlotte Taught Us: On Reading, Strategies and IB Learner Profile & Attitudes

At last! After 2 months, we have finished our adventure with Charlotte, Wilbur and the rest of the barn.  As this was our first time to run the Literature Circle, I didn’t really expect much from the students.  Feedback time and I, again, was surprised by my young readers.

My grade 4 shared that the Literature Circle helped them to gain friends and to be open-minded to what others have to share.  They learned how to encourage themselves and each other.  They said that to make our discussions better, the class should show more cooperation, open-mindedness and independence. They added that it helped them be more enthusiastic and committed to reading.

What we have learned from the book:  Love, friendship and so much more!

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“That even if you’re very small like a spider or an ant, you can save someone’s life…”

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“I understand that in life anything can happen…like a spider and a pig can be friends…so even a human can be a dog’s friend.  Whenever I see someone fighting, I’ll stop them and say you are friends…”

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“It’s all about loyalty, faith and friendship.  Sometimes I feel like Wilbur…because I also, like him, feel very lonely at times…”

What we learned about reading:  Before and Now…

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“I used to think that reading is just for fun…but now I think reading is something you can learn from…”

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“…every book has adventure, mystery and suspense.”

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“…I used to think that you read because you can say ‘…I’m better than you.’  But now when Literature Circle started, I realized that if you don’t read, you’re lost and you don’t know what to do…”

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“I used to think that reading is just reading…reading is not only reading, it is something that the author is trying to share…”

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“…Now I think reading is not just for fun, but to help us understand life…”

Reading Strategies that Work!

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“…reading with expression because if we read with expressions, we know the character more and what it is feeling…keeping a routine of reading.”

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“…I could talk with the characters and they would talk back to me again after a minute…my post it strategy helped and re-reading, stop and review and last but not the least predicting my favorite…”

On IB Learner Profile and Attitudes…

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“…respect and enthusiasm are the main…”

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“…confidence that I can finish the book…open-minded to myself for difficult words because I get irritated very fast.”

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“The attitude integrity because in the book the characters were telling words like sorry, thank you…”

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“…risk-taker by reading some hard words…empathy and commitment by reminding myself to read…”

I feel very happy and fulfilled as a teacher that there were changes in how my students view reading. The Literature Circle helped them with their attitude, not only with reading, but toward themselves and others.  I think I’m most proud that they opened their little world to a book that they never knew can make an impact to their learning.  They opened their little world to others, and took risks to be in a world that they can still further explore.

And now, one thing’s for sure- we are all very excited for our next set of books!  Hooraay!

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Literature Circle: A fun and surprising journey

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“Hot Seat”

Our Literature Circle journey continuous to be fun and surprising.  It’s a slow but sure process for all of us.  It is definitely a fun and meaningful way to learn reading!

The Beginning

For our first try, we started with one book- Charlotte’s Web, as all of them have purchased the books already. My purpose really is to introduce them to the routine, which included making reading as a habit, sharing of ideas and applying strategies to help us read.  Of course, I expected the first month to be challenging, but I know it will be a meaningful learning process for everyone.

Our major challenges were:  a) managing schedule, b)   adjusting to the routine, c) motivating each other to read and accomplish our assigned tasks,  d) being open with each other in sharing our ideas.

What did not work:  a)  making the routine, literally just a routine (it’s good to give something fresh to the students, like a new engagement we can do as a class, and not just in groups),  b)  failing to follow up with the students on their discussions and over all experience, c) not asking feedback from the students.

What worked:  a) collaborating the schedule and making sure that there is balance (stand alone, integration with the unit, literature circle time), b) trying to do things consistently, following the agreed schedule and consistently encouraging each other, c) students agree on their group goals and tasks,  d)  consistent conference with each group with clear expectations.

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The Egg Sac

The Egg Sac is one of my favorite chapters in the book.  At the beginning of the story, Charlotte introduced the wonders and strengths of a spider, but in this chapter, she started to reveal all her worries, her fragile side, and how she still struggles to be strong.  I can’t help but feel emotional about it, simply because this is a feeling I am able to relate to and understand.  During a discussion with a group of 5 students, they shared that Charlotte reminded them of the pain of their mothers- how their mothers try their best to help them, do as much things as they can to support them with their needs.  But it didn’t end there. They shared more intimate stories about their families, which I didn’t really expect to hear from them.  They shared about their cousins and specific hardships their families went through, the times when some of their family members were hospitalized, their feelings for them.  I felt some of them were even surprised about how honest they were with each other.  But that moment really helped all of us to relate with the book, to understand how we are all connected.  We further talked about the worries of Charlotte and I asked them to make connections by sharing their own worries.  While I was expecting to hear worries about school tasks and not being able to get the toys they want, they did share that sometimes they worry about death and the unknown.  What would happen to them, how scary it must be not to know what will happen next, the uncertainties of life.  Wow!  I thought this was pretty deep for my kids.  I had one of the best conversations of my life.

This Lit Circle discussion was one of the best I had so far.  It took time for my students to open up and appreciate the story, but I saw how they developed to be young readers.  They are learning to understand the characters in a deeper sense, showing some sense of empathy because they themselves know how the characters feel.  It didn’t just help them become readers.  It also helped them become risk-takers, communicators, open-minded and empathic.

Their success is my success

Right now, I feel successful because I can see that most of my students are aware of the different reading strategies that work for them.  We also have our class favorites such as making connections, comparing characters, hot seat, readers’ theater and visualization as reading strategies and engagements.  I feel successful because I see my students feel good about reading, because they can share their thoughts about what they’re reading, because deep down inside they have a story to tell.

What I’ve learned from the experience is that we can’t force children to read.  What we can do is show them that reading is fun and meaningful by giving them the opportunity to read.  By helping them read and by helping them feel that they shouldn’t feel pressured if they don’t read the same way as the others.  That reading will give them a sense of belonging and they’re not just merely a book of words that we decode. That reading is not just a tool to make them smarter, but a way to help them understand ourselves, others and the world.

So, how are you like Charlotte?  And how are you helping your students realize this?

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