Saturday, November 23, 2013

Slowing down to Spark Student Motivation

In this day of education everything seems to be fast-paced.

  • Push your students to read sooner. 
  • Get them to write sentences younger. 
  • Count farther in earlier grades. 
  • Tackle higher level thinking earlier. 
  • Write long essays in elementary school. 
  • And perform under stressful constraints. 

Let's also not forget high-stakes tests, time constraints, connecting student performance to pay, surveying students for their opinions and pay teachers based on what ego-centered kids think of their teaching styles.
All of these things add up to tough times for teachers and students. It also means there is lots of pressure to work and the emphasis on tackling a lot in short periods of time. 
I am not complaining. I am more stating reality. I see the importance of many of the things we do, and agree with the need to dig deeper. I just don't always see the efforts paying off and I feel that stress is causing some major anxiety. {Kids in our county really dread 5th grade because we have a high stakes writing test. That is sad!}
I also see the looks of being overwhelmed on the faces of my kids. So I was relieved and excited to learn that my principal was supporting us in slowing down. Ok, so before you all rush to transfer to our school, I should probably explain further. 
This past week we had a professional development day with a special guest who came to talk to us about writing. He lead a presentation on how to approach writing for our state writing test so that the kids would be successful. He is an expert on the topic and spent some time getting to know us. And he never rushed us. It was refreshing. 
He got to know us first, learned our names, answered our questions, and listened to our thoughts. He did not have a secret agenda and was very supportive of us. What he did most of all was he inspired us and got us excited about teaching writing by showing us how we can do more by asking the kids to do less. 
We discussed the different genres and how the common core is slowly changing writing. He modeled his technique and had us play along by getting us to write. We shared with the class and built up our writing in steps. 
We also looked at DBQs and how to tackle them with our students without overwhelming the kids. Because let's be honest, some of the DBQs out there are enough to overwhelm adults let alone elementary age kids. 
His advice, take each DBQ and break it apart in to steps. Break the question in to one sentence questions asking for one sentence to walk the kids through the steps and at the end they will be amazed (as will you) at what they can produce. As you add a sentence lead them to add more specific details to support the first generic sentence. Simple and brilliant! 
By tackling paragraphs and DBQs in this manner, kids feel more capable and will actually produce more. 
After we spent time discussing this method he then modeled it for us with our 5th graders. They produced some awesome sentences which lead to very detailed and specific paragraphs. It was exciting for the kids and for us. 
  • The topic the kids wrote to was something they want but do not have the money for. One girl wrote about wanting an iPhone because of the cool apps and features. She talked about the games she would play and who she would call, her teacher. 
  • Another girl also wanted a phone and wrote about how she would find a way to pay for it, "by doing dreadful chores and helping to clean other people's houses." 
  • A boy really surprised us by writing about a Rolex and clearly described the specific one he wanted. 
The workshop was amazing for the kids and us. We all felt super excited, ready to tackle our curriculum further, and best of all were thrilled to know that we have been doing the right things and with a few tweaks, we would be able to accomplish a lot more. The perfect formula for motivating our teachers! And we all know, a motivated teacher has a huge impact on students. 

Aside form all the great things I learned at the workshop I was secretly proud of myself. I had recently run across a method for helping students cite text and add evidence to their writing. I mentioned the idea to my co-worker and together we both decided to try the method with our classes to see if it helped our students. We are still working with our students on the technique, but both agree that they are more aware of the need to cite text and add evidence to support their writing. The method is neat, straightforward, and followed along the lines of the highly recommended process of our guest speaker. 
A few weeks ago I ran across this awesome interactive notebook lesson by I'm Lovin' Lit. The ACE discussion questions are part of her Interactive Notebooks ~Sentences and Paragraphs for the Common Core pack. Or find it in isolation in the Citing Text Evidence Bonus Lesson
Read Erin's post about this method here

The method is perfect and can be easily differentiated for your kiddos. A: Students answer using the question in in their response (a skill I am still practicing with my kiddos in every subject - they so much prefer 1 word answers). C: Cite text to support your answer. When I practiced this with my kiddos I gave them sentence starters for their notebooks and encouraged them to start with that and to focus on citing text (we are practicing quoting and paraphrasing). E: Explain the text evidence to support your answers. And voila, you have a solid, well stated, well-supported, and specific paragraph! 
Some of the things the kids said in response to the lessons with the ACE technique: 
  • IT is easy! 
  • Wow, we only have to write 3 sentence. 
  • OOOH, I can do this! 
  • Here, read mine!

