Today was the day that I thought they were ready to write! We had spent about three days going over books, collecting information on the gathering grid and starting to create a thesis based upon our research. Yes! Today was the day! But how could not begin without a little "get out of that seat" action?
"Whadda Ya Know" About the Platypus? : I placed notecards around my room today with words on it like "bill", "spur", "webbed feet", "electrolocation", "plates", "yabbies", "puggle" ...words that applied to specific traits of a platypus, their behavior or their survival. I had them all get up and stand next to the word that best fit my description. For example, I said things like, "Stand near the vocabulary word that best matches "the platypus uses this to fight other male platypus." Students ran next to "webbed feet" and most ran to "spur". Then, I had them explain their thinking. I stopped them to ask questions like, "Why did you pick "spur?" For every round, I coached thm to explain why they chose their choices. This word game encouraged critical thought and helped them support each other in gleaning understanding from what they had read. It also helped me evaluate how hard they had to think about the information which helped me with supporting comprehension.
This movement was great to warm them up to settle down and really work on their research and writing. After three days of researching, planning was beginning to take shape. I asked them to sit down, get out their materials and begin their planning as I was going to visit each one and conference.
In order for them to completely understand how they needed to organize their piece, I developed a Platypus Writing Guide. This guide serves both as direction for what needs to be in each paragraph, but also as a type of rubric. It will be used to grade and to conference with students as they write. Students were told to start planning from the gathering grid by logging onto Simple Mind. They could strategically plan their whole paper using a mind map and their Platypus Writing Guide. This organizational strategy would help them make decisions about their thesis and help them see the main reasons for their argument. As students planned, I roved the room, met with some who were stuck to conference about thesis. The Simple Mind app makes it a snap to give immediate organized feedback. Below grade level achieving students sometimes have a really hard time sorting out the wording. This helps because the simplified language clarifies the order. I coach them that later on, when writing the "colorful" words will make their writing come to life.
We worked 40 minutes on planning and some began to write because their mind map was complete and well done. They wrote from the mind map into their writing journal or their science journal. What ever stage they were in, they were to take it home and work on it tonight, with encouragement to complete it.
Students needed to break. It is a lot of concentration to write for 40 minutes for 4th grade, but with the proper information, gathering grid and the engaging Simple Mind, the time flies. I asked them to share their opinions as I referred back to the original driving question. " Do you think a platypus is a mammal and why?"
Hands shot up as I heard why they thought it was. For every point they made, I made sure to argue another point so they could really see how we could doubt the mammal argument. I also taught them to refute what I was saying by leading them with questions that would help them argue like, "Aren't there more mammal structures or behaviors than birds? Is just laying eggs, having a bill and bird chromosomes any reason to classify it as a bird?" I saw some of their faces drop because I knew they were thinking that they were all wrong. I saved them by telling them that as long as their argument was strong, that they had three points to argue, their opinions would be valid and honored by me. I just wanted them to understand that I expected strong opinions.
With this, one student shared how a platypus walks and how I had led him by having him look at reptiles gaits through video. He thinks the platypus is all three and another classification all its own. I told him that as long as he had evidence in his paper, it was fine! They went on their merry way with their heads spinning. I love that about science! This assignment pushes them!