Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Quotes to Remember from the NCTE Convention


Thanks to Stacey, Dana, Tara, Betsy, Anna, and Beth, the amazing writers and thinkers who host the Slice of Life community every Tuesday. Everyone is welcome to join with posts or comments at twowritingteachers.wordpress.com!

I am still overwhelmed by the experience of having attended NCTE over the weekend. As a first-timer, I wasn't sure what to expect, and now, I'm not sure how to process, share, and grow from all of the knowledge, reflection, and challenges that came at me over a 72 hour period. For the time being, I have mined some of my notes from the conference for some of the great quotes that I wanted to remember. Most could be found on twitter, but sometimes it's nice to read great lines in different places. I am sharing them here in no particular order. Every line could probably turn into a blog post--I know that I have plenty of material to write about over the next few weeks.

"If we're not constantly asking ourselves what are the kids learning, then we're not being teachers." Vicki Vinton

"Is reading about listing facts or creating understanding. What's our goal in reading?" Fran McVeigh

"I could write some really good retroactive lesson plans." Mary Lee Hahn

"The year that I reflected about my practice changed me as a teacher." Stacey Shubitz

"Twitter is like a cocktail party. Lurk and then get in and contribute. Don't be the person who sits by the punchbowl all the time." Stacey Shubitz

In talking about student participation in the Slice of Life, it serves as "A weekly reminder that we all have stories to share. Some are buried in those moments of the day that we don't realize are important but turn out to be really important." Tara Smith

In talking about a family writing night: "Writing together gives us words to stand on, walk across, and meet one another." Dana Murphy

"When we offer kids shortcuts...we deprive them of productive struggle." Vicki Vinton

"An essayist's job is to get people to care. Kids haven't come to care about what they are writing." Katherine Bomer

"Writing is about writing to think and about writing about something you care about. Should be about thinking, questioning, changing your mind." Katherine Bomer

"Complexity and difficulty are not the same thing." Mary Ehrenworth

"By the time kids are in 6th and 7th grade, they aren't seeing the beauty in nonfiction." Mary Ehrenworth

"You're not teaching kids for the test, you're teaching them for the lives that they want to live." Mary Ehrenworth

"When your baby hits her head, she looks at you to decide on how to react. Readers look to you to decide on how to react to books. If you present books as literature, they are going to act accordingly." Matt de la Pena

"Use the books that are not about race to talk about race and use the books about race to talk about universal themes." Mitali Perkins

"If you can’t put your essay in sections, you don’t know what it is about." Rebecca Joseph

Whatever outreach we are doing with families, we should be doing more." Chris Lehman

"Help all the children learn what they really need to know." Chris Lehman

"Educators have questions. Students have wonders." Maria Caplin

There were hundreds of lines that warranted repeating, tweeting, celebrating, and shouting out. Over the next few weeks, I will write about these lines, sharing the context, meaning, and substance behind them. For now, enjoy them as thought provoking statements that inspire conversation, debate, celebration, and wonder.

Happy Slicing!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.


I had some head-down-in-a-book time over the weekend, as I was traveling to Washington DC for the NCTE conference. (If you ever get a chance to go, take it! More to come...) At the conference, I was also introduced to some books that I didn't know, so...here's what I've been reading!



I was honored to get to spend time with Margaret Simon who many of you might know from her blog, https://reflectionsontheteche.wordpress.com/ She gave me a copy of her book, Blessen, which I read cover to cover on the way home. Blessen, the main character has a voice that reminds me of Summer in Missing May. With clear, insightful, and honest reflections, Blessen pulled me right down into the back yard of her Louisiana FEMA trailer and into the middle of her story. So much importance happens in this short text that it offers opportunities to talk not only about plot, but also of guilt, responsibility, truth, lies, decision-making, and love. Additionally, students will be inspired to learn about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, as well as racial and cultural tensions that exist in our country.


Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord is a beautiful story for upper elementary students about transitions, insecurities, kindness, perseverance, doing the wrong thing for the right reasons (is that the wrong thing, then?), teamwork... Oh, and did I mention the passages of inspirational writing? Cynthia Lord gives a powerful lesson on bringing readers into the world of the story with passages like this:  "Ansel's nose twitched at the unfamiliar lake smell: weedy and a tiny bit fishy. Out in the middle, the water was sparkling-pretty, like someone had spilled a whole bottle of glitter out there. But up close, an icky border of bright yellow pollen floated along the lake's edge. Beyond the pollen, a school of tiny minnows swam along, shifting directions quickly. This way! No, that way! Who's in charge here?" Can you imagine the possibilities for teaching the weaving of action, description, dialogue, and inner thinking in this passage? And this is only a small sampling.

