By Jackie Andrejko and Starr Sackstein
Peeking into the room, I see students attentively gathered on the rug, sitting before their teacher who is animated while she explains the activity they are about to start. Students eagerly wait for the cue to get up and move to their stations.
They have small, handheld whiteboards with post-its already on them with sentence starters and they know what they are going to be doing. (And just in case they forget, the teacher has projected the directions in writing on the board).
And they are off.
As an observer, this is what we want to see. Students meeting at each station, reading their line, trying to make meaning and then predictions, but even better are the conversations students are sharing.
The Teacher’s Perspective
The corner of my otherwise tidy desk is piled high with folders that I have collected over a number of recent training sessions, professional developments, and conferences. They are stuffed with various takeaways of sorts that, at the time, seemed magnificent. I leave these sessions with my folder of new teaching and learning goodies tucked safely under my arm, and I feel inspired to share this engaging, new work with my students. However, days later, I realize that incorporating anything new is challenging. Instead of attempting a lesson that might flop, in the essence of already limited time, I go with what I can easily manage, the sure thing.
The difference with this particular lesson strategy presented at our recent literacy conference was that I could picture the faces of the readers in my class that this would benefit. I could easily see how this could offer students a different way to interact with a text. Hence, a crux of literacy instruction that teachers struggle with: making a rigorous text accessible for all students. I decided that this was too critical to sit in a folder, and I vowed to try it with my students.
Some Context for the Lesson from the Teacher
This has been the most challenging class in my 19 years of teaching. My 3rd grade class runs the gamut of academic abilities, IEP’s, and students that receive building level and classroom accommodations. Many of the students have attentional difficulties. Additionally, this year’s class has several social-emotional needs. Surprisingly for me, I found this to be the biggest contributing factor as to why some children were not available for learning.
It took many long and frustrating months to establish simple classroom routines and build a trusting learning community. In these early months, a carousel activity seemed impossible. Flash forward to May, with a new mindset and willingness to fail forward, found myself opening that pile of folders and attempting some messy learning.
The carousel activity was a pre-reading lesson in which the teacher chooses 4-5 key sentences from the text, preferably ones with that highlight content area vocabulary, context clues, or inferences. The sentences are written on sentence strips and attached to chart paper.
I broke the students into heterogeneous groups, ensuring that each group has a student that is a strong reader, writer and conversational leader. Each member used a marker board which contained four post-its (one for each poster) with the sentence stem, “I predict this text will be about because...”
Each group had time to read the sentence, discuss any unknown words, and then each student wrote their own prediction. The “carousel” continues as the students rotate around the room from poster to poster, discussing the sentences and making their predictions of how these sentences may fit together in a larger way.
At the conclusion, we gathered together to discuss the experience, before we discussed the pre-reading predictions.
The students did not see the article in its entirety until the following day.
Reflections about the experience - what worked and why
For so many reasons, I can honestly say I considered this lesson successful, and better than expected. Primarily, my once “challenging” class conducted themselves like students who naturally knew how to navigate a student-centered activity! Hooray!
Our months of practicing accountable talk paid off. Additionally, as we walked around listening-in to the rich conversations that students were having, we heard everything from students discussing the author’s purpose, to students “thinking-aloud” to explain their conclusions of vocabulary meanings.
It was evident that majority of their post-it thinking was supported by their understandings from the text. Finally, the students were excited to read the full article. They couldn’t wait to see if their predictions were reasonable.
Tips for making this happen in your class
Discuss, model and practice expectations for group work, participation, and effective peer discussions. It could be helpful to keep anchor charts up to support these protocols all year long.
Present directions both orally, and visually. Keep student responsibilities for the task visible throughout the lesson so students may reference it. If you see students going astray, redirect their attention to the task and ask them what they could be doing to support the learning.
Have students help set up the activity by preparing the post-its by writing the sentence stems on each. For older learners, you may have choices for sentence stems or a menu of options to push thinking further rather than using only one.
Decide how you want to group the students ahead of time, based on the specific needs of your groups and the activity objectives.
Step back and just “listen-in” to students. Allow them to pose/answer questions for each other. Consider recording their questions when you hear them to bring them to a broader group discussion as you collect data.
- Have a summarizing activity ready for students to put their learning together and share final thoughts. The teacher used Padlet for this activity to make learning visible and push students a little farther. FlipGrid would work well too.
It was clear that the best kinds of learning were happening in this space. The teacher orchestrated the activity in such a way that had all learners engaged and sharing their voices in meaningful ways and rather than redirect students if they wandered a bit, she listened and allowed them to find their way back. Sometimes, she asked questions that helped students make deeper meaning.
A carousel activity like this work could work for so many different objectives, much like a stations activity or a jigsaw. When we consider the activities we want to bring to our students, we must always know our why before we start. What is the purpose of the lesson and which activity will best convey that learning in the most engaging way for all learners?
How have you used a carousel activity with your learners? If you haven’t tried, what could you use it for? Please share
The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.