Writer’s Workshop in the High School Classroom

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Typically, the discussion around Workshop takes place against the backdrop of the elementary classroom. When I tell other educators I also used workshop in my high school classes I am inundated with endless questions… How did you do that? What curriculum did you use? How much time did you have?

First, before jumping into the weekly schedule and content I used, I always explain a few things up front.

Logistics and Important Information About My Classroom:

  • Class periods were 42 minutes and I met with the students every day for one semester.
  • I worked hard at the beginning to build a community of writers, one where students would be willing to take risks in their style and content and share with a wider audience than the traditional lone teacher.
  • All students submitted a writing portfolio at the end of the course, sharing their chosen pieces, paragraphs, lines, etc. which demonstrated mastery in standards.
  • All students were required to complete, at least, three typed-pages every week of original work or one that was heavily revised and edited.
  • Students were part of a blogging community and required to post something every other week and comment on 2 other blog posts every week. This public sharing of work provided a different audience than the traditional lone teacher and helped grow writers faster than anything else I had done throughout my writing. (This community was high school students from across the US and in 4 different classrooms.)
  • Students chose content and type of writing each week. Portfolio asked for examples in multiple types, subgenres, and media; but students had complete control over the when, what, and how during the semester.
  • Along with typical types and subgenres of writing, students also created and wrote in contemporary modes including images, videos, music, infographics, etc.
  • Every two to three weeks students turned in a “publishable piece” to be assessed.
  • Finally, I wrote with my students. I modeled my thinking, shared my pieces, and asked for feedback!  

 

I used the traditional Workshop model where I tried to keep my direct instruction at a minimum so that students could write, apply the learning, and collaborate with each other and me when needed. The following is a typical weekly schedule. During student Independent Writing time they had three options: write, collaborate with peers, collaborate with me. As long as their actions were done with intent, the climate and culture in my classroom allowed them to decide what they needed most at that moment to move them forward as a writer, and then do it!

A Simplified weekly schedule of Writer’s Workshop for a 12th-grade writing class:

MondayInspiration. Brainstorm. Share Every Monday I would take time to launch students into writing. I called this “Monday Inspiration”. There were many methods I used to get kids excited about writing. Students were inspired by a mentor text, video, image, or other types of communication. I would pose a question or prompt to contemplate and write about. Students would take part in an inspiring writing activity that typically had them developing lists, sketching, moving, and so forth. All inspiration and accompanying thinking were recorded in their digital Writer’s Notebook section we labeled, Writing Territories, a term from Nancy Atwell. After the 10 to 15 minute inspiration, students would continue to brainstorm and write about the topic or in the genre at hand. This beginning may be something that they continue to develop throughout the week, or remain in their Writing Territories to call upon if they “don’t know what to write about.” At the very end of the class period, I would make sure to leave time to share. I learned early on, students loved sharing their thoughts, writing, and ideas on Monday after the inspiring start. The sharing was sometimes done as a whole class or in a small group.

TuesdayIndependent Writing. Peer Collaboration. Small Group. 1 on 1  On Tuesday, students were writing or creating independently on a piece of their choice. While they could continue the piece they started on Monday, students in my classroom always had a choice in Type and content of their writing. During this time, I worked with small groups, to teach a skill, reinforce something previously learned, or meet individual needs, collectively. I also had time to meet with a few students 1 on 1. This allowed me to know them as writers, address specific needs that either they or I identified, and to just do a check-in on their process. Along with working independently, or meeting with me, students also had the option to work with a partner or small group. During a writer’s workshop, students are at multiple points in the writing process. Some continued pieces week to week, others may just be in the beginning stages; students would revise, edit, and provide feedback to each other and their “virtual classmates” in the blogging community based on their needs as a writer.

Wednesday Language Study. Independent Writing. Portfolio. Blog. On Wednesdays, the class period began with a lesson over grammar, usage, or mechanics. Teaching grammar in isolation does not lead to use in writing. With this in mind, I used student writing, identify common errors made by the class and this is where I would focus my teaching. After the lesson, students continue to write or work with peers. Wednesday was also time for students to work on their writing portfolio, a collection of their best examples and reflections throughout the year and aligned to the standards or teaching goals. Students could also add a new post to their blogs or leave a comment on another student blog from our community.  

Thursday –  Independent Writing. Revising. Editing. Small Groups. 1 on 1. Thursday was spent much like Tuesday. Students chose how they spent their time based on their writing needs. Some worked independently, others worked with a partner or small group. During the revising and editing stages, students used a variety of strategies to accomplish their goals. These strategies were taught via whole class and small groups. They also prepared for Friday, making sure they had something of substance to share the following day. I spent my time working one on one with students, teaching specific techniques that would move them forward as writers.  

