Who Does the Work?

Over the years, I’ve heard colleagues say, “Only work as hard as your students do.”  Frankly, that’s absolutely ridiculous.  Great teachers need to learn, plan, grow, change, and then do it all over again.  This takes time and energy.  Great teaching requires a lot of work behind the scenes and outside of the classroom.  However, to encourage teamwork and engagement, the students need to be doing the work during class.  With good planning, a class could be run without the teacher and go smoothly because the students are doing all of the work.  This takes time and practice on the part of the teacher and the students.  A student-centered classroom is created over time.  But, in the end, the students need to be doing all of the work because learning comes from doing.  If a class is filled with teacher talk and lectures, then the students will become disengaged and genuine learning will not come about.  The students need to be actively engaged in doing the learning.

To this end, after students turn in work or redo an assessment with me orally, they will thank me profusely as though I was the reason they met the objective.  My immediate response is, “Don’t thank me.  I didn’t do the work.  You did the work.”  I’m their guide on their learning journey.  The learning and doing is in their hands.  They do the work.

Today during Humanities class, the students spent the double-block working on their community service and artifacts projects.  One group worked on preparing to execute a food drive and money collection for the End 68 Hours of Hunger program, which is in place at our local elementary school.  Our boys are creating posters, making a speech at an all-school meeting, and have orchestrated dress down days and other ways to raise money for the cause.  Today they finalized their presentation and posters for the dorms.  Great teamwork was at play.  One student has taken the role of facilitator and guides the group through the process.  Another group worked on trying to put together plans for a community garden in a greenhouse.  The students want to build a garden that will be used to grow food we can donate to our local food pantry.  Since our growing season is so short in NH, they decided to go with a greenhouse to allow for growing all-year.  They are pricing out the equipment, talking to professionals, and putting plans in place.  So awesome!  Two groups are working on putting together a plan for showcasing the artifacts the boys found earlier in the year during an archeological dig in Canaan.  Three students worked on creating a website to display the pieces found with a short blurb about the history of the artifact while another group made a Google Map to list the places where they hope to hide and rebury the artifacts for future sixth grade classes to find.  So cool.  The boys worked together in groups, without input from the teachers unless they requested it.  They were owning their work and doing it all.  At times, my co-teacher and I looked at each other and said, “I feel helpless, like I should be doing something.  But they are doing all the work so well on their own.”  That’s when we knew, we had accomplished what all great teachers dream of: A student-centered and student-directed classroom where the teachers are quiet and guide learning from the sidelines.

So, while today felt a little awkward, it also felt pretty awesome.  Everything we’ve been working so hard for all year, is finally in place.  The students are solving their own problems, doing work independently while working together with their peers.  They use their peers as resources and seek help from us rarely.  It’s amazing.  In the end, the students need to do the work if learning is going to be fostered.  What kind of people do we want running the world when the current generation of adults becomes old and decrepit: People who need to ask their boss a question every five minutes or innovative problem solvers?  I choose the latter and I hope every other teacher does as well.

What Do You Do When Your Students Hit a Wall?

Several years ago, my wife and I purchased a dining room set from IKEA.  Despite having all of the parts for a table and four chairs, the box in which it came was the size of a pillow.  How is it that IKEA is able to pack such large items into such small containers?  So, being the kind husband that I am, I assembled it; however, I would not call what I did assembling.  For a package with over one hundred pieces, the instructions included two steps: Assemble Table, and Assemble Chairs.  Okay, if I had an engineering degree, those instructions would have been easy to follow, but I don’t and so I was faced with a challenge:  What do I do with the extra 25 pieces I have left over?  I could have thrown them away and risked the chairs and table falling apart, or find a way to incorporate them into the furniture design so as to make them safe.  So, I faced a wall and broke threw it.  I assembled each piece of that dining room set as securely as possible.  While a few of the chairs were put together backwards or incorrectly, to this day, eight years later, the dining room set still stands and is in use.  Sure, it doesn’t look like the pictures on the box or in the catalogs and there are numerous cracks from wear and tear, but it works.  I solved the problem in a way that worked for me.  It was not innovative or creative, but it got the job done.  I was frustrated and grew angry at several points.  In fact, if I were to transcribe the event here, there would be several words blanked out due to their vulgarity.  At points during the construction process, I almost gave up and had to take breaks and walk away, but in the end I did it.  I solved my problem and overcame the challenge.  I learned that, with perseverance, I can do almost anything.

