Monday, December 15, 2014

Finding Some Creative Ways to End Information Writing Pieces

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!

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been working in some of our third grade classrooms as they have been working their way through our information writing unit. We wanted to try some different techniques for students to try out as endings. Yesterday, I shared some of the titles that we used as mentor texts as an It's Monday! What Are You Reading post, but I also taught the lesson with one of the teachers.

We planned the lesson as an inquiry, so we began with a chart that needed filling out. As the students studied the collection of books I had gathered from our library, they began to realize some of the different and creative ways that nonfiction writers sometimes use as endings.

I had way too much to get on to that chart fast! Tomorrow, I will photocopy some of the pages and include those on the chart, as well. The students surpassed my expectations of what they would find! My chart isn't as picture perfect as I would have liked, but charts don't have to be, and the kids loved the quest for different endings!

Nicola Davies used the circular ending in two of the books we studied, one of my favorite ending techniques. I highly recommend checking out her books, Surprising Sharks and Big Blue Whale. These are NOT your typical fact-oriented books and her endings are super fun!

Then came my favorite part of our writing workshop because the students tried out different sorts of endings. One girl wrote about Christmas decorating and began her piece with the bare tree in the hallway, ending with the star on the top. In between, she wrote all about the decorations in her house.

Finally, I just put my silver star on the top of my tree. I hope you liked my book and one more thing--Merry Christmas!
 Another boy tried out the "imagine" technique:
Imagine TH School with no gym, no exercise, and only lazy people. Well, that's what it'll be like with no gym.
As you can see from the chart and the growing collection of names on the "Who has tried it?" column, many more students experimented with more playful endings, inspired by a collection of mentor texts and my favorites nonfiction inspiration, Georgia Heard's Finding the Heart of Nonfiction.

Happy slicing, writing, and teaching!


It's Monday! Here's What I'm 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.

Some of the third-grade teachers have been asking me about endings for nonfiction writing pieces. Inspired by the post about endings from Clare and Tammy, as well as how Georgia Heard writes about endings in The Heart of Nonfiction, I gathered up some nonfiction mentor books with different endings.

Surprising Sharks by Nicola Davies is a wonderful example of a circular ending. She begins the book with the fear that humans have when they hear that a shark is in the water, but ends with the fear that sharks have when they hear that humans are in the water. Nicola Davies also wrote Big Blue Whale,demonstrating another way to have a circular ending. 

The students loved looking at Stay: the True Story of Ten Dogs by Michaela Muntean and loved the ending in this book, as well. Michaela Muntean closes the book with a powerful quote from the owner of the dogs about the importance of his animals in his life. 

What's in the Pond and What's Under the Log, both by Anne Hunter demonstrated how writers can leave readers with a responsibility. Anne Hunter talks to her readers, reminding them to take care of ponds and remember to replace logs in order to take care of the animals that live in those worlds. 

Another set of students examined Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe by Vera Williams and found that writers can also end information pieces with a thought or an image at the end of the day. They loved trying out this technique in their own writing. 

We found some other ways to end our work by looking at other books in the room. This work inspired the students to not only read closely, but also to provide creative sense of closure for their own writing. So fun!

Happy reading and writing!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Anchor Charts for Conventions

Last year, I worked with one of the teachers in our district on how to teach conventions to students so that they would not only retain the skills, but also use the skills in their writing. Together, we created a chart during an inquiry lesson that specified all of the conventions that her fourth graders knew. That chart held her students accountable for those skills whenever they wrote, and the skills on that chart were aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

Because her students did so well on both our district's editing and revising assessments as well as the conventions component of our district's analytic rubric, I have created a set of master charts for grades 1-5 that I am sharing. These charts align to grade level standards and increase in expectations going up the grades. Since these charts are cumulative, you wouldn't want to be a fifth-grade teacher if students haven't mastered the previous grade level standards!

