Getting Students to Revise & Reflect on their Writing

What are we asking students to do when we ask them to revise and reflect on their writing?

I am of the philosophy that in order to become a better writer, one needs to write daily and look to examples of great writers as models and mentors. When it comes to writing essays in my English class, I have my students writing one essay each quarter. It is not enough if you ask me, but in this current climate of high stakes tests I continue to find a balance between teaching reading and writing.

I have my students write their essays in class and after I read through them, I allow students to revise and improve their essay for a better grade. After reading through the recent compare and contrast essays students wrote in response to  Melba Patillo Beal’s memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry, and Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” I planned a revision workshop to help students reflect on their writing and pinpoint areas where I found many students needed additional support. Reading through ninety five essays I found three places to “teach back” and help improve student writing: Writing a solid thesis or claim; Choosing the strongest evidence to support one’s claim; and Using better transition words.

I created a Revision Passport to guide students throughout the revision workshop and allow students to move around the classroom visiting different stations to help revise and reflect on their writing with the objective to nudge students to revise their writing and produce a stronger essay. After completing the work at a station I checked their work and gave them a stamp on the passport. Students had to complete four different stations.

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Station 1 – The Exemplars

I pulled out two student essays that I felt were exemplars for the entire grade. I retyped the essays and removed the student’s names from the essay for the rest of the class to read through. Students had to write down two things the writer did well in the essay and then record a “writing move” they wanted to steal or borrow from the exemplar.

Station 2 – The Thesis/Claim

Although I have created interactive foldables and taught lessons on writing a clear and solid thesis, this is still a struggle for many writers. The thesis or claim is the heart of the essay. English teacher Ray Salazar has a great blog post on writing a thesis in three steps which  showed my students. I made a graphic organizer for students plug their thesis into the 3 steps Ray describes and then figure out what is missing or what needs to be added to help write a revised thesis that is specific, debatable, and significant to the essay prompt.

Station 3 – Textual Evidence

Not all evidence weighs the same. Students need help finding the strongest evidence to support their claim. At this station I had students look at the evidence they provided in their essay and rank the evidence from strongest to weakest on a graphic organizer. In addition, students had to explain why the evidence is weak or strong. What makes the strongest evidence and why?

Station 4 – Writing Reflection

Looking back at their essay and the work they did during the revision workshop students completed two reflection tasks. Students had to rewrite, in their own words, the comments I made throughout their essays and what I wanted them to improve on. Then, students were to give an example how they were going to make their writing better based on teacher’s comments and the work they did in the revision workshop.

Below is a copy of the revision passport I created and used with my students.

Revision Passport WDC

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Mean Kids: Stereotype or Truth in YA Literature?

The following blog post stems from a Twitter conversation that ensued between teacher and blogger Brian Wyzlic, best selling author Lauren DeStefano, and myself.

Another sidebar, my fourth grader has a battle of the books right now and is required to read eighty books in the next three months so every night we read aloud to each other one of the required books (we have read 16 so far). In January we finished reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio and this week we read Cynthia Lord’s Rules. Both books are about young people with disabilities.  Also, in both books there are situations where young people are mean to these characters blatantly and overtly. In one scene in Rules a neighborhood boy teases and taunts the main character’s brother (who is autistic). My son stopped reading aloud and asked, “Why is this kid so mean to him?” And for the next ten minutes I proceeded to explain that there are mean people in this world and I can’t really explain what makes someone mean.

Thus, these two events within 24 hours of each other had me thinking about all the meanness that is in young adult literature and my own struggles to promote a culture of caring in my middle school classroom as well as instill empathy and caring among my own two children.

Here is a list of books about mean kids that can be used as teaching tools and more:

Elementary School Age Books

Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

This picture book is a play on words with pictures as important as the words.

Bully by Patricia Palacco

Addresses cyberbullying and how bullying happens outside of school.

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (Upper elementary)

A poignet tale about a little girl who is teased for wears the same dress to school everyday.

The Juice Box Bully by Bob Sornson and Maria Dismondy

Encourages kids to stand up for others.

Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean by Jane Lynch, Lara Embry, & A.E. Mikesell

Marlene is a bully on the playground until someone decides to stand up to her.

My Secret Bully by Trudy Ludwig

Monica and Katie have been friends since they were little but now Katie embarrasses and excludes Monica. Why would a friend do that?

One by Kathryn Otoshi

An amazing author, Otoshi plays on numbers to show that everyone counts.

