Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Relevance Rainbow

When commenting in the margins of student papers, I often underline the sentences after a quotation and ask ‘what does this mean - why does this matter?’ Unfortunately, my questions weren’t having an impact - students either re-phrased the quotation, provided analysis that didn’t align with their point, or simply moved on. I needed a way to help students clearly and effectively articulate the ‘take away’ from their chosen quotation.

Inference Wheel
One graphic organizer we use in my classroom is the Quote Sandwich, which helps gives structure to the elements of a paragraph. However, I wanted a graphic organizer that stripped the weight of the paragraph away so students could focus on the immediate post-quotation analysis.

I turned to the Inference Wheel, a graphic organizer where students choose multiple quotations and write them on the inner ring, explaining what they mean in the outer ring. This structure is especially helpful for analyzing multiple quotations in a night’s reading. But it was still bulky; I wanted students to focus on breaking down one quotation and building layers of its implications.

So, I tilted one ‘pie slice’ of the Quotation Wheel, and made it into a half-circle, drawing arcs above it. I labeled the levels ‘relevance to characters, relevance to book, relevance to life’ so students could scaffold their own analysis from specific to general.

Relevance Rainbow
I gave students either lined paper or plain paper and drew my own rainbow on the board. I like it when students create their own graphic organizers - not only do they consistently giggle while drawing - you’d be surprised at the rainbow variations - but they develop a sense of ownership over constructing their own diagram. Also, I don’t have to make photocopies. Students who like to keep their work in their notebook or on hole-punched paper can do so neatly. One drawback is that some students don’t like writing along a curve - they end up tilting the paper and doing ‘Relevance Art Deco’ with straight lines. The intellectual work of extending implications of one quotation is the same, no matter what visual variation they choose.

Once the Rainbow is on the board and on their papers, we complete one together. I choose a significant quotation from the reading the day before and start to fill out the first level, modeling why I think this line is important to the characters involved. There is space for multiple sentences of analysis, so I also ask for contributions. We move on to why the quotation matters to the book as a whole, and if it serves as a turning point, milestone, or predict how it could have an impact later on. This conversation can drift into author’s purpose as we discuss why this event happened when it did. Finally, we talk about the broader connections to life that the quotation could have, commentaries on individuals, society, etc. At the end of our discussion, I ask students to highlight the most important analysis they wrote down, which effectively annotates their own work for easy review.

When students fill out a Relevance Rainbow by themselves, there are many variations to the whole-class model that draw upon previous knowledge, collaboration, and even scaffolding towards essays.

  • The first two levels could serve as a reading quiz, and then launch class discussion. 
  • You can use it as a closing activity for students to synthesize that day’s conversation. 
  • As a stand-alone activity, you could choose a specific page or section, have students re-read it and pull one quotation from to analyze. For example, when reading Lord of the Flies, during the three pages when Simon dies, there are many quotations worth pulling for deeper consideration. 
  • In addition, students could use the graphic organizer as a form of ‘Give one, Get one’ where they choose a quotation and go around to ask what other students would say to analyze it. 
Any of these variations encourage students to compile multiple iterations of analysis on the same quotation.

If the final assessment is an analytical essay, completing multiple Relevance Rainbows through the unit will help students scaffold their analysis. When the essay comes, I have offered that they can choose any level and trace either a character, moments that were crucial to a plot trend, or craft a thesis about what the book says about humanity, life, etc. They can now go back through their multiple organizers, see what they wrote and what they highlighted, and construct their paper accordingly.

Giving students an accessible graphic organizer that scaffolds their analysis helps them meaningfully build levels of meaning, gives them a resource during a unit and cumulative project, and provides an effective formative assessment for teacher use.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Chancellor's Academy 2014 - Keynote

I was fortunate enough to present for the Chancellor's Academy - I talked about how intentional curriculum design can open up opportunities for student ownership of their own learning.

Here are some of the tweets from today - so many amazing people I was able to talk to!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The digital and non-digital: how can we move to a purposeful hybird?

