Ephemeral, Aerogel, Plinth: 6th Grade Vocab on State Test

Cross-posted to ASCD EDGE.

Let us peruse a list of words  featured on the recent sixth grade New York state exam:     

ephemeral 

aerogel

plinth

ominous situation 

paroxysm

clamorous

tutelage

furlong

absconders

surmised

Perhaps each of us should commit to using  these words today in our communications.  Surely one result would likely be alienation from our recepients. ( “Hey, how’s your aerogel?“)

Arguably there is universal admiration for a command of vocabulary, but the thought of eleven and twelve year olds wrestling with these words in a timed pressure cooker suggests an “ominous situation“.      What were these test makers thinking?  Perhaps they yearn to design those  SAT exams for seniors.  The sobering fact that the results will have a direct impact on how a teacher is evaluated points to a profound disconnect.   However, there is one phrase used in one of  the test items that is telling: “transitory moment of presence in a distinct location”.   Let us hope this is a transitory aberration.  

Minecraft: Research Product

Earlier this week, a member of my digital network, Brent Coley ( @brentcoley ), shared the following tweet where a student created a Minecraft video that represented a virtual tour of Mission San Diego de Alcala (Wikipedia link):

 

 

Link to video outside of tweet.

 

I was absolutely blown away by what this 4th grader created and I thought it was a good representation of what a research project product that wasn’t a paper looked like.  I’ve previously blogged about Infographics as a research product and I advocate vociferously for digital product replacement thinking when I work with teachers. If the outcome is building knowledge and demonstrating that students can both investigate a topic and learn from it, whoever said that research had to result in a paper?

 

The research standards in the Common Core are usually just the three writing standards associated with Research to Build and Present Knowledge. However, I always lump writing standard six in there as well, as it deals with how writing can be presented in a digital format/presentation. I want to share the fourth-grade-specific Common Core writing standards here, standard seven from the Research Standards, and standard six from the Production and Distribution of Writing section:

 

W.4.7. Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.

 

W.4.6. With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.

 

As you read through the rest of this blog post (and hopefully after you’ve viewed the video), read with these standards as lenses. Ask yourself, “did this student meet the standard?” “Did this student provide evidence of what they know and are able to do within the confines of this standard?”

 

In my book, Digital Learning Strategies: How Do I Assign and Assess 21st Century Work?, I describe several questions to ask when assigning digital student work:

  1. What is the learning objective?
  2. Is the instructional task worthy of a digital upgrade? Will using digital tools enhance the learning? If so, in what ways?
  3. Will the digital tools increase or decrease the cognitive rigor of the task? What additional skills might have to be considered in order to engage this upgrade?
  4. Does the digital upgrade involve collaboration, communication, creative problem solving, and/or creative thinking?
  5. Are sufficient digital tools available and do all students have access to them?
  6. Are the students involved in some of the decision-making? How much are the students contributing to the design, process, or product?

 

I wanted to blog about this student’s Minecraft project through the lens of these six considerations, annotating what this fourth grader was able to accomplish.

 

 

  • What is the learning objective?

 

      • The learning objective here was to learn about the Mission San Diego de Alcala. This student had to learn the layout, information about the different areas, and be able to speculate about the people that lived there.
      • This student also had to learn specific information about the founder of the Mission, Father Junipero Serra, as he both introduces the video and then explains several of the artifacts contained within the video.

 

  • Is the instructional task worthy of a digital upgrade? Will using digital tools enhance the learning? If so, in what ways?

 

      • In this case, I believe the learning was enhanced exponentially. Besides the research to build knowledge about the mission, this student had to do a brick by brick recreation to create the video.
      • In the comments section of the video, the student’s father includes information about the student having to develop his own system for creating the texture of the tiles on the roof.
      • This obviously had to be tightly scripted for both production and the narration, so the writing definitely occurred at some point. Everything in the video though is beyond the writing…beyond the end point of the traditional research product.
      • In terms of worth? You tell me. Was this digital upgrade a worthy replacement?

 

  • Will the digital tools increase or decrease the cognitive rigor of the task?

 

      • The traditional version of this research would have resulted in a paper, most likely, perhaps a diorama or detailed schematic drawing. In this case, using Minecraft, the detail involved demanded a time-intensive process that resulted in a very professional product. The decisions this student made to develop the detailed depiction all involved discernment and critical thinking in some way. Big time rigor here.
      • Additionally, the student used multiple digital tools to get to the final product: Minecraft to create the representation, an audio tool to record the narration, and a screen-capturing tool to record the video. All of these individually would raise the thinking level of the task because they all represent learning that is above and beyond the expectation of the standard and the traditional version of the research. Together, they represent problem solving nirvana.
    • Does the digital upgrade involve collaboration, communication, creative problem solving, and/or creative thinking?
      • I get the sense from the comments on the Youtube page that the student engaged in some conversation with his dad to create the video, though I don’t see specific evidence of collaboration or communication.
      • As for creative problem solving, the student’s father references an issue with the roof tiles that the student had to discover a solution too, but the entire video also represents a finished product that is the end product of trial and error thinking. If you’ve ever been in Minecraft, you know that you have to try stuff out and see if it works. Once you discover what works, you build, literally, on it.
      • In terms of creative thinking, there’s so much here. From decisions about the design and interactive elements, to details about Father Serra’s artifacts, to the layout and navigation of the Mission for the viewer of the video, this student had a lot on his plate to think about. The finished product demonstrates extremely high levels of thinking and decision making.

