Category Archives: Informational UoS

Keeping it All in Focus – Reflecting & Revising Mindsets

Student reflection is an important focus in our classroom and is interwoven into our daily learning.  We are currently working in informational book clubs.  We begin this work with choice, groups have been tasked to pick a topic; they have to gather information and assume the role of the  scientist that would study this topic in the real world.   It culminates into a final presentation where all group members teach the rest of the class about their topic.  This work involves  multi-source research, creation of models to represent ideas and a lot of collaborative planning.

While meeting with our ENL provider, we were discussing how this work was going and evaluating our observations around the process.  He suggested that adding a rubric about mindset  as a tool for reflection would be an interesting next step to this work.  At first it was suggested that they should evaluate each other as group members but after much thought we decided it would be more powerful if it were a self reflection.  Below is the rubric we created.

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Tomorrow we will try it out.  The plan is to launch personal reflections after book club.  Since this is a new routine, we are going to go through the reflection process as a whole class each student reflecting individually on themselves.  We will let you know how it goes.


Seeing Partnerships From Both Sides

We went to dinner last night with good friends – we had a great time. Our friends are also our colleagues and mentors. The funny thing – we all met through Twitter.  The beautiful thing about social media is being able to tap into people with similar values.  Now “your people” have become an invaluable resource; one that not only elevates thinking but day to day practice.  That made us think – does this ever translate into the classroom?

What if we let students create their own groups and partnerships? What would happen? How would the work be structured to allow this dynamic to unfold?  The truth is we just don’t know… but we intend to find out.  

The Plan:

  1. Students will self-select their topics of inquiry (Outer Space, Animals, Ecosystems, Oceanography, Weather, Natural Disasters)
  2. Set-up informational groups and supply text sets
  3. Create a board with inquiry headings with student names written on cards (choose your partner within your group)
  4. Personal reflection work – what makes a good partner for me: why we need partners; what qualities make a good partner; talking to partners; listening to partners
  5. Systematic recordings of partnership dialogue that will be analyzed by others to find evidence of strong partnership work

We know the relationship matters.   We know that choice matters.  We know that independence matters.  If engagement means doing something difficult – failing, and trying again, then it is our job to create structures within the classroom that support this in the best possible way.  A way that is authentic to real life and shows our students that we value their choice.  With whom do you do your best work?  The people who push our thinking and help us to do our best work comes from the communities we create ourselves.  Shouldn’t we try that in the classroom?

A Celebration for the Informational UoS

We celebrated our research for the Informational UoS as students watched video presentations that they created themselves. The context for this work is based on our work with
Skyscraper (1) Skyscraper – students are learning how to discriminate tasks and questions  with levels of thinking. This is an idea that we have been experimenting with all year as we link it to the celebration for each UoS. So the part that we are highlighting today also ties into the inquiry process is to have students engage in a self-evaluation process.  Students are evaluating each other and themselves but with evidence from a digital texts that they created. We came up with an interactive way to do this by using Twitter books. Twitt20150210_103658er Books are how children respond to each others’ nightly reading responses.  Twitter Books follow the same rules as Twitter 140 characters or less pictures or words to promote conversation and learning.  As students viewed each others’ informational videos they:

  • The children who were “starring” in the video labeled their Twitter book with the job they were teaching.
  • The rest of the class wrote comments or suggestions in the presenter’s Twitter book as they watched the informational video of their classmates and then passed the book along to others to read and then add their tweet.  
  • After this process was done with all five groups, the groups got their books back and met to discuss the tweets.  Part of this meeting involved the children making goal cards
    for their next video presentation which is a TED Talk in our biography  unit.  These cards included the tweet from a classmate that they felt was the most helpful and a specific goal for next time.

How did it go?  IMG_2097It was amazing from start to finish. While watching the video and tweeting, the children were heavily engaged.  Their comments were very insightful and encompassed both the presentation and content.  The children were very specific as to what they liked and what the children did to teach them. When they met in their groups, the conversation was rich and very reflective. They discusses specific ways they could have made their presentations stronger like practicing more, adding more facts or sharing responsibility and time more.  The goal cards were done with great thought and it was interesting to see how they set goals that I would have without me suggesting it.  One boy said next time he wants to make sure he taught everything he knows because he knew more than he showed. This type of reflection was so powerful and truly got them ready for the next unit of study.  They are not just ready but they have a focus on a way to make their work stronger.  Isn’t this our goal as teachers?IMG_2108


Informational UoS: Exploring Inquiry & Learning for Real

We love this UoS there are so many possibilities. The kids love it because it can be suited to their interests and it matches the natural curiosity of childhood.   As teachers we understand how tight time is – there is never enough time in the day to do everything we want.   How about connecting science topics that would normally be taught in a superficial way to a more meaningful encounter during the reading and writing workshop?

