Writing Prompts to Kick 2020 Off Right!

Within the next week or two, educators will return to school and greet the smiling faces of the students whom we have not seen since 2019. And with the new year, a new start is often viewed as an opportunity to set new goals or create new habits.

It’s the beginning of a new year and a new decade; 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 time to reconnect with friends and teachers that they haven’t seen for a couple of weeks. Some students are beginning new coursework, attending a new school, or even planning for graduation in a few months.

As a teacher, returning from winter break was always my favorite time to have students write. Students wrote about their dreams, goals, and ambitions, plus, it went perfectly with the start of a new year and helped to build a community of writers!

Here are 3 WritingIdeas to Kick Off the New Year:

  1. Dream Big – Like a New Year’s Resolution, this writing assignment is filled with questions to consider and write about in hopes that what’s important to them at this moment rises to the top. The Dream Big writing prompt allows students to not only voice what is important to them but identify the steps necessary to accomplish their goal(s) and a timeframe in which to aim. 

New Year, Dream Big…

  • What are my dreams? In school? Life? Friendship? Activities? Etc. (Identify one to write about)
  • Why is this dream important to me? Why did I choose this one?
  • Is this a new dream? Old dream? Habitual dream?
  • What do I already know or understand about this dream?
  • What steps do I need to take to make this happen? Have I already completed or started any of these steps?
  • What help do I need to achieve this dream? Who or what can help me?
  • What is my timeframe for accomplishing this dream? How will I know I succeeded? When will it be time to give up?
  • Closing thoughts and reflections?

2. One Word – Instead of having a lengthy dream or resolution, why not have students identify and write about their One Word for the new year. Every year, educators and students alike choose and share their One Word publicly, but where do you start? And How do you help students identify their One Word? Once done, I always had my students create a visual to post on their blogs sharing their #OneWord or #OneWord2020 Here are a few questions to get them writing:

  • Reflect on who you were this past year? How would you describe yourself? How would others? 
  • Identify the type of person you want to be in the new year? What is your aspirational identity? 
  • Identify the characteristics and qualities of your aspiration or the person you want to be. 
  • Choose your word. Does it call you to action? Ooze passion? Reflect the person or the characteristic you want to be/portray?

3. Habits – Finally, many argue that resolutions are pointless and are quickly forgotten, and it is habits that we need to focus on. Habit tracking helps people identify the small consistent things they do daily that amount to a larger change.

Habit tracking allows one to make changes in their life that will last a lifetime, not just the first month of January 2020. Using a habit tracking app like Google Keep, Bullet Journals, or even Sticky Notes makes your progress visual and encourages continuation. I mean, who doesn’t like checking off a box on a list or calendar. And if you miss a day or two, habit tracking allows you to pick up your goals the very next day. 

As a teacher of writing, I knew the importance of modeling the process for students. When they wrote, I wrote. So be sure to include your own Dreams, One Word, Habits, or Resolutions with your students. And revisit them throughout the rest of the school year, reflecting on progress and where to go to next! 

So consider having your students write to start off the New Year. Help them vocalize their dreams and make them a reality! And enjoy your 2020, I know I plan to make this my best year yet! And my #OneWord for 2020 in case you are curious #Value

I am Not a Reading Teacher, I Am a Gatekeeper of Information

Working with hundreds of educators over the past ten years, the phrase I hear most frequently is, I am not a reading teacher. From science teachers to math teachers, when you ask most Middle School and High School educators what they teach, reading is the last response (if at all) you typically hear…unless you ask a literacy teacher.

When this occurs, I can’t help but think of them as  “Gatekeepers of Information”. An educator who claims no responsibility in the teaching of literacy strategies because they are not the “reading teacher” can most definitely be classified as such. With this stance, students are denied skills, strategies, and opportunities to understand content specific discourse. The teacher, once again, becomes the “gatekeeper” of information; the lone expert in the class, able to decode foreign concepts or understand information as if by magic. This logic only strengthens the dependency of the student on the teacher, contradicting the goal of education; to move all students towards independence.

