20 Things I’ve Learned From Teaching 20 Years

It is hard to believe that as of September I will have been teaching twenty years. My experiences have led me from middle school to elementary school, and college level teaching across the Northeast. For the past ten years I have been grounded in Westchester County, New York. Just like the posters that highlight “All You Ever Need to Know, You Learned in Kindergarten,” I have reflected in this post twenty key ideas that shape my teaching philosophies.

1. Smile and Greet Your Students at the Door EVERYDAY

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Research reports that positive interactions with students lead to increased engagement. Teachers can interact with students by verbally greeting them or offer nonverbal positive interactions like a High 5 or head nod with eye contact.

2. It’s not about the content, rather building skills

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Everything is Googleable in this day and age. No matter what content you teach, you are a literacy teacher. All that you teach requires students to be better readers, writers, speakers, listeners, and critical thinkers.  

3. It’s got to be relevant and authentic

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Students need to know why what they are learning matters and how it will help them beyond a test score. Students can detect fake as fast as you can detect BS. If it’s not relevant leave it out.

4. Technology doesn’t make everything better

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There are so many great tech tools available and new ones added daily. Integrating and utilizing technology is a thoughtful application. It’s not about using technology for the sake of using technology. Decide what you want students to learn and what the outcomes should be. Then, choose the tool that suits the desired objectives.

5. No matter how you dress it up, a worksheet is still a worksheet

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At the end of the year it’s going in the garbage if not before than. Think about the paper you distribute to your students. Decide what is truly necessary. Utilize Google Classroom and digital tools to help communicate the same ideas and activities. Be earth friendly.

6. Teaching is 24/7  

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I get so tired of non educators telling me how great my job is because I have my “summers off” and am finished working by 3. In fact, I know little to none who don’t work throughout the summer or take their work home daily. Just look at the amazing professional developing happening on Twitter every second of the day, there are millions of teachers online looking and discussing self improvement in education. So, let’s get the record straight, teachers bring their work home – sometimes 100 essays to read and evaluate in one weekend — and work throughout their summer.

7. You learn something everyday and never stop learning

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I love learning. I think a part of me became a teacher so I could never stop learning.  I have grown into the teacher I am today because of the countless professional development opportunities I have participated in. Twitter has only made it cost friendly and easily accessible. Attending conferences and reading professional books expands my knowledge, resources, and inspires my teaching.   As much as I learn from other educators, my students teach me as well. My students have given me great ideas for activities and even remind me to teach in a way that supports all the learners in my class.

8. Students Acting Out are Actually Reaching Out

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If a student is acting out or withdrawn then something is going on. I ask parents to email me when work is difficult or something is going on at home so that I more aware their whole situation. All of our students have baggage and it impacts their behavior and actions in school. Be considerate of this and know that your class is not the center of their world. Also, the support staff at schools are great resources to help with these matters.

9. Students need routines, but tedious repetitive work is just boring

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Scholastic.com states, “When routines and procedures are carefully taught, modeled, and established in the classroom, children know what’s expected of them and how to do certain things on their own. Having these predictable patterns in place allows teachers to spend more time in meaningful instruction.” Be careful, though. Ending every class with an exit ticket becomes rote and boring for our students.

10. Play nice with your colleagues. In life, we often have to deal with difficult people

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My grandmother used to tell me, “Kill them with kindness.” Be nice to everyone, even if they are rude to you. That has been my adopted motto for my entire teaching career. Kindness matters and gets you a lot further than meanness, anger, and rage.

11. Take care of yourself.

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Carve out a little time for yourself every day to do what you love – mediate, cook, exercise, spend time with your family, read. Your health and well being is vital to your success as a teacher.  Stress is harmful and eats away at your health. You must take care of yourself, eat right, exercise, and get a good night’s sleep to be a productive person.

  1. Continuously Build Your PLN – Professional Learning Network

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Who are your cheerleaders? Who are your mentors? Who are the people who inspire you and encourage you to do and be your best? Surround yourself with those people. Use social media to continuously build a professional learning network to help you reach your professional goals and push you to be a better person/teacher.

