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 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.
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)
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am a big proponent of graphic organizers to help students organize and visualize information. Graphic organizers are helpful to outline a writing task or showcase understanding during reading. Jay McTighe and Harvey Silver write in Teaching for Deeper Learning (ASCD, 2020), “The use of graphic organizers enhances meaning making and promotes deep understanding of critical content – especially when reinforced through questioning and summarizing.”
In 8th grade I begin the school year providing graphic organizers for all students to utilize and access to organize content information. I share and utilize different organizers with each assignment. Sometimes I might demonstrate filling out the organizer and use think aloud to show students the process of making meaning using graphic organizers. Slowly, using gradual release, I encourage students to create their own graphic organizers in the second semester of the school year. The first twenty weeks of school students have curated a toolkit of strategies and organizers for to choose which are the best to create based on the assignment and learning goals.
Here are four different organizers that are the go-tos for note making and organizing information.
It Says, I Say, So What – Taken from Smoky Daniels, this three column organizer helps students record the literal details of a text, make connections and inferences. Inferences are hard for many students, especially struggling readers, because the text does not explicitly say. To make an inference students combine what the text says with what they know to come up with the answer. They need a scaffold, something that visualizes and helps students internalize the process of how to infer. The It Says—I Say chart helps students finally see a structure for making an inference.
2. Window Notes/Organizer – Jay McTighe and Harvey Silver introduced this type of note making in Teaching for Deeper Learning (ASCD, 2020) “Window Notes at its core is an invitation to think actively, to express curiosity, and to use prior knowledge and personal feelings to help construct meaning during note making process. Students use a window shaped organizer that encourages them to collect four different kinds of notes: 1. Facts: What are the important facts and details? 2. Questions: What questions come to mind? What am I curious about? 3. Connections: How does this relate to my experiences or to other things I have learned? 4. Feelings and reactions: How do I feel about what I am learning?”
3. Know. Question. Reflect. New Questions (KQRN) – I am over KWL charts. I think they work well in elementary school but when I see them utilized in middle and high school, we are not asking students to use higher level thinking. Here is a blog post I wrote ten years ago with alternatives to the KWL. What are some other organizers that are alternatives to the KWL and activate schema at the same time? The KQRN. This is another note making organizer that helps students extend their thinking about an idea or concept. Now with any of these organizers, the teacher wants to model for students how to complete these graphic organizers with examples and think alouds.
4. Character Traits Organizer – Characterization and theme are two key elements we study when reading literature in 8th grade English. Characterization refers both to the personality of a character and the way in which an author reveals that personality. A character’s personality is made up of different qualities, or character traits, that the reader discovers as the work unfolds. An author often gives characters several different traits to make them seem real and believable. Helping students develop the language to describe character traits and read to identify character traits is necessary to work on throughout the school year. Characterization leads to insight and inferences about theme. I have a stand alone organizer for character traits but also have created a hyperdoc based on the short story Raymond’s Run by Toni Cade Bambara that scaffolds the entire process of curating character traits then building out a written response about characterization as it impacts theme.
I love playing games in my classroom. I create games as well as use board games and dice games to create engaging learning experiences for my students. When I started presenting workshops on gamification in the classroom, I found this great carry-all storage box to hold all the gaming paraphernalia from classroom to workshop space. Here is a similar one at Michaels and it is under twenty dollars.
Now, the contents:
Dice – Dice are great for think-dots activities, random rolls, story cubes, roll and tell, dice breakers. I have foam dice, Rory’s Story Cubes for writing prompts, and metaphor dice for poetry and figurative language review. I keep extra dice from board games like the ones pictured above from Legends of Hidden Temple which have pictures of animals on the dice.
Play Dough – Looking for a quick do-now for your students to showcase their thinking or an idea, use play dough. It is perfect for students with sensory and kinesthetic needs. Students can recreate a scene from their reading using play dough or create a sculpture of a symbol that represents the text. Edutopia has an article with fifteen ways to use play dough in secondary classrooms. I like giving students their own individual play dough and then having a gallery walk after they make their sculpture individually or in small groups.
