Tuesday, December 1, 2009

what the brain said

We spend a lot of time encouraging children to justify their thinking. I must say, "How did you figure that out?" "How do you know?" "Why do you think that?" 100 times a day. When we hear kids explain how they found their answer we get a true picture of their abilities. This is especially helpful to us when they give wrong answers- we know a kiddo is wrong, but finding out how they got that answer tells us about what to teach next and how to clear up any misconceptions they may have. And, if a student got the right answer by chance, or by guessing randomly, well, we know that too.

Before we can really expect them to explain their thinking we have to plant the language in their heads. Otherwise we get a lot of "my brain told me", or "I just knew" when we question their answers. Sometimes we plant the language when we praise them. I do a lot of "WOW- you were so smart back there! You saw the 'at' chunk in that word, and you know that says 'at' so then you put the /m/ sound in front. WOW. You used a chunk you knew. Smart readers look for chunks they know, just like you!" At this point the child, who may or may not have known they used the chunk, is beaming and practically falling out of their chair with pride. The next word they get stuck on- I can guarantee you they are going to look for chunks they know to show you, once again, that they are awesome.

Another way we plant the idea of justifying their thinking is through whole-group lessons when we explicitly teach the strategies we expect them to use. Today I attempted to teach a kindergarten classroom the strategy of checking the picture when you're stuck on a word.

I had my Mrs. Wishy Washy book all ready with sticky notes over the animal names so the children would be forced to check the picture. I'd never done this lesson with kinders before- but it's one of the first lessons we do every year in first grade so I figured it would be a snap.

"Oh, lovely mud!" said the" I read. "Oh no! This word is covered! How will we ever figure it out?"

"COW!" someone screamed for the carpet.

"WOW! But there is no word there- just a sticky note! How did you know that was cow?" I asked, waiting for the obvious answer of, "the picture is of a cow you moron teacher, of course the word is cow"

"It has the /C/ sound!" the child proudly explained.

"Where? The word is covered! There is no /c/ sound! How did you know?" I asked again, calling on another child.
"C-O-W" the child said proudly. I checked to see if my sticky notes were see-through. Ok, we are still having trouble writing our names, how on earth did this kiddo learn to spell cow from memory.

I ignored the spelling. "You know what you did?" I asked, as though it was the most amazing feat ever. "You checked the picture! Smart readers CHECK THE PICTURE!!"


Next page.

"Oh lovely mud! said the"

DUCK! DUCK! everyone called out.

"How did you know?" I asked, sure that this time, after I'd given them the language, they were sure to say "check the picture"

"/d/d/d/" they all said proudly.

My head banging into the wall since the D was covered up and there was a large picture of a duck covering the whole page.

It went on and on. In the end maybe 10 kids were able to express "check the picture" when asked, "How did you know?"

10. Even after the child before them said the same thing. Even after we all used our deep professor voices and made ourselves sound very important when we said "check the picture".


Later that day I was working one on one with one of my first grade friends with special needs.

"Why do you think that?" I asked, after he'd told me there were 9 dots on the card I'd just held up.

"My brain told me" he replied quickly. My head banging began again. Please- no more "my brain just knew" explanations.

"What did your brain tell you?" I asked, hoping for more.

"Oh! My brain said, well, there are 5 in that row because there are always 5 in that row, so there isn't a dot there- which means there are only 4 dots in that row, so one row has 5 and one row has 4 and when you put them together you get 9"

Smart Brain.

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