  1. Classroom Aesthetics Matter

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How you set up your classroom is a reflection of who you are and what you value. Think about what you put on your walls and the arrangement of student desks. If you haven’t changed up the materials on the walls in more than a year, change it up. Color, lighting, air quality, pictures, decorations matter. I am a proponent of brain compatible learning and know that the classroom environment affects learning 100%. It is important to create a classroom environment that is inviting, calm and without clutter for all the learners in your classroom. Bring in furniture, plants, and calming colors that are comfortable and promote learning.

  1.  Tap into Multiple Intelligences

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Ask students to sing, dance, act, build, and illustrate in addition to the reading and writing everyday. Movement is important and helpful to students. Allow students to show what they know in ways that highlight their strengths. Encourage students to act out a scene from a text or create videos that explain how to solve a problem. Students can put into song their understanding of a historical event and even create a dance about cell mitosis. When conducting a survey, poll students by asking them to stand up if they agree. Sitting and listening can be torturous for and at school students are sitting for more than 4.5 hours a day!

  1.   Families can do Without Homework

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As a parent of a middle school student and an elementary school student I see how homework can bring added stress, competition, and anger among families. As a teacher I have removed homework knowing my students are over scheduled outside of school with extra curriculars and family time. My only request is that my students read for 30 minutes or more every night. All my student’s writing and work is done in class. There is less stress on students and parents when homework is eliminated. I know what my students are capable of and what skills I need to address to make them better readers and writers. I see their actual work, not the work of mom, dad, or the tutor.

  1. Would You Want to Be A Student in Your Classroom?

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In everything you plan and everything you do in your classroom ask yourself, “How would I feel if I was a student in my own classroom?” If you are bored with any aspect of your lesson, then so will your students. Now, every lesson does not have to be edutainment. But, think about all those young people looking and listening to you – in addition to tapping into multiple intelligences, make sure your lessons are authentic, engaging, hands-on and minds-on so that your students are actively engaged with the lesson.

  1. Keep a Hugs & Kisses File

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Keep a file for the cards, thank yous, positive notes and warm fuzzies that you collect while teaching. At the same time, I also have an “Asshole File” with emails of parents telling me off because of a grade or score on their child’s assignment – this might make a great book one day!. It is always great to go back to these artifacts every now and again to read the messages that parents, students, and administrators in honor of you.

  1. Learning Happens Beyond the Walls of the Classroom

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Learning is not only confined to the walls of school. Learning happens everywhere and anywhere. In fact, I would say one place I learn the most is when I am driving in my car to and from work listening to NPR (National Public Radio). Listening to the radio shows and podcasts has inspired my thinking and teaching. I have listened to RadioLab so much to deconstruct the format as a five paragraph essay that I wrote about in Teaching Literacy in the Digital Age: Inspiration for All Levels and Literacies (ISTE, 2014).  I am also a huge proponent of field trips and leaving the classroom to learn about the world around us. Visit art and science museums, farms, parks, and research labs with your students. Can’t get out, then virtual field trips or bring the field trip into your classroom.

  1. It’s Gotta Be Fun (at least) 80% of the Time

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If you are not having fun, if you don’t love your job, if you are photocopying the same packets and worksheets year after year, it’s time for a sabbatical or maybe a new career. Amazing teachers I know are passionate, caring, have incredible energy, and their students always look like they are having fun learning. Your attitude is everything. As Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate states, “Teaching in a way that empowers students, develops a love of learning, sparks curiosity, encourages an Innovator’s Mindset, embraces risk-taking, and encourages persistence in the face of obstacles has a LIFE-CHANGING impact on our students.” This is the teacher I strive to be and want to be known for.

  1.  laugh-thi3

At least once a day have a good laugh – not at the spite of others. Have fun. Laugh often. From the scientific perspective, laughter is an elegant mind-body phenomenon that reduces the production of stress hormones and boosts the immune system.

 

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Speak Up: 12 Informative Speech Ideas to Promote Speaking and Listening in the Classroom

Speaking and Listening is part of the Common Core and starting by the first grade, “students are expected to know and be able to do the following during small- and whole-group discussions: follow participation rules, build on others’ comments, and ask clarifying questions.” By middle and high school the conversations and group work is more demanding. Speaking and listening must go beyond the “turn and talk” or “think pair share” opportunities we offer students during class activities. Students must also be able to present information to small groups and large audiences. Students can utilize technology and podcast or video their presentations too.

