Every teacher needs a teaching tool kit. A bunch of go to teaching strategies that they can use to carry out their amazing lessons. If you are beginning with inquiry you may need to refill your teacher bag of tricks with some new ideas.
Because sometimes we get stuck in a rut and forget that there is more than the think-pair-share strategy that will help us teach.
Remember back to a time when you were a fresh-faced university student just entering teachers college with hopes, dreams, a mountain of debt and this naive notion that you could change the world one read aloud at a time?
Then you start teacher’s college and you are suddenly hit with ‘NO FREE TIME’ the work overload, and you are hit with all of these ideas for teaching strategies but with no real idea how or why they would be used.
but the only one you do remember is that easy think-pair-share activity.
So you take that and for the last few years have relied on that one strategy more than any others.
or all of that could just be me ?!?!
There are so many great teaching strategies that help support inquiry-based learning in the classroom.
This is what we talked about during EP31 on Teaching with Inquiry Live
Watch It – Listen To It – Read the Transcript here
Here are some strategies that you may want to incorporate into your daily instruction.
This is a three stage questioning activity. First, you pose a question to your classYou give them time to process and think in silence. Then you have them share and work out their ideas with a partner. Finally, students share their thinking with the whole group
A great idea from Visible Thinking is think-puzzle-explore. This is an activity to help students identify background knowledge, begin to question, then make a plan to find answers. It is perfect to use as a provocation during the engage stage of inquiry.
This is a teaching strategy that I use with my students to help them dig deeper and ask more meaningful questions, arrive at deeper conclusions, make connections with what they are learning. After students share you ask them to explain their thinking with phrases like ‘why might it be that way’ ‘why do you think that’. Asking them to share-clarify-share-clarify 3-5 times helps students to come to much more meaningful conclusions and go beyond the surface.
Question Sort Matrix
If you are looking for a ‘now what’ after you have finished your wonder wall. This strategy will help you and your students to sort through those questions and evaluate which ones are worth exploring. In a graph you first evaluate the type of question on a horizontal line then you evaluate the questions on how interesting and appropriate they are to dig deeper with.
Connect – Extend – Challenge
When students are in the midst of learning sometimes you need them to focus on what it all means. Using this teaching strategy will help your students to connect new ideas to old ideas. Students connect what they are learning to previous learning, identify how their understanding has changed and explore ideas they still have questions about.
2 Stars and a Wish
Providing students with feedback is important but keeping it focused and manageable is important. Using this teaching strategy has helped me to frame how I provide either oral or written feedback for students. Presented in a compliment sandwich students can learn what they did well and what one next step they need to focus on next.
This is a strategy that I talked about in EP26 of Teaching with inquiry live (Watch It – Listen To It – Read The Transcript). Students need to be explicitly taught how to contribute to a discussion and IDEAS is a strategy that you can use to help them remember the ways they can contribute.
Sometimes you just don’t want to see another sticky note. I get it!! So sometimes I use a graffiti write instead. Students write their ideas all over the paper to answer a question, share their thoughts, or engage in a new concept. When students are done you have a paper that is full of student ideas going any direction possible.
This is one of those popular teaching strategies from teachers college. It is a great way to cover a lot of information in a shorter amount of time. This is especially important when you want students exposed to lots of different ideas but perhaps they don’t need expert knowledge in all areas. I often use this strategy when looking at habitats, energy sources, or physical regions. This activity requires a high degree of accountability on all students. Sometimes this isn’t always possible and some students need more support. Hear about how I handle this issue in ep31 of Teaching With Inquiry Live.
This is a great teaching strategy tool that was popularized by this great resource and amazing teacher Jennifer Runde. She uses learning journals in her interactive math journal resource on TPT. This idea of getting students to reflect on their learning is an important task that I include in my student conferences as well as my science and social studies units. Students identify the learning goal, and what they know about it before learning. After some new knowledge has been gained students reflect on what they have learned and show that they have learned it through this journal.
Do you want more details on the teaching strategies listed here? These slides and more are in my inquiry teaching library.
You just found out you are teaching a split grade class next year. For most teachers the idea of teaching a split is overwhelming. You have twice as many curriculum expectations or standards to teach and no more time to teach it within. Sometimes you are lucky enough to get independent students. However if you are in a small school like me you just get all the kids in two particular grades. This will again be my fourth year teaching a split. I have been given opportunities to organize the classes into straight grades in the past however I have always negotiated that two splits were better than two separate straights. This has worked out for many different reasons including the benefits for the students and the opportunity to work with a teaching partner.
Reducing stress when you are preparing for a split grade classroom can make some of the challenges of a split class less stressful. Here is how I reduce my stress when getting ready for September and planning for a split grade classroom.
