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

Cross Discipline Literacy: Technology Infused Anticipatory Activities

Literacy- Content Strategies That Work (1)

Currently, I am digging deeper into cross-discipline literacy strategies to support the educators I serve. Many non-ELA educators find teaching and modeling literacy skills to students a daunting task. It is my goal to break-down common barriers that teachers face, and to equip them with research-backed strategies to implement into their own classroom.

Currently, I am reading, Improving Adolescent Literacy: Content Area Strategies at Work (Fisher and Frey), which I would recommend as an excellent resource with practical strategies, including supporting struggling readers and ELL students.

In the chapter entitled, “Attention Getters: Anticipatory Activities to Inspire Learning,” Fisher and Frey state that anticipatory activities should not be focused on behavior, for example, bell ringers, time-bound, but instead should be tied to the introduction of a new concept. Anticipatory activities should elicit curiosity, provoke questions, and evoke recall and activate background knowledge. These activities are not intended to provide entertainment, but instead, to scaffold learning so that the responsibility shifts to the student. In fact, they suggest to ground new learning in meaning-based inquiry.

Literacy- Content Strategies That Work

1. Demonstration

  • Display a theory, concept, or phenomenon
  • An interesting demonstration does not replace the need for deep exploration of a concept
  • Also important to tell students the “Why”
  • Technology Tip: Connect with Experts via Social Media and connect with experts for demonstrations, guest speakers, or other classrooms. Check out G+ for “hangouts” and communities (my students connected with poets to learn from and share with the poems they wrote)

2. Discrepant Events

  • Surprising or startling to command students’ attention
  • Staged performance
  • Powerful to aid in memory – emotional connection
  • Include music, art, dramatic play
  • Technology Tip: Students are passionate about censorship, bullying, etc. Use iphoneFakeText to create a fictitious conversation between two students or you and the principal to evoke an emotional connection and introduce a concept.

3. Visual Displays

  • Visual tools to construct knowledge
  • Active participation by the learner because of the interactive nature of “technoliteracies”
  • Construct, share, and interact with information
  • Technology Tip: Use Google Maps to view pictures pre and post a natural disaster, such as a tornado, tsunami, or fire. Let students experience the devastation, visually.

4. Thought-Provoking Questions

  • This helps to assist students in organizing information
  • Meant to appeal to emotional channels of learning
  • May be general (KWLSH)  or more specific to the unit and encourage interdisciplinary examination “What is a hero?”
  • Driving or essential questions
  • Technology Tip: Use Popplet to have students mind-map and organize components to a specific concept.

Each of these instructional strategies can be used to introduce a new concept and provide meaningful work for students! And although these strategies may not be considered new, they provide a specific reason of what, why and possibly why. The best part… they are not content-specific and can be applied across grade levels and content area.

Improving Digital Literacy: 3 Google Games to Tickle Your Dendrites

Technology allows one to create and share in ways that once, only existed in theory. And while many blog posts focus on creation in a technology-rich educational environment;  computing devices also offer a variety of tips, tricks, and best practices to help our students improve their digital literacy skills. The average student spends much more time searching the internet for information than they do the stacks in the local library; because of this, it is essential to model and scaffold the search-savvy methods. By doing this, we, as educators, help diminish the misinformation consumed by our students; instead creating independent, discerners of information, able to locate reliable and relevant information.

Most recently, at Googlefest in Montana, I shared a plethora of digital tools (Slides found here) to aid in formative assessment; including 3 Google Games that are engaging, relevant, and provide practice for students to hone digital literacy skills.

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A Google A Day – Improve student searches by having them solve “A Google a Day”. Students Google their way through the internet in search of the answer to a new question posted daily.  (Check out the “Tips and Tricks” tab, full of useful searching terms everyone should know).

Google_Maps_Smarty_Pins_Putting_Trivia_On_The_Map-630x377Smarty Pins – A Google Maps trivia game. Select one of six topics, anything from “Sports and Games” to “History and Current Events”. When you start the game, a trivia questions pops up, along with a “hint” button for extra help, and a “pin” to drop on the Google Map to signify your guess.

Just like today there are many online games you can play, but there is this online casino game that is best known in Canada. So if you need further details you may check our site.

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Google Feud – This fun, but surprisingly difficult game has students guessing the top “searches” that are used in their search engine when Googling. A lively discussion on algorithms, trends, or simply “Why” would ensue.

Cross-Discipline Literacy: Gradual Release of Responsibility

Gradual release

At the middle and secondary levels, teachers are traditionally isolated by content area and grade. And although, we, as professionals, understand the hypocrisy in a traditional educational environment (life is not so neatly departmentalized, the blurring of concepts, skills, and content exists); it is difficult for some educators to see the relationship between what is being taught in their classroom and what is being taught down the hall. Calling upon our elementary educator friends, we are reminded that literacy is the thread that ties all of the areas together. And through the practicing and mastering of these literacy skills, our students gain opportunities, understanding, and communication skills that they will use long after they leave through the doors of our schools. Today’s students must be able to locate, understand, evaluate, and use written information and multiple literacies in both their personal and academic lives.