My hope is that these charts serve as anchor charts for conventions within classrooms. They can be introduced during writing workshop with the important teaching point that writers pay attention and use conventions in order to make sure that readers can understand their writing.  I also am creating smaller versions that can serve as toolkits for students to keep in writing folders or within notebooks. Depending on how teachers roll out the lesson, perhaps students' initials may appear on the charts in order to increase accountability and designate "classroom experts."

So one of the CCSS language standards is addressed within out curriculum. Now, on to parts of speech and grammar... If anyone out there has done work around integrating some of the grammar standards into workshop practices and writing units, I would love to hear about it. 

Happy writing (and punctuating!),

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Slice of Life: Wondering about a Capitalization Rule

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!

My morning slice is more about wondering than about capitalization, but I'd love to hear who is an expert on dog breed capitalization. A classroom moment sent me wondering!

Yesterday, I taught a lesson for third-graders where I asked them to read a mentor information writing piece from Writing Pathways by Lucy Calkins. Many of you may be familiar with this resource and with the series of pieces about bulldogs. (If not, this is a must-have resource for writing workshop teachers! Worth the money for the checklists alone!!!) One close reader/editor noticed inconsistencies in the capitalization of bulldog. He was absolutely right! In some instances, bulldog was capitalized and in other instances it wasn't.

I thought that I was an expert on capitalization. In the moment, the other teachers who were in the room and I said that bulldog should be capitalized. (It shouldn't be. We were wrong...) This morning, I asked my husband about dog breeds and capitalization, mostly because before I wrote about not knowing the right answer, I wanted to see how silly I might look in front of my slicing community. (Garth is a pretty good editor.)

"Yes," he said. "Dog breeds are capitalized."

"Cocker spaniel?" I asked?

"I think so. But wait, cocker isn't really a place. I'm not sure."

"Poodle?" I pressed.

"Hmmm. No, I don't think poodle," he said.


"Not sure. American pug is, though."

"The A and the P? Or just the A?"

"You got me," he admitted. "I'm not sure."

 This morning, I looked it up. Here are some of the on-line responses:

From AP Style Rules at a Glance:

Animals: Capitalize names of specific animals: The dog’s name is Rover. The veterinarian could not save Snowflake. For breeds, follow Webster’s. Capitalize words derived from proper nouns: Boston terrier, German shepherd.

3. Should names of dog breeds be capitalized — for example, pomeranianlabrador, “bull terrier,” “American pit bull terrier”?
Dog breeds are not capitalized unless the name is that of a geographic region: Pomeranian, “Labrador retriever,” “bull terrier”, “American pit bull terrier.” (Dalmatian is an exception; it’s usually lowercase, but I would probably uppercase it when it appears with similar names normally capitalized.)

I will definitely return to this class and these teachers to tell them about my learning. While I would love for them to use correct capitalization every single time, what I really want them to celebrate is the wonder that this young editor inspired. Sometimes, we don't know all the answers, but we can ask questions and we have places and references to consult. Also, sometimes even teachers are wrong, but we can circle back and correct our mistakes.

Hmmm. Life lesson?

Happy Slicing,

Monday, December 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.

 The Paper Cowboy by Kristin Levine is one of my new favorite books. Although the story takes place in a small midwestern town during McCarthyism, the themes are universal. I love Kristin Levine's final message in her author's note about the importance of community. She writes, "the old woman who lives next door might need some company. The annoying boy on the playground might be longing for a friend. Even when a parent is sick or a child is injured, it's not always easy to see the need or what to do about it. But when people do step in and help, when they take a chance and engage with their neighbors, amazing things can happen." Tommy, the narrator, is a character you won't soon forget, as he deals with guilt, abuse, dysfunctional family relationships, and a community reeling with fear. He is a bully and there were times when I wanted to jump into the pages and shake him, but his reflections and honesty about his actions could lead to some powerful conversations about the complexities of bullying. Kristin Levine had me hooked in the first chapter, and my Christmas decorating was put off in favor of reading a great book.

