Tuesday, March 12, 2013

#Slice 2013: 12 of 31- Two More Saturday Reunion Workshops

For the month of March, I am participating in the #March2013 Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at twowritingteachers.wordpress.com. With many other bloggers, I am writing every day. Feel free to link up to some of the posts and add your comments.

In my post on Sunday, I wrote about two of the presentations that I attended on Saturday (read this post here) and I said that I would be posting about the other two today. I actually have three more! Yikes, they pack a lot into a day and I did not even stay for the closing talk by Lucy Calkins. I'm going to keep to my plan of sharing two more today and then the last one tomorrow.

The Lens of History: Research Reports--A New Unit of Study
Presented by Emily Smith

I was excited to go to this one because I am working on re-writing and revising some of our Social Studies units. While Emily presented a unit on Westward Expansion, many of her points are applicable to other units and I have tried to generalize some of the major-takeaways:

  • Writing and research should not be separate. They should go hand in hand.
  • Writing flash drafts is important for students. Once they have drafts, then they can move quickly into revision.
  • Narrowing a topic is usually more challenging. A first flash draft might be All About Westward Expansion, while a second take might be the Gold Rush or the Trail of Tears. This concept is applicable in other units.
  • In the first draft, have students think about what historians value (geography, history, perspectives...). Then, move them into the qualities of good informational writing--vocabulary, parallel structure, narrative elements, varying sentence lengths, scenes and conflicts, cohesion
  • When you revise, you can think about those different lenses--geography, history and perspectives.
  • It's important to make sure that there are enough resources for the proposed topic, assuming that students are choosing their own topics.
  • Teach students to create cohesion within their report. Think of a fancy dining room table and the cohesion analogy. Set your report up the way that you would set up your table.
  • Students can learn to write more and more complex sentences as they embed information into their writing. This leads to great teaching opportunities for grammar and punctuation--think parentheses, colons, semi-colons--all skills for mini-lessons and small group instruction.

To Lift the Level of Writing, We Need to Lift the Level of Rehearsal and Revision: Mentor Texts Can Teach Not Just Qualities of Good Writing, But Process
Presented by Brooke Geller

This was a really useful presentation, geared toward grades 3-5, but really with a much wider application. One of the most powerful points that Brooke said was in the beginning--many people appreciate seeing a final product before they embark on a task, but there was much, much more in her presentation. Here are some take-aways that I had:
  • At the very beginning of a unit, we should spend time unpacking a mentor. The mentor can be student writing, a class text, or a published work, but students should be immersed in it and they should spend time looking at it closely.
  • Do students know when their work ends and what the finished product should look like? Many people learn best by working backwards.
  • What do you notice? A really powerful question! Have students mark up a text as a team, responding as writers, as opposed to readers!
  • Teach students to be specific in their comments. Name the specific strategy that the author is doing!
  • Questions you can ask:
    • What makes this text...?
    • How is this text set up?
    • What is the purpose of the text? How do you know?
    • How does the author show you the heart of the story?
  • One teacher had created a bulletin board with panels for each writing unit throughout the year and strips that document the learning. The picture is fuzzy, but it represents a panel and the teaching points that students agreed they should continue to be responsible for throughout the year in other units. This could serve as a powerful tool for increasing generalization, integration and application of learning!
  • Use the above idea to increase transference. What did I learn in another unit and how can I use it in a different one.
  • An important mentor text for students is a piece of their own writing that they are proud of. Such a simple but important concept! "My very best mentor was my very best work," Brooke stated.
  • We can have mentors for different reasons and skills. (Think within structure and within content separately.)
  • Having students mine ideas from each other's entries is powerful, both for making students care more about their daily work and for encouraging students to teach each other. Use the phrase, "Swap writing with your partner and look for ideas and skills that you can learn or borrow to help you learn." Students' investment in their own work rises!!!
Tomorrow I will share highlights from Kate Roberts' workshop about creating toolkits for struggling writers. I'm sure that this is enough for today!


  1. Thanks for sharing all that you've learned this weekend. I hadn't gotten to read the first post because I was still at MRA - just did. Both posts are filled with such important nuggets of information. Awesome.

  2. Lots of great gems in here that I need to write down to remember. I love the ideas of reading others papers for what can I learn from this that I might try. Isn't that what we do as we read slices and notice something that was done and now I want to try? Thanks for the sharing.

  3. Oh, I missed out on the day (spent it with my daughter instead!) and I knew great stuff would be going on. Thanks for sharing your learning, especially the information about revising, always a struggle for my sixth graders! PS. Are you attending the summer institutes?

  4. I think many of the concepts can be applied to my 8th graders as well. Thanks for sharing the information.

  5. Thanks, Melanie, for sharing your notes. I wanted to go the Lens of History session, but there are so many to choose from! I'm looking forward to reading your notes from Kate's session tomorrow. Again, it was great to meet you!