What Gift Does Your Content Area Give to Children?

Gifts

Creativity, Problem-Solving, Self-Expression, Lifelong Communication Skills, Science, Thrive not Just Survive, Communication through Images; these thoughts, along with numerous other words and phrases that were shared, are gifts teachers give to their students through their content areas. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to work with a group of educators from GHVS. The focus for the day was Cross-Discipline Literacy Strategies. Along with strategies to support literacy skills across the disciplines, I wanted the educators to keep in mind two points. First, every content area offers kids gifts; and second, to remember, they are the best reader and writer in the classroom.

While a common misconception is that cross-discipline literacy requires the use and study of non-relevant texts in content areas (ex. the teaching of Huck Finn in Industrial Technology), this was NOT a belief shared by the staff members at GHVS. A separate post could be written about the administration team at GHVS, but for now, I will simply state, the climate and culture in this district is one I wish I could share with others around the globe. First, the administration team has a clear focus and it is communicated with staff members, who they treat as professionals. Secondly, staff members believe that all students are the responsibility of ALL staff members. Finally, each educator came to the day with an open mind and collaborative spirit, helping each other through the sharing of strategies and practice is a norm for this staff!

With a positive culture, educators can do anything! And although the gifts that they felt their content area gave to students differed, they all agreed that promoting content-related literacy was something that helped to make these goals achievable. Providing instructional strategies, reading strategies, and writing strategies that are applied to content-specific “texts” increase comprehension and students’ ability to create similar forms of communication. We want savvy consumers of information, but also creators of content!

My passion, in education, is helping to support these gifts we give to students, specifically in the areas of literacy and technology. Here are a few of the strategies we used during the learning, as well as technology to support:

Sharing Cross-Discipline Literacy EDventureTo kickoff the day, staff members were randomly sorted into teams. Each group was given a pre-made set of slides (click on the image to the left to view an example set of slides). On each slide there was a link to a “point” on a Google Map that contained a text type and questions to answer. After each slide was filled out for the appropriate “point”, teams clicked on the next link (located on the bottom of the slide) which took them to the next “point” and text type. Staff members felt this game-based competition was engaging, relevant, and immersed them into thinking about text types! In fact, they have set up a time for further training on how to create a Google Map Adventure to use in their own classrooms.

When the Skill is Lacking, What Strategies  Will You Use to Make Meaning?

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (1)

 

Reading Strategy #1: Question and Purpose   Each staff member was required to bring 2 pieces of “text” that their students would read/view with them to the Professional Learning day. After the opener, they paired up with someone who was not in their content area. Each person shared their “text” and their partner then answered the following questions: If the “text” is the answer, what is the question? and What is the purpose of this text? This activity was eye opening. Staff members recorded their thought on a Padlet.(a virtual bulletin board where one can post text, images and video; collaborative and easy to use).

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (2)

Reading Strategy #2: Text/Me/So                    For this next strategy, the teachers actually applied it while digging into the Cross-discipline reading standards (click the image to view the template). This strategy requires the reader to use text evidence in the “Text” column, interpret and write in own words in the “Me” column, and finally make the connection or explain their understanding or application in the “SO” column. This effective strategy can be used on any “text” and is an easy fit cross-disciplines.

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (3) Reading Strategy #3: KWHLAQ                       This reading strategy takes a contemporary spin on the traditional KWL charts (click on this image to make a copy of this template to use in your classroom) that we have used in the past. While applying this strategies, educators read the Iowa Core cross-discipline writing anchor standards. The “K” column helps to activate prior knowledge by asking the reader what they already know about a topic or concept. Each letter of this acronym provides a specific task/purpose for the reader. This strategy could be used for a short piece of text, or could be utilized across a whole unit (for instance, when we studied Romeo and Juliet, my students used this organizer).

RAFTs Writing Strategy #1: RAFTs                                RAFTs strategy is a writing to learn strategy to help students understand lens and bias. (click on the image to read my blog post detailing RAFTs strategies). Staff members applied their notes from the KWHLAQ reading strategy to RAFTs. Each team chose a specific role (which could be anyone or anything,from a teacher or future boss to the voice of a pencil), a specific audience (student, parent, board member), format (letter, blog post, list), and purpose in the form of a strong verb. The topic was the same in each piece written: Iowa Core Cross-discipline Writing Standards.

