Can you imagine doing a recycling demonstration with 60+ students and having 90% giving you their undivided attention? Well I am happy to say that it is very possible!
On Friday, I did a paper making demonstration with 2 classes of year 2 students. They came to an empty classroom where I had the materials set up. They learned to vocab words (recycle, frame, screen, paper, glue, pulp, blender, blend, dry, etc.) and then watched as I turned old newspaper (they had brought in) into new recycled paper.
First thing, I taught them the 5 rules as I always do. I taught them how to respond when I say, “Class.” They know they need to say, “Yes” however I say, “Class.” While I was teaching, sometimes I would see a few students start chatting or look away. I would quickly say, “Class,” in a silly way and they would respond with “yes.” I now have 100% attention. Then I ask a question to the kids who were off task (surprisingly, they could usually answer correctly which means they weren’t completely distracted), and then move on and continue with the demo.
By the end of the class period, all students could identify the vocabulary words, put them in a sentence and put the paper making process into sequential order. With 60+ kids in the class I thought this lesson would be a disaster, but it goes to show that when kids are taught your expectations first thing and when you consistently enforce them, behavior problems decrease exponentially.
The scoreboard helps the kids to monitor themselves. It’s very simple, and practical. You have a smiley face and a frowny face divided by a line.
When they are following the rules, you give them marks by the smiley face and they can cheer. When they are not, you give them marks by the frowny face and they must groan. Simple and effective.
Like independent reading, when it comes to writing Malaysian students typically cannot write anything they haven’t already seen first. Sentences are copies from texts, and students find it very difficult to write their own sentences. “Work on writing” forces them to try to write on their own.
Like “read to self,” “work on writing” had to be modified to meet our needs. As necessary we use MT to explain the concept. We need to make sure they know and understand the procedure. We also want them to have ownership of it (by brainstorming and displaying our anchor chart). When explaining “work on writing” I emphasize that they need to use their brains. We all touch our heads and turn on our brains. We need to think up our own words and sentences.
Depending on the ability of the class, this can mean they write down words that they know (and it might only be a few). That’s ok. They will get better with time. At the beginning we talk about types of writing. We brainstorm and put them on our anchor charts. It usually looks like this:
- news article
Students without the ability to write in sentences usually try to make lists. We talk about different types of lists (grocery list, list of favorite animals, etc.). They gain confidence from the idea that they have the ability to write lists, and eventually will be able to do other kinds of writing. Learning those other types will come gradually with “mini-lessons” during work on writing time.
I have to say, I was amazed that the improvement in independent writing that I saw within only one class period. Being encouraged to write without the aid of textbooks forced them to put their thinking caps on and write from memory. In one class, we practiced for 2 minutes perhaps 5 or 6 times. The first time, some students could only write 1 or 2 words or none at all. But the 6th time, they had written a coherent list. It just takes practice!
I’ve noticed here that when children read, it’s very much like mimicry. They can repeat back a text that they have heard. Maybe they can answer simple comprehension questions with guidance. However, they do not read for fun or draw any comprehension from a text they have not been guided on. At least not in years 1-3. The interesting thing, is that when you ask the children if they like reading they emphatically say yes. They love books, they love to get their hands on books. But they have not been taught how to read for pleasure. They have not been taught the strategies to get the most out of their reading.
“Read to self” teaches children to be independent readers. It gives them structure, tools and skills. It is great for the teacher as well, because not all teachers are comfortable with 1-1 work or small group work. The structure of the Daily 5 gives those teachers a very clear framework to go on.
That being said, we had to modify some aspects of “read to self” for use in the Malaysian classroom. Our classrooms are shared, and do not have classroom libraries or materials to use. So, we discussed and decided that read to self could be conducted in the classroom if children used their “book bags” to get books from the library or SAL room first. This is dependent on children being able to choose “good fit books” and libraries and SAL rooms being organized. Otherwise, read to self takes place in the SAL room or Library and children choose books first and then begin read to self.
The website “The Daily Cafe” explains how to teach “read to self” for the first time. We had to modify this because our students are all ELL (English Language Learners). Therefore, at first, we explain the procedure in English and the MT (mother tongue).
How much MT is needed depends on the ability on the class. We want them to have ownership of the process so when we brainstorm we may ask them questions in MT, and then ask for answers in English. For example, “Why do we read? How does reading help us?” Kids can usually say things like, “smart,” or, “fun.” Then we write that down on our anchor chart.
We get a lot of vocab out of these lessons that they will use continuously. I’ll attach a list at the end of this post.
Another thing we have to modify is the timing. In other countries, Literacy blocks last several hours. We have 1-1.5 hours for a lesson. For this reason, we expedite the introduction and get right to practicing. It takes an entire lesson to teach the concept and start practicing. After that, I recommend the teachers decide how to structure independent reading time. Perhaps once a week, once every 2 weeks. Since there is just 1-1.5 hours per lesson instead of following the format that the sisters (authors of “The Daily 5”) recommend, they might do a whole group lesson, then practice “read to self” for 10-15 minutes.
Strategy and Assessment
Since practicing “read to self,” we have started delving into conferencing and “CAFE” strategies. This is more complicated, especially for teachers who have never been exposed to literacy strategies before. I’ll update on this later on.