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Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

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Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.6

Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/SL/8/

One of my most popular blog posts is 50 persuasive speech and debate topics. I wanted to come back to this topic of speech and debate topics to catalogue informative speech topics that students can complete to practice speaking and build their communication skills.  Below are 12 different informative speech topics that creatively tap into research, writing, speaking and listening skills.

  1. The Letter Lecture – Students take turns “lecturing” to the class by reciting the alphabet or counting to fifty. Without having to think about what you are saying, you can concentrate on making eye contact, gesturing for emphasis, and other elements of great speakers. When lecturing students can put inflection on the letters or numbers as though they are really saying something, and meeting each classmate’s eyes at least once. This activity is more to help students understand inflection, emphasis, tone and volume, rather than focusing on a specific topic.
  2. Create an Imaginary or Mythical Creature – Describe the following: What does it look like (size, fur, scales, nose, claws, color, tail)? Is it a mammal, reptile, amphibian, marsupial, alien? What does it eat? What eats it? Why kind of habitat does it live in? Does it make a sound? What survival characteristics does it have (flies, swaims, runs, digs, camouflages, flights)? Present an informative speech on the creature.
  3. Splendorous Persons Award – We have all seen the award shows —  VMAs, the Oscars, the Tony’s, the Emmys, and the Grammys — the award shows that celebrate and highlight people’s achievements. Find someone in class and interview them in order to find out what makes them so splendorous – ask them about their achievements, strengths, and what makes them unique, why they deserve this award. Write a short speech to introduce and present the award (think lifetime achievement awards) to the recipient. As the recipient, you also need to come up with your thank you speech. Who are you going to thank and why? What lasting words do you want to leave your audience with?
  4. Personal Icon Presentation – Students are to build a visual representation of themselves (a personal icon). Students can use their icons to share as much or as little about themselves they are comfortable with using any objects, scale models, photos, memorabilia, drawings, jewelry, cut-outs, or collections that they choose (Do not include names or photographs that would identify you to the rest of the class.) This can be a collage, a grouping of found objects, a piece of artwork, your imagination is limitless. Concentrate on the overall message about yourself that you would like to communicate through the choice of symbols.
  5. “I Have a Dream” Speech – In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. students come up with a topic for their own “I have a dream” speech. In the speech students can talk about a dream for yourself and/or the country. The dream can range from the simple to the grand. The speech should include what the dream in, why it is important to them personally, and one thing they can do to accomplish the dream.
  6. Speech of Introductions – Begin by identifying a major, defining characteristic of “you,” a personality characteristic or a value which you believe in very strongly. Then, write a “personal statement,” a statement that defines the essence or a defining characteristic of you. The personal statement must be a positive statement about yourself; it cannot include negative words. Your personal statement will serve as the central idea of your speech. Develop one or two examples to illustrate what you mean and how this is true. Make yourself and your speech interesting by beginning with a question or anecdote. Provide an initial summary of the three or four defining characteristics you have selected to communicate about yourself. Discuss each of the three or four characteristics, offering examples or explanation to illustrate why your characterization is appropriate. Conclude by summarizing the three characteristics.
  7. Best Selling Authors – Ask students to speak clearly and forcefully by organizing thoughts and using their imagination to create a believable monologue. Act as an expert author on one of these subjects: Alternative Housing: Living in Tree Houses, 1,000 Useful Items Made from Spaghetti, Alternative Transportation: Roman chariots and horses, The Joy of Being Invisible: A pill that works, Changing Lifestyles: Rent a Mom or Dad.
  8. Teacher Travel Agency – You have just been hired by the Teacher Travel Agency as a travel agent. It is your job to present an informative speech on a specific travel destination to the rest of the class. The goal is to inform future travelers about this destination and why it is worthwhile for them to visit. Remember to include information that will be helpful to prospective travelers: weather conditions in the country, passport regulations, interesting tourist attractions, things to do there, places to stay, and additional information that is necessary for planning a wonderful excursion.
  9. Legends – A legend is a person, group, movement, or event which has influenced the way we think, the way we perceive our world. It may reinforce values we already hold or it may force us to reexamine our current values and establish new values. For this speech, students will inform the audience about a legend that has significantly influenced our world and or community. Thus, the legend might be a person, group, movement or event which has influenced the fields of Education, Business, Science, Art or Music. Or the legend might be a person, group, movement or event which has influenced American culture – Barack Obama to Jimi Hendrix, MTV to Google, Hillary Clinton to Madonna. The goal is not to outline the life of a person, group, movement, or event – the goal is to tell the audience how the legend changed things forever.
  10. Willy Wonka – You have invented a new candy. A meeting has been arranged with the president of Nestle Candy Company, the largest candy company in the world. At the meeting you will have a chance to inform the corporate executives of your candy invention. Write an informative speech to present to the president of Nestle about your candy invention.
  11. News Reporting – This assignment gives students the opportunity to see what it would be like to work as a member of a news team. Students choose a popular topic today and prepare a news report based on research and interviews.
  12. The Pet Peeve Speech – Express your frustration and anger about something that upsets you – a pet peeve. For example, a person who constantly interrupts or someone who is always on their cell phone. Voice your anger and illustrate what about the occurrence gets you so upset. What can people do to stop this annoying habit?

