Category Archives: Uncategorized

Digital Tools to Support Literacy in the Time of Remote Learning & E-Learning

My mailbox has been full of newsletters and emails about resources for remote learning, e-Learning, and virtual learning, and maybe for you too. In a small amount of time, teachers and school have shifted to online learning to help our students maintain some normalcy, meet learning targets, and support the community.

How do you make sense of all the educational platforms and virtual lessons ideas that will best support your students?

Web20Classroom created an infographic on “Teacher Tips for Active Learning Interactions Online” showcasing four types of blending learning opportunities for students whether we are in the classroom our working remotely: Learner-Content, Learner – Instructor, Learner to Learner, and Learner to Technology. We can think about these four types of active learning strategies when we think about planning our online lessons so that students are still engaged in active and blended lessons remotely.

Learner-Content is the traditional style of lectures and presentations, videos, and readings used to present information. Rather than pushing out a chapter from a textbook, teachers might consider a platform like Edpuzzle that allows teachers to embed questions in videos (from YouTube & TED) to improve attention and comprehension for students viewing. Additionally, if using print text, Actively Learn is an E-reading platform that improves students’ reading comprehension. Teachers can customize instruction, provide. real-time feedback, allowing peers to collaborate, and get analytics on student performance. If you have slide decks in Google Slides or Power points, you can upload them on to Nearpod and create interactive and engaging lessons for students with extended responses, polls, and games. Teachers might also consider making their own video lessons using the Screencastify Chrome Extension. This extension allows you to easily record and screencast your screen with accompanying audio and video commentary to present a new idea, concept, or lesson.

Learner-Instructor connections are so important and we do not want to lose the interaction and relationships among our students. Using Google Hangouts and Zoom  provide a time and place for learners and instructions to connect face to face. Teachers can schedule conferences to check in with small groups or individual students. I currently hold a Google Hangout once a week for questions and check-ins with my middle school and graduate students. I also email and call students to check in when they do not turn in work or seem to be missing days on end.

Learner-Learner is the interaction between one learner and other learners. If you are like me, group work and collaboration happened everyday in my classroom. How do we re-create this in a virtual world? Padlet allows teachers to create an online bulletin board to display information for any topic, use for brainstorming, and students sharing their insight. Users can add images, links, and videos. Flipgrid allows students to share their voice with one another. This social learning platform allows educators to ask a question, then the students respond in a video. Students are then able to respond to one another, creating a “web” of discussion. I use Flipgrid for sharing writing, book reviews, and group discussions. Seesaw  is Padlet and Flipgrid combined. It can be utilized for student engagement and digital-portfolios where students create, reflect, share, and collaborate.

Learner-Technology is about the interaction between learners and technologies to deliver instruction. In this current climate of remote learning and virtual learning we have shifted all our work online. That also means our students are spending A LOT of time online and in front of a screen. With a 9th grader and 5th grader at home, I see how much time we are all spending online — more than 5 hours a day online! Choose assignments that are meaningful and don’t try to fill a 40 or 50 minute time block as if we were still in our classrooms. Create your lessons wisely. There are so many fantastic resources online to support reading, writing, and teaching remotely. Let’s design experiences that are engaging, offer choice (like Hyperdocs and Choice Boards), support ALL learners, and are meaningful.

Looking for more ideas, check out:

 

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Poet of the Day Playlist

Educators are teaching remotely now that school are closed due to COVID-19. My focus for my students and children is staying healthy under this stress, fear, and anxiety of the current situation. Whereas grade are important, mental health is my primary focus. I do not want to cause more stress, fear or anxiety that children might already be feeling working from home, confined to their home, and away from their friends.

As educator and author Kelly Gallagher stated on his website, “The last thing I want to do with my home-bound students is to load them down with brain-numbing packet work. So this lesson plan was designed to honor student choice, student agency, student voice. This is not the time to give students chapter quizzes on their at-home reading of 1984.”

Similarly, I want to provide my students with opportunities to read, write, and reflect. I have created a poetry playlist for the next few weeks so that my students can read poetry, learn about different poets, and then write in response to the poem. I want to inspire them to write their own poetry.