One last thing about organization
Children in Malaysia need to be taught responsibility. I’ve talked about this with many admin and teachers. You can see the affect on the country- reckless drivers, litter bugs, smoking around little children. In the schools it is evidenced by the lack of respect towards resources- literally destroying books, materials, spaces, etc. It’s not their fault, no one has taught them what to do. No one has modeled it for them first. One simple change we have implemented at one of the schools is the book mark system. When a student takes a book off the shelf, they must take two book marks with matching pictures. They put on on the shelf where they found the book, and the other in the book. When it’s time to return the book, they find the matching book mark and put it back where it belongs. Simple, but effective.
- stamina (that’s a big one!)
- whole time (as in read the WHOLE TIME)
What is a resource? Dictionary.com says it is, “a source of supply, support, or aid, especially one that can be readily drawn upon when needed.” Does this describe the current state of our Libraries? Even our computer labs, media labs, SAL rooms and teacher supplies are not always utilized as the resources they are. This is mostly because they are not organized and maintained as they should be.
There are setbacks. We don’t have staff whose purpose it is to maintain these resources. They suffer from the “tragedy of the commons.” This is usually applied to the idea that because our environment is “common space” it is not taken care of as it should be. This idea was first promoted by Garet Hardin. He said, “If a resource is held in common for use by all, then ultimately that resource will be destroyed. ‘Freedom in a common brings ruin to all.'” I think this idea also applies to our common spaces in the schools, because there is not a set system for management and maintenance. The job falls to everyone and so no one does it.
Here is a fun game that demonstrates the “tragedy of the commons.” http://www.bunnygame.org/
So, narrowing this down to using the library as a resource–what should that entail? How can we make sure that we can access the materials we have and use them to the benefit of our students. Here are some ideas:
1. Organize! Make sure books are sorted and labeled properly according to type (ficton or non-fiction), reading level, and topic.
2. Maintain- make sure there is a system for children to know how to take, treat, and put back books. They need to be taught this system, and it needs to be modeled and reinforced.
3. Use- Use the library for the resource it is! Pull out books that go along with the topic you are teaching and use them in the classroom. Use the books for “daily 5” activities. Let the kids read for fun! Set up reading programs and incentives. Don’t let those books collect dust! Use them!
This topic will be expanded in further posts. At the moment, in one of my schools, we are sorting, labeling, and displaying the library books. We have also devised a system for making sure books are respected and put back where they belong.
This year, a major focus for us has been working on literacy and independent reading. We have been learning about and implementing a reading system called, “The Daily 5” which teaches students the skills they need to be independent readers and writers. But what is the use of this? What good does independent reading really do for our students? Well, according to the 2009 PISA results the answer is clear.
PISA is a test that measures education systems performances against each other. It tests critical thinking skills and applied knowledge. This test is useful to us, in that it guides us in a direction towards best practices in education in a global context. Here is an interesting finding from the test results:
“PISA 2009 found that in more than two-thirds of participating countries, including Singapore, doing at least some daily reading for enjoyment improved reading performance. Across countries, students who read fiction tended to achieve higher performance, compared to other types of reading material. In Singapore, students who read fiction and newspapers regularly had higher Reading scores than students who did not.” (MOE Singapore, International OECD Study Affirms The High Quality Of Singapore’s Education System, http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/2010/12/programme-for-international-student-assessment-2009.php)
Teaching children how to find the right books for them, how to improve their literacy skills, and how to read for “fun” is imperative to reading performance.
For more information about “The Daily 5” please return back to this blog for follow up posts or check out http://thedailycafe.com.
Each small group had a list of books to choose from and could pick their top 3 choices. Here are the books they chose:
Year 1: Welcome to the Aquarium, by Julie Diamond
Year 2: Developing More Curious Minds, by John Barell
Year 3: See Me After Class, by Roxanne Elden
(you can find all of these books on http://betterworldbooks.com which also has free international shipping!)
Here is what the book review form looks like (they discuss the chapters at the beginning of each small group meeting)
Book Report Chapter _______________
1) Chapter Summary:
2) Interesting points:
3) key vocabulary words + definitions:
4) Opinions and extensions
One of the things that I think has been most successful this year was the small group assignments. I will outlay the assignment so that future posts about it are more relevant. Each group was made up of teachers who primarily teach that year (1, 2 and 3). Here are the guidelines:
Team Assignment Guidelines
Choose a team name
Elect a team leader who will:
- direct team meetings
- make sure everyone has a job
- make sure tasks are completed on time
Meet once a month for 1.5 hours. You can decide when to meet, but you need to let me know the dates + times so I can get calling letters sent and so I can arrange my schedule also.
We will have 1 whole cluster workshop a month
3 things teams will work on (all will be part of your portfolio)
- a teacher’s guide for year 1, 2, or 3 (see guidelines)
- book reports (to be shared during our whole cluster workshop, at least 1 chapter per month)
- a workshop to be shared with the cluster by the end of the year on a randomly selected topic
I did this demo lesson in a few classes during March. All of them were very successful, and students were actively using the target language. As a follow up, some teachers did Language Arts projects with their students. Here are some of the results:
Materials: Rainbow fish book (big book, ppt, online story).Warm Up: 5 min, songs and TPR
Intro: Show students the picture of Rainbow Fish. Ask them what colors they see. Ask them if they know what a fish is. What body parts does it have? Does it look like other animals?
Show the scales of rainbow fish. Explain what a scale is, and that the scales of rainbow fish are very special because they are beautiful.
Explain these things about the story:
- who: rainbow fish
- what: his beautiful scales
- where: underwater
- lower level- 1 word or a word list
- middle- simple sentence
- upper- 2-3 sentences
Language Arts: Make a rainbow fish by cutting out scales. Use foil, glitter, or other materials to make them “shiny” then glue onto a cutout fish. Hang from the ceiling by string.