Have additional speech ideas? Please share in the Comments section below.

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Literacy 2.0 – Genius Hour Digital Inspirations

My friend and colleague, Carol Varsalona, author of the blog Beyond Literacy Link has collected numerous photographs and poems from published writers and teachers which she calls “digital inspirations.” These digital inspirations are artistic expressions and short poems that showcase both images and words. All of the inspirations written by Varsalona herself, and an expanding community of writers, are cataloged online in thematic galleries on her blog.

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For a Genius Hour assignment, I asked my students to create a digital inspiration highlighting their Genius Hour project this spring. These digital inspirations became an advertisement of sorts to inform and inspire others of their work this semester. Below is a slideshow of their work. The inspirations highlight the array of passion projects and the creativity among my students.


As technology continues to expand the ways students and teachers engage in literacy, teachers need to embrace the role of digital media in the classroom to foster a culture of creativity and innovation.  Literacy 2.0 brings to the forefront digital tech tools that enhance learning and literacy in the digital age where students are content creators and critical thinkers.

Passion is a powerful agent of change (Lucy Calkin) in a student-centered classroom. As Fisher and Frey have noted in their article, “Collaborative Conversations,” instructional leaders should focus attention on the Common Core Learning Standard Anchor Standard 1 for Speaking and Listening that asks that we prepare for and participate in collaborations with diverse partners, building on each others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. Adherence to the ELA Anchor Standard 1 for Listening and Speaking is essential to move educators from the sage on the stage to a more reflective practitioner, facilitator, and instructional coach who aims to create engaged, risk-taking classroom environments where passion exists and writers thrive.

The ideas presented above stem from a workshop Carol Varsalona, poet extraordinaire,  Laura Purdie Salas, and myself will be presenting at ILA 2016 in Boston, MA this upcoming July titled Transforming Lives Through Literacy 2.0.

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Revision as a Scaffold Tool for Learning & Understanding

So, you taught a lesson, students completed many activities to apply this new knowledge – discussions, interactive notebooks, graphic organizers, collaborative assignments – and now they are ready for a quiz or assessment to show their level of understanding.

Then, more than a dozen fail the quiz.

What happened? Where was the disconnect? These students clearly need additional information, support, and possibly reteaching before moving on.

In education, scaffolding refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process. (edglossary.org)

Scaffolding does just happen during a lesson. It also need to happen after an assessment, especially for those who have yet to grasp the concept or standard being assessed. It is important to NOT just move on to the next unit of study when it is clear that some students need more practice and attention.

Revision is key for my students who fail a quiz or short answer assessment. But I do not just allow students to go home, revise their work and then resubmit it for a better grade. Rather, I require these students stay after school with me working on the revision by completing a graphic organizer and questionnaire to help revise their work.

For example, students were asked the following two short answer questions in regards to our reading of Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals and I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai:

I. How does Malala/Melba appeal to ethos and pathos in the text? Use two or more examples from the text to support your claim. CCLS RL.8.1

II. Where in the text do you see evidence that Melba/Malala is consciously crafting her memoir to present a particular point of view? Use two or more examples from the text to support your claim. CCLS RL.8.4

The revision documents were the following:

Allowing for this revision work along with conferences with the teacher helps students to gain a better understanding of the topic. With the graphic organizer I chunk the concepts of craft, ethos, and pathos. The graphic organizer includes definitions and examples so that students add text connections and details. Next, students show me their graphic organizers before moving to rewriting. This allows for  an opportunity for both the teacher and the student to ask/answer questions to check for understanding.

