Explore Nueroscience in Education with Dr. Lori Desautels

Student Led Teaching at its Best!!

Below are some outstanding examples of guided participation and reciprocal teaching episodes  that my graduate students who are first and second year teachers created and implemented in the classrooms. I am amazed at the depth and engagement of learning that the teachers discovered! When we empower our students with trust and  responsibility allowing them to make the needed mistakes, we begin to generate life long learners!

Assignment #3: Guided Participation/Reciprocal Teaching

Tina Irvine

6th grade Social Studies

Standard: 6.1.10: Examine and explain the outcomes of European colonization on the Americas and the rest of the world.

Subject: Christopher Columbus: Good or Bad Guy? You decide…

Number of students participating: 40

  1. 1.      Choose a topic that lends itself to group discussion. Your role is one of facilitator. This role has the responsibility for asking questions that lead students to :
  2. a.      summarize material
  3. b.      support their opinions
  4. c.       detect inconsistencies 
  5. d.      make predictions about what will happen next


The topic I have chosen is the unit we’re working on now in Social Studies: Colonization and Conquest.  The students seem to be “into it” but not as “into it” it as I would like them to be.  After reading the online article about guided participation and how it has a huge influence on student engagement, I am hoping that this project will help my students be more involved in their learning and really understand the connections between what it is we are learning in class and their own lives.

This project will start with our “trial” of Christopher Columbus for war crimes, murder, corruption, and deception.  That is going to be the major part of my “guided participation” project, but will also be followed up in the remainder of the week with other guided participation methods.  On those days, 4-5 students will be involved; on the day of the trial, all students will be involved in the guided participation process.

I know I am going to have a hard time with this project because I like to “lead” and be “in charge.”  I think the biggest challenge is going to be to let the kids struggle at first, see that I am not going to lead and do all of the work, and allow the individual leaders of the classroom to really step up and take charge.  We’ll see how it goes!

2. Record and reflect on how the conversation and discussion played out.

I am so glad I had to do this project! This lesson (the trail of Columbus) was by FAR everyone’s favorite day in class so far and it was literally so amazing that I got goose bumps as the students guided each other through the learning process.  It was funny- on the day I said the least, the students learned the most, I think!

Let me explain what happened.  After covering Christopher Columbus’ exploration and directionally-challenged behavior for three days via power point and mini-discussion, I could tell the kids were ready to get moving.  They all had a clear opinion about Columbus, and they all love to argue.  I thought, “Why not combine what they love (arguing and being right) with a real-world application?  In doing so, I would fulfill all the requirements for my Marian assignment, and they would be learning without knowing it. Genius!” So, I did. 

I created a lesson that put Christopher Columbus on trial and forced the students to use the notes and material I have given them to their advantage.  They had to use their background knowledge (what they had learned in class the past couple days) and combine it with their own unique personalities as well as the personalities of the people in their group.  Even though they struggled at first, the students ultimately WANTED to do the project.  They were assigned to either defend Columbus (be his attorney) or to be his prosecutor.  Most of my students (especially my students who want to be lawyers) ate this assignment up! All of my students wanted to be on the “guilty” side (the side that would argue to make him go to jail) but I assigned students to the two roles to make it even.  Other than that, I did very little to facilitate this assignment.  I created the two sides, told them that we were going to put him on trial, and then I stepped back to let them collect evidence and then argue their different points.  They were very competitive and wanted to “win-” no matter what side they were on.  

I did very little questioning- most of it was student led.  I let the not-guilty side start with an opening argument, and found that the kids were very into character right away. They loved that I had dressed up as a judge and used a gavel to call “order” to the classroom.  They felt like they were playing but didn’t even know they were learning!

I asked the defense to present their first piece of evidence to prove Columbus was NOT guilty of murder. (We started with the easiest one first.)  The kids said some remarkable things, and then the other side of the room started to quietly buzz as they began to think of counter-arguments to say in response to the first group of “lawyers.”

