Urban Legends, Headline Hooks, and Ideation: 3 Edtech Writing Activities for Inquiry

Adobe Spark (9)Writing is often short-changed in most classrooms but it is through writing that students demonstrate their understanding of texts, concepts, and topics. Writing about their learning provides insight into what a student understands and where the gaps occurred. For example, I assign a chapter in The Giver for my students to read and the next day in class I kick off the discussion by having students take five minutes to write down everything they know about a Utopian Society, how it has impacted the characters and the setting of the novel. This 5 minute activity provides me with data to inform my instruction. It provides a small glimpse into my students’ understanding of the novel and theme.

Writing as a type of assessment is typically what most teachers think of and utilize in their classrooms but there is a second reason to have students write (and write, and write, and write a lot more). Writing allows us to wrestle with ideas, make a mess with our thinking, and sift the top ideas and thoughts we may have not known were in our heads. It is through writing that exploration and inquiry can be launched in the classroom.

3 Edtech Writing Strategies for Inquiry:

Urban LegendsWomen wearing leggings are denied boarding for their flights, the current slime craze has serious health implications for youth, Disney VHS movies with the Black Diamond cases are worth thousands of dollars. Using myths, Urban Legends, and other misinformation is an engaging way to launch kids into exploration. Not only does this type of activity lead to more reading, writing, and investigation; but it also promotes healthy skepticism in the information age.  During this exploration, students work to uncover the truth and also ask themselves how this phenomenon takes place and what catapults these Urban Legends into popularity. Great places to start:

Why Might This Be? – This strategy is great for brainstorming and ideation. Collect provocative statements from newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc. Share each line one at a time while students list possible reasons for each (one minute per headline works well). Students are answering the question “Why Might This Be?” as the list as many possibilities. These lists serve as instigators to launch students into an inquiry or exploration unit where student choice is provided.

Headline Hooks – This activity has students reading and writing their way through current NF sources. To start with, students spend 20 mins. or more reading articles that spark their interest. Here is a collection of digital sources to have kids explore! During their reading, students take note of what they want to explore more. This list becomes a plethora of ideas to support inquiry throughout the year. Use a graphic organizer once the student has chosen a Headline that Hooked them listing the topic on the top, what they know about it, what they think they will find out, and then what they did find out.

Resources – Kelly Gallagher, Write Like This

7 Characteristics to Look For when Purchasing New Curriculum/Programs

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It’s that time of the year again when schools across the country are looking to purchase new curriculum and programs. Often times the big rocks that make things best for kids are masked by bells and whistles. Part of my role is helping educators determine which programs and curriculum are right for their staff and students. I believe that no one program or curriculum meets all standards or needs of all students, but there are definite factors that schools should consider before purchases are made.