FridaySharing with Feedback. Fridays were typically spent sharing writing. To help build a community of growth, we started off sharing in small groups of 3 using the PQP strategy (Praise, Question, Polish by Bill Lyons). This allows the writer to receive the specific feedback needed. Another method used was Go, Fish, a whole class strategy that allowed every writer to give and receive feedback. An Author’s Spotlight was used to highlight individuals and often included multiple pieces by 2 or 3 writers. Important things about students sharing their writing: Everyone shared what they wanted to with the rest of the class, feedback was specific (more strategies were taught for this) and used to move everyone forward, finally, sharing their writing honored the process and provided a different audience than the traditional lone teacher.

It is possible to use a workshop framework in a high school classroom. In fact, I cannot imagine teaching writing a different way. Students had a choice in content and writing type. They also shared their work with classmates and to a larger, public audience. Students were writing for real, not just writing for school, and created in multiple mediums to communicate their voice through video, text, visuals, and more. And although this post shared a basic structure, I hope that it provided you with enough information to see the possibilities when considering how to structure a writer’s workshop in your own classroom.

Measuring Up: 6 Focus Areas for Blended Curriculum Assessment

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It is true, not all curriculum is created equal. There are specific things I look for when reviewing a curriculum to make the best decisions for kids and teachers. So when my friends at We Are Teachers asked me to take a look at, Measuring Up, a blended curriculum for grades 2-8, I was eager to check it out and provide feedback.

This post is sponsored by We Are Teachers and Mastery Education. All opinions expressed are my own. (Meaning, if I don’t like something about a particular education product I will not write about it on my blog)

I immediately recognized many positives while reading through the sample curriculum:

  • Concepts connected by what students will learn; to what they may already know; to real-world examples.
  • Academic vocabulary in context.
  • Scaffolded learning with guided instruction and gradual release of responsibility.
  • Apply learning independently.

Along with the previous list, two things stuck out to me about Measuring Up that I appreciate as a professional. First, the instruction is done by the expert classroom teacher, not the computer; and second, the Measuring Up Live 2.0 version aligned with my view on student-learning and assessment which they have streamlined through the use of computer applications.

6 Focus Areas for Blended Curriculum Assessment:

  1. Practice – Whether it is a high-stakes test or a certification exam; assessment practices are shifting from paper and pencil to an online version for a variety of reason (costs, access, data disaggregation, etc.) When students have little to no practice or frame of reference to online testing, anxiety rises and results are impacted. Blended curriculum should contain both digital and analog assessment options, as well as multiple types of assessment students,  can take in both a low-stake and high-stakes environment.  
  2. Cognitive Demand – If students have limited interaction and touches on devices when it comes to testing, all of their cognitive energy is wasted on how to manipulate the computer instead of answering the questions. Cognitive energy is best used for thinking critically and demonstrating understanding. From drag and drop to typing extended answers, when students have little access to the types of computer assessments they will take in their schooling and life, cognitive demands are misplaced on basic computer skills.
  3. Adaptive – When evaluating curriculum, edtech options for assessment should include adaptive measures, meaning, the test is sensitive to the answers the student provides and modifications are made based on answers. This ensures that the just right measures are used to gauge what the student knows and what they are not understanding.
  4. Feedback – Feedback is another area I explore when looking at assessment provided by curriculum with blended components. Feedback could come in the form of immediate grading, but could also provide extensions and reinforcement. All of these provides students with an understanding of what they have mastered and what additional support they can access to continue refining their learning.
  5. Mastery and Goal Setting – Curriculum that provides assessment should be aligned to the standards and instruction. It should provide a clear picture as to which skills and standards the students have mastered, what they have left to master and provide a direction on how to move forward. Measuring up provides students and teachers this information, as well as a way for students to set their own learning goals.
  6. Informs Instruction – FInally, data collected is useless unless it is used to inform instruction. Along with providing formative and summative student information, an assessment done via technology streamlines the process of accessing, disaggregating, and changing instruction to best meet students’ needs.

Curriculum cycles are a part of every district I have worked with over the past 10 years. Making the most informed purchasing decisions helps educators in their instruction and assessment of students. While all companies and curriculum writers provide unique frameworks or specialty components, be sure that any curriculum claiming to be blended places value in the professional and contains a comprehensive assessment system, similar to that of Measuring Up,  with a focus on the 6 areas above.

A Collection of Social Studies Resources

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  • What happens when cultures collide?
  • How can I be part of the solution?
  • Are rights the same as responsibilities?
  • What influences my space and place?
  • How can data be used to tell a story?