Recess Queen by Alexis O’neill and Laura Huliska-Beith

Kids are afraid of Mary Jean because she rules the playground but one person turns that around.

You’re Mean Lily Jean! by Frieda Wishinsky

A new girl moves next door. When they play together she makes demands and is bossy. Carly comes up with a plan the next time the girls play together.

Zero by Kathryn Otoshi

Building self confidence an encouraging others to celebrate their strengths and differences.

Middle School & High School Age Books

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

This is a favorite among my students that addresses the sometimes cruel behavior among adolescents.

Bystander by James Preller

This was a moving book that I required all my 8th graders to read last year because it addresses all perspectives of bullying and how being a bully or bystander is not static.

Cornered: 14 Stories of Bullying and Defiance by Rhoda Belleza

An anthology from all different young adult authors addressing all different types of bullying.

Cracked by K.M. Walton

Told from the perspectives of the bully and the victim who lands in a psych ward after attempting to take his own life.

Danny’s Mom by Elaine Wolf

A guidance counselor comes back to school after her teenage son is killed in a car crash and now back to work the injustices in the high school she is in is magnified.

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

I am told that A.S. King is one of the best YA writers of our time. Lucky Linderman is a target of bullying and escapes in his dreams to a place where he is a hero.

Jerk California by Jonathan Friesen

Sam has Tourettes Syndrome, or T.S. and struggles to be accepted by his peers and step father. Sam goes on a quest to find about his father and more about himself.

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Catherine’s brother is autistic and her best friend is in California all summer. A new girl moves next door but will she be understanding of Catherine’s brother and could they be friends?

StarGirl by Jerry Spinelli

One of my all time favorite YA books about being who you are and not following the crowd.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

August was born with a facial difference and homeschooled up until now. Starting 5th grade at a new school he just wants everyone to treat him like an ordinary kid.

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Igniting #Genius, #Creativity, & #Passion Based Learning In the Classroom

This is my second year that I have incorporated Genius Hour into my middle school English classroom. Every Friday is dedicated to my students’ passion projects. This semester we embark on a Genius Hour project where students must build it, create it, or do something. To spark creativity, build community, and get students excited about genius hour students participate in a variety of STEM based challenges every other month. My students love these challenges and it is always fun to watch their creative thinking and problem solving skills unfold. Here are some of the STEM challenges that my students have completed so far this year.

1. Spaghetti Tower Challenge – Each group gets 20 pieces of raw spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and a marshmallow. Students are to build the highest, free standing structure that holds the marshmallow on the top of the tower.

2. Save Fred Challenge – Fred has been spending his summer boating on the great lakes.  However, he’s not too bright (Fred is a gummy worm).  He’s never learned how to swim, and he never wears his life preserver.  The worst has happened!  His boat has capsized and he’s stuck!  Fortunately, his life preserver is in the boat, but unfortunately he does not know how to reach it without falling off and drowning. Using a plastic cup to represent the boat and a gummy life saver to represent the life preserver, students must save Fred using only 4 paper clips.  Students may not touch Fred, the boat, or the life preserver directly with their hands.

3. Sink or Swim Challenge – Students create a boat using tin foil that will hold as many pennies as possible. The boat should float in the water with the pennies and not sink.

4. House Challenge – Students build a house using nothing but 2 sheets of paper, 2 band aids, two paperclips, and two sticks of gum.

Want to know more about Genius Hour?

Mark Your Calendars for Sunday 2/22 #ISTELitChat talking #geniushour with @joykirr 8:30 PM EST 

The awesome Joy Kirr, teacher and My Own Genius Hour blogger,  will be a guest facilitator discussing all things Genius Hour and Passion Projects. Joy facilitates #genius chats on Twitter and blogs extensively about igniting passion in the classroom. She has a wealth of resources regarding genius hour and we hope that you will join us for this twitter chat.

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Inferring Words Meanings: Teaching Students to be Word Detectives

When students do not understand an author’s vocabulary, they cannot fully understand the text.

Good vocabulary instruction emphasizes useful words (words students see frequently), important words (key words that help students understand the text), and difficult words (words with more than one meaning).