7 Characteristics to Look For when Purchasing New Curriculum/Programs

  1. Direction – Before making a purchase of new curriculum it is important to understand the mission and goals of the program. After an introduction to the program, educators should have a clear understanding of the direction the program intends to deliver as well as the means in which to arrive. Look for both a larger conceptual mission of the curriculum that reach both inside and outside of the school as well as smaller goals aligned with the mission.
  2. Standards – All teachers follow some sort of standards or guide in which to embed curriculum and write student learning targets. Whether you are using the Common Core State Standards or a different roadmap to guide instruction be sure that there is alignment between the two. I again want to reiterate that while no program or curriculum materials reach all Standards or student needs, there are definite discrepancies between the quality available from each company.
  3. Learning Cycles – Within each program or set of curriculum materials, there should be evidence of learning cycles. Look for assessment in both pre and post formats, objectives, steps, scaffolds, timelines, etc. When purchasing programs that are meant to meet the needs of students all of these factors come into play during instruction and learning.
  4. Resources – When identifying which programs or curriculum to purchase it is essential to consider the resources included (or not included) for successful implementation. Resources involve materials for both teachers and students, people and time, technology integration, and also alternatives. Having to create or find material, people, and time that was not expected at the initial time of purchase can be detrimental to any new program or curriculum.
  5. Professional Learning – Knowing what professional learning is available for programs and curriculum schools are considering purchasing helps plan for roll-out, implementation, as well as systemic change. Professional learning could come in a variety of forms from on-site training, manuals, digital resources, and communities. While purchasing high-quality materials is an investment in kids, a better investment is in the educators that are working with students. Do not neglect this area when making a purchase. What typically happens is spotty use and frustrated staff members.
  6. Student-Centered – When purchasing new curriculums or programs it is important to always keep the student at the center of your decision. Students should recognize themselves (backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, etc.) in the texts. Materials targeted to engage youth at appropriate ages. Subjects that are important and relevant to students. Does the material allow for choice in content or demonstration of understanding? Is there a variety of instructional styles designed to meet more than one “type” or student needs.
  7. Continuous Improvement – Finally, it is also important to identify resources within programs and curriculum that allow for interventions, spiral or scaffolded learning, enrichment activities, and multi-lingual support for our EL students. Do they value reflection and metacognition empowering students to own their learning?  Are there clear ways information and data collected informs instruction and supports educators enhance learning for ALL students in their classroom?

(Adapted from David W. Moore)

I also like to gauge the group whose charge it is to identify and select programs/curriculum to purchase. I use this form and share the results with the school leadership team so that all voices are heard. Feel free to make your own copy to use.

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Consider These 6 Areas When There is a Glitch in Reading Comprehension

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Direct instruction in literacy should not end in elementary school. Students of all ages need continual modeling and practice of reading comprehension skills. And while many elementary teachers use running records to inform instruction, at the intermediate grades, this type of assessment can be modified to meet the needs of our older readers.

At the end of the oral reading, students retell what they had just read summarizing, analyzing, and connecting to the text. This retelling is preferred over the typical question-answer assessment for older students. Retelling gives us a glimpse into the reader’s cognition and provides valuable insight as to what was grasped and what may have been lost.

During the reflection with the student following the retell, teachers can hone in on 6 areas to identify possible sources that contribute to the breakdown of comprehension.

6 Areas to Explore when Reading Comprehension Breaks Down

  1. Background Knowledge on the topic. Do I need more information on the topic in order to understand the text? Would rereading or talking about it help me understand new concepts presented by the author?
  2. Vocabulary. Were there lots of words I’ve never heard of or seen in this selection?
  3. Cultural Differences. Is this about a way of thinking or pattern of acting that is different from mine?
  4. Word-Recognition Skills. Can I figure out hard or unfamiliar words?
  5. Comfort with the task. Am I worried about doing well?
  6. Responses to environmental influences inside and outside of school. Am I confident I can be successful?

(Based on the work of Mary Shea)

When teachers and students reflect and identify areas that contribute to the breakdown of comprehension glitches can be addressed efficiently. Teachers instruction is targeted and students understanding of themselves as readers grow enhancing independence and comprehension.

6 Practices that “Work” to Accelerate Student Learning

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In education, we are often inundated with programs, curriculums, and frameworks that are “guaranteed to increase student learning”. Promises of a silver bullet that will fix all learning difficulties find their way to teachers and administrators alike. But as John Hattie points out in Visible Learning, it’s hard not to show growth or “evidence” for a program when the bar is set at zero.

As I began my study of Visible Learning for Literacy, much of the initial learning was not concentrated on what works in literacy, but what accelerates students’ learning in any classroom. Hattie identifies what works in education based on his research and a hinge point of .40 or greater. (The hinge point is any influence with an effect size of .40 or greater as having a positive impact on learning where acceleration extends beyond what a student can achieve in one year of simply attending school.)

Identifying high-impact influences and practices enhance an educator’s role as they reflect and evaluate their teaching by placing research and evidence in their hands. “What Works” in the classroom shifts from a buzzword to intentional practice that will accelerate learning. While Hattie identifies many influences above .40, I’ve narrowed the list down to 6 that apply to all educators.