I've been thinking about the "binary" between non-digital and digital learning. Instead of asking "which is better for learning," I think a more generative question might be "how do we use both to mutually inform each other - and challenge each other - to create meaningful learning experiences?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Revising with 'Draft': Collaboration Writing & Classroom Implications

Draft is a writing platform that strips away excess functionality to focus on the act of writing. For minimalists, this platform is designed for you: simple typeface, no visual clutter, clear and concise options. Draft also recently incorporated a 'Hemingway Mode' which turns off the functionality of the 'delete' key (I was quickly faced with how terrible a typist I am, but it did force me to keep writing, which was the point).

Draft just released an update that allows easy visual comparison of edits that someone has made on your writing. I had to edit my biography for an upcoming brunch (so this post uses an awkwardly self-serving text), and decided to test out the new features.

I wrote my bio and imported it (Draft will sync with Drive, Dropbox, upload from your computer, and most other options you will need). 

Then I  made some edits, which I could compare side-by-side. 

You can see the Current Version is editable, so I can still tweak while I look what I've deleted, what I've added, and how I've changed wording.  

If, however, I want to have someone else revise it for me, it's easy to export the document via a link. 

In this situation, I sent myself a link to edit, I edited it, and then I 'shared my edits of the original.' 

While this might be confusing because I'm one lady trying to do two roles, the point is that it's easy to send a document for feedback and for the reviewer to send back edits. 

Back in the role of Original Author, I'm able to see what Editor Katrina wrote. As you can see by the tri-split screen here, I'm able to accept or reject changes based on the changes themselves, but can also refer to the text to see them in context. 

This way, I can judge the sentence on its own merit, or see how well it flows from and into the rest of the text. 

Classroom Applications & Implications 
Using Draft effectively depends on the relationship between the writer and the revisor. Often in classrooms, re-wording someone else's sentence for them could be a sign of 'doing their work for them.' With that said, what does productive collaborative writing look like in the classroom? Where are the spaces for it to happen, and when are teachers talking about how to best integrate it? The topic rarely, if ever, came up in my department meetings. 

Most of my writing instruction was about productive individual writing, and I avoided assignments where students wrote together. I figured that the partnership would result in 'one student doing all of the work.' And I needed to grade them individually anyway. But how could I have used a tool like Draft, as opposed to say Google Docs, to have students give each other feedback? 

Actually, I can't come up with any meaningful classroom-applicable examples. So instead, here are a few musings about why: 
  • School's reliance on an individual grading paradigm: Because activities must be assessed, collaborative writing activities force teachers to individually divide shared intellectual work. Using Draft as part of the writing process would prevent neat division of who wrote what for the final product.
  • The real reasons authors ask for edits: Within the constraints of time, curriculum, and technology access (to list only a few), teachers can't always ask for authentic writing tasks, which in turn doesn't provide space for authentic revision processes. However, when I ask someone to look over my work, I ask because it's in progress and will be published and eventually represent me. Where is that ownership/investment in a traditional essay on Hamlet? Can we design classroom writing processes and publication spaces where students want to ask their peers and others for edits? 
  • Technical barriers in the time we have with students: Draft is an account-based platform, and students probably already have Google Drive set up (and, as many of us know, creating accounts can eat up half of a class period). This is not a critique for Draft - but it is of so many schools with limited technology access, compounded by what number of students don't have Internet at home. In practical terms, it's a simple tool that would not be simple for students to take advantage of. 

In an ideal world (and wouldn't we all love one of those), students would add Draft to their 'technology toolbox' and be able to draw upon it as writers and editors. High school teachers could support this individual use with CCSS Writing Standard 5 & Standard 6. However, collaboration in the CCSS is only mentioned in reference to discussion, not in writing/production. 

I look forward to using it in my own writing process, am delighted with every update I get from Nathan Kontny, and will continue pondering about how schools can design their space, roles, and technology to promote authentic student learning.