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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Focus Walls in Real Classrooms

Research on meta-cognition has been slowly creeping into U.S. education.  Recently when I visited classrooms in Altamont, Tennessee, I observed the use of focus walls. 

This is a relatively new idea for most U.S. teachers.  Unlike the traditional review of the schedule for the ELA period, instruction for the day is framed with an essential question and several areas of focus.  Each day, the focus wall is reviewed along with what the teacher and students have learned so far.  This should take about 10 minutes and allows for teachers and students to clarify their learning so far (untangle misconceptions) as well as create a mind set of focus for the learning coming up in the ELA lesson.  Note:  many schools are using this in all subjects.

Here is an example from a second grade classroom.  Notice this is for a unit.  It has an essential question and posts the texts students will study to answer that question.

The teacher also has a list of high frequency words, phonics, fluency, comprehension strategies, target vocabulary, grammar, writing, vocabulary strategies, and spelling. 

The teacher models the connections among these areas as each one is introduced on the appropriate day, using think alouds.  This provides students - with the connections among the different content areas that will boost their comprehension of their learning other words why we are learning what we are learning in the way we are learning it...AKA meta-cognition. 

Teachers are impressed with the results they are getting from students.  They are talking about how students are seeing the connections between the different areas and are able to retain the information and apply it to other areas.  It seems so simple, yet how many of us take the time to do this?

Remember, the focus wall is for a unit.  The parts that are reviewed on a daily basis relate to the lesson on that day. 

It helps if you think of the focus wall as a graphic organizer that shows your students the connections between the subject matters that represent the thinking they will be using to answer the essential question. 

Here are some more examples of how other teachers have organized their focus walls.

Choose a format that works for your students.

The essential question is key.

For those of you teaching higher grades with several divisions of students, think about using pocket charts for each division that can easily be changed or ... if you are lucky enough to have an interactive white board ... create the focus walls on the computer and project them for the appropriate division.

You will find this simple procedure will help your students comprehend the learning process guiding your instruction and will enhance their understanding and success.

Good luck!!

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