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.

7 Resources to Fight Digital Misinformation in the Classroom

7 New Resources to Fight Digital MisinformationAccessing information online is like looking for a proverbial needle in a haystack. The abundance of resources available 24/7 makes Information Literacy an essential life skill for one’s working, civic and personal lives. As an educator, it is imperative to recognize the shifts in locating reliable and relevant sources online. I spoke about this need at ISTE 2018 in my Ignite. Developing healthy skepticism and honing fact-checking skills are an important part of being literate today. Recently, there have been a release of new tools to support this endeavour; along with some updates to some of my favorite resources.

Here are 7 Resources to Support Information Literacy Online and to Fight the Misinformation Out There:

  1. NewsGuard – NewsGuard is a browser extension to add to your Chrome or Edge browser. Trained journalist, with “no political axe to grind” help readers and viewers know which sites are reliable. Their tagline, “Restoring trust and accountability” uses 9 Criteria to give websites ratings by color-codes from red to green. If a reader wants to understand the rating given by the group, they can read the expanded “Nutrition Label” that provides this information. NewsGuard also has great resources for libraries and is user-friendly.  
  2. SurfSafe – SurfSafe is also a browser extension for Chrome with one goal, to detect fake or altered photos. After installing this extension, users can hover over an image on the web or Facebook which instantly checks it against 100s of trusted sites for its validity. Surfsafe provides a rating system to users, along with links to other websites. Users can also help “defend the internet” against misinformation by reporting suspicious images as well.
  3. News Literacy Project – The News Literacy Project is a national education nonprofit offering nonpartisan, independent programs that teach students how to know what to believe in the digital age. They have been helping students and teachers identify fact from fiction on the web for the past 10 years. On their website, educators will find resources, information, infographics, stats, and much more. Schedule a virtual visit, or catch up on their blog; News Literacy Project is a beneficial resource for all teachers.
  4. Factitious – Factitious is a Tinder-like game but involves news instead of potential dates. Created by JoLT, (a collaboration between American University’s GameLab and School of Communication tasked with exploring the intersection of journalism and game design) users are given a title and brief text of news and are to swipe right if they think it is real, or swipe left if they believe it to be fake. After guessing, users are given the link to the source and a brief summary statement, pointing to strategies that can be used to identify misinformation. This game is fun and fast-paced.
  5. Snopes – A website that many turn to first, Snopes is a resource that all educators and students should be aware of and use when questioning validity of digital information. What began in 1994 as David Mikkelson’s project to study Urban Legends has now “come to be regarded as an online touchstone of research on rumors and misinformation.” Snopes provides users with a description on their methods and selection on their about page, which is important information to point out to students. Users can search for a specific topic or check out the “What’s New” or “Hot 50” to be current on the misinformation and the actual truth that is spreading across the digital waves.
  6. Politifact – One word, Truth-O-Meter. PolitiFact’s core principles, “independence, transparency, fairness, thorough reporting and clear writing,” give citizens the information they need to govern themselves in a democracy. During the election of 2007, Politifact was born and has continued to fact-check and provide ratings on their Truth-O-Meter on all things political. From statements made by Politicians to bloggers, Politifact offers users information on a Global, National, and State level.
  7. CommonSense – Common Sense is a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Fortunately for all of us, CommonSense News and Media Literacy offers a  Toolkit for educators with strategies, resources, videos, and lessons to support understanding of news and media literacy and promotion of Digital Citizenship. This is a website to check frequently for updates, news, and excellent educator resources; one of my favorites!

 

Have I missed any of your favorites? Drop me a comment to investigate additional resources.

Strategies to Help Students Unlock Poetry

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Kids hate poetry. Well, not all kids, but by the time students entered my 9th Grade English class their feelings for poetry were typically between the levels of nonexistent to complete disdain. Students think poetry is difficult to understand, not relevant to their lives, or in a form that is not what they normally read or write.

Poetry depends on the effort of the reader.

Unlike a lengthy novel or even this blog post which allows me to write, explain, and use as much space as needed, poetry is intentional, compact, and demands an enhanced awareness from the reader. Educators can help students unlock the meaning of poems, which I believe, helps to change the negative perception of poetry into a positive one.  

