Linking Learning Menus to Portrait of a Graduate: A Work in Progress

This is the second guest post from Nikki Lehman and Kristin Dreyer. To read the first part of this series, please visit this blog post!

As We Finish The Unit

For the most part, our students navigated the learning menu well, participated in all activities/assessments, and enjoyed the opportunity to respond to American Born Chinese in “non-traditional” ways. Yet, we know there is more to revamp as we move forward and use this menu again in the future.

We noticed that despite offering both oral directions and written directions (within the menu) that students seemed to need more guidance with the tasks. This has made us question: did we offer enough guidance and/or instruction? After discussion, we concluded that that is what this learning menu is about: self-directed learning. We’re asking students to own and pace their learning, and some students are uncomfortable with this at first. We need to continue to help them to make smart choices about time management during their work time.

In terms of particular tasks, we were most surprised by the difficulty students had with the Question Burst exercise and the accomplishment they felt with the Sprint Writing exercise. Students aren’t often asked to generate questions, only answers, so they needed a few minutes to focus on what this exercise asked them to do. In the end, they obviously stretched their critical thinking skills, which we know is a positive! This led into the Sprint Writing, during which our students (and their teachers!) were pleasantly surprised at the ways in which they were able to write for each extended period of time. It helped them explore aspects of the novel that they may or may not have been wondering about, but also asked to think and write on a deeper level.

For example:

Has society changed or improved when it comes to accepting other cultures since this book was published? (from Question Burst, two minute drill)

I would say that society definitely has improved in some ways, but we still need to improve in a lot of other areas. We have more diversity in Hollywood, and it is now socially unacceptable to have a white actor or actress play an Asian character.  However, we really treat immigrants from Central and South America terribly, as well as Muslim Americans. Unfortunately, our government seems to be making the problem worse, not better. We need immigrants. America was built on immigrants. Immigrants work harder than most, if not all Americans. To try to ban them from our country and to dehumanize them is unfair and pretty awful.   

How much does an average person change themselves to fit in? (from Question Burst, four minute drill)

In my opinion, an average person doesn’t change as often as you think they do. I feel like they mostly change themselves to fit in whenever they move to a new school, or job. They tend to do this because they don’t feel comfortable in their own jeans, they want everyone else to accept them and in order to feel that way they believe it’s necessary for them to change their appearance, and or their name. An example of this would be the Monkey King and Jin in American Born Chinese, the Monkey King felt like he needed to wear shoes and change his name so the gods could take him seriously and not just label him as a “monkey”. For Jin, he happened to notice the boy Amelia Harris was talking to had curly blonde hair so he decided to change the texture of his hair. Honestly, it’s okay to do small things like changing your style of clothing or perming your hair, but you shouldn’t do it to make others “notice” you or for them to”accept” you because you’re beautiful in your own way. Everyone is different and that’s what makes this world so diverse and beautiful, it should always remain that way.

As Nikki anticipated, time did become a factor (as well as snow days, delays, of course!). We ended up giving students an additional class period to finish the final two assessments (symbolism paragraph and mindmap/reflections exercise), and so far the results have been more complete and more in-depth.

Our biggest takeaway: inviting Margaret Sisler, Educational Specialist for all things FCPSOn, into our classroom to offer feedback and to help us troubleshoot ideas and activities with our menu. Her most valuable contribution came in the form of suggesting that we frontload (either with mini-lessons or direct display) the learning targets within the Portrait of a Graduate skills we’re asking them to address. These grade 9-12 anchor charts (only available within our google domain) offer ready-to-use signage to make this happen in our classrooms. We will certainly fit these into our daily lessons in the near future!

Thinking of Creating Your Own Learning Menu?

You can do it! First, consider adapting your own activities/fitting them into  these four categories/skill sets in order to maximize your time. Most of our activities are just versions of assessments/exercises we have used in the past.

We’re also huge proponents of modeling, so we used our most recent text, Frankenstein, to create a model Question Burst and model symbolism paragraph. Having these examples was beyond beneficial in directing and guiding our students to their end products.

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