Poetry Playlist

April in National Poetry month but these poems and poets can she shared any time of the year. I am sharing this three week poetry playlist with teachers to use and adapt for their own classroom.

I ask students to respond to each poem. Students are asked to write one page (or more) in their Battle of the Books Notebook or Writer’s Notebook,  capturing thoughts, questions, comments, and connections about the poem. The directions I provided are based on a poetry one-pager posted online by #NCTE:

  • Write the title of the poem and author’s full name
  • Quote a line from the poem and explain what you believe it means
  • Draw 5 images from the poem and caption the imagery that inspired each
  • Create a boarder using a key phrase
  • Select a main idea of the poem and relate it to your own life
  • Define 2 important words from the poem (Definitions should be in your own words)
  • Quote a phrase or line – make a personal connection to it
  • Explain why a friend might want to read this poem
  • Add color to all the images
  • On the page adjacent to your response,  write a poem or free write inspired by the poem

Poetry Response

Do you have a favorite poem or poet to include on the playlist? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

 

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The History and Fiction of Hunters on Amazon Prime

My family and I have been watching the Amazon Prime series Hunters. In fact, the series is drawn a lot of conversations and debates not only around our dinner table but across the nation. The ten episodes of season one follow a group of Nazi Hunters based in Brooklyn, New York during 1977. This Quentin Tarantino-esque, hodge-podge collection of revenge seeking hunters pursue Nazis brought to the US after WWII while also thwarting the establishment of a fourth reich. Creator David Weil and producer Jordan Peele have said the series is inspired by true events.

Where the show has taken many liberties to fictionalize elements of history in the 1970s, there are some key aspects of the series that are grounded in truth. In a recent article about Hunters in Esquire Magazine stated, “Some people said that it was basically fine as all TV and film modifies reality to some extent.” This is a worthy discussion in our classrooms when teaching history and historical fiction.  The Auschwitz Memorial felt that some of the fictional accounts presented in the series were demeaning to survivors and disrespectful of history. When we read or see historical fictionalized account how does it shape our understanding of the past? Does it perpetuate revisionist history? If so, how do we combat that?

With education.

Were there Nazi’s who escaped Germany after World War II? Yes, many fled to South America. Most notorious was Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi SS lieutenant colonel who masterminded the transport of European Jews to concentration camps who was hiding out in Argentina until the Israeli Mossad captured him and brought him back to Israel for trial in 1961.

And there were Nazis who also made their way to the United States. In November 2010 The New York Times reported, “A secret history of the United States government’s Nazi-hunting operation concludes that American intelligence officials created a “safe haven” in the United States for Nazis and their collaborators after World War II, and it details decades of clashes, often hidden, with other nations over war criminals here and abroad.” As World War II ended and the Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union began, both countries seize German scientists for technology advancements, as spies, and science. The first episode of The Hunters refers to the Nazi scientists working at NASA. A Newsweek article states, “About 1,600 Nazi-linked scientists were believed to have actively worked in America during the Cold War. ”

Referred to Operation Paperclip in real life and in the show, The CIA states on its website, “Henry Wallace, former vice president and secretary of commerce, believed the scientists’ ideas could launch new civilian industries and produce jobs. Indeed, German scientists developed synthetic rubber (used in automobile tires), non-running hosiery, the ear thermometer, electromagnetic tape, and miniaturized electrical components, to name a few.”

German rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun, spearheaded the development of Saturn V, the spacecraft that allowed the Apollo 11 astronauts to land on the moon, according to PBS.  “During the Ford administration, von Braun was almost awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom—until one of Ford’s senior advisors, David Gergen, objected to his Nazi past.”

The Hunters includes the 19 year old protagonist, Jonah (played by Percy Jackson actor), Logan Lerman, driven to find the person who murdered his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. Jonah’s grandmother raised him and his grief and desire for vengeance lead  down a dangerous path that gets him mixed up with Al Pacino’s character and his gang of Nazi Hunters, who are dedicated to exacting bloody revenge on the war criminals.

