Close Reading and Smart Analytical Writing with Laura Robb

Laura Robb is just one of those published educators who I have come to trust for authentic teaching practices to improve student engagement and learning. So, when I found out that Heinemann was hosting a one day workshop with Laura Robb back in September, I immediately signed up. The workshop covered writing plans to support the development of analytical writing, practice strategies for creating claims and using evidence from texts to develop arguments, articulating criteria for a writing task and mini lessons to support what students should know, and addressed how self and peer revision improves student writing.

Here are some of the key ideas that I learned to bring back into my classroom:

1. Teach Students to Activate Prior Knowledge on Their Own

Students need to ask themselves, “What do I know about this topic” before reading. If students don’t know anything they need to read slowly and thoughtfully, be prepared to reread parts and close read to make sense of words, sentences, and paragraphs. Writing and talking about what we read also is essential to share what we have learned from the reading.

2. Mythology, Folklore, & Legends are Important to Teach

When I think about it, every state exam that I have seen over the past fifteen years for my middle school students contains a myth, legend, or folklore in the reading comprehension section. This genre is referenced everywhere, students need to read the different myths, legends, and folklore to identify the allusions, as well as understand the characteristics and structure of these types of text.

3. Help Students Create a Claim Using the YES/NO Strategy

Pose a question that relates to the text. Make sure the question has a yes and no response. Have students argue for the claim that their reading supports. Ask students to use their text to find evidence that successfully argues for the claim. Evidence can be details and logical inferences. For example: Can better care of land in the prairies reduce the negative effects of dust storms? or Can discrimination prevent a person from realizing his or her dreams?

4. Tips for Productive Peer Editing

“Excellent” or “Terrific” is not helpful for revision and editing. This kind of feedback doesn’t really help improve writing. Teachers must show students how to respond to student’s essays. Start with a positive comment and point out a need with a question. By offering students examples, teachers build their mental model of what helpful peer editing looks like.

5. Mentor Texts: Analyze Openings and Endings

Share with students effective leads and endings in both fiction and non fiction texts. Students need to see MODELS to help them build their own writing style and see what “good” writing looks like. Create a list of various leads and endings for students to refer back to often. Discuss what was effective and why. As Laura Robb states in her book, Nonfiction Writing From the Inside Out, “The ending sums up the emotional journey, leading the reader to an awareness and understanding of how the person grew from experiences and how the reader grew by following it.”

6. Rethinking How Teacher Evaluate & Grade Writing

Rather than a rubric, give student the criteria for a writing assignment, such as a analytical essay and give students two grades: the first grade is for the content; the second grade is for the craft, style, and writing conventions. Allow students to improve their grades by revising and editing their second drafts.

For more information about Laura Robb you can go on her website to see the more than twenty books she has written and read through her monthly newsletters for more ideas for teaching reading and writing.

Carnegie Report “Writing to Read: Evidence for How Reading Can Improve Writing” written by Graham & Herbert

Tagged , , ,

To Kill a Mockingbird Amazing Race

Two weeks ago I posted a Vine video I created of my students going around our school to complete an “Amazing Race” style activity to complete six different activities related to our reading of To Kill a Mockingbird. A handful of people tweeted me and asked me to share the activity. I am a big proponent of of learning stations and I wanted to put a spin on learning stations by making these activities a competition among students and setting up the stations around the school using clues related to the novel. For example, one clue read Scout said, “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.” Where can Scout fuel her passion for reading? Here is where you can find the next task on your TKAM Amazing Race.

Each group of students were given a map with QR codes that led them around the school to then complete the text based activities. Each team got an answer record sheet and used their mobile devices to read the QR Codes and required readings at the different stations. All required readings were linked via QR codes but I have linked the articles below for my readers.

Below are the six activities I asked my students to complete throughout the two day “Amazing Race” competition.

1. A Nightmare Among Us – Chapter 15

Read the article “Fear Factor: How herd mentality drives us.

Answer 3 questions to make a tic-tac-toe win. Write your responses on the answer sheet provided and bring to class completed.

2. Gender Codes

In Chapters 11, 12, & 13 Scout is reminded by others to “act like a lady.”

Read through the article “Growing Up Female in the 1930s South.” Think about what connections you can make between women interviewed and the women in TKAM.