The kids knew that they needed all people in their group to speak, and it was so cute to see them help each other come up with things to say.  There was a clear leader in every group, but for the most part, that leader knew how to delegate and didn’t dominate.  They cam up with a lot of the good arguments, but shared them with the group so that everyone could contribute.  All I did was, as the judge, “hear” the arguments and keep track of them on the whiteboard for the jury and lawyers to see. 

3. What did you observe by using inquiry as the primary teaching method?


It was amazing.  I am doing this more in the future, whenever I can!  The students have never been so engaged- even the 7th and 8th graders peeked their heads in to see what was going on (they were very interested in my judge robes.  They may have thought it was a little weird, but they were into it because I was into it and not afraid to show it!) Overall, I noticed:

  • A huge spike in engagement. Even my quietest learners had something to say in this environment.  I think it was less scary for them to participate. This way, if they messed up, someone could easily cover for them.  Additionally, in this setting, they are not who they normally are, they are “Lawyer so-and-so.”  In this way, I think students oddly enough felt like different people and therefore acted like different people.  They were able to try on a new personality to see how it fit, and I think many of them liked it!
  • A huge spike in team work. Students knew that the only way they could “win” their case was to convince the other side. As soon as they saw one group working collaboratively, they all decided it was worth it. One group was reluctant to do this (I guess they really didn’t like each other) but with a little coaxing, even they were working together after 20 minutes.
  • A huge spike in respectful listening and response. The students learned really quickly that Judge Irvine doesn’t allow a noisy courtroom, so yelling to get one’s point across is pointless. Instead, they had to be quick in making their point to their panel, and then listen to others’ points respectfully as well if they wanted to get arguments down on the page and win the court case.
  • A huge spike in peer dialogue. To win, they had to share ideas.  They could only share ideas by talking.  There was so much talking today, it was great!  Normally, my room is fairly quiet, with me leading it and them listening. Today, it was the other way around.
  • A huge spike in material retention. I was amazed at what the kids were showing me they had understood- deeply.  Some of their responses to counter-arguments made in the case were things I had literally not even thought of- and I am a smart person!  They were teaching me things through this.  It was great!
  • A huge spike in movement, which I know will result in long-term memory storage. The kids all had to stand when they presented their arguments.  At first, they were shy to stand in front of the whole class, but once one or two students really got into it and “acted up” the role of lawyer, more confidence started to show itself. One student nearly worked himself into tears he wanted Christopher Columbus to go to jail so badly!


4. How did the students respond to this teaching method of inquiry?  

As stated above, they loved it.  They were nervous at first, but overall, I think this is a lesson that they will remember for the rest of the year and many more to come.  One student in particular, William, who I am pretty sure has un-diagnosed ADHD blossomed in this role.  He is the one that was almost in tears.  He pulled out crayons to use as “evidence” of bullets in the case, and he was just so completely into it.  He is going to ace this test, I know it—because he FELT the material.

Later in the week, when I asked students to come up with the leading questions we used to start class, I noticed more student engagement.  Students knew that they could be called on at any time to be the questioner, so they were thinking of more questions per class than they ever had before.  And then, when we answered questions, kids were really into them and proud of them since they had created them.  Students also offered feedback to each other on the questions.  They said what was good about them, and then “respectfully disagreed or commented” in order to suggest improvements to the questions.  Like I said before, it was amazing; a sense of ownership went a long way in my lessons.


  1. An explanation of how the dialogue and discussion unfolded and what effects it had on your understanding of how much your students understand, when you stepped back and began facilitating rather than implementing direct instruction (5 pts)


I think I have already done this in enough detail above (in terms of explaining how the discussion unfolded and its effects on my understanding of what my students learned.) I still need to discuss though, what questions I used and how it further affected me in terms of becoming more of a facilitator than a direct instructor.  I will do that now.

I asked questions like:

    • Should we send Columbus to jail for life? I mean, is he really all that bad?
    • Good point- can we really blame Columbus for something everyone else was doing at the time?
    • Another good point- can we really say “just because everyone else was doing it” makes it ok?  That certainly wouldn’t work in a classroom today- how can it work for Columbus’ attorneys?
    • Where is your evidence? Prove it to me.
    • Good point, but I think you need to consider….