Helping students realize this same thing can be quite troubling and difficult.  At the sixth grade level, when they hit a wall, we sometimes see tears.  Instead of trying to coddle those students, I need to let them struggle with support and reassurance.  I don’t acknowledge the tears but offer them a chance to take a break.  The tears are their emotional release or catharsis.  Following their wall, they generally solve the problem and feel a sense of accomplishment for having overcome their adversity.  Plus, neurologically, they bridge gaps in synapses and make neural connections.  They grow mentally because of how they overcome the problem that faced them.

Today during STEM class, the students worked on finishing a partner activity regarding our current unit on wind power.  The boys had to create a map using Google Maps that included a paragraph explaining the advantages and disadvantages of wind energy, a polygon marking the area of the proposed wind farm near Canaan, the area of the polygon with a description of how one finds the area of an irregular polygon, and markers for the 29 proposed wind turbines in locations that the students feel will best harness the wind.  For a few groups, this proved to be a challenging project.  They worked together, asked each other questions, grew frustrated, asked me questions, and continued working.  Two groups hit a wall and couldn’t figure out what to do.  One group member in each of those groups ended up in tears.  Their partners comforted them and I allowed them to take a break.  Fortunately, when they hit their walls, we were in the process of transitioning to another task and so they had a chance to take a mental break as well.  When those two groups got back to work about 10 minutes later, they were more focused and figured out how to solve their problem.  They came at their problems from a new perspective.  Their brain was able to tackle the problem.  Struggle is how genuine learning comes about.  Those students who faced a wall today, will never forget this experience and are all the wiser and better equipped to face future problems because of what happened today.

Perseverance is one of the most important skills our students need to learn in order to grow and overcome problems.  Our brains are plastic and able to do many things, if we allow them to.  Our students need to get angry, frustrated, sad, and cry when they face challenges.  It’s what they do next that will determine how quickly they will overcome their problem.  Yes, we need to be there to support our students, give them strategies they can use to solve their problems, but we need to let them struggle.  If we solve the problem for them or tell them how to overcome it, will real learning ever come about for our students?

While it can be difficult to watch our students struggle and be challenged, our goal as teachers is for our students to learn how to persevere and solve the problems with which they are faced.   Today, I was able to help guide my students through their journey of learning and self discovery when they hit a wall and faced a challenge, which they eventually overcame.

What Are Your Faculty Summer Reading Requirements?

Regardless of if it is assigned or not, I always set a personal goal to read at least three professional development texts each summer so that I can grow as an educator.  I want to provide my students with the best possible learning experience.  To do so, I need to learn and develop as well.  One easy way for me to do that is to read what other teachers and educators are doing in their classroom.  While I try to do this during the academic year, as all teachers know, it’s challenging to do while balancing the many other balls we have in the air.  So, my summer vacation is dedicated to growing as a teacher.

I attended a meeting organized by my school yesterday to discuss the faculty summer reading requirements.  In the past two years, the entire faculty read one book and we came back in late August to discuss it as a whole group.  And that was it.  Many teachers want more out of the summer reading requirement.  How about using the three facets of life at our school as the overarching themes for summer reading?  Athletics, Academics, and Student Life would be those three categories.  Then, choose 2-3 book titles for each theme.  Teachers will then choose the book they want to read over the summer and discuss it in online a forum or blog type setting.  When we return to school in late August for faculty meetings, the faculty members that read the same book will meet and discuss the book, contemplating ways we can incorporate what we learned into our school lives.  Throughout the year, the groups will meet to discuss how they have implemented the strategies learned in the book.  They will also put together a presentation of the big ideas from the text to present to the faculty at a future meeting.  So, not only will faculty members learn and grow over the summer as they engage in meaningful dialogue with their peers regarding new ideas, but they will also document how those ideas changed their teaching, coaching, dorm parenting, or advising.  It’s not just a one and done activity, it’s a year-long process of growth and development.  The ideas that they learn from the book chosen could also be used in the goal setting process.  Oh, and if my school goes to a PLC model of professional development for next year, the groups could be organized by the books the teachers choose.  Wow, so many great things can come from tweaking the summer reading requirements for faculty members and providing them with choice.  It’s kind of like what we do in the classroom for our students.  Teachers are students too.  What an amazing epiphany.

