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.

7 Characteristics to Look For when Purchasing New Curriculum/Programs

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It’s that time of the year again when schools across the country are looking to purchase new curriculum and programs. Often times the big rocks that make things best for kids are masked by bells and whistles. Part of my role is helping educators determine which programs and curriculum are right for their staff and students. I believe that no one program or curriculum meets all standards or needs of all students, but there are definite factors that schools should consider before purchases are made.

7 Characteristics to Look For when Purchasing New Curriculum/Programs

  1. Direction – Before making a purchase of new curriculum it is important to understand the mission and goals of the program. After an introduction to the program, educators should have a clear understanding of the direction the program intends to deliver as well as the means in which to arrive. Look for both a larger conceptual mission of the curriculum that reach both inside and outside of the school as well as smaller goals aligned with the mission.
  2. Standards – All teachers follow some sort of standards or guide in which to embed curriculum and write student learning targets. Whether you are using the Common Core State Standards or a different roadmap to guide instruction be sure that there is alignment between the two. I again want to reiterate that while no program or curriculum materials reach all Standards or student needs, there are definite discrepancies between the quality available from each company.
  3. Learning Cycles – Within each program or set of curriculum materials, there should be evidence of learning cycles. Look for assessment in both pre and post formats, objectives, steps, scaffolds, timelines, etc. When purchasing programs that are meant to meet the needs of students all of these factors come into play during instruction and learning.
  4. Resources – When identifying which programs or curriculum to purchase it is essential to consider the resources included (or not included) for successful implementation. Resources involve materials for both teachers and students, people and time, technology integration, and also alternatives. Having to create or find material, people, and time that was not expected at the initial time of purchase can be detrimental to any new program or curriculum.
  5. Professional Learning – Knowing what professional learning is available for programs and curriculum schools are considering purchasing helps plan for roll-out, implementation, as well as systemic change. Professional learning could come in a variety of forms from on-site training, manuals, digital resources, and communities. While purchasing high-quality materials is an investment in kids, a better investment is in the educators that are working with students. Do not neglect this area when making a purchase. What typically happens is spotty use and frustrated staff members.
  6. Student-Centered – When purchasing new curriculums or programs it is important to always keep the student at the center of your decision. Students should recognize themselves (backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, etc.) in the texts. Materials targeted to engage youth at appropriate ages. Subjects that are important and relevant to students. Does the material allow for choice in content or demonstration of understanding? Is there a variety of instructional styles designed to meet more than one “type” or student needs.
  7. Continuous Improvement – Finally, it is also important to identify resources within programs and curriculum that allow for interventions, spiral or scaffolded learning, enrichment activities, and multi-lingual support for our EL students. Do they value reflection and metacognition empowering students to own their learning?  Are there clear ways information and data collected informs instruction and supports educators enhance learning for ALL students in their classroom?

(Adapted from David W. Moore)

I also like to gauge the group whose charge it is to identify and select programs/curriculum to purchase. I use this form and share the results with the school leadership team so that all voices are heard. Feel free to make your own copy to use.

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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!

What Gift Does Your Content Area Give to Children?

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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.