1) Long Range Planning – This is a vital step in reducing your stress come September. Developing a plan that outlines what you are going to teach when and managing your pacing and timing to help to keep you on track is also very important.
2) Teach Things Together – This is necessary to save your sanity. Math and language can easily be taught together. Looking at the curriculum and mapping out the curriculum to find where the differences between the two curriculums for each grade level. Many boards have this done for you. The guides to effective instruction in Ontario have this in the math curriculum for you already. This makes it easier. Language is also very similar between grades. Find the slight differences between the grades and teach them together extending the older grade where necessary.
3) Differentiate – Plan open-ended tasks that can easily be adaptable to various levels. For math this means increasing or decreasing the difficulty of the numbers in the questions depending on where students are. This means that everyone gets the exact same page but the numbers that they use to complete the worksheet or assigned problem changes depending on the students needs. In language that means meet them where they are in their language development and conference with them more than teaching the to support them in moving forward in their writing and reading development. Lots of conferencing and less time standing in front of them teaching will save you planning time and stress. Using an inquiry approach in writing and reading allows students to work at their own pace and develop their skills in a more natural way.
4) Flip Flop Instruction – sometimes when the curriculum does not match so you cannot teach it together. Subjects such as science and social studies are much harder to combine completely. In this case, I find that the best strategy is to plan for 20min of teacher supported instruction followed by 20min of student independent work tasks. With an inquiry approach that is occurring in classrooms these days, this allows for wonderings and conversations circles during your teacher supported time and opportunities to research and search for information while you are working with the other group. Using techniques such as interactive notebooks for independent work time and research booklets help to support this and provide students with some structure when working independently.
5) No More Stress – Don’t reinvent the wheel. Let me do the planning for you. Long range plans for a 4/5 split are available in my TPT store. Specialized science and social studies units that are specifically designed for split grade teachers helps you to reduce your planning and get a head start on enjoying your summer and free time a bit more. Whether you teach a 4/5 or another junior split the units in my TPT store will allow you to use a framework to support your planning at least reducing your planing by half.
How do you reduce your planning stress with a new assignment?
Teaching science to two grades is always a juggling act. Lots of preparation needs to go into how you are going to teach two separate units to two different grades. I always teach a 4/5 and generally have the students for two years. So combining the units and teaching one lesson like I can in math and language does not work well. So it comes down to focusing on what is important, borrowing strategies from other subjects, organization and teaching independence. I teach in 20-30 min time blocks to each grade. Then they will have to learn independently as they do the task. However over time I have learned that sometimes students miss the point of the lesson this way as I am not there to guide them. However I have learned that there are some key strategies to make sure that the time students are working independently that they are learning the stuff I want them to learn.
Focus on What is Important
It all starts with the assessment and the cycle of assessment 1) Learning Goals and Success Criteria
First thing I do is share my learning goals and success criteria. For each lesson for each grade I post it share it, make a big deal about it. Students should always know what they are doing and why they are doing it. I also make sure I post it. I have a science board. All things Science are on this board if students are not so sure then they can look here. They also know that if it is posted on this board they will and can be assessed on it. They must know the topics listed on this board. I start with the daily goals on the board (smartboard or chart cart) Once students have learned this we then transfer it onto the science board.
Today we are learning to identify and describe different types of Energy
– we will read about different types of energy
– we will conduct experiments to see different types of energy in action
– we will use this experiment to help us describe each type of energy
– we will reflect on what we learned to help us figure it all out.
2) Borrow from Math
So the latest instructional strategy in math is to use a three part lesson plan in math to teach different concepts
- Getting started
- Working on It
I thought if it works in math why not in science. So I started with this question:”How do I build reflection into science so that I can use it for formative assessment purposes?” My solution…
these are very popular on TPT right now and I thought how do I use these in authentic ways. I don’t just want cut and paste activities that have no meaning. I did struggle with why would I spend the time having students assemble these if they could simple answer a few questions in their notebook. However I like the look of them and feel that students will want to use them and decorate them. I will structure my notebooks in this way. On the left students will put their notes and interactive notebook activities on here. On the Right students will complete their reflection activity. Many of the interactive notebooks are based on the 3R reflection response that I completed in teachers college. The 3R’s represent Retell, Relate, Reflect. The left side represents the Retell portion and the right side represents the reflection section. The relate portion is weaved into both aspects. I find that with student reflection and retell I can gauge what students have learned and where we should focus. I don’t mark these, but I do read them and make note of student needs. They are great formative assessment.