In improving vocabulary instruction teachers can help students by:

  • Activating their prior knowledge
  • Defining words in multiple contexts
  • Helping students see context clues
  • Helping students understand the structure of words (Suffixes, Prefixes, and Roots — SPROOTS)
  • Teaching students how to use the dictionary and showing them the range of information it provides
  • Encouraging deep processing — integrating new words into working vocabularies
  • Giving multiple exposure
  • Focusing on a small number of important words

Janet Allen, author of Words, Words, Words (1999), states, “Children and adults need to see and hear a word in meaningful context multiple times in order to know the word, somewhere between 10 to 15 times.” And with middle school and high school, variety is the key. Teachers cannot teach vocabulary the same way every time.

Reading is perhaps the most important element in vocabulary instruction.

So, how do I teach vocabulary in my English class?

I use interactive foldables with my students and early in the school year I give them a foldable to remind them of effective word detective strategies. These strategies include:

Context Clues – Read before and after words that might help explain the words

Word Parts (SPROOTS) – Look for word parts that are recognizable. Students can decode words by knowing prefixes, suffixes, and root words

Connotation & Tone – Take the word and apply it to the character and what the character is doing in order to understand the passage. Does this word offer a positive or negative tone?

Outside Connections – Have I heard this word in a song, movie, or maybe in foreign language? Connect the word with what you already know.

In addition to the foldable that students have in their notebooks to refer to throughout the school year, I mix up the different ways that I teach vocabulary. Here are additional ideas to teach vocabulary in any content area classroom:

Take a Poll – Using an online polling website like Polleverywhere.com I poll my student about a definition of a word. Students use their mobile devices to select the best definition for a word.

Idea Completions - Instead of the traditional “write a sentence using a new word,” provide students with sentence stems that require them to integrate a word’s meaning into a context in order to explain a situation.

Questions, Reasons, Examples

What is something you could do to impress your teacher (mother, friend)? Why?

What are some things that should be done cautiously? Why?

Which one of these things might be extraordinary? Why or why not?

-A shirt that was comfortable, or a shirt that washed itself?

-A flower that kept blooming all year, or a flower that bloomed for 3 days?

-A person who has a library card, or a person who has read all the books in the library?

Making Choices – Students show their understanding of vocabulary by saying the word when it applies, or remaining silent when it doesn’t. For example: “Say radiant if any of these things would make someone look radiant.”

-Winning a million dollars.

-Earning a gold medal.

-Walking to the post office.

-Cleaning your room.

-Having a picture you painted hung in the school library.

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Deepening Comprehension with 10 Collaborative Activities

Collaboration plays a key role in elevating reading comprehension. Conversing with others helps readers to establish a connections and enables readers to generate new insight in their reading. My English classroom is all about group work. I am not a lecturer. My students work collaboratively daily. I believe that we learn from others and effective collaboration is talked about, practiced, and highlighted in my classroom through a variety of small group activities.

Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels’s book Comprehension and Collaboration (2009) offer six ingredients to group development: (1) Articulate Expectations; (2) Discuss and Decide Norms or Written and Unwritten Rules of the small group; (3) Friendship; (4) Leadership — the most effective groups are leaderless; (5) Open Communication; and (6) Address Conflict and Disagree Agreeably. Throughout the school year students are practicing and developing ways to work and communicate with others.

Here are ten different small group activities that I use in classroom:

1. THINK DOTS or ROLL THE DICE- The teacher creates a numbered list of questions or tasks (6 for 1 die and 12 for 2 dice). In small groups, students take turns rolling the dice and complete the task.

2. JIGSAW – Just as in a jigsaw puzzle, each piece–each student’s part–is essential for the completion and full understanding of the final product. If each student’s part is essential, then each student is essential. The teacher breaks students up into a group and each student in the group has a specific reading or task which they are responsible for reporting back to their group members

3. WRITE AROUND – A trustworthy Harvey Daniels activity that allows students to collaborate on paper and in conversation about a specific topic or subject. Here are clear directions for the write around.

4. LEARNING STATIONS – Also called “Learning Centers,” are situations around the classroom that a teacher sets up for students to work in small groups. Each of these centers has supplies and materials that work well together and give students the tools to complete activities and mini-projects. Teachers can tap into the multiple intelligences to create the center or tasks. 

5. NUMBERED HEADS – Students are placed in groups and each person is given a number (from one to the maximum number in each group). The teacher poses a question and students “put their heads together” to figure out the answer. The teacher calls a specific number to respond as spokesperson for the group. By having students work together in a group, this strategy ensures that each member knows the answer to problems or questions asked by the teacher. Because no one knows which number will be called, all team members must be prepared.