When I got home, I had to finish The Storied Life of A.J. Fickry by Gabrielle Zevin. People had blogged about it over the summer and it had been on my TBR stack for a while. While this is NOT a book for elementary students--there are a couple of intimate moments along the lines of A Fault in Our Stars-- I would want my high school daughters to read it and I would want them to not only enjoy the plot and the close reading that some clever twists require, but also the literary references that run rampant throughout the book. What a great book for a study group or a book talk!



I loved hearing about innovative ways to integrate poetry into our reading and writing workshops.  Pucks, Clubs, and Baseball Gloves by Catherine Ipcizade is a book of sports poems with lots of nonfiction text features. There are several different types of poems, many with strong small moments, super show-not-tell descriptions, and lists of verbs. Read the poems, teach the skills, inspire the athletes or even the imaginative players. So fun!


Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Flipping a Minilesson

Our district had a technology conference last week and one of the take-aways for both of us was the potential for flipping some lessons. Mostly, we had envisioned flipping as a high school concept. High school students could watch a lecture on line and then come in ready to work on problem sets with their teachers. Until last week, we had not considered the possibility of elementary students watching a writing minilesson, but after listening to a keynote from Jon Bergmann (read some of his work when you have a chance! Or even check out his TedTalk!)

Melanie Swider's students have been working their way through integrated social studies, information writing, and nonfiction reading units and they have been writing pieces about specific explorers. Many of the lessons have been about structure, organization, text features, and the research cycle, but, by looking at their pieces collaboratively on Google Drive (shout-out to Google Drive as a collaboration tool!), we decided that they would benefit from a lesson about incorporating geographical terms and awareness into their pieces. Many of their pieces mentioned the places explorers went with no orientation for the readers.

Melanie Swider videoed herself speaking through the components of a classic minilesson complete with a connection, a teaching point (information writers use  important vocabulary when they are writing to teach readers), a place for active engagement, and a link to the work that they were doing. For this first experience of flipping, Melanie broke the video up into four parts, totaling about five minutes in all.

Melanie Meehan had a lot of fun with the video and the students because we wouldn't let Melanie Swider talk as the rest of us watched her lesson. The goal for the students was not only to learn the teaching point, but also to learn how to interact with a video. Therefore, Melanie Meehan stopped it in several places, reminding the students to take notes. They have watched their teacher create charts enough in her lessons that they were able to create some pretty impressive charts in their notebooks. How powerful for them to watch their teacher, take notes on a lesson, and have the tracks of their learning right there in their notebooks!

Below are examples of notes students took while watching the video lesson on including geographical terms into their writing.  As you can see from their notes, students truly internalized the teaching in the video, were able to determine which parts were important to jot down, and were able to clearly organize their notes using various note-taking forms.

 

 

After the lesson, students used their notes to help them revise their informational writing pieces by including geography terms to make them stronger and clearer to the reader.  As students wrote, they had their notes out from the video lesson as well as the map they labeled in a previous lesson to use as a reference.

Our goal is to provide students with a few more opportunities to interact with a video of a minilesson all together, before assigning this work for homework. Then, the homework check will be the notes that they create in their notebooks, and the work of the workshop will be the greater challenge of integrating their new learning into their writing. Stay tuned!

If anyone else has tried flipping elementary minilessons, we'd love to hear. We'd especially be interested in the platforms that you are using, as we are still trying to figure out the safest, easiest way to provide access for students who are under thirteen years old.

Happy writing,


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Setting Writing Goals with Young Writers

Slice of Life is hosted by the inspiring community oftwowritingteachers.wordpress.com. Everyone is welcome to read, post, and comment every Tuesday. Feel free to stop over and join us!


This morning, I guest-taught in a second grade class. I have worked together with this teacher since the beginning of the year. so I am familiar with most of the students in her class, making it easier for them to be honest and reflective. My lesson was all about reflection and setting goals and I was so impressed with these young students' growth mindsets and perseverance. 

The second-graders in our district are finishing up their narrative units, having started the year with personal narratives and then moved into realistic fiction. Because they have had so much instruction within the narrative genre, I really wanted the students I worked with this morning to think about where they get stuck and what goals they could set for themselves. I arrived with this chart already made for them: 


I took the language for this chart from the Teachers College Grade 2 Writing Checklist, so it would be easy to transfer the skills to other grades and genres.

As I taught the lesson, I challenged the students to think about where they stuck. When two students raised their hands that they couldn't think of a story, I honored them and they worked with their classroom teacher to think of a story as I continued. Other students then felt braver to let on that they weren't sure how to plan across the pages, so they became a small group. 