We need more inquiry, more beautiful questions, more Problem Seekers, not just Problem Solvers.

Lately, I have been making connections between literacy and social studies. Along with refining inquiry instructional frameworks and strategies, I have begun collecting useful resources for educators. Find the list HERE

Let me know if I have forgotten any of your favorites?

7 Benefits of Audiobooks

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Is listening to an Audiobooks the same as reading a book? Is it cheating or lazy to listen to instead of actually reading it? Do audiobooks help to develop readers or hurt their development?

All of these questions were unearthed during a conversation I had with a fellow educator whose daughter was listening to books at home instead of reading them. The simple answer is YES, audiobooks are similar to reading and have benefits to the listener.

Some date the origins of audiobooks to that of oral storytelling and how stories were passed down through generations before a written language and the act of reading was mainstream for the common person. In education, I was surprised to see the amount of research done around this area and found most agree that similar skills are used and when you consider the goal of reading, listening to an audiobook does count as reading.

The goal of reading is not to decode words and be able to pronounce them but to comprehend and think critically about what you read.

With this goal in mind, I offer 7 Benefits of Audiobooks:

  1. Independence – A student’s oral vocabulary far outreaches their reading abilities. When one accesses an audiobook, it promotes independence. It also is a great way to differentiate content in the classroom! 
  2. Access to Information – Audiobooks, and listening to text, provides access to those students who wouldn’t be able to read the text independently. When teachers deny students access to information based on their reading level they are promoting a division of inequity. There are many reasons why students struggle to read, but just because they can not decode specific words on a page does not mean that they also struggle to think and understand. Reading level does not equal intelligence, but limiting access to information because of it harms students.  
  3. Broadens one’s world, locales, accents, dialects, cultures – Stories have the ability to transport readers to different places, experience different cultures, and identify with others who are similar. Developing empathy and awareness can be achieved through audiobooks, with the bonus of hearing different accents and dialects.
  4. Linguistically Rich – Promotes Storytelling – Audiobooks promote storytelling. Students listen to a linguistically rich text and are inspired to talk about their book by connecting it to their own experiences or other things they have read or viewed. The more stories one collects, the more language they acquire to share their own voice.
  5. Increases: Motivation, Background Info. Content Knowledge, Vocabulary – Listening to audiobooks has been shown to increase motivation in reading which is an essential element for struggling adolescent readers. Research also shows audiobooks help to increase background information and content knowledge and is especially beneficial to our EL (English Learners) students.
  6. Models Good Reading – Audiobooks, similar to read aloud, models good reading to students. Hearing an expert reader adds experience to all growing readers.
  7. Improves: Critical Listening Skills, Reading Accuracy, Fluency – Audiobooks not only promote critical listening skills, an essential life skill but also help student reading accuracy and fluency. Fluency is so much more than reading fast. Audiobooks allow students to not only see words pronounced correctly but hear and notice pronunciation, rate, speed, pausing, stress, and intonation.

Better Listeners LEARN More!

There are many places to access audiobooks:

Check your local and school library.

Open Culture

Storynory

Learn Out Loud

Epic!  

Project Gutenberg

Making the Best Technology Purchasing Decisions

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In our next collaborative post, Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) and I discuss how schools and districts can make the best technology purchasing decisions.

Recently I was talking to a Tech Director colleague that was in the middle of a purchasing battle with a principal. The principal had been approached by a well-known technology vendor wanting to sell the school some hardware and software to help students in literacy and math. The vendor was long on promises but short on delivery. The problem was the principal was blinded by the promises of high achievement and didn’t consider how that one purchase would put a serious strain on the district technology department.

Balancing a district budget is an annual job that has many administrators prioritizing monies to meet the needs of students and staff, as well as the upkeep and daily operations of the grounds and facilities. The increase of technology use in learning has added an element to the budget which has seen a steady increase over the years. In a 2017 report from Learning Counsel results found districts spent $16.2 billion on hardware, networks and major system software. And these numbers will only continue to rise.

With this understanding, many district administrators and technology coaches have found a need to vet the limitless purchasing options out there and make decisions that look past the flash of products to ones that will truly impact student learning.

Questions to Consider Before Making A Technology Purchase

How Are Student Privacy and Data Protected? Many of the Edtech products available today require some elements of Personally Identifiable Information (PII). This could be anything from their name and grade all the way to their entire student demographic and academic profile. Educators and Administrators have a responsibility to understand how that data used by the products are consumed and ultimately protected. Reading terms of service is a start but asking questions like how much PII is actually needed for the software to run or how is the data stored or is it encrypted in transit and rest are some of the most basic questions to have solid answers to before allowing any company access to data sources. Check to see if the vendor has signed the Student Data Privacy Pledge. Most importantly, have a solid understanding of how the data is stored and used before signing on the dotted line.