Jonah and his grandmother were inspired by David Weil’s own relationship he had with his grandmother, a survivor of the concentration camps. Weil explains, “When I was little, my grandmother, ever the hero, realized that her story was a weapon, a see, and—with a sense of duty—she needed to tell it. At the time, her stories felt like the stuff of comic books and superheroes. Grand battles between good and evil. And that’s become the lens through which I saw the world. A world of heroes and villains, colored by injustice and darkness, but a world where light and hope were possible.”

Are there really Nazi Hunters similar to the ones we see in Hunters? Yes, but not revenge hungry-take matters into their own hands like on the show. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, was set up in 1977 (the same year Hunters). As its website states, “The Simon Wiesenthal Center is a global human rights organization researching the Holocaust and hate in a historic and contemporary context. The Center confronts anti-Semitism, hate and terrorism, promotes human rights and dignity, stands with Israel, defends the safety of Jews worldwide, and teaches the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations.”

Here is a Hyperdoc created to help students learn, explore, and research more about the realities and fictions presented in this series

 

 

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Mystery Writing, Hyperdocs, & Online Learning

Many schools are looking at distance learning as an option during the outbreak of COVID-19 around the world. In fact, schools and universities in my surrounding area have closed for the upcoming weeks. Some schools have decided to offer online learning for students.

Due to the current climate, I want to share the mystery writing hyperdoc I have revamped for students to learn, explore, and apply elements of a mystery whether in the classroom or remotely. Using digital tools like Flipgrid, Nearpod, Edpuzzle, and Google Classroom, students are able to access and apply learning through digital resources.

Below is the Murder Mystery Hyperdoc that provides links to digital tools, resources, and activities to help my students craft creative mystery stories. I have provided quick writes,  videos, How To sheets, and lessons throughout the documents to help my students analyze mentor texts, learn about the elements of mystery, and apply their learning to the stories, podcasts, and movies they write.

This hyperdoc offers a variety to eLearning tools. Here are a dozen more recommended by Evolving Educators that I also find useful:

1. @Screencastify

2. @AdobeSpark

3. @GoogleForEdu

4. @Seesaw

5.@Activelylearn

6. @PearDeck

7. @padlet

8. @BookCreatorApp

9.  @WeVideo

10. @Wakelet

11. @EdPuzzle

12. @Buncee

 

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Engaging & Empowering Readers with Penny Kittle & Kelly Gallagher

I have been waiting all week to write this post because I wanted to share the insight I gained from a workshop today with Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher sponsored by Heinemann Professional Development.

As literacy teachers, our goal is to make kids better readers and writers. What does that entail? Everyday practices of reading, writing, studying creating, and sharing. 

Kelly Gallagher began by referencing Pedro Noguera, a distinguished professor of education at UCLA  who said we are asking the wriong question. Rather, “We need to ask what can we do to challenge and stimulate our students?”

Both Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle talked about moving towards generative reading and writing vs. task oriented reading and writing. “We want students to generate their own thinking first.” When we ask students to answer specific questions about a text they are answering our questions and focused on the task at hand.  Students are getting too immersed in tasks. Tasks are getting in the way of rigorous thinking and what is the value of this text.  If we are to encourage and engage students in deep thinking about reading and writing students need time to read and talk about reading IN CLASS. 

Richard Allington, “Reading is less about ability and more about opportunity.” The volume of reading is key. How much and how often students read affects their lives in crucial ways. 

As teachers, we need to focus on:

Time — Choice — Access

In Gallagher’s classroom, there are three goals for every reader:

  1. Increase volume of reading
  2. Increase Complexity
  3. Develop an allegiance to authors and genres

When it came to talking about how to motivate readers the following practices are in both Kittle and Gallagher’s classrooms: 

1. Their Own passion

2. Choices

3. Book Talks – Start of every day is a book talk to help students find books they love. Why? It creates a willingness to practice outside of class. Read aloud a piece of the text everyday in a book talk. 