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (4)Writing Strategy #2: Mindmapping                 Another writing to learn strategy is mindmapping. Here students demonstrate their understanding of a concept or topic through a visual, in the form of a map. Using Google Draw, the staff members created their own mindmap (cause-effect, flow chart, sequential) utilizing Google Draw to demonstrate their own understanding of a group members “text”. (Mindmaps are great for graphic organizers. Google Draw could also be used as formative assessment, think Exit tickets)

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (5)Writing Strategy #3: Infographics                   In almost every content area, Infographics can be used as a writing to learn strategy. Analyzing, evaluating, synthesizing; all of these cognitive operations can be applied to a text and then comprehension demonstrated through the use of an infographic. Canva (click image to access website) provides free templates for creating professional-looking infographics.

The day ended with a return to the gifts that we give to students in our specific content-areas, a sharing of the work that we did during the day, and a reflection on the value placed on pedagogical practices that support the students’ comprehension and creation of “text” across the discipline. On the way out the door, a student teacher stopped me and said, not only was this a fun day, but in college, it is hard to understand your role in literacy as a music teacher. Having a collaborative environment that even the physical education teacher could share ideas for me to use was nothing like I ever experienced before! I am a teacher of literacy, and the gift I give to students is communication through music!

My Mission – Accomplished!

All of my slides from the day can be found HERE

RAFT Prompts & Technology: Writing to Learn Across the Disciplines

RAFTsStudents need an arsenal of literacy strategies to apply in their personal and academic lives. The ability to locate, evaluate, synthesize, analyze, and compose content across multiple communication platforms demand educators to reevaluate their role in literacy. Middle school and high school teachers find this a daunting request, often confusing “Learning to Write” and “Writing to Learn,” and struggle to incorporate strategies to help students Read, Write, and Think in content areas.

“Learning to Write” involves explicit instruction, ranging from Kindergarten lessons in decoding, to understanding grammar or tone as Juniors. Learning to write focuses on a writing process to guide instruction. It can be used across the curriculum; having students construct a persuasive essay in social studies in support of democracy is an example. Through feedback, revision, and conferencing the social studies instructor is supporting the student through a writing process.

“Writing to Learn” provides opportunities for students to explain their current understanding of the learning and concepts being explored in the classroom. As a catalyst for future learning, writing to learn strategies have students recall, question, and clarify what they know and what they are still curious about. Writing to learn strategies often include a teacher developed prompt, but differ in that they are not typically writing pieces that students edit, revise, and take to the publishable state. Instead, students reflect, apply, and demonstrate their current understanding; teachers use this information to help guide future instruction as a type of formative assessment.

Students can learn perspective during writing to learn by using RAFTs Prompts. This acronym stands for:

  • R – Role (who is the writer, what is the role of the writer?)
  • A – Audience (to whom are you writing?)
  • F – Format (what format should the writing be in?)
  • T – Topic (what are you writing about?)                                                                                   and typically added
  • S – Strong Verb (why are you writing this? or purpose:Inform, Argue, Persuade, Entertain)

Gradual Release of Responsibility will help set students up for writing RAFTs prompts. At first, students may answer the same prompt:

  • R – A Jewish prisoner in a Concentration Camp
  • A – Cousin who fled to America
  • F – Letter
  • T – Their living conditions
  • S – Express

When students grasp the RAFTs strategy, student can play more of an active role in the design of the prompt by choosing to fill out the letters themselves . Allowing students to demonstrate understanding through a particular lens and chosen format increases engagement, relevance, and ownership. RAFTs Prompts can be used as formative assessment, to spark discussion, can be created from course content or readings, and can be completed individually or in a small group.

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 5.04.13 PMThrough the addition of technology, teachers can use this strategy as an exit ticket, responded via Google Form. The responses are collected in one spot and the form can be reused. This snapshot of understanding is perfect for determining focus for the next day’s instruction.

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 4.47.59 PMHave students create a comic strip demonstrating understanding of a concept  using Comix. Easy and free to use, comix allows any child to show their creative-side one thought bubble at a time.

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Understanding informational text or a sequential process can easily be demonstrated through Canva. Students can choose from many different layouts and design options to create a professional and free infographic that can be downloaded and shared!

 

 

 

RAFTs Prompts, used as a writing to learn strategy, provides students time to read, think, and write across multiple disciplines and using multiple modes and genres. Allowing student choice in part or all of the selected components increases meaning and engagement, launching our students into the mindset of utilizing writing to work through their understanding of concepts!