What compatibility and interoperability are available? A common mistake we see made frequently come from local school administrators making a purchase without making sure it works in the current system. Odds are if you are making a major technology purchase you already have a network and systems in place. Therefore, it is important to ask about what devices the software works on or how does the hardware work in your current server environment? You don’t want to have to make additional purchases after the fact or find out that what was purchased won’t work at all because there is a compatibility problem.

Where did the research come from? Many Edtech products, especially those used to increase student-achievement, will boast that they are backed by research. But, you have to look at this with a critical eye. Where did the research come from? Was it funded by the vendor? Was it the vendor themselves? If products are truly “backed by research” the vendor should be able to provide or you should be able to provide independent research to back their claims.

What Is The True Cost For The Hardware or Software? Don’t get burned by additional costs related to licenses and fees. When you are making a major technology purchase what does the license include? Is a yearly cost? With software especially, as lots of questions about the total cost. Often you will have to pay for updates or upgrades. You don’t want to spend a large chunk of your budget on some software for every student only to find out that if you want the next version you’ll have to pay more for it. Do your homework and crunch the numbers to find out the true cost of ownership.

How Will You Be Supported? Support is often one of those things you don’t think about until you need it. It should, however, be towards the top your list to understand before making any technology purchase. Do you have to pay for support? If you do, how much do you get? Are you limited to the number of support cases you can open? Who can call for help? When is support available? Is just a certain number of hours a day or is is it 24/7/365? Is the support local or is it outsourced? Understand the support structure before you are stuck needing it.

What Training and Professional Development Opportunities Are Available? If you are spending a large portion of your budget on a new piece of hardware or software, especially if it is being used in the classroom by students or teachers, there should be a conversation before you sign about training and professional development. How will everyone be trained? Will it come at a cost or is it included? What about training new users 6 months down the road? Will the vendor provide it or will the district be responsible? How about opportunities for ongoing professional development? Coaching?. Ultimately you are looking for more than just a hardware/software provider, you are looking for a partner that can be with you for the long haul.

Making The Best Technology Purchasing Decisions-Web20Classroom

 

Checklist For Technology Purchasing   

  1. Purpose: Does the purchase align with the mission and goals of the district? Does it support attainment of the discipline standards, ISTE Standards, and learning targets? Powerful EdTech purchases are ones that can span grade-levels and content areas for maximum student and teacher use.
  2. Student-Centered: Besides options to leverage the differentiated classroom, inclusive classroom, and accessibility options; student-centered focuses on choice, ease of use, fun, and supports learning.
  3. Cost: Often times the price tag is a heavily weighted component in purchasing, but don’t forget to factor in: Licensing one-time, or yearly, per student or per school/district, updates included or added costs, replacement fees, cross-platforms/devices, renewal processes, and contracts.  
  4. Data Privacy and Security: Always understand how student data is used and stored when making any purchase. How will you get data in the product? What is the minimum amount of student data needed for the product to be used effectively? Is it encrypted when it’s stored? Educators and administrators have a duty and obligation to keep student data private and secure. Learn more about FERPA, COPA, CIPA, PPRA here.
  5. Logistics/Management: Minimal Effort To Get Things Going and Keep Them Going. Will this technology purchase work in our current learning environment? Whether devices, infrastructure, or sign-in, logistics and management are essential to get right. Nothing squashes EdTech in the classroom more quickly than when something doesn’t work, access is complicated, or multiple steps must occur before it is roll-out or available to staff and students.
  6. Support: You Should Be Supported. Along with management and logistics as a necessary component of technology purchasing success, an understanding of the support offered is essential to classroom use. Knowing how to access support, who provides the support, and what that support looks like is information that needs to be gathered in the beginning stages.
  7. Professional Learning: Continuous Learning. Professional Learning can come in many forms, from onsite training to monthly webinars, knowing how teachers will learn about the possibilities available with a new purchase and how this will be done helps to encourage use and exploration. Are there additional resources available to use? Is there a community of users to connect with?
  8. References: Check Your References. Ask for and check references from those educators and districts already using the product or service. While this may not be a top priority for every purchase, connecting with and hearing from districts currently using the product or service may provide an understanding or experienced success and frustrations.

Need more help making the best technology purchasing decisions? We’ve created a deeper checklist you can use, copy and modify to meet your needs. Download it here.