Going Vertical in ELA

I am currently reading Peter Liljedahl’s Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics: 14 Teaching Practices for Enhancing Learning (Corwin, 2021) after three recommendations. The book organizes “each chapter by exploreing one of the 14 optimal practices, beginning with a deep dive into what are the institutionally normative practices that permeate many classrooms around the world. It reveals how each of these practices is working against our efforts to get students to think, and then it offers a clear presentation of what the research revealed to be the optimal practice for each variable, unpacking it into macro- and micro- practices. These descriptions are punctuated by excerpts from the data, anecdotes from teachers, photographs from real K–12 classrooms, and responses to frequently asked questions (FAQ).” Each chapter provides micro and macro moves that I have been considering and implementing into my classroom. The first thing that I did was to decenter my classroom and randomize the seating daily. Every day, students sit with different classmates. Desks are arranged in pods of three. This has been the first game changer since there is no front of the classroom anymore and I am teaching from every direction. Secondly, I have no complaints about seating or collaboration.

The next pivot I made in my classroom was teaching vertically. Liljedahl states in the book, “One of the most enduring institutional norms that exists in mathematics classrooms is students sitting at their desks (or tables) and writing in their notebooks. This turned out to be the workspace least conducive to thinking. What emerged as optimal was to have the students standing and working on vertical non- permanent surfaces (VNPSs) such as whiteboards, blackboards, or windows. It did not matter what the surface was, as long as it was vertical and erasable (non-permanent). The fact that it was non-permanent promoted more risk taking, and the fact that it was vertical prevented students from disengaging. Taken together, having students work, in their random groups, on VNPSs had a massive impact on transforming previously passive learning spaces into active thinking spaces where students think, and keep thinking, for upwards of 60 minutes.” This means that the more time students are able to stand, think, and actively engage with the material the better.

How does this translate in the ELA classroom when students are reading, writing, thinking, speaking and listening versus completing math problems? Here are four different ways to shift learning vertical that I have been utilizing to optimize learning.

Gallery Walk – This discussion technique allows students to be actively engaged as they walk throughout the classroom. They work together in small groups to share ideas and respond to meaningful questions, documents, images, problem-solving situations or texts. Use a Gallery Walk at any point in the lesson to engage students in conversation, I tend to use them at the beginning of a lesson to showcase and examine mentor texts and model writing/reading passages. Teacher can also use gallery walks after reading a text to discuss ideas, themes, and characters. Gallery walks can be text based on visual texts.

Grafitti – Similar to a gallery walk, items are posted around the room: images, questions, ideas, concepts, or scenarios. Large sheets of paper or chart paper are placed on the walls of the classroom. Students write their responses, draw pictures and record their thoughts on the given topic on the graffiti wall. Students are encouraged to use colored markers to make the wall interesting and to identify each student’s work/response.

Use a Gallery Walk and the Graffiti format for students to get feedback on their work.  Hang student products, such as drawings, visual representations, poster projects, and or one pagers. Students, individually or in groups, rotate around the room and provide feedback to the creator of the work. Students are required to record one thing they like about the work displayed, one thing they wonder about it, and one thing the creator could do next or improve.

Four Corners – Students are presented with a controversial statement or are asked a question. In each of the four corners of the classroom, an opinion or response is posted. Students express their opinion or response by standing in front of one of four statements, and then talking to others about why they have chosen their corner. Four Corners promotes listening, verbal communication, critical thinking, and decision-making.

Question Trails – My reading specialist and colleague introduced me to these on your feet activities last year and I am obsessed. A question trail is an engaging activity that allows students to move around the classroom and complete different tasks. Students follow the “trail” of multiple-choice questions that will show what they have learned from unit of study, a text, or reading. Question trails can be collaborative or individual. It is really up to you the teacher to make that choice. The basic premise of the question trail is for students to understand the material the teacher has provided. The students answer a series of multiple-choice questions. If the questions on the trail are answered correctly, students will be prompted to move to the next question. If students answer a question incorrectly, they will end up at a question they have already answered which means they will need to backtrack to see where they made an error. They will need to determine where they went wrong. To learn how to make your own question trail you can visit Creative ALS Teaching.

Tomorrow when my students walk into the classroom we will begin class with a gallery walk of questions about feedback for them to read and respond to on big chart paper. Then students will watch Austin’s Butterfly and take notes about what effective feedback is and is not. We will discuss as a whole class what good feedback look and sounds like before we meet with writing partners to get feedback on the writing we are working on. There are a few teaching moves that I am implementing from Thinking Classrooms to allow students to actively engage in the lesson and use their mind for thinking deeply.

