Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sea Turtle Release

    I love teaching because I love learning, and getting out to experience new things is a thrill for me. So when I read that the National Aquarium would be releasing sea turtles at Assateague, I knew that we had to arrange our week to attend!
My kids check out the sea turtle models before the release.
    I never learned about sea turtles as a student. In fact, I don't remember learning much about animals at all--unless you count the sixth grade teacher who made us write notecards about all of the animal groups, working up from sponges. (We never made it past cephalopods.)
    Today's students need to learn about sea turtles. Not only are they important in their own right, but sea turtles are so interesting and engaging that they get student attention for larger conversations about ecology, our oceans, and pollution.

Seeing the Release

    Staff from the National Aquarium set up the area for the sea turtle release at one of my favorite places, Assateague National Seashore. (You can find text structure materials that I wrote about Assateague here.) My youngest was so excited to attend--in his words, "I've never seen a wild sea turtle!"
    The day was cloudy and threatened rain, but that didn't stop a crowd from gathering. Two green sea turtles that had been rehabilitated by the National Aquarium and ten Kemps ridley turtles from the New England Aquarium were set to be released.
    Staff members brought around the turtles for onlookers to see. Everyone got great views! My son was amazed by his chance to see the sea turtles up close.
    The turtles were placed down by the surf. Most ambled right in, while a few seemed hesitant. (That water was cold--I'd hesitate too!)      For the rest of the day I thought about the sea turtles, out in the vast ocean, and wondered what they were doing. I wonder what they're doing now.
    Even though the weather was cold and rain fell as we were leaving the beach, it was a perfect beach day.
     See for yourself how students can become engaged in learning about text structure and sea turtles with this Sea Turtles Expository Text Mini-Unit.
    Student-friendly videos about sea turtles can be found on this YouTube playlist.
    What are you doing to explore and learn this summer?


After the release we went birding along the Life of the Marsh Trail

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Worthwhile Worksheets

     On Twitter, it's very popular for consultants to tell people to get rid of worksheets. "Kids don't learn anything from a worksheet!" is a popular saying, and it gets retweeted. Again and again.

    But is it accurate? After all, what is a worksheet? Consultants don't generally define the term. However, they seem to indicate that anything that is printed and copied for students with parts to fill in is a worksheet.

    Is a worksheet always bad?

    Condemning all worksheets for the classroom practices of a very few does not lead to productive classroom conversations. Instead, teachers should consider WHY a worksheet is being used and WHAT makes a worksheet worthwhile.

Worksheets for examples

    As a writing teacher, I like to show kids written examples of what we're learning about. These written examples are especially helpful when kids are absent or when a co-teacher stops by. If I am writing down my examples for planning anyway, it just makes more sense to print them on a page. That way, all students have equal access.
    Consider the "Creating a Main Idea" worksheet to the right. This page helps students to see how to weave a topic and details together into a main idea. Could I do a lesson like this without a worksheet? Sure, but then kids would be stuck with copying from the board. How would that be an improvement?

Worksheets for scaffolding

    Worksheets also can be helpful for scaffolding. In intermediate grades, I like to use worksheets with writing frames to help students learn the patterns of academic writing. For kids who struggle with transcription and composition, a writing frame can be a lifesaver. Now I'm not saying that all kids need the writing frame, and sometimes kids will use the frame for a few sentences and then set it aside. This is fine! But in my heterogeneously grouped classroom, I need to have a wide range of resources at my fingertips. Again, it is a question of equal access for all students.

Worksheets for deeper thinking

    Worksheets do not preclude higher level thinking. In fact, a worksheet can lead to some great discussions! I
made this page for students to work on after reading a text about diurnal, nocturnal, and crepuscular animals. The students have to use clues about different animals, combine the clues with what they have learned in the text, and draw a conclusion about whether the animals are diurnal, nocturnal, or crepuscular. It leads to fantastic conversations and students flipping back to the text to justify their conclusions.

   Does this activity require the use of the printed page? Again, I could post this on the board and have students copy, but...once again, why? I love having the target vocabulary on the page for student reference.

Why not to use a worksheet
    To be fair, most people railing against worksheets are probably discussing worksheets that pose decontextualized problems with no relation to classroom instruction. But by saying that ALL worksheets are bad, these writers are casually dismissing a wide range of worthwhile instructional activities.

    The question should not be, "Should I use a worksheet?"

    Instead, the question for worksheets--and any resource--should be, "Does this resource support the goals of my instruction?"