 

  • Are sufficient digital tools available and do all students have access to them?

 

    • This I don’t know. I’m not privy to the project’s parameters or to the population of students that were assigned this project and their access to / equity within digital tools or connected access points.
    • I do know that this student seems to be fairly comfortable creating within the digital realm, which suggests an early affinity / comfort with digital tools at a young age that allows him to demonstrate learning at this level even in the fourth grade.
    • Based on the comments from dad, I’m speculating that this student has no issues with computer / internet access and that it is just a part of his world.
  • Are the students involved in some of the decision-making? How much are the students contributing to the design, process, or product?
    • Again, since I don’t know anything about what was assigned, I don’t know how much the students contributed to the design of the project.
    • Even if the design of the Mission and its subsequent creation within the Minecraft system was with the help of his father, note that the standard (#6) advocates for “guidance and support from adults.”

 

In the book, I also recommend some questions to ask when assessing student work, two of which revolve around how students are reflecting on what they are creating and how they are attributing their source material, both of which are important components of research.

 

In this case, there is little evidence of either. I was hoping to learn from where the student found his information. (And I was secretly hoping to discover that he used multiple verified sources.) I was also hoping to learn why he chose to use Minecraft to create his product versus other available web tools. Perhaps eventually this could be added to the Youtube comments. If I were the teacher, I might ask for this as a separate component of the task.

 

All in all, though, I must say, that this effort is serendipitous. I’m struck by both the level of quality and the apparent level of learning of this student. I hope that those reading this are understanding that this is what a 21st Century demonstration of learning looks like. This is what is possible when we relinquish the limits of traditional practice. This is what is possible when we begin orbiting the boxes that we’ve asked students to think outside of for decades. This is 21st Century Learning.

 

Kudos to this kid and his dad. What they created was future-forward and just plain awesome. I subscribed to their Youtube channel. I can’t wait to see what they will do next!

Follow Mike On Twitter: @fisher1000

Mike’s Website: Digigogy.com

Digital Learning Strategies: How Do I Assign and Assess 21st Century Work?

Notice, Think, and Wonder: A “Close Reading” Upgrade

In the Fall of 2007, a close friend, Nancy Cook, and I wrote a piece for the New York State Middle School Association’s Journal, In Transition. The article, titled “Notice, Think, and Wonder: New Pathways to Engage Critical Thinking” asked the reader to consider using a discussion rubric that Nancy developed to increase the rigor of questions and answers around text. The link is to the entire journal, but the article and embedded rubric starts on page 15.

I still share the Notice, Think, and Wonder rubric that’s in the article while engaging in professional development with teachers. It’s become particularly useful in this age of Common Core standards and increased rigor in instructional activities, particularly around the close reading of text.

I’ve been teaching different versions of “Close Reading” to teachers, evolving over time as I strengthen my relationship with Common Core Reading for Literacy/Informational Text Standard 1: “Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and make inferences from it.” What started out as teaching teachers to write text dependent questions evolved into setting strong purposes for reading, understanding text complexity, relating the close reading to personal experiences and world events, and now, coming full circle back to Notice, Think, and Wonder.

The impetus for this blog post began with another blog post around Close Reading, written by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts, authors of the popular blog, indent. You can read their blog post, The Five Corners of the Text, by clicking this sentence. In the post, they stress the importance of engagement and inviting students’ experiences into the way they think critically about the words they read. What they wrote invited a warmth back into this instructional strategy that was missing from my initial interpretation of the standard.

As I read their blog post and reflected on my current and previous work, it dawned on me that a merger of ideas and an additional instructional strategy around close reading was in order. Hence, I’m revisiting “Notice, Think, and Wonder.” The original Notice, Think, and Wonder strategy asked students to collect details around what they notice in text; what jumped off the page at them. It asks students to think about those details and make connections. Finally, it asks them to wonder about the “what if’s,” the “what next’s,” or the potential additional meaning-making that comes from deep engagement with text.

To use Notice, Think, and Wonder in a way that reflects the close reading of text, one simply needs to tweak the intentions of these areas of interaction. In this upgrade, students should be invited to do the following:

Notice:

  • What are some of the big ideas in the text that’s being read?

  • What are some of the main points that an author wants the reader to know as a result of reading this?

  • What’s the major message or point of reading what we are reading?

Think:

  • Where in the text did we see support for what we noticed?

