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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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#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?

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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.

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Helping Students Build Better Introductory Paragraphs

I always begin the school year with my students writing an argumentative essay connected to their summer reading text.  I do not grade this first essay, but use it as a pre-assessment to gauge my students’ writing strengths and plan the lessons I need to  teach them to become better writers. To help my students understand the expectations for Common Core writing demands,  I spent three consecutive days in writing workshop mode to help my students rethink and revise their first essay for eighth grade.

Each day the workshop began with a ten mini lesson and interactive foldable about an element of the introductory paragraph and then the remaining twenty five minutes was used for writing workshop, revision, and individual conferences. The writing went from general and casual to specific textual details and elaboration with strong academic language. Below are the slides I used for the mini lessons and a handout that I created to help students break down the elements of the introductory paragraph.

 

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Get Them Writing!

I am currently in the middle of reading Kelly Sassi and Anne Ruggles Gere’s Writing on Demand for the Common Core State Standards Assessments (2014, Heinemann). My personal teaching goal this year is to focus on close writing with my students the way that I have focused on close reading. I plan to increase the amount of writing my students do to meet the demands of the Common Core Standards and improve their writing. I have always been told that in order to build better readers and writers, students need to read and write everyday in the classroom.

In Sassi and Gere’s text, three levels of writing are described:

Level 1 = writing is personal, informal, and ungraded

Level 2 = is for an audience, more formal, and graded

Level 3 = writing is public, formal, and high stakes

The authors state, “Writing skills are best developed at Level 1 and Level 2.” For every text my students read, they are writing Level 3 assessments. I am planning on bringing more Level 1 and 2 to engage my students in writing opportunities that engage  students. Below is a compilation of ten different writing opportunities I have compiled over the years that allow students opportunities to write for themselves and for pleasure.

1. Five Truths and One Lie – You probably know this ice breaker activity, students write down five true things about themselves and one lie. Their peers have to decipher the lie. Have students take one of the truths and tell a story.

2. Things that Irritate Me – Make a list of all the things that irritate you. Then choose one and write about it for five minutes, as a free write.

3. Writing Territories – I believe this writing activity comes from Nancie Atwell. Students brainstorm possible seed ideas and share out possible writing ideas. Students can take pieces and extend ideas or even write from a different point of view.

4. Write off One Line – Give your students a sentence starter to free write off of: “One thing about me that would surprise you…”

5. Talk to the Hand – Have students trace their hands and write in the hand interesting stories. Brainstorm all the things your hand has done today.

6. What I Wonder – Based on the book Ever Wonder Why, students generate a list of ten things they wonder about and then find the answer to write about. Students can compiled their own class set of Ever Wonder Why.

7. I am An Expert – Students generate a list of all their expertise and then write about what they know about these topics.

8. Worst Case Scenarios – Students write about a worst case scenario they fear the most.

9. The Most Boring Thing – What would be the most boring thing you can imagine. Write about it.

10. Write the Small Moments – Ralph Fletcher describes this strategy of giving students a visual photo to write about. Students pick a small moment from the photo and write about it. What is happening in the photo? Create the dialogue if there are people in the photo, what do they need to tell?

Students need to know that writing is important. Kelly Gallagher writes in Teaching Adolescent Writers, writing is hard, but hard is rewarding, writing makes you a better reader, and writing prepares you for the world of work.

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Tee Shirt Book Reports & Other Pin-spiration

Today my students brought their summer reading book reports on a tee shirt. The idea I found on Pinterest earlier this summer and cataloged with my “Must Use This” pin board. The shirts that my students designed were amazing.

The requirements of the assignment included the title and an image that represents the book on the front of the tee shirt. On the back, students were to write a summary about the book and include key quotes. I had students wear the shirts to class and then they each shared a 1-2 minute book talk about their book. I said fill up the canvas any which way they design: sharpies, paint, rhinestones, iron-ons. The outcomes were truly creative and unique.

We have decided to auction the tee shirts online in October and use the money raised to donate to the non-profit organization Give More Hugs. GMH strives to bring basic school supplies and resources to schools in need around the world. The auction link will be posted soon.

The concept for the tee shirt book report originated from The Polka Dotty Place Blog and Teaching My Friends blog. Even though both these blogs are elementary school level, my middle school students LOVED the project.

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