I am always looking for new strategies and ideas to help students unpack their thinking. Recently, I had the opportunity to deliver counseling lessons in grade 3 classrooms. The Unit of Inquiry was “Who We Are” and the central idea was “Decisions determine consequences.” The grade 3 team noticed that many students were struggling with tattling. When in a collaborative planning session, they asked if classroom counseling lessons could be tied into their unit because when students tattle, they experience natural consequences — often in the form of negative feedback — from peers. It was decided that through the counseling and social-emotional lens, students would inquire into the ideas of tattling vs reporting.
As I began to think about the counseling lessons, I realized that tattling and reporting are big concepts for grade 3 students to comprehend. I began to think of all the visible thinking routines, protocols, and strategies I had in my toolbox to help students think about their thinking and make meaning out of these two big ideas. I began to reflect that many routines like See, Think, Wonder and Chalk Talk have already been used numerous times by the teachers this year. I wanted to try something new to help students tap into prior knowledge, learn from their peers, and begin to make sense of what they know and what they don’t.
Enter an awesome member of my professional learning community, The Relevant Educator, who suggest I try using a Graffiti Wall. A graffiti wall is a thinking strategy where students use pictures, powerful words, symbols, and colors to share their thoughts and connections around a specific topic. Similar to a chalk talk, students work on a large piece of paper to create an individual and collective understanding and unpacking of a big idea. “Brilliant,” I thought. Grade 3 would be my new strategy guinea pigs.
The Set Up
Since the inquiry was around “tattling” and “reporting,” two large pieces of butcher paper were hung on the wall with these words in the center. Since we use Kelso’s Choice as a school wide problem solving method, two additional posters were created with “Big Problem” and “Small Problem” as the prompt. Bright colored markers were placed by the posters, as well.
The posters were introduced with a brief check in for prior knowledge and understanding. Students were asked if they were familiar with graffiti. (I was amazed at how many of them had examples and understanding of it). Some examples of graffiti were shared for those tuning in to the idea. It was explained that students would be sharing their knowledge, understanding, ideas, and thoughts around the concepts/ideas on the poster using graffiti — pictures, colors, powerful words, statements. I asked them to do their best to show and represent rather than tell. **Note, students were very excited when I mentioned graffiti as the first response was “WE GET TO USE SPRAY PAINT!!!” No.**
Students were fully excited and engaged in the activity. Due to the familiarity with a chalk talk, they instantly got to work on sharing their understanding on the “graffiti wall” through pictures and powerful phrases. I facilitated when to rotate to the next poster so that students were spread out working on all 4 rather than having 22 students en masse at one. Every student had the opportunity to share their understanding on each poster. After the time was up, we moved back together as a group to share some of our thoughts, what we noticed about what our classmates shared, how our understanding of the concept word changed, was challenged, or grew. We then formed a working definition of each term — tattling, reporting, big problem, small problem — based on their images, dialogue, and connections which became the anchor for the rest of our counseling lessons.
- Having the prior knowledge and experience with a chalk talk was both a help and a little bump. It helped students as they already knew the butcher paper was a working document to share their ideas. They understood there was no “correct” answer but just a medium to make sense of their thinking.
- It was a little challenging in that students wanted to write their thoughts and ideas in detailed sentences instead of drawing, coloring, using powerful words. Also, some students simply wanted to star, check, or put a smiley face by other student’s drawings (as you do in chalk talks) instead of share their own images. This really upset some students that certain student pictures were “liked” while others were not.
- I should have allowed more time. Students felt rushed and like they could not get all their images completed in the manner they wanted or needed. They also needed additional time, at the end, to view their peer’s work and see other thinking.
- It was clear that students had no real concept of “reporting” in the context we were discussing it. Therefore, we spent more time discussing this concept and coming to a working definition for our counseling lesson.
- Due to the size of the paper and how it hangs on walls (like graffiti), the teachers could not leave the papers up in their rooms for further investigation. This activity does require space.
Overall, I was glad I was a risk-taker and tried a new strategy to help students unpack their thinking. I do believe it was successful in making sense of thoughts and ideas and challenging misconceptions. I had students report they enjoyed the drawing (and some got pretty creative with their images). I think with some fine tuning, this activity will definitely be used again in both a classroom and group counseling setting.