Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How to Structure Student Discussions with a Walk and Talk

This blog post was originally featured on Kids Discover on September 13, 2017.

You know those days when the kids are getting a little squirrelly? The days where the side conversations get the best of the quietest kids and even the smallest distraction gets us all off track? It’s time to get the wiggles out while being productive.

It’s time for a Walk and Talk!

I teach in San Diego, California, and the weather is generally pleasant outside. We can easily go outside for this activity. This also works inside around the perimeter of the classroom (you might need to push the desks toward the center) or quietly up and down the hallway.

A Walk and Talk is a structured partner discussion where students are given question cards to answer with a partner while walking on a specified path. They walk toward a set location, such as a pole or tree, then turn and walk back. You can incorporate an instructional assistant or parent volunteer into your class activity by setting them as the turnaround point.

Set-up
Start the class with a lab, activity, or guided reading assignment done in class. When I’m planning this activity ahead, I will create a list of questions or task cards, then pre-write them on index cards. The questions can be a combination of a review of what you’ve covered in class and how your students will prepare for the upcoming assessment or presentation.

When this activity happens on the fly because of extra time at the end of class or an energy surplus, I’ll ask students to write the questions on index cards themselves, based on what we’ve covered in class.

Before we go outside to our Walk and Talk location, I will randomly assign students a partner. Flippity Random Name Picker is my favorite randomizer tool. Then, we quickly review our class expectations for the Walk and Talk and for outside class work.

The Walk and Talk
We all walk outside and students line up next to their partner and I stand facing the head of the line. I hand a question card to each person in the first pair and wish them luck. The first person answers their question on the way to the turnaround point (about 20-30 steps), then they switch roles and the second person answers a question on the way back to the line. I wait about 10 steps between each pair, which helps prevent extra distractions.

Once the partners return from their walk, they get back into line. When they’re back to the front of the line, I switch their cards for new questions and we repeat the Walk and Talk. I quickly check in with each pair as they return and exchange cards, asking, “how did it go?”

Typically, we do three rounds before returning to class.

Debrief
When we go back inside, students take some time to share something they learned from their partner or found interesting. This happens either out loud, or as a quick-write on paper or as a question on Google Classroom.

The Walk and Talk is an excellent preparation or reflection tool for larger research projects, essays, and Socratic Seminars. My students love the opportunity to go outside and work, discuss with a partner, and move around.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Daily Check-in With Google Forms

I love teaching middle school, especially 7th grade. The kids are goofy, energetic, and super squirrels (...squirrel!). They’re also pre-teens, and trying to fit into the limbo world where they’re not quite kids, but not quite teenagers. Many of my kids have faced challenging family situations that preoccupy their thoughts while in school.


Knowing things are sometimes distracting outside of class, whether it is friends, family, or both, I start my class with a warm-up. This is usually a silent individual activity that activates prior knowledge, or asks students to review what they learned last class.


In April 2015, I changed the way I did my warm-ups. And I had major positive results. Immediately.


I implemented the Daily Check-in Form. I still called it a warm-up, but the purpose expanded to ask students about their day.


Before we continue, please fill it out here.
Your warm-up questions are:
  1. Who do you teach?
  2. What made you interested in this blog post topic?
  3. How do you currently start your class periods, meetings, or workshops?


Ok, now that you filled it out, let’s continue. (If you didn’t fill it out, go back and do so. It’s good for you to actually go through the experience, not just open up the link!)


When students arrive for class, they line up in 2 silent, straight, and smiling lines outside. I invite them in, and they walk in silently (we don’t do it right, it’s back outside to do it over), and begin their warm-up on their iPad. I have a set of Slides for each lesson, and the first Slide is always the warm-up questions.

I reuse the same Form everyday and for all classes. At the end of the week, I hide the previous week's rows on Sheets.


The three questions I ask my students to check in with them daily.
Three check-in questions with running averages.
I know some of you are asking, why are you SO strict on coming in silently? Two reasons: First, it helps my students settle in and make the transition to class time. Second, it helps me setting in and make the transition to teaching. I use that time to take attendance, quickly check in with individual students, and skim their warm-up answers.

From this daily warm-up, I have learned many essential things about my students, from death of family members or arguments with friends, to excitement over weekend plans or their deep love of tacos. These are things my students may have been too shy to tell me, or I likely would not have taken the time to listen to their needs.


I use conditional formatting to make it easier to skim how students are feeling. It's a color gradient where 1 is red, and 5 is green.
Screenshot of the Sheet. I use conditional formatting
to make it easier to skim how students are feeling. 
If there’s a concern, I’ll pull the student aside during class and chat privately about what they shared. If they rank their day as a 1, then I’ll make sure I make it over to their desk more frequently, offer a friendly smile, and start a conversation. (I don’t take them aside, unless they show additional signs of being upset or stressed in class.)

The day I first implemented this warm-up, I learned that my student’s uncle died the week prior. Over the next three weeks, she lost three more people close to her. Because she willingly shared this with me, I was able to support her emotionally in class, and refer her to our counselors for additional support. I am 100% positive this prevented serious behaviors in my class, because she had struggled all year with attitude and off-task behavior.


When I present at conferences and workshops, I often start my session with an identical Form--I ask about participants’ prior knowledge on the topic and goals for the session. I feel like this helps me connect to my participants in the limited time we have.


I’m grateful for this simple tool that has helped me build community in my classroom!


Love this idea? Here’s the Form template.

Have fun with the Form, make it work for you, and please share! 
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike [CC BY-NC-SA]
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
[CC BY-NC-SA]