Complete the compare/contrast foldable in your Interactive English Notebook identifying similarities and differences between the gender expectations for women during this time period and Scout’s struggle to meet the gender expectations.

3. Caste Systems in Maycomb – Chapter 13

What is a caste system?

A social structure in which classes are determined by heredity.

Caste systems, social inequalities, and poverty cycles are all sub stories in TKAM. Throughout the book there are divisions in social classes which cause tension and conflict.

What is the hierarchy in Maycomb County? Complete the chart on your answer sheet by placing where you think each of the characters belong. Then, find evidence to support your claim.

4. Different Dialects – Chapter 12

In Chapter 12 Scout and Jem attend church with Calpurnia. They notice that she uses language differently at church than she does in their home. Scout describes Calpurnia as “having command of two languages.”

Use your text to examine the conversation between Jem, Scout, and Calpurnia at the end of Chapter 12. Respond to the following questions, using quotes from the novel to help explain your responses.

  1. A) How do Scout and Jem describe the way Calpurnia uses language in church?
  2. B) What explanation does Calpurnia give for using language differently at church than in the Finch’s home?

5. Courage

At the end of Chapter 11 Atticus tells Jem, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.”

  1. How do you define courage?
  2. Who shows courage in the novel? Complete the chart on your answer sheet illustrating two characters who exemplify courage, how they show courage, and specific textual evidence that supports your claim.

6. Life Lessons

Find three people (Young people or adults) who can tell you the important life lessons they remember from the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Video record on your phone, this person talking about their memories about the book and the important life lessons they took away from the novel.

If you would like a copy of my activity with the answer record sheet and QR Code maps for each group, please email me or leave a comment on my blog and I will share the document with you. Please note that the clues I created for my students were specific to my school.

Tagged , , ,

4 Great Resources from #NCTE14: Day Two

You didn’t have to attend the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention in to know about the resources below. These websites offer an abundance of resources for professional development and classroom instruction.

1. Wonderopolis

Have you ever wondered what is in toothpaste or what gummy bears are made of? Wonderopolis is an amazing website that inspires wonder in its readers. This website is the place to go to answer questions about life’s little mysteries. Students can explore the archives of wonders and share their own wonders. There are great resources for teachers and beginning early next year, Wonderopolis will be launching a new website with a multitude of resources for teachers and young people.

2. Open a World of Possible

Scholastic has put together a collection of essays from authors, actors, musicians, and educators about the joy of reading and books. This is an amazing book and invaluable resource for teachers and students.

3. Nerdy Book Club

If you are an avid reader of my blog, that you know that I have contributed to The Nerdy Book Club website more than once. This blog is the best collaboration of book lovers, readers, and writers across the globe who have one purpose: pursue and promote #BookLove. Check out the website to read about reading lives, learn about the newest and best children’s and young adult fiction, and more.

4. #NCTE14 Handouts & Session Notes

Even if you didn’t make it to #NCTE14 in Washington, DC this year, you can still access session materials posted by presenters. Whether you are interested in a particular person or a specific session on writing, you can access power points and session handouts.

Tagged , ,

Take 5: #NCTE14 Annual Convention Day One

It was an amazing first day at NCTE’s Annual Convention. I spent the day sitting in thought-provoking workshops and meeting a number of young adult and children’s authors. Below are some highlights and take-aways from Day One.

1. All great writers BORROW from one another.

Whether a published author or budding writer, good writers borrow ideas from other writers. If we want students to write like great writers, teachers must share with students exemplary models and mentor texts. Great authors borrow voracious vocabulary, style moves, strong voices, and literary techniques.  Surround young people with great books and amazing authors, and let them investigate, notice, and study the writers’ moves to encourage students to love writing and see the power of words.

2. REREADING is essential.

Author of The Writing Thief, Ruth Culham shared that every August she rereads To Kill a Mockingbird. She said she does this because she “always learns something new each time she rereads it and she hasn’t learned everything that the book has to offer.” I can attest to this myself as I am always learning something new and different when I read and reread a text multiple times. Teachers need to slow students down when reading and encourage them to read a text multiple times and search for the gems that writers leave behind in their texts.

3. Fold Away

If you are an weekly reader of my blog, you know that I use and create interactive foldables in my English classroom with my eighth grade students. I am not alone. Foldables are portals for teaching the what and why. They are more interactive than a worksheet, and they are wonderful tools to help chunk and scaffold information.

