Learning From Experts

I almost just told them to start writing.

I have to be real with you; we’ve been researching for what feels like forever, it hasn’t been boring; they’ve been so excited about with topics they choose themselves. In order to keep the momentum going (okay and maybe my sanity), I almost just told them “Okay write it.”

But I didn’t.

“When learning to write like an expert there is no greater teacher than published books and articles; they can prop us up when we feel stumped for ideas and stand in as engaging and confident models when we wish to inspire our student researchers.”— Chris Lehman, Energize Research

So in the mist of the gathering information, we put their research folders away. We reviewed what good researchers do, and then we read feature articles (since that’s what we’re writing) with power.

Instead of me simply telling them, “Good nonfiction writing is descriptive, it’s full of expert words, and it teaches the reader.”

I said, “Hey, this piece should be boring, it’s nonfiction right? But why are we all laughing? What’s so cool about that fact?”

And together we made wall charts, LOTS of them. Usually I am the wall chart maker in the room, but on this one, I put the markers down and let the kids teach. They pasted a copy of good nonfiction writing in the middle, highlighted what they liked, then defined the skill. After they defined the skill they tried to write an example of that skill with a different nonfiction topic.

This took the WHOLE class (see 90 minutes); I would gladly give it up again.

In the end, we had a wall chart gallery walk. The kids took notes on strategies they thought they could use in their piece. We voted on strategies we thought everyone should definitely use. In the end, we researched writing, in the middle of researching another topic— their writing will be stronger for it.

And to think, I almost just told them to start writing!

 

Handling Uncertainty

In our switch to the Common Core, I’m finding the only way we can really accomplish everything we’re looking for is to let go a bit, to let students have control. If we are going to say that they are ready for the world, we’ll need to stop scripting the perfectly planned research project and start teaching them to overcome roadblocks and create products that will be useful to them or society. Chris Lehman (@iChrisLehman) even goes so far as to say, “when we are the ones rushing ahead, engagement drops dramatically as we take the intellectual rigor out of the job”(10).

Sounds beautiful, letting go and letting the kids take control, increasing rigor— I’m not sure it’s that easy.

But let’s quote Chris again, “If we are developing students to be creative, flexible, independent learners. Then we cannot scrub away opportunity for mistakes to be made and corrections to be learned”(10). We talked about this at our book study and our school librarian offered up the library for hard days. Days were we might be unsure if kids would come out with anything other than frustration that they couldn’t find any information on “The History of Justin Beiber’s Haircuts” or “Why the Eagles Keep Fumbling?” Days where research topics are changed twice, maybe even three times, can we handle the uncertainty of research?

At the end of the day, and with Bill, our librarian at our side, we decided we could in fact handle the uncertainty. But we were wondering, could our kids? What will our kids do in the face of frustration? Is this something we should talk to them about first? Or should we let them struggle and then bring them together to reflect? What about kids who want to research difficult topics, with little text at their reading level?

Feel free to talk back in the comments. Do you let your kids reach frustration? How do you reflect with your class? What did you notice in chapter 1 & 2 that we missed?

If you have the book, Energizing Research Reading and Writing, I’d like to add on that you should check out page 14 for a great way to help your kids generate ideas for research across the content areas.

an apology long overdue

I’m not a huge fan of the library. Is that a crazy thing for a language arts teacher to say? It probably is. So I take it back, sorta.

When I was in school, every time a teacher took us to the library for some lame research project, I would goof off. Crazy, right? Me, ahappyteacher, wasting class time? Truth was I hated the books, I hated the card catalog, and searching a page for information was just painful. I come from a Googlemethis generation, and to be honest, I’m proud of it. We get it on our kindle, we take notes on our iPad, the bibliography is formatted for me on www.easybib.com .

So maybe I’ve been a little lax these past few years in taking my kids down there. Just because I didn’t see a use as a kid, or a college kid, or a grad student, doesn’t make the library old school? Or does it?

Regardless, we headed down there for a cross-curricular project with social studies this week. The kids used books and google, in harmony, and I have to say I’m pretty proud of them. They worked harder than I did as a student and really I feel like their understanding is deeper than any I would have had at their age. Who would have thought, a simple trip to the good ol’ library?

There was this really cool atmosphere of research going on down there, I kept finding myself thinking, “Awwww look at my little learners!”

Dear Library,

I’m sorry; you’ve done good for my kids and I this week. I plan to take them down to visit you a little more this year; I don’t mind that you’re not all digital, and I love your nerdy atmosphere. So for all the years neglected you, I hope we’ve no hard feelings.

Sincerely,

ahappyteacher