Sunday, July 8, 2018

#Teaching Tip #2. Reading Assignments

This is the second of a series of 10 posts. 

I'm running all 10 posts on consecutive Mondays starting today. 
As of Labor Day, 2018, all ten of these #Teaching Tip posts are searchable on my blog.

If you're not a teacher and you're reading this,
let a teacher know they are available.

I've been in enough in-service/professional-development sessions to guarantee that the information in this series is better than most of the information you’ll get while sitting through all your teacher workshops this coming school year.

You might be asking yourself,
What gives this guy the nerve to offer ideas about teaching AND commentary on professional development to anyone?

That's a legitimate question.
I invite you to follow this link and check my credentials.

In the last Almanac, I described types of homework assignments as shown below.
Assignments are not created equal. In every discipline there are [should be!] assignments designed
for students to learn.
for students to know what they don’t know.
to assess student learning.

Reading assignments are the focus of this blog. They were going to be one part of the blog, but, as I was writing, I made an executive decision. 

This blog is all about reading assignments.

Reading assignments are for students to learn

For that reason, that is the primary goal is to focus attention on what you want students to take away from the reading. I'll describe the benefits what I call Focus Questions on reading assignments.

Too many teachers offer this verbal direction for reading assignments, “Take notes.”

There are some fine strategies that provide direction in the note-taking process—Cornell Notes is one, Power Notes is another. 

However, when the direction is simply, “Take notes as you read,” students are put in the position of determining the value of individual pieces among a vast quantity of information bites. That direction puts the student in charge of her or his learning. It also assigns the role of expert to the student.

Putting a student in the position of an expert on content before learning occurs in your class is a scenario for disaster.

Some students are good at discriminating between essentialof some value, and non-essential examples used to clarify content in text.

Most students write down far too much text material as “notes.” They’ve learned that if they write enough words they get a good grade on the assignment when they turn it in.

Too many words make it difficult to locate important information in those notes. Because students are not content experts, it's common to find that critical information is missing from their notes, Ultimately, many students decide that reading notes are unimportant even though their “homework” grade was good.

Focus questions direct students to specific information the teacher considers important.

Below is an example. I used this with 9th-grade students at Monte Vista High in San Diego, California and Great Oak High in Temecula, California. 

The last #TipsforTeachers blog discussed focus questions as homework. The example is an in-class version of focus questions. The process is similar; the grading is the same. I am the author of the questions in both cases

You are the content expert in your classes.
You know what you emphasize in your lessons.
You should be the author of your focus questions. 

In this example, I’m also the author of the content piece.

Pretend you're one of my 5,500 students. Follow these directions as they're written. If you complete those two "pretends," you’ll get a real feel for the process. 

I’m putting you on the honor system 😇 for following the directions.  My initials are CRD. 😉

Before you start reading, answer the following three Pre-Read Questions. Raise your hand when you have answered all three questions. After your teacher initials or stamps that your answers to P1, P2, and P3 are complete, you may continue. While it’s preferred that you give your best answer, you may use the answer “I don’t know” for one of the Pre-Read Questions.

Use SENBP for all your answers. Answer in complete sentences.

SENBP is an acronym for “Smooth-Edged NoteBook Paper. I refuse to accept papers torn from spiral-bound notebooks. They have paper “zits” that stick to other papers, making it impossible to stack papers in a tidy bundle. Apparently, I’m not the only teacher with an aversion to zit-edges. I found the following photo online. You can see where it’s been taped to the wall as a negative exemplar.

If a spiral-bound notebook is the only source that students have for the lined paper, they cut the zits off with scissors before turning the paper in.
They learn quickly to do the cutting over a trashcan so I don’t find zits on my floor!
Pre-Read Questions

Answer these before you do anything else. 
P1. What happens to an atom if you change the number of protons it contains?
P2. What happens to an atom if the number of electrons is not the same as the number of protons?
P3. What’s in the “cloud” around the nucleus of an atom? Why is it there?