Although summer vacation is months away and inches of white, fluffy snow still blanket the ground in my town, the time to make changes to the summer reading requirements for faculty members is now.  Let’s choose books that teachers want to read so that they learn about new ideas and then find creative ways to implement them because they are engaged and inspired.  If we’re all forced to read the same book, just like our students, half of us will hate it and not read it.  Then what?  How do we grow as a community of learners if only half of us are engaged?  Choice is crucial.  Let’s mix things up to bring about growth.

International Education: What’s Different?

Having only ever experienced school in America, I have no idea what the educational systems in other countries look like in action.  How are they different?  How are they the same as what we do?  Is one way more effective than another?  The news and media continually bombard us with headlines like “Finnish Educational System Best in the World,” “American Public School System is Broken,” and “Asian School System Rigorous.”  What’s it all about?  Are educational systems and structures like culture and in need of respect and compassion?  Should we study other ways of educating children and look for the benefits in all of them without trying to advocate one over the other?  What can other teachers and classrooms around the world teach us?

As I have students from Korea, China, and Nepal in my classroom, learning about the educational institutions in which they came from will teach me a lot.  How did my students learn in their home countries?  How can I change the way I teach to best serve all of my students?  I want to know.

Today in STEM class, we ended the period by having the students complete a multiplication table.  The boys got right to work.  A few students finished very quickly.  Some of those students happened to be the international students in my class.  So, out of curiosity, I asked them, “Was this easy?  Have you done it before?”  One students from China said, “No, I’ve never done this before.  In China, students starting in the first grade will start every class by reciting the multiplication tables aloud as a class.  By the third grade, we have the times tables memorized.”  A sixth grader from Korea said, “In Korea, our parents or private tutors teach us math skills before Kindergarten.  After school we spend four-five hours with tutors for extra work and help.”  So crazy to think of how different the learning systems in other countries are.  Our international students are almost always years ahead of our domestic students in math.  Does that matter?  Does it make them better or smarter?  Are our international students able to advance further than our domestic students?

While I have done some research on the Finnish educational system and how it differs from the American system, I feel as though I know very little about schools in Asia.  My goal is to do some learning so that I can better help the students in my class from Asian countries.  How did they learn prior to my class?  How can I build upon that to help them grow and develop?  Is what I do so different from how they’ve learned that it is a detriment to them?

In my many years working with international students, what I’ve found is that they lack creativity and abstract thinking.  As they are so used to memorizing facts and information, when they need to create an original idea, they struggle greatly.  They also have trouble working in groups.  Analyzing information and making inferences also tends to be difficult for students from Asian countries who attend the school at which I work.  If many of our international students leave America after attending school, do they need to have the creativity they gain here or is it a waste of their time?  Should schools in other countries change the way they teach to suit America?  Is there a solution that would benefit all students around the globe?  If we are preparing our students for lives in a global society, shouldn’t they be able to do it all anywhere?  What’s the best, most effective way to teach our students?

What Makes a Student Reading Conference Beneficial?

As we employ the Reader’s Workshop model of reading instruction in the sixth grade, our students love to read.  They recommend books to each other and read all the time.  They are voracious readers.  It’s amazing.  While the reading part of Reader’s Workshop is important, reflection and growth based on strategies is also vital to the process.  We want to make sure our students are working towards their reading goal while also employing the strategies we’ve worked on thus far this year.

So, on a weekly basis, we conference with our students.  It’s usually a quick check-in lasting about 5-10 minutes in length.  We ask the students the following questions: What are you reading?  Do you like it and why or why not?  What is your reading goal?  What are you doing to work towards it?  What can you do to work towards it?  These questions generally get the conversation going.  We want to help our students think about their reading critically.  Sometimes during our weekly conferences, we go over a recent Humanities assignment we graded or assessed.  We also try to keep some conferences open so that the students can talk to us about whatever is on their mind.  It’s a chance to have individual conversations with our students about their reading lives.

Is there more that we could or should be doing in these conferences?  Are we tackling too much or too little?  Are the conferences too long or too short?  Are we focusing on reading enough?  I wonder if we are using our student conferences effectively.

Today we met with our students to go over their reading goal.  We asked them about their goal and what they are doing to work towards it.  Most of the students are making great progress.  For two of the students, I had to remind them when to practice using the strategy they want to work on.  One student wants to improve his ability to read aloud.  So, he went into the hallway and practiced reading from his book aloud.  Another student wants to improve his vocabulary.  So, he took note of unknown words in his reading and then looked them up in an online dictionary.  Most of the conferences today were under five minutes.  Is that long enough?