4. Time to read in class –20% of class time devoted to Independent reading and conferences. Gallagher mentioned it takes a couple of weeks for most students to get into 10 minutes of sustained independent reading

5. Holding Reading Conferences – In conferences, students learn how to have meaningful conversations in a safe 1:1 setting with a teacher who can move their thinking.

NCTE's Position Statement on Independent Reading

As NCTE defines “Independent reading is a routine, protected instructional practice that occurs across all grade levels. Effective independent reading practices include time for students to read, access to books that represent a wide range of characters and experiences, and support within a reading community that includes teachers and students. “

 

As for writing, low pressure writing is a daily occurrence in both their classrooms. Students write quick writes daily and after 10 quick writes in their notebooks the students decide which one they give the teacher permission to read. Students are reading and writing everyday in class. 

Students use their writer’s Notebooks based on what Donna Sandman describes as

A workbench – a place to practice 

A place to stumble on ideas – a collection place

A place you go to do work – a playground 

Both Gallagher and Kittle shared their own writer’s notebooks. They spoke about writing alongside students and allow students to see you struggle as a writer.

Additionally, they talked about the importance of daily flash revision. Allowing 90 seconds a day of tinkering and polishing your writing. Rather than peer editing, they have students,  “Tell your writing partner one thing you did to make your writing better.” Revision is kept in a writer’s notebook. Students put a sticky note on one page they want us to look at. Notebooks are meant to support the writer, not evaluate her. Students are given ten minutes to craft one page of writing. Gallagher tells his students, “You have stories to tell, that only you can tell the story.”

Penny Kittle broke down some old way of thinking about teaching writing versus new thinking about writing:

OLD Thinking NEW Thinking
1. Kids should produce one big paper over weeks of work
2. Tell students what to write and how to write it, which makes writers dependent on the teachers (Checklist)
3. Writing process is defined as prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and final drafts graded with a rubric – Students work mostly under teacher direction throughout unit
1. Opportunities to practice the same skills multiple times (Laps around the tracks) in different contexts which makes writers more flexible and skills transferable
2. Students decide on a focus for their writing and how to organize their ideas effectively for an audience which increases confidence in applying what they learn as they struggle with these decisions in other rhetorical situations. 
3. The writing process includes generating ideas through quick writing to poems, infographics, photos, editorials, etc. These quick writers are revised as regular practice. 

Both Kittle and Gallagher shared tons of book titles and poems to use with students for reading and quick writes. These texts provide a seed that will spur thinking. Students are encouraged to grab a word, grab a line, grab a hot spot and then write off it. 

Here are ten poems shared in the workshop and used for quick writes:

“Camaro” by Phil Kaye

“what the dead know by heart” by Dante Collins

“Hair” by Elizabeth Acevedo

“Kitchen Table” by George Ella Lyons

“Deer Hit” by Jon Loomis

“Native Tongue” by Micah Bournes

Kwame Alexander: Take a Knee

Rigged Game by Dylan Garity

“B” by Sarah Kay

Lastly, a piece by Matt La Pena worth checking out.

“Why we shouldn’t shield children from darkness” by Matt La Pena

Here’s a complete list of spoken poetry shared by Kelly Gallagher

 

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March Mystery Madness

Thrillers, suspense, crime novels, detective fiction – whatever you call them, mystery books make for some of the most exciting literature out there. The mystery genre has been around for over two centuries. The Enigma Society has announced a new contest for teen writers to create a short story (or film or podcast) with a dastardly murder … a gathering of suspicious characters. WHO, with WHAT weapon and WHERE? 

That is all up to you. You will have the next three weeks to craft your story, plot the murder, and have your readers ask cunning detective questions. 

I wanted to go beyond a scenario and create an authentic challenge. I contacted my local public library to see if they wanted to get in on the literary action and expand this mystery writing contest beyond the walls of my classroom. Because librarians are the best, they agreed to participate and host this mystery writing contest. And who knows, if it is successful we might turn it into an annual event for all middle school students.  The director of the library and teen librarian have agreed to create an introductory video to launch the contest. In the meanwhile, here is the contest rules and regulations.

Students will have three weeks to write and create an original mystery. I also created a playlist to guide students through the writing process, focusing on the elements of mystery. Click on the image below to access the hyper doc that I modeled from the original Clue game board.