Scaffolding doesn’t just have to happen during a lesson. Our goal as teachers is to enhance learning and aid in the mastery of tasks.

Additional scaffolding techniques include:

Visuals like Anchor Charts, Interactive Foldables, and Graphic Organizers allow students to visualize and organize their thinking.

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Models and Mentors can help students see what “Exceeds Standards” or “A” work looks like. I am always collecting student exemplars to read and discuss with my students what the writer did well and why it exceeds/meets the standards.

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Words that Introduce Quotes Sentence Stems

Sentence Stems or Paragraph Frames can help students who need a task broken down into small parts. I always offer outlines for writing and graphic organizers to help my students break down the larger or longer projects and writing assignments.

Checklists and simplify task directions help students self-monitor their progress

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I Feel For You: Rock History Matters

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On the cusp of the news that the amazing, all original, binary blurring rock artist, Prince’s death, I wanted to write this post as an ode to the late, great musician.

Henry Haynes states, “To define Rock n’ Roll music as black blues and rhythm-and-blues music mixed together with gospel music and white country music is far too simplistic. There was a cross-fertilization of the Southern music forms long before rock came along, and a different definition is necessary. He goes on to say that rock music is beat-oriented music that in its origins embraced the newly-created electric guitar as its primary instrument for melody. Rock music usually has youth-oriented lyrics dealing with romance, the pangs of young love, cars, surfing, and school problems to name a few.”

Prince was influencer, an originator, he blended rock, blues, jazz, soul, and more through his lyrics and instrumentals. He challenged the norms and expanded the definition of rock and roll music. His fingerprints have been left on so many musicians that we listen to today and will continue to hear in the future. His death is a tremendous loss.

As a teacher of Rock History, I wanted to share different activities that teachers can have their students complete to learn more about the power of rock and roll music and its influence on history, socio economics, and pop culture.

  1. Rock and Roll Musical Tree of Influence – We have all created at one time a family tree to trace our ancestors. What if we selected a popular musician today and traced their musical influences as far back as the birth of rock and roll? Who would Beyonce and Justin Bieber have as musical influencers from the 80s, 70s, and 60s?  After researching their favorite musician, students create a semantic map using Bubbl.us illustrating the musical influences of popular artists today. Bonus points are given for students who are able to trace musical influences as far back as the roots of rock and roll: Gospel, Country, Rhythm & Blues, African Music, Boogie Woogie & Swing, and Jazz.
  2. The Economics of the Music IndustryNPR’s Planet Money describe the economics of producing a Katy Perry Album. Who is getting paid in addition to the artist? How much money does it cost to make a hit album and how much do music companies profit from hit records?
  3. Themes in Music – Just as we read literature and discuss theme, what are some of the themes in music today? Students can research and create a wiki page or presentation that addresses one particular theme in music today (For example, the role of women as singers and songwriters, shock rock, teenage idols, country pop cross-overs, boy band resurgence, etc.) Students should offer direct evidence from song lyrics and artists who fall into this theme. Students are essentially writing an analysis and interpretation of this theme using music as a text to support their claim.
  4. Rap Masters Anthology of Rap – The Yale Anthology of Rap (2010) edited by Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois, highlights some of the greatest rappers of the past thirty years. It is not necessarily an encyclopedia of rap artists, but rather covers the great poetic traditions of the written word of rap music from the beginning (think Grand Master Flash) to highlight the golden era of rap music in the 1980s to include present day word artists. If you were one of the advisory board members for this anthology’s second edition who would you nominate to be included and why?

    Students write a proposal nominating a rap artist to be included in the revised edition of The Yale Anthology of Rap. The proposal includes:
    (1) The artist that you are nominating (please note that it should be a different artists then in the first edition) – be sure to include pictures and a brief bio about the artist.
    (2) Choose three or more songs that they sing – Remember you are focusing on these artists as masters of the word, poets, and great rappers. Include the lyrics of each of the songs you are choosing.
    (3) Write an analysis of each of the songs. Your analysis should include what the song is about , what about the lyrics makes it a great, the poetic forms the rapper uses, how this rap is different than other artists, and a reflection on the depth and power of the words.
    (4) Works Cited – You need to reference everything that you get on the internet. This includes pictures, music lyrics, videos, and any other ideas that you take from another website.

