Monday, January 13, 2014

Carry on, Carry on

Good lord, was I nervous today! Not only was I introducing the students to closely reading informational text, but two teachers as well as the Superintendent of Schools, were coming in to watch my lesson. My stomach was in knots! I knew going into today's lesson that it was going to be tough. It was going to be a concept the students were going to wrestle with and a strategy that I wasn't entirely comfortable with teaching. BUT to pump the kids up and to get myself pumped up, I played the song Carry On by Fun. I listened to it on my way into work, and kept thinking that no matter what happens with today's lesson I am going to "carry on" and continue to take risks in my teaching to bring the students to higher levels of thinking and increase their love of reading. 

The purpose of today's lesson was for the students to determine the point of view and/or central message of the following text. 
This rich and complex text presented two sides to the issue of building a road that cut into Asian elephants habitats. The students were charged with task of paying attention for those moments they felt confused about what they were reading. We were then going to look for a common theme in the confusing parts and collect facts and details that match the idea we were trying to better understand. Once we had collected those facts and details were were going to look for patterns and then use those patterns for a new understanding. 

Well, once I explained the purpose, read the text aloud, and monitored the students abilities to mark up the text for confusing parts, I immediately heard from three students, " We understood everything. I get it. The road was bad." Now, I knew this was going to be a possibility in this lesson as I couldn't really plan for what the students would be confused about. My response to the students were, " I am glad you feel confident in that- but I want you to continue to read to support your thinking. It is those details and facts we collect as we read that will only give you a better understanding. Hold on to your thoughts and see if your thinking stays the same by the end of the lesson." (GULP! I was praying that statement was going to help keep the students engaged and still see the purpose in reading this article.) 

The teachers who watched the lesson said I did an excellent job bringing the kids to a higher level of understanding. I, on the other hand, felt like I spent the most grueling 30 minutes of my teaching day. While teaching the students, I kept thinking," Oh my god. This is not going well. Oh god!" BUT I was not determined to give up. I was determined to not let the kids give up. Teaching them to look for confusing parts and then facts and details to help bring them to the central idea is INCREDIBLY hard work. It involves partner work, partner sharing, independent practice and whole group sharing out. I was incredibly cognizant of the students that I was suddenly losing and seeing them drift off. I followed the gradual release model and at one point- when we were charting our details and facts I noticed that not only was I completely confused about where we were in the lesson and the kids were confused. I thought, " OK, Kara..regroup. Slow down. Reset the stage for learning." THEN SUDDENLY- I heard the magic words that made it all click for the class. My buddy Logan shouted out, " Oh- there are 3 points of view." Other students chimed in "No, there are 4. No, there are 2!" And that is what I pounced on. 

I reset the stage " Well it sounds like we are confused about the points of view in this article. Let's look at our evidence that we collected and look for patterns." Then it was like a light bulb went off as I modeled my thinking. Nolan and Ian said, " Wait, that evidence shows that it is a bad thing to build the road." Slowly but surely, we started to code the evidence for the pros for the road and the cons for the road. 

And then- in the last 5-10 minutes of the lesson, as my friend Suzanne said, a beautiful thing happened. An authentic, deep and thoughtful debate/discussion broke out. I let the kids go. They debated whether a statement we had collected that stated "poaching and habitat loss was a problem" really belonged up there. Through their debate they determined that creating the road was just as bad as poaching. They brought in their background knowledge,  and connected it new knowledge from the article. The constantly went back to the text. I interjected a thought or question from time to time but really let the students lead their own learning. 

Their last task was to show their new understanding in writing. And BOY- did they ever! Using the sentence frames they took off. Their writing was emotional and grounded in text evidence. They really showed authentic thinking. I did not see one cookie cutter response. They were all able to articulate their thinking and show they had figured out the point of view and/or central idea of the article. 

 There is one student, Jose, in this class that holds a special place in my heart. He was quiet throughout the lesson and I so worried he wasn't getting it. I watched him persevere and work at his own pace. Although he was behind the other students, he started underlining and noting his understanding on the article. He called me over twice during the lesson to show me his work. He was a rockstar! Jose gets very nervous when it comes to writing. He needs that constant reassurance that he can do it, as well as just to talk out his thinking before he writes. As Jose got set to write he called me over and said, " I think I am going to start this way. I think elephants..." Then literally two seconds later he shouts, " NO! Wait- its not about the elephants. It's about the greed. The people building the road are greedy. They don't care about the animals. The elephants- nothing! It's all about them!" His response prompted me to jump on a desk and proclaim him the rockstar. I re-read his statement for all the kids in the class to hear. It was amazing!! The kids clapped. The kids immediately got to work to improve their writing. 

Closing the lesson, I told the kids they were brave today, which prompted me to play "Brave" by Sarah Bareilles. I told them they were remarkable today. They persevered and worked through a pretty difficult lesson. I was so proud of them! My head hurt from thinking and I told them that. I cannot wait to go back to teach them about Word Choice tomorrow. These students have my heart and are my inspiration. 

So moral of the story- it's ok to not feel comfortable with teaching a new strategy. It's ok to show the kids you are struggling with reading too.  Put faith in your students, because they will surprise you. It may seem like they aren't getting it- but in the end they will! 

As the song "Carry On" says, 
"'Cause here we are
We are shining stars
We are invincible
We are who we are
On our darkest day
When we’re miles away
Sun will come
We will find our way home

And boy did we Carry On today! 

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