July 3, 2014

Reader Spotlight: Raegan

When I started Kindergarten twenty-three years ago, the focus of our schools was on the “3 Rs”. You know ‘em by heart- “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic”. In the time between leaving Kindergarten (in 1991) and becoming a teacher myself (in 2007), many things have changed. Tides have shifted in education. We still focus the majority of our instruction on reading, writing, and math. However, the “4Cs” and “21st Century Skills” have become just as important. There is even a section in our districts K-2 Standards Based Report Card where students are graded on their 21st Century Skills. 

 The “4 Cs”, as they are referred to in education and this blog post, are communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.

***Communication and Collaboration***

The first step in implementing communication within the classroom is establishing a classroom community where students feel comfortable sharing and engaging with one another. Students who do not feel comfortable or do not feel that their opinions are heard and respected are unlikely to engage with their classmates or their teachers.

Once this classroom community is established, it is necessary to model how to communicate effectively. This step is extremely important, because if students do not know how to effectively communicate, then implementing the “4 Cs” in the classroom is futile. At this time, teachers should model active listening, as well as asking good questions. Students should also learn how to respectively disagree with others during classroom discussions. By being able to listen actively, ask good questions, and respectively share their opinions, students are ready to communicate with each other. 

There are a number of different ways that communication and collaboration can be integrated into classroom instruction. These methods range from ones that can be done on a daily basis to ones that might take longer to implement.

Turn-and-talk – Students can turn-and-talk with a partner as a part of everyday instruction. Teacher guides student partners by asking class the same question, then partner teams share their thoughts with partner before sharing with the whole class.

Socratic or Paideia Seminars – Students participate in academic conversations about a given piece (text, art, music). Teacher serves as facilitator, asking questions. Students think in-depth about question before answering. Students share their thoughts freely and openly.

Group Projects – Students can work on group projects in learning teams. When working on projects, students work together to create a collaborative end product. It is important for students working on group projects to set rules and guidelines. Student groups should also create jobs for each team member to ensure that all team members are doing the same amount of the work.

Literature Circles – When participating in literature circles, students read an assigned text. They then discuss the text they have read.

Virtual Literature Circles– Virtual Literature Circles are similar to in person literature circles. However, unlike in live literature circles, students can use websites such as Gaggle to share their thoughts or understanding.

Padlet – Teachers, or students, can create a Padlet and ask a question or share a statement. Other group members can post their responses to the question.

Critical thinking is, by definition, the intentional application of higher order thinking skills. These higher order thinking skills include analysis, evaluation, and creation as well as problem solving. Something you don’t typically see included critical thinking skills are regurgitation and memorization of information and facts. In this post, I will examine ways I facilitate the development of critical thinking skills in my classroom. 

***Critical Thinking***
One way to develop critical thinking skills in my classroom is by using a variety of different questions. While “yes” or “no”, “black or white” questions are great, and easy to think of, I think that it is extremely important to ask questions of varying difficulty of all students.

 Following a classroom observation a few years ago, I was given the suggestion by a facilitator to have a document like 
this on hand during lessons. I started trying to choose more questions from analyze, evaluate, and create instead of remember, understand, apply. I realized that by asking higher order thinking questions, my students were had to think more critically. In turn, they were learning more.

 In addition to asking students more difficult questions, you can also teach your students to ask these questions on their own. They can become Question Masters, tasked with asking and answering questions about topics and texts that they have read about. Kathy Bumgardner (
www.kbumreading.com) has an activity posted on her website where students use “Bloom’s Bucks” and earn points, or money, based on the complexity of the questions they ask. You can find these “Bloom’s Bucks” here.

 A more intentional way of developing critical thinking skills in the classroom is through Socratic seminar discussions. Prior to a Socratic discussion, students are exposed to a text, piece of music, or art. After multiple exposures to the seminar piece, a teacher leads the students in a discussion. The questions the facilitator asks are open-ended and require students to think critically prior to answering. 

Being the facilitator of a Paideia Seminar is one of the most difficult things I've done when it comes to actually leading instruction. Imagine listening to amazing conversations between your scholars and only being able to ask questions and nod. Not participating in these discussions has been a lesson in self-control for me! 

 Another way to encourage students to think critically, and to think about their thinking, is to have them reflect on their own learning. Thinking about their learning doesn’t just mean that students say “I learned _____ today” or “I had a hard time with _____”. I try to have students share their answer to a question in addition to why they feel that way or how got that answer. This “why” and “how” is something that my second graders have struggled with. So often, I have found that they know the answer to a question, but have no idea how to verbalizing how they found the answer.

 One way to encourage students to reflect on their learning is to have students practice explaining how they know to a partner. By implementing this turn-and-talk strategy, students grow more comfortable with sharing their thinking. This makes it a little easier when they have to make the transition to sharing their thinking with the entire class!

Critical thinking is an integral part of 21st Century education. It is imperative that we find ways to incorporate it into our daily teaching! 

In the past, when I would see the word “creative” used in the context of school, I always assumed that it meant artistic or having the ability to create pieces of art. Never was that word that I would have used to describe myself. I was the student in art that had complete meltdowns, ugly crying and all, because my drawing didn’t look like the example. As an adult, my art skills are limited to coloring within the lines in a coloring book or taking pictures with my phone and using a filter before posting it Instagram.

The more time I spend teaching and researching creativity in the classroom, the more I am exposed to the true meaning of creativity. I now know that being creative is much more than being able to sketch something. It is a true ability to use your understanding to take it a step further and apply this understanding to a different context.

There are several ways that teachers can incorporate and encourage creativity in their classrooms.

Free exploration is something that is often thought of when teachers think of a preschool classroom. You imagine students rotating through centers where they are able to try out different things. I know that in my classroom, I love to have free time where I encourage my students to explore and build with math manipulatives. It is amazing, that even during a 20 minute block of time, that they come up with some great creations! Occasionally, I will ask my scholars to write about what they've created and how they created it or I will have them write a story incorporating their creation.

I think that it is very important to expect students to create. This creating doesn't have to be cookie cutter. What one child creates might, and should, be very different from the next student. When we set the expectation that students will create and think outside the box, the students understand the importance of this creativity in being successful

A great way to incorporate creativity to academics is to use interdisciplinary units. An example of an interdisciplinary unit is a "geometry and art" unit. Within this unit, students can use their understanding of geometry (two- and three-dimensional shapes) to create works of art. Scholars can also examine pieces of well known art for examples of specific geometric shapes and patterns that they found. 

There are specific programs that can be used to help students build creative thinking skills. One of those programs is Odyssey of the Mind. While participating in OM, students are required to use their creative thinking skills to solve spontaneous problems that are given to them on the day of competition. They also have to find a creative way to present a 7-minute solution to a "problem" that allows them to draw on their acting skills as well. 

Another model for building creative thinking skills is the Parnes-Osborne Creative Problem Solving Model. With CPS, students are given a global problem to solve. They then generate ideas for solving the problem and come together to create a solution for this problem.

Thinking about integrating creativity into lessons is something that involves some creativity on the part of the teacher, but when things fall into place it is a wonderful thing. 

Come visit me anytime over at Instagram or TPT.
- Raegan

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree! Times have definitely changed. I love using Turn and Talk in my classroom. Plus, its awesome for formal observations. Instant feedback as you walk around and talk with students as they turn and talk with others. Principals LOVE it. Another thing you mentioned was, interdisciplinary units. These are KEY in the Common Core classroom. I feel that they really helped my students to connect material to the real world. :)



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