What is My Argument?

by Melody Swars

Teachers should participate in professional development because not only does it train you in new strategies but the time at professional development sessions allow teachers with similar growth areas to collaborate.

I sat in an amazing train with Karin deVarennes on a recent Saturday that was focused on how to get students to write an argument. I walked away with not only knowledge that Karin provided but also that of the colleagues that were at the training. We want our students to be successful in collaboration with each other to help build language and content knowledge. This also creates students that are college and career ready. During the training she showed us many ways to get student to collaborate, whether it is for the purpose of writing an argument or in one of the many aspects of student learning.

As a group of teachers that all have varying  years of experience, we got to collaboratively developed a list of ‘getting to know you’ activities that we do in our class. Some teachers had students write a letter about themselves, while another teacher mentioned that in her letter she has students write their future goals. She said this is important because she can incorporate this into her teaching strategy. Some strategies that were collected were:

4 corners
Fish bowl
Equity circles
Shares and celebrations
Quotes of the day with student reflections
Team Building games

As a group of educators that were learning, we didn’t just watch a PowerPoint presentation;  we became collaborators through different strategies. One strategy that I really like was a silent debate. One student needs to write their opinion and the other student then responds by writing back their side of the argument. It was intense because you want to respond quickly but you have to take the time to write out your thoughts. I think this could be incorporated into a google doc where two students can write possibly from different classrooms.

Quote from textAn argument debate topic was “should a student have to be passing their classes in order to get their driver’s license.” The room was split in two sides; pro and con. Each side then got into small groups of three and had to discuss ones reasons why we felt this way. After that, the representative of that triad group had to share with the other side. The guidelines were set that we need to listen while one person gives their opinion. After both sides had time to share we returned to our groups and had to develop a rebuttal as to why we do not agree with something from the other side. We were also provided sentence frames to follow to help guide the conversation. While teaching it is so important to have a universal design for learning so that you can meet the needs of all your students.

Another fun strategy I felt was very beneficial for all ages was the 7 chair countdown. You can use any number but the idea is you can count out so many chairs and then stop at the last chair and find a brand new partner. You then get to share, after you share your partner paraphrases what you said. It could be used for ELD students to build language and background knowledge, or to have a better way to access the curriculum in a way that is taught to them at their peers language level.

While I could continue with every aspect I learned that day these were my biggest takeaways. I felt like I have added to my teachers toolbelt of skills as well as meet many teachers in our district with a wealth of knowledge. I would think to give thanks to Karin deVarennes for giving such an interactive professional development.

Going Digital with AVID

By David Fiore 

October 1, 2018

With the influx of technology entering the classrooms these days, and the adoption of AVID throughout Stockton Unified School District (SUSD),  it only makes sense for teachers to start using more digital tools when implementing good teaching practices.

The outlook of SUSD seems to be geared towards 21st-century learning and modernizing the way of instruction.  Getting away from a teacher-centered philosophy and transitioning more towards blended learning, seems to be the goal.

Our district is already off to a good start.  From digitizing The Units of Study, and advocating for more Chromebooks in the classroom, teachers are becoming more familiar with tech in general.

In addition to tech integration, AVID is a major component that is being utilized more than ever.  Odds are, if you teach in SUSD, you are either AVID trained or you will be soon enough. Either way, this blog is to help shed some light on a few of the digital tools that I use in my own classroom, and how beneficial they can be with the combination of AVID strategies.  

AVID & Technology

In my world, technology and AVID go together like peanut butter and jelly.  The beginning of the school year with my 7th and 8th graders includes digital citizenship and AVID boot camp.  Students learn how to use technology appropriately and find out that AVID is much more than a 4-lettered acronym.  

Marking or Annotating the Text

Image of marked up text

This is a screen shot showing how students are ably to digitally mark up text.

We immediately begin with a lesson on Marking the Text.  Typically, students would receive a hard copy of an article and I would ask them to complete three steps:

  1. Number the paragraphs
  2. Circle key terms/information
  3. Underline the author’s claim(s)

The first time students attempt to mark the paragraphs, I would recommend that students use a pencil and paper. Once they understand how the process works you can then have them attempt the strategy online. In a perfect world, my preference is to use Google Docs.  There is an icon for underlining, which I have found very student-friendly.  Although circling isn’t something that can be performed easily in Docs, highlighting is.  In fact, I find that highlighting text has more benefits as you can use multiple colors while reading.  However, true AVID proponents would refer to this not as “Marking the Text” but rather annotating the text.  If you’re a stickler for staying within the confines, one way around this is to copy text from a document and paste it onto a Google Drawing.  Circling at this point can be done with ease.  

Working with PDFs

Portable Document Format files, or PDFs are very common.  One of the major issues used to be that they were not editable.  They were good to view and even print out, but what if you want to avoid the copy machine and have your students manipulate the document online.  Can it be done? Absolutely!

Image of writing in the text

This screen shot shows how students can use the Kami app to write in the margins of digital text.

There are several current applications out that allow users to annotate PDFs.  Most are free versions with the option to upgrade to a paid version, which usually allows for more tools to be accessed.  My favorite program to use with my students is Kami.  Adding a document is as easy as drag and drop and offers a set of basic tools to edit documents.  The best part is that it syncs with your Google Drive, and files can be uploaded and downloaded directly.  One students get the hang of things, marking and annotating the text will become second nature.

Writing in the Margins

Actively engaging with the text is a must.  In a nutshell, Writing in the Margins allows for deeper understanding and helps students to make more meaningful connections with what they are reading.  

My preferred method again would be to use Google Docs, as there is a comment thread that can be used for making notes off to the side, or in this case…the margins.  

Untitled drawing

After highlighting a particular part of the text, opening the comments thread will then align the comment to that area.  Students can ask a question, paraphrase a description, summarize and more.

Cornell Notes     

This strategy may receive some heat.  To be honest, I wouldn’t advise teachers to use this strategy with students who have trouble typing.  There is an option for “voice typing” in the tools section but try having 30 + students talking to their laptops the next time you’re lecturing.  

The Cornell Note Template that I use allows for students to mimic the same note taking process that can be done using a pen and paper but only more efficiently.  As I’ve always told my students, the day that you can write faster than I type, I will retire. They soon buy into the importance of being able to type, but also much more.  Google Docs allows for students to annotate and interact with their notes with the following:

  • Bolding
  • Italicizing
  • Using bulleted/numbered lists
  • Adding Tables
  • Underlining
  • Changing font style/size/color
  • Adding clip art

 Digital_CNotesThe Focused Note Taking Process can be really fun for students when completed digitally.  The common clip art that is available at the bottom of the page allows for students to make easy connections and help them recall and connect key details.  Not to mention that I have plenty of students who scour the internet searching for relevant images to help improve their notes.

AVID reinforces good teaching practices and technology is the way of the future. Combining the two should help keep students stay engaged and enhance their own way of learning.