Tag Archives: English Language Arts

Purposeful Vocabulary and Grammar Instruction

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Jeremy Hyler and Troy Hicks’ From Texting to Teaching: Grammar Instruction in the Digital Age (2017) is filled with grammar and vocabulary lessons that utilize technology. Their premise is to help teachers and students learn to “code switch” between academic, formal language and cultural text speak. Each chapter illustrates how teachers can weave grammar into authentic classroom experiences, rather than skill and drill.

When speaking of grammar, this includes usage, rules, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. Grammar matters because “it offers us options – both as speakers and writers – for creating meaning” (pg. 4) Looking at the Common Core Standards, grammar is now under the Language Standards” and students are expected to gain commands of conventions and show their knowledge of language and conventions when reading, writing, speaking and listening,

Hyler and Hicks’ approach teaching grammar with digital tools, utilized flipped lessons to learn parts of speech, utilize social media, Google Docs, and other digital tools to enliven vocabulary, master mechanics, and learn sentence style with formal and informal writing. Grammar matters because the standards suggest it, digital citizenship has become an essential skill, and revision matters.

“Technology can enhance writing instruction. Smart grammar instruction – coupled with smart uses of technology – will help improve students’ understanding of how to use various sentence patterns, phrases, punctuation, and other stylistic techniques in their own writing” (pg. 24). 

Consider the grammar lessons you teach and how you might enliven them to help students master language conventions to be effective and creative communicators. Here are three ideas from Hyler and Hicks to help you infuse grammar with technology in effective ways.

A teacher made screencast or podcast is a great way for students to demonstrate new knowledge, learn new topics, or listen to a review. Use the tool screencastify or screencastomatic to plan and script an instructional screencast or podcast. The benefit of  a flipped lesson is that these lessons are at students disposal to review when needed. Plus, the best flipped lessons have students do more than a lecture to watch, often teachers provide thoughtful, scaffolded activities associated with the video that students watch. Hyler utilizes a “Watch, Summarize, Question (WSQ)” tool or guide for students as they view the flipped lessons and utilize conventions in their own writing.

To help students learn sentence styles and study great writing, examining sentences in the texts we read help understand the nuances and beauty of writing. Posting a beautifully crafted or complex sentence from a class novel on Padlet is one way to have students analyze sentences and think carefully about writing. Or a sentence that needs revising can be posted on Padlet and students can use revising strategies to help revise the sentence.

For vocabulary building Hyler and Hicks recommend having students “create videos with web tools like WeVideo depicting a real world use of vocabulary words. If real world connections can be made with vocabulary and spelling, students are sure to retain more of the information they have learned and see the relevance” (pg.81). Students storyboard their video draft ideas and are required to draw connections between the vocabulary word and the text students are reading. Lastly, reflection is necessary to gain feedback about the process and new understanding.

Grammar should not taught in isolation. Nor should not be left by the wayside in the English Language Arts classroom. Teachers must constantly reflect on the technology and learning landscape and how we can blend the two to creative relevant and engaging lessons that help our students succeed.

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25 Titles for English Language Arts Teachers

One of my graduate students recently asked me what are the most influential books I have read that shaped my teaching philosophies. This student is in the process of studying for her New York State Teaching Certification Exam and English Language Arts CST and is looking for additional material to help her prepare for this test.

I had to think about all the books that I have read, which are the ones that have left a lasting impression that I still refer to today when planning and preparing my lessons. Below is a list of twenty five books that have shaped my teaching and practice over the past twenty years. Additionally, these are the books that I refer to often and use as teaching tools in my graduate courses. The books below are in no particular order.

In the Middle by Nancie Atwell – This is the first book I read in my English Methods class and has left a lasting impact on reading and writing workshop in my own middle school classroom. As Atwell states, “this edition represents my current best set of blueprints for how I build and maintain a writing-reading workshop-the expectations, demonstrations, models, choices, resources, rules and rituals, pieces of advice, words of caution, and ways of thinking, planning, looking, and talking that make it possible for every student to read with understanding and pleasure and aspire to and produce effective writing.”

Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom by Lisa Delpit – An analysis of contemporary classrooms, Lisa Delpit develops ideas about ways teachers can be better “cultural transmitters” in the classroom, where prejudice, stereotypes, and cultural assumptions breed ineffective education. Delpit suggests that many academic problems attributed to children of color are actually the result of miscommunication, as primarily white teachers and “other people’s children” struggle with the imbalance of power and the dynamics plaguing our system.

Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks – “To educate is the practice of freedom,” writes bell hooks, “is a way of teaching anyone can learn.”  Another book I read as part of my educational classes working towards my certification, this book shaped my pedagogy.

The Freedom Writers Diary by The Freedom Writers and Erin Grunwell – Don’t see the movie! Read the book and see how one young teacher was able to teach empathy and global awareness among her students through literature and writing.

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller – If you don’t know Donalyn Miller and you are an English teacher or aspiring ELA teacher you must read this book. Miller helps students navigate the world of literature and gives them time to read books they pick out themselves. Her love of books and teaching is both infectious and inspiring.

Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kyleen Beers and Bob Probst – In Notice and Note Kylene Beers and Bob Probst introduce 6 “signposts” that alert readers to significant moments in a work of literature and encourage students to read closely. Learning first to spot these signposts and then to question them, enables readers to explore the text, any text, finding evidence to support their interpretations.

Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess – This is a mandatory reading requirement in my Literacy in the Content Areas class I teach each semester. Dave reminds all teachers to plan and teach with passion, engagement, and a love of teaching. Never have your students sit through a boring lesson when you can use one of the many hooks described in the book.

Literacy Essentials by Regie Routman – If you are looking for practical, easy-to-implement tools to help students develop as self-determining readers, writers, and learners, Routman focuses on excellence, equity, encouragement, and engagement throughout her book.

Readicide by Kelly Gallagher – Read-i-cide n: The systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools. This is a book for all educators no matter the subject area you teach to understand the depth of struggling readers and reluctant readers today.

Book Love by Penny Kittle – Following Gallagher’s Readicide, Penny Kittle sheds light on her classroom practices showing teachers ways to promote reading in the classroom as a positive and engaging activity. Students need to be able to read for pleasure and enjoy words, not just reading for textual analysis.

Shades of Meaning: Comprehension and Interpretation in Middle School by Donna Santman – This book shows you how to teach readers the skills and strategies of comprehension and interpretation within the framework of a reading workshop. Shades of Meaning takes you through Santman’s own rigorous workshop, describing the teaching that allows students to stretch and empower their imaginations.

From Texting to Teaching by Jeremy Hyler and Troy Hicks – Grammar is a part of teaching English but the traditional ways of teaching grammar have left a negative impact on people and teachers alike. Hyler and Hicks offer technology tools and teaching strategies that will help students and teachers understand the depths of grammar and become better writers.

Good Thinking: Teaching Argument, Persuasion, and Reasoning by Erik Palmer – The Common Core Learning Standards are big on claim evidence reasoning and Good Thinking provides effective exercises and templates to lead students into improvements in articulating their thinking and backing up their claims.

Teaching Interpretation: Using Text Based Evidence to Construct Meaning by Sonja Cherry Paul and Dana Johansen – Sonja and Dana also provide specific ways for teachers to introduce or review the various concepts that are essential in teaching interpretation to help our students become better critical thinkers. The design of the book allows for teachers to easily incorporate any of the ideas, lessons, assessments, graphic organizers, and list of text resources into an already existing curriculum.

Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen – The basic message of Jensen’s book is that we have a much greater ability to affect the learning of students than we realize. Some of the many topics covered in his book include how to prepare children for school, how to motivate students to participate, how to influence emotional states, how to design smarter schools, and how to enhance memory and critical thinking skills.

The Journey is Everything by Katherine Bomer – Katherine Bomer reclaims the essay as a tool for writing and communicating our ideas. Throughout her book she offers countless mentor texts and ways to teach writing that gets away from the bossy thesis statement and closer to poetic writing.

A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts – Kate Roberts uses the reading workshop approach to teach choice novels, book groups, and whole class novels. She gives permission to teachers to utilize whole class novels to teach key elements of literature without spending too much time teaching books, rather teaching readers.

Text-Dependent Questions, Grades 6-12: Pathways to Close and Critical Reading by Douglas B. Fisher , Nancy Frey, et al. – What does the text say? How does the text work? What does the text mean? What does the text inspire you to do? Fisher and Frey break down close reading into four cognitive pathways to help students peel back the layers of text for deeper meaning.

Teaching English by Design by Peter Smagorinsky – Teaching English by Design is practical, providing examples of units and support for how to create them.

Never Work Harder Than Your Students by Robyn Jackson – This is my philosophy: If you are doing all the hard work and the heavy lifting then you are doing all the learning. Jackson’s seven principles will help your students be the lead learners in your classroom an effective facilitator for learning and understanding.  

Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird by Audrey Fisch & Susan Chenelle – The new Common Core State Standards mean major changes for language arts teachers, particularly the emphasis on “informational text.” How do we shift attention toward informational texts without taking away from the teaching of literature? Fisch and Chenelle have written four books all focusing on different core texts still taught in high schools today.

Sparks in the Dark:Lessons, Ideas and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney – In Sparks in the Dark, Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney share their experiences as educators who purposefully seek to spark a love for reading and writing in the learners they serve. The reason is simple: Writing and reading have the power to change the trajectory of a life.

Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12 by Kelly Gallagher – I will read anything by Kelly Gallagher and this is another must have book for teaching English. The book is filled with many ideas to teach literature and respond to texts. Kelly also provides guidance on effective lesson planning that incorporates strategies for deeper reading.

Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? Content Comprehension Grades 6-12 by Chris Tovani – Building on the experiences gained in her own language arts classroom, Cris shows how teachers can expand on their content expertise to provide instruction students need to understand specific technical and narrative texts. The book includes: examples of how teachers can model their reading process for students.

 

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5 Ideas for Blending Gamification in Your ELA Classroom

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

– Benjamin Franklin

I have been reading Michael Matera’s EXPLORE Like a Pirate: Gamification and Game-Inspired Course Design to Engage, Enrich, and Elevate Your Learners as well as participating in weekly twitter chats about each chapter of the book with amazing teachers who have gamified their content area classroom and Michael Matera himself. These chats allow me to curate ideas and rethink how I am using gamification in my own eighth grade English Language Arts classroom.

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I have used game based learning in my middle school classroom for a few years now and I have catalogued some of the games that I have created in my classroom and other gamification tools I use to engage and enrich my students’ classroom experiences below.

1. “Amazing Race”Style Learning Stations – Why not spice up learning stations with an Amazing Race style activity? Teams of students stop at different locations around the classroom (or utilize the entire school) completing various tasks. Check out the To Kill a Mockingbird Amazing Race Activity I created and describe in a previous blog post.

2. Avatar Autobiographies – I am currently using Classcraft Games, a gaming platform throughout my English class. Students earn points in order to unlock special privileges in my classroom. These privileges can be extensions on written work or free passes on notebook checks. Each of my students has an Avatar — an character representing them in the game. Students are able to change the outfits of their Avatars, purchase equipment, and even buy pets for their Avatars depending on the Experience Points they earn in class. I have my students write autobiographies about their Avatars to bring them to life and to offer creative writing opportunities in the class.

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3. Boss BattlesHunger Games Style – Maybe you have a test coming up or you want to review an idea or concept with your class. You can use tech tools like Kahoot! or Plickers to test students knowledge. Once the teacher creates the questions or assessment,  students use a mobile device or computer to answer the questions with Kahoot! Pickers makes unique QR Codes that teachers can purchase and the teacher uses a mobile device to collect the formative assessment data based on the position of the QR Code which reveals their answer. Teachers can make their own boss battle reviews and assessments against a villainous character too. Students work in teams or independently to beat the “boss” within a few seconds. Getting a correct answer earns points where as the wrong answer can cost someone health points. Check out the amazing Boss Battle Assessment Mallory Kesson created for her students.

4. QR Code Quests & Micro Challenges – I love QR Codes for the ability to link digital media quickly to as activity or assignment. Over the past five years I have made a number of QR Code Quests that allow my students to investigate a concept or theme we are covering in class. I have made QR Code Quests for review, like this Figurative Language QR Code Quest and to learn about new information like with this music history QR Code Quest on Woodstock, 1969.

5. Adventure Quests – Throughout the #XPlap (Explore Like a Pirate Twitter Chats) there have been a series of Trivia type questions for participants to answer. Each week one question is asked within the chat to be answered on a Google Form. The questions are timed and for every question answered answered correctly, participants earn points. The person with the most points wins a bundle of gamification tools at the end.  Who doesn’t like winning free stuff?! Based on this idea, I created an Adventure Quest for my students. We are embarking on an investigative journalism unit and throughout the unit I will offer one question based on something happening in the news. The questions will unfold throughout the upcoming weeks and allows students to earn experience points as well as the possibility of winning a prize (to be determined). I will share more about this Adventure Quest and the questions asked in a later blog post.

Have ideas how to gamify your ELA class please share in the comments section of this blog.

 

 

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How the Common Core Learning Standards are Influencing State Testing

It is obvious that the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) have influenced teachers’ instructional approach and classroom objectives.  At the same time, there is also a shift happening among state assessments.  Recently, I received an email from the New York State Education Department regarding the changes that are expected from a teacher’s instruction and the state