Murder Mystery Gameboad

Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last.

– Sherlock Holmes

And with that, my friends, you will have to stay tuned for more.

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Ways to Support Student Writers With & Without Technology

The following blog post is from an interview I had with Monica Burns, author, blogger, and podcaster of Class Tech Tips. To read the full interview, on Monica’s Blog, click here.

Supporting Student Writers

Michele has a brand new book that I can’t wait to share with you. It’s called New Realms for Writing: Inspire Student Expression with Digital Age Formats and discusses strategies you can try out right away with students. Michele is a literacy teacher at Rye Middle School in Rye, New York, and an adjunct professor at Manhattanville College. She was kind enough to take time to answer questions about her work and her new book. At the bottom of the post, you’ll find a few of my favorite activities for student writers, too!

What motivated you to write a book on this topic?

After just finishing Personalized Reading: Digital Strategies and Tools to Support All Learners(ISTE, 2018), I felt the need to address writing since reading and writing go hand in hand. As a middle school English teacher, reading and writing are intertwined. I wanted to share ways that writing could go beyond short responses and essays in the classroom to help meet 21st Century Skills while at the same time, bolster student writing. If we want students to be creative communicators, we need to expand the role, format, and audience for writing across the content areas.

How has technology changed the way students publish their writing?

Technology has altered the landscape of education, let alone the way students publish their writing. It allows teachers and students to broaden the audience and share their writing with a wider audience, not just between student and teacher. Technology also allows for diverse formats. Students can publish blogs, ebooks, and infographics, in addition to traditional formats like essays and research papers. Students have to write essays throughout secondary school and college, but for the most part, outside of school, we curate a variety of technology forms for learning and understanding.

You provide lots of student work examples in your book. Can you tell us a bit about how non-traditional products like infographics and podcasts have a place in the classroom?

Learn how to support student writers this school year using technology and with more traditional methods. Hear from author Michele Haiken and her new book.

Think about the ways you interact with information today. I might turn on the news when I wake up and then listen to a podcast on my way to work. Once I am in school, I am on a computer reading diverse texts and interacting between print, digital, and visual texts throughout the day. These texts include literature, nonfiction articles, visual texts like photographs, and infographics.

Our students are similar, and we should be having them reading and writing all these different texts to construct knowledge as well as become empowered learners. In my classroom, I want students to be critical consumers of information in all these different formats as well as creative thinkers in the way they present their learning and understanding. I am all for choices and giving students the ability to choose the best format that fits their message.

In the second chapter of the book, you discuss “multigenre” writing. Can you explain what this term means and what it looks like to include multigenre writing in a classroom?

In English class, writing is too compartmentalized. Teachers teach a unit in poetry, then narrative writing, and argumentative writing. We do not need to be so compartmentalized. When students write multigenre projects, they are choosing different genres to showcase a topic or idea.

For example, when my students are reading and writing about World War 2, we read memoirs, biographies, historical fiction, primary sources, photographs, artwork, and poetry about this time period. Students choose a topic within WW2 to research and investigate more. Some choose victims of the Holocaust, resistors, Japanese Internment, or soldiers and build a collection of five different writings in response to the primary sources they read to showcase their topic. A student might write a poem about being sent off to war, a letter to his family members about the horrors on the battlefield, and include visual drawings of the aftermath of a battle in Europe.

Rather than report what happened, I am asking students to step in the shoes of real people and build out their story to share the forgotten stories of the past. Multigenre writing breaks out of the confines of one genre or style of writing and utilizes many formats to communicate an idea.

In your book, you discuss analog techniques, not just digital. Why is it essential to find a balance between techy and not-so-techy experiences?

Learn how to support student writers this school year using technology and with more traditional methods. Hear from author Michele Haiken and her new book.

I think you said it best when you say “balance.” We need that balance to make sure our students can be successful in school and out. We do not live in a completely digital world, and it would be impractical to be completely digital. I still have my students keep a print reading journal for all the reading they do throughout the school year. Students can choose to write notes, create sketchnotes, and I have some students that type up their notes and paste them into their reading journal.