Ok this is a goal and always will be. It is inevitable that as a teacher you must organize and organize well. As a split grade teacher there is no option you must put on your OCD hat and organize like a crazy person. (this is why everything in my classroom has labels, students have numbers, books are colour coded, and why I hate paper. Even your planning needs to be organized. For this purpose I am constantly making tables and charts to organize my lessons and feel like I live with timers dinging and signaling me to change what I am doing. I also feel that whenever possible you should utilize student and parent volunteers. I know I cannot do this on my own but I do have very helpful students (who love to stay inside instead of going out in the snow) or parent volunteers. I use these volunteers to organize my centers, fill buckets, order papers, photocopy or whatever else I need help with. I know I cannot do it all so I ask for help from whom ever is available and willing to help.
I have blogged before about my tips for teaching a split grade here but in science this is a very important skill. For a science class in a split grade students are often not completing a quiet activity. They are engaged in hands on activities or group work. This means that it is imperative that students learn how to work together and work independently as a group without you. You have to be okay with a bit of noise and you need multiple teaching spaces. Independent students does not mean quiet students independent students means engaged students. Check out my guide to Teaching Independence Free on TPT.
I have finally finished my next combined unit for my 4/5 plans. In January I go back to work from my maternity leave. If you follow my 4/5 long range plans you would know that I have planned to teach two science units: Rocks and Minerals and Conservation of Energy.
It is finally done. My 4/5 science unit covering Rocks and Minerals and Energy Consevation
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Teaching students to work independently is a vital task for all teachers but especially for teachers of split grades. It is also one of the largest barriers that prevents teachers from using inquiry.
So you may not like hearing it but almost all students are capable of working independently. There work needs to pass the Goldilocks test. It can’t be too hard, It can’t be too easy, It has to be just right.
It also has to be engaging and purposeful.
Students also cannot work independently, If they are not taught how. This is why I teach studentsExplicitly How to work independently. I also left themExperience failureAnd coach them through this failure
Set Clear Expectations
Create an anchor chart with your expectations. When teaching these to students remember that you must do this in a variety of ways. You must Tell them, teach them, show
them, post them, practice them, reinforce them. In Daily 5 they call this building stamina but it can be used in all subjects.
Tell students that you want them to work independently and that you need them to do this so that you can teach the other group of students.
Ask them what this should look like in your classroom and write it down.
Have a student demonstrate what this looks like in your classroom. Have another student demonstrate what this doesn’t look like then have them fix it.
Practice, Practice, Practice. Have the whole class practice this and time them. Start with 2 min and work up to 20min.
Make a chart to track their progress. You could use a bar graph or you could use the one in this free resource here.
Hold Them Accountable
Be ruthless, and picky. If any student does not follow the rules stop the time and try again later. That is all that they can handle. If you have students that struggle with this due to specific learning needs have a special contract with them to build their endurance.
When it starts to slip or fail again that means it is time to practice again. Reinforce your expectations
When students are building endurance do not help them. Walk away, watch from your desk, or corner of the room. They have to be able to control their own behaviors without your support.
In my classroom, my students will generally find me at the guided reading table or on the carpet with a group of students. So this is where I sit when I am helping students to build up their independence.
Time for Guided Instruction
Once your students begin to show some endurance with working independently you can begin to teach the other group of students.
But remember to hold your students accountable for the independent work you have assigned. Collect everything (even if you don’t always mark it, make them think that you are and monitor the students who are not using their time well and make an independent work contract with them)
No excuses and no buts. This does work with 98% of students. Generally, if students are not working
independently it is not the student but the teacher’s expectations of what is
acceptable that is confusing. Be
critical of yourself and ask yourself are my words and actions consistent. You may be unknowingly reinforcing your student’s dependence on your control.
To get this guide to help you get your students working independently!! Click the photo below
I love teaching a split grade class. I know this may not be a popular opinion in teaching but there it is. Reality is many of us teach split grade classrooms and although it has it’s challenges it also has some amazing benefits. A Colleague from my school board wrote this last year about lovin the split. In it she lists these as the amazing benefits of split grade teaching
- Built-in differentiated instruction.
- Lots of small group instruction.
- Two times the teaching team!
- Addressing standardized testing even earlier.
These are amazing benefits but how can it be done? How do I teach a split? is a question I often read on Facebook forums.
My Philosophy for Split Grade Teaching:
Teacher as a Guide
I think it is important to understand as a teacher how you will teach. The old lecture style of teaching where the teacher is the giver of information is not the most effective way to teach today’s students. Perhaps it was before the internet but not today. Students have access to more information at their fingertips than ever before and that information is instant. However the information is not always correct or there is so much how does one person really sift though it to find the answer that they are looking for. As a teacher there are times for direct instruction and there are times for student inquiry.