From questions like these (it’s nearly impossible to write them down: the questions came from the students, mostly) I learned that it is best if I ask a few guiding questions and then be quiet!  The kids asked each other questions, and they answered them.  They were much more invested in answering their peer’s counter-questions and arguments than mine.  Perhaps this was because it was out of the routine, or perhaps it was because this is the beauty of reciprocal teaching!  In any event I learned that stepping back and facilitating instruction and conversation is far more effective in terms of student engagement, management, and understanding than if I use direct instruction. Now, don’t get me wrong– there is still a great need for direct instruction a lot of he time.  But, this project helped me see the benefits in something I had formerly turned my nose up at.  Now, I see that it really works, and is especially good to use after using direct instruction for a few days.  It helps the students retain information, have a sense of ownership over the material, makes my life easier, and makes learning fun!

  1. What was their sense of observable self-worth as it relates to the classroom environment, their attentiveness and assertiveness or lack thereof in a discussion format? Include the progression or sequence of how you involved students in this leadership and reciprocal role over a five-ten day period. (5 pts)


I think I made this clear in my last point: they were totally invested and felt much more in charge of their learning.  As a result of this, my student’s sense of self-worth completely increased which led to increased involvement, desire, and motivation.  One of the hardest things about teaching is to find a way to gain students’ attention, and to keep it.  Not every student LOVED this method, but I think they were all pleasantly surprised by it.  Some students though, lived for it and have asked me repeatedly if we are going to do more lessons like it. 

Additionally, I learned more than a few things about leadership and reciprocal teaching as I implemented the trail and subsequent student-made questions over the next four days.  At first, they were intimidated by the role of “teacher,” but soon grew to love it, for the most part.  They all acted better than they normally did, because they knew I was only going to ask the “leaders” to make the questions.  I also started, in an effort to get more people involved, asking students to stand and read as they spoke in class.  This helped reinforce the idea that I was not teaching alone, and needed their help. I think that simple addition of movement was a huge thing for them visually, because it helped them see the said student and I as co-teachers.  I say this because while everyone else was sitting, we were both standing.  That automatically forms a relationship about authority in one’s mind, and allowed the kids to see that we were working together, and that I was not just lecturing them.  They loved it!

And, students continued to use our respectful terms we developed in the “court room” throughout the week.  We learned, almost without trying to, to “respectfully disagree or agree” with one another by using names and having a clear argument.  The students loved this, because they had respect.  They always smiled as they said “I respectfully agree/disagree” and then really listened to each other.  That simple word “respectfully” made it all the difference in class discussion!  They led it by using those words.  I didn’t even call on students- they called on each other. I felt like I just stood at the front of the room as an invisible observer while my class taught itself.

I was amazed by the whole thing when I look back on its progression.  My students work well together under my supervision, and I thought it was because of that.  It looks like, though, that they are good at working together on their own.  Now, I don’t think this lesson would have worked in August. But at this point in their year, it really was time to give up the reins and let them control the learning environment.   The worked wonderfully together and responded respectfully to one another. 

And, knowing the students as I do, some of their responses and reactions really surprised me.  I noticed that some of my more typically controlling “leaders” actually became more “discussion leaders” and asked questions that they seemed to know would encourage other people to speak.  This increase in collaboration is what really floored me.  No one made fun of each other, because I had set CLEAR guidelines for that kind of thing back in August.  Even with me as a guide on the side, the students still respected each other.

All in all, everything went really well. I am going to try to do things like this more often.  It’s hard to incorporate it with everything, but after seeing the positive effects it has, I don’t think I have any choice: I need to do as much guided participation as I possibly can.

Lawyer Name______________________

Working in the defense of the plea:

Guilty     Not-Guilty


The Trial of Christopher Columbus- 2011


Today we will “try” Christopher Columbus in court.  We need to see if he is guilty or innocent of crimes against humanity and if he deserves to be remembered for discovering America!


The charge against Columbus:

Christopher Columbus is charged with genocide (the systematic destruction of a particular race of people), murder in the first degree, theft, deception (lying), and corruption (being all around dishonest and bad.)