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CASL/CECA 2022 Conferences Takeaways

The CASL CECA 2022 Conference is organized by the Boards of Directors of the Connecticut Educators’ Computer Association and the Connecticut Association of School Librarians. This year’s conference recognizes and celebrates the confluence of educational technology and the preparation of our students for the future with a focus on literacy, social emotional learning, and 21st Center Skills. CASL CECA gathers technology integration specialists, library/media professionals, educators from all walks of life, and IT support personnel who share their ideas, news, expertise, products and productions.   The conference provides a wide variety of professional development and activities in the form of: presentations, hands-on workshops, round-table discussions, speakers, exhibitors, and our annual recognition awards.

Here are 5 key take aways from this rich conference:

  1. Social Emotional Learning is front and center. Valerie DiLorenzo presented on “Libraries, Literature, and the Counseling Connection.” With her students, DiLorenzo created engaging, eye-catching posters to grab students’ attention and get them to want to read high interest books that tie in with neuro diverse, social/emotional, and/or mental health topics. She showed participants how to provide satellite “libraries” throughout your school community (physical and virtual) that connect students with potential life-saving and/or life-altering literature. Teq presented 3D printing with Tinkercad and lesson ideas for Social and EmotionalLearning (SEL) where students can create models that represent their emotions.

2. New Literacy is Essential. One of the biggest challenges facing our students today is how to navigate in a world of misinformation. Creation of a news media literacy curriculum in collaboration with Social Studies and English teachers is a way to enhance students digital citizenship and critical reading/thinking skills. Newslit.org and Checkology provide curriculum for educators to utilize with their students.

3. Passion Projects are Still Relevant. Personal Interest Projects PIPs are opportunities for students to explore something THEY are interested in and practice key skills like creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving. Students and teachers rave about these projects because they allow students to de-stress, utilize maker space and interact in the library. Using a scaffolded curriculum that supports students through the phases of designing, doing and sharing their projects Westport HS Librarians shared how these PIPs are opportunities for students to meet up, learn about different cultures, and ideas through their making and time together.

4. Go beyond Essays and PowerPoint’s for students to showcase their learning. Are you tired of students submitting GoogleSlideshows and Powerpoint presentations anytime you assign a project? Different options for student-guided projects such as BookCreator, NearPod, Google Earth, and more choices allow students voice and agency to take center stage in the classrooms. I presented about hyperdocs at the conference and shared multiple examples to help educators consider hyperdocs for more personalized teaching time and less lectures also providing multimodal learning opportunities and lots of choice.

5. Educators and Librarians working together is vital. Now that we have updated the library standards you will see how critical information literacy is for everyone. Explore the standards, familiarize yourself with the standards and you might already see how you are addressing these standards with your students because there is overlap between disciplines.

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Teaching Point of View with Diane Arbus

Point of View is the standpoint from which a story is told. First Person is told from the view point of one of the characters using the pronouns “I” and “We.” Third person limited the narrator is an outside observer that focuses on the thoughts and feelings of only one character. Third person omniscient the narrators an outside observer who can tell us the thoughts and feelings of all the characters in a story. Third person objective the narrator reports the facts of a narrator as a seemingly neutral and impersonal outside observer.

I want students to be able to identify and write with different points of view. After a short mini lesson on point of view I give students a photography from Diane Arbus. Diane Arbus was an American photographer from the 1960s. She photographed a wide range of subjects including in New York City including, carnival performers, people with dwarfism, children, mothers, couples, elderly people, and middle-class families.  “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know,” she once mused.

Students look at the pictures and select one to write a narrative based on the point of view selected. You can make a copy of the activity here.

Another way to teach point of view is to view this short film “plastic bag” (2010) by Ramin Bahrani.

Follow up with these questions:

  • Who is telling the story?
  • How do they see the world?
  • How is it different than how you see the world? How is it the same?
  • Why does the filmmaker chose to tell the story this way?
  • How does the filmmaker see the world?
  • What message is being communicated?

A longer point of view activity might be to have students imagine they are a plastic bottle being thrown away in the trash instead of being recycled. Maybe you are a candy wrapper tossed in the hallway, a textbook full of scribbles or a library that can’t stand noisy kids.

  • Create a story from the point of view of an object in your school that has a problem.
  • Get into a group of 4-5 other students and brainstorm issues in your school. Choose one and develop a stance or viewpoint you want to take. What is the issue and how do you want to help.
  • What object could help tell your story. What is the problem the object has? How can it be fixed? Perhaps you want to create a slogan or tagline to make other students aware of the problem and how they can help.
  • Create a storyboard to communicate your message through actions and images. Who has the problem, how do they try and solve it? How can others help?

