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|Jianna Gorospe begins work on her "how to" essay|
Peer feedback used as a key step in the writing process
How many times have you been assembling a product when you realize that a key piece of information from an earlier step was left out of the instruction manual? (“Oh wow, you mean those pieces in step 2 go in upside down?”) Then it’s time to take everything apart and start over, your frustration level in direct proportion to the complexity of the assembly or the bulk of the item.
It won’t happen when following the directions in the “how To” essays by Darcy McHale’s third-graders. A key part in the writing process was peer conferencing in which students provided feedback and asked clarifying questions in order to help each other write clear, concise, and easy-to-follow steps.
In the “how to” assignment, students first selected the topics they knew enough about (or felt they did well) and could explain step-by-step in a fairly simple way. Topics included how to build a snowman, how to make a sandwich, how to make a paper airplane, and how to braid hair.
Peer feedback was done throughout the entire process, at the note card/pre-writing stage, during drafting, and then as needed during revisions. The students met with different partners so they could get a wide variety of suggestions and make each step as detailed and clear as possible.
For example, if a student wrote "Spread peanut butter on bread," one partner might ask "With what?" and another might ask “What kind of peanut butter and why?” This helped the students look at their steps and words objectively; what may have been second nature and obvious to them might, in fact, have needed clarification and further description.
“All writers write for an audience – especially for a ‘how to’ piece,” said Ms. McHale. “So having a peer read and review the work at all stages really strengthened the sequencing chains and levels of detail in the essays. We’ve used peer conferencing before and the students really take the feedback and suggestions to heart.”
Color-coded markers were used to highlight important “how to” writing components during the various drafts including transitions, strong word choices, and natural language.
Midway through the projects, the class decided to create booklets from the essays. Students illustrated or took photos of key procedural steps and incorporated them with their essays into report form.
|Arthur Grubyak puts the finishing touches on a storyboard that illustrates his theory on the disappearance of the Anasazi|
Looking for answers about the Anasazi
Native Americans known as the Anasazi once lived in what is now the southwestern United States. For more than 1000 years, the Anasazi civilization flourished. Many of their elaborate structures, some cut into the walls of stony mountains, still stand – a testament to their ingenuity and sophistication.
At the height of their civilization in the 13th Century, the Anasazi disappeared. They abandoned their settlements en mass. No one knows for certain why they left.
Students in Tricia Mitchell's class have their theories. The fifth-graders recently learned about the Anasazi people and researched the various factors that may have caused the civilization's sudden exodus.
First, each student created an artifact replica similar to ones actually found by researchers. The students then imagined themselves as members of archaeological teams and used the artifacts as a basis to generate theories about the mysterious disappearance of these early Americans. Each student assumed the role of the discoverer of his or her artifact and wrote down the chosen hypothesis. In these narratives, the students described the life of the Anasazi and each presented a problem that this ancient people might have encountered that ultimately led to their disappearance.
Hypothetical scenarios included drought, disease, war, overhunting, and earthquakes, among others. The students also drew storyboards that visually told their stories.
This immersion into the Anasazi and archaeology provided students with an opportunity to show off their creativity and critical thinking skills.
“We got to physically hand make something we thought was interesting and make a story about it,” said student Brandon Cohan. “So for me it was pretty interesting.”
The project was just one part of a three-week-long unit about early American civilizations that included studying about the Inuit, Anasazi, Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas. The unit included discussions on how archaeologists compile information, analyze it, and then make reasoned deductions based on the found evidence and the entire archaeological record.
|Alec Rodriguez works on his narrative about the Anasazi|
QR codes in the classroom
Lorri Vaccaro loves to use technology in the instructional process. The fourth grade teacher, who is currently using the flipped classroom model to teach math (http://www.mtoliveboe.org/ss/headlines/?Students-are-flipping-over-math-15), recently completed a project with her class using QR codes. (QR codes are those square digital blotches that you see embedded in magazine ads, billboards, movie posters, food containers, and store signs.)
Mrs. Vaccaro and her class created a bulletin board of custom QR codes that, when scanned by a tablet computer or smart phone, provided the correct answers to a series of math problems.
The students first were taught how to use the QR Reader app on the Apple IOS platform. Each student then programmed the answer to an assigned math problem into QR Reader and printed the code. Each code and math problem were put onto a heart made from construction paper and placed on a bulletin board.
Students completed all the fraction exercises and then used Mrs. Vaccaro’s iPhone and iPad to check their answers by scanning the codes on the bulletin board. It was a novel way to engage the fourth-graders and get them interested in doing math.
“Technology is such a huge part of the world these kids are growing up in,” said Mrs. Vaccaro. “The excitement they get from using technology and seeing the relevance of what they’re doing to real life is invaluable. These codes are everywhere and the students didn't know what they were. So it was a great connection between teaching them about the world they live in and my objective of reviewing and reinforcing the fraction concepts.”
If you have a large enough monitor and a QR reader (many are available for free on the Android and Apple app stores), you can scan these photos and get the answers to the math problems. If you're viewing on a smart phone or tablet, you can download the photos or take a screen shot and run your QR app.