Extraordinary Learning for All

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

teacher_Joseph“Every child is born a genius, but is swiftly degeniused by unwitting humans and/or physically unfavorable environmental factors.”
– Buckminster Fuller

When I entered Todd Bloch’s science class, in Woods Middle School, I was immediately captivated by the high energy and dynamic learning environment. Students were so involved in hands-on, minds-on learning that I found myself yearning to sit right down and join them.

The 6th graders were motivated by the chance to get messy as they learned about changing states of matter, by mixing corn starch and water to make oobleck, the mythical substance of Dr. Seuss fame. All the kids were fully engaged in a way that enabled them to feel the changing states of matter, not just intellectualize them.

In a nearby 7th grade science class, students used their choice of media to depict mitosis in animal cells. The opportunity to access their preferred learning modality–whether text based, visual or musical–afforded kids the opportunity to represent content in exciting ways. Students showcased their design skills through comic book creation, or their lyrical talents through rap. Again, it was evident that students were accessing the content in ways that resonated best with them, and enabled them to display their learning both creatively and thoughtfully.

As I spent the day at the school, I was keenly aware of Buckminster Fuller’s principle of geniuses. By the end of the afternoon I realized that this school brims with the kind of engaged teaching and learning that recognizes the genius inherent in every child.

Accessing Genius in Every Child

girl2_JosephAs a career reading and writing teacher, I was utterly impressed by the students in a writing workshop who were taking turns sharing personal narrative pieces in their weekly author’s chair. These students were extraordinary in their passionate writing and dynamic storytelling. The fact that they all had very significant learning differences made me realize that with effective, dedicated instruction, their voices can be heard as easily as those of students in a regular education setting.

All children are born geniuses. All children.

I was struck with the realization that everyone has stories to tell and that everyone’s voice matters. A highlight came when one of the students asked me to read his story aloud for him. Initially I hesitated, as I’d never met this child before. My first instinct was to reply, “Me? Are you sure you want me to read it?” Instead, I took a breath and said, “Sure, I’d be happy to!”

I read that boy’s story with enthusiasm and passion in a way that pleased both him and his classmates, based on the wide smiles on their faces. It was one of the best parts of my entire day. I was humbled by the enthusiasm the students displayed as they listened intently, with great joy. I left the room overwhelmed.

I am confident that at Warren Woods Middle School, students are motivated, uplifted, and above all else, valued for who they are and what they bring to their learning environments each day. Their myriad intelligences are valued and employed. They are able to demonstrate and live their geniuses.

rick josephRick Joseph is a National Board Certified Teacher and has taught 5/6 grade at Covington School in the Birmingham Public School district since 2003. Prior, he served as a bilingual educator and trainer for nine years in the Chicago Public Schools. Rick is thrilled to serve as the 2016 Michigan Teacher of the Year. Through Superhero Training Academy, Rick’s students have created a superhero identity to uplift the communities where they learn and live.

Approaches to Content Area Literacy

REGISTER – instructions for how to self-enroll

shutterstock_221575594Audience: teachers in all content areas grades 6-12

Format: five 2-hour self-paced online modules; to be used individually or with PLCs, departments or teams.

If you are a grade 6-12 teacher in any content area interested in

  • familiarizing yourself–or maybe re-familiarizing yourself–with some of the basic ideas and elements of metacognition as it relates to literacy and
  • learning about effective ways to help your students read more carefully and process the content in your subject area,

these modules are for you. They introduce key ideas, terms, and habits of mind that are essential to understanding how metacognition works, as well as how to help your students with apprenticeship–the practice of increasing their comprehension and engaging in discourse about important readings in your discipline.

Module activities include:

  • watching presentations about metacognitive strategies,
  • reading texts about metacognition and literacy,
  • taking short quizzes,
  • analyzing and discussing sample texts and lessons,
  • adapting activities and materials for your own students, and
  • designing lessons for improved literacy, more thoughtful reading, and more in-depth discourse in your classroom.

Our goal is for you to complete the course feeling inspired and energized to make greater use of metacognition and discourse as you assign and discuss readings with your students in your classroom. Our hope is that you will move from these modules to enhanced daily practice where you see you and your students directly benefit from powerful ways to make better meaning of the texts you assign.

Topics addressed:

  • what metacognition is and why it matters so much while students read inside and outside your classroom;
  • habits of mind that turn students from passive into active readers;
  • the benefits of nurturing a culture of inquiry through discourse in your classroom;
  • and several strategies you can use tomorrow for your students to read more carefully.

SCECHs: available – 10 hours

Consultant Contact: [email protected]

Thinking, Acting, and Writing Like a Scientist: New 1st Grade Writing Unit, Day 1 of 1

Your first grade students can think, act, and write like scientists!  This Sound/Writing Unit bundles Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core State Writing Standards into fourteen investigations.

This MAISA unit is a hybrid unit, combining both science and writing standards.  Experience how students can learn to “Think and Act Like Scientists” through studying and applying a framework for scientific investigation and discourse.  The basis of this unit is Standard 1. Waves: Sound 1-PS4-1. 1-PS4-4. These lessons use the Van Andel Education Institute’s steps for engaging students in scientific inquiry while conducting investigations and participating in discourse.  Student understanding of sound and vibration, as well as using sound to communicate is scaffold throughout the unit.

The writing focus will be writing to record, question, access prior knowledge, predict, observe, explain data and finally to share with others.  Students will be scaffolded through discussing and writing about scientific inquiry as they navigate through scientific investigations.   Students will be writing about each step of the process in Science Investigation Notebooks.  Initially this will be done as a whole class, moving to small group work and finally to partnership work for those students ready for more independent application.  At the conclusion of the study of sound students, write text that teaches others what they learned about sound, as well as thinking, acting, and writing like scientists. 

Presenters: Sandy Biondo, Ph.D and Robby Cramer, Van Andel Science