If students are reading a book they might use this point of view checklist to help identify and analyze the point of view the text is written in.

What point of view is your text written from? Use examples from the text to support your answer.

How would the text change if it was written from a different point of view?

Whose viewpoint is missing from the text? What effect does that have on the text?

Create a journal entry for one day from the main character’s point of view. What information will you choose to include?

What can you infer about the author’s interest or attitude towards the topic in the text you read?

If the text was rewritten to be a news article, what details would have to be taken out to make it unbiased?

Choose two quotes that show the author’s point of view.

Here is one more video to help teach point of view.

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Feedback as A Teaching Tool

Writing is a skill that needs to be practiced often. Many students do not believe they are good writers, due to the constant grading of their work. Students can be very sensitive about their writing and grammar skills. Due to this, when teaching, I do not use terms such as, right or wrong. I aim to help students develop their writing skills and prepare them for their future since writing is used everywhere, not only in classrooms.

I observe my students writing over the course of several weeks and create mini-lessons to teach the aspects of writing they are struggling with. Editing and revising their work can show my students the mistakes they have made and can help them understand how they can refine their writing for clarity and preciseness. Students spend ample time working on rough drafts and editing before turning in a major writing assignment. Writing conferences assist students in producing better work.

I want students to understand writing is hard, but also very rewarding. Writing is an important skill that is used everywhere and needs to be practiced often. I support my students by having them write every day, providing them with choices for writing topics, finding engaging ways to learn grammar, not grading every writing assignment they do, and helping them feel comfortable when writing in my classroom.

This year in ELA I have stepped away from traditional grading to offer more valuable feedback to students and families without using letter grades. Students do not receive a grade on any single assignment. The grade book keeps track of whether or not a student is keeping up with their work and how they are doing toward the learning objectives for this course. I want to be able to show students and families in real time which standard they are meeting, exceeding, and working towards our online grade book. More importantly, I add narrative comments on written tasks and in the online grade book to include more specific information that impacts each student’s performance.  It is my hope that taking away the emphasis on letter and number grades will allow students to take more risks and responsibility with the reading and writing completed in class without worrying that it will negatively affect their grade. The expectation remains that students will complete all of the major assignments.

After reading Sarah M. Zerwin’s Pointless: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading (Heinemann, 2020) I have attempted to create more meaningful grading and feedback practices.  In lieu of grades, clear and meaningful learning goals are established, feedback in multiple forms is utilized, and students are held accountable to their learning and growth. I have repurposed tools that I already have in place including PowerSchool, Conferences, Rubrics and Checklists, student reflections to better enhance student feedback for their growth and deep learning. 

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Stranger Things Classroom Set Up

This year I wanted to set up my classroom with a Stranger Things theme. I found great items on Etsy, Amazon, and inspiration photos on Pinterest. Here is a tour of my classroom with links to the items purchased. Please note I am not being paid for any of these endorsements.

Let’s start with the blank wall where my co-teacher’s desk used to be. Since she has changed classrooms and I am sharing my classroom with my colleague who does not use a teacher desk like myself, we have a blank wall which I hung this photo backdrop purchased on Amazon. Add some fairy lights and it brings ambiance to the room. We are looking for a donated couch or inexpensive couch to place against the wall.

I have two large bulletin boards in the classroom. One I use to hang exemplar student work so I used black bulletin board paper to cover all the boards and then found these Stranger Things wall decals on Amazon to add some character elements from the show. I also love these Stranger Things grammar posters from the PIY Shop on Etsy for the back bulletin board. The PIY Shop has awesome posters and displays that I have used in the past like the Marvel grammar posters and diverse book middle school book characters.

I found this awesome antique cabinet that is perfect as a cell phone dock and picked up a new school supplies organizer at HomeGoods. I have a file folder for catch up work for students when absent. I keep all these items on a table by the door so that students can access what they need. I already have some Halloween decorations set up and the notebook is for a bathroom sign out.

The entire length of my classroom are bookshelves underneath the windows and this year I decided to arrange the books by color. We had a grant for books and I was able to order a dozen new titles to include with the units of study. Many have a humanities theme to parallel with the social studies curriculum.

You are probably wondering where all the desks are and how they are arranged. I have the desks arranged in a horse shoe and in the back two round high top tables and one high top table near the front.

More pictures coming soon.

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Book Influencer Kit Summer Reading Assignment

Scrolling through social media I came across some posts where book influencers post images or video unboxing a publisher’s influencer kit. A book influencer is someone with more than 5,000 followers promoting books and reading. Publishing companies develop an influencer kit in order to market and promote a new book and title. An influencer kit includes a copy of the book, nicely designed press materials, and a few small gifts or products that complement the content of the book.