4. Looking in Awe at Each other

As much as teachers are in awe of authors, authors are in the awe of teachers. The young adult authors I met and heard in various workshops talked about teachers as the ones who encourage, inspire, challenge, and cheer both published authors and student authors. Make connections with authors and encourage students to reach out to authors on social media to share fan love and book love.

5. Engage With Others: Learn, Grow, and Collaborate

As schools continue to cut funding for effective professional development, teachers must take professional development and search out opportunities for professional growth. I am a teacher because I love learning as much as I love my content area. Everyday is an opportunity to learn, grow, reflect, and be a better teacher. Look around — professional development opportunities are all around us, and with the power of social media, we never have to stop learning, collaborating, rebooting, and reflecting.

Tagged , , ,

Embracing Choice & Differences in the Classroom Through Differentiation

Carol Ann Tomlinson (2000) defines differentiated instruction as “a teaching philosophy based on the premise that teachers should adapt instruction to student differences. Rather than marching students through the curriculum in a one size fits all mentality, teachers should modify their instruction to meet students’ varying readiness levels, learning preferences, and interests. Therefore, the teacher proactively plans a variety of ways to get at and express learning.”

Differentiated Instruction IS . . .

Differentiated instruction that is more qualitative than quantitative.

Differentiated instruction provides multiple approaches to content, process, and product.

Differentiated instruction is student centered.

Differentiated instruction is a blend of whole class, group, and individual instruction.

Differentiated instruction is organic.

Differentiated instruction IS NOT . . .

Individual instruction

Chaotic

Just another way to provide homogenous instruction (you do flexible instruction instead)

Just modifying grading systems and reducing work loads

More work for the “good” students and less and different from the “poor” students

Teachers can differentiate through: Content, Process, Product, and Environment according to Students’ Readiness, Interests, Learning Profiles through a range of strategies such as multiple intelligences, jigsaws, graphic organizers, RAFTS, tiered assignments, leveled texts, think dots, numbered heads, cubing, learning centers.

The goals of a differentiated classroom are maximum growth and individual success.

When planning and created differentiated activities and assessments, focus on the learning outcomes. What learning do we want student to demonstrate? Offer students choices or choose their own creative ways to demonstrate their understanding and apply it in new situations.

I have written about and shared activities throughout this blog that I have created to differentiate from different versions of Roll the Dice activities where students select reading comprehension questions based on “I read it and I get it” or “I read it but I don’t get it.” I used learning stations often and offer choices on 75% of the assessments students complete in my classes. Differentiation should be the norm in classrooms today in order to help all students reach excellence.

Tagged , ,

Text Dependent Questions

I want to continue my post from last week with a closer look at how to create text dependent questions that scaffold students’ reading and understanding of a text. I just finished reading Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey’s TDQ: Text Dependent Questions Grades 6-12 (Corwin, 2015) and it is filled with valuable resources for all content area teachers.

tdq

Close reading has been a buzz world in the realm of education since the introduction of CCLS. Fisher & Frey go into depth illustrating what close and critical reading lessons LOOK like and SOUND like in the classroom. The authors define close reading as, “an instructional routine in which students are guided in their understanding of complex text.” (p.1) Incorporating close reading practices into the classroom teachers must select short, complex passages that promote multiple readings and challenge the readers thinking.  Students are required to annotate the text: underlining, recording codes in the margins, circle key words, and writing in the margins. Most importantly, close reading requires collaborative conversations about the text, including argumentation. Close reading is not an independent act. Collaboration and discussion is key in helping students to think critically about a text.

Fisher & Frey state, “Close reading is not one and done reading. Rather, it is purposeful, careful and thoughtful. Complex text does not often give up their meaning quickly or easily. Instead, readers learn to look for different things as they interact with a given text during a series of successive interactions.” (p.5)

The authors identify four levels or phases of close reading:

What does the text say? — It is important to address the literal understanding and basic comprehension based on explicitly stated information in the text.

How does the text work? — Examining the author’s craft, vocabulary, and structure (Connects to CCLS Reading Anchor Standards 4, 5, & 6).

What does the text mean? — Look at the “layers of meaning” in the text, the hidden meanings, inferences, and the author’s purpose.