Your job: 

As a lawyer for either Christopher Columbus or his prosecutor (the person trying to make him seem really, really guilty,) you need to come up with evidence (proof) to prove your side’s case.

  • This means that if you are on the “Guilty” side, you will try to find evidence that makes Christopher Columbus look “bad.”
  • If you are on the “Not Guilty” side, you will try to find evidence that makes Christopher Columbus look “good.”
  • Remember, as a lawyer and a professional, you MUST defend the person you have been assigned to.  You have to put personal feelings aside, as hard as that may be.  Good luck!


Procedures and rules in Judge Irvine’s court room

1) Please wait your turn to speak.  As this is a real courtroom, anyone who speaks out of turn or acts unprofessionally will be held in contempt of court and will be dismissed (meaning, you will be kicked out of class.)

2) You must defend the side you have been assigned to. 

3) Any lawyer caught cheating or lying under oath will be removed from his/her position and will be forever disgraced.












Today’s Proceedings

1. Students work in groups of four to collect evidence for the trail.  You can use your notes and talk to each other.  Complete the worksheet given to you to help collect your evidence. (20 min)

2. Collection of evidence is over at  8:50 (6A) and (6B.) 

3. Columbus’ charge is read aloud at 9:46 and 12:16.

4.  The “Not-Guilty” side gets to say one thing that they have found that they think proves Columbus is “Not-guilty.”

5.  The “Guilty” side gets to say one thing in response to the “Not- guilty” side, and then they get to make one more statement.

6.  This will go back and forth until both sides have said all of their evidence.  (10 min)

7.  The jury will cast their votes.  (5 min)

  • Each student will get one slip of paper.  Vote, but do not put your name.  Please write “guilty” or “not guilty.”
  • This is the only time that you can leave your “side.”  This time you can actually vote according to your opinion.


Guided Participation Analysis

Christina Lear


10th-12th Grade


“Brand Jamming” Video Critique of Hershey’s

9 students

I chose to implement this strategy with my Advertising students for their unit on brand jamming.  This is a communications technique that takes the images and motifs of a brand’s advertising and twists the message to critique the brand.   We were lucky to have a real brand jamming campaign contest to participate in called “Raise the Bar, Hershey!” which focused on critiquing Hershey for not upholding fair trade practices with their cocoa farmers, resulting in child trafficking and labor. 

I began the unit with inquiry.  I asked the students to tell me their current feelings about Hershey.  I also asked them to describe themselves at age 12 or to describe a 12 year old relative or friend.  They led a discussion about the happy feelings of eating Hershey’s and the fun and carelessness of being 12. Then I revealed the call for Hershey’s brand jams on the “Raise the Bar, Hershey!” website.   I asked them how the ideas of this campaign compared to the class’s perception of Hershey’s that they had previously talked about.  It was great because instead of me telling them that the reality of Hershey’s is very different from consumer perceptions of the brand, they were able to come to this conclusion on their own and then describe this revelation to me.  This made them much more curious! Of course, the brand jam campaign description was very short and used a lot of jargon like “fair trade,” so it left a lot of questions unanswered.   From here, I facilitated as they generated a list of questions they still had about the issue.  My role was to encourage them to probe deeper with their questions so that they would ultimately find all the information they needed.  Some of the questions they came up with were, “What IS fair trade, exactly?”  “WHY would farmers choose to force children into labor instead of using adult workers?” “What are other chocolate companies doing?”  They also had some questions about brand jamming and communication: “What does an effective brand jam look like?” “What kinds of images, sounds, and information will help persuade consumers and Hershey’s that child trafficking is a problem?”