Oh, I would love to be unboxing some of these amazing publishing book kits!

The image above was posted by Abigail Owen on her website. The influencer book she showcases contained:

  • The custom box that matches the cover art and is a piece of art all by itself, inside & out
  • A custom temporary tattoo to match the cover, created by artist Amy Shane
  • A collapsable hand mirror that says “Born to Rule” on the back (the tagline)
  • A diamond art kit that is a skulls and flowers design
  • The book itself!

Inspired by the images, I designed this book influencer kit summer reading assignment for my students. Students will create their own influencers box based on their summer reading. For additional fun, you can have them create TikTok like videos unboxing and showcasing the influencers kit for others. The objective is for students to make the book’s content come to life. Students will have to think of creative ways to pull the book’s content off the pages and into something fun and tangible. 

  • Consider creating a print showcasing your favorite quote or phrase. 
  • Make the package personal by including a letter or handwritten note. 
  • Include products that will help a reader put the concepts in your book into practice. Maybe include bright glow in the dark stars if the protagonist is fascinated with the universe and the possibility of UFOs. Or atomic fireball candy if the book is Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. Even simple items like themed socks, buttons, and stickers can add a little something extra to your package.
  • Design the box so that it is visually appealing. Choose colors and fonts that connect with the story.  

The influencer’s kit should contain 4-5 items including the book to market the book to other readers. 

I am so excited to see what my students put together.

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#GeniusHour, Curiosity Time, & Passion Projects

Passion driven learning is essential today. And it cannot just be the teacher’s passion. Students are at the heart of the classroom and in building a community in your classroom all member’s voices and interests must be taken into consideration. Passion driven learning includes student’s passion and interests. Genius Hour and passion projects are one introductory step in helping to cultivate a classroom where passion, curiosity, and creativity are at the front and center.

I was first introduced to Genius hour more than 8 years ago through the buzz that other teachers shared on social media and at edtech conferences. While offering genius hour and curiosity time for my students, I have seen my approach to active and student centered learning evolve in many ways. The end result has always been the same, for my students to know: “You matter, you have influence, you are a genius, you have a contribution to make” (Angela Maier, Classroom Habitudes)

Genius Hour Menu

If we look to the corporate world, Google recognized that workers were more intrinsically motivated and creative when they had more autonomy (freedom). Employees were allowed 20% of their work time to pursue “side-projects” that interested them but were not specifically part of their job description. So, if this works in the business world, why not try it in the classroom?

Would students be more intrinsically motivated to learn?

Would students be able to unleash their creativity and inherent drive to learn, solve problems, and create?

Genius hour and passion projects are all about igniting innovation in the classroom Genius hour allows students to take the reins of their own learning and explore the topics and subjects that are of interest to them. Teachers need to go beyond teaching a subject that they only know because of a test or just to pass the class. School shouldn’t only be about passing a test, but rather creating a culture of learning where students are engaged, making connections, and helping to solve problems that will make the world a better place.

How does one start or kick off genius hour? How does one sustain genius hour throughout the quarter or semester or even the entire school year? These are two questions that I hear often.

First, it is important to introduce survey your students about their own passions, interests, likes. Having students complete student questionnaires & interest surveys are great places to record preliminary project seed ideas. Additionally, I show videos to inspire students about young adult entrepreneurs and social activities. I also read aloud picture books that inspire creativity and growth mindset. Titles include:

The Most Magnificent Idea by Ashley Spires (2014)

What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada (2014)

It’s Never Too Late by Dallas Clayton (2014)

The North Star by Peter Reynolds (2009)

I have also curated genius hour resources on these past blog posts.

Through the genius hour models and mentors and completing questionnaires and surveys students might begin to choose a project they want to dedicate some time to. Students then begin researching, creating, and collecting information and inspiration for their own curiosity project. On the Genius Hour menu posted above, you will notice that each project is 10 weeks long and students try a different passion project every quarter. Some students use the same topic in all four projects where as other students like these opportunities to switch things up every few weeks. After four-five weeks of researching and curating, students begin reflecting and thinking how they might share their learning with others. Sharing is an important part of the genius hour process.

Showcasing Passion Projects is an important part of the process, students are going to present their research and findings to a wider and authentic audience. I have had students create blogs about their process and complete an Elevator Pitch. Students have showcased their work in a gallery or expo to the larger school community. Students can create a TED Talk or Masterclass about their project.