When two students shared that they wanted to choose strong words, I suggested that they might want to partner up and inspire each other. That concept inspired more students to want to work on strong words. Nothing like the lure of collaboration!

As they went to work on their stories, I continued to ask students what their goal was for the day, referring back to the chart. Some of them chatted about the evidence of their work during the mid-workshop interruption, and others stayed with one of the first two steps until they felt more comfortable at thinking and planning quickly. My favorite part of the lesson was at the end, when I asked the students to write down their goal so that they could remember what they were working on tomorrow. 

As you can see, they were serious about their work and they identified different work for themselves. Also, because they wrote it down and kept it with their pieces, their classroom teacher should have an easy time initiating conversations about how their work is going and what they plan to work on.

Goal is to plan across pages

Goal is to use strong words

Goal is plan across pages


Goal is to bring characters to life

I am looking forward to hearing about how students in this classroom continue to set goals for themselves. Once they learn that we can celebrate not understanding as long as we set goals and work to achieve them, the rate of powerful learning really, REALLY grows. 

Happy slicing!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ways Students are Actively Using Maps during our Informational Writing Unit

During our informational writing unit, students are writing about an explorer they selected to become an "expert" on during the first bend of the unit.  In this first informational writing piece, students have been taught the following teaching points: 

In addition to those key teaching points, I have also taught them how to use maps to truly understand where their explorer traveled on their voyages, which routes they took, and what they were in search of discovering.  Since Melanie Meehan and I have been trying to get students actively involved in this unit through inquiry lessons and hands-on experiences, I decided to have partnerships work together to mark the voyages/routes on large maps using post-its and string. I asked students to choose a partner who is studying the same explorer and to take one map per partnership. With their partner, they were asked to use post-its and/or string to mark and label their explorers voyages and routes on their map.  I also told them they needed to be ready to share their maps with their classmates in a gallery walk the next day and be prepared to explain their markings/labels.  

Below are photos of partnerships working together to mark their explorer's voyages/routes on their maps.  As you can see, students took out books, chrome books, and their notes as resources to help them with this task.  They discovered they needed these resources on their own.  As partnerships saw others taking out and using various resources, that sparked other students to utilize resources too! 





After students completed the task of marking the voyages/routes on their map, students shared their work in a "Gallery Walk." Partnerships went around the classroom, armed with their notebooks to take notes, looking at their classmates' marked maps. As students looked at and analyzed the maps, students jotted down their observations and questions they had for their classmates.  Below are photos of students taking notes during the gallery walk.


After the gallery walk, I gathered students together to provide them with the opportunity to honor their classmates' work as well as ask questions of parts that may have been unclear on the maps.  This was a powerful share since students had to internalize the information in order to teach their classmates about their explorer's voyages as well as reflect on and revise their maps based on their classmates' questions and feedback.  

This partnership work with the maps was a perfect segue into our next lesson on using geography words in our informational writing, which was the first time we tried a flipped lesson! Stay tuned to hear about that lesson next! 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Peek into the First Couple of Days of Information Writing in FIfth Grade

I'm sad to admit that we struggle to fit in social studies, especially in fifth grade. Science is a tested subject in our state, so we have a significant amount of curriculum to cover. Additionally, the Common Core math standards have challenged the balance of instructional minutes in fifth-grade.

In order to cover some of the social studies, we integrated the Age of Exploration with Nonfiction Reading and Information Writing. Basically, we want students to learn, among other things, that we can read to learn and we can write to teach.

Students completed their narrative writing unit for a couple of weeks while they began to research and learn about specific explorers during social studies. Then, when we were ready to launch the Information Writing unit, the students had a set of notes and some knowledge about an explorer to write about.

One of our goals is to have students work harder than we do, so on the first day of Information Writing, we told students that we were not giving a mini-lesson. Instead, the instruction would come from them. We gave them a choice of four informational reports that we found on the internet, reports that we felt were solid mentors of the expectations of the fifth grade Common Core. The reports that we used are linked here (this one is a fourth-grade piece, but worked well for our purposes), here, here, and here. I'm going to take a moment to give a quick shout-out to Mr. Bowen in Oklahoma because his website is an incredible resource for samples of student writing!

Armed with the information writing checklist from Writing Pathways and an informational writing mentor, our students broke into small groups or partnerships.  They were charged with the task of reading their mentor to identify strong information writing characteristics and craft moves they could teach their classmates. Below is a photo of the informational writing checklist found in the Writing Pathways book published by Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.



None of the informational reports were long, so students were able to read them several times with different lenses. Voice was important to the students and they were critical of these pieces for not having enough independent thinking incorporated into the writing. "They just give facts," one student said. "If they used more of these transition words, then they would automatically have more of their own thinking," another noticed. "Their introduction isn't clear and it doesn't make me want to read it," another partnership shared.