At this point, my role was now to direct my students to a number of high quality resources that would help them answer these questions.  Later on in the project they had more flexibility to research on their own, but initially I wanted to streamline their sources of information so they did not start off with any misconceptions.  I always want them to do more reading in my classroom, so I gave them a very dense 25-page corporate responsibility report, knowing that it was full of essential information, but worried that they might react negatively to the large amount of reading.  They normally are a very chatty bunch and I have trouble getting them to calm down and read independently, but armed with their questions and fueled by curiosity, they were so into this reading! The room was practically silent and they took great notes.   I was so impressed because when they were done reading, I led them through some of the questions we had previously generated, and they were able to explain the issues to me with a lot of nuance! This allowed me to see a greater level of understanding than I would have if I had presented the information to them and asked them to repeat it back to me.  I was also impressed that participation from all students was much higher than normal.  I think this shows that they were invested and felt empowered by their own ability to teach themselves.  I also showed them a website full of brand jamming images and a documentary film on child trafficking in the chocolate industry. We followed this up with me leading a similar discussion so that they could define the effective visual communication strategies they wanted to use in their own videos.

Once the students had done all that research, they were ready to begin creating.  I showed them how to make a storyboard for their videos.  Based on all that they had learned, and their mounting passion for fair trade, the kids came up with incredibly creative and compelling ideas.   I did not give them a lot of boundaries, so they all had very different projects that required different skills, resources, etc. I helped guide them by asking them to make a list of all the resources and skills they would need to complete the project.  From there, we were able to determine what support they would need from me and what information they needed to begin seeking on their own.  To kick-start the technical side of things, I gave them a very brief tutorial over Movie Maker.  I also created three sets of written instructions as a reference for the basic skills they would need in Movie Maker (importing images, adding sound, editing, etc.)  These instructions were available to them as a resource to utilize independently.

After that point, we had about a week of work time during which they were responsible for guiding their own work. They needed to find images, video clips, and sounds for their videos, so they used their netbooks and began researching.  In their quest for images, many of them did further reading about child trafficking in and beyond the cocoa industry.  I even had one student watch an entire additional documentary on her own! I loved that they were learning and doing extra work, but it felt like play to them because it was guided by their own interests and curiosity.  If I were to do this project again, I would add more tutorials about evaluating Internet sources (so that they were able to be even more conscious of the responsibility that comes with the freedom to research), but for the most part, they found exactly what they needed.  As they were researching, I was circulating the room checking in with each of them to see what they were looking at and ask them questions about what they were learning.  I often have had problems with students being off-task on the netbooks, but that was almost never a problem with this project because they enjoyed the freedom. 

When they began working with Movie Maker to actual create their commercials, I was so impressed by their drive to learn the program.  Some of them had familiarity with it, but many were learning it for the first time (as was I!).   When they wanted to add a creative effect or something else that I had not taught them to do, they did a great job of playing around with the program or researching online to learn how to solve their problem.  They also began to use each other as teachers and share the cool things they were teaching themselves to do.  This really expanded their creative potential for this project, because they did not feel limited to the specific skills I had showed them. 

Once they finished their videos, we returned more to a discussion format for the final stage of the process: peer feedback.  I gave the kids guidelines for what should be included in a good director’s statement and asked them to rehearse independently to meet the standards of a public speaking rubric I gave them.  Then they began presenting their commercials to the class.  Each student had a chance to show their video and deliver their director’s statement, and then engage in dialogue with their peers as the class delivered positive feedback as well as places to improve.  On the first day, I facilitated this a little bit by calling on people to give feedback and reminding them to start with a positive comment and then give criticism.  However, over several days of presentations, I noticed that the “directors” began calling on the students, and all of the students wanted to offer their feedback even without me soliciting it.   The directors also asked follow-up questions to clarify the feedback they were receiving and push their peers to be more specific! These conversations were incredibly informative to me, because the students’ detailed conversations showed that they really understood fair trade and what made a great brand jam video.   They could apply this knowledge not only to their own videos (which were all high quality), but also to their peers’. 

Overall, I was very impressed by the effect that independence and responsibility had on my students throughout the course of this project.   The normally “good” students (the girls and one boy) were so thrilled to be able to design their own project that they really challenged themselves creatively and put a lot of extra work in to the project – self-created differentiation!  The boys in this class often have trouble paying attention, completing work, meeting deadlines, etc.  While they still had trouble meeting deadlines, all but one of them got really into this project and – for the first time all semester – were consistently on task and engaged.  I was out with the girls on a field trip one day, and when I returned early, the boys were with the substitute and had their netbooks out and were all actually working on the project – I couldn’t believe it!  There was only one student who did not do well with the independence of the project – ironically, one of the seniors.  He had some behavioral issues that got in the way of his progress, but I am interested to hear from him if more structure would have helped.

