A carpenter needs to know the tools of his trade. And, so do students. Teachers cannot assume students have the necessary skills to learn the required subject matter. Hence, they must take time to assess and teach skills, especially literacy that includes close reading, writing/rewriting, and discussion/argument.

We can create similar exercises by introducing Post-it notes and flags: Ask students to search through a textbook (which they are usually not allowed to mark) and flag answers to questions or search for particular examples, opinions, or ideas. We can set up a scenario like the highlighter example [previous blog], by having students working alone, with a partner, and with the whole class, or using different colored flags for different purposes. Remember, we want to teach students to use tools they find appealing and enable them to learn essential skills at the same time.

We can also enrich learning with highlighters, Post-its, and flags by incorporating rubrics to define expectations. By listing categories with varying levels of expectations, rubrics provide specific targets, especially when we include examples. Once students internalize these targets and understand how to seek evidence in a reading, they will be better able to self-assess their progress. Rubric thinking empowers students to know themselves and reduce dependence on feedback from teachers. And, rubrics invite dialogue between teacher and students and thus improve opportunities to learn.

Whenever we take time to teach students how to learn, we smile when we succeed: when we see that they are learning effectively. Sometimes, however, we can feel overwhelmed, thinking we should take on more responsibilities or feel guilty that we have not done enough. Yet, we have to teach our students how to learn: As carpenters need to learn how to use the tools of the trade, so, too, do students. We have the obligation to teach them how to use these tools well.

Find numerous tools for teaching in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting Students to Learn that you can buy from Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Middle-Room-Frank-Thoms/dp/0615358918

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