How to lead students to think further

How do teachers revisit content without being repetitive? How can we encourage students middle-school-motivators-464x600to spend more time and delve deeper? How can students interact positively with other students and get up out of their seats? In the book Middle School Motivators! 22 Interactive Learning Structures by Responsive Classroom there are explanations for activities that engage students in thinking, interacting with their peers and moving around the classroom. Here I am going to explain three Interactive Learning Structures that work in the Middle School language classroom and to further paint a picture for you of how to use them, I will give examples for each. 

Maîre d’ Call out, “Table for [a number from 2 through 4]”. Students quickly assemble in small groups with that number of members. Ask a question for students to answer in their group or give a topic for them to discuss. After all students have had time to share in their small groups, debrief in the large group asking what students heard from each other. Call out another table number and students form new small groups based on the new number and answer a new question or discuss a new topic.

As an example, when I did a unit on healthy lifestyles and the Interpersonal Assessment at the end of the unit had a prompt to discuss suggestions for a healthy lifestyle, I had students practice for that exam by doing a Maître d’ Interactive Learning Structure with four questions that break down the topic and ask students to revisit the material:

Table for three, What can a person your age do to reduce stress?

Table for two, What are the good outcomes of getting exercise?

Table for five, What actions can you take daily to get exercise?

Table for four, What changes can you make in your eating to improve health?

Prior to this activity the students had done a reading on each topic and this was a way to synthesize the vocabulary and ideas in preparation for the over-arching question of how to live a healthy lifestyle.

Venn-ting After students complete a Venn diagram to compare and contrast two topics, assign one student to be the reporter and the other to be the presenter. The reporter roams the room looking for ideas from others. The presenter stays put and explains the pair’s work to the roaming reporters. Allow reporters to visit 2-3 other groups for 1-2 minutes each. Reporters return to their original partner, discuss what they have learned and add to or revise their original diagram.

As an example, when I did a unit on stories, I had the students analyze using a graphic organizer each story based on a common set of the elements of a story. Then at the end we compared two stories using a Venn diagram and the students did a Venn-ting before passing in their final draft to make it delve deeper.

Four corners Students choose a response to a teacher-posed question that best reflects their thinking or interests. They move to the corner representing that response and discuss it in small groups then share what they have learned with the whole class.

As an example, for a unit on Family and Friends, the essential framing question is, How are we connected to others? We did a reading on what it meant to be a good friend. To encourage students to use the vocabulary and ideas from the reading and further explain their own ideas, I used the Interactive Learning Structure to have them separate into four corners to further examine which statement they agreed with most:

What makes a good friend?

  1. A person you can tell everything to, but you also don’t have to
  2. A person who doesn’t ask anything in exchange for friendship
  3. A person who respects your choices, even if he or she doesn’t agree
  4. A person who stays with you silently when you have a worry

And when we shared what we learned from others, everyone in the room received additional ideas on all four points of view.

These Interactive Learning Structures increase student interest in the content, motivate students, lead them to engage positively with the content and with each other and show students how to think more deeply about the topic.

Classroom Mechanics of an Interpersonal Assessment

I am slowly building towards making Interpersonal assessments work well in my classroom. The reason why I have kept at it in spite of it being a struggle is because the Interpersonal mode is central to learning to speak a language. When I attended French class with Karen Girondel at Lexington High School in Lexington, MA in the 1980s, Gigi (as we called our teacher) made it look so easy. She would get us talking about what interested us and we wouldn’t even notice we were working! Seeing that I don’t have the same natural skill as Gigi, I have had to work at it. Back in the day my students did skits at the front of the room for a grade. More recently my students have had real world spontaneous dialogues that were recorded and I would take home to laboriously evaluate.

Interpersonal assessments build on information leaned in Interpretive assessments and the information students gleam from each other during Interpersonal assessments can be used in Presentational assessments. In this way assessments are truly integrated around a theme. I give Interpersonal tasks as a chance to explore culture from the learners’ point of view. Middle School students like to talk about themselves and the world around them. Taking about their own culture, my novice students gain the tools to later talk about cultural comparisons. An Interpersonal task is the chance for the student to use the new vocabulary and structures to talk about his or her practices and products, i.e. culture. I see speaking about perspectives, which is the third component of culture, as a later skill for intermediate and advanced speakers.

group chat

Image :University of Maryland School of Psychology

On Thursday, October 29, 2015, at the annual convention for the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association I attended a session given by Dawn Carney and Rebecca Blouwolff and it was there that I got an idea to bring me a little closer to meeting my goal. Rebecca has a classroom management strategy that is genius. Break the class into thirds, have one do the Interpersonal assessment with the teacher, one do a reading and one do what she calls a fluency count. A fluency count is to have the students challenge themselves to write as many sentences as they can in 10 minutes. Rebecca’s management works better that what I have tried in the past because both of my solutions, recording pairs or taking turns two by two at the front of the room, were time consuming. The station idea is also better because a small group is a true conversation, not a back and forth dialogue. Conversations permit students to think while others are speaking. They offer a natural asking of questions and building of ideas, not a tennis match of expressing the same or opposing opinions back and forth. We will be building on what we already know, but in a more open-ended format.

To get each student to speak, Rebecca gives each one five jewels and puts the jewel container in the center of the table. As the individual speaks in a full sentences he or she ads a jewel to the pile. The teacher evaluates the contribution to the conversation real-time based on a rubric that promotes speaking in complex sentences, accuracy, listening carefully and helping move the conversation along by asking questions. There isn’t one way to do an Interpersonal assessment, but today I learned a very good way that corresponds to how I teach. I am getting there.