In theory, this connection of literacy throughout the content areas helps to reinforce reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in all students; in reality, fear and frustration runs rampant in the minds of teachers when they hear the words “All teachers are reading and writing teachers”.

To create a culture of literacy within a building, an “All Hands on Deck” approach is needed for systematic change. No longer can pockets of excellence in reading comprehension instruction exist; focused goals and high-quality, sustained learning must occur to equip all teachers properly. Along with a toolbox filled with comprehension strategies and understanding of text structures and styles, I tend to agree with the thinking of Fisher and Frey as to the clarification of my position on this:

“We do not believe that ‘all content teachers are teachers of reading.’ We are not discussing reading comprehension with the expectation that this take front and center in every math, science, history, arts, or elective course. However, reading and understanding texts is a central feature of every course” (11).  So, while literacy may not be the focus in each classroom, everyday, it is an essential component to every class.

The key is, You, as the teacher, are the best reader and writer in the classroom. Modeling your thought process when discerning information in content-specific text is essential. Take, for instance, an industrial arts educator. Teaching literacy would not include a study on Huck Finn, but rather, modeling and practice in reading and comprehending texts normally found in that area. How does an architect read a blueprint? When looking at a bookshelf, how does a woodworker interpret design, structure, angles, etc. We read fiction with the intent of identifying plot, conflict, characters; these same strategies would not be applied to informational text.

Strategy: Gradual Release of Responsibility

Structural framework used to increase reading comprehension containing four components. The framework is organic in nature, meaning, there is no specific order or rate in which to use each component. Formative assessment identifies student needs and allows teacher differentiation. Technology integration is one solution to differentiate within the classroom to meet the needs of all students. (After each component, a technology integration tip is listed)

1. “I do” Minilesson in which the teacher establishes the focus, goal, or concept and models the thinking aloud to the class. (Technology Tip: A teacher or class YouTube channel. Students are able to rewatch minilesson containing the teacher modeling the comprehension strategy, or choose from a collection of videos with the same focus but different content)

2. “We do” Teacher prompts, questions, and cues students’ thinking through guided instruction and facilitation. (Technology Tip: Try a tool, such as EdPuzzle, to embed questions, cues, and prompts into videos)

3. “Do it together” Collaboratively, students apply previous learning with academic discourse to complete a task. (Technology Tip: Voicethread captures the thinking of students through text, voice, and annotations. Provide one task for the class, and allow collaborative group work to be demonstrated and shared on VT)

4. “Do it alone” Students, individually, apply understanding to an authentic task. (Technology Tip: Students use Explain Everything to demonstrate individual application of learning on an original task)

Gradual Release of Responsibility is a framework that can be applied across content and grade-level. Modeling your thinking aloud on how one approaches texts/visuals/graphs in our content area, supports comprehension strategies used to understand information. And although literacy is typically thought of as an ELA standard, it plays an essential role in the lives of our students; equipping them for future endeavors when life isn’t so neatly divided by subject area!

 

Digital Literacies: Multimedia Projects as Mentor Texts

Multimedia Projects provide students a different alternative to demonstrate their learning and understanding of a concept or theme. Traditionally, students demonstrated knowledge by taking a test or writing a paper. These unimodal demonstrations do not equip students with the necessary skills and understandings of their literary reality.

Currently, our students live in a time with multiple digital means of communication. From videos to blog posts, students consume most of their daily reading digitally. As educators, it is necessary to not only explore these multimodal literacies in the classroom; but also hone student skills needed to enable them to create and communicate their message in multiple forms.

As a literacy expert, I have found the need for Mentor Texts within my classroom. Everyone needs mentor texts to become better writers/communicators. Mentor texts are those pieces that we return to again and again. They provide a myriad of possibilities and are full of curriculum potential. Mentor texts are not pieces that are used once for specific demonstration, instead they can be approached by the reader from multiple angles.

I believe that mentor texts can also be in the digital form. Digital Mentor Texts are a collection of videos, infographics, blog posts, websites, etc. that provide students inspiration by asking the question, “I wonder if I can do that too?” When teaching digital modes of meaning, I like to refer to the work of the New London Group for consideration, and approach the Digital Mentor Text from the Linguistic, Audio, Spatial, Visual, and Gestural Design modes of meaning (image below). These Digital Mentor Texts are visited multiple times throughout the course, offering a new possibility for improvement when applied to a students’ own work. Whether it is storyline, camera angle, graphics, or music; requiring students to produce high-quality, multimedia products is possible with the inclusion of Digital Mentor Texts.

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When choosing a digital mentor text it is important to remember 5 things:

  1. You (the teacher) must love it!
  2. Show, not just tell.
  3. Contain multiple examples of awesomeness
  4. Students need to be able to connect to it
  5. Promotes out-of-the-box thinking

Any type of digital communication can be used as a Digital Mentor Text, the only qualifier is that it must contain richness in multiple forms. As a recommendation, start collecting Digital Mentor Texts to use in the future when you stumble across them. This way, students will be provided with inspiration in multiple modes, not just an example to copy!