Choices! pt3: when it has worked for me… TIPS bucket

As the school year ends, I face what many teachers face: the challenge of keeping things fresh and engaging when Spring peeks around the corner.  In part two of my recent writings on choice, I’m looking more specifically at my own use of choice in the classroom.  When I started this post, “TIPS [Teaching Information Processing Skills, my current school’s literacy initiative] Bucket” seemed like the catchiest phrase that could match what I’m doing, but, as you’ll find, I’m definitely up for suggestions on how to brand this in future classroom settings!

How I changed the environment…Last week, I introduced a new way of discussion/processing a novel (Night by Elie Wiesel) with my sophomores.  We are reading the book with the audiobook.  At the beginning of the period, a couple of my students are good about helping me by passing out books and their folders.  I put a big  red barrel (sorta looks like the tin wash tub I use for my dog) in the center of the room.  When students enter, they change the seating from rows into a circle. (I did this at the beginning of the novel, and the behavior of the room improved drastically.)  As students walk past the barrel before the bell, they grab three of any color poker chip fromt he barrel, not knowing what it represents that day (this is key to the “choice” aspect that also pushes for deeper learning).

Before getting going with the audiobook, I remind them that following along with the reading is easing up brainpower to focus on other things (like answering questions, inferring, etc).  We talk freely about reading and thinking science since most of my students are reading well below grade level expectations.  I pass around sheets that detail what they can use their chips for that day.  There are presently two options for each chip that either piggyback off of lit circle jobs or our school’s six information-processing / reading comprehension strands.  As students read, they will raise their hands if they want to use their chip, and then I will stop at a good pause point.  Each day’s requirement will be for everyone to make just one, two or three contributions (I have only sixteen students at the moment).  The key for what each chip represents can rotate each day, and I never have to waste the paper / ink that I printed them on if I use sheet protectors.

Why did I go this way? I got way too tired of using reading guides.  I’ve been thinking a lot of about their uselessness to my students.  It’s just another piece of paper they are tired of skill and drilling.  And the idea of writing our own study guides was intimidating, even for me, at this level.  Here, I put my students on the spot and give them something they want to get rid of.  They also now have a feel or weight that reminds them to be thinking about the text.

The results? I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as far as active participation and turn-taking in talking about the book.  Their questioning skills alone are impressive.  Students are asking more about vocabulary or historical references than I have ever seen in my time.  (I’ll tell you that the clinking of cheap, dollar-store poker chips is quite annoying at first… that’s just me trying to initially save cost on this experiment.)

Honestly, I’m saying goodbye (at least for now) to the concept of directed reading thinking activities (DRTAs) in the way I used to have them modeled for me and I then embodied.  Sure, I’m still modeling my own comprehension / processing of the text, but I’ve given my students multiple outlets to fill in their thinking gaps.  In a classroom of students who need stimulation and more thinking power, give me choice.

Finally, readers, here’s what I’m struggling with.  I’d really like to use this technique again, but with a tagline… suggestions?

  • Barrel of Brilliance (too many rainbows and sunshine?)
  • Thinking Keg (yeah, right…)
  • Discussion Bucket (maybe the right track…)
  • TIPS Bucket

Extras “Multiple Choice” Key for Poker Chips / Reading Toss (TIPS + Lit Circle)

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