Take, for instance, the following example of a typical 8th-grade science test question:

The annotations I provide highlight areas that a science teacher could model as literacy skills. The goal of literacy across discipline areas is not to have all teachers require and teach a classroom novel, but to teach students the necessary skills needed to read, write, and think like a “scientist” or “mathematician”, etc.

Most educators enter the profession with an open heart and a passion for teaching. They often find teaching students how to read and write a daunting task. They do not know where to start, how to assess, or lack confidence in their own skills. With this in mind, I offer the following advice.

5 Ways to Tackle Content-Specific Literacy:

  •  Vocabulary – Identify common words that are specific to content areas, terms that are needed to build a foundation.
  • Structure/Format – Recognize the format a text uses is important to understand the type of reading required. Headings, Bold-Faced Words, Glossary, Pictures or Diagrams; all of these things provide information for the savvy reader.
  • Organization – Content-specific text often has repetition in the organization. Cause/Effect, Chronological, General to Specific; identifying and modeling how the author organizes the text will help students locate needed information.
  • Mentor Texts – This term often confuses many educators because of the formal tone, but simply stated, a mentor text is a specific example that students can approach from a variety of angles because it has so many things done correctly. Students use mentor texts reflectively and ask themselves, how can I parallel what that author did in my own work? All teachers should have a collection of mentor texts (including their own writing examples) that students can dissect, study, and keep as a reference.
  • Model your thinking – Finally, as the expert in the room, modeling your thinking aloud makes clear strategies used to comprehend the text or question. This consistent modeling, paired with gradual release, will increase a student’s own learning and provide needed practice which eventually leads to independence

Being able to support students as they encounter discipline-specific texts means ALL educators support and teach literacy. Remember, you are the expert in that content area and need to unlock how to read like a… historian, mathematician, musician for students!

15 Book Quotes About Friendship

“Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends…”

The Beatles

Today we celebrate International Friendship Day. A time to reach out to our loved ones, that are more like family than mere friends, and celebrate the richness they bring to our lives! Whether reminiscing about the beautiful moments collected together or the perilous obstacles conquered with your Bestie by your side; today we honor them! Here are 15 Friendship Quotes from books we love.

Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…” – C.S. Lewis, Four Loves

“Life is an awful, ugly place to not have a best friend.” – Sarah Dessen, Someone Like You 

“At an early age I learned that people make mistakes, and you have to decide if their mistakes are bigger than your love for them.” – Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give 

“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses, there is at last one which makes the heart run over.” – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

“Look at the mirrors in your friends eyes. That’s all anyone ever needs. Too see beauty and reflection in others. Those are real mirrors.” – Kwame Alexander, Solo 

“She is a friend of mine. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved 

“Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.” —John Green, Turtles All The Way Down 

“‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.’” —E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web 

“You are my best friend as well as my lover, and I do not know which side of you I enjoy the most. I treasure each side, just as I have treasured our life together.” ― Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

“Friendship- my definition- is built on two things. Respect and trust. Both elements have to be there. And it has to be mutual. You can have respect for someone, but if you don’t have trust, the friendship will crumble.” ― Stieg Larsson, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

“There is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends.” ― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“It’s not enough to be friendly. You have to be a friend.” ― R.J. Palacio, Wonder 

“One friend with whom you have a lot in common is better than three with whom you struggle to find things to talk about.” Mindy Kailing, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

“Maybe, the only thing that has to make sense about being somebody’s friend  is that you help them be their best self on any given day. That you give them a home when they don’t want to be in their own.”  — Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X

“I have your back. I didn’t mean only when it’s easy. All the time.”– Veronica Roth, Divergent

Did I miss any of your favorites? Be sure to take time today to show your friends some love, and why you are at it, why not share these 15 quotes to tug at their heartstrings and let them know you were thinking about them and you love and appreciate them!