Our students love to read and are, for the most part, effectively utilizing the reading strategies well.  However, are our reading conferences enough to help guide our students?  Should we be doing more?  Although our conference format and frequency has greatly improved in the last two years, we still wonder if we have it right yet.  What makes a student reading conference beneficial for our students?

Useful Reflection Activity or Morbid Thinking?

In one of my high school English classes, I had to write my obituary.  I had only been alive on Earth for about 16 or 17 years at that point.  What had I really done?  I didn’t accomplish anything great.  I certainly didn’t have any awesome or horrible things happen to me.  So, why did I need to write about my boring and short life.  I think I could have summed up my life in one sentence back then: Mark Holt was a 16 year old boy who died having accomplished nothing.  End of story.  So then, why do teachers still use this activity in their classrooms?  Why should students be forced to contemplate their demise at such a young age?  Might it inspire them to Carpe Diem?  The assignment certainly didn’t make me want to go hike the Appalachian Trail.  While I love the idea of reflection, I wonder about the true purpose of this assignment and how it affects students.  Is it a useful reflective writing exercise or an activity in morbid thinking?

Yesterday afternoon, while I was driving alone listening to one of my favorite bands, I started thinking…  When I die, what songs do I want to have played at my funeral?  How do I want people to think of me when I die?  My thought process did go down a scary road for a bit before I steered it back on track.  I then started pondering the idea of my life’s playlist.  What songs would be on my 10-song playlist that best summarize my life?  I generated a short, but incomplete list in my head: And We All Return to our Roots by The Forecast, Just Breathe by Pearl Jam, and something by Coheed and Cambria.  I still have lots of thinking and planning to go.

Later that evening I discussed this idea with my wife.  She thought it was very interesting.  Then I asked her, “Could I use this in the classroom?”  Have my sixth graders experienced enough music and life to complete this reflection activity?  I doubt it, but I do think the ninth graders at my school could wrap their heads around this and have a ton of fun doing it.  What songs would they include?  What song best tells their life story?

So, while writing one’s own obituary may not be the best reflective writing activity, perhaps having students think about their life in terms of music might.  There are a lot of extension activities that could come from it.  They could explain why they chose each song.  They could narrate it as a video or podcast.  They could create a movie of their life with the playlist as the soundtrack.  Music, for many people, is the best medicine, healer, companion, and drug.  So, what songs would be on your 10-song playlist?

Is a Test The Only Way to Assess Students

In second, fourth, and sixth grade I had to take those ridiculous state standardized tests.  It took a week of class time and numerous #2 pencils.  Why #2?  What about #1?  Crazy tests folks making special rules.  I wonder if the pencil makers cut a secret, backroom deal with the test people to make sure that only #2 pencils would work on their tests.  It really does make you wonder.  Back to the tests.  So, horrible tests.  What did they prove, really?  That I could fill in a bubble appropriately?  Yah for me!  The tests were a waste of my class and learning time.  I could have accomplished so much more in that time.  I could have made the turtle move a bunch of extra steps.  I could have read another Encyclopedia Brown book.  I could have done anything besides take that stupid test.

As a teacher, I view tests the same way I did back then.  Tests are yucky!  They prove very little.  However, most schools, classes, and teachers utilize tests to assess their students.  So, to help prepare our students for the future of yuckiness, we do employ tests in our classroom every once and a while.  Today was one of those rare days.

In STEM class, our students recently finished a lengthy unit regarding weather.  Today was test day.  The students completed the exam in class.  While many of the students did very well, several students didn’t seem to meet the science objectives covered on the exam.  So, rather than have every student complete test corrections and redo the test over the weekend, I thought I would try something different.

I met with each student and asked them the same questions from the test orally.  I had them explain their answers to me without showing them their test.  It turns out that most of those students who didn’t seem to fully showcase their understanding of the objectives covered, actually did know them and proved it verbally.  So, I changed their grades.  If they can do it orally, they can do it.  Perhaps on the written test, they were nervous, anxious, or just forgot.  Maybe they didn’t realize they knew everything that they did.  Perhaps they thought that when they ran out of lines, they couldn’t write anymore.  Whatever the reasons, having a conversation with the students helped them display their true potential.

