Ermines? Huh? What are they?

Our reading group has continued to work on interacting with non-fiction text, making meaning together and determining importance. What this means? Talking, listening, sharing ideas, extending a thought, making and defending a position, and did we mention talking and listening? Because those things turn out to be the most important and most challenging skills we are working on!

Reading about Ermines

Today our task looked like this:

Step 1: List what we can predict about an ermine (Huh? A what? We had no idea what an ermine was!!) based on the limited information Ms. Gelson gave us: 1. Their fur is different colours depending on the time of year 2. They have very sharp claws 3. They live in the northern parts of the world.

One groups' predictions

The interesting thing about the discussion from the group that produced this chart above was their debate on whether or not questions could be predictions. In the end, it was decided that yes they could because they were linked to what information we were going to find out and made us want to read more. We were going to verify both predictions and answers to questions. Great thinking!

Predictions about ermines from another group

Step 2: Read the article in Chickadee Magazine about Ermines together

A chart we made together to help us determine what might be important when learning about a living thing

A chart we made together to help us determine what might be important when learning about a living thing

Step 3: Keeping in mind the chart we created (see above) decide on what are the 5 most important facts about ermines your group wants to include on your chart.

Important facts about Ermines

Important facts about Ermines

Not all groups included the same facts but all groups used the chart we made to help them make decisions.

Another list of 5 important facts

Another list of 5 important facts

Final Group list

At this point, this task does require some guidance from adults (Thanks to my patient and encouraging volunteers Miles and Nicole!) but our role is always listening, reflecting back what we hear and refocussing the group. Students are making excellent progress on developing these skills! We just started on activities like this in late December. We are well on our way!

As a teacher, what I love about these sessions, is that it is students interacting with text and each other to determine what is important.

Slowly learning about sloths (And how to work together!)

Group work. It’s an important skill. One that we need a lot of practice with – it is much harder than it first appears. There is listening to others, negotiating, turn taking, asserting an opinion, making a point, explaining your thinking, staying on task, having patience, agreeing, disagreeing, remaining polite . . . Wow! Not easy to do!

But on the last day before winter break, our Reading Group got brave and tried a new task that involved working together in a small group. Yes, there was a lot of encouragement needed to work productively and politely within our group (“No, you can’t be in a group by yourself,” “No you can’t change groups part way through the activity,” “Yes, you all have to talk together and agree.”) But, in the end, we made it and there was lots of ┬álearning along the way – learning about the topic and about working together. ­čÖé

The task:

Step 1. The topic is sloths. In your small group, write down everything you know or think you know about sloths.

Compiling a list of what we know

Step 2: Read the article in Chickadee Magazine about sloths.

Step 3: In your small group, decide what are the 5 most important things you learned and list them.

One group's list

Another group added detailed pictures when they completed their list

Working together

Step 4: Post your lists and look for common (on at least 2 out of 3 lists) facts deemed important

Another list

Step 5: Discuss what we learned.

Students noticed that some things were on many of the lists: where the sloths lived, how long they slept each day and that they hung upside down. Other facts were different. We decided that we needed to come up with criteria about what is important to know about an animal so that we could figure out what are the most important facts. This will be for next time! We are off along the road to learn how to determine importance!

I was pleased that students got into the rhythm of sharing and listening and that after an initial bumpy start, all groups met with success. The really wonderful thing – so much emphasis on students talking and leading. Each group naturally took turns reading sections out loud. Everyone did a little writing. Everyone talked and listened. Other than setting the task and helping the transition into a small group activity, my role was in the background. I asked a few questions, encouraged successful collaboration and watched students take charge of their learning. Well done reading group!