Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Collaboration = Creative Genius (Better Together Linky)

M*Print, one of my daily blog reads (from Bloglovin), is hosting a linky, where teachers are focusing on being Better Together.  I love that Megan created a link up that is not only about teaching, but also concentrates on how teachers can become better together, rather than alone.

Megan's blog is filled with creative ways to get students engaged, and her linky stems from her own complications in the classroom.  She brings up classroom management, differentiation (high AND low), and others.  

Last year, during my first year of teaching, I taught 4 inclusion classes a day.  I struggled with making sure ALL my students were learning.  I had several students with very low reading levels and several students who seemed to already know everything I was teaching (or they learned it so fast that most remedial stuff bored them) and I also had kids who many times were lost in the shuffle because of the students who "needed" more help.  This year, I teach 4 periods of general English 9 and 2 periods of inclusion English 11.  As I struggled through this in my first year (and even this year), I shared my frustration with many other teachers (some in Language Arts and some not), and through my collaboration, I was able to learn a few things:

1. Paired Work

Students who do not want to engage in work or who "seem" to know it all both benefit from paired work.  I almost always pair my students and I do it based on personality and ability (usually diagnosed from a formative assessment or observation).  Letting students pair themselves defeats the purpose.  I love pairs and speak highly enough of paired work!  

First, the high knowledge student who knows all the content and that you can't keep engaged focuses because now they have to help someone else and often times "teach" what they know to someone else. Second, the low knowledge student who doesn't know the content learns from a peer (which often engages students ... you would think that they don't want to show that they don't know to a peer, but they are more likely to show it to a peer than they are to a whole class).  

I have had so many students that paired work benefits (it shows not only in the quality/quantity of work they turn in during paired work, but also in their individual assessments).  Paired work is also a great way to create modifications for students - i.e.  students who struggle with handwriting can be paired with someone who enjoys writing and they complete one paper.  

One student I had last year began the year as a non-responsive student.  He would almost never complete in class work, he was being suspended frequently, and he struggled to pass the class even with his accommodations/modifications.  As the year progressed, I began to do more paired work and I moved his seat near the front with a higher, highly engaged and social student next to him.  He was paired with this student and was able to show incredible growth by the end of the year.  He went from an angry kid who hated anything a teacher asked him to do - to a engaged student who even participated in class and shared learning with others!! (Note: I know this students change cannot be completely attributed to pairs or my teaching even; however, I KNOW that he benefited from the grouping procedures in the room in the process of his learning).  

2. Tiering Your Questions, Handouts, Projects, and More

Last year, I began tiering handouts and class questions for students.  The idea is that students will work through the questions they are able to do and the questions will slowly push them to think in a more critical way.  This benefited students because they were able to be pushed to higher level questions if they were able to and gave all students an opportunity to grow in their learning.  

This year, I and the lovely teacher down the hall from my - Jules, spent several days this summer creating 4 point rubrics for each standard in the common core for our students.  We pre-assess, track learning, progress check, and post assess using these rubrics for each skill that the common core requires.  (Right now, we've only made our 1st Quarter curriculum map standards..... we have to carve out a Saturday to keep truckin along on them).  

These rubrics are great because each # on the rubric (0-4) outlines specifically what a student is able to do - and students need to show their growth when they track from the pre-assessment to the post assessment. It is a Marzano style way to teach/assess and I discovered it while student teaching with my cooperating teacher. See my post Classroom Management and Zen which shows several of the handouts the students use to track their learning and the basic rubric shows the 0-4 basic idea that I've then modified to fit each Common Core standard.  

I love these rubrics and the kids are slowing getting the hang of it.  Jules and I are hoping to possibly post all the rubrics on TeachersPayTeachers when we have critiqued and perfected (and created) all of the rubrics.  I love collaborating with her :) 

3. Extension Cards

Extension cards are a discovery I made earlier this summer on TeachersPayTeachers.  

