So, our plan was to use the Big Paper Strategy. Simply put, the strategy asks kids to have an entire discussion using nothing but writing. Each student gets a different color marker so that the teacher can easily identify who is contributing to the discussion and who is not. Also, the teacher can circulate around and join in any group’s discussion. Writing the conversation down rather than discussing aloud makes the kids stop and think about their contribution and keeps anyone from being too dominant or too passive.
We had the whole thing set up. Everyone had the correct markers. We were excited to see what was about to happen, so we said, “Go.” What happened after that was a sad collision of confused faces, some semblance of the beginning of writing on some charts, and many students staring at chart paper. After about 3 minutes of sluggishly slow progress, we hit the pause button. Markers down, eyes on the board.
Together we modeled the discussion on the easel. So that we didn’t usurp their ability to think about the original prompt, our fake discussion was about what is the best thing to order at McDonald's. After about 30 seconds of a heated written discussion of fries vs. Big Macs, one student said, “Oh! It’s like texting!” Bingo.
Off they went with their original discussion and the marker ink was flying. It only took 30 seconds of modeling to change the course of the strategy and set the students on a path of deeper thought. I wonder how often we skip this small, but critical step?
Modeling is more than demonstrating. It’s about making the thinking process visible. It’s not enough to say, “First you write a hook that will get the audience’s attention, then, you lead up to your thesis statement.” You as the teacher have to assume the role of a thinking student. “I remember that Mrs. Greene said you had to come up with some way to really grab your audience’s attention. She called that a hook…” This gives kids who need help getting started a personal metacognitive script to get things going.
Modeling is so important. Let’s continue to strategically include it in our plans!
Jaime and Derek