6 Practices that “Work” to Accelerate Student Learning

  1. Teacher credibility (.90 effect size) Trust, competence, energy, enthusiasm, and consistency are among the top characteristics students consider when determining if their teacher is credible and if they are going to choose to learn from them.
  2. Teacher-Student Relationships (.72 effect size) Positive teacher-student relationships involve trust, fairness, open communication and maintenance to sustain and impact student learning.  
  3. Classroom Management (.52 effect size) Students understand expectations and are consistently held to those expectations. Promotes healthy relationships with teachers and peers.  
  4. Self-Reported Grades/Student Expectations (1.44 effect size) Students set their own goals, monitor their own achievement, and reflect upon their process of learning.
  5. Teacher Clarity (.75 effect size) Learning targets are clear and articulated with success criteria. Students should be able to answer: What am I learning today? Why am I learning this? How will I know that I learned it?
  6. Feedback (.75 effect size) Just-in-time feedback identifies where the student is at, what the expectation is, and actions they can take to close the gap.

Simply put, be genuine and clear, relationships matter, create a safe environment that nurtures independence, and feedback moves students not grades!

Blogging in the Classroom: Teacher Roles

blogging-in-the-classroomBlogging is a powerful way for students to share their voice on a public platform. Depending on the purpose, blog posts demonstrate student understanding, allow for a virtual space to share ideas or thinking, and acts as an interactive mode to question, create and share. While I believe blogging is useful across the curriculum and applicable to multiple grade levels, I do believe that there are teacher and student roles or responsibilities that are essential to establish when embarking on blogging in the classroom.

In February I wrote a post on Blogging in the Classroom: Student Roles which shared my own personal experience of having my students blog, as well as the student roles to consider when adding blogging to your classroom. This post will highlight the Teacher Roles that are important to consider when having students blog.

Teacher Roles

  1. Model, Be a Writer! – You are the best writer in the room. To have students be successful at blogging the teacher must see themselves as a blogger too. Modeling writing skills by sharing your own work takes the mystery out of the process. Post regularly, fine-tune your own craft and share. Providing students with “mentor examples” of digital writing and bloggers provides students with people’s work to emulate. Modeling also provides an opportunity to create a positive, online presence; as well as address digital citizenship areas that frequently surface when writing for a public audience.
  2. Explicit & Scaffolded Instruction – Like traditional unimodal writing, blogging requires a mastery of skills and strategies that students do not naturally have in their toolbox. Direct instruction through mini-lessons and then application in their own writing helps set students up for success. Not only should content be a focus of learning, but the structure, format, and design elements need to be explicitly taught to our young bloggers. Start with length, visuals, and typography as a way to communicate their message effectively.
  3. Read & Respond – As the teacher, it is important to read and respond to student blog posts. To alleviate the volume of posts I would have to read in my own classroom I would divide the class in half and read and respond to half of the students each week. Students were to read and respond to peers in our blogging community (made up of 4 classrooms around the country) twice a week. Teaching students how to respond on a digital platform was another area that demanded explicit teaching. The driver in their response was to connect personally to at least one thing in a post and to comment in a way that moved the writer forward.
  4. Assess – Finally, assessment of blog posts. While you can use some or all of the posts as a type of summative assessment I would frequently use the students’ posts as formative assessment. This type of formative assessment would help drive my instruction. It was clear what the students grasped as well as what needed further reteaching. When assessing blog posts, it is important to consider both content and product. Aesthetics, voice, design elements are important to bloggers and were all part of the feedback I would provide to students.

A classroom full of bloggers is a daunting and exciting symphony to orchestrate. Depending on the purpose for blogging, teachers can view their roles and responsibilities as ones that are helping develop digital writers now and whenever they write in the future. Interaction with a public audience helps to make writing engaging and relevance and it is through the intentional instruction by the teacher that our youngest bloggers can find success!