Yesterday we had staff development where we reviewed some practices from Baldridge Continuous Improvement. All this review reminded me of a tool I used this year after our initial training.
This year, my colleagues on the English 4 team and I decided to have our classes write class mission statements after hearing about other teachers who were using these; and I wanted my class mission statement to include a limited set of areas for improvement.
Step One: The Sticky Notes
I’m all about going digital when we can, but I’m going to be quite morose on the day I’m no longer allowed to use sticky notes.
So, I gave each student 5 sticky notes. On each note, a student was to write one area of English/literacy in which he or she needed to improve.
Step Two: The Categories
After turning in their sticky notes (which consisted of coming and sticking them on the white board, which didn’t work out because white boards don’t really like anything sticking to them or perhaps because I purchased generic), I grouped the sticky notes into “categories.”
For instance, if a student put something like “I need to know bigger words,” I put it in the category of “vocabulary.” “How to write longer sentences” or “How to use commas” I put together in the category of “grammar.”
Sorry that I didn’t get a picture of this, but just know that it takes a while to do the grouping. I recommend either doing this step after class by yourself or giving students something to write while you organize.
Step Three: The Consensogram
We ended up with eleven different categories: Creative Writing, Vocabulary, Grammar and Punctuation, Speaking Skills, Writing Process, Study Skills, Spelling, Critical Thinking, Research, Study Habits, Reading Comprehension, and Reading Stamina or Enjoyment.
Now, obviously, I can’t simply ignore any skill in my curriculum objectives, but I CAN purposefully devote more time and focused discussion to the skills students are most invested in learning. Please note that this does not mean I don’t identify and teach to other gaps throughout the year; however, students at this age are actually pretty intuitive about what their gaps are.
Now it was time to vote: I wrote out the eleven categories on chart paper and gave each student five stickers.
For whatever reason, the dollar store does not sell plain stickers, so we had some cute garage sale tags. The guys, of course, enjoyed wearing the stickers that said “Make an Offer.”
Each student came to the front and placed his or her stickers in the five categories he or she felt were most critical. This is called a “consensogram.”
Step Four: The Discussion
I actually think this step is really important. I’m not sure that it’s enough to simply tally up the numbers and pick the five most popular categories. The students need to own their areas of focus for the year, and, as much as possible, everyone needs to buy in to these.
As a class, we discussed which categories contained the most stickers and we decided if we were okay with those five. We even talked about which categories could be further combined. After some discussion, we decided that our five areas of focus would be writing, grammar, spelling, reading comprehension, and reading stamina.
Next week I’ll show you how we created a class mission statement and incorporated our areas of focus. Also in coming weeks, I’ll come back to these areas of focus and describe how we measure our progress in them as a class.
Have any of the rest of you used consensograms in your classroom or elsewhere? What do you use them for? How do you involve your students in taking ownership over the areas in which they need to improve?