Students come to class ready to deepen their peers understanding of the environmental problems created by invasive species. Each has read and annotated one of the six articles. They are now an expert on Burmese pythons, fire ants, killer bees, zebra mussels or Asian carp, each of which is causing havoc in their newly adopted homes.
They are eager for the discussion to begin, so after a reminder of the purpose of the special criteria we used to mark up the text, they dive right in. They work in groups of five to uncover how each species came to arrive, survive and thrive in a new environment. Places in the text where this information can be found are marked with an A, S and T to make sharing easier.
To prepare students for success in this type of group work, I remind them that they have a responsibility when speaking to present information clearly, to speak so everyone can hear and to acknowledge the audience by addressing their comments and questions. The students also have a role as listeners. They should give their attention to the speaker and not interrupt. Any comments and questions they do have should be thoughtful and intended to clarify the topic. One reason for making this clear up front is that it means everyone is accountable for their behavior.
The best thing about using articles on a high-interest topic is that each group stays focused. As I visit them, there are questions about vocabulary terms, such as foragers and hybrid, and tricky parts of the text. For one thing, most students did not understand the purpose of ballast tanks on the ocean going vessels that brought zebra mussels from Russia to the Saint Lawrence Seaway. In addition to addressing their comments, I ask probing questions related to the three stages of invasiveness: arrive, survive, and thrive. Arrival seems to be the most challenging, but each group eventually reaches the conclusion that some species are purposely brought to new place, some end up there by accident and some move into new areas on their own.
Next, I ask each group to consider everything they have heard about each creature to answer this question: what conditions make it possible for an alien species to thrive? One person scribes their responses in a bulleted list.
With their bulleted lists in hand each group is ready and willing to share. Before beginning a whole-class discussion, students turn to a new page in their ELA notebooks or begin a new document on their iPads. They title it Invasive Species Notes and jot down the question: What conditions make it possible for an alien species to thrive?
I was impressed by the high level of participation, the appropriateness of the vocabulary (food chain, dominant species, etc) and the thoroughness of their responses in addressing each of three stages of invasiveness. I teach two ELA classes each day and although there were slight differences in the responses, both groups captured the essential information. A copy of a completed list appears here.
The perfect segue to the following day’s lesson occurred when two students voiced differing opinions of what should be done about the destruction caused by Australian camels to the fragile desert habitat. It was impressive that each defended their thinking with information that came from the text. My response…“Sounds like we need to do some persuasive writing tomorrow!”