The ABCD's of Student Engagement {Freebie!}

Hi there!  Today is my day of the month to blog over at All Things Upper Elementary.  There, I shared with readers a little bit about a book that has profoundly impacted the way I teach.  Actually, I was so "on fire" with the engagement strategies laid out in this book, that once I tried them for myself and witnessed firsthand the positive impact they had on my students' learning and retention, I gave a series of after-school teacher enrichment presentations to fellow colleagues in the district.  I would say that the things I learned in this book had an impact district-wide!

Not a cover that really grabs you and shouts “READ ME!”, huh?  (Fortunately, I got past the cover and into the book.  Check out my post at ATUE for the full story on what enticed me to open this book and further details on what I found in it.)

Basically, while reading, I found many similarities between the upper elementary classrooms in which I co-teach, and the ones that Wiliam described.  (Wiliam describes a classroom where a handful of dedicated students constantly raise their hands and contribute to the class discussion, while the remainder of students in the classroom doodle, daydream, or fly under the radar.)  When I returned to school on Monday, my hunch was 100% verified.  A handful of students constantly raised their hands, while the other students either sat quietly or simply “spaced out”.  Wiliam concluded that the achievement gap is widening in such a classroom... and I had to agree.

My co-teachers and I soon put some of Wiliam’s engagement strategies into action, and we saw a remarkable difference.  I shared my #1 strategy over at ATUE, and if you haven't been there, yet, I highly recommend checking it out.)  Below I describe the #2 change my colleagues and I made that seemed to make a significant difference in increasing student engagement during lessons.

#2- ABCD Cards (an all-student response system) 
First, each student was given a set of ABCD cards.
FREEBIE!  Click on the image for a set of ABCD cards like these you can print for your students!
Whenever we used a PowerPoint that included multiple choice questions, or displayed a multiple choice worksheet using the doc camera, students were instructed to get out their ABCD cards. (FYI - In some classrooms, students kept their cards in an envelope in their desk.  In other classrooms, teachers attached a library card envelope to the top of the desk, and students kept the cards in the envelope for easy access.)

(After being instructed a few times), whenever students were shown a multiple choice question, they knew to choose the letter they thought was the correct answer, place the card on top of their stack, and hold the stack close to their chest.   Once every student had an answer, we said “Show your answer.”  Students turned over their stack to display their answer, and we teachers were able to quickly identify which students understood the topic, and which were needed further instruction.

There are many more excellent strategies for keeping your students engaged during lessons, but I think that’s enough for this blog post! I will save other ideas for future blog posts!

Third Grade Writing in a Coteaching Classroom

Today I want to share a little about the efforts that my coteachers and I are making with writing this year - we are seeing positive results already!

This year my entire morning consists of coteaching writing - in all three of my school's third grade classrooms and one of the fourth grade classrooms.  This is actually my second year of coteaching writing, and I have found that I really enjoy witnessing the progress of my students' writing from where they begin in third grade to where they are at the end of fourth grade!  What growth occurs in these two short years!!

Our third grade team got together at the start of this school year and decided to make two significant changes to our writing program: 

1.  We are teaching the writing process very explicitly to our students.  What exactly do I mean by that?
Last year: We progressed through the writing process and used the vocabulary repeatedly, but the students never took ownership of the writing process.  (This became obvious last year at quarterly assessment time when students skipped the brainstorming and planning stages, and went right to writing a rough draft.)   
This year: We have posters displayed in each third grade classroom, and we move the arrow as we progress through the writing process.  (I purchased these adorable Writing Process Anchor Chart Posters from Sabrina Barr at TpT!)

I also created the tracking sheet below that students keep in their writing folder.  Students fill in each arrow as they progress through the writing process.  Not only do the students love coloring in the arrows as they complete each step, but we teachers find that it is extremely helpful to us, too - at the beginning of our writer's workshop time, we have students hold up their cards.  We catch a quick glimpse of where each student is in the writing process!
Click HERE to download this PDF!
2.  We record conference notes.  Each student has a copy of the Observation Notes sheet below.  They keep it in their writing folder and bring it to their individual writing conference.  As you can see, we record their writing strengths, but also weak areas that we specifically addressed during the conference.  This is very helpful in a writing classroom where coteaching is taking place. This allows us both to be "up-to-speed" on the nature of each student's most recent writing conference.
Click HERE to download this PDF!
Here's an example of how a coteaching classroom in particular benefits from use of this resource: If Miss Henderson (the classroom teacher) discussed using capital letters for proper nouns during the last writing conference, I can quickly glance at the conference notes, and begin the new conference with a statement like "I see at your last writing conference, you and Miss Henderson talked about capitalizing proper nouns.  Let's look at this writing piece to see if you remembered to use capital letters to begin proper nouns when you wrote independently."

Results?  I am pleased to report that we are seeing significant progress... when we write a comment for "developing skill", we usually DO see progress on the next writing piece!!  It also comes in very handy when it's time to fill out report cards and/or have parent-teacher conferences!

I'll update you later in the year with how things continue to progress!