Go to any grocery store parking lot in Germany, and you will never…and I mean never…see any stray shopping carts rattling along in the wind or parked in the hedges. Every carriage is always tucked back in the rack, sometimes in color coded rows. In the United States I always put my cart back where it belonged, and I secretly enjoyed rounding up any strays I came across. Imposing order on this chaotic world, even in small doses, soothes my fastidious soul. My fellow countrymen, however, do not share my O.C.D. Most people leave carts wherever they damn well please.
Yet, the difference in national shopping cart parking habits does not reveal some great divide between American and German gentility. Germans do not return their carts out of an altruistic urge to avoid scratching their neighbors’ Audis. Instead, grocery stores in Germany simply engineer order into their systems. To get a cart, you have to unlock it from the rack with a coin. When you’re done, you can’t get your money back until you return the cart and secure it to its mates. It’s a simple system that works beautifully.
The Student Scribe system works in much the same way; it’s a simple system, that once implemented, works with minimal effort on the teacher’s part. I first learned about the idea from Darren Kuropatwa, and I found his blog posts on student scribes very useful when setting up my scribe system for the first time.
On most days, one student takes communal notes and then posts these to a class wiki. Each post ends with the current student choosing the next scribe. Here are the directions I give my students regarding scribe posts:
SCRIBE POST DIRECTIONS
A Scribe Post should be a clear, creative explanation of the learning that occurred in class that day. In other words, you should BRIEFLY (a few sentences) summarize what went on, but your post should not be a summary of the events in class. It should be a SYNTHESIS of the LEARNING that occurred. Imagine a classmate was absent and you must help him or her catch up on what was missed, and make connections that go beyond summary.
I want YOU to add content (links, videos, analogies, textual evidence, etc.) that ADDS to class discussion. Push yourself to go beyond a regurgitation of words…use colors, links, images, media, and your own JUICY BRAIN to explain the learning with some PERSONAL STYLE. No length requirement….But, each Scribe Post must be posted by the start of the next class AND end with you choosing the scribe for the next day.
A checklist for a proper Scribe Post:
- Include a date and title for every scribe post
- Ensure the post goes beyond summary
- Add your own connections/thinking to the synthesis of class learning
- Use media, color, links, and formatting to add meaning
- Make sure your post is PUBLIC (a wiki page of a PUBLIC Google Doc link)
- Close your post by CHOOSING THE NEXT SCRIBE
- Highlight your name in red on the scribe list, or you can be chosen again in the cycle
- Begin each class by asking students to review the previous day’s scribe post. This step will ensure that A) scribes get in the habit of posting BEFORE the next class, B) you keep track of completion, and C) the scribe post matters.
- As students review the previous scribe post, ask them to be ready with a star and a wish. (I stole this step from Darren Kuropatwa, by the way.) A star is something that works (e.g. “You used color and formatting to make the key information stand out”), and a wish is a piece of formative feedback (e.g. “I wish you would write down who said what because it helps me remember the main points more effectively.”)
- Early on in the process, be a scribe for the day. You will be a much more empathetic teacher and the students will have another good exemplar.
- Give it time to mature. Scribe Posts will never work perfectly, but this classroom management habit will gain momentum and save everyone time in the long run.
- Use the notes before major assessments. I try to build in class time and activities that force students to review past scribe posts in order to collect evidence for summative assessments.
- Students appreciate sincere effort from each other. They do a good job gently pushing each other to “one up” the previous posts.
- The system makes the students synthesize, curate, and record the learning. Students are more active participants in constructing knowledge.
- The system relieves the pressure from everyone having to take notes…but students who want to take individual notes are still welcome to do so.
- The system works with minimal effort from any one individual (including the teacher). Once it is put in place and becomes part of the learning routine, no one person is over-burdened with the process.
- The system gives the teacher (and students) a chance to give regular formative feedback and praise.
- The system keeps teachers honest. If a student is taking public notes every day, it is a little extra incentive for the teacher to ensure that LEARNING HAPPENS in every class.
As I have shared before, I make a special effort to do the work I assign my students. The “Man from the South” scribe post took me one hour to organize, and I now have a healthier understanding of how long a quality post takes. As a result, I try to excuse the daily Student Scribe from any other homework or class obligation to balance the load. A scribe, for instance, does not have to participate in the class activities unless she chooses to do so. Finally, I do not ask students to scribe in every class, only those that warrant a recording of the learning.