  5. Musical Influencers Across the Decades Digital Storytelling Project – Who are the trailblazers, the perpetuators, and the ones who have and will leave a lasting legacy on music history. It is their creative impact that matters rather than popularity. Therefore, the main focus will be channeled on the artists and genres that have made the greatest creative impact in their respective periods. For this project students choose either an artist or music group  who were trailblazers OR  focus on a particular music genre that has made a lasting legacy. Students research and create a digital story highlighting and artist or genre  that has left an imprint on rock and roll history.

To see more projects that address rock and roll history and see samples of student work you can visit my wiki page http://rockwritelisten.wikispaces.com

Image from https://media.gq.com/photos/5719149cbf3a8ba177b0f08f/3:2/w_800/prince-obit-01b.jpg

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Where film and writing merge: Match on Action

This weekend I attended ACME: Action Coalition for Media Education 5th Annual summit hosted by Sacred Heart University’s Media Literacy & Digital Culture graduate program and co sponsored with Project Censored. ACME identifies itself as “an emerging SmartMedia Education Network, a global coalition run by and for media educators.” ACME’s mission is threefold:

  1. Teaching media education knowledge and skills – through keynotes, trainings, and conferences – in classrooms and communities to foster more critical media consumption and more active participation in our democracy.
  2. Supporting media reform — few multinational corporations (Big Media) own much of the media that shapes our 21st century culture.– Media reform is crucial since only those who are media educated support media reform, media education must be a top priority for all citizens and activists.
  3. Democratizing our media system through education and activism.

Topics throughout the day addressed pedagogy, citizenship, digital production, journalism, and representations of race, class, and gender.  I was invited to present with colleagues from Jacob Burns Film Center on their curriculum Image, Sound, and Story. Currently, in its third year of fruition, Image Sound and Story is a “series of ten hands-on lessons/projects that emphasize process, challenge-based learning, collaboration, and reflection to build students’ visual and aural communication skills.”

Our presentation was hands on and allowed participants to experience a piece of JBFC curriculum. We focused on structure and I shared how I use Image, Sound, and Story in my media literacy elective, Media Savvy Kids, and how it also influences my English classroom.

The unit on Structure (Moment to Moment) focuses on how to connect ideas through editing and match cuts when creating a film. When teaching writing, writer’s need to offer a road map for their readers in order to understand the sequence of ideas. Writers use specific transitions to guide and emphasize their intentions. These transitions are similar to the types of cuts film directors and editors have to think about to create a coherent film. Below are the slides from the presentation and at the end I include samples of student work to highlight the intentions of my student writers.

 

To learn more about Media Literacy professional development opportunities click on the links below:

Jacob Burns Film Center summer professional development for teachers 

Media Literacy Education for a Digital Generator Summer Institute for Educators at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont

Summer Media Institute at Wedlock College in Boston, Massachusetts

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Close Reading, Common Core, and State Assessments

Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey define three phases of close reading and the aligned Common Core Standards in their text, Text Dependent Questions: Pathways to Close and Critical Reading (Corwin, 2015):

I. What does the text say?

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Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
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Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3
Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
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Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
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Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
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Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.6
Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

 

How does the text work?

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Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
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Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6
Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10
Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.3
Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4
Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words or phrases based on grade 8 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5
Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.6
Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