Lego Mini-Figures – Legos are also great for building representations or showcasing a scene from a book students are reading. I carry around a small tackle box filled with mini figure parts for building avatars. Avatars are often a game mechanic to allow personalization in a game, you can choose the gender and adapt it’s appearance, from skin and hair color to dress code typically. I provide students with an opportunity to create and design their own avatar and then write the backstory of the avatar: who are they, where are they from, what are their strengths and weaknesses?
Hot Potato – The hot potato was something that I had to have because it is perfect for passing around the classroom or in small groups to share ideas and thinking. This toy shakes after a certain period of time and when it shakes, the student who is holding the potato is the speaker. I often have sentence or question starters for students when in small groups to select who will share next.
Stickers – Stickers can be used as rewards or badges when playing a game. I have been using Sticker Mule the past few years to personalize stickers for my classroom. The stickers that are on the top of the game box are from the television game show Legends of Hidden Temple. The image is of Olmec. Outside of Legends of Hidden Temple, the Olmec colossal heads are the most famous artifacts left behind by the Olmec civilization. The Olmec people are believed to have occupied a large part of modern-day Southern Mexico. Olmec was part of Legends of Hidden Temple and the sticker, personalized on Sticker Mule is a “The Pendant of Life.” If a student wins the pendant of life, they can use it for a free pass on an assignment.
If I could fit more into the game box, I probably would. I do have all my board games and card games in a different bin. I will save my favorite board games and card games for another blog post. For now, stock up and get some of these gaming elements to bring some fun and friendly competition into your own classroom.
Writing is a powerful thing. If we want to inspire students to write, we can use young adult fiction with protagonists who write to encourage and arouse the writers within all our students. I just finished reading Jeff Zentner’s In the Wild Light and found myself dog-earing so many pages with powerful passages and statements about a writer’s life.
“We think language as this tame thing that lives in neat garden beds, bound by rules and fences. Then someone shows it to you growing wild and beautiful, flowering vines consuming cities, erasing pavement and lines. Breaking though any fence that would try to contain it. Reclaiming. Reshaping. Reforming. In my life, I’ve never known anything else that felt so full of infinite possibility. Words make me feel strong. They make me feel powerful and alive. They make me feel like I can open doors. (Zentner (2021:264)
Here are 13 young adult books that offer teen protagonists who write:
Cash Pruitt is the protagonist in Jeff Zentner’s In The Wild Life by (2021). Cash loves his rural Tennessee hometown, his grandparents who raised him after his mother died of an overdose, and his best friend Delaney Doyle, a science genius whose boundless knowledge of the natural world fills him with wonder. Both children of an opioid-addicted parent, Delaney and Cash have a deep bond and when Delaney’s scientific discovery – a mold with powerful antibiotic properties – both are awarded scholarships at a prestigious boarding school in Connecticut. Cash worries his grandfather, who has emphysema, will die while he is away at school, but accepts the scholarship. At school he takes a poetry class that shows him the power of language to reshape experiences of pain and fear into beauty. As in Zentner’s earlier works, grief is a central theme explored in many forms.
In the YA novel Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink (2021) Angel and Isaiah are two young Black teenagers living in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma in the days leading up to the Tulsa Race Riot and massacre. The two come together for a summer job running a mobile library, delivering books to poorer black areas. Despite early contention and philosophical differences (Angel is a follower of the more conservative Booker T. Washington; Isaiah prefers the teachings of the more revolutionary WEB De Bois) the two fall in love as the world around them begins to catch fire. Isaiah writes poetry throughout the story and it is great to see a young man use poetry as a form of expression.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone(2018) using letter writing and journaling to understand Justyce McAllister, a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend. None of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.
