Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Step In, Step Out: A Tool for Deep Thinking

One my absolute favorite parts of teaching is the collaboration and sharing. I have improved my teaching so much over the last couple of years thanks to the amazing educators who selflessly share their ideas with the rest of us. Last weekend I discovered Micheal, author of The Thinker Builder. He has lots of great ideas and resources, but I want to share one particular idea with you that has been working wonders in my classroom: Step In, Step Out.

With the new demands of the STAAR (for fellow Texans) and the Common Core for most of you, students are challenged to think about texts in a completely new way. They not only have to comprehend a text on a literal level, they must be able to make inferences, draw conclusions, use text features, etc. Beyond that, they are expected to analyze the text from the perspective of an author. Seeing a text in this way requires a much deeper level of thinking and can be confusing and difficult for students.

Enter: Step In, Step Out

The idea Michael came up with is purely brilliant. The simple terminology of "step in" and "step out" gives the students a way to anchor their thinking. It has also made my explanation of the kinds of thinking I expect much clearer.

Let's take a closer look at this strategy:

The first part of the strategy is the Step In. When we first pick up a text, it's time to Step In. Let's see what the text is all about. If we are reading fiction, we are looking at the character choices and actions and how they drive the story. We're looking at relationships and plot elements. Basically, what's happening? Michael has come up with a nice set of questions that challenge the students' thinking when they are "in" the story. The visual of the door has driven home to idea that we should be immersed in the story, seeing the choices the characters are making and the effects of those choices on others.

After we have read the text, had great conversations, and students understand the major ideas, it's time to Step Out. Now we step back and analyze the text from the mind of the author. The questions Michael poses are great for critical thinking. I especially love the question that asks about what the author is trying to do at certain parts of the story.The students have to seriously think about the choices the author made and how those choices added to the overall effectiveness of the text, or sometimes lack thereof. These questions tap into that deeper level of thinking and can leave even your highest achievers silent in thought for a few seconds (gotta love that!)  The kids love the opportunity to "judge" the choices of others, and this is a great way to apply that skill!

We used this strategy last week with poetry. We read a poem called "Oak Tree" in which the tree was speaking to a child and reflecting on how the child had grown. When we "stepped in," we took notice of the speaker (who happened to be the tree) and what he was doing. Why was he talking to a child? What is he implying with his comments to the child? How do we even know he's talking to a child? The conversation was great.

During our 'step out' conversation, we came to the question of author's purpose. I explained to the students that the poet made a deliberate choice when she sat down to write the poem. She could have easily written the poem from her perspective. That probably would have been eaiser. However, this poet chose to take on the persona of the tree. Why in the world would a poet do that? One of my students who normally offers up very surface level comments, suggested that the poet probably had a special tree when she was growing up that meant a lot to her and she wanted to write about it in a more creative way than just describing it. Yes! Beautiful! I could have cried.

We also discussed the author's choice of poetic devices. We noticed which devices were used and which were not and how those devices contributed to the feeling and mood of the poem.

Thanks to the "Step In, Step Out" strategy, our conversation was revved up to a whole new level.

This week we are reading expository texts. The strategy applies wonderfully! Today we "stepped in" to an article about the Great Chicago Fire, so kids were leaving tracks all over the place sharing the new things they were learning. They asked questions, shared some of their background knowledge, made connections, clarified the meaning of unfamiliar words, identified cause and effect relationships, etc. We were definitely "in" the text!

Tomorrow, we are going to "step out" of the text. Some of the questions I'm going to ask include:
-Why did the author choose to write this text?
-What text features did the author choose to include?
-Why did they include these features? How do they help us as readers?
-Are there any other text features the author could have included? Why? How would they help?
-How did the author structure the text? Is it story-like, or are facts just presented in no particular order? Why? How does the structure affect your interest level in the article?
-Are particular paragraphs or sections more important than others?
-How would the article be different if certain parts were left out?

You get the idea!

 I'm so excited, i can hardly wait to hear what they will offer up!

The simple terminology of "stepping in" and "stepping out" of the text has given my students a springboard for deep conversations and propelled our thinking. It can be used on any text, which makes it very versatile. I am so grateful to Michael for sharing this fabulous strategy (for FREE, y'all!). Hop on over to his blog and read his post about the strategy. He's able to explain it much better than I am and you will love his writing style. He also includes some differentiated reading response sheets to use with this strategy and a genius pop up card to help you remember those wonderful questions!

While you're there, check out the rest of his awesome resources. You won't be disappointed!

Thanks, Michael, for sharing your ideas so selflessly! You have truly made a difference in our classroom!

1 comment:

  1. I love the sound of this - you are right it would be a great anchor for student thinking. Thanks for the link - I will check this out for sure.


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