My New “EdVenture”

Well, friends, I am excited to announce that today I begin a new “EdVenture”. I am thrilled to have been offered and accepted a position with Open Up Resources.

A child’s zip code should not determine the quality of education they receive, nor should it determine the access educators have to curriculum and professional learning. Every child, everywhere, deserves and can receive a high quality, equitable literacy education with the support of OER (Open Education Resources) and evidence-based, high-yield instructional practices.

This is why I am honored to join the team at Open Up Resources as the new ELA Community Manager and Professional Learning Associate.

For the past 20 years, I have dedicated my life to education and literacy. Lifelong learning starts with a strong foundation in literacy, impacting a student’s personal, professional, and civic lives. Opportunities are opened and potential is realized when one can discern information with a critical eye and communicate their message effectively. As a classroom teacher and regional support consultant, I navigated the perils and success of literacy learning, honed my craft through professional learning communities, continued my education, and consulted research.

Now, I begin a new chapter in the education field, continuing to advocate for high-quality literacy learning while supporting teachers and district leadership implementing the ELA curriculum from Open Up Resources across digital platforms and face to face.

Technology not only changed my teaching but opened the world for my students. In 2008, I became a 1:1 laptop teacher, meaning, all of our students were given laptops to use during the school year. Because of this, I am a connected educator, blogger, and Tweet regularly. The connections I have made over the years have positively shaped me into the educator I am today. The sharing of resources, relationships made with educators across the globe, and the access to information are benefits I wish all teachers could capitalize upon. Along with these benefits, the growing awareness and use of OERs is an economical way for teachers to update content, differentiate in the classroom, and use, reuse, and redistribute material for all students.

Part of my role will be growing and supporting educators implementing ELA Open Up Resources in their classrooms; EL Education K–5 Language Arts & Bookworms K–5 Reading and Writing. Through regular Twitter Chats #OpenUpELA, online webinars and book clubs, and communication through FB Communities I hope to connect educators across the nation with a focus on ELA and OER. Open Up Resources has a vibrant Math Community that is supported and led by my new colleague, Brooke Powers, if you are not following her on Twitter, do so now, she is amazing and I can’t wait to learn from her.

The second part of my role will include Professional Learning. Collaboration with the team, designing and evaluating Professional Learning, and providing feedback from the implementing teachers; I hope to utilize my skill set and expertise to enhance literacy learning for ALL students.

Here are a few quick reasons why I am excited to be joining Open Up Resources:

  1. Our Mission: To increase equity in education by making excellent, top-rated curricula freely available to districts.
  2. Open Education Resources (OER) awareness is growing across the nation and Open Up Resources is a leader in this education community
  3. Blending of all of my passion areas
  4. A work/life integration with a value on family
  5. Incredible team made up of top-notch educators

Feel free to ask me anything about OER and the ELA or Math Curriculums we have at Open Up Resources, K-12 Literacy, or Technology in the Classroom. I would love to have a geek out session with you! Changing education is tough, why not do it with other passionate educators in your tribe? A huge shout out to the team at OUR who took a chance on me, time to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

Visible Learning in Literacy: 3 Takeaways from John Hattie and Nancy Frey

Opportunity to learn with renowned education researchers and practitioners rejuvenates the mind and reignites the passion in many educators. In the second of our two-part series, Steven Anderson and I share what we learned from the Visible Learning Institute in San Diego, this time with a focus on literacy. Head over to part one to see our initial thoughts and shares.

The second day at the Visible Learning Institute in San Diego provided attendees choice in one of two paths in which to learn;  literacy and math. Steven and I jumped at the chance to learn from Nancy Frey and chose the literacy learning to continue to grow our knowledge in this area for supporting educators around the globe. Frey and Doug Fisher (her colleague) have worked extensively with John Hattie in the realm of literacy practices and transferring his research into practice. They have multiple books with Hattie, two of our favorites being Visible Learning for Literacy Grades K-12 and Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom, Grades 6-12. 12.