What does the text mean?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7
Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.1
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8
Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9
Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10
Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.1
Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.3
Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.6
Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
If we look at the most recent test questions on the New York State Exam (ELA Grade 7), the questions asked on the reading comprehension section fit seamlessly into these three phases of close reading.
What does the text say?
What does _______ mainly represent to ______?
Which detail would be most important to include in a summary of the article?
Which line best reveals the change in attitude towards . . . ?
Which claim can be supported by evidence from the article?
Which evidence from the article best supports the author’s claims in these lines?
How does the text work?
What does the word ______ suggest about _______?
Why does the author most likely include lines X through X?
How do lines X most affect the meaning of the story?
Which quotation best supports the author’s claim?
How do lines X  through X develop the central idea of the article?
How des the setting affect the plot of the story?
How do lines X through X mostly contribute to the story? (By describing, revealing, suggesting, showing)
How does the author organize the ideas in the article? (By explaining, showing, relating, describing)
Why are lines X important to the article? (they explain, emphasize)
What does the text mean?
Which question best expresses a theme developed throughout the story?
Based on lines X, readers can conclude . . . ?
What is the main significance of the ______ in the story?
Which inference do these sentences best support?
What does the phrase _____ suggest?
These questions represent the New York State’s interpretation of the Common Core Standards and can be used to inform teachers and students of how the state portrays close reading. I am not going to address the ambiguity of many of the questions asked nor include the uninteresting reading passages that went along with the reading comprehension questions. Rather, I wanted to make public the questions that students are being asked on these standardized tests for teachers to utilize.
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Game Based Learning Vs. Grade Based Learning

In my classroom, my focus is on learning not grades. In my classroom I offer student choice. What my students put into the class is what they are going to get out of the class. I understand that many young people are motivated by grades, but grades are arbitrary. Many of my students master learning outcomes in different ways.  

I want my students to be lifelong readers and proficient writers. Some of my students are avid readers and are authors of their own blogs. At the same time,  I have struggling students who have never read a book for school, rather comb through the internet for plot summaries to pass a test and copy quotes. With these diverse learners in mind, I have introduced Game based learning in my classroom to motivate the diverse learners in my classroom, teach content in creative ways that engage students, and allow them to work collaboratively.

Traditional Grading System Standards-Based Grading System
1. Based on assessment methods (quizzes, tests, homework, projects, etc.). One grade/entry is given per assessment. 1. Based on learning goals and performance standards. One grade/entry is given per learning goal.
2. Assessments are based on a percentage system. Criteria for success may be unclear. 2. Standards are criterion or proficiency-based. Criteria and targets are made available to students ahead of time.
3. Use an uncertain mix of assessment, achievement, effort, and behavior to determine the final grade. May use late penalties and extra credit. 3. Measures achievement only OR separates achievement from effort/behavior. No penalties or extra credit given.
4. Everything goes in the grade book – regardless of purpose. 4. Selected assessments (tests, quizzes, projects, etc.) are used for grading purposes.
5. Include every score, regardless of when it was collected. Assessments record the average – not the best – work. 5. Emphasize the most recent evidence of learning when grading.

Adapted from O’Connor K (2002).  How to Grade for Learning: Linking grades to standards (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

 

Where does Gamification (ie Classcraft) fit into this grading dichotomy?

As my colleague and author, Michael Matera, describes, “Gamification provides the structure needed to move beyond the regurgitation of memorized content. It allows teachers to create challenging and motivating experiences that meet and go beyond the required curriculum standards, while captivating students’ minds and feeding their hunger for knowledge. Gaming offers a personalized experience and a sense of autonomy.” (EXPlore Like a Pirate, 2016)

So what is Graded in 8th Grade English?

Essays Writing

Short Response Quizzes

Interactive Notebooks

CCSS Standards Based Objectives for reading, writing, vocabulary acquisition, speaking and listening

 

What earns Game Points?

Outside reading

Participation in twitter book chats

Articles of the Week (weekly reading practice and current events)

Collaborative activities in class and Teamwork

Attending X-Period

Positive Interactions w/Classmates

 

What are the rewards for Collecting Game Points (XP & GP)?

Food Rewards

Extended Time on Assessments

Earn Exempts on Notebook Checks

Limited Answer Choices on Quizzes and Tests

Preferred Partner Work

Preferential seating

Preview Final Exam (10,000 XP Points)

*Negative behaviors can also lead to having one’s game points raided (taken away).

 

Rewards are always evolving.

The one thing I know for sure, is that eliminating extra credit requires my students to put forth their best effort on every assignment. Revision is always an option to improve ones grades because learning is never “one and done.”

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Where Science and Literacy Meet: Investigative Journalism

English and social studies lend themselves too conveniently to reading and writing with historical fiction and writing with document based questioning. In fact, half of my ELA curriculum is driven by the humanities.

But what about science? Yes, there is reading and writing involved in science classes but how do we bring to the forefront the interconnectedness between these two disciplines?

