Can You Believe It? Going Full Circle.

Years ago I taught sentence diagramming in 5th grade, but have only used mentor sentences to teach grammar in the last 8 or 9 years. Now I’ve gone full circle and am back to teaching sentence diagramming and mentor sentences to the two high school girls that I homeschool. We’re on our second year and I really see an impact on their writing and analysis skills. They understand sentence structure and how various structures are used in literature.

I’ve bought tons of books about sentence diagramming and my favorite teacher by far is Elizabeth O’Brien with Grammar Revolution: Teach and Learn Grammar the Easy Way. She has a website, books, programs perfect for classrooms and homeschooling, and a YouTube channel with upbeat videos. She also introduced me to the Let’s Diagram website which allows us to painlessly diagram our sentences.

I decided to make this change because their grammar textbooks spent only a day or two on each topic and then moves on, but sentence diagramming is cumulative. My students are completely comfortable talking about independent and dependent clauses, phrases, the parts of speech, and varied sentence structures. This gives us a vocabulary to use when we speak about their writing. We even find ourselves mentally diagramming sentences as we read to figure out how the author structured his sentence and why it works so well!

Being Aware of and Managing Your Thinking

I recently came across a great definition for metacognition in Emily Lai’s, Metacognition: A Literature Review. The definition is  “Awareness and management of one’s own thought.”

When I try to explain what I do with metacognition and reading to my non-educator friends, they often say something like, “I can’t believe you have to teach that to students. It must just be because they’re on computers so much.”

And that makes me wonder if they naturally think about their thinking and manage their thinking or–and this is a terrible possibility–whether they don’t think about and manage their thinking and don’t see the need for it.

I realize now that I was a plot junkie growing up and that if I had been taught reading strategies and self-questioning in school I would have been a much stronger, much more thoughtful reader.

The Little Golden Book of Metacognition

Last summer I wrote a short, 50-page, book that explains metacognition and how to use it in your classroom. It’s on sale at Amazon for $9.50 in paperback and $1.99 on Kindle. It has many eye-catching full-color illustrations and is designed for the busy teacher who wants to learn the basics or increase their knowledge of metacognition.

The simplest definition of metacognition is “thinking about thinking to improve learning.” Metacognition includes knowing what you know and what you don’t know; understanding person, task, and strategy variables; planning, monitoring, evaluating and reflecting. Metacognition is an invaluable skill for learning in every area: academic, socio-emotional, the arts, physical education, and service education. It is an integral part of Emotional Intelligence, 21st Century Skills, Problem Solving, Fixed/Growth Mindsets, Critical Thinking, Executive Functions as well as Inquiry Learning and Problem-Based Learning. Learn how to strengthen your metacognitive teaching skills and revitalize your teaching life while doing it, as you create a community of thinking in your classroom.

Filling the Gaps

I recently taught a teacher workshop in Pennsylvania, which was aimed at areas for growth in many Christian school (and public school, for that matter) curricula. Certainly, not all Christian schools share these same areas for growth, but many do–especially the curricula which are touted as “teacher-proof” so that anyone can do the teaching. I’m a strong proponent of Christian schools, so please do not think that I am criticising; I just encourage continual growth in any school. Here is the slide set from that workshop and a few of the activity sheets.

Here is the Bartling Puzzballs worksheet, which is an exercise from Kelly Gallagher:

 

Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene

I just finished reading Reading in the Brain. While I cannot recommend it as a practical teaching resource, it did remind me what an immensely difficult task reading is–especially learning to read in English. The more transparent a language, the faster children learn to read as you can see in Figure 5.3 from RitB.

Not only is English, itself difficult to learn, but children need to learn to read it in many fonts, sizes, and styles.

The process of learning to read is yet unknown, but knowledge is growing every day.

Here is one representation of the process that takes place in our brain when we read a word out loud:

Is it any wonder that we sometimes struggle when we teach reading? We need to remind ourselves of the amazing accomplishment that reading is for our students.

 

Shame on Me!

