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!

Educators Sharing #WhyIWrite to Celebrate The National Day on Writing

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In 2009, the Senate passed a resolution recognizing October 20 as the National Day on Writing.

Every year, thousands of educators, students, and writers celebrate by tweeting reasons why they write using the hashtag #WhyIWrite. Celebrations and activities are planned in classrooms across the nation uniting writers, recognizing the benefits of writing, and voicing the importance of writing!

Getting Students Involved

In the classroom, my former students shared their voices on Twitter. Beautiful and profound statements were succinctly tweeted followed by a curation of their favorite tweets throughout the day. As a class, my students gathered their favorite tweets from the #WhyIWrite feed and created multimodal projects sharing the many voices. For example, some  used Storify to collect and share their favorite tweets. Other tools my students used to collect, create and share were:  iMovie, YouTube, Pinterest, blogs, and Word Cloud generators.

This year I challenged educators to share #WhyIWrite.

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More Information

Thank You and Be Sure to Follow

If you have a #WhyIWrite message to share, please send it to me and I will add it!

3 Alternatives for Generating Citations

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Just as one should always backup their pictures, documents, and videos in multiple places; so should educators always have a backup for their favorite digital resources, tools, and apps. In the blink of an eye, something that was accessible yesterday could vanish into the digital abyss just as the recent deletion of the Research Tool in Google Docs. Educators and students had grown accustomed to the search and citation options available with the “Research Tool” and many are now scrambling for alternatives…

Here are 3 Citation Generating Alternatives to Consider:

 

  1. logo-easybib-cheggEasyBib – A free citation generator that is available online, as an app, extension, and as a Google Doc Add-On. EasyBib is also offering a free EasyBibEdu account for all educators for the 2016-17 school year. Not only can you generate citations using MLA, APA, and Chicago styles, with EasyBib, you can also create notecards, outlines, and avoid plagiarism and check the reliability of websites.

 

  1.  citation-machine-logoCitation MachineA free tool that helps “students and research professionals properly credit the information that they use. Its primary goal is to make it so easy for student researchers to cite their information sources, that there is virtually no reason not to.” It allows users to choose from 4 styles – MLA, APA, Chicago, and Tribune. It is a web resource that is simple to use.

 

  1.  refme-logoRefMe – Also a free web tool that allows users to create citations and manage them by scanning the barcode. Choose from over 7,000 styles to fit requirements. RefMe also allows you to share your list of citations with others making it perfect for collaboration and group work. RefMe is a web resource and also an app. Cut and paste citations into documents or download the entire bibliography.

 

No one is happy when a widely used digital tool suddenly disappears.

As educators, we need to model to our students how to readjust and seek alternatives. And remember, most digital tools have feedback options so users can share their likes or needs with the creators. You can find Google’s feedback form here. Help to improve Google’s products for all user, let them know your thoughts.  

Guided Reading Made Simple

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Guided Reading is appropriate for any grade level and is part of a balanced literacy program. Even as adults, we gain skills to understand new or difficult texts (epubs, infographics, poetry, microblogging). Guided reading helps educators differentiate in the classroom and aims to “develop independent readers who question, consider alternatives, & make informed choices.” – Mooney 

By the time students enter the third grade, they have decoding skills and guided reading is used to provide explicit instruction to develop powerful readers. Reading is understanding! And through guided reading students continue to add strategies to their toolbox that will help them understand any difficult text they encounter.

Before starting guided reading:

  1. Establish routines that support independent work and classroom management so small groups can be pulled for instruction.
  2. Identify groups of 5 or 6 students that read at the same instructional level or who have similar strategy needs.
  3. Groups are temporary and dynamic, based on need and should be changed when assessment and behavior dictate.
  4. Older students are less likely to display reading behavior because most processing is done automatically and unconsciously, but they are able to write and talk about their understanding and reading processes better than younger students.