Great idea right? It wasn’t ours – we went to Teachers College Saturday Reunion.  If you don’t know about this it is an amazing opportunity! This is  free professional development from the premier experts in our field. (click Saturday Reunion for details).  While we were there we attended a workshop by Amanda Hartman (@amandalah ) called: Five High Leverage Methods that Can Accelerate Kids’ Progress Towards Working with Independence and Autonomy.  This was was so smart.  It all begins with an impeccable mini-lesson – that works towards to bringing abstract content to real life learning.    This was the clip of the minilesson she showed us: Second Grade Informational Writing 

We are striving to bring research to practice in our classrooms, and this idea of using the minilesson to teach content and literacy across our curriculum created

Students are learning how to "talk" like engineers.

an opportunity to lean into an inquiry. Our understanding of inquiry is driven by Heidi Mills’ Learning for Real (yes we borrowed her title for our blog post).  Essentially there are  five elements of inquiry:

  1. Observe the world using tools and strategies of the discipline
  2. Pose questions and investigate
  3. Access primary & secondary sources
  4. Use the language of inquiry and disciplines
  5. Use reflections and self-evaluation to grow and change


This was our thinking:

  1. Give students choice: Weather, Land forms, Moon and Earth, The Changing Earth, Animal and Plant Life Cycles, Food Chains, and Engineering.
  2. Let them do the research using multiple sources including digital texts (questioning and investigating)
  3. Link a real life occupation to the content area where students engage content area vocabulary and take on the role using tools (example zoologist to study animals)
  4. Create a handbook and video demonstration to teach others how to do this job while giving information about the content being studied
  5. After viewing their original video presentations students will reflect and evaluate their performance.  This formative data will drive future goal setting.

This work  is ongoing so we will let you know how it goes.  Stay tuned,  and more pictures to come.  If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, we would love to hear from you.  We are just like you, trying to put this research into practice.  We would love your help. 

Informational UoS Continues…

The following is a conversation that Jill and I had as we went through reflection & planning for her third grade class. We are leaning into the work of Dr. Mary Howard’s Good to Great Teaching.  If you’re interested in learning more please feel free to stop by during a weekly Twitter Chat #G2Great on Thursday nights at 8:30 PM EST that I co-moderate with Amy Brennan, our Twitter handles are: @hayhurst3 and @brennanamy Jill participates weekly as well her Twitter handle is: @JillDerosa.  

 So, the kids did their presentations & were videotaped, how’d it go?  

It went really well – they took on the roles, felt like experts and the others can’t wait to watch each other.  We are going to have students tweet about their thoughts IMG_0239(self reflection & evaluation) about the presentations as they view them and then share their Twitter Books so they are passed from one student to another for responses to occur – using a heading for the demonstration.  Each child gets back their book and selects the most helpful Tweet about their own presentation and tells why it was so helpful. This is an excellent way for children to reflect and then revise for their next presentation.

Zoom In

What’s one thing to focus on?  We had to prompt in  and had to scaffold the actual presentation – it was hard for theIMG_0265m to organize the presentation – this is true for their writing too. It’s hard for them to organize their ideas in a written presentation or an oral presentation. I like giving them the freedom to take this project on as their own and really be in charge of planning. However, we need to find a framework that will help organize this but still allow for their own creative input.


What did you notice? They didn’t know who was going to talk first and they needed a specific framework – it was unique to each group. Some groups plannedIMG_0236  presentations that were unrealistic and impossible to do.  Others had difficulty deciding on the specific items to present, they loved everything.  Still others just wanted to do artistic displays and forgot about the information part.  Looked a lot to me like real life, a good place to teach into collaboration, accountability and responsibility.


It was good work and the reason is because it was self directed and they were able to work independently in the group and they created something that was meaningful to them. They were able to envision what this was like in a job.  It wasn’t great because it was the first time and we need to find an organization that IMG_0254works better for both the teacher and the students.


It’s still at the beginning phases and needs tweaking.


What will we change? Specifically –  a choice of structure Q&A format  I feel like if we made something set it would not work-each group needed something different. Go back to the organization – how can we help them organize? I don’t always want to give them each step each one went a different way – but maybe having three guiding questions…

Jenn – Let’s check MIll’s book – Pg 50 Learning for Real – she is suggesting just this posing guiding questions and gives some nice examples. IMG_0245You’re saying that we should have student do this work so that the inquiry is more authentic – how is this different than Q&A? I am thinking MIlls is saying that these guiding questions are a springboard (kind of)  to focus the inquiry and that eventually these kinds of questioning techniques become internalized.  Jill look at this one I think she’s addressing your concerns here: Video Clip 3 with Transcript: Students Reflect on Nonfiction Text Structures and Features, Grade 4

Jill – I think that it’s not organization it’s that they (students) don’t know the process of inquiry. Kind of like with Literature Circles – we gave them the process that the kids could use – that’s what we need.   Some of  their guiding questions were not going to get them to explore the topic.  They were  more interested in making an engaging presentation that was light on content.  Link the primary and secondary sources to guided questions that link the content to the presentation that’s going to add more content.


We have to create a visual board – an icon a flowchart for them to follow. When we have kids evaluate and respond using Twitter books they will “discover” that they didn’t really teach a lot of content.   Take a look at this let me know if it’s what you wanted, if not no worries we’ll figure it out:

Basically, we want to hit these concerns (strengthen guiding questions, scaffold organization, linking content through primary / secondary sources). Here are  habits of mind that we want to grow, and the instructional techniques we will use to this work:

  • Structure a minilesson with 3-4 choices so that students can select a method to organize  their time/logistics.
  • Sentence stems that help to cite the author and the title linking content
  • Using mentor texts (digital or print) to try out a form of writing / presenting

Hey we’d love to hear from you – if you have any questions or ideas please give us a shout and we will write you back:

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