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.

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!

 

 

Fake News Should Die… Or Should It?

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is “how do we fight the fake news epidemic?”

 

Recently, Fake News has been getting a bad reputation, I’m hoping this post changes that!

Over half of Americans get their news from just one social media site – Facebook and 45% of US adults say government politicians and elected officials bear a great deal of responsibility for preventing made-up stories from gaining attention (Pew Research Center,  December 15, 2016). These statistics alarm me. Not the first one highlighting where people find information, but the second claim in which many feel the responsibility of identifying and stopping the spread of fake information resides with the government.

It is essential for educators to develop healthy skepticism within each child; critical discerners of information that are able to evaluate, analyze, and apply information that they encounter throughout their lifetime, no matter the mode.

Information is doubling every 12 days, containing fake news, half-truths, alternate facts, and reliable information; and while there are many resources (my list here) and blog posts written that offer apps, website, fact-checkers, and lessons plans for educators to utilize, we must not overlook the charge of education in our pursuit of combating fake news –  to develop independent, critical thinkers.

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A conversation I had with my 7th grade son and his friends this morning:

Me: What do you know about fake news?

Son: What do you mean?

Son’s friend: Didn’t you see President Trump on the news yesterday talking about news sources…

After a brief discussion on politics

Me: So what should we do with people or news sources that report and spread fake news?

Son: Fine them, make them pay…

Son’s friend: They should get jail time.

All the boys: Yes, jail time and not be allowed to report fake news. The government needs to shut those people down…

Me: So the government should police the internet, news sources, social media, conversations and get rid of all of the fake news?

Deep Thought

Son’s friend: Well that means I could be thrown in jail… or we could end up like North Korea…

BINGO!

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Fake news is not a bad thing. In fact, it provides teachable moments for educators across the globe. It begs us to consider who or what determines information as fake? And How can we support kids in their pursuit of understanding? The discernment of information and the application to construct one’s own understanding should be practiced and refined in every classroom across the country. With that being said, the importance of what should be done with fake information and the people or corporations that report this news as truth is a piece of the conversation that is missed.

 

  • What exactly is fake news?
  • Would killing off fake news truly help people?
  • Does allowing others to determine what information you have access to leave you with only factual and correct information?
  • Who should police the internet?
  • What role should the government play in determining access to information?
  • Does killing off fake news equal censorship?
  • Is censorship needed?
  • Can censorship be both good and bad?
  • Can censorship and freedom of speech coexist?

Resources, websites, fact-checkers are nice. They support an individual’s pursuit of knowledge. We use them as adults and we should definitely model and share them with students.

But

DO NOT forget the second part of the conversation, one in which students understand the value of fake news in the age of information. The conversation that includes the tough discussions on freedom of speech, critical thinking, approaching information with healthy skepticism, and censorship.

Special thanks to Shawn McCusker and Steven Anderson for sharing information freely!

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.

10 Tenets of a Student-Centered Writing Classroom

 

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Today my work consisted of supporting educators on how to teach writing. Upon reflection, we realized that very few of us remember being specifically taught how to teach writing. Sure, we learned a lot about content, genres, and types of writing; but not one person raised their hand when I asked if they had an undergrad program that explicitly taught them how to teach writing. Empowering kids through writing is my passion, and I am driven to change the writing landscape that is found in many schools!

As a teacher of writing, I believe there are 10 Tenets of a Student-Centered Writing Classroom

  1. Teach the Writer, not the Writing – Focus on the learning, not the end product.
  2. Write in Front of your Students – Dispel the notion that writing is magic. Let young writers see and hear your process as you write in front of them.
  3. State the Why – Explain why Good Writers use specific skills, strategies, and resources when they write.
  4. Focus on Transferable Skills and Strategies – Answer and remind young writers how the skill or strategy can be used today and whenever they write. 
  5. Student Choice – Transfer ownership by letting students choose what they write about. Is it really about the content or is the content the vehicle in which demonstration occurs? Learning to Write, not Writing to Learn.
  6. Student Voice – Developing voice takes practice. Have students write often and in various genres. 
  7. Write for Real – An authentic audience and writing purpose engages young writers, provides relevance to writing, and allows them to share their story with the world.
  8. Surround Writers with Exemplars– Collect and share examples of writers and writings that students can gain inspiration from or that challenge them to apply a similar technique in their own writing.
  9. Differentiate – Pull small groups of writers or confer one to one with students based on needs and goals. While whole class instruction is efficient, small groups or one to one learning is more effective.
  10. Never Forget the Share – Honor the hard work young writers do through the share at the end of the class. Sharing promotes a safe community, builds relationships, and can target a teaching point!