I wanted to hear from my students what they thought about this model of learning, so I gave them a survey at the end of the unit.  One of the questions I asked them was how they liked the structure of minimal direct teaching.  One of my students wrote, “I simply adored doing this without Ms. Lear [directly] teaching.  It allowed me to explore and create something totally unique.  So many teachers during the day talk all day and don’t allow students to experiment.“  Another said, “I think independent work was good.  For example, if I need help I ask but I independently progress.  Seems perfect to me.”  Beyond pure praise, several offered mixed reviews or feedback.  One student said that she was “unsure” at first but that it gave her more time to work on her project, which she liked.  Another said he would have liked me to teach more special effects in Movie Maker.  A third student said that for similar projects in the future, he would like to work in a group with structured roles to help him stay on task.  I think these responses show that a student’s starting level of independence and problem-solving confidence affects how they will react to a project like this.  Knowing this, I would be more intentional about which students I spend more time sitting with at the beginning of the project next time. 

I was also interested in the students’ sense of self-worth and pride that came from teaching themselves and each other and solving their own problems.  I asked them what they were most proud of from this project, and I also asked them to make a list of all the new information or skills they had learned and then to note whether it was something I had taught them or they had taught themselves.  Although I certainly helped students throughout the process, every student’s “most proud element” of the project was something that had worked on independently without guidance from me. I think this shows that when we give our students the chance to solve problems on their own, it will make them more proud and invested in their work and also increase their creative/problem-solving confidence.  I also noticed that on their lists of skills they had learned, they listed even the skills I had assisted them as something that they had learned/taught themselves.  This shows me that I can still have a role in guiding them while also giving them a sense of self-worth and ownership if I teach them in a less intrusive way that they do not perceive as “teaching.”

One of my favorite things about the survey came from Thomas, a student who is struggling with home issues and school right now.   He often has trouble collaborating positively with classmates.  Although the survey asked the students to divide the skills they learned into two categories (those taught by themselves and those taught by Ms. Lear), Thomas went beyond that.   He wrote that his “classmates/me” taught him how to “make my project more interesting and not so long so it wouldn’t lose the viewer’s attention.” He said that he was proud that he “had feedback that would actually help to make the video better.”  To see him express genuine investment in his work and appreciation for his peers’ feedback is very powerful to me!

In summary, I loved the way that facilitating rather that teaching engaged and empowered my students and allowed me to see that they had a deeper and more genuine level of understanding.   When I implement units like this in the future, I will consider how I can be more intentional about differentiating the levels of support that my students need at various phases.  I am already thinking about how I can incorporate more of this strategy into the core classes I teach (and how I will need to modify it for larger classes and different levels of ability).  I look forward to seeing how facilitating can improve engagement and mastery in all my classes.

Guided Participation Assignment


Candace Kissinger

3rd and 4th Grade


Determining Importance in Non-Fiction Texts

7 students participating


            The Guided Participation assignment occurred at a perfect time in my ESL classroom. I started a new unit on determining importance through non-fiction texts for my third and fourth grade pull-out groups. For the first week of the unit I focused on short texts from recent newspapers. I hoped that by focusing on short non-fiction pieces we could all read that my students would start the unit off feeling successful. After we read each piece, we discussed the topics as a group and what we found important using a protocol I found. I will use each topic we read about as the organization of this reflection to show the progression of my students through guided group discussion.

Topic 1: Bilingualism

            At the beginning of each new unit, my students and I always revisit our big goals and talk about our successes. Ironically, as I was eating my lunch thirty minutes before class started I found a news article on NPR about how new scientific research shows people who are bilingual are actually more intelligent and live longer than people who are monolingual. I decided to share this information with my third and fourth grade students, which led into our first great discussion. I started off the discussion by asking kids what they had learned through the radio report. One kid hilariously pointed out that he learned he might actually be smarter than me since he knew I am mostly monolingual. This got my other students to open up and talk about when they first acquired Spanish and English. It was great to hear my students use the language of the radio broadcast like bilingual, monolingual, age of language acquisition, etc. I asked my students if they would teach their children both Spanish and English and all of them said yes. My students learned so much more through this first class discussion than they would have if I had simply asked them to write a reflection or define terms. There was a strong sense of self-worth in the classroom as I had kids as they were leaving tell their monolingual friends in the hallway that they were going to live on average 5 years longer.

