Think Aloud Strategies

Over the past week, I’ve been working on thinking and reading strategies with each of my classes.  Connie Prevatte suggested in a workshop at Buncombe County Schools this summer that Roger Farr’s think-aloud model is excellent for inspiring thought about various types of text.  His basic week-long model is as follows:

  • Day 1: Read text to students, pausing along the way to verbalize thoughts.  Students record these thoughts.
  • Day 2: Students create a checklist of thinking processes, then with fresh text, check off as teacher reads/thinks-aloud again.
  • Day 3: Students bring in their own text, and follow the same process from Day 2, except one student leads thinking.
  • Day 4: Fresh text, students think in teams using checklist.
  • Day 5: Fresh text, students think independently using checklist.

I really agree with the instructor model, team model, individual plan that Farr uses to put thinking strategies into practice.  I did modify this plan to a certain extent.  First, as a class, we discussed the following questions:

  1. How do we know when a piece of text is too difficult for us?
  2. Should we be passive sponges or active filters?
  3. What makes a “good” reader, good?

From this discussion, we developed a list of strategies, based on our school literacy model and Cris Tovani’s literacy skills that all readers use to better comprehend text.  Then, using Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, the adapted version for 8th graders, we spent a week using these strategies in the checklist format.  Our checklist included: question, prediction, confusion, visualization, text organization, connection, and summarization.

Before we read each day, the students knew the places they were required to stop and verbalize their thinking.  At first, pulling teeth would have been more pleasant that the uninspired thinking that occurred with my students.  They wanted to do the least amount of thinking possible when left on their own, asking questions such as “Does Charlie like Algernon a lot or a little?”  and “Why doesn’t he just run away?”

By day 3, though, something changed.  First, I changed my plan of asking for volunteers to share their thoughts to pre-selecting my “thinkers” to respond when they reached the appropriate point.  Simply calling them “thinkers” had students practically jumping out of their seats screaming, “I wanna be a thinker, Ms. Riddle!”  I only required them to use three thinking strategies after each section, but as the week went on, most students were asking for extra lists so they could add more thoughts.  On the final day, I had each student write down his or her thoughts on post-its and categorize them in large circle maps around the room.  Some interesting discussion occurred regarding questions and if they should be categorized as confusion or question.

Overall this process was successful with the majority of students.  I found that their thinking began to climb from simple knowledge questions to analytical and evaluative as the week went on.  Next week, we will be applying these strategies to team readings of “The Most Dangerous Game” by Connell and “The Lady, or the Tiger” by Stockton.

I am trying to format a plan to apply this same strategy to other material, such as digital media, social networking, and other online content.  The process will definitely have to be tweaked due to the fast pace of most of this new content.  Here are my initial thoughts:

  • Use websites such as DHMO and checklist to discuss authenticity.
  • Election advertisements, newsreels using checklist to discuss bias.
  • Twitter/Plurk feeds and checklist to discuss perspective and characterization.

As I haven’t fleshed this out yet, I would love some input, advice, or inspiration on using a similar process, as my students are used to it, to uncover what thinking strategies we use, or should be using, when we approach digital media.



Thank you, Gary Brolsma, thank you

When discussing web 2.0 technology for the classroom, a conversation about YouTube inevitably arises. Many of our students would love nothing more than to spend entire days watching videos via the site. Alternatively, many of our parents and administrators spend days attempting to block student usage. While both sides of the debate offer valid arguments, there is likely no civil agreement in the future for most school districts.

With that being said, there hasn’t been anyone who has looked at YouTube from a research point of view. Until now. Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University, recently spoke at the Library of Congress presenting his findings of an anthropological study of the video platform. Previously, Wesch created a short summary of Web 2.0:

In his address, Wesch presents a cultural anthropologist’s perspective of the community of digital thinkers and the developing media in YouTube. This offers some amazing commentary on our personal learning networks and how we plug into them. Definitely great viewing.  Due to the fact that Wesch covers phenomena such as questionable language in the YouTube comment community, I’m chosen only to supply the link to the video rather than embed it.

