A Writing Activity: New Year, Dream Big!

New Year, Dream Big ...Very soon, many of us will return back to school and greet the smiling faces of our students whom we have not seen since 2017. Granted, the time spent apart is much shorter than a summer break, but brings with it an important sign of starting fresh.

It’s the beginning of a new year; 365 opportunities to dream big and accomplish something new (or something that has been an unreachable goal until this year). For many students, it will be a time to reconnect with friends and teachers that they haven’t seen for a couple weeks. Some students are beginning new coursework, attending a new school, or even planning for graduation in a few months.

As a teacher, it was always my favorite time to have students write. Write about their dreams, goals, and ambitions, plus, it went perfectly with the start of a new year. Creative titles have always alluded me, so I simply called this New Year, Dream Big.

Students (and me, I always modeled and shared my writing with students) used the following questions to help spur their writing:

New Year, Dream Big…

  1. What are my dreams? In school? Life? Friendship? Activities? Etc. (Identify one to write about)
  2. Why is this dream important to me? Why did I choose this one?
  3. Is this a new dream? Old dream? Habitual dream?
  4. What do I already know or understand about this dream?
  5. What steps do I need to take to make this happen? Have I already completed or started any of these steps?
  6. What help do I need to achieve this dream? Who or what can help me?
  7. What is my timeframe for accomplishing this dream? How will I know I succeeded? When will it be time to give up?
  8. Closing thoughts and reflections?

 

At times, these pieces appeared on student blogs or influenced other writing done throughout the semester. Students were proud of their Dreams and shared them with everyone who would listen. And I was proud of them.

So consider having your students write to start off the New Year. Help them vocalize their dreams and make them a reality!

 

Hat-Tip to Regie Routman and Kelly Gallagher for providing inspiration for this work.

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.

 

“Denmark Just Drove Uber Out of The Country”  – Why Might This Be?

 

  • New laws were passed.
  • Accidents caused while using Uber.
  • No money being made by government.
  • Hard to police and hold drivers accountable.
  • Acts of violence caused by riders – or drivers.

 

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

10 Compelling Issues to Catapult Student Writers

compelling Issues forStudent Inquiry (3)Writing, like any activity, takes practice to get better. But writing, unlike reading or math, is often neglected in schools for various reasons. Educators find the teaching of writing difficult and many times don’t know where to start. This unfortunate occurrence places students at a disadvantage. In fact, three of the 10 Common Core Reading Standards requires reading as writers, the Common Core is also the first time in history that equal representation and importance (10 Standards each) is placed on both reading and writing. Moving beyond the What is the Why. Writing helps students develop an understanding of content, develop empathy, demonstrate mastery, not to mention writing plays a key role in participating in a global community and expressing one’s view thoughtfully.

Students should write every day! When students write every day they develop their voice and see value in written expression. But what should kids be writing is a question often posed to me.

The best writing is REAL – Relevant, Engaging, Authentic, and Lifelong. Laua Robb offers 10 compelling issues in her book Teaching Middle School Writers that I feel align to meaningful or REAL writing for all kids. These issues were often favorite ones to explore and write about in my own classroom with high school students. Plus, these compelling issues are great for not only conceptual thinking but could be used for Book Discussions and to launch Inquiry Units.