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak had me and my teenage daughters laughing out loud because of the silly language.  While I love picture books with no words because they challenge readers to make up the stories, I LOVE this book with no pictures because it invites visualization. Once the silliness and interactiveness of this book is fully experienced, I would love to challenge young readers to imagine the pictures that they would put on the pages. If anyone has done this, please share!

If I thought that we were laughing hard in the bookstore over The Book With No Pictures, it was nothing compared to Waiting is Not Easy by Mo Willems. My teenage daughters had not read any of the Mo Willems books before and we left the bookstore with one and a promise to bring more home from the library.  The pictures are hilarious, but the final message is brilliant. I am not going to tell you what Piggie has in store for Elephant. Pick this one up and read it together with a favorite book buddy. You won't be disappointed!

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Just Five Minutes. Getting the Family to Write.

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!

One of the sessions that I attended at NCTE14 was about writing college essays. Full disclosure: this was my selfish session. I did not go as a professional; I went as a mother of a high school junior and a high school sophomore. I was curious to hear what college admissions professionals would have to say about college essays.

Rebecca Joseph, Valerie Gregory, and Evan Read offered some great tips for college essay writers, but one of the most important take-aways for me had to do with journal writing. Every. Day. For just five minutes, but every day. A collection of moments.

This was an easy sell for me. I'm our district's writing coordinator. I love to teach writing. I love to write. I could get my family writing.  I would get my family writing...

When I got home on Sunday, we went journal shopping. For the family members (we have a lot of family members) who weren't there, we chose for them. (I came home from NCTE with an inspirational journal which was my literary gift from Stacey!) Almost every night since, we have finished dinner by writing for five minutes. Of the three daughter who are still home, two of them are more compliant than one of them. My husband knew well enough to go along. My mother went along, and even my dad, who has significant dementia, has taken up writing every night. We all have the option to share or not to share.

Here are some results:

  • My youngest daughter, who is 12, has written several stories in her new notebook. Her writing life in school has been pretty non-existent, so she is thrilled to have time and an audience. She has noticed things during the days that she may not have and written about them in the longer than five minute writing sessions that we have kept up for eight days. (We took Thanksgiving off.)
  • My 15 year-old daughter has started a novel. Her sessions have evolved into chapter writing and we all look forward to the nightly updates on her characters who are stuck at sea. 
  • My husband has written about some of his worries that none of us realized were worries until he shared. 
  • My mother has gotten us all laughing with some of her recounts of family moments.
  • My father has written psalms and songs and some of the connections that he has to them. 
  • Even Julia, the chief resister at age 16, has written some poems and some commentaries about the absurdities of high school life. 
  • I have a collection of vignettes, some of which I have realized would fit into the book I am working on, adding needed levity. 
We have lingered at the dinner table, since many of the entries lead to more stories and connections. Even my father has lasted in the conversations. Even Julia, who is always in a hurry to get to her homework, has found herself sticking around and laughing with us. 

I have worked hard to keep the time limited to about five minutes, but sometimes people keep writing while others are sharing. We have unofficially decided that this is okay. No rules seems to be working as the rules. No one has to share. No one has to stop writing. No one even has to keep writing when they feel done. 

I recommend writing together as a family--not to come up with the best college essay, but to share silly moments and special times. We have found that we talk much more than we write as a result of our latest ritual. Hopefully, this one will have some staying power!

Happy Writing!

Monday, December 1, 2014

It's Monday! I'm Reading Books about Grammar Instruction

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 had a somewhat nerdy weekend and have spent time reading several of the books that I have either recently purchased or found in my professional bookshelf about grammar. The Language Standards of the Common Core are my next big challenge. In our district, we are working hard to figure out the balance of meaningful grammar and conventions instruction with drill and kill saturation. I have to say, there are some really good books and I am sharing my weekend sampling.