I love reading through their journals and seeing their thinking on paper. I am lucky to have Chromebooks in my classroom, but that is not the reality for every teacher, classroom, or student across the nation. Yes, there are benefits to both digital and analog, but this is also an issue of digital equity.

Use this link to grab a copy of Michele’s new book, New Realms for Writing: Inspire Student Expression with Digital Age Formats

I love how you include poetry in New Realms for Writing. Is there a favorite tech-friendly poetry activity you like to use with students?

I love starting with found poems or blackout poems. I ask my students to choose a song that represents them and copy the song lyrics onto a Google Document. After reading through the song one or two times, students then have to pair the words down by blacking out words or phrases. You might even give students a set number of words that have to remain in their poems.

It is amazing because two students might have the same song, but when they read through and pair down the words to create a new blackout poem, the words or meanings are different based on what is emphasized or what was left out. If students struggle to find words, this activity provides them with the words; they just have to select what will be highlighted on the page.

What advice would you give a group of educators who want to hold a book club for your book?

Share your ideas and expertise within the book club. Take the ideas that I have shared and adapt and revise them to fit the best interests of your students. My hope is that the ideas I presented in the book are a catalyst for you to inspire your students to be innovative, creative, and collaborative.

 

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Argumentative Writing with Scaffolds

The Next Generation Learning Standards for Writing in the 8th grade identify five different types and purposes for writing. The first is argumentative writing.

8W1: Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

8W1a: Introduce a precise claim, acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from a counterclaim, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

8W1b: Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using credible sources while demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.

8W1c:  Use precise language and content-specific vocabulary to argue a claim.

8Wd: Use appropriate and varied transitions to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts.

8W1e: Provide a concluding statement or section that explains the significance of the argument presented.

8W1f: Maintain a style and tone appropriate to the writing task.

 

After reading To Kill a Mockingbird I wanted to provide my students with an argumentative essay prompt rather than the traditional literary essay. I modeled the essay from the New York State regents.

First students had five minutes to free write about the topic: Is To Kill a Mockingbird relevant to teach in 2020?

Mockingbird Do Nows

Then, working with a partner, students had to brainstorm reasons for supporting the topic and negating the topic. The challenge was to balance both sides of argument with sound reasons.

Mockingbird Do Nows-2

After students shared their reasons with the whole class, students were given an article to read and annotate. Students were provided with an evidence file to catalogue the evidence from the articles provided. The prompt, articles, and scaffolds are provided below:

To help students through the writing process, I wrote alongside of them.

Mockingbird Do Nows-3

When it came to writing the counter claim paragraph, students were given a “How-To” to help them draft their third body paragraph. A “How-To” is a scaffolding strategy that provides students with clear directions and step by step instructions to support learning.

How to Write a Counter Claim

My students have lots of opinions about reading To Kill a Mockingbird. During our classroom discussions during writing conferences, students have raised solid points about the heinous language in the book, the narrator’s perspectives and the stories that were not told (i.e. Tom Robinson and Calpurnia). Every book has its strengths and limitations, the key is for our students to be able to articulate their claims clearly and presenting valid reasoning.

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How to improve writing fluency for students of all learning abilities?

The following blog post was written for Texthelp. To link to the original post, click here.

In my 8th grade classroom I have all different learners from students with 504s and IEPs, ENL learners, and a handful of high performing learners. This week my 8th grade students are working on writing an argumentative essay after  finishing  the book To Kill a Mockingbird. I often give my students choice on writing assessments but for this all grade read, students must write a five paragraph argumentative essay that answers: Is To Kill a Mockingbird relevant to read today or is it racist and outdated?

A daunting experience

As teachers, our job is to help improve the writing fluency for ALL students. For many of my students, staring at a blank page or screen can be daunting. If we are going to help our students “write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence” (Next Generation Learning Standards WI),  providing scaffolding in different forms provides support for students to articulate their thinking. When teachers provide scaffolds in the forms of  graphic organizers, models and mentor texts, and sentence frames, essay writing becomes more attainable for the diverse learners in the classroom.