Jaqueline Woodson is an amazing young adult author who has powerful stories to tell. In her book From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun (2010) addresses what it means to be a family. Melanin Sun has a lot to say. But sometimes it’s hard to speak his mind, so he fills up notebooks with his thoughts instead. He writes about his mom a lot–they’re about as close as they can be, because they have no other family. So when she suddenly tells him she’s gay, his world is turned upside down. And if that weren’t hard enough for him to accept, her girlfriend is white. Melanin Sun is angry and scared. How can his mom do this to him– is this the end of their closeness? What will his friends think? And can he let her girlfriend be part of their family?
The Diary of Anne Frank is a classic. In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annex” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and amusing, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.
Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2020) has won the National Book Award and the Printz Award. The book is told in poetry. Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
In Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (2018), Cath is a Simon Snow fan. For Cath, being a fan is her life―and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words.
Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead (2015) begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more–though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was–lovely and amazing and deeply flawed–can she begin to discover her own path
Newbery Medal Winner, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2010) begins shortly after a fall-out with her best friend. Sixth grader Miranda starts receiving mysterious notes, and she doesn’t know what to do. The notes tell her that she must write a letter—a true story, and that she can’t share her mission with anyone. It would be easy to ignore the strange messages, except that whoever is leaving them has an uncanny ability to predict the future. If that is the case, then Miranda has a big problem—because the notes tell her that someone is going to die, and she might be too late to stop it.
Eighteen-year-old Eliza Mirk is the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea in Eliza and her Monsters by Francesca Zappia (2019). When a new boy at school tempts Eliza to live a life offline, everything she’s worked for begins to crumble. In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of a popular webcomic called Monstrous Sea. With millions of followers and fans throughout the world, Eliza’s persona is popular. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community. Then Wallace transfers to her school and Eliza begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.
In Riley Redgate’s Final Draft (2018) the only sort of risk 18-year-old Laila Piedra enjoys is the peril she writes for the characters in her stories: epic sci-fi worlds full of quests, forbidden love, and robots. Her creative writing teacher has always told her she has a special talent. But three months before her graduation, he’s suddenly replaced–by Nadiya Nazarenko, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who is sadistically critical and perpetually unimpressed. At first, Nazarenko’s eccentric assignments seem absurd. But before long, Laila grows obsessed with gaining the woman’s approval.
Natalie’s best friend, Zoe, is sure that the novel Natalie’s written is good enough to be published. But how can a twelve-year-old girl publish a book? Natalie’s mother is an editor for a big children’s publisher, but Natalie doesn’t want to ask for any favors. The School Story by Andrew Clementsis 20 years old but a perfect read for 5th and 6th graders. Zoe’s brilliant idea is that Natalie can submit her manuscript under a pen name, with Zoe acting as her literary agent. Can Natalie and Zoe pull off their masquerade?
What happens if your notebook ends up in the wrong hands? Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy (1964) is about Harriet M. Welsch, a spy. In her notebook, she writes down everything she knows about everyone, even her classmates and her best friends. Then Harriet loses track of her notebook, and it ends up in the wrong hands. Before she can stop them, her friends have read the always truthful, sometimes awful things she’s written about each of them. Despite being written decades ago, there are some key themes about friendship that are worth noting.
I just finished reading (Me) Moth by Amber McBride. The debut YA novel-in-verse is about a teen girl who is grieving the deaths of her family, and a teen boy, Sani who moved in with his mother and her new family. Moth lost her family in an accident and although she lives with her aunt, she feels alone.
Until she meets Sani, a boy who is also searching for his roots. If he knows more about where he comes from, maybe he’ll be able to understand his ongoing depression. And if Moth can help him feel grounded, then perhaps she too will discover her own history.
Moth and Sani take a road trip that has them chasing ghosts and searching for ancestors. The way each moves forward is surprising, powerful, and unforgettable. This is a powerfully uplifting novel about identity, first love, and the ways that our memories and our roots steer us through the universe.