Mary Ehrenworth and Vicki Vinton wrote The Power of Grammar in 2005, and the lessons still align with the Common Core. They envision a workshop based series of units with integrated teaching points about specific convention and grammar skills. For example, "writers make choices about ending punctuation" would be a lesson during a narrative unit, while comma usage and verb agreement would be lessons that would occur in later units. 
Their message that "grammar is intimately linked with power" (p. 4) resonates throughout the entire book. I love the idea of emphasizing power to children when teaching grammar!

The Common Core Grammar Toolkit by Sean Ruday is full of lessons and specific mentor texts for teaching explicit standards and skills. This book is divided into grade-specific sections, focusing on the skills that students are expected to master. With many examples of charts, teaching points, inquiries, and classroom snapshots, this book could inspire experienced and novice teachers with ways to integrate grammar instruction into a writing workshop. 

Constance Weaver's The Grammar Planbook has many, many pages to mark and use as references. One of my favorite quotes in her book is "when it comes to grammar and mechanics, we can't teach it all without deluging students with so much information they remember nothing." (p. 31-32) On these same pages, there is a list of the twenty errors most commonly marked by college teachers, including several comma usage errors, several pronoun-related errors, and several sentencing issues. With mentor texts and explicit lessons, this book is an excellent resource for teaching grammar and conventions in the upper elementary grades and up. 

I am looking forward to exploring Grammar Matters by Lynne Dorfman and Diane Dougherty, as well as some of the work of Janet Angelillo. 

I did read several picture books this week, as well, but those I will share next week. If anyone out there has favorite grammar books or resources, please share!

Happy reading!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

NCTE14 Reflections: It's Not Just for the Kids: Stories of what can happen when teachers embrace curiosity, openness, creativity, and wonder in the teaching of reading

Another one of my favorite sessions from NCTE14 was a panel presentation of Vicki Vinton, Fran McVeigh, Steve Peterson, Mary Lee Hahn, and Julieanne Harmatz.

All of these presenters keep incredible blogs and I recommend following them. They are reflective, inspiring teachers, worthy of great admiration!

Vicki started the group off, introducing them. These people had not met before in person. Their connections are testimony to the power of of on-line PLN's. (We are all so lucky to live and teach during a time when we can connect with so many like-minded people.) Two comments from Vicki that resonated with me are:
"If we are not constantly asking ourselves what are the kids learning, then we're not being teachers."
And, from Donald Graves:
"The teacher is the chief learner in the classroom."

Fran's portion of the presentation challenged us to think about how much we support wondering in our classrooms. In a powerful pair of slides, she showed what teachers had "known" and "wondered" when studying two pages from the picture book, Boom, Snot, Twitty by Doreen Cronin, and then what third-grade students had "known" and "wondered" from the same pages. Her message was a strong one about supporting, allowing, fostering, and celebrating wondering in classrooms, asking the powerful and important questions:
"Is reading about listing facts or creating understanding? What is our goal in reading?"
If you ever are passing through Iowa, try to make a PD session from Fran. You won't be disappointed. Hopefully, we will get her to present again next year in Minneapolis!

When Julieanne took over, she focused on the importance of read alouds, even (no, especially!) in upper elementary classrooms. Julianne has done a lot of reflective work with her students, asking them not only whether they enjoy read aloud, but also about why they enjoy it.  Most kids reported that their understanding was higher in read aloud because of the:
  • envisionment that they are able to do
  • building of word knowledge
  • opportunities to write about reading
  • sound of their teacher's voice bringing the story to life
  • opportunities to think together when you don't understand
Some of the students complained about taking too long to read a book and spending too much time talking about parts. I can definitely understand these feelings, as I am one who is known to inhale great books. However, those students can read ahead and then listen to the book a second time with no harm done. Read aloud is truly an incredible time to not only teach important reading skills, but also bond as a community that shares a literary journey. 