BCS Digital Tools Discussion

Today during a workshop I was at for the Buncombe County School District with Connie Prevatte, the issue of using wikis to facilitate Home Reading discussions and retelling was raised.  One of the problems with assigning reading at home, or any other homework for that matter, is the accountability.  We have no control over the student’s home life, Prevatte commented, and therefore, cannot penalize that student for not completing something that is potentially out of his/her control.

One of the ways that I have circumvented this in several instances is through the use of a classroom wiki.  For those unfamiliar, wikis are user-edited sites often used for collaboration and discussion.  Through a classroom wiki, my students had the opportunity to discuss and retell what they read throughout the evening even if they had no one else at home to communicate with.  I did not make this a mandatory activity due to the fact that not every child has internet access in the home.  What occurred was not only an archive of reflections and meditations on current texts the students were reading, but also a list of novels, short stories, and websites that students were motivated and inspired to check out.  The recommendations for “awesome” books did not come from an adult (who obviously knows nothing about what a kid wants to read), but from peers who were experiencing the same daily struggles and celebrations.

In my classroom, I have primarily used Wikispaces to set up classroom wikis.  Most students will need to have an email address to become members of the sites you create.  If your administration, parents, or school board do not allow this, Wikispaces will create student accounts if you send them a list of your students.  Be sure to do this well in advance of when you would like your students to actively participate on your wiki because it does take time.

While listening to some podcast conferences this summer (BLC08, NECC, etc), one presenter said that as long as you have an internet connection in the classroom, you are no longer the smartest person.  With that being said, here are some great links in aiding you to set up your own education wiki:

Education Wikis; Wikispaces; 20 Ideas; Setting Up

Very General Advice:

1. Make sure to educate your students on Digital Citizenship prior to collaborating online.

2. Distribute parent permission forms for students to participate.  Dr. Joyce Valenza has a great example.

3. Educate students on privacy and safety issues including not releasing full names, personal contact information, etc.

4. Set a purpose and establish specific guidelines for your students on that particular wiki.  Remember, they’re free so you can always make more!

If you have any comments, suggestions, or lesson ideas, please leave them in the comments section.  This blog is for me to learn as well, and by creating a collaborative community, we expand our knowledge base.

Who could say it better than George Bernard Shaw: “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”

Amazing Story of Courage

Just read this story and saw short documentary through Mental Floss. A great website in any case. It’s absolutely amazing the courage this 19 year old young woman has to compete in this year’s Olympic Games despite the cultural prejudices and dangers for her and her family. Wouldn’t it be powerful if students could come together and support people and causes like this one? This year I’m looking to spend a great deal of class time on project based collaborative learning with students and classrooms from around the world. I can only hope that my students are as inspired and strong and Mahbooba.

In the beginning…

Since 1995 when my parents splurged and finally bought a computer and Nintendo for my brothers, sister, and I, I have been fascinated with technology and the internet. Over the past year, my fifth as a middle school English teacher, I began facilitating professional development workshops on integrating technology into the Language Arts curriculum for North Carolina. This summer, my goal was to become hyperconnected.

As a result, my brain is about to explode. But in the good way. I heard somewhere this summer that if you have an internet connection in the classroom, the teacher is no longer the smartest person in the room. That was something I intrinsically knew, but had never verbalized before. I also listened to Darren Kuropatwa and Clarence Fisher talk about one of the only things that limits educators are their imagination. If we cannot imagine it, we cannot do it.

The goal of all this is to imagine. As I have told my students every year, at the end of the school year, I will be the one who has learned the most. I feel the same way about this blog. Even though I’m the one writing, I want to learn the most. Thanks to David Truss and his BLC08 presentation “This, my blog has taught me.” What an inspiration.