Before Reading:

  • Notice the poet and title – what clues do they provide to help the reader understand the poem?
  • Identify form or visual clues – how many lines does the poem contain? (14 lines and looks like a square it is probably a sonnet) Is the structure familiar? Punctuation, font differences, stanzas, line placement (does the poem have a shape?) How could the form relate to the content?

After collecting initial thoughts based on the “Before Reading” preview of the poem, students should:

  • Read the poem multiple times
  • Read the poem out loud – your ears will pick up more than just reading it in your mind, does sound play an active role in the poem’s meaning?
  • Marginalia – annotate and make notes in the margins

During Reading:

  • Look up words that are unknown – every word that is in a poem is meant to be there. If a student does not know what a specific word means to have them look it up. Why did the author choose that specific word? How does knowing the definition of the word change what I am thinking?
  • Identify the speaker and situation – The speaker of the poem is not always the poet. What do I know about the speaker of this poem? Situation deals with time, location, and event. While a reader may not be able to identify all parts of the situation, the more one can identify aids into the understanding of the poem as a whole.
  • Identify tone
  • Notice rhythm and rhyme scheme – how is understanding enhanced?
  • Identify figurative language – imagery, metaphors, enjambment, slant rhyme, alliteration; how does the poet play with language and how does it enhance a reader’s understanding?
  • Notice the structure – Does the poem tell a story? Ask and answer a question? Structured like a speech or letter?

After Reading:

  • Reread margin notes
  • Reflect on notes, sound, information about the poem
  • Shared inquiry discussion with classmates

Providing students guidance and modeling on how readers unlock a poem’s meaning is a daunting task. Students should not be required to analyze and interpret every poem they read. Sometimes it is best to just read poems aloud to students, allowing them to appreciate the sound and interpret the poem holistically. In my own classroom, I would model these strategies of interpreting poetry for students before expecting them to do them on their own. We would read, write, and listen to all types of poems, some to unlock the meaning, others because I wanted them to hear some of my personal favorites. We would discuss poetry’s relationship to their lives, parallels to music, or current books they were reading all in verse. I wanted to reawaken their love of poetry, or at least open to giving it another chance.

When students become aware of intentional writing in poetry it enhances their awareness in the world. They begin to notice small nuances in what they see, read, watch, and hear and how these noticings amplify understanding of the world around them.

Classroom Discussions: 3 Strategies to Try this Week

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Classroom Discussions play an important role in student learning. It engages students, allows them to practice important life skills and is also a form of assessment for teachers. I rely on these interactions to help me gauge student understanding of topics and concepts. The following are a few of my favorite, and more unique, discussion strategies. Many of these ideas have been borrowed and modified for my own classroom.

First Things First – 

Establish classroom guidelines or norms for discussions. Ask students for input; they always have great ideas. Limit guidelines to 5 or fewer and use accessible language for all students. Here are my guidelines, along with brief explanations:

1. No Hands – when discussing, students must negotiate their own time and not speak over each other. They are speaking to EVERYONE in the classroom, not just to me.

2. Stay on Topic – although I love when discussions grow organically if Ophelia’s death quickly turns to school gossip I step in and refocus the group if a student hasn’t already.

3. Disagree with the Comment, DO NOT attack the person – Differing opinions make life interesting and classroom discussions fruitful. One of the most difficult things for students to understand is another student’s TRUTH is just as right and as strong as their own TRUTH.

4. No yelling, swearing, throwing chairs, etc. – I teach AP Literature. Our discussions often lead to religion, politics, gender, etc. and can get heated. These rules are necessary for the safety and climate of the classroom.

5. Ends at the Bell – nothing excites me more than when students are still talking about the class as they walk out the door, toppling  into lunchroom conversations or is brought up at home with parents; but, students are not to use anything that was said in the discussion in a negative way, whether in a different class or on the athletic field.  We all agree to disagree.

Strategies 

1. Fishbowl Tap-out   

*4 chairs placed in the middle of the room, while all students form an outside circle around the center group, thus forming a “fishbowl” effect.

*The 4 students sitting in the middle are the only ones allowed to speak. They are having a discussion with each other about topics at hand or what they read.