I loved listening to Steve Peterson talk about nonfiction reading and his quest to engage his fifth-grade students in their learning. One of his slides was the answers that he got from students when he asked them why they don't like informational text:
Kids tell such truths!
One of my favorite stories that Steve shared about the connections that kids make in his classrooms came out of a recent informational article about invasive beetles that destroy trees. Through questions and conversations, the students connected the beetles to people who invade communities and destroy other people. Wow! Steve's teaching emphasizes the fact that all information articles come from and create stories. Another important aha!!!

I would love to have any of my daughters in Steve's classroom because he is so committed to letting his students lead the learning. To experience a unit in his classroom, check out a recent post he has written about his class's weather unit. Love the concept of leading with questions, a concept that relates so beautifully to Fran's presentation about the capacity for wondering.

Mary Lee Hahn was the final presenter in this panel session, and she shared about how she has been using blogging with her students. Listening to several teachers talk about their experiences with students blogging, I'm not sure why anyone wouldn't try it out. Even the most resistant writers in her class have developed stories with voice and humor during the fifteen minutes of time she gives them every Friday. As she stated, "It's an opportunity to celebrate writing for what it is and not what it isn't!" Mary Lee had students who created series for their classmates, as well as students who explored telling stories from different perspectives and in different genres. So many, many writing possibilities! I think that the funniest (and truest) quote of the weekend was from Mary Lee when she said:
"I could write some great retroactive lesson plans!"

That being said, I'm sure that the lessons that Mary Lee writes ahead of time are great, as well!

The message from all of these presenters was so loud and clear that our classrooms should be full of inquiry and children leading the learning with questions and wonder. They have all written incredible posts refelcting on this session. You can start with Mary Lee's reflection here.  Also, continue conversations about this session with the hashtag #teacherswonder. I'm sure that they would love to see you there!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Multi-Cultural Text Sets: An NCTE14 Workshop

One of my favorite moments of NCTE14 was being in a roomful of educators and listening to Jacqueline Woodson read Each Kindness out loud. The whole book. Out loud. To us. How great was that! But, this read-aloud experience was only a small part of the powerful presentation that Ann Berger-Knorr, Mary Napoli, and Susan Van Zile put together that showcased Jacqueline Woodson's books.

These presenters had collections of powerful picture books at every table. As we went through their jigsawed, interactive activity, we learned about the six elements of social justice: Self love and knowledge/identity; respect for others/empathy and kindness; social injustice; social movements and social change; raising awareness, and; taking social action. Grace Ahn has written a short post that gives each of these elements more description and can be accessed here.

These presenters have given the world a gift with their collections of text sets that support each element, and they have made their presentation accessible to everyone here.
As adults, we read the books that were on the table, then presented them to each other, recognizing and discussing themes and universal messages that lived within the books. The presenters had color-coded the sets, and our table's collection of books emphasized the second element. We shared Each Kindness, Every Human Has Rights, Paths to Peace: People who changed the world, and A Little Peace. If anyone wants an amazing poem to go along with Each Kindness, check out "Drop a Pebble in the Water" at

Note: I spent extra time looking at A Little Peace. This book could find its home into curriculum in many ways, since the photographs are from around the world, depicting varying levels of technology, available resources, communities, and geography. It's a book that inspires wonder and research with beautiful photographs and minimal text.

This activity would work with a range of ages as an inquiry lesson, having students explore the question of what all of these works have in common. This question could anchor the text sets for all of the social elements. I wonder if children could come up with the six elements if provided these text sets.

The lesson plan that the resource includes, designed by Susan Van Zile, is geared toward middle school students, but the question that she raises is universal:

"What better way to lead students to become socially responsible citizens than to arm them with the thinking skills they need to raise moral and ethical questions about contemporary issues in the interest of justice and fairness?"

While I can't duplicate the experience of listening to Jacqueline Woodson, I can pass long the access to text sets, blogspots, lesson plans, and resources from the session, Multicultural Text Sets: Landscapes into Stories and Writing. You won't be disappointed.

More to come from NCTE14 in the future!

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!

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,'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, 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

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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!