A graphic organizer  breaks down a task into small parts to support student thinking. Completing a graphic organizer helps students write in smaller bursts by following a template. A high performing learner might not need this type of support or guidance but particularly for my ENL and struggling writers who might not have the words or academic language just yet, providing these graphic organizers and sentence stems can help students develop the writing muscles and vocabulary necessary for academic writing.  Each graphic organizer is specific to the writing task. For example, the argumentative essay graphic organizer below helps students map out their thoughts, organize their evidence, and distinguish claims from counterclaims.

An image of an argumentative essay graphic organizer

I am always developing writing activities and support for the diverse students in my classroom, but you may prefer a digital approach. WriQ is Texthelp’s newest digital tool to focus on writing that my students and I are currently using. High performing learners are more independent and are looking for immediate feedback on word choice, accuracy, grammar and writing mechanics; WriQ provides these in its personalized feedback. Similarly, for students who need guided support to increase writing skills, WriQ and graphic organizers work in tandem. Sitting down for writing conferences is now a student driven process due to the feedback that students learn about the writing process and their writing products with WriQ.

A lifelong skill

Writing is a lifelong skill, and the more students write, the better they develop as writers and communicators. This requires that students write daily and have opportunities to revise their writing. With revision opportunities, students are able to reexamine their writing with a critical eye based on the feedback from both the teacher and WriQ and grow as writers. Revision is an important part of the writing process and can be utilized in ways that empower student writers.

The Next Generation Learning Standards identify lifelong practices of writers “strengthen writing by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach” and this is something that we must make time for in our classrooms. The more students have the opportunity to write, revise and craft their words in ways that articulate complex ideas, critical thinking and problem solving, the better they will become at producing clear and coherent writing.

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Reflections of Project Based Learning

This past fall I embarked on a project based learning opportunity with my media literacy elective class for 7th and 8th graders. It has always been a project based course, but this semester I gave my students an authentic challenge and ten weeks to fulfill the requirements.

Authentic Challenge – How can we develop an award winning movie short to highlight a problem in our world and create a film festival to showcase these movie shorts?

As my students were working on their own videos, I created a video to document the process using Adobe Spark.

Whereas, I wanted my students to make a movie that was 5 minutes in length, that was very difficult for many of the students. Most of the movies were around 3 minutes in length and all follow a documentary style format. Despite examining PSAs and short feature films, all felt the documentary format was the best to communicate their message and meet the objectives of the project.

Last week, my students presented their films to the entire 8th grade during a film festival  assembly.  This was the scariest and most stressful part of the process – most students confided – but it allowed for an authentic audience.

I compiled all the students’ films on YouTube and created a playlist with all their films.

At the end of the process, I asked students to complete a reflection that asked questions about the process and their final product. Students were honestly candid on the reflections. Many told me that it was too much work for an elective class and they learned how challenging it is to produce and edit a short film.

MSK PBL Reflection on Google Forms

Among my own reflections, I observed many students losing steam producing a video over ten weeks of creation and editing. As many times as we viewed the films and offered suggestions for edits, students did not always following through with the edits. The students stamina for the project wavered depending on the day. Next semester I am thinking of breaking up the semester into two projects, one non-fiction and one, a fictional film.

I shared the student videos with Rushton Hurley, author and founder of Next Vista for Learning, an educational nonprofit dedicated to saving the world from ignorance, one creative video at a time. I met Ruston at an Google Summit in Connecticut back in October of 2019 and then we ran into each other again at this past month at FETC. I spoke with him about how to  get students to see revision as an opportunity rather than a tedious task. How do we move students from one and done to seeing revision as an on-going process to better work.

Rushton shared this video with me along with a blog post he wrote regarding the same dilemma. The video portrays “the lesson that we get better as we get and effectively act on constructive critique.”


The great thing about teaching a semester long class is that I have the opportunity to reflect, revise, and re-do. Next week I get to launch the project with a new group of students and this time I will approach revision and editing in a new way to support my student’s stamina and attention to detail.

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