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Learning Challenges

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Scenario 2: Five Senses


students working

Teacher:    Pete Shaheen

School:      Birmingham Seaholm High School, Birmingham, Michigan

Grade:        12th grade creative writing

Video:         Episode 8, Watch It, Do It, Know It. Segment begins approximately 14 minutes 45 seconds into the program.

Primary Learning Objectives

By participating in the learning activities and following the models demonstrated by the instructor, students should be able to:

  • understand and use all the tools of good writing
  • analyze text, reflect on it and, discuss it with their peers
  • explore the techniques of a writers' workshop and a mini-lesson
  • become responsible for their own learning by designing and conducting mini-lessons for other students

Learning Activity

Groups of students discussed the work of their writing class and decided they wanted to strengthen their ability to write engaging descriptions. Based on that, they designed and conducted mini-lessons using the writer's workshop models that the teacher also follows. The students created five stations corresponding to each of the five senses. Other students in the class moved from station to station, experiencing something using one of their senses and describing it in writing. One member of the planning group supervised each "station of the senses." At the end of the exercise, students shared their writings with the class and discussed them.

References for the writer's workshop come from two texts:

  • The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy McCormick Calkins (Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH 1994)
  • In the Middle by Nancie Atwell (Heinemann Boynton/Cook, Portsmouth, NH 1998)

Learning Theories to Consider

  1. Cognitive Apprenticeship
  2. Learning in a Social Context
  3. Culture and Learning
  4. Metacognition


Pete Shaheen demonstrates the advanced outcomes of a cognitive apprenticeship approach that incorporates peer teaching with his 12th grade writing class. Shaheen explains that the process involves finding a way to transfer the domain of authority from the teacher to the students. As peer teaching is strengthened over time, the teacher becomes less involved in teaching and more involved in guiding and advising students to become independent learners. More importantly, he assist students in wanting to be in control of how they learn and what they learn to enhance their knowledge.

This scenario shows three students led by a peer teacher as they explore the use of their senses to enhance their writing skills. The student peer-teacher guides the other students through the experience of touching items in a paper bag. Participants then describe their sensations orally and ultimately in writing.

There are several learning theories presented in this scenario. Pete Shaheen uses Cognitive Apprenticeship to influence learning by organizing knowledge in a scaffolding method designed to transfer teaching to students who ultimately become peer-teachers. As they take on the role of teacher, he helps students to make their thinking visible so they can talk about their ideas with each other to improve their writing skills. The students are learning from each other in a Social Context as they work together in small groups to design their writing projects. They inspire each other to enhance their writing by employing the paper bag exercise and then getting students to think "outside of the bag."

As he gives students opportunities to structure their own learning, he forces them to use Metacognition. They must think about their own learning strategies and design activities to help each other learn. Finally, Shaheen demonstrates that none of these learning theories could take place unless the classroom is designed to be a safe environment where students can test their ideas based on their own cultural experiences. He recognizes the relationship of Culture and Learning as he structures the learning culture of his class to be complementary to the culture and ethnicity of the students.

Sequenced Writing Assignments:

  1. Make a list of up to five key ideas from each of the four learning theories presented: cognitive apprenticeship, culture and learning, learning in a social context and metacognition. Next, try to identify a way the teacher applied each of those key ideas as he planned and executed his learning activities. For example, under "learning in a social context," you might list, "Teacher put a group of students together to create the learning activity."

    You may find it useful to put your list in the form of a table. We have provided templates in either Word or PDF format if you choose to do this.

    You may find that some key ideas from the learning theories are not represented in the scenario. For now, leave a blank space after them. You may also find that you are repeating some of the things the teacher did because they are applications of key ideas from more than one learning theory.
  1. Review your list of key ideas and fill in the blanks from Assignment A by suggesting things the teacher could do to apply the key ideas you listed but did NOT see represented already. Suggest other practical things the teacher could do to incorporate key learning theory ideas into his classroom activities.
  1. Reflect on the completed table and record your reflections about how the theories intersect or interact. How might your own teaching practices take advantage of what you see happening in this scenario?

  1. As an alternative to these tasks, follow the directions of your group leader or the teacher of your class to write about this scenario and how one or more learning theories might apply to it. Or decide as a group how you might use it as a case for further study and discussion.

Samples and tools to help you with the scenario assignments

  • Sample rubrics in html or PDF format to assess your writings
  • Writing sample for Scenario Four, Assignments A and B, (in PDF format) to use as a model
  • Templates in Word or PDF format for the assignments

Return to the Support Materials for Session 6.

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