When I published Dr. Goodreader on Kindle in 2012 soon after publishing it on Create Space, I just assumed that it would format correctly as I had it in the paper version. In 2015 I was on a conference call with Grant Wiggins (Yes, the Grant Wiggins of UbD) and my friend, Rick Cohen. Grant told me that my book–especially the beginning–resonated with him, but was full of formatting errors on Kindle.

Reformatting Dr. G for Kindle has been on EVERY to-do list I’ve made since then, and I finally spent three days getting it right.  It is now formatted correctly.  It is available for purchase on Amazon for $4.99.  If you purchased it previously, improperly formatted, please let me know and I will see if I can figure out how to e-mail you the correctly formatted version for free.

The Power of Metacognition

Light up those neurons!
                Light up those neurons!

What is Metacognition?

Metacognition refers to awareness of one’s own knowledge—what one does and doesn’t know—and one’s ability to understand, control, and manipulate one’s cognitive processes (Meichenbaum, 1985). It includes knowing when and where to use particular strategies for learning and problem solving as well as how and why to use specific strategies. Metacognition is the ability to use prior knowledge to plan a strategy for approaching a learning task, take necessary steps to problem solve, reflect on and evaluate results, and modify one’s approach as needed (Teal, 2012).

To put it simply, metacognition is being aware of and understanding your cognitive processes.

Why Should we Explicitly Teach Metacognition?

Yesterday I read Visible Learning for Literacy by Fisher, Frey, and Hattie. They include a thought-provoking list in their appendix effect sizes for various educational practices and environmental factors.  There are negative effect sizes (-0.20 – 0.00 approx.), developmental effect sizes (0.00 – 0.20 approx.), teacher effect sizes (0.20 – 0.40 approx.), and medium to high effect sizes (0.40+).

Number 14 on the list of 150 measured items is Metacognitive Strategies with a whopping effect size of 0.69.  Teaching Strategies is number 23 on the list with an effect size of 0.62.

We must couple teaching of strategies with teaching of metacognitive strategies to receive full value from each. How?  By teaching students to continually question their understanding of material followed by purposefully choosing strategies to help them comprehend what they read.

P.S. I don’t think it will come as a surprise to any teacher that negative effect sizes include summer vacation, retention, and television.

 

Teal Center Staff. “Fact Sheet: Metacognitive Processes | Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy (TEAL).” Fact Sheet: Metacognitive Processes | Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy (TEAL). U.S. Department of Education, Feb. 2012. Web. 13 July 2016.

A Day Late & A Dollar Short: Thoughts on CCSS

apple-139437_1280I realize that it’s late to put anything up about the Common Core Standards, but I have to say that I don’t “get” the continuing misunderstandings about them.  Standards are simply  a list of what students should learn.

 

Here is an example from 3rd Grade:Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 1.14.08 PM

  • The lists are general and are skills oriented.
  • The content is not mandated except in a few cases as above where certain genres are mentioned as above.  The Common Core does NOT say what stories or books to read.
  • You could teach the Common Core ELA standards using any book list appropriate to student age.

What the Common Core is Not:

  • Common Core is not the assessments used to measure whether the standards have been learn.
  • Common Core is not the many, many textbooks and programs which have the name Common Core slapped on them.  Some are a good representative of the standards and some are not.
  • Common Core is not the data mining that is supposedly happening.
  • Common Core is not what you see on social media.

Is the Common Core Perfect?

  • The short answer is no.  I wish reading strategies were written specifically in the standards instead of being implied in Standard 1 and Standard 10.
  • I worry about forcing all students to read grade level texts, if their reading is not at grade level.  Students can become frustrated and learn to hate reading because of that.  (At my school, we encourage a balance of reading at grade level and reading at the student’s level–whatever that might be.)
  • It is a general list that encourages higher-level thinking and does not get bogged down in minutiae.

Why Now?

I think the social media finally got to me.  A lovely family member of mine posted a rant about the Common Core.  It included something like this:  “The Common Core (and I’ve read them) are forcing our children to learn __________.”  Fill in the blank with something you disagree with. Untrue.  Unless he’s against reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, there’s no problem with the CCSS.