- sufficient time to learn the information through multiple processes
- sufficient time to formalize that learning through demonstration
The demonstration phase of learning is what we’re most used to seeing in the classroom when teachers ask students to complete a(n):
- Worksheet of problems
- Lab report
Here's the big question: How do we support students so that their formal demonstrations of knowledge can convey a full and broad understanding of a new topic?
The Learning-to-Demonstrating Cycle
Last post, we looked at how we can support the learning phase by making thinking processes more visible in the classroom. Now we’re looking at how we can provide supports so that the students’ demonstration products reflect their level of understanding accurately.
Let’s look at our previous example. You know, the one about a 5th-grade science class studying animal adaptations. Remember, we started the learning phase by having students examine a picture of a horned toad and complete a see–think–wonder chart. From there, here's one way we could proceed along the learning cycle in order to facilitate the demonstration phase to come:
1. Generalize: Students have looked at specific examples for this new topic. Now is the opportunity for students to generalize the knowledge and create broad statements. Notice that it’s the STUDENTS doing the work. The teacher both facilitates and supports the work, but does not perform it.
- Teacher: shares facts about the horned toad's environment.
- Students: discuss with each other why the horned toad may look the way it does and how that would benefit it in its habitat. They may work in partners to create a headline about the horned toads adaptations to its environment.
- Teacher: distributes a 1-page reading with pictures and illustrations about various types of animal adaptations. The reading may define "adaptation" and offer some examples.
- Students: annotate the reading and connect it to what they observed with the horned toad. Then they may work to create a 7-word pyramid that summarizes plant and animal adaptations (more on 7-word pyramids soon).
- Teacher: sets up pictures of a variety of animals that have not yet been used in the discussion, shown in either rotating stations or in a presentation. Teacher could mix basic, building, and breakthrough questions focused on the adaptations seen or expected with these new examples.
- Students: rotate through new examples of animal adaptations and respond to questions using information they have learned. At least one question should require them to explain their reasoning, which will prompt them to connect their both what they've learned, as well as what they've surmised, to these new examples.
When students formalize and demonstrate their knowledge using the strategies described below, they are better prepared to create some sort of end product. Note that the thinking—not the end product—is the major focus. You are probably already using several strategies to help students demonstrate what they know. If you're looking for new ideas, read on.
Did you notice that the videos show keys for successful implementation of the strategies?
- Make sure students know the attention signal you will use to have them stop and find a partner and get ready to listen.
- Use an open-ended breakthrough question to provide a foundation for good conversation.
- Post accountable talk sentence stems or sentence frames in order to help students know both how to start the conversation and to respond appropriately to each other.
- Review sentence stems with the whole class.
- Model how to complete the sentence stem with a specific problem or idea.
- Monitor students as they use sentence stems independently, offering help as needed.
Incorporate thinking routines (also available for download at the bottom of this post) to support the Learning-to-Demonstrating Cycle. See Visible Thinking for more information.
Use graphic organizers. There are many types of graphic organizers to help students organize their understanding before starting a demonstrating activity. Again, graphic organizers aren’t the end, but the means to student success on a demonstration activity. They can be used to support any demonstrating activity, though. You can use such tools as:
Step 1: Students tear paper into 7 pieces (great use of copy scrap paper!). Each piece should be about the size of a post-it note (just large enough to write 1 word).
Step 2: Students work independently to choose 7 words to create a pyramid in the following format:
Hey, wait, you might say. Is this step really necessary? Doesn’t it just take extra time?
Heck yes, it's necessary! Students are learning from each other! They will correct each other’s misunderstandings, and they will hear how their classmates processed and organized the same information. That peer feedback will give them ideas about how other people think about things. Plus, it frees you up to listen in on conversations and determine which student(s) need additional support.
Step 4: Students have the opportunity to revise their 7-Word Pyramid based on what they learned from sharing with their peers.
Step 5: Students record the 7-Word Pyramid in their journals. They should write the sentences that explain how each word is connected.
Step 6* (optional): Students can use the 7-Word Pyramid to write a traditional paragraph summary.
Armed with these strategies, as well as your understanding of the Learning-to-Demonstrating Cycle and the questioning that contributes to rigor, you are ready to take the next step.
- Choose an upcoming lesson.
- Determine if it fits one of the steps for demonstrating mastery in the Learning-to-Demonstrating Cycle.
- If it does, which supports will you use to ensure student success? If it doesn't, how can you modify it or add to it in order to best elicit strong demonstration of student learning?