Both of us love the lesson so much we incorporated it in to our formal observations by our administrators and both of us received excellent reviews. My AP really liked the crafty cards and interactive notebook action. 
When responding to the DBQ each child received 1 of these templates and filled in 1-2 sentences in each section. 

The kids think we are asking less of them, but what they don't know is we have are tricking them in to working slightly harder and producing better results. When we point it out to them, they seem surprised at what they have come up with and are more excited about their work. 
Image courtesy of Amazon

The other day we used the ACE cards to share our response to a DBQ on the book "Tight Times" and I seriously had to hold back the kids as they rushed up front to share with the class. {Sorry they worked so quickly, and were so excited, that I did not get pictures of them sharing their work with the class.} I had also written out my answers and they were so excited when our answers were very similar. I was really impressed when I read sentences with the following phrases:
It is evident from the text...
You can clearly see that...
The author stated...
You can tell that the character wanted....because....
I was able to quickly assess who understood the text, who understood the DBQ, and who understood how to cite text. A quick assessment that was completed while I walked around the room interacting with the kids. A double bonus for me! 

If you are looking for a technique to elicit more specific responses and for students to cite evidence as is promoted by the common core I highly recommend checking our Erin's lessons as I'M Lovin' Lit. They are are awesome and doable in the eyes of the kids. It is one of the ways I am motivating the kids to produce more writing, detailed responses, while making it seem like I am asking for less. They are becoming aces in writing and responding to text. 
Don't forget to check out other ideas at Head Over Heels for Teaching


  1. Great post again, Laura! Erin really does have some fabulous ideas and lessons with her interactive notebooks. I have the ACE cards too, but haven't had an opportunity to dig them out just yet, but I will. Thanks for reminding me. That was neat to read that your Admin also enjoyed your lesson and your students had fabulous results.
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'

    1. Thank you so much Alison. For as hectic as a week that it was, it felt great to have some success and feel like things are not out of control for both the kids and me. I look forward to hearing how it goes with your kids.

  2. Great post. Thanks for sharing how you used them. I have the ACE lesson plan, but I haven't had the chance to pull them out and use them. My goal is to use it in early December!

    Hunter's Teaching Tales
    Find me on Facebook

    1. Bethany - you are a great friend! I really appreciate all of your support and kind feedback. My teammate and I have used the ACE lessons with both fiction and non-fiction texts. We really like the approach and the kids are finding it to be a refreshing activity.

  3. I totally agree about the importance of slowing down! I love the book, Tight Times. It is a such a great mentor text for making inferences.

    I really enjoyed reading your post, and I am your latest follower!

    Thank you!

    Fit to be fourth

    1. Welcome aboard Mary, thanks for reading and following! I am looking forward to getting to know you.

  4. I'm so glad you are taking the time to slow things down to help your students be successful! Time is such a commodity these days...good for you!

    Mrs. Laffin's Laughings

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting Jennifer. I truly appreciate your feedback. We are all in this together!

  5. Love your post Laura! So detailed and informative! Our high stakes writing test is 4th grade which is what I teach, and you're right, it's pretty stressful! I totally agree with you about a motivating teacher makes motivated students! I love Erin's products, she's an inspiration to her students and teachers! Thank you so much for sharing and linking up!
    Head Over Heels For Teaching

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting Joanne. I love to link up with you because of all of the great ideas I gain and a chance to reflect on everything. I really appreciate your support!


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