What does the text inspire you to do? — Create action oriented questions and tasks. Fisher & Frey write, “All writers hope to transform the thinking of their readers. . . Learning advances when students are able to transform information into products . . .learners to transform knowledge into something that is meaningful.” (p. 139)

These habits of thinking and inquiry help students collaborate, speak, listen, think critically, question, infer, synthesize, make connections, revise, and draw conclusions. These are life long skills that are not only part of the standards but necessary for academic success and apply in the world outside of school.

As I craft text dependent questions for my students in my English classroom I am more aware of asking Fisher & Frey’s four layers of questions so that I can help my students understand complex texts and push them to learn to ask questions themselves.

Tagged , , , ,

The Art of Multiple Choice in the Era of CCLS

Multiple choice test taking and quizzes are used to assess your mastery of basic knowledge and information; and awareness of test-taking techniques and strategies.

In 8th grade English Language Arts all of the test questions asked are modeled from the Common Core and current state tests. Students are not being asked basic comprehension questions, rather students are being assessed on their ability to read and comprehend texts through deep analyses. This means that questions will address inference, academic vocabulary, author’s craft and purpose, and central ideas.

Here are some strategies to help approach these types of questions.

First and foremost, it is important that you understand the question. The question is called the stem, and the answer choices are called distractors. The purpose of the distractors is to distract you from identifying and choosing the correct answer. Thus, in the process of taking a multiple choice test or quiz, all of your knowledge, expertise, and judgements are utilized. The first thing upon being presented with a question is to ask yourself, “What is the question asking?” Look for keywords or phrases to help you understand. It is important to have the central point clearly in your mind before going on to consider the distractors.

Let’s look at an example from the most recent quiz for To Kill A Mockingbird. The question states:

“There goes the meanest man ever God blew breath into, “murmured Calpurnia, and she spat meditatively into the yard. We looked at her in surprise, for Calpurnia rarely commented on the ways of white people.” (Chapter 1).
Based on the passage, it can be inferred thatA. Calpurnia doesn’t like Mr. RadleyB. Calpurnia is superstitious

C.  Calpurnia is African American

D. Calpurnia is mean

The question is not asking how Calpurnia feels about Mr. Radley. The stem is asking what can be inferred. An inference is a logical conclusion or theory based on prior knowledge (schema) and textual evidence. It is obvious that Calpurnia doesn’t like Mr. Radley, she spits into the Radley’s yard and states he is “the meanest man.” What is the author stating between the lines of the passage. That is the inference to look for.

Make sure you read the stem correctly. Notice the way the question is phrased. One of the most important principles in test taking is understand what the question is asking and understand exactly what the stem is asking before considering the distractors.

Another technique for assessing the stem and interpreting the question correctly is to rephrase the question so that it is very clear in your own mind. Rephrasing in your own language can help you to read the question correctly and, in turn, choose the appropriate response. If possible, think of the correct answer before considering the distractors.

Distractors are various alternatives chosen to be as close as possible to the right answer. One method of helping you choose the correct answer is to ask yourself whether each possible alternative is true or false in relation to the stem. If you are answering a test question in which one distractor is considerably different from the others, it is probably not the correct choice. Look for similarities in two or three of the choices remembering that the purpose of the distractors is to divert you from the one right answer. Another effective technique for handling multiple variables is to use the process of elimination.

Thus, going back to our example above. It is too obvious that Calpuria doesn’t like Mr. Radley so we can eliminate answer A. It is possible that she is mean (Answer D) because she is talking badly about another character and because she spits in the yard, maybe she is superstitous (Answer C). But looking closer at the passage, the later states, “Calpurnia rarely commented on the ways of white people.”  This is the first time in all of Chapter 1 that the author has made a comment about race. Never before had the author mentioned anything about race or color. Why would Calpurnia rarely comment on the ways of white people? Based on what we know and have learned in social studies during this time period in the Jim Crow era, it was proper etiquette for African American not to say anything about white people. We can infer that Calpurnia is African American (Answer B) because of this textual detail and our prior knowledge from social studies.

How do we get students thinking more deeply about the text and going beyond the literal meaning is what most teachers are focusing on these days. To help my students go deeper into the text, I created different types of classroom activities that require students to go back into the text multiple times. Below is a multi layered close reading activity that begins with the literal recall of the novel and then moved into deeper text dependent questions. The more students talk about the text and the more they go back into the text, deep interpretation and understanding is possible.