Are tests the only method to assess student understanding?  Is it fair and equitable to expect students to memorize information and then regurgitate it on a test only to forget about it days later?  Students need to engage with and find the relevance in what they are learning for the information to pass into their long term memory.  Tests don’t allow that to happen.  So, why do schools and teachers insist on using tests as the only way students can demonstrate their understanding of the concepts?  What about projects?  PBL is a very beneficial method of allowing students to learn through doing.  They become engaged with the material and apply their understanding in creative and relevant ways.  What about discussions and oral conversations?  Can’t those be used to assess our students?  There are numerous ways students can be assessed and display what they know.  So, why must teachers and schools stick to mostly one way?  Mix things up.  Allow students to choose how they can demonstrate their knowledge.  Alternative forms of assessment are becoming the only real way to assess students fairly and completely.

Unlike the boring days of standardized tests, our classrooms should be filled with students doing the learning, owning the learning, talking about their learning, and showing their learning in new and innovative ways.  Make school and learning fun and exciting for our students by allowing them alternative ways to show their understanding.  Just say, “No!” to tests and, “Yes!” to student engagement.

Peer Revision Process

Students will only listen to and value what their teachers say to a point.  When we try to provide constructive feedback to our students, they generally think we are trying to change their work.  Or even worse, they think that we hate what they’ve produced.  In the end, they usually don’t incorporate the suggestions we provide.  So, why bother?  Why not find another way to help our students grow as writers?

To help prepare our sixth graders for the rigors of seventh grade, my co-teacher and I decided that we would utilize an assignment the English teacher uses with the seventh graders.  As our students have read numerous books this year under the workshop model, we figured it was time to bring things full circle.  Plus, we also want to encourage our students to grow as critical thinkers.  So, we had them create a Book Review regarding a book they read this year.  The boys could choose any book they wanted.  We had them craft the review according to the expectations the seventh grade English teacher employs in his classroom.  We provided our students with the same handout they will see next year.  We explained, “We want to prepare you for next year.”  To help our students along in the revision process this week, we invited one of the seventh grade English classes into our classroom.  We had the seventh graders pair up with a sixth grader and edit and offer feedback to him regarding the Book Review he had created.

It was an awesome experience.  The seventh graders were like young teachers guiding our sixth graders to academic excellence.  The seventh graders offered suggestions, made edits in their work, and helped them find textual support.  At the close of the class, we debriefed the process with both groups.  The sixth graders said, “My partner helped me fix my grammar mistakes, he stayed by me during the revision process and answered my questions as I had forgotten what he said earlier, and he showed me where to use examples from the book.”  The seventh graders said, “I was able to fix mistakes that I used to make in my own writing and I liked talking to someone other than a seventh grader in my class.”  Both groups of students benefited greatly from this process.  The seventh graders rose to the occasion and helped the sixth graders develop their writing while the sixth graders were receptive to feedback and allowed their writing to grow.  It was amazing to see the students so enthralled in the entire process for 35 minutes.

This isn’t the only way to help students revise their writing, but to date this year, it seems to be one of the best ways that we have found.  Students are much more receptive and open to feedback when it is provided by their peers.  They trust that what the seventh graders told them was useful because they have gone through this process before and know what the seventh grade teacher expects.  The results will be evident next week when we conference with the students regarding their final Book Review.  We’re hopeful that this process will help them improve upon their work more so than just hearing suggestions from the teachers.

What Makes an Effective Review Session?

In high school, my teachers used to make us copy down notes they wrote on the board and use them as a study guide.  They would list what topics would be covered on the test.   That was our review session.  They would never answer direct questions about what specifically would be on the test.  The review class periods were boring and overwhelming.  Tons of information was thrown at us and we were expected to process, understand, and remember it all while we were stressed out of our minds about the big exam.  Thinking back on these classes, I question if these methods were effective in helping me prepare for exams.  I recall never doing very well on tests.  I just wasn’t a test taker.  But, was it that I wasn’t good at taking tests or did I just not ever have an effective method for preparing for tests?  As a teacher, I want to be sure my students learn numerous ways to study and prepare for tests.  I want them to feel comfortable asking questions to understand what will be on the test and how it will be covered.  I want my students to not feel overwhelmed or anxious about taking a test.  I want them to think of review sessions as fun and engaging opportunities to become comfortable with the material covered.