Frey consistently delivers high-quality and classroom applicable learning during her workshops and this experience was much the same. During Day 2, she used a combination of research, theory, and classroom application to deepen our understanding of high-impact instruction during each phase of learning.

3 Takeaways:

Constrained and Unconstrained Skills – Constrained skills are those that have boundaries and edges to them and are acquired at concrete stages of development. These include phonemic awareness and phonics. Unconstrained skills are boundless, limitless and continue to grow throughout life. These include vocabulary and comprehension. While no argument can be made against the direct instruction and learning of constrained skills, Frey reminded us all that they are important but not sufficient. Leveled texts are great for learning constrained skills, but unconstrained skills are not developed through these types of texts. Both constrained and unconstrained skills develop independently; it is important for all educators in all subject areas to pay attention to both.

Reading Volume – The amount one reads is important, but do you know how important it is for our students? Frey offered statistics to drive home the point about reading volume. Reading 20 minutes a day = 1,800,000 words per year & 90th percentile on standardized tests. Reading 5 minutes a day = 282,000 words per year & 50th percentile on standardized tests. Finally, a student who reads only 1 minute a day = 8,000 words per year & 10th percentile on standardized tests. Assumptions that all kids have access and time at home to read will not increase reading volume; instead, make time for students to read in your classroom.

In addition, as Frey reinforced, students need both content specific reading but also need the exploration of texts beyond the content. If a student enjoys to pleasure read graphic novels we should not dissuade that student from choosing them. Rather, we should support them while still exposing them to content specific passages and texts.

Surface, Deep, Transfer Learning – Hattie, Fisher, and Frey discuss a scale for learning and divide it up into 3 parts of a triangle. Surface, Deep, and Transfer Learning make up this scale representing learning as a process, not an event. Along with the description of each, Frey offered high-impact instructional strategies to support learning.

Surface – Surface Learning, the base of the triangle, is learning that takes place during the acquisition of skills and understanding of concepts. Learners often recognize patterns and start to build foundational knowledge to support the next level of the triangle, Deep Learning.

High-Impact Instructional Strategies to support Surface Learning and the effect size:
  • Repeated Reading (.67)
  • Feedback (.75)
  • Collaborative Learning with Peers (.59)

Deep – Deep Learning builds off of the Surface Learning students acquire. As Frey states, you have to know something before you are able to do something with that knowledge. Deep Learning consists of consolidation through connections, relationships, and schema to organize skills and concepts. Deep learning is also used to consolidate constrained and unconstrained skills. Students need more complex tasks to deepen their own learning.

High-Impact Instructional Strategies to support Deep Learning and the effect size:
  • Concept Mapping (.60)
  • Class Discussions (.82)
  • Metacognitive Strategies (.69)
  • Reciprocal Teaching (.74)

Transfer – Finally, learning and school should not stop with just Surface and Deep Learning. Transfer Learning is self-regulation to continue learning skills and content independent of the teacher. Frey admits, not everything we teach or learn is worthy of Transfer Learning. Transfer Learning places more responsibility on the learner to question, investigate, and organize to propel their learning.

High-Impact Instructional Strategies to support Transfer Learning and the effect size.
  • Reading Across Documents to Conceptually Organize (.85)
  • Formal Discussions, Debates, Socratic Seminars (.82)
  • Problem Solving (.61)
  • Extended Writing (.43)

PBL – Problem-based Learning – effect size is low at surface level learning (.15) but significantly higher at Transfer level learning (.61)

As Day 2 came to a close, our minds were spinning with information and ideas. Nancy Frey not only shared Visible Learning in Literacy but invited us to consider what approaches work best at the right time for the right learning, never to hold an instructional strategy in higher esteem than a student, and our favorite, “Every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design.”