Vivaldi on the cello

28 Aug

After Sam’s surgery, chemo was really, really difficult. He felt worse, had less energy, more pain, limited mobility and lots of frustration. I was also burning out. I had spent almost every night with him, nearly 45 nights, had taken him to countless appointments, entertained him, enticed him with food, and attempted to keep my family somewhat intact. There was one night when we were in the hospital when I was feeling drained. The music therapist set up a chair a little bit down the hallway from Sam’s room and took out her mahogany cello. She began to play Vivaldi. The sweeping archs of the music and the deep baritone notes were overwhelming. It was the same music that played at my wedding, and the odd juxtaposition of the memories of dreaming about the future with the reality of listening to the music in the hospital while caring for my son with cancer was unsettling. I began to cry, which worried Sam, which then prompted me to explain. But how could I? How could I tell my son that I was so angry and resentful that cancer had entered our lives and taken over? How could I say that without him feeling guilty, as he is wont to do? So I just told him about my wedding, and how beautiful everything was. I told him that it was such a happy occasion, and that he would have enjoyed it. And I cried.


Kids say the darndest things

28 Aug

I love that phrase. I’m not sure if it’s the word, “darndest” or just that I chuckle whenever I think it. But it’s true! Today, while reviewing similes with my 11th graders, one student shared, “You are as cute as a baby.” I didn’t quite hear “you”, so I asked who? And the student said, “You, Mrs. Becker.” So I am as cute as a baby. Hmmmm. I really hope that she didn’t plan that one out. It would be hard to enforce rules if my students are thinking that I am cute. Could she have meant pretty? Did she like my outfit? I was wearing a spiffy coral scarf that my cousin sent from Singapore. Was “baby” the only thing that she could think to compare it to? Or did she misunderstand my question? Regardless, it made me chuckle.

Value Line-Up and Fold

28 Apr

When responses to a question can be represented as ranges in value this is a great strategy to gather data and to get students of opposing views to discuss.  Sample questions to use include:

To what extent do you agree with the statement?

What percentage of your research paper is complete?

1) Teacher poses a question with a range of values.

2) Students line up from greatest to least (or whatever the range descriptors are).

3) The line folds so that the people on the two ends are facing each other as partners.  Partners are identified along the folded line.

4) A new discussion question is posed, perhaps explaining their position in the line, or reflecting on how to move to a different spot on the line.

Variation: If the endpoints of the range are too extreme, identify the midpoint, and have one half of the line slide, so that the person in the middle is now partnered with the person at the end.


28 Apr

Think-Pair-Share is one of the simplest discourse strategies.  It provides students with a safe environment in which to try out their answers before sharing with the large group.  Scroll down to see a few variations.

1) Teacher poses a question for discussion.

2) Students think individually.

3) Students pair up and discuss their responses.

4) Students share their responses with the larger group.

Think-Pair-Square: Before sharing with the large group, pairs form squares and discuss responses.

Think-Pair-Octagon: After forming squares, groups continue to match up, forming octagons, then groups of 16, until the group re-forms as a whole.

Team-Pair-Solo: Students first tackle a question as a group, then as a pair, and finally on their own.

Think-Pair-Share was originally developed by Frank Lyman.  The other variations were developed by Spencer Kagan.

Using Games for Instruction

21 Mar

Games are frequently used in classrooms to review a broad stretch of material in a short period of time.  They’re exciting, keep momentum flowing, and tap into students’ competitive edge.  Jeopardy and Bingo are two of the more popular ones.  But what about using games during instruction before review?  In the language classroom, games are an excellent structure for providing context for language usage.  They can provide a scenario, or prompt students to use key vocabulary/grammar concepts.  While not ideal for first instruction, games can be used for practice and reteaching.  Here are three games that I’ve used successfully with Beginning ESOL students.

1. Go Fish–Disney Style!

I created my own set of playing cards using Disney characters.  Students had been introduce to grammar and vocabulary for describing physical appearance.  While playing Go Fish, instead of asking “Do you have any Cinderellas?”, the students had to ask, “Do you have a girl with blond hair and blue eyes?”  The weirder the characters, the more fun they had!

2. Simple Board Game

I created a board game that looks like Monopoly but is much simpler.  Students roll a dice and move their playing pieces around the board.  Each square has a question on it (“Where did you go last weekend?” )  When students land on a square they must answer the question.  I made each square the size of a post-it, so we can easily change the questions.  Sometimes I write new questions, and sometimes the students write new questions. 

3. The Betting Game

This is one of my personal favorites!  Students are given 10 questions.  They write down their answers for each question.  Then they are given $100 in pretend money.  They bet up to $100 on how certain they are that their answer to number 1 is correct.  For example, they may bet $50.  If they are correct, they add that amount to their original $100, so the student would now have $50.  If they are incorrect, it is subtracted, so the student would now have $50.  Then they place a bet on how certain they are that #2 is answered correctly.  They can bet as much as they have after the first round.  We continue betting as we discuss the answers to all ten questions.  The winner at the end is the student with the most money, not necessarily the student with the most correct answers!

Planning for Discourse

16 Mar

Over the past few months I’ve been keeping a running list of classroom structures/activities/strategies that facilitate student-to-student discourse and student-to-teacher discourse.  It seems like a good time to post the list, so here it is in no particular order!

  • Wait Time I and II
  • 10-2
  • Peer review/edit/critique
  • Plus/Deltas
  • Drivers and Restrainers for why we’re able to prove our hypothesis
  • Charting progress
  • Think-Pair-Share
  • Critical Challenges
  • Higher Order Thinking Questions
  • See-Think-Wonder
  • Modeling Thinking Aloud
  • Shared Inquiry
  • Literature Circles
  • 3-Step Interview
  • A-B Discussion
  • Paired Verbal Fluency
  • Speed Dating
  • Teammates Consult
  • Labs
  • Discussion
  • Jigsaw
  • Experts and Scribes (Write What I Say)
  • 6 Thinking Hats
  • Gallery Walk
  • Inside-Outside Circle
  • 4 Corners
  • Consensogram
  • U-Shaped Discussion
  • Ranking Ladder
  • Socratic Seminar
  • Checking for Understanding
  • Evaluate peers’ Explanation
  • Activotes
  • Talking Chips
  • Placemat
  • Students Evaluating Lesson Material
  • Document Analysis
  • Discussing Inferences

Discourse Cards

25 Feb

1. Create a notecard for each of the following:

  • Agree/Disagree Share whether you agree or disagree with a comment or explanation.  Be sure to explain your agreement or disagreement.
  • Restate Repeat what was just said in your own words. (Not directions!)
  • Check/Repeat Clarify in your own words what the teacher or a classmate says.  “So you’re saying…”
  • Further Participation Add a comment to the class discussion.  (This may also be an explanation of a concept.)
  • Questions Ask a classmate a question or for clarification.

2. After explaining each card, pass the cards out randomly to students prior to a discussion.  Tell them that they are expected to participate in the discussion according to the directions on their card.

3. After students participate, either collect thier card, or have them randomly pass it to a classmate, and continue the discussion.

Created by Rebecca Green, 7th grade math teacher at William H. Farquhar MS, and is an adaptation of the 5 Talk Moves from Classroom Discussions: Using Math Talk to Help Students Learn. Chapin, O’Connor, and Anderson.