 

Fisher, Frey. Improving Adolescent Literacy: Content Area Strategies at Work. Columbus: Pearson, 2008.

 

 

The Teaching of Writing, A Promise to Students

A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop Middle School Grades (1-3)

Frequently, the answer to the question posed above is one met with hesitation. While most of us can answer the type of reading or math instruction a student will receive in our school, writing instruction is one area that is often glossed over, or assumed to be present in the ELA classroom. Teaching students to write is viewed as complicated, and many teachers resort to focusing on grammar and conventions. While these two areas should be included in any writing program, they often extinguish the love of writing in students. Likewise, rarely does a department or school have a comprehensive writing program; one that scaffolds and builds off of the previous year’s instruction. Typically, it is a game left to chance if a child receives writing instruction by a highly-qualified teacher; and even then, without an intentional writing program agreed upon by the department and school, gaps in writing instruction equal little growth seen in students.

The Common Core gives as much attention to writing as it does reading. In fact, three of the reading standards require students to read like writers. “Writing is assumed to be the vehicle through which a great deal of the critical thinking, reading work, and reading assessment will occur” (Lucy Calkins). Students abilities to read and understand will be assessed through their ability to write. The Core also provides an infrastructure into which a curriculum can be developed. Vertical alignment to the core provides foundations a student learned prior onto which one can stand upon and build from.

BUT…

The Core is the WRONG answer to give as to why one should reform their writing curriculum… instead,

  • You believe in kids.
  • You believe in democracy.
  • You believe in the right for all people’s voices to be heard.
  • You believe that writers make choices for deliberate reasons.

(Calkins, UoS)

The Standard-based approach to writing includes a shared commitment by the whole school, it is the work of everyone. Writing, like reading and math, is one of those subjects that affect a learner’s ability to succeed in other areas. Finally, there is a shared commitment to teach writing, and some infrastructure that assures enough of a curriculum that teachers can build off of prior instruction.

Lucy Calkins also outlines the “bottom-line conditions” needed for writing. I have created an infographic highlighting these conditions.

Conditions for writing

Complete slides found here

A Powerful Lesson: Dismantling Hate Rhetoric

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As an advocate of literacy, I believe that it is essential to equip students with the necessary skills to not only communicate their message effectively and on multiple platforms including digital ones; but also to create critical consumers of information. Modeling and honing these skills allows students to discern digital information, analyze and evaluate what they read, and develop clear arguments. The Common Core has placed great emphasis, not only on reading standards, but also on writing standards, to prepare students for the increasing rate at which information is generated and distributed.

Discernment of digital information is daunting. Reliable and relevant resources are intermixed with fictitious and fallacy-laden websites. Today, our students must sift through the plethora of resources, identifying information, not only for learning, but for social and entertainment. As an educator, I have many stories of students citing unreliable sources, but one specific example that happened years ago helped to shift my thinking.

It was during senior writing class, and students were sharing their multi-genre iSearch projects. A young man shared his view on Martin Luther King Jr., and informed the class about the “truth” concerning man that we consider a great leader. He had information, graphics, and even small cards to pass out to classmates who wanted to learn more…

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Upon further investigation, I realized he was citing information, as well as printing, from the website,  MartinLutherKing.org,  which, at first glance, seems like a credible resource; but upon further investigation, one learns is hosted by StormFront, a white supremacist group. This teachable moment fueled a shift in my thinking from one of just simply promoting digital literacies, to one of empowering students to be advocates for themselves and others.

Hate is real and ubiquitous. From conversations and propaganda, to digital information and the wilds of college, I knew that my students were unable to identify and argue against the fallacies that invaded their lives. I needed an activity that not only encouraged students to examine language, but required them to dismantle the hate that was now burning in their hands from the flyer their classmate just passed out. And all of this, without seeming biased, leading, or threatening.

***

I had forgotten about this unit until a recent #CAedchat. The topic, “Making Safe Spaces for LGBTQ Youth” moderated, that week, by my friends @LS_Karl and @JStevens009 evoked a memory of this unit, and a promise to share in a blog post.

Disclaimer: This unit was influenced and created through the ideas and sharing of many educators. Teaching Tolerance is a great resource for educators interested in “diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools”;  and because of this, it was where I started.

Driving Question: Does the right to Free Speech extend to hate groups?

