As Achieve3000 has spread across our district, students and teachers have given mixed feedback. At the outset, teachers loved the idea of differentiated reading materials. Now, some are unsure about how interesting the resource is, and yes, some students are groaning a bit when they are told that they’re working with Achieve3000. But, not in Kaitlin Sibert’s sixth grade science class at McCord. In room 34, decked out with colorful rubber ducks, engaging science posters, and painted ceiling tiles, students are talking over their Chromebooks to each other, raising their hands as presentation audience members, writing copiously on paper, and laughing. So what’s different here?
Let’s rewind to find out. Kaitlin works closely to co-plan with fellow sixth grade science teacher Connie Root, and both teachers hesitated before jumping into Achieve. They did not want to sit their students in front of Chromebooks, silently plugging through the formula of steps that the service offers. This is certainly possible, and Kaitlin and Connie could have done this to satisfy the monthly Achieve requirement, but they did not feel comfortable with it. Instead, they developed a plan to use Achieve to support the science standards they’re teaching on their own terms, not on Achieve’s.
Here’s how. They chose four articles that featured scientific studies and scheduled them for two days. On the first day, students would be grouped by threes or fours and assigned an article. Each group member would read the article by himself or herself, and at a differentiated reading level, of course. Then, without proceeding to the next Achieve step, students would start talking with their group members. The discussion would be framed by a paper worksheet that listed steps of scientific inquiry, from question and hypothesis to conclusion and sharing. The group members would discuss how the scientists in the article followed each step of the scientific method. In some articles, this was pretty obvious. In other articles, the students had to creatively infer how the scientists followed each step. Each student wrote notes in the worksheet for each step. On the second day, students would give informal presentations to share their information with the rest of the class. Since each article was read by two groups, the presentations were managed by both groups, and the teacher would bounce question and answer off both.
The soundness of this plan was obvious in Kaitlin’s class during second period, the first run. Students grabbed Chromebooks, logged into Achieve, accepted their worksheets, and received instructions quickly and easily. Kaitlin managed a review of the process of scientific inquiry, passing out “Caught Beeing Good!” slips to students with answers. Primed with the review, students dove into their articles, and the room silenced for about eight minutes. But, with a cue from Kaitlin, that silence ended as the groups joined to discuss the scientific study in the article and complete the worksheet. The first item, “Identify the question. Think about the purpose of the study,” came quickly to the groups, giving them valuable momentum to tackle the hypothesis question. Quickly, the class took on the character of authentic, collaborative learning.
Students were talking to each other comfortably, their energies flowing into answers on the page. Disagreements arose and were settled in group, or with help from Kaitlin. Students talked around their Chromebooks, but then referred back to the information on the screen. More often than not, students would nudge themselves closer together to point to the same screen in discussion over the article’s information. On the pages, words built into phrases that built into sentences. Denise Diguglielmo, Kaitlin’s para for the period, noted how much more writing the students were producing than usual. Students tried answers, checked them with Kaitlin at times, and at times were sent back to the group to try again. Some, like Braden, could be seen walking again to Kaitlin. “This is better. This is better. Fifth time’s the charm!” The entire class was a mass of sixth grade energy on task and happy about it. The time flew.
On leaving for the day, student Gavin observed how much better an approach to Achieve this lesson was. As he said, “Instead of having to answer all these questions, you get to take stuff from the article and put it into your own words, instead of what the computer wants you to put in.”
The next day, Kaitlin asked student groups to approach the front and answer her questions about the material on the worksheet. One group would answer and Kaitlin would turn to the next for agreement or rebuttal. Both were heard. The audience members heard about the studies from articles they had not read, and many were intrigued by the idea of experiments in weightlessness or the life cycle of cicadas. They joined the discussion. Kaitlin was standing by to make sure that each point was brought back to the core concept: scientific inquiry.
Over these two days, Kaitlin and Connie demonstrated the creative risk-taking that leads to brilliant and engaging lessons, and their students felt it. A resource like Achieve3000 is truly magic. The opportunity to level common readings for every student, allowing them to join a conversation without being left behind, is unprecedented. Its additional resources are impressive as well. But for all that, the resource is still just a piece of software. It takes the added magic of a teacher to unlock its power and make it a benefit to students. Kaitlin and Connie did that, and for two periods, every student could tackle both literacy and science tailored to their level and supported by peers.
. . . and that deserves a McCord clap. One, two, three . . . CLAP!
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List of Articles Used
- “Burning Wood: Bad for the Planet?”
- “Not to Bug You . . .”
- “Foxes, Fires, and Cats–Oh My!”
- “A Year on the ISS”