Topics 2 & 3: Snakes and U.S. Soccer

            For the rest of the week, the students and I read two non-fiction Scholastic News articles on the snake that escaped at the Bronx Zoo and a report on the U.S. soccer team’s first game. After we read through the articles as a class, I had my students highlight one word, one phrase, and one sentence that they thought were important in each article. The items we highlighted started off our discussions as we shared why we had picked these things, and why we thought they were important to the article. After sharing these things, students began to see that often we picked the same things and started to discuss how the skill we were working on (determining importance) reminded them of summarizing and making conclusions because we had to look carefully at the information. One student then pointed out that it was kind of like inferencing because sometimes you have to infer what the author means at certain parts. I was shocked and in awe of my students’ capabilities. Truthfully, all I could think about was how the conversation we were having proved how stupid most standardized tests are because they are so low-level in terms of critical thinking skills. At the end of each class the students were amazed that time had gone by so quickly during our discussions of the different topics. None of my students ever made fun of anyone, and really seemed to enjoy the activity. I will definitely use classroom discussions and guided participation more often in my classroom after this experience.

 Katelyn Hancock
EDU 510T/505T
Assignment #3: Guided Participation/Reciprocal Teaching
April 5, 2011
Grade Level: 7th and 8th
Subject: Title I Reading
Topic: Animal Creation Project
Objective: SWBAT synthesize information from several sources and draw conclusions about that information.
Number of Student Participants: Dependent on the class period (between 8-15 students)
My primary goal as a Title I Reading teacher is to provide my students with many reading strategies and ¡§tools¡¨ to help them make at least two years of reading growth in only one school year. In order to do this, I strive to use every single minute of class time providing my students with strategies, having them practice the strategies and monitoring their reading growth progress. In order to make the ¡§guided participation¡¨ assignment work for my instruction, I taught an objective-based reading strategy to my students, had them work with challenging texts and then had them participate in guided discussion.
My objective for the two week period was ¡§students will be able to synthesize information from several sources and draw conclusions about that information.¡¨ I taught my students how to synthesize information from multiple texts and then I presented the Hybrid Animal Creation Project. The goal of this project was for students to crossbreed two animals by doing the following:
„h Students had to read about and mark up texts for the two animals they were crossbreeding.
„h They had to synthesize the information and create a hybrid animal from their research.
„h They then wrote a five-paragraph essay with a clear introduction, three body paragraphs explaining their hybrid animal¡¦s features, including physical, vocalization, life expectancy, and temperament, the habitat and region in which the animal will live, threats, predators, food and defenses and a conclusion paragraph.
„h Finally, they had to create a visual illustration of their new animal creature, present their animal to the class and lead a discussion.
Students were thoroughly engaged in the project and finding out as much information as possible about their two animals they were crossbreeding so that they would have plenty of evidence to support the characteristics of their new hybrid animal. Over the two week period in which they had structured in class time to work on the project, students enjoyed becoming experts on their animals and sharing their new creations with their peers. As the teacher, after introducing the requirements, rubric and expectations of the project, I stepped back and assumed the role of facilitator and allowed my students to do the direct instruction of gleaning information about their animals and then coming up with hybrid versions.
During the two days of animal creation presentations and discussions, my students did an incredible job presenting their hybrid animals, supporting their work with factual evidence and defending their work against the questions and comments of other students during the discussion portion. In most of my classes, the first presenter was slightly shy and intimidated by the idea of talking in front of their peers and defending their work. However, the majority of students exude a sense of confidence and pride about their work and what they learned and were eager to present their new creatures to the class. Students were very respectful of each other and were fascinated with the information they learned about a vast array of different animals from monkeys, snapping turtles, warthogs to hippopotamuses.
I modeled the project of a hybrid animal (I crossbred an ostrich and zebra to make a ¡§zostrich¡¨) and the presentation and facilitation of the project to each class. In retrospect, I might not model the presentation/facilitation part if I teach this project again, because I believe it gave some of my students preformed ideas of what their presentations and facilitations had to look like. Instead, I wanted them to feel free and innovative to present their animals through whatever creative means they desired. Through the presentations and facilitations my students led, I was able to take the ¡§backseat¡¨ in most classes and be an active participant. In some classes, the students were so engaged and active that I had to help manage by making sure students were still following classroom procedures and raising their hands before speaking so that chaos did not ensue.
Overall, I was very content with the way this project turned out. It gave my students the opportunity to practice the important reading strategy of synthesizing, allowed them to read several challenging and interesting texts, had them write a five-paragraph essay, create a visual representation, present their creations and lead discussions of their work. Most importantly, this project provided my students with the invaluable opportunity to become experts on a topic and use their imaginations to create something new while simultaneously learning to become stronger readers.