To begin the unit, students, individually, completed the Anticipatory Activity which allowed them to reflect on their current thinking. At the end of the unit, these prompts were again revisited and reflected upon.

As a large group, I read the following except  from the NAAWP (National Association for the Advancement of White People). Found Here  I gave each student a copy as I read it aloud to them. Next, students returned to the text, highlighting information they felt may not be true, but sounded like the author was stating it as fact.

Through a class discussion and a sharing of textual evidence, emotions, and frustrations, I introduced the concept of fallacies. Very few students had an understanding of fallacies and how language was used to manipulate the intended audience. A short introduction, followed by the completion of this Common Fallacies used in Hate Rhetoric sheet, students were paired and invited to select a paragraph from the NAAWP text I shared earlier and label their highlights with the corresponding fallacy.

The next day, I modeled the dismantling of the Martin Luther King website, hosted by Stormfront. I not only identified fallacies used in the text, but also analyzed and evaluated the website as a whole, using this sheet as a guide.

Students then chose a specific website to, independently, practice the skills. I shared with them the  Hate Directory  as a place to start (fyi, many of these sites had to be unblocked at school because they were filtered automatically).

The following day students had 3 mins to share their findings.

Reflection… This is still one of my most fondest memories in teaching . No matter gender, race, or creed; all students were engaged, viewing information, dismantling language and sharing their analysis. In fact, years later, I had a student share with me that this unit, and the understanding of fallacies and language use, was something that “they actually used” after graduation. They were involved in a conversation with a group of new friends and recognized the fallacies and inconsistencies that spewed from the mouth of another. Not only were they able to refute the claims, but they were also able to support their rebuttal by naming the fallacies! (I was smiling the whole time my former student was sharing the story!)

Resources:

Teaching Tolerance

Hate Directory 

Videos for Teaching Fallacies

iMoments: Student Voice, The Story of Leo

Life has a funny way of tugging on those memories that need revisiting, reflecting, and ultimately shared with the world. When the ADE application opened, my friend Sue Gorman gently nudged me to apply. Although my educational journey with Apple started long ago (2009, 1 to 1 high school English teacher), I had never applied for the honor of being named an Apple Distinguished Educator. Fear of rejection paralyzed my application submission each time. Fortunately, this year was different (thank you Don Goble) , and when an application question asked me to share how student learning was transformed in my classroom, one story kept rising to the top – This is the story of Leo.

***leo***

Teaching in a small school allowed me the opportunity to have students as freshmen and again as seniors, and when Leo came through the door his final year of high school I could tell there had been many positive changes in his life. Leo shared with me that he had lost a considerable amount of weight, was looking forward to his final year of high school, and finally met a girl that he cared a great deal about. Things were good!

Enrolled in my Creative Writing class, and having recently implemented a 1 to 1 Laptop Initiative, Leo and his classmates experienced a different educational environment than those students from previous years. Students became a community of writers in the Apple environment. A digital writer’s workshop emerged, utilizing multimodal communication throughout the writing process. A blogging community evolved, connecting my students with peers in four other schools across the Midwest. The shift in audience wasn’t the only powerful impact on student learning. Student choice often dictated not only content of their writing, but mode in which it was shared.  Along with traditional text, Leo and his classmates used imovies to create multimedia productions to share their voice, and were in the process of finishing podcasts based off of NPR’s “This I Believe” when tragedy struck.

A car accident resulted in the untimely death of Leo.

The students and community were shocked. The next day, the students turned to their writing community for support and reflection. They reread pieces Leo had shared, comments he had left on their work, and then approached me about Leo’s “This I Believe” statement. Unfortunately, I did not possess a copy; but, Leo and I had conferenced earlier that week and I was able to share the happiness and joy that filled his life during this time.

 A few days later, at his funeral, when we opened the program there was an inserted sheet containing Leo’s “This I Believe” statement. You see, his writing, his words, a piece of him was left in the stories that were recovered on his Macbook, and his mother wanted all of us to have copy. Apple technologies helped to reimagine the writing classroom, provided students the ability to share their story, promotes student voice and self-expression in ways unimagined before now.

And as graduation approached, the senior class took a line from his writing and it became their class motto. I can’t imagine a more meaningful gesture, a fitting tribute to their friend.  Through Leo’s words, his legacy lives forever.

***

Permission and blessing given by Sue Barten, Leo’s mother