I’m going to let you in on a secret…. I don’t use technology in my classroom every day.
I’m a firm believer that technology should be used for the sake of learning, not for the sake of itself. Sometimes lessons really don’t call for tech, and sometimes tech even distracts from a lesson. I know I’ve made that mistake before.
Last week, I had one of those lessons that worked so perfectly, it had to be a fluke. But then my colleagues did the lesson in their classrooms, and it worked perfectly for them too. It was a such a great lesson that I’m going to share it here, even though the students used zero technology.
As you may remember from my last post, my students have been focused on persuasion recently. This lesson was another that came from my attempt to both teach persuasion and make my lessons more student-centered. It did, however, take a good bit of legwork to put together. And by legwork, I mean finger-work because, while it doesn’t have the students using technology, I used websites and Microsoft Word to put it together.
I needed my students to focus on evidence. The TEKS (EI.10A, if you’re interested) requires that the students analyze evidence for quality, relevance, and credibility. To get their minds focused on evidence and claims, I decided that they should start with some matching. I used www.procon.org (because my wonderful husband suggested it after I spent nearly an hour trying to think everything up on my own – don’t reinvent wheel!) to find some two-sided topics and put together a list of 20 claims on 10 topics. Then I pulled one piece of evidence (ethos – statistics) for each claim.
The tedious part of putting this together was the actual handout for students. Out of the 20 claims, I only wanted them to actually match 6 of them, and I didn’t want all of the students to be looking for the same 6. So, I put together 6 different worksheets, each with 6 of the 20 claims, none with two sides of the same topic. This way no more than 3 or 4 students in each class would have the exact same claims. It took a bit longer than I’d care to admit to put together these handouts so that all of the claims were relatively equally covered but the handouts were all different enough from each other.
I printed each of the pieces of evidence out on card stock and posted them up all around my room, on the whiteboard, the walls, my bookshelves, anywhere I could stick them so they would be spaced out all over. I kept the font big enough that it could be easily read but small enough that the students couldn’t just look around from the middle and find their answers too easily – they had to go up and actually read each individual one.
The students had the class period to take their handout around the room and write the evidence that matches the claim on the lines on the handout. As they completed one or two, they brought their papers to me to check and I gave them a blue smiley stamp if they had them correct. The goal was 6 blue stamps by the end of the class period.
I believe the real learning came from their wrong answers. Most of them approached the assignment initially just looking for the topic of their claim, which for the most part resulted in picking the piece of evidence that supported the opposite side. For instance, one that should have been very simple for them was the climate change topic. The evidence for each side of that topic very clearly had the same terminology – “agree” or “disagree.” But the evidence itself was rather long in both cases, and we all know that students aren’t huge fans of reading. They found the climate change evidence and wrote it down, only to then be ever so sad that they would have to erase their work and find the correct answer.
I like the assignment for a couple of reasons. The first most obvious reason is that I had absolutely perfect 100% engagement. As teachers, we all know that is a very difficult thing to achieve. Every student was out of their seat, roaming the classroom with their handout and pencil, intently searching for the answers. This was the part of the assignment that initially made me nervous, and I almost didn’t go through with the activity. If you have ever taught freshmen and have ever asked them to stand up and do something, you’ll understand how I felt. But these kids truly impressed me.
Probably the best reason was that I got to see them switch into thinking mode. As they would get the answers wrong, they started to figure out how to closely read what the evidence was saying in order to figure out if it supported the side of the argument they needed. I got to have quick conversations with students as they came to check their answers about why their answers were right or wrong. I heard conversations between students discussing the evidence on the wall and why it clearly supported one side or the other. As much as I’d like to believe that they listen to everything I say, when they figure these things out on their own, they learn oh so much better. And when they learn from each other, and teach each other, man, it is learning to the max.
Which brings me to my next reason for loving this activity: the collaboration. Collaboration in the classroom is amazing. I was afraid they would simply end up copying off of each other, which is why I did my best to make their handouts as different as I could. They didn’t copy. They found someone else who had the same claim they needed on their paper and teamed up to find the evidence together. It was really beautiful.
And of course, I also love this activity because it’s the first one I’ve come up with that allowed me to keep my tush in desk chair while the kids did all the running around the classroom, and I didn’t have to feel guilty about “teaching from my desk.” I was still exhausted at the end of the day from checking their answers and helping them understand the reasoning, but my feet didn’t ache. And that is always a win in my book.
If you’re interested in trying out this activity (or doing as I do and modifying it for my classes), you can find the materials on my Resources page.