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.”

Writer’s Workshop in the High School Classroom

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Typically, the discussion around Workshop takes place against the backdrop of the elementary classroom. When I tell other educators I also used workshop in my high school classes I am inundated with endless questions… How did you do that? What curriculum did you use? How much time did you have?

First, before jumping into the weekly schedule and content I used, I always explain a few things up front.

Logistics and Important Information About My Classroom:

  • Class periods were 42 minutes and I met with the students every day for one semester.
  • I worked hard at the beginning to build a community of writers, one where students would be willing to take risks in their style and content and share with a wider audience than the traditional lone teacher.
  • All students submitted a writing portfolio at the end of the course, sharing their chosen pieces, paragraphs, lines, etc. which demonstrated mastery in standards.
  • All students were required to complete, at least, three typed-pages every week of original work or one that was heavily revised and edited.
  • Students were part of a blogging community and required to post something every other week and comment on 2 other blog posts every week. This public sharing of work provided a different audience than the traditional lone teacher and helped grow writers faster than anything else I had done throughout my writing. (This community was high school students from across the US and in 4 different classrooms.)
  • Students chose content and type of writing each week. Portfolio asked for examples in multiple types, subgenres, and media; but students had complete control over the when, what, and how during the semester.
  • Along with typical types and subgenres of writing, students also created and wrote in contemporary modes including images, videos, music, infographics, etc.
  • Every two to three weeks students turned in a “publishable piece” to be assessed.
  • Finally, I wrote with my students. I modeled my thinking, shared my pieces, and asked for feedback!  

 

I used the traditional Workshop model where I tried to keep my direct instruction at a minimum so that students could write, apply the learning, and collaborate with each other and me when needed. The following is a typical weekly schedule. During student Independent Writing time they had three options: write, collaborate with peers, collaborate with me. As long as their actions were done with intent, the climate and culture in my classroom allowed them to decide what they needed most at that moment to move them forward as a writer, and then do it!

A Simplified weekly schedule of Writer’s Workshop for a 12th-grade writing class:

MondayInspiration. Brainstorm. Share Every Monday I would take time to launch students into writing. I called this “Monday Inspiration”. There were many methods I used to get kids excited about writing. Students were inspired by a mentor text, video, image, or other types of communication. I would pose a question or prompt to contemplate and write about. Students would take part in an inspiring writing activity that typically had them developing lists, sketching, moving, and so forth. All inspiration and accompanying thinking were recorded in their digital Writer’s Notebook section we labeled, Writing Territories, a term from Nancy Atwell. After the 10 to 15 minute inspiration, students would continue to brainstorm and write about the topic or in the genre at hand. This beginning may be something that they continue to develop throughout the week, or remain in their Writing Territories to call upon if they “don’t know what to write about.” At the very end of the class period, I would make sure to leave time to share. I learned early on, students loved sharing their thoughts, writing, and ideas on Monday after the inspiring start. The sharing was sometimes done as a whole class or in a small group.

TuesdayIndependent Writing. Peer Collaboration. Small Group. 1 on 1  On Tuesday, students were writing or creating independently on a piece of their choice. While they could continue the piece they started on Monday, students in my classroom always had a choice in Type and content of their writing. During this time, I worked with small groups, to teach a skill, reinforce something previously learned, or meet individual needs, collectively. I also had time to meet with a few students 1 on 1. This allowed me to know them as writers, address specific needs that either they or I identified, and to just do a check-in on their process. Along with working independently, or meeting with me, students also had the option to work with a partner or small group. During a writer’s workshop, students are at multiple points in the writing process. Some continued pieces week to week, others may just be in the beginning stages; students would revise, edit, and provide feedback to each other and their “virtual classmates” in the blogging community based on their needs as a writer.

Wednesday Language Study. Independent Writing. Portfolio. Blog. On Wednesdays, the class period began with a lesson over grammar, usage, or mechanics. Teaching grammar in isolation does not lead to use in writing. With this in mind, I used student writing, identify common errors made by the class and this is where I would focus my teaching. After the lesson, students continue to write or work with peers. Wednesday was also time for students to work on their writing portfolio, a collection of their best examples and reflections throughout the year and aligned to the standards or teaching goals. Students could also add a new post to their blogs or leave a comment on another student blog from our community.  