These cards are amazing!  They are from the Super Hero Teacher and she did a wonderful job making it :) They use each Reading Literature Common Core standard and give 4 different prompts for students to use.  I copied each standards cards on card stock and then laminated them.  They sit in a lovely little "extensions" box on my student resource bookshelf.  When students finish early, I send them over to the extension box and they choose any card they want.  These cards are high level thinking and are great for those students who "know all the answers."  I give students a bonus point for each one that is completely completed-- quality and quality of work.  (So far this year, I've only had 2 students who have finished things early and who have successfully completed their cards... it's not like the bonus points are raking in...)  I highly suggest using these cards in a language arts classroom.

4. Switching Students

One last collaborative decision that I just did today with one of the other grade level teachers (you guessed it, Jules...) was to switch students.  We grouped our students based on the ones who knew the plot stages and can identify/explain them and students who were still struggling with that skill.  Jules took the higher group and I took the lower.  We had students analyze narrative songs :) SOOOO FUN !!!  We used an 80s rap song "Just a Friend" by Biz Markie and "Ol' Red" by Blake Shelton.  

My group of students identified the plot stages and conflicts and the words that let us know why we were in that plot stage.  We used highlighting and color blocking to help students learn definitions, how to apply them, and finding words that support our thoughts.  (a "2" on our rubrics... the basic skill of the grade level standard)

Jules group worked to review plot stages and conflicts and to get students to analyze the suspense, mystery, or tension created by those plot stages and conflicts.  (a "3" on our rubrics... the basic and complex skill .. the student is at grade level).  Then tomorrow she is spending time helping the students compare the plot structure of the two songs (a "4" on the rubrics - above what we explicitly teach/the grade level standard).  

We are really enjoying it with our kids!  I love that students who usually are over shadowed by eager participators had a chance to show what they knew.  We were also able to focus directly on what students did not know so that eventually they will be able to apply the higher level skills.  It's also fun to work with a few different kids. I'm excited to continue working with my group tomorrow :) 

I highly suggest this to anyone who works closely with their other grade level teachers!!!!

Side Note: 

Much of what was said in this post is not directly link to the title : "Collaboration = Creative Genius."  However, the title exists because ALL of the above things are ideas that I came up with through collaboration - whether it was a conversation with my mentor, with my co-teacher, with my favorite grade level teacher or other building colleagues, "creatively borrowed" from Pintrest, blogs, or my cooperating teachers during student teaching.  

I believe with all my heart that good teachers THINK, SHARE, and CREATE with each other to help their students.  The best ideas I've ever had came from somewhere else - I just tweaked or changed them or created something new from them and made them my own.  



  1. Wow, these are some cool ideas which I would love to try out in my own classroom. In my grade 8 class I have similar issues, and it drives me nuts. I've done more group work though - mixing top, medium and bottom kids. But your suggestion of pairs makes a lot of sense too. In fact in a recent assignment they worked in pairs and I was really pleasantly surprised by the results.

    Thanks for the inspiration. I will be mulling over how to apply in my classroom next term :)

    p.s. I visited from Megan's linky :)

    1. First of all, I love that you used the word mulling! One of my favorites :)

      I truly love paired work and think that getting kids to think together is really important. I'm planning a "teaching group work" post soon about how to get kids to really work in groups well. My students are struggling with that this year! So keep an eye out or follow me on Bloglovin'


  2. Thanks for linking up! I am really interested in those tiered questions-- how does that work exactly? Do you have them do as many as they can, and then stop when they get too tough?

    I'm teaching plot structure now with short stories-- I am SO using your song lesson today. I also like the idea of "switching students," so kids don't start to just see my co-teacher as "the lady who helps the slow kids."

    1. Megan, I'm so glad you created this link up! Thanks for letting me know!

      To answer your question about tiered questions - yes, I basically ask kids to work independently (or with a partner) and to work up until the bell. But it's not a big deal to me if they don't finish as long as they are on task, asking questions, and showing me that they are trying. Many times, I chunk my papers for kids who I know are lower so that they don't feel overwhelmed with all the questions, but I'll give full packets to my higher kids.... or I add lots of graphic organizers to my kids who are lower.
      I don't actually grade most of the stuff my student do -- yet, they never know when I will.... so it keeps them on their toes. It helps because kids realize that I just want them to work and show me what they know...
      P.S. Pass on any fun plot structure stuff you have!!! Our kids LOVED the songs! It was so much fun! Let me know how yours goes!


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