In several of my previous blog posts, I have discussed the importance of both introducing learning strategies and providing multiple opportunities for experimentation that result in students’ revising, abandoning or owning strategies. The goal is for students to own a repertoire of strategies that work for them as learners when they encounter difficult content – simply put, strategies to use when they are stuck. However, we (teachers) don’t need to be the “keeper” or the “creator” of all these strategies. Students bring strategies to the work we introduce, and by respecting their expertise, we can accomplish goals far beyond the simple ownership of strategies.
I believe that
- it is important to involve students in strategy work.
- our students have existing strategies that we can help them to identify and to name.
- sharing strategies among students nurtures ownership and, therefore, can build positive academic identity.
- strategy sharing creates an academic community within the classroom where students are involved in the success of fellow students.
In preparation for students to take-over strategy sharing, I engage them in conversations and in writing about how they created meaning of difficult text in our class (This can happen in any content area). We start by focusing on strategies I have introduced to them in our class, and we expand our conversations to include strategies they have created for themselves. These conversations and writing are guided by the following questions:
- What strategies do you use to when you are stuck difficult content?
- Where did you get your strategy?
- How did you know to use that specific strategy with a specific text/problem?
- Knowing what you know about yourself as a learner, why do you think that strategy works well for you?
- What evidence do you have that this strategy actually works?
- Have you used this strategy with other texts/in other settings?
We spend a small portion of class exploring personal-strategy use before we move to the sharing process. They need to be comfortable with the language of naming and explaining strategies before they will be able to assist each other. When the student sharing begins, I structure the sharing using an activity I call “walk-about-review” (the structure of this activity is probably from a workshop I attended, but I can’t remember the origin). Students first complete a reflection about the strategy they used with last night’s homework, and then they “Walk-About” to four different students to hear about the strategy they used. I time the move from student-to-student – usually five minutes per session. There is a comfort level in the sharing even for those students who tend to play the role of observer. It is their process; they could not be “wrong.” They keep a master list of the students whom they have talked with and they cannot repeat a student during these sharing sessions. Adaptation: A colleague of mine renamed this activity “Strategy Speed Dating.”
Ultimately, students are asked to write on a large post-it or an index card the strategy that works best for them when they need to move their understanding of text from a surface level to a deeper level of interpretation. Most recently, I was involved with a team who was facilitating this process across several sections of students, so we brought our post-its and cards to a staff meeting, read their strategies and grouped like-strategies into piles. Then we created a category for each pile:
- Understanding references and context (text-to-text)
- Understanding two text together (text-to-text)
- Understanding textual structure
- Understanding works and sentences
- Writing to understand text
- Understanding characters and setting
- Annotation texts
What’s next?? A meaningful high school bulletin board!! We created the above headings for the bulletin boards/walls in the classroom. After briefly explaining each category, we returned the post-its to their owners, and they posted their responses under the appropriate categories, including their name on their strategy
Students were asked (a.k.a. assigned) to experiment with strategies on the board to expand their personal repertoire. If the new strategy worked for them, they wrote their name on a colored dot sticker and posted it on the board by the strategy.
Here is a scan of the postings from that bulletin board: How do I create meaning of difficult text?
Observations: We saw students turn to each other for more than the answer – the quick fix. They truly wanted to know the process that worked for other students, and they were eager to share their discoveries.