Thursday –  Independent Writing. Revising. Editing. Small Groups. 1 on 1. Thursday was spent much like Tuesday. Students chose how they spent their time based on their writing needs. Some worked independently, others worked with a partner or small group. During the revising and editing stages, students used a variety of strategies to accomplish their goals. These strategies were taught via whole class and small groups. They also prepared for Friday, making sure they had something of substance to share the following day. I spent my time working one on one with students, teaching specific techniques that would move them forward as writers.  

FridaySharing with Feedback. Fridays were typically spent sharing writing. To help build a community of growth, we started off sharing in small groups of 3 using the PQP strategy (Praise, Question, Polish by Bill Lyons). This allows the writer to receive the specific feedback needed. Another method used was Go, Fish, a whole class strategy that allowed every writer to give and receive feedback. An Author’s Spotlight was used to highlight individuals and often included multiple pieces by 2 or 3 writers. Important things about students sharing their writing: Everyone shared what they wanted to with the rest of the class, feedback was specific (more strategies were taught for this) and used to move everyone forward, finally, sharing their writing honored the process and provided a different audience than the traditional lone teacher.

It is possible to use a workshop framework in a high school classroom. In fact, I cannot imagine teaching writing a different way. Students had a choice in content and writing type. They also shared their work with classmates and to a larger, public audience. Students were writing for real, not just writing for school, and created in multiple mediums to communicate their voice through video, text, visuals, and more. And although this post shared a basic structure, I hope that it provided you with enough information to see the possibilities when considering how to structure a writer’s workshop in your own classroom.

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 2018. 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.

Write. Create. Publish: 4 Student-Centered Writing Projects to do Before Summer Break

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At dinner, I was informed by my third and seventh grader that they had 23 days left of school. Wow – 23 days – the school year has flown by. As the weather turns warmer and classroom windows begin opening once again, it is important to maximize the small amount of time we have left with our students. Writing and sharing their voice with the classroom and globe will foster engagement, relevance, and practice with essential skills all students need.

Below are 4 of my favorite Student-Centered Writing Projects to do before Summer Break:

  1. Future MeScreenshot 2017-04-25 at 9.52.30 PMFutureMe.org is a free website that allows students to send an email to their future self. Users get to select the date it will be delivered, whether the letter is private or can be posted on a public forum, and can attach images to the email. Students will love seeing an email pop up in their inbox that they had forgotten they wrote. While content can be a variety of things or left entirely up to the student, here are a few questions that my students loved to write about: What are you most proud of from this year? What is one new thing you want to try this summer?  What are you going to miss the most from ___ grade? Who did you get to know better this year? What are your goals for next year?
  2. Curated Google SiteScreenshot 2017-04-25 at 10.11.40 PMAt the end of each year, create a memory website full of pictures, videos, and student work samples. When I did this in my classroom, I had students share their favorite pieces with me so I could collect and curate them in one spot. This reflection can be coupled with writing where students are  The new Google Sites is perfect for this type of project. Living in the cloud, Google Sites is accessible for everyone and it integrates easily with Google Drive making curation easy! No Google Sites, don’t worry, Padlet would work too!  
  3. Flipgridflipgrid_all_devicesCatch the# FlipgridFever and have students create a Grid of Gratitude for support staff or retirees. Flipgrid is a collaborative video discussion platform that lets users create and respond to each other via video. Use Flipgrid to thank support staff in the building or a beloved teacher before they retire. Creating short videos is engaging and meaningful to students and allows them to use a contemporary mode to share their thoughts.  
  4. 6 Word MemoirClass of 2012 6 Word MemoirsCredited to Ernest Hemingway for writing the first, 6 Word Memoirs is a favorite writing activity to use at the end of the year with students. Having students share who they are at this moment in time using only 6 words requires reflection, analysis, and succinct writing. Adding an image or video to the project reinforces the multi-modality that can be used to share their work with a public audience. As a teacher, they were always my favorite writing projects to read. Here is an example from my former classroom  Student Examples Check out Smith Magazine for more publishing and sharing opportunities for students!

Soon, students and teachers alike will be leaving the doors for the last time to begin summer break. Make these last days together impactful, encouraging growth in self, and fostering relationships. And please share! If you try any of these ideas, tweet and share a picture to #MakeLitREAL