1.    Read through the following questions.
2.    Read the content assigned.
3.    Do not stop to answer the questions, keep reading to the end of the assignment.
4.    After you’re finished reading
a.    Answer as many Focused Reading Questions as you can without looking back at the assigned reading.
b.    If you didn’t know all the answers, find the answers you need by referring back to the assigned reading.
5.    Check your answers with the answer key.
6.  Following this set of directions will give you a better feel for the concept than just reading "about it."

Focused Reading Questions
  1.  a) What happens to an atom if you change the number of protons it contains? [Sound like a familiar question?] b) In one sentence, compare this answer to your P1 answer.
  2.  How do you determine the atomic mass of an element?
  3.  What makes a neutron different from a proton?
  4.  What changes in atoms of the same element with different atomic masses?
  5.  Define isotope.
  6.  Copy this on your answer sheet:. What does each part of this represent?
  7.  What’s “special” about certain isotopes?
  8.   If someone told you that the Carbon-12 Method of dating artifacts showed that an ax handle was 50,000 years old, would you believe them? Why or why not?

Text material: Basic Chemical Concepts
Take a piece of an element and begin dividing it into smaller and smaller pieces. You will eventually get to the place where if you divide the amount of substance you have left, it will no longer be that element. The smallest piece of an element which cannot be divided is the atom.
Atoms are made up of three basic components:  protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons  (P) are sub-atomic particles that have a positive electrical charge. They have an atomic weight of approximately 1 atomic mass unit (AMU). Protons are located in the nucleus of an atom. The atomic number of an element is equal to the number of protons it has in its nucleus.
Every element has its own atomic number. Every element also has its own atomic symbol. For the most part, the atomic symbol is the capitalized first letter of each element's name. For example, Carbon = C, Hydrogen = H, etc. Some elements use two letters from their name as their atomic symbol (e.g. Chlorine = Cl, Magnesium = Mg). However, unless you know your Latin, some atomic symbols make no sense because their symbols are taken from their Latin names (e.g. Sodium =  Na, Potassium = K). The important thing to remember about atomic numbers and atomic symbols is that if you change the number of protons in an atom, you change the element to a different element.
Neutrons (N) are sub-atomic particles which have no electrical charge—they are neutral. Their atomic mass is approximately equal to the proton (~ 1 AMU). Neutrons are located in the nucleus of the atom in which they are found. Neutrons provide mass without adding any electrical charge to an atom.
The total mass of an element is equal to the number of protons plus the number of neutrons. If you know the atomic mass of an element and the atomic number of the element, you can calculate the number of neutrons in that element.

You'll get the most out of this experience if you try to answer the FOCUS QUESTIONS before you check the answers.
Answers to Focus Questions
1.    a) you change the element   b) compare to P1
2.    P + N
3.    neutrons have no charge
4.    number of neutrons
5.    Two atoms of the same element with different atomic masses

6.   12 = mass, 6 = atomic number, C = atomic symbol
7.    radioactivity
8.    No. C-14 dating only good to 25,000 years

How’d you do?

Here are other ways to use focused reading questions.
Pair students. Have them read the assignment and work together on the answers. They must come to a consensus on each answer. If there is a disagreement, the student who disagrees with the answer is allowed to include her/his answer and a note explaining why she/he disagrees.

Assign Even-numbered Questions and Odd-numbered Questions to alternating students. Make this a form of Think-Pair-Share activity. Do not allow the students to copy each other’s answers. Make the sharing time one of discussion between partners with answers written from the discussion, not off the paper of their partner.

As a Quiz. After the questions have been answered, you can make the quiz a
  • For Learning experience. Ask the questions as an oral quiz. Students answer with whiteboards or quiz remotes, etc.
  • Of Learning experience by giving a traditional oral or written quiz using selected focused reading questions. Use some different questions each class period.
As regular reading questions. I never liked using the questions in textbooks or the ancillary materials. Too often, they are produced by professional question writers who are not trained in the content area of the book. Students learn early in their school career that if you look for the same words in the text that are in most question stems, you can copy that sentence and have the answer.

I am not opposed to regular reading questions if you make up your own questions.
Enough for today.

Email me: with questions/ comments.
Or, if you'd like more information or samples of anything described in this series, send an email there!

#Teaching Tip #3. explores homework.

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