 

Tagged , , , ,

Mark Your Calendars for K12Online Conference

What does “igniting innovation” mean to you?

Gamification

STEM

Genius Hour & Passion Driving Learning

Project Based Learning

If any of the above teaching practices came to your mind OR you want to know about exciting things teachers are doing around the world to spark interest and learning into their classrooms, then the K12 Online Conference is something you need to check out.

As stated on their website, the “K12 Online Conference is a FREE, online conference open to ANYONE organized by educators for educators around the world interested in integrating emerging technologies into classroom practice. A goal of the conference is to help educators make sense of and meet the needs of a continually changing learning landscape. This online conference provides an annual opportunity for educators around the world to share ideas and best practices relating to the use of web 2.0 tools for learning through an online conference.”

Every morning for the next two weeks (October 20th – October 31st), the conference posts video keynotes created by teachers on topics such as Gamification, STEAM & STEM, Stories for Learning, Genius Hour and Passion Driven Learning. This year’s keynotes include Joy Kirr, Kyle Dunbar, and Kevin Hodgson to name a few.

On October 30th, my presentation will also be part of the conference. “Moving From “Some Study I Used to Know” to Inquisitive Learning with Genius Hour & Passion Projects. Whether you are a veteran teacher of Genius Hour or looking to find out more about implementing Genius Hour in your classroom, this presentation addresses my own journey with my middle school students to implement Genius Hour with eighth grade students.

I based my presentation on the following video:

Here are additional resources mentioned in my presentation:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1xFl9phtuOAwnHF4VsYVBr7Quvm9FJy09UEbh0fCM9Wo/pub

For the complete conference schedule Click Here.

You can view my video presentation here.

Tagged , ,

#ISTELitChat Sunday October 19, 2014 @8 PM EST

This upcoming Sunday I will be hosting a Twitter Chat for the ISTE Literacy PLN as part of Connected Educator Month. Please join us as we discuss literacy, technology, and ISTE.  Below are the questions to facilitate the chat. We hope that you can join us for an interesting and resourceful conversation.

Q1: Introduce yourself, where you are from and your role in education.

Q2:. How do you define literacy?

Q3: What does literacy in the content areas mean to you?

Q4: What does literacy in the content areas look like in your classroom/school? Please include a grade level and subject area.

Q5: What are you “go to” tech tools to promote literacy in the content areas?

Q6: How do you see technology supporting literacy in your content areas classroom?

Q7: Where do you learn about and or find inspiration for literacy and technology?

Q8: How can ISTE’s Literacy PLN support your needs to meet the literacy and technology standards embedded throughout the Common Core Learning Standards?

Tagged , ,

Dolls, Vases, Fringes — Memoir Writing & Historical Artifacts

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.

Dinner is a casual affair.

Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,

Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.

Two who have lived their day,

But keep on putting on their clothes

And putting things away.

And remembering . . .

Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,

As they lean over the beans in their rented back

room

that is full of beads and receipts and dolls

and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

– Gwendolyn Brooks

Dolls, Vases, & Fringes

We began class by reading aloud Gwendolyn Brook’s poem. Students were put into small groups and given an object from the cigar box pictured above. Students were to pretend that the object in their possession belonged to the couple described in the poem they just read. Students were to write a history of that object in the couple’s lives. Where did they get it? Why have they kept it? Where do they keep it in their rooms? What does it mean to them?

Students could write the collaborative piece in either the first person . . .”I remember when we got this . . .” or in third person . . .”The couple in the poem got this on the day they . . .” Be as specific as possible. Tell lots of details about the couple’s lives. Students were in effect, creating their memories. Making them as vivid and as interesting as possible.

After ten minutes we came together to share our histories as a whole class. Students also wrote down two or three possible titles for the poem.

The poem’s title is “The Bean Eaters” by Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

This activity was designed by my classmate while at Syracuse University working on our teaching degrees. It is an activity that I use with both my middle school students as a text pairing with the short story “A Summer Tragedy” by Arna Bontemps. In addition, I use it with my graduate students to address the role of artifacts in our classroom to teach historical literacy and creative writing.

Tagged , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 149 other followers