Half way through the book Moth lists the places she and Santi have planned to stop and visit on their road trip. The book continues with details about their road trip and the landmarks they explore. I love the idea of students creating a literary travel guide of the books they read.
So many of young adult books explore cities and the unique spots that’s propel the story. Consider the trip to Amsterdam Hazel and Augustus take in John Green’s Fault in our Stars trip or the importance of Central Park in New York City in The Catcher in the Rye. In fact, in Booked, author Richard Kreitner explores literary destinations filled with literary landmarks and destinations.
The assignment would require students to become the tour guides leading their fellow students on a trip through a young adult book they have read. Students are reading closely for the importance of setting in the story. Students might consider the following questions:
How does place shape your understanding of a story?
How do the places in your lives impact your life?
How can place/setting impact the mood of a piece of writing?
How does place/setting shape a character’s life?
What works of literature have you read that you remember having an important setting?
How does place/setting interact with other literary elements such as style, symbols and tone to create meaning for readers?
The final assignment might be a choice of a travel essay, brochure or even a television-style infomercial for their story. This project would entice would-be travelers to visit the both the physical place described in the story, as well as the literary world created by the author.
Formative Assessment is a constantly occurring process, a verb, a series of events in action, not a single tool or a static noun. — from Formative Assessment That Truly Informs Instruction (NCTE, 2013)
Assessment is an integral part of instruction determining whether or not the goals of education are being met. It is used to measure the current knowledge that a student has. It is through assessment that teachers are continually asking:
“Am I teaching what I think I’m teaching?”
“Are students learning what they are suppose to be learning?”
A test, quiz, or assessment project is not just a grade to evaluate the students at the end of a unit but an ongoing evaluative tool for the teacher. Teachers are engaged in assessment every minute that they are in the classroom. As teachers we are always observing, noting, and evaluating. There are three types of feedback and goal setting assessment tools that teachers need throughout a unit of inquiry:
Pre Assessment (Finding Out) – Pretests, inventories, KWL, checklists, observations, self-evaluations, questioning, mind mapping, anticipation guides
Pre Assessment allows student to demonstrate what they already know about what is being planned and what further instruction opportunities are needed or what requires reteaching or enhancement. Teachers can not just begin a lesson without taking a “temperature” of what the students know in the beginning.
Formative assessment occurs concurrently with instruction and provides feedback to teachers and learners. Formative assessment can be formal and informal to frame meaningful performance goals.
Summative Assessment (Making Sure) – Unit Test, performance task, product and exhibition, demonstrations, portfolio review
Summative assessment shows what students have learned at the conclusion of an instructional unit and is evaluative.
For reliability and validity teachers should use a variety of assessments to provide enough helpful feedback to improve performance. Assessment should be used for guiding, self-reflection, instruction, nurturing, and used over multiple activities. In addition, students should be involved in daily or weekly evaluation of their progress. Rubrics and other scoring tools help evaluate understanding of content and skills that are used by both the teacher and the student for both specific tasks and long term progress. I never handout to students an assessment without also giving them the evaluation rubric at the same time so they know exactly what I am looking for when I evaluate their projects and assessments. Here are four criteria of quality feedback as defined by Grant Wiggins (1998):
1. It must be timely.
2. It must be specific.
3. It must be understandable to the receiver.
4. It must allow the student to act on the feedback (refine, revise, practice, and retry).
It is easy to give tests and quizzes but in actuality, they are not always the most accurate evaluation tools. Teachers want to use a variety of assessments or data sources and teacher data mechanisms to help gain a more accurate picture of students knowledge and understanding.
To help my pre-service English teachers consider the various aspects of assessment, I created this Assessment Speed Dating Hyperdoc that walks teachers through various literacy based assessments in the English language Arts classroom and more.
I am currently participating in a study to understand more about Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) as a model for struggling writers. The goal is to teach the strategies that students need in order to write clearly and concisely.