This past month I wanted to bring science into my 8th grade English class through an investigative journalism unit. Students read and wrote an investigative journalism feature article with a science focus.

Guiding Question: How do the choices we make impact the world?

First, I immersed my students in science based nonfiction texts. We examined author’s purpose, text structure, and craft moves like Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.

The Society for Environmental Journalism recognizes and awards the top written journalism about the planet and I utilized their nominations and recognitions as mentor texts for my students.

I wanted my students to live like journalists. Students wrote down possible topics of interest and choose two or three to research more about.  Students began gathering the 5 Ws about these topics: Who, What, Where, When, and Why?

After a few days of research student selected one topic to commit to. Before we did any writing, I required students dig deeper in their research and compile an annotated bibliography with four or five sources to help them write their feature piece. The idea being, all good writing is based on solid research.

After students wrote their annotated bibliography they started their own articles. Paying close attention to the lead or lede, the author’s point of view, voice, and blending the qualities of narrative and argumentative writing. Our class became a writing workshop and the articles that my students created were informative, engaging, and inspiring. Topics addressed endangered animals, depression, obesity, pollution entwined with personal stories and connections.  I created an eFlipbook of their writing using FlipsnackEDU to share their work.

 

Because FlipsnackEDU is a closed sight, I cannot share the ebook with you, but below I have included a pdf version of one class’s writing. I have also listed resources used to develop the unit.

Resources:

Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Units of Study: Grade 8 Investigative Journalism 

Gallager, Kelly (2015) In the Best Interest of Students. Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

I’m Lovin’ Lit: Interactive Reading Literature Notebooks 2 (for Point of View Foldable)

Period9InvestigativeJournalismArticlesSpring2016-3

 

 

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Adventure Quests: Learning About Current Events & the World

An Adventure Quest is a mission with an objective. A quest is a long and arduous search for something.

Currently, my students are working on an investigative journalism unit, so I created an Adventure Quest based on current events addressed in the news each week.

With the use of ActivelyLearn.com, Twitter, and Google Forms I created a series of Trivia type questions. Each week one question is posted on my Teacher Website and students submit their answers on a Google Form. Each question is worth 50 XP or Experience Points. Additional GP or Gold Points points could be earned by the die- hard fans by going onto Twitter and searching the hashtag #RMS8RQuest to find more Adventure Quest Questions. The student with the most points at the end of the Adventure Quest, earns an additional 1,500 XP Classcraft Points PLUS a Treasure (a gift card).

Each week students log on to Actively Learn and read an Article of the Week. Both the Article of the Week and this Adventure Quest are optional homework.  I do not give homework in my class but encourage students to read to build their reading skills and knowledge about the world.

Actively Learn is a digital reading platform that contains books, articles, poems, and speeches. Students join a “classroom” created by their teacher to read assigned digital texts and complete assignments within the workspace. Actively Learn offers teacher designed assignments with ready made questions or teachers can design their own questions and prompts.

The articles that students have read read for the Adventure Quest include

Anthony Cuthbertson’s Newsweek Article “APPLE CEO TIM COOK REJECTS ORDER TO UNLOCK SAN BERNARDINO GUNMAN’S IPHONE”

NPR’s RadioLab Podcast on the Galapagos

Mark Jeffries article on Why We Don’t Wipe Mosquitoes Off the Face of the Earth”

To address International Women’s Day Ann A. Simmon’s article “Women Around the World Still Have a Long Way to Go”

The Twitter quests are not based on readings but events happening in the news that specific day, hence they are worth less points. Twitter questions have included Who did President Obama nominate for Supreme Court? and What Lego mini figure was unveiled this week?

Many of my students have been excited and enthusiastic to participate in the Adventure Quest. It is completely optional and has brought about healthy competition among many of my students.  I have a Leaderboard  or score board posted in my classroom for students to see who is on top.

I am going to have to create a really difficult question to break the quadruple tie that is happening right now!

Adventure Quests are fun side activities for motivated or motivating students to learn about a specific topic. The Adventure Quest that I planned fit seamlessly into my classroom since the trivia questions evolved based on what was happening in current events. Students were reading more and paid attention to what was happening in the news and the world around them.

Adventure Quests can be adapted to any content area. Students are in charge of their own learning and it helps them engage with content material in a new way.

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