*If an outside circle student wishes to speak they must “tap-out” (on the shoulder) one of the 4 people. That person must stand and move to the outside circle. There is no refusing to leave once tapped-out.

*Students on the outside can be listening, backchanneling on a TodaysMeet, or taking notes on paper.

TIPS – Students should try to be in the “hot seat” at least once during the discussion, allow students 2 min. minimum before being tapped out, the teacher may have to ask a question if the discussion is stalling (otherwise they are a silent observer as well)

2. Body Voting   

*Provide students with a list of statements. Have them silently go through each one marking if they “Agree” or “Disagree”.

*Designate opposite areas in the classroom as “Agree” and “Disagree” zones

*Teacher reads the statement and students move to the area that represents their response.

*Discussion can ensue in a team-like fashion.

TIPS – This strategy takes up a lot of time, have students mark on their paper the top 3 or 4 statements they would like to discuss. Give students one minute to organize thoughts and points as a group before starting a discussion. Make students choose a side, there is no neutral.

3. SSC (Small Silent Collaboration)

*Divide students into small groups – no more than 4 per group works best.

*Have one student create a Google doc or Padlet and share with the group members AND the teacher.

*Students silently type important topics from their reading, questions they had, surprises from the passage, etc.

*Teacher monitors all group writing noting important discussion topics found in each.

*After a designated time, students discuss as a large group. The teacher has all the student-driven discussion topics in hand.

Co-constructing knowledge through classroom discussions encourages students to make their learning social. These strategies are a few of the more “unique” ones I use in my classroom. They are also the most effective in engaging students and encouraging participation!

Edtech Literacy Resources to Support English Learners

ShaeLynn Farnsworth @shfarnsworth1A common trait with the districts I work with is the increase of English Learners (ELs) in the classroom. With a focus on literacy, I am often asked to support teachers in their pursuit of providing the best resources and strategies for students. Over the next few days, I will be posting different ways to support ELs in the classroom in terms of literacy instruction. First up, Using Bilingual Books in the Classroom

Using bilingual books in the classroom is advantageous for all students and teachers. Books written in the home language of your students convey the message that you value and respect their culture, their experiences, and them as learners. It provides practice of applying and connecting reading and writing strategies from one language to another. Connecting or “bootstrapping” emergent literacy skills and strategies from a student’s home language to English is essential to the acquisition. ELs (English Learners) use “bootstrapping” when they use their home language to help them read and write English.

Teachers gain valuable insight into their EL students when noticing the connections being made and the strategies they are equipped with their home language and apply them to learning English. Bilingual books in the classroom provide these opportunities for observation as well as experiences for teachers to discern their own language acquisition when reading a text in an unfamiliar language.

The Bottom-Line is:

  • EL students are resourceful learners and use every resource and strategy available to do well in school.
  • Having books in multiple home languages helps to build relationships and honors students as learners.
  • It’s easier to learn something new when it stems from something familiar. Providing books in multiple languages for students gives access to information and choice in reading.
  • Teachers can help bring connections between languages, as well as notice strategies students already possess when providing books in home languages for students to read.

Sources for Bilingual Books

Digital Resources

  • ManyThings.org  (Multiple audio recordings)
  • Unite for Literacy (Books with audio available in multiple languages)
  • Newsela (NF, Multiple Text-Levels, Spanish and English)
  • TweenTribune (NF, Multiple Text-Levels, Spanish & English)
  • Latinitas  (Focused on empowering young Latinas using media and technology, digital magazine)
  • ReadWorks (lessons, texts, and resources for EL students and teachers)
  • MackinVia (library filled with digital books students can read and are available in multiple languages)

Finally, here is a list of activities that educators can do to accompany bilingual books in the classroom:

  • Use for the promotion of metalinguistic awareness.
  • Prepare students for new content for an upcoming unit as a sort of preview.
  • Free reading choice.
  • Self-assessment and monitoring comprehension.
  • Compare the texts in both versions with a focus on tone, word choice in each, evaluate each text.
  • Bring books home to involve families in literacy activities.
  • Write their own companion book for a text.
  • Use picture books and work on oral language acquisition.

Source: Nancy Cloud, Fred Genesee, and Elsa Hamayan. Literacy Instruction for English Language Learners.