After students go through the genius hour or passion project cycle, reflection is a major piece. Reflection can be in the form of a Google Form or Flipgrid video reflection. You might want to have students reflect weekly rather than wait to the very end of the project to divulge their process and final product.

Looking for even more resources, check out these links:

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Middle School Student Reading Assessment

Earlier this May I had read a post from Isabelle Popp on Book Riot, “What Do Your Favorite Books Say About You?” Intrigued by this article I found myself thinking this prompt would make a great opening narrative essay assessment and assignment for students. And a reading assessment came to fruition.

I have scaffolded the article for students to explore what their favorite books say about them as readers, writers, and individuals. My plan is for this assignment to be an un-graded pre-assessment of their reading and writing skills. I can use the data from their essays to map out writing lessons for the school year and learn about their reading habits. I made a same organizer for myself as a model for students.

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Back to School Stranger Things Themed Syllabus & Opening Day Activities

It’s a syllabus.

It is a hyperdoc.

It’s a menu of opening day activities for students.

Actually, it is all three rolled into one.

I saw a class syllabus from @MrsGearheart laid out like a game board with station activities for each part of the syllabus. Students read and complete the syllabus to earn badges. I loved the format but was thinking how to personalize it for my middle school students. And wallah, here is the syllabus, hyperdoc, and first days of school menu choice board for students to complete. The syllabus covers about the teacher, class expectations, each of the units we will complete throughout the year, information about standards based grading, and classroom policies.

Rather than the badges, that @MrsGearheart created – and there are a lot. I have paired down a menu of activities for students to complete the first two days of classes. For the appetizers, students choose one to complete and share about themselves with the whole class. Thinking in different formats, students can either create an infographic about themselves using Adobe Express or can conduct an interview with a peer on Flip(grid). The main course is an assignment that all students will do the end of the week. It will not be a graded assignment but will help me learn about students’ reading and writing skills, likes, and literary influences. I will share that assessment in next week’s blog post. For dessert, these are short activities to help students get comfortable with the tech platforms I use weekly and also tell me more about themselves. I am a dessert person so I thought, why not complete all these activities. I think students will be able to do the appetizers and desserts over two 40 minute class periods. If you would like a copy of this template, you can click here.

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Picture the Dream: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Picture Books at the New York Historical Society

Bryan Collier (American, born 1967), UntitledAll Because You Matter, 2020, written by Tami Charles, collage. Collection of the artist.

The poignant installation “Picture the Dream: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Picture Books at the New York Historical Society explores the events, people, and themes of the civil rights movement through the children’s picture book.

Picture books are compelling forms of visual expression not just for young children. This exhibition showcases 80 artworks from picture book artists who interweave art and storytelling, history and now. Looking at the excerpts from many pictures books around the themes of the civil rights movement provides depth, diverse voices, and powerful meanings. The stories presented inspire young people and viewers to speak up and speak out as agents of transformation and social change. The exhibit tells important stories about the movement’s icons, including Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Congressman John Lewis, Ambassador Andrew Young, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scenes are presented of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Ruby Bridges integrating her New Orleans elementary school, and the Black students who catalyzed the sit-in movement at the segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Some of the many highlighted illustrators and authors include Faith Ringgold, Brian Pinkney, Nadir Nelson, Jacqueline Woodson, and many more.

Picture the Dream is an open invitation to start important discussions with children, friends, and family about race, equity and social justice. Take a look at a list of all the books in the show and here is the family discussion guide created by High Museum of Art in Georgia. You can also find lesson plans and a powerpoint of 19 key images from the exhibit in this teacher resource kit.

Here are some ways I use picture books with my middle school students to present key themes and scaffold complex ideas.

  1. Read Alouds – Don’t just leave read aloud to elementary school teachers, in secondary education reading aloud picture books help to create a classroom community and build multimodal comprehension skills. Images and words work side by side to communicate a message. Read aloud can be used to hook students into a lesson or even useful as a teaching point during a mini-lesson.
  2. Gallery Walks – Images are powerful storytelling tools. Just like in a museum exhibit, hanging up the images from the picture books can allow students to read closely, infer the dialogue, and convey meaning from the visual text.
  3. Small Group Work – I often during station work leave a collection of picture books at one station for students to read, evaluate, and analyze to pull out key details and draw connections. Scaffolding guiding questions help students look closer at the images and text and the story presented. I might ask students what do they see, what does it say, what do I think, and continue with sentence frames or specific questions to climb the ladder of critical thinking.
  4. Jigsaws – Each student reads a different picture book along the same theme or topic and then shared the powerful elements of the story with the small group. Students put their heads together to make connections and draw conclusions about the bigger questions presented in the texts.

 

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