During the last fifteen minutes of the sixty minute workshop, each group presented their findings under the document camera, sharing the rationale for their checklist designation and the advice they would offer the writer. As they presented, I created the following chart, wanting to emphasize the skills that they already learned in the narrative units and how they could transfer them to informational writing.


Mel and I had a chuckle at the high expectations they had for unknown writers! If they could produce anything close to these mentors, we'd be happy! The chart is displayed in our classroom as a great reminder for students of what they think the mentors should have included and what they should include in their own informational writing.  The students actively use this chart when reflecting on their own writing to make revision decisions to make their writing even stronger!

This inquiry lesson not only helped give our students a clear picture in their mind of what informational writing looks like and how it compares to narrative writing, but gave them the opportunity to actively discover the characteristics and expectations of informational writing and teach their classmates.

Stay tuned to hear more about this informational writing unit and how we have continued to incorporate inquiry lessons and even flipping lessons with videos during the unit!



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Strategy for Teaching Students to Listen to Each Other


Slice of Life is hosted by the inspiring community oftwowritingteachers.wordpress.com. Everyone is welcome to read, post, and comment every Tuesday. Feel free to stop over and join us!

We are extremely fortunate in our district because we get to have Teachers College Staff Developers come to out schools several times a year. Emily Smith, @EmilyJBSmith, joked with me yesterday, as I was taking fast and furious notes during one of our sessions with her.

 "Are you going to tweet that out?" she asked.

"I just might," I answered.

I haven't tweeted any of her quotes (yet), as I got involved with the #twtblog chat last night, but I am going to write about a couple of my favorite lines of the day. I have recently written about the importance of listening, so I loved her statement:
As I watch kids in a conversation, it's like they are having a competition and not a conversation.
How true is this for not only kids, but also adults! How often do we actually nurture and grow ideas, as opposed to just wait to say what we have already decided to say!

Emily's suggestion was to teach students to:
Ask your idea in terms of a question and you will end up in more of a conversation.
I can't wait to try this. Instead of saying "Henry Hudson was a more peaceful explorer than most of the Spanish and Italian explorers," try saying "How was Henry Hudson a more peaceful explorer that most of the Spanish and Italian explorer?" Instead of saying "Mercy Watson was a seriously greedy pig," say "In what ways was Mercy Watson a greedy pig?"

Creating atmospheres where students learn to grow knowledge is so important. I'm looking forward to using this technique to help students learn to listen to each other and see their classmates as resources to push their thinking and deepen their understandings throughout the curriculum and beyond.

Happy slicing,







Sunday, November 9, 2014

Getting them Writing!!!

The second and third-graders of our district move from a personal narrative unit into a realistic fiction unit. Several lessons at the beginning of our current Realistic Fiction unit involve developing their character. They are supposed to draw their character, think about the inner traits as well as the outside characteristics. Then they are supposed to think about problems that their character could have. Basically, the curriculum gives students several days off of writing.

One of the second-grade teachers and I decided to try starting the unit off differently, presenting students with a circular anchor chart.

Then, I showed them how I had used them, introducing them to my character, Annie. Instead of thinking about the problems Annie could have, I showed them how thinking about the places Annie hangs out in leads me to think of stories about her. The chart that I am sharing I actually hand-wrote out, but I left it in the classroom, so I have typed a version out. What I wanted students to realize was that one character in one setting could lead to SEVERAL stories.



Since our second-graders don't have writing notebooks, I gave each student their own chart to fill out. If I had been teaching this lesson in third-grade, I would have had the students make a chart in their writing notebooks.

Then, as soon as one of the "troubles" called to them, we let them write! And they WROTE! What I realized was that the second-graders did not naturally get their characters out of the trouble or their solutions were far too complicated than their stamina for story-writing could handle, so we added a column to our chart during our mid-workshop interruption, providing our characters a way OUT of trouble:




One of my favorite stories was by a personal narrative struggler whose character couldn't find the right shirt at Justice. Another favorite that I watched come to life was about Sam who didn't like shots at the doctor's office. I have written about the power of starting with settings when you're trying to come up with ideas and again, I have to say, this strategy aims students at small moments with clear story arcs.

I don't want to sound like the stories were perfect, but I'm a big believer in volume. If I get a chance to teach this lesson again, I would remind students of the planning process that they learned during the Personal Narrative unit and encourage them to complete that step before starting to write their story. However, I strongly believe ( and have seen a lot of evidence that) when young writers write a lot of stories, the revision process becomes less of an event, and more of a continual practice.