According to Graham, Harris, & McKeown, 2013, the SRSD approach consists of explicit teaching of:
general and specific writing strategies, such as:
using the right vocabulary,
being mindful of the intended reader,
creating interesting introductions and conclusions
the knowledge required to use these strategies;
ways to manage these strategies;
the writing process; and
one’s behaviour as a writer
Just like we teach students the habits of proficient readers, teachers need to articulate the habits of good writers. Writing researchers identified what good writers do: plan, monitor, evaluate, revise, and manage the writing process. These strategies should be taught explicitly for learners to apply them to a writing task.
Elements of SRSD Instruction
Instructor modeling of strategies is essential to SRSD and must explicitly show learners how to create meaning. Graham and Harris (2005) describe a five-step process. By completing the following scaffolded instructional sequence, teachers can help learners gain confidence in the strategy and learn to use it automatically for more independent learning.
Discuss It. Develop and activate background knowledge. Discuss when and how learners might use a strategy to accomplish specific writing tasks and goals. Talk about the benefits of becoming a more proficient and flexible writer. Address any negative self-talk or negative beliefs the learner holds, and ask the learner for a commitment to try to learn and use the strategy. Discuss how the learner should track progress to document the use and impact of the strategy.
Model It. Model the strategy using think-alouds, self-talk, and self-instruction as you walk through the steps. Discuss afterwards how it might be made more effective and efficient for each individual, and have learners customize the strategy with personal self-statements. Ask students to set specific writing goals. Model the strategy more than once with various sample texts; for example, use a graphic organizer to demonstrate how to comprehend various texts of a similar genre (persuasive arguments or editorials). The Modeling stage is a key component for students. When students can read strong and poorly written writing and discuss it they are able to name and identify elements of good writing. Similarly, when teachers demonstrate writing and think aloud throughout the process, students are able to monitor their own thinking and improve their own writing.
Make It Your Own. Strategies are composed of multiple steps, similar to a checklist. When steps are captured in a mnemonic or acrostic sentence, they are easier to remember. Paraphrasing or re-naming the steps in a mnemonic or creating a new mnemonic is fine, provided that the learner is able to remember the steps that the names represent. Customizing the checklist or mnemonic helps learners make it their own.
Support It. Use the strategy as often as possible, in as many ways as possible. Instructors and other students can be supports, offering direct assistance, prompts, constructive feedback, and encouragement. When you introduce a new type of application (a new genre or writing frame, for example), it may be appropriate to model the strategy again. Learners can rely on charts and checklists too, as they learn the strategy and make it their own, but all of this should fade as learners become familiar enough with the strategy to set their goals, monitor their use of the strategy, and use self-statements independently.
Independent Performance. Learners come to use the strategy independently across a variety of tasks. For example, learners may begin to draw graphic organizers without being prompted as a means to help them comprehend and plan.
Strategies like Acronyms are also helpful for students to remember the steps of the writing process and can act as a guide or checklist for students to write well. For example, the POW+TREE strategy helps writers approach an essay-writing task and check their work as they become more independent (Harris, Graham, Mason, & Friedlander, 2008).
POW, represents and emphasizes the importance of the planning process:
Pick my idea and pay attention to prompt
Write and say more
The TREE acronym is a memory and visualization tool that helps writers structure their essays: the Topic sentence is like the trunk of the tree that supports the whole argument; Reasons (at least three) are like the roots of the argument; Explain is a reminder to tell more about each reason; and finally, Ending is like the earth that wraps up the whole argument. Think sheets or graphic organizers shaped like stylized trees that learners write in as they brainstorm and plan can prompt the internalization of this strategy.
Graham, S. (2006). Strategy instruction and the teaching of writing: A metaanalysis. In C. A. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of writing research (pp. 187–207). New York: Guilford Press.
Graham, S., & Harris, K. R. (2005). Writing better: Effective strategies for teaching students with learning difficulties. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools – A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education. Available at http://www.all4ed.org/files/WritingNext.pdf.