6. MYSTERY ENVELOPES – A mysterious envelope is delivered to the classroom at the start of class and handed to specific students. Students open the envelope and must complete the tasks collaboratively to solve a mystery or answer questions.

7. GROUP TESTS – These are not really tests but I allow students to collaborate on quiz or test like questions. I offer two rounds: the QUICK FIRE round is a challenging task that students have 5 minutes to complete of one complex question and the first students to answer these right I might give them “Smarties” (the candy) or give them a pass on a certain amount of questions on the group test in the second round, the CHALLENGE. Students work collaboratively to complete a 50 or more questions. These can be multiple choice questions or basic comprehension questions. I have also put all the questions on a bingo board and required students to complete the entire bingo board.

8. AMAZING RACE – I did this in my To Kill a Mockingbird Unit, students were organized in teams and had to complete six different tasks I scattered around the school. Students were given clues to lead them to the different tasks. Students worked together to solve the clues and complete the different tasks. I describe the activity more in depth in another blog post that you can link to here.

9. THE FISH BOWL – I do fishbowls often, but I found these clear and simple directions from the blog Got To Teach.  Divide the class in half.  One half will form the center circle, facing inward. The other half of the class will form the outer circle, facing inward as well. The students in the inner circle will discuss a predetermined topic.The outside circle will be listening to the discussion,  making note of interesting, new, or contradictory information.  They are not allowed to say a word at this point. The inner and outer circles can then switch positions and repeat the steps above.

10. FOUR CORNERS – Again, another great collaborative activity from the blog Got To Teach. (I will be using Monday with my students to discuss the central idea of a text.) Choose four aspects of a topic that your class is currently focusing on.  Assign each of these aspects to a corner (or an area) of your room. Present the topic and the four related aspects to the whole group and give the students some “think time.” Students can then choose a corner to discuss the topic. Have specific guiding questions available in the specific areas to help support and guide student discussions. Representatives from each corner can share what their respective groups discussed.

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#GeniusHour Awesomeness

Every Friday in my classroom is Genius Hour. Students are given the entire period to work on a passion project of their choice. The only catch this year, I required that the projects have to impact the community in a positive way. By community, I mean the larger world, our country, our state, our city, our school, our neighborhood. Students decided on who their community audience was and spent twenty weeks working on their project. The results are amazing! I am so impressed by the great projects that were presented. Students created websites, blogs, made videos, raised money to help animals and people. It is awesome to see the results of their hard work this semester. I have posted their videos below, after the project requirement description.

Students had three options in which to present their project, no power points allowed!

Option 1. Whiteboard Animation Video
Set up something with a camera so it won’t move (on a tripod or otherwise). Aim it at a whiteboard or chalkboard. Record and start drawing. Use video editing tools to speed it up to four times its normal speed and add a voiceover (and music?).

Option 2. TED Talk
TED is a group devoted to spreading ideas. Their national conferences and regional TEDx events are famous for offering short, powerful talks and posting them online. Present your own TED style talk, video it, and post online. The TED Talk should be informative, engaging, and inspiring.

Option 3. Prezi Screencast
Create a prezi presentation and then screencast an audio presentation talking through the major points of your Genius Hour project. THIS DOES NOT MEAN FOR YOU TO READ THROUGH YOUR SLIDES. Rather, offer additional information to support the images and text included in your prezi presentation. Use free screencasting sites like Screencast-o-Matic and Screenr.
No matter which project presentation options students selected, the presentation was required to include:
1. Details about the topic. What did the student learn? What new discoveries were made? Where did they find their information? Include text and pictures.

2. How did the project benefit the community? Did the student raise money, educate, bring awareness? How did the student help change the world.?

3. What next? Where are you going to go from here? What could you still do? What would you have done differently?

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MLK Freebie: Bystander, Perpetrator, Ally, Target Foldable & Character Chart

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On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day I wanted to share a foldable I created for a unit on Warriors Don’t Cry, an emotional memoir by Melba Patillo Beals about her experiences integrating into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957.

This foldable can be used for any text that addresses bullying, bystanders, and up standers. At first I have the students create the foldable and then students work on the character chart in small groups. I expect that the students will add characters as they are introduced in the text. It is important to note that sometimes characters are not static and their roles can change. I remind students to make a special note when characters do shift roles and what was the catalyst for this change.

If you are able to utilize this foldable for a novel study with your students, please share in the comments section what book or text this foldable fit with.