  • What in our experiences, as related to what we read, make us think of connections to the big ideas?

  • How do parts of the texts explicitly lead us to the major message?

Wonder:

  • What might the evidence we found in the text, as related to what we noticed, mean?

  • What potential conclusions can we draw from the evidence related to what we noticed?

  • Is there evidence in the text or in our connections to the text to support anything we might potentially wonder?

I like believing that students would be engaged by deep conversation about text–particularly texts that they are interested in reading, not just texts that the teacher thinks they should read. I’m reminded of high school, when my teachers were adept at drawing me into a text by both relating to my personal experiences while guiding me through metacognitions that created mental velcro for me. Everything stuck, from the prologue to The Canterbury Tales to my empathy for Benji, a central character in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. I want students to live inside texts the way that I was allowed to. I want them to have rich literary experiences that feed their souls for the rest of their lives but also teach them to be evaluative thinkers and questioners of the status quo.

I want students to read voluminously and develop a love of reading that goes beyond the cold and analytical “close reading” and explores what I guess I would call “Close Reading Plus.” Evidence plus experience equals Deep Learning, versus just evidence alone. If we look at the standard and the key words: “close reading,” “what the text says explicitly,” and “make inferences,” then we are doing all those things with this upgrade of Notice, Think, and Wonder. We are also inviting a deeper analysis, a raise in the rigor beyond the standard, which represents the zone to which we should aspire with our modern learners.

Contemporary Perspectives on Literacy, coming this Fall.

Mike on Twitter: @fisher1000

Addendum (10/3/13)

I thought about this a little more and decided to add some additional information to this blog post in terms of extending Notice, Think, and Wonder to writing about evidence and connections.

For one thing, the “Wonder” could include a question about claims, such as, “What claims can you make about what you read? or “What do you wonder about any bold statements that the author made in the text?”

The answers to those questions would be an excellent jumping off point for writing about claims and evidence, engaging both the Reading standards around Key Ideas and Details as well as the Instructional Shifts around Writing from Sources and Text-Dependent questions.

With Choice of New Leader, College Board Hopes to Extend Its Reach

Mr. Coleman has already said that he hopes to align the SAT with the Common Core standards, which could further alter the identity of an exam that was long ago conceived of as a measure of students’ abilities—and not as an achievement test. Moreover, he believes the standards provide a blueprint for helping more students succeed in Advanced Placement courses. “What the Common Core does in combination with the College Board is make it more realistic for us as a society to make sure that a kid’s educational life is richer and more rigorous every year,” he said, “so there’s not this sudden rise in challenge when it comes time to take an examination.”

Read the entire article here.

Reading In American Schools: Will Common Core State Standards Improve Literacy?

“As American students continue to fall behind foreign peers, 45 states and Washington, D.C. have adopted the Common Core State Standards, a new set of academic benchmarks aimed at raising the bar for teaching and learning across the country.

But as John Merrow reports for PBS News, meeting the new requirements won’t be easy for many schools, as a long-taught reading curriculum for young children still learning to sound out words doesn’t comply with the Common Core’s guidelines for emphasis on nonfiction in literacy education…”

Read the entire article here.

City Instructs Schools to Expand Common Core Introduction

“Science and social studies classes could look a little different next year as all New York City schools gradually adapt to a new set of curriculum standards.

The standards, called the Common Core, are expected to be in place at schools across 42 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands by 2014, but New York City is introducing them gradually, increasing each year the extent to which schools must adhere to them…”

Read the entire article here.

‘Common core standards’: education reform that makes sense

“In June, a yearlong joint initiative by 48 states produced a set of uniform but voluntary educational standards in English and math. Urged on by the Obama administration, the initiative’s main purpose was to encourage states with low academic standards to bring their expectations into line with those of other states. Twenty states have already adopted the standards; 28 more, including California, are considering them. Texas and Alaska are the only states that declined to participate in the project…

California has among the highest academic standards in the country; the new “common core standards” would neither toughen nor weaken them appreciably. But the state still has something important to gain by adopting them: a more coherent blueprint for instruction that builds students’ skills in a clear and sensible way, and allows teachers to delve more deeply into each subject…”

Read the entire article here.

Advocates Worry Implementation Could Derail Common Core

“Now, the standards face what experts say is their biggest challenge yet: faithful translation from expectations on paper to instruction in classrooms.

The implementation stage brims with possibilities both promising and threatening, depending on one’s perspective…

…Whether opponents’ nightmares come true, or advocates’ hopes are borne out, will depend largely on how the standards are put into practice.”

Read the entire article here.

Concern Abounds Over Teachers’ Preparedness for Standards

“A quiet, sub-rosa fear is brewing among supporters of the Common Core State Standards Initiative: that the standards will die the slow death of poor implementation in K-12 classrooms…

…It’s a Herculean task, given the size of the public school teaching force and the difficulty educators face in creating the sustained, intensive training that research indicates is necessary to change teachers’ practices.”

Read the entire article here.