Saturday, December 26, 2015

Using Visual Notes in the Secondary Classroom

Those of you who know me, know I love to use visuals in my classes. I am first and foremost, a teacher of English Language Learners, and my next hat is a social studies/ history teacher.
One strategy I use increasingly more -- both for and with my students -- is that of visual notetaking. I call it "edusketching", and it's simply the use of visuals and words while taking notes and demonstrating comprehension.

Let me show you how it can work in a secondary history classroom, which, as many of you know, can be full of facts, timelines, sequences, numbers, people, dates, legislation, and so on.
In short, A LOT.

Now, I know a few folks rely heavily on Document Based Questioning in their classrooms, with much success. (See how Dave Orphal uses it in his class here.) Edusketching works equally well in different types of learning scenarios for students to take their notes while reading, researching, and synthesizing, as well as while listening to others weave their stories.

Recently, students were studying the events of the 1960's in American History II, and, much like the 1920's, there are many delicious areas of interest to delve into. Alas, time keeps on ticking, though, and so my co-teacher (who is amazing and oh-so-rich in her historical knowledge) and I decided to have the students work on a modified jigsaw activity.

Over the weekend, students delved into the topic of the turbulent 60's using a webquest which briefly introduced several topics, in preparation for discussion that next Monday. During the discussion in class, admittedly teacher-led, they could elaborate more on the information they had found.

I mentioned a modified jigsaw, and here's what happened next. Students chose a topic from the webquest to research more deeply with a partner. Their task was to teach the rest of the class about that topic through an oral presentation, and to do so, they would edusketch a visual on large chart paper. This visual would then serve as an anchor to their presentation.

Researching together.
Researching and edusketching.
Discussing what to write and draw.
Even "simple" embellishments to words demonstrate
understanding, as seen with the word Vietnam. Viewers
get a sense of the geography and the red depicts
encroaching communism. The entire chart is shown below.
Prior to the presentations, we conducted a concept attainment activity to remind them of different types of questions. (attached at the bottom) Concept attainment is one of my favorite strategies in which information is provided to students in the form of examples. Rather than give students the information carte blanche, they get to be detectives and determine common characteristics or attributes about each object they are shown. It definitely takes a couple of examples for them to "get it", but oh how it sticks when they do.

They were given a guide with question starters for Bloom's different levels of thinking, and each partnered group came up with at least 4 questions, from level 2 and up. (Costa's levels of questioning, Bloom's taxonomy, and/or Depth of Knowledge question starters all work equally well--choose your poison.) :)

While listening, students added notes -- in whatever way they preferred --to their pre-discussion webquest introductions. Following each presentation, they wrote questions to demonstrate their understanding, as another way to assess their understanding. We randomly chose students' questions to answer as a whole class, although you could certainly add a competitive touch and form teams to draw questions and answer them!

Their assessment was multi-faceted and ongoing, chock full of opportunities for us to watch their learning deepen and content-driven language use become more confident.  Discussions during their creation of visual notes were increasingly detailed and focused. With two co-teachers on hand to enhance discussion, poke with questioning, and discuss their blossoming visuals, there was pure joy in the room. Their summative included short responses based on the presentations, but was derived primarily from the student-generated questions. And since the questions had been discussed orally in class, our language learners were prepared to access and respond with confidence.

In spite of tech-driven pushes in academia, there is room (and a need)
 for the low-tech approaches to learning, including visual notes. 

There are many ways to use visual notes in the classroom, and this was just one. The point is, as you can see from these strategies and activities, edusketching in the classroom is far from just "drawing pictures". A lot of thought goes into the sketches, especially knowing they will anchor oral presentations. Obviously not "all" information is included on a single piece of chart paper. The goal was for students to synthesize and teach others the information they learned, which included prioritizing the most critical pieces, in the most succinct way.

Energy in the room was palpable, and of course, visible reminders were available for all to see, to trigger remembering, and to use as a shared reference by all. If you haven't tried it, give it a go. I'd love to hear about your experiences and ideas to make this work even better!
Yep, it's quite alright for highschool students to be
up and out of their seats! 

60's Music

As you can see from these two posters alone, it's fascinating to see what resonates with students and which details they consider the most important to represent visually.
Another for 60's Counter Culture
60's Counter Culture

Anti-War Movement

So tell me they didn't have a little fun with
the Legacy of the 60's.

The British Invasion

Some groups dove right in and wanted to
do more than one visual. 

Using the visual as an anchor.

Interesting how many more questions students
ask of their peers when there are visuals at hand.
Thanks for stopping by. There are so many tweaks we could make to this lesson--what kind of ideas do you have? Again, I'd love to hear about your experiences and ideas to make this work even better, so please comment below! 

An example of our concept attainment strategy to remind students of
different types of questions. Students were shown one line at a time, with
one Yes question/ one No question, and they had to determine which
characteristics defined those in the yes column. Makes for a lot more
critical thinking a la detective style for the students, but they do rise
to the challenge.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Why students took pictures of this review

A deceptively simple outcome. 
American History II, like most history classes in my experience, is chock full of facts, events, legislation, key figures, and cause, cause, cause, effect, effect, effect. But a mere 90 classes (optimum, no interruptions scenario!) in a semester makes the task seem monumental. Depth can be a definite challenge when faced with the breadth of information--so what's a student to do?

Today we tried a new low-tech--but high engagement!--approach to reviewing, as a jumpstart.
President's names were printed on one set of large index cards, and passed out randomly to students as they entered the room. They were then tasked with sequencing them from the Era of Reconstruction to 2015.  Without notes or computers. 
A definite challenge, we soon found out. 
                                            And we let them struggle. 

Rather than correct their presidential order, we then handed out key events for students to match with the presidents. It soon became evident their order was...well, out of order. 
More discussion. 
More thinking. 
More questioning. 
More debating. 
More thinking...

Getting closer?...
My co-teacher is amazing at weaving all of these time periods together, and as she guided the class through discussion of causes and effects, students took notes, were engaged, and began to re-piece the events and presidents together. This was the first time they had really considered all of the events at once, and soon there were even murmured "oh!"s of understanding. That bigger picture eased itself out of it's hiding place, and loomed large, students could self-assess without pressure, and teachers could conduct an overall formative assessment in a snap. (Did I mention we had fun?) 

Not too shabby, plus it gave us the idea to use a similar activity as a pre-assessment for next semester. Hmmm....

Of course, not all events were covered, but this turned out to be a heck of a jumpstart to all that has been addressed this semester. Amazing how much they had learned--and how much they'd forgotten. Students found it very useful, and even wanted to take pictures of it. The next step starts tomorrow, the last day before Christmas break, then finishes in January. Stay tuned. With cameras ready. 
Gotta love when students take pictures of a review activity!
Say wha...?
What are some ways that you review with your highschool history classes? Please share in the comments below!