In my last post, I talked about the sick feeling I get from test-day “cheat sheets” and overly generous study guides. Friends, these guises are not actually supportive of student learning because they feed the short-term memory gremlins and don’t make learning permanent.
Let’s be clear here: I have an issue with short-term memory prompts; I don’t take issue with all memory prompts.
Aside from the classroom library that stretches across my back wall, the walls of my room are covered with content-specific displays, in particular anchor charts, a permanently posted timeline, and vocabulary word walls.
If you’re a high school teacher, maybe you are skeptical of word walls at the secondary level, like I was. I used to think that this was just something early elementary teachers did with those high frequency words to help lil’ ones practice language acquisition.
All that changed when one of my mentors, Steve Seward, opened my eyes to the benefits all students—elementary and secondary—experience from accessing visual anchored space.
Essentially, this draws upon the concept that you can look to some visual cue in order to prompt your memory. (Remember Marzano talk about this with vocab, among many other gurus.)
Most anchor charts in my room stay up all year, and we constantly reference them. I want this information locked down, heavy in my students’ memory banks.
On the front wall of my classroom hangs my SPEC poster (shown on the left). This anchor chart details the various lens historians use when they read and write (based on the work of Anthony J Fitzpatrick). My students use it when they’re organizing essays and discussing historical trends.
The political/economic spectrum (shown in the middle) is a goldmine. If your students are anything like mine, they have a very skewed understanding of political parties. Because of the partisanship in American politics, they often mistakenly overly-distance the Republican and Democratic parties. And once we get to WWII, they always mix up communism and fascism. At the start of the year, I have students draw this spectrum in their history notebooks to reference outside of class, yet I point to it quite regularly during interactive lecture.
Finally, I created the ICEE poster (shown on the right) after hearing about it from a fellow teacher at the APLit training. I wrote about how this helps scaffold my students towards APLit; however, my students use this “ICEE” mantra any time—in English or History—we’re building an argument using textual evidence. I love it when we’re in the middle of a debate, and a kid will turn his gaze to borrow one of the sentence starters on this poster to use in his spoken argument.
Below those, the front bulletin board features our picture cues for the Latin Word Chunks. If you remember, these are the most frequently occurring Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes mentioned in Kelly Gallagher‘s book Deeper Reading. These flashcards simply show the word chunk and a corresponding photo (e.g. “-a, -ab, -abs” shows a cow being abducted by aliens). When we’re doing recall practice quizzes, I point to the photos to help students think of corresponding words and then remember the meanings.
In one of the back corners, I have anchor charts inspired by Jeff Anderson‘s sentence structures mentioned in Mechanically Inclined. My students use them when editing their writing for grammatical correctness or doing their daily “Mechanics Instruction That Sticks” from my colleague Doug Stark.
Next to those, hanging on the door of my backroom, are some of Graff and Birkenstein’s They Say, I Say sentence starters along with our “on-demand essay” paragraph structure layout. [Literacy peeps, don’t you fret: my students aren’t writing standard five/six paragraph essays for each writing task! This anchor chart is visible for my students on the rare occasion we practice on-demand ACT-prototypes.]
Unlike the elementary classrooms that have purchasable high frequency printables, I simply write our vocabulary words on a big sticky poster paper. I consistently follow Steve Seward’s color system by writing the unit driving questions in red and alternate the vocabulary terms between green and blue. (Ask him about this research. It’s fascinating.)
Throughout the unit, I write the new terms on the current unit’s anchor chart (shown hanging on my podium). Students reference the word wall as they participate in debates, recall the Big Picture of history, and write their end-of-unit essays.
When we finish a unit, these posters are hot-glued up on the cinder-block walls above my windows for the rest of the school year for students to reference. Rather than give my kids one of those gross “Here-are-all-the-Final-Exam-questions” kind of study guides, students can access the terms right in front of their faces throughout the whole school year.
Josh Cooper, one of my smart Social Studies colleagues, has an incredible word wall for his Economics class. He has all the vocab terms for the whole semester laminated, color-coded, and organized on his walls by unit/driving question. As the class moves through the semester, Coop posts the new vocab up on the wall for students to reference in their reading, writing, and discussions.
Finally, stretching across the walls above my upper cabinets is my U.S. History timeline. Each point details the name of the event, year, and a corresponding photo.
Some history teachers might balk that I “give away” the date for these major events, but I’ve got to fight back and remind those naysayers that my students are able to climb up Bloom’s Taxonomy when I support their recall. Kids reference the timeline every day to practice periodization, sequencing, continuity and change, etc.
To truly anchor these events in my students memory, I repeat the timeline images in my interactive lecture presentations (e.g. When we talk about Plessy vs. Ferguson, the kids see the same “separate but equal” drinking fountain photo mixed into the slides).
I will admit this particular visual anchor space took me the most time to create.
Mostly, it was tough deciding what events were essential to feature. Of course, I want to represent all the “stories” in the twentieth century without marginalizing anyone further and omitting them from timeline. Each year, I feel guilty when I notice something I should try to squeeze in.
As a help to you, snag mine for free. Use it as a starting point for your social studies class. Just pay me back by sharing photos of how you improved/modified it for your students.
Before moving on, I want to say something to the self-sabotaging perfectionists out there. Do not push this off because you’re stressin’ about your sloppy handwriting or inability to laminate. Get over it.
Put the language of your content on the walls of your classroom, and you’ll hear students speak it with regularity and conviction.
This is seriously powerful, friends.
Talk to me. Tell me what you’ve got on your walls. How do you visually prompt your students to recall your content? What’s your favorite, inexpensive way to design/print posters? What markers and paper should we use? How do you get stuff to physically stick on your walls? What teacher-allowed cheat sheets make you sick?
But wait–there’s more!
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