Once groups have been established:

  1. Select text based on the instructional level of readers.
  2. Introduce the text, modeling strategies good readers use to understand what they read.
  3. Students read the whole text or designated portion of a longer piece. This is done independently and silently. During this time, teachers can observe and note reading behaviors, have individual students read a portion orally, work with another small group or conference with individual students.
  4. When the everyone is done reading, students discuss the text with the support of the teacher.
  5. Based on notes or the discussion, the teacher models 1 or 2 strategies students need and then apply to the text.
  6. Two optional guided reading components include an extension activity. Students continue learning through writing activities,  sketchnoting, or even a multimedia response. Word work is another option that could take place after the text is read.

Guided reading is effective and efficient to boost student achievement in the area of reading comprehension.  Often it is met with hesitation, educators are unsure of how it “looks” in the classroom. Following the framework above helps to alleviate those  fears providing structure to a powerful balanced literacy component.

Source: Fountas and Pinnell

 

 

3 Instructional Strategies to Support Literacy in all Classrooms

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“All educators are teachers of literacy”

– a common phrase I echo when speaking or writing. Notice, I did not say “All educators are teachers of reading,” which would demand a skill set many educators do not have, although that is often what most people think when they hear the first statement. There are no expectations for educators at the middle and high school grades to understand reading instruction (phonological awareness, decoding, fluency, etc.), instead, expectations reside in supporting student understanding in literacy acquisition in discipline-specific consumption and creation.

The Question Becomes How?

With this lens, fears often subside and educators realize that they are the EXPERT in that content area. The question then turns to – How? Zooming out to a wider view of discipline literacy, one understands that much content learning by students is done through reading or viewing and their demonstration of understanding is exhibited through writing or communicating in some form. From the larger view, teachers can then zoom back into specific disciplines and ask themselves what are the skills a student must possess to tackle discipline-specific texts (which includes multiple modes) and what components of communication do I need to teach in order for students write and create in a discipline-specific way.

3 Instructional Strategies

The How is one area that I am often asked to address with staff. I offer 3 Instructional Strategies that are applicable to any discipline and support literacy in any classroom:

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ExamplesA History Teacher demonstrating how historians read and make sense of primary sources. Read/think aloud text – Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. A reading strategy historians often use is to consider the time period it was written in and what was happening in the world during that time to help them understand meaning and context. This would be modeled aloud to students.  Math –  Rafranz Davis shared with me a movement among math educators, shifting the focus from test made questions to real-world problems. During a read/think aloud in math class,  Davis suggests utilizing Polya’s 4 Step Method as a model to demonstrate to students – 1. Understand the problem. 2. Devise a plan. 3. Carry out the plan. 4. Look Back. Students can call upon this strategy anytime they approach an unfamiliar example.

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ExampleAlice Keeler provided the perfect example foridentifying Concept and Label vocabulary in a math classroom. Students are given a problem to solve and explain their thinking around parabolic, cubic, and porabolas within the context of 2 illustrations, one is a visual of a climbing path for El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, the other a water fountain. Parabolic would be an example of a Concept vocabulary term, as opposed to Yosemite, bagging the peak, or bushwhacking. The last 3 terms are ones the teacher would define for students and move on, on the other hand, concept vocabulary would demand more attention in both the instruction via the teacher and the acquisition and demonstration by the student. Providing a non-example, such as the climbing path, also pushes kids to think differently and solidify their demonstration of understanding of a concept.

 

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Example – A science teacher uses multiple lab reports published in a scientific journal as a mentor example. Students examine how the data sets were organized, recurring vocabulary, and structure. The content of the lab report may not be an area that is covered in the course, but as a mentor example, students to grasp the essential components of a lab report – how labels work to inform to support the format, the proper way to insert lists and data into the report, and when longer explanations are needed in paragraph form on lab reports.

 

Once educators understand the Why of discipline-specific literacy, the How is the next step in learning. Applying these 3 instructional strategies will help students consume and create discipline-specific literacies.

Sources:

Polya – Berkely  

What is Disciplinary Literacy and Why it Matters – Shanahan & Shanahan