Friday, December 19, 2008

Not My Usual Subject

I asked my students a couple of weeks ago if any of them had used chapter maps in their other classes and, if they had, would they be willing to share them with me so I could share them with others. Before I knew it, I had a large stack of papers sitting on my desk! Fortunately for me, these were papers I wasn't going to have to grade.

One thing I love about my seventh graders is that they are very generous young people. I'm sure they love the fact that I'm adding these to my blog so that other teachers will be able to see them! Of course, keep in mind that I don't teach science when you read these...

And when it comes from one of my special needs students, I have to say this is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen:

A few more for you:

I love when they add a key!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mapping Our Chapter

It has been far too long since I've posted to my blog. For the most part, I've just been extremely busy with school. But I also haven't really had a topic that I felt I absolutely had to blog about. Until now.

I'm trying to really emphasize study skills this year with my seventh and eighth graders, starting with the different ways to take notes while reading a textbook. We've done two-column notes (similar to Cornell notes), and we've done the standard outline (surprising how many of my students did not know how to do that!) But, by far, our favorite note-taking activity has been chapter maps.

Last year, our principal sent all of the teachers to a workshop on a writing program called Step Up to Writing. It's a wonderful program for teaching our students how to construct a coherent sentence, paragraph, and, eventually, essay. But it also includes many other helpful lessons, such as note-taking.

Chapter maps have proven to be a wonderful tool for my students because they can actually have fun while doing something they usually consider a painful chore: taking notes. These chapter maps seem to have something for everyone. For my artistic students, they can be as creative as they want, including in their notes illustrations and lots of color. For my future engineers and architects, they can still be very linear thinkers if that's what they want. I have one student, whose map is included here, who was very reluctant to do something "artsy" with his notes. He's a by-the-book, everything-in-its-place, kind of guy.

And then came chapter maps...

When I first told the class that we would be doing something other than two-column notes, I actually heard him let out a groan. Change? Do something different? It can be intimidating if not downright frightening for some. The next time I asked them to do a chapter map, however, I actually heard him say "Yay!" Now that's cool!

Some of my favorite maps came from my special needs students. Normally, note-taking can be a fairly painful experience for them (and me, as the one who has to read the notes). But they really got into these chapter maps and created notes that nearly brought me to tears!

Here are two examples:

Aren't they gorgeous!?!

The best story came a few days after we first tried chapter maps...and it wasn't even for one of the subjects that I teach! One of my seventh grade girls came up to me and told me she'd made a chapter map for something they were studying in science. She explained that she'd read the material in the book several times, but she just couldn't "get it." Then she decided to try creating a chapter map on the section they were studying. As she said to me, "It all made sense after I was done!" I almost cried! You mean I've actually taught my students something that works? Something they can use in other classes as well as into the future?! That, my friends, was an amazing teacher's moment! In case you're curious, here's her science chapter map (sorry, it's not in color):

If you'd like to teach your students how to create a chapter map, here are the four steps from the Step Up to Writing handbook:
  • Find the chapter title. Write the topic anywhere on the page as long as additional information can be built around it. Put this topic in all caps, put a circle around it, or box it in. Illustrate the topic. Novelty and pictures help learning and memory, so be creative.
  • Determine what subtopics you will need. The chapter subheadings may help. You should have several subtopics. Print these subheadings in large letters and connect them to the main topic. Again, it will help if you add illustrations.
  • Look for supporting details by doing a careful reading of the chapter. Check your entries to make sure that what you write down is accurate. Connect the details to the heading. Don't forget to use color, symbols, or pictures.
  • Go over your map. Be creative but remember that you want your map to be a collection of facts. When you are finished, you should be able to explain all of your drawings and markings to your classmates.
© 2008 Sopris West Educational Services

We took some liberties with the instructions, of course. First of all, we didn't map an entire chapter, just one section of it. Secondly, I wanted my students to feel free to be as creative as they wanted with these maps. To me that meant letting them make some decisions about their maps on their own. If they had not been given this freedom, I don't think I would have gotten a set of notes with a Key like you would find on a regular map!

I try to remind myself that I just need to give them the information they need and then get out of their way. This is a wonderful example, for me, of how getting out of the way of our students can allow them to find their own wings so they might soar!

Ok, before I more chapter map. I think you'll agree that this one is suitable for framing!

Some Step Up to Writing links

Website of Step Up to Writing author Maureen Auman
A teacher's site with an excellent explanation of the program.
Anchorage School District language arts site