Happy Writing!



Saturday, November 8, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

One of my daughters has always loved Patricia Polacco books, so when I saw her newest one on the library shelf on Saturday morning, I brought it home for Cecily. Fiona's Lace is classic Patricia Polacco, weaving history and family saga together in a way that teaches readers and leaves them with a lump in their throat or even a tear. Fiona, Patricia's great-great grandmother, and her family left Ireland in the 1800's to find a better life in Chicago. Instead, they found more struggles and eventually lived through the Great Chicago Fire. Expect the strong family bonds, symbolism, and the beautiful language that exemplifies Patricia Polacco's books. You won't be disappointed.

I also picked up With Books and Bricks by Suzanne Slade with pictures by Nicole Tadgell. A lovely narrative about Booker Washington's struggles to first attend school and then build a school, this book is a wonderful example of narrative nonfiction as well as a book full of themes of perseverance, resilience, and growth mindset. 




Moses, the True Story of an Elephant Baby by Jenny Perepeczko is a book that will delight young and older elementary students. The photographs of Moses with his more typical domestic friends are adorable and the stories about his adventures and misperceptions about the human world are funny and entertaining, although older readers will pick up on the underlying sadness of Moses's plight; he was orphaned due to African poachers on a quest for ivory. Jenny Perepeczko slides in many facts through the engaging text features, craft moves that could definitely inspire and mentor apprentice information writers!
Happy Reading!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

I have been keeping my eyes open for nonfiction books that inspire more creative approaches to teaching informational writing and I loved Stay: The True Story of Ten Dogs  by Michaela Muntean! This book has wonderful short stories about each of the dogs that weave in the information, serving as a fabulous mentor text for how narrative writing can be informative. In addition to being a mentor text, this book is also full of lessons about resilience, growth mindsets, and overcoming odds. One of my favorite lines is "Luciano found a way for all of the dogs to do what they did best." What a world it would be if we could substitute the nouns in this sentence!

Miracle Mud by David Kelly is also a fabulous mentor text for narrative nonfiction as well as a springboard for talking about perseverance, creativity, innovation, and growth mindset. Lena Blackburne wanted to be a professional baseball player, but his miracle mud was his ticket into the baseball Hall of Fame. In addition to the text and the themes, this book also offers many opportunities to study the power of grammar and punctuation. David Kelly includes ellipses, dashes, quotation marks, and many forms of end punctuation, as well as varied sentence structure, parallelism, and purposeful repetition. This is a book that all students will enjoy!

One of my missions for the year is to develop high impact lessons that address the Common Core Language Standards and The Grammar Plan Book by Constance Weaver has been a great resource. Citing specific picture books and texts, she describes workshop oriented lessons that show students the skills, how to use them, and offers practical and explicit instructional strategies for the transfer and integration of these skills in student writing.


Happy Reading!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Teaching Color-Coded Elaboration Strategies to Students: Part 2

Slice of Life is hosted by the inspiring community oftwowritingteachers.wordpress.com. Everyone is welcome to read, post, and comment every Tuesday. Feel free to stop over and join us!

Last week, I wrote about color-coding elaboration strategies. Over the course of the week, several teachers asked me about this lesson and I had the chance to teach it in two separate classrooms on Friday and today. One of the perks of my job is that I get to teach the same lesson to different classrooms and adjust it if I think that it could be better.


The first time, I co-taught the lesson with one of our teachers and we had students divide into teams to elaborate my skeleton story: I arrived at the beach. I wanted to learn to ride a wave. I rode a wave right in to the beach! One team worked on description, one team worked on dialogue, one on action, and one on inner thought. On that day, I scribed their work on to the chart in between the three original sentences, using different colors to signify different elaboration strategies. Both of us thought the lesson went well and students were definitely using the various strategies during the workshop, but I thought that the scribing took longer than it should have.

When I taught the lesson a second time, I brought colored strips of paper. The teaching point is on the chart below, and I left room so that the classroom teacher can write more under each strategy if she wants to.

After showing them the chart and establishing the teaching point, we divided the students into teams and gave each team several strips of the same colored paper: red for action, blue for description, green for dialogue, and purple for inner thinking.

Once they wrote their strips, we taped them up into the appropriate places on the chart paper and watched the story get better and better. We added inner thinking last so that they could see how much depth thoughts add to stories.

The three main sentences are: I arrived at the beach. I wanted to learn to ride a wave. I rode a wave in to the shore.

During the workshop, most of the students were working hard to try out different strategies. At the very least, they were more aware of what they could work on. I can't wait to hear more about how they continue to use these strategies.

Happy writing,