In my last post, I discussed how a small change I made to the seating in my classroom affected my day-to-day approach to teaching writing. Simply moving students into small groups allowed me to see so many valuable opportunities for collaboration in my instruction. Today, I’m going to talk about the collaborative benefits another small change has afforded me this year.
I’m fortunate enough to work for a district that offers its teachers the opportunity to apply for mini-grants every spring. At the end of last school year, I applied for and received this wireless document camera. I previously had a regular Elmo that plugged into my computer. However, I found myself underutilizing the resource. Because the cord was only a few feet long, I was bound close to my computer when I used it, which meant it sat on my desk in the corner of the room. This also meant that I didn’t think about it much, so on the rare occasion that it was used, I was the one using it. And since I was the one using it, that meant that I was the one doing most of the talking; I was showing students what I thought was important.
This wasn’t intentional. In fact, I never even realized I was only looking at the document camera as my resource until I went wireless this school year. I decided to apply for it because I thought I would use it more if I could take it with me within the throngs of students rather than being bound in the corner of my room. But what I found when I moved it away from my desk was there are so many opportunities for students to use it to show others what they are thinking and working on. I began looking at the document camera as our resource, and a very valuable one at that.
It all started during the first week of school. I have been kicking off my school year with my variation of Rebekah O’Dell’s punctuation study for the last couple of years, and I love how it challenges my seniors to consider and use punctuation marks they had previously thought were “off limits” to them. During the study, students read through children’s books and took note of the intentional use of punctuation for effect. As I walked around and discussed their noticings with them, I decided some of what they were noticing was just too valuable not to share. I also saw this as a great opportunity for students to dig into the writer’s choices and try to explain why the author might have used the marks they did.
So once students were finished exploring their mentor texts, I had them narrow down and choose three sentences within their picture books that contained especially rich punctuation. Then with their groups, each student took turns discussing their top three sentences with their group members and explaining why the author’s choice in punctuation was particularly compelling. Next, I had each group narrow down and select the best sentence of all that had been discussed; one they were willing to share with the entire class.
Groups then took turns placing the children’s book with their selected sentence under the document camera. They explained which punctuation mark had been used, the mechanics of how it was used, and what they believed was the author’s intention for the mark. This sparked some really great conversations about how punctuation affects the tone of a text and really helped students see colons, dashes, hyphens, ellipses, etc. as easy tools they can use to bring a piece of writing to life. And the best part? I gave instructions and guided students as they were presenting their work under the document camera, but that was about it. This was the ultimate act of inquiry, as students were the ones doing the teaching.
After this unit, my little turquoise document camera quickly became my secret weapon. Knowing I had that resource in the room helped me see more ways students could communicate with one another about writing. The week after we finished the punctuation study, we moved on to a unit on open letters. After students mined the mentor texts for approaches to craft and structure they might like to try, I fired up the document cam and had them share their noticings with the rest of the class. By the time the hour was over, the mentor texts were rich with annotations and students had plenty of ideas to get started. And while I haven’t done this yet, I love the possibility this tool gives me to have students put their own writing on display in order to share techniques with others and spark valuable conversations about writerly choices.
To be clear, the intention of this post was not to convince teachers that they need a new tech tool like a $300 wireless document camera to be successful. I understand that wanting this new resource was a “first world problem,” and I was lucky to have the Elmo that plugged into the computer (this would have been a dream come true at my previous school). I also understand that student collaboration and inquiry is, in fact, possible with a regular document camera or without one altogether. Rather, I wanted to share some valuable activities that have happened in my classroom with my new tool— just in case you’re considering getting a turquoise secret weapon of your own.
More importantly, however, I wanted to echo the point I made in my last post: it’s amazing how a whole new world of possibilities is opened when we make small changes in our teaching. When we take the time to stop and deliberately reflect on how something small (whether it be changes in seating, a new tech tool, or something else) can help us meet the professional goals we have set for ourselves, we start to see so many opportunities for our students that we may have overlooked in the past.
What small changes have you made in the first two months of school that have made a BIG difference in your instruction? Leave a comment below!