R. Blake Johnson

Autobiographical Writing/Crafting a Political Stump Speech

7th and 8th Grade

15 students

Assignment #3: Guided Participation

                During the week prior to this assignment, my students had been viewing political stump speeches, speeches that capture the personal story of a candidate or elected official.  We had done very little analysis so that I could facilitate a discussion regarding the speeches for this assignment.  We started class by reviewing one of the speeches, and I asked students what was good and bad about the speech, with follow up questions as to why these elements of content and delivery were important.  The students were initially hesitant to get involved in the discussion.  After one student answered, I praised him for his involvement, and, as almost an example of the merits of positive reinforcement, other students became involved.  I was surprised that by asking a variety of questions, the students were able to come to conclusions that I would have originally delivered in lecture.  They talked about eye contact, audience awareness, beginning the speech with a story, sounding conversational, and other elements of great public speeches.  Students were extremely engaged and involved in the discussion, eyes at the front of the room, limited fidgeting, etc.  During this activity, I had only limited disruptions and students were excited to look at other speech videos. 

                Throughout the week, I introduced the notion of student led discussion by providing a set of tools for speech analysis.  Students were given a checklist of things they had to look at with specific speeches, and they were informed that some of them would be leading the analysis in class.  The initial reaction was clearly trepidation.  On the first day of student led analysis, one of my strongest students, Davontaye, got up in front of the class and did an icebreaker (which was not on the checklist), so that the class would be engaged from the very beginning.  This could not have gone better.  Davontaye provided a perfect example of the students ought to lead the discussion.  I used to always begin class with an activity or something fun to get everybody moving, and he took that strategy.  He began asking his peers questions about the speech they had just viewed.  Students had a blast responding to questions and joking around, but they also started picking up on effective speech analysis.  The other students that facilitated used Davontaye’s exemplary performance as a rubric and did a great job as well.

                It was very difficult for me to let go of control in the instructional time of my classroom.  With the myriad behavior issues we often face, it is counterintuitive to give up any element of structure or control.  I was pleasantly surprised, though, that in this particular situation, behavior issues were greatly minimized and the students came away with a strong understanding of the content.  The students were also respectful of one another.  There was some teasing, but it took the form of playful banter and never crossed the threshold of being hurtful or inappropriate.  This activity served as a reminder that even in the midst of somewhat tumultuous settings, we can still step outside of the box and make the classroom student-centered.  As these two years have gone on, and especially as the environment in my alternative school as fallen into disarray, it is easy to forget the power of letting activities like this define your classroom, and consequently improve my students’ understanding of content.

                When the assignment was completed, I asked the students how they felt about this activity, and they unanimously agreed that it was fun to be in charge.  They talked about how it was nice to have a student leading, because they talked similarly and knew what things would keep them interested.  It was remarkable that students used different metaphors and similes during their presentations, and each and every student seemed to understand.  The whole assignment went well, and I honestly can’t think of anything I would do differently given another opportunity.  I do intend to incorporate this into the remaining weeks of the school year, and I look forward to allowing students to take the lead.

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