Teaching About Change

Change happens everywhere around us, so why not open the discussion about change with students?

Brainstorm a list of things that change, like this:

My personal favorite on the above list is ”puberty.” You can tell we did this as a graduate class and most of us are upper elementary and middle school teachers, ha!

After the initial brainstorm, guide students into ”truths” about change. Then create a concept map, like this:

Once the class has developed their own ”truths” (with strong teacher guidance, : )), the concept map can be added to throughout the school year. For example, you might write ”history” under the ”is linked to time” concept. Or you might write ”relationships” under the ”can be positive or negative” concept.



Making the Classroom Student Friendly

In a student-centered classroom environment, it is vital that students feel ownership in the organization and in the learning. Here are some ideas to get you started:

I mentioned concept maps in an earlier post. Here students are adding their recent learning about the Roman Republic government to our giant Ancient Rome concept map. I have found that making the learning visible not only reinforces the learned concepts but also builds student confidence and pride in their learning.

The concept map poster hangs from a clothesline for easy take-down and put-back-up so we can add to it regularly to give students ownership of the learning display.

An easy way to give students ownership in the organization is to organize in a way that makes sense and is easily accessible to the students. After I re-organized the Non-fiction section, it has seen more action in the last few weeks than in the whole first semester combined! After introducing the new non-fiction organization, we went into training as a whole class to put books back in the bins in a way that made sense. (My motto for everything: Be sure your decision makes sense!)

I make a point not to display meaningless posters in the room (Sorry, teacher stores, but I don’t need any inspirational quotes signs!). I prefer student-created signs, but not all posters in my classroom have student handwriting. The key to any poster you have in the room is that learning is anchored to it in some way. Several ways we utilize our ”feelings faces” are in mediating conflict resolution (”How did you feel when he pushed you?”), in determining how a book character is feeling, and in getting past ”boring” feeling-words like ”happy” or ”sad”. It’s also a great vocabulary builder : ). 

The Feelings Faces Chart can be found in Positive Discipline in the Classroom, by Jane Nelsen, H. Stephen Glenn, and Lynn Lott. Definitely a good read for any teacher looking for some fresh discipline ideas. The book argues that giving students ownership of the classroom environment often minimizes negative discipline issues. I would have to agree after using Positive Discipline in my classroom for two years!

Concept Mapping

During my Masters class Reading and Writing to Learn, we have done a lot of reflection about how students learn best. One idea that was new for me was that of ”making learning visible,” that is, allowing students to see how much they are learning.

In order to help students visualize their learning, one tool is the concept map. I explained to students that as we learn new information, our brain makes connections between what we have learned before and what we are learning now (There’s literally tons of brain research out there on how we form schema throughout our lifetime.) As a class, we discussed several different options for organization (thanks to Google Images) before beginning our Ancient Rome concept map (pictured above). As we learn more about life in Ancient Rome, we add to our learning map. It has been a great tool for student discussion as we can refer back to the map to help us recall what we have learned.

Another use of the concept map is to scaffold student learning as they independently read nonfiction texts. Of course, before students are ready for using the concept map on their own, the teacher must model multiple times. As we read a very basic nonfiction book titled A Nest Full of Eggs, I modeled how I was thinking about organizing my concept maps while students also worked on their individual concept maps at their desks.

A teacher-modeled concept map

A student’s individual concept map

I have found that the use of concept maps when students are reading independently gives students a boost of confidence as we share after our daily Read to Self time. Before using concept maps, students would come to sharing time with very little to say about what they learned. Now, students can say, “Look at everything I learned!!” and have lots of connections to share with the class.