Monday, December 1, 2014

Using a Visible Thinking Routine for the Three-Way Conferences

Visible thinking routines can be used across the curriculum and at all age levels, but they can also be used as a facilitation device for conferences. We had student-parent-teacher conferences this week, and I decided to use the Connect, Extend, Challenge routine to help my third grade students discuss their learning, and as a way to introduce a passion project students are about to individually embark on.

For the connect part of the discussion, they talked (while I scribed) about ways they connected to school and felt successful.  I invited them to talk subject matter, transdisciplinary skills, and any things that happened outside of the classroom that made them feel good to be at school.  It was a chance to celebrate both what they felt they were good at and what made them feel connected. It was gratifying for parents and myself to see how happy students were at school through what they shared.

For the extend part of our discussion, students were encouraged to think about ways they could extend on or improve their learning, relationships or skills.  It was interesting how in-tune most students were with what they needed to work on.  I had done no front-loading for this activity so whatever they spoke about was “off the cuff.”  As we talked about ways they could extend their learning and behaviors, I invited them to come up with a plan to help them further.  Parents were encouraged to chime in and I also added my own thoughts on how I could help.  We put plans in place while I wrote down the pertinent passages.

Finally, for the challenge section, I asked students to talk about what they felt passionate about, and we brainstormed ways we could come up with a rest-of-the-year passion project that would suit their abilities along with whatever "jazzed" them.  With a bit of guidance, they came up with some fantastic ideas.  One boy, a Lego addict who struggles academically, wants to plan out a screenplay, and then create a Lego movie.  Since we have a state-of-the-art technology department along with all the necessary expertise, this should be very do-able.  Another student, who recently moved to China from Holland, has been keeping a journal in Dutch about the huge changes that have taken place in her life and how she is dealing with them.  I commented on the fact that there are many children’s books written about relocating families and the challenges that go with it, but that I didn’t know of any of these books actually written by kids!  She was thrilled with the prospect of being the pioneer.  We don’t know if it will be in Dutch or English or both yet, but our school has expertise in both languages, so we can surely make it happen.

Parents were very impressed that their third grade children could participate in a very adult discussion.  By giving students talking points that encourage them to dig deeper with their thinking and by documenting what they said, we now have a planning tool/working document that will help us move forward with their individual goals and projects that will allow them to follow their passions.