Continuum of Learning
This is the reason a split works so well. No one is ever doing the same thing. In any classroom today it is very rare that you have all students working on the same criteria. However in a straight grade this is expected. The ideas that “I sit in a grade 5 classroom so I do grade 5 things” is not true. In reality it is rare that every student is in the same place at the same time.
Understanding that the curriculum expectations are the stopping point but that the starting point is unknown is paramount to split grade teaching. In math for example I teach place value at the beginning of the year to my 4/5 split class. However I also have students on individual education plans at a grade 3 level. So that is where I start, grade 3, learning. I introduce the ones column and the tens column have them do activities with these small numbers. Students proficient with this build confidence and students at this level continue to build knowledge.
As the unit progresses I increase the skill level and expectations of students. Think of it as a train everyone can get on at the beginning and you drop students off at their proficiency stops along the way. I don’t expect everyone to make the whole journey they can get off the train when they need too.
If you look at my long range plans you will notice that I combine the majority of subjects. Additionally although I do not combine the topics of science and social studies I often find common lessons where the lesson is the same but the work is different for the students. This frees up time and resources.
Accommodate for Everyone
This practice comes from my years as an ELL teacher. Everyone needs accommodations because the one size fits all learners does not work. Teachers can accommodate the process, product, content, and environment
. If every student is working at their own pace then the grade they sit in does not matter. Now this does not mean that I make 29 different activities. I just make activities that can be accessed by the widest variety of students and I have different expectations for different students. While I may expect one group of students to add specific details to an organizer another group of students may be expected to add some basic details. The organizer is the same but the process and content are different. Along the same lines I also ask some students to join me to get assistance in a guided group while I also ask for anyone who needs help to come and get it. Because I have a classroom where students are not stigmatized for needing or asking for help I often get the kids who don’t need it but want it coming to join us. This serves two purposes. One these students help the struggling students, and they also confuse the students as to the criteria under which I group them. The easiest way to start this is to get the ‘coolest kid’ in the classroom and offer to help him first. Students are social creatures and understanding the social dynamic is important to set the culture of accommodations and assistance being okay.
Train for Independence
Ideally you have a situation where you can build your class at the end of the year to ensure that the students that are placed in the split grade class are independent workers. That there is a reduction of students on IEPs, and other factors that respect the fact that you are covering two grades while your colleagues are covering one. I do not have this luxury. I teach in a dual track English/French Immersion school where the population in the English stream is low. Therefore the only class that student have for a junior class is mine. This means that there is no class building and most of my students enter into my room as a junior student unable to work independently. Therefore I spend a great deal of time practicing. I read in the literature that accompanies the Whole Brain Teaching Strategies that if students are not doing what you expect then chances are it is because they do not know what you really expect. They need practice. So we practice. They do it properly or they practice. This is true for lining up, walking around the room, working at their desks, participating in a group discussion, and most importantly transitioning. We don’t just practice in September but we practice all year long. We review the expectations orally, we demonstrate how to do it and how not to do it, and we rehearse it repetitively until we really understand it.
The Confusion of Choice
Kids can be mean and they can also be sensitive. I try to avoid the ‘stupid kid worksheet’ as much as possible. (I hate typing it like that but in reality that is how it feels to a student who is centered out to be different with different work). If everyone is doing something different then no one really notices that Jamie has a different test than everyone else. This is so much easier in a split. My students sit in mixed grades and abilities groups from day one. For every test I generally have about three to four different versions based on ability. They all look the same but the questions are different. I have yet to have someone notice. Additionally using reader’s workshop, and writer’s workshop and daily 5 as a core to my language program has aided in the confusion of choice. Every student is working on their own task on their own schedule. They rarely notice that during a conference with a student I set different expectations for different students. With each student working on their individual Stars Goal
groups are constantly changing and everyone is at a different point in the continuum of learning.
Spread it Out
Ok so not everything can be taught together. So I spread out the lesson. I start every science/social Studies period with a reflection. Tell me something that you know for sure, know a little, wonder about. (it is helpful at this point to also use strategies such as ask three before me, or student helpers to answer quick questions) At the end of this quick period I share the learning goal of today’s lessons and give students a purpose for learning. I send one group back to work and then keep one group with me. Then half way through the period I switch. Since the focus on these topics of study is inquiry students may be engaged in a variety of self directed tasks this makes this time easier. Additionally something I am very curious in trying is flipping the classroom for these subjects and having students work through and listen to videos about these mini lessons and then all of the learning in class can be student focused and less teacher focused. I will let you know how that goes.
Do you have tips to add that may help someone to teach a split? Please leave a comment and share your ideas.