10 Compelling Issues that Catapult Kids to Write:

  1. Change & Loss
    • Death
    • Moving
    • Illness
    • Job Loss
    • Physical Change
  2. Challenges, Choices, & Decisions
    • Goals
    • Obstacles
    • Negative challenges that become positive
    • Life Choices
  3. Relationships: Insight to Self
    • Freinds
    • Fitting In
    • Parents, Siblings, Teachers
    • Relationship with self
    • Pets
    • Trust
  4. Coping with Fears
    • What
    • Why
    • Actions
    • Future
    • Fear affecting Thoughts, Decisions, & Actions
  5. Pressures: Inner & Outside Influences
    • Why
    • Peers
    • Gossip
    • Moving
    • Motives
    • Self
    • Athletics
    • Competition
    • Pop Culture
  6. Identity Shaping: Hopes & Dreams
    • Privacy
    • What do I want to be?
    • Future self
    • Daydreaming
    • Fitting In
    • Who am I?
  7. Obstacles
    • Language
    • Weather
    • Location
    • Religion
    • Race
    • Gender
    • Divorce
    • Expectations
  8. War & Conflict
    • War
    • Conflict Good or Bad?
    • Without Conflict
    • Peace
    • Power & Control
  9. Restrictions, Rules, & Rebellion
    • Rules
    • Rulebreaking
    • Rebellions
    • Protesting
    • Family, School, Friends
    • Activism
    • Emotions
    • Actions
  10. Conformity & Nonconformity
    • Fitting In
    • Feelings
    • Conforming
    • Not Conforming
    • Exclusions
    • Easier to conform or be different

Under each issue, I have offered general categories in which ideas may be sparked and questions created that can catapult our writers into personal narratives. Through personal narratives, students are able to anchor their thinking and blend genres as they notice these compelling issues arise in what they read, view, and listen to. Connecting their lives to outside texts (whatever mode that may be in) helps students understand the importance of writing and how their lives and experiences are related. It makes the writing REAL!

 

 

Technoliteracies: Sharing the Top Digital Resources to Support Student Readers and Writers

technoliteracies

Last year, my best friend Erin Olson and I started an Instagram account to share our love of literacy and technology. Technoloiteracies was born as a place where we could share the best resources, apps, and technology to support student readers and writers.

Instagram is a perfect platform to share resources and connect with other educators. Instagram is an example of microblogging; the sharing of short and frequent posts which made it ideal for us. Erin and I typically share resources a couple times a week. The resources and apps we share span the grades (K-12), cross platforms and devices, and focus on all things literacy. So if you are on Instagram, check us out!

 

Technoliteracies Top 9 Posts of 2016

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  1. Hypothes.isOpen annotation on the web. Hypothes.is allows users to highlight and annotate web pages. Converse over the world’s knowledge and share to public, group, or keep private! Also available as a Chrome extension. Great to support student thinking, research & curation.
  2. Pics4Learning Pics4Learning is a perfect resource to share with students and educators. Here, you will find images to use in all things for school and it’s safe search helps to keep it appropriate for all learners. From multimedia creations to digital portfolios, these copyright-friendly images are perfect and support student understanding in terms of image use and citations. As a bonus, you can also add to the growing collection by uploading your own images to share.
  3. PrismaPrisma is an incredible photo editing app which transforms images into works of art based on the styles of famous artists and periods. Share with students for use in multimedia projects and great for digital storytelling.
  4. 100 Word Challenge – 100 Word Challenge is an online resource which provides a weekly creative writing challenge for kids under 16. Prompts are posted and the community of writers made up of students and educators post and comment on student writing. Anyone can join and share their succinct writing to a global audience. Great to get students writing for real.
  5. Elink.io – Check out elink.io as a perfect tool to collect, curate, & share webpages. Perfect for newsletters sharing student creations or webpages of resources to launch kids into a new unit. Simple, easy, and free. Also available as a chrome extension.
  6. ThingLink – ThingLink provides users with an interactive and engaging platform, great for inquiry. Multiple student and teacher uses by linking and sharing content. Now, ThingLink offers a 360 picture view. Checkout out Thinglink.com for interactive images and videos! Easily create a collection of resources for students.
  7. Bubbl.us – Check out bubbl.us. A brainstorming tool perfect for students to organize thoughts and make their thinking visible. Color code topics, modify and move bubbles with a click, and share with peers for collaborative work.
  8. Dipity – An interactive timeline that has unfortunately shut down. Try TimeToast as an alternative.
  9. Read The World – Readtheworld.org is a site that helps you diversify your literature selections. It is an archived hand-picked book site which is divided by country, region, and state. Each title has a brief summary, quotes, length, and brief author bio.

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Erin and I wish you all a Happy and Healthy 2017!

 

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!