Today in my STEM class, we spent the double-block preparing for tomorrow’s Weather Test.  We began with a Jeopardy review game that I created online.  The students were randomly split into two groups using the popsicle stick method.  This way, the students feel like it is random and not teacher-selected.  The game was constructed differently from the last review session due to the student feedback we received.  One of our students suggested using only two groups instead of the four we had used last time.  This student also suggested the use of a bell instead of teams taking turns.  So, we incorporated this feedback into today’s game.  The students were split into two teams.  The team who answered the previous question correctly chose the next category and point value.  The team who knew the answer and buzzed in first had five seconds to answer the question.  If the team got it wrong, they lost points and the other team had a chance to steal the points but did not risk losing points if they provided an incorrect answer.  This new method was all about speed.  Plus, we added a twist of our own.  We would not call on the student who rang the bell to answer the question.  We would randomly call on a student from the group to answer, which meant that every student in each group needed to be sure they knew the answer.  This forced the students to work together as a team.  The students had fun and this game allowed us to review big concepts that will be covered on tomorrow’s exam.

We then went over study and test preparation methods and strategies.  We had the students share various ways they study for exams.  The boys said, “Make flashcards, brainstorm and record all of the ideas discussed in class, study with a peer, make a study guide, and look over past work and projects.”  They hit the big ones.  We explained that the students should make use of one of the discussed ideas that they think will help them best prepare for tomorrow’s exam.

The final 20 minutes of class were spent going over the test.  We discussed the questions and answers for the science portion of the exam.  The students asked clarifying questions.  We then went over the concepts that will be covered on the math portion of the exam.  The students had very few questions regarding this part.  They took notes or recorded the conversation to use later from which to study.

Leaving class, the students seemed ready to go.  Hopefully, one of the strategies used or discussed in class today will help them be and feel prepared for the big test tomorrow.  Regardless of the outcome, we wanted to introduce the students to multiple test preparation strategies while also making reviewing fun and engaging.  The students had a blast playing Jeopardy.  If all they remember is what was covered on that game, they will be fine for tomorrow’s assessment.  Sometimes it’s not about remembering the right answer but the process involved.  Being able to regurgitate facts is useless unless you can somehow apply them.

How Do We Teach Our Students to Effectively Compile Their Research?

When I was a senior in high school, I was assigned a thesis research project regarding an author.  I chose Oscar Wilde because The Picture of Dorian Gray was an amazing novel with several layers.  My teacher had us compile our research on index cards.  One fact per note card.  While it made the outline and essay writing processes very easy, it was a waste of paper.  I used over 100 index cards.  In college, my teachers didn’t care how we compiled or gathered our research.  They just assessed our final paper or project.  So, I wasn’t exposed to more than one method of compiling my notes and research.  What’s the best way to put research together?

In the sixth grade, we teach the students several different ways to compile their research and notes.  We want to expose them to various methods so that they can choose the one that works best for them when they move on in their academic careers.  We’ve introduced the students to the bubble mapping method employed by the computer program Inspiration.  Many of our boys liked the mind mapping method for putting their research together.  It also makes the transfer to an outline super easy with one click.  We’ve also had our students use the bullet style format for taking notes.  This method makes use of synthesizing information.  Over the course of the year we will introduce a few more different ways in which the students can compile notes and research.  Towards the end of the year, we will complete a few projects or activities that will allow the students choice in the method used to take notes.  This will offer students the chance to try out their favorite style of notetaking.

In Humanities class, we are in the midst of a great research project.  We are walking the students through the research process step by step so that they are prepared for future research projects later in their schooling.  The focus for this project is the process.  During each step, the students document their process.  What did they do?  How did they do it?  Was it useful?  Which source provided the most information?  What did they do when they ran out of research or found a faulty source?  In one document they have compiled their process starting with brainstorming and going all the way to the research phase.  As the students extract important facts and research from their various sources, they are typing their paraphrased notes into that same document using the bullet style format.  This way they focus on the key ingredients and not quantity.

While students are struggling with recording their process along the way, a few students are organizing the document in a way that makes sense to them.  Although we do want our students to own their learning and make responsible choices, if their way of recording their process is confusing to us as their teachers, is it an effective method?  My co-teacher and I chatted about that today and realized that right now, the focus is on gathering information and not a final, cohesive product.  Our goal next week is to meet with each student and conference with them about their document and its organization.  We will provide them feedback on their process and then give them a few more class periods to work and revise their process document before we formally grade it.  We’re hopeful, that this will help those few students who seem to be crafting a chaotic piece.  We also hope that these conferences will give us the chance to correct any falsities the students have about researching and the process involved.  We want to prepare these students for next year and beyond.  To do that, we need to be sure they know how to complete certain tasks well.  This is one way we can do that.

Is one method of gathering notes or research better than another?  Who knows, but what I do know is that choice is important.  We want our students to understand that there is always more than one way to solve a problem or complete a task.  Notetaking is one of those tasks.