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Promoting Democracy and a Culture of Caring Through Literature

“They cannot shoot my dreams, they cannot kill my beliefs, and they cannot stop my campaign to see every girl and every boy in school.” — Malala Yousafzai

In light of what has happened in Paris, France this week, the freedom of expression, the power of literature, and promoting empathy among my students is key. This week didn’t spark this objective, it has been my objective teaching middle school English these past two years. The books that I have decided to teach all focus on the central idea of peace, acceptance, and the power of words.

My eighth grade students began the school year reading To Kill a Mockingbird and are now reading the memoir Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals about her experiences as one of the Little Rock Nine integrating into an all white Central High School in Arkansas in 1957. Many of my students are also reading the young readers edition of I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick and participating in weekly twitter chats to discuss the book all month long for one of the “Going for the A” assignments. [Students contract for an A or a B for 40% of their quarterly grade. The assignments are for students interested in taking English honors in high school next year.]

While watching on the news and reading news feeds about the tragic events that happened in Paris, There are many parallels with Malala Yousafzai’s experiences as a target of the Taliban in Pakistan and Charlie Hebdo. Malala’s interest, passion, and mission is in the education of all children, girls and boys. From the time Malala was little she learned that words are powerful. Melba Patillo Beals also shows in her memoir that words can hurt and words can help change the world.

Steven Wolk writes in Caring Hearts & Caring Minds: Literature, Inquiry, and Social Responsibility (2013), “After reading a good book we can be changed.” Reading both fiction and non fiction with students allows students to question, think, and analyze. As much as teachers are teaching reading skills these days, teachers need to address and explore topics relevant to what is going on in our world today and social responsibility with the texts utilized in the classroom.

Introducing diverse texts into your classroom is the first step in promoting democracy and a culture of caring. It is also what you do with the literature once you have students read these texts. We want students to read critically and question the texts that they are reading. Make connections with larger world issues and inspire students to want to help make the world a better place.  Let students research and report on topics that are important to them with project based learning opportunities and Genius Hour. At the end of the school year I not only want students to be better readers and writers, but my hope is that hey never lose sight of their dreams and know they have the potential to make a difference in the world.

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Five Things to Look Forward to in 2015

Happy and Healthy New Year!!!

Welcome to 2015, there are so many great things in the works for 2015 to share with you in hope that you will join me for some of these professional development experiences.

Number 1

#ISTELitChat happens the last Sunday of each month at 8 PM EST on Twitter discussing all things literacy and technology. As the facilitator of this Twitter Chat, I can attest that the topics are relevant to teachers who are looking to boost literacy and technology in their content area classroom in creative and authentic ways. Our last chat addressed Twitter in the K-12 classroom and the archived chat offers a host of resources and examples. Our next #ISTELitChat will be on Sunday, January 25th at 8 PM EST. I hope that you will join us.

number-2

Have you or are your students reading I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition) by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick? This is an incredible book about Malala passion for equity in education and her own experiences standing up the Taliban. It offers personal insight how one person can help change the world and make a difference. I currently have my students reading this memoir for their outside reading assignment this January and will participate in weekly Twitter Chats to share their insights, reflections, questions, and understanding. The next Twitter book chats will be Thursday, January 8, 15, and 22nd at 8:30 PM EST. All are welcome to participate in the Twitter Chat using the hashtag #RMS8R.

number 3

Mark your calendars for EdCamp Mville on Saturday, August 29th at Manhattaville College in Purchase, New York to address relevant topics about education today. Edcamp Mville is a free educational conference where participants choose to attend and or present topics important today in classrooms, schooling, and educational policy. All are welcome. The conference is still in the works but if you are interested in attending or presenting please feel free to contact me.

Number 4

July 17-20, 2015 I will be presenting at International Reading Association (IRA) 60th Annual Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. My poster session is titled, “Get Techie With It: Technology Oriented Assignments That Foster The Love of Reading.” The essential question to focus the session is, How can teachers utilize technology in meaningful ways to promote the love of reading?

Learning Objectives include:

Participants will learn more than two dozen technology based projects and assignments (beyond book reports and essays) that encourage student reading and authentic responses to text.

Participants will understand how technology can be utilized to enhance reading and reading responses, differentiate, offer student choice, and promote collaboration.

Number 5

I have been receiving many emails about the interactive foldables that I created for teaching writing that I have blogged about this past year. I am amazed by the positive feedback I received with the dystopian interactive foldable bundle that I put together on TpT. I am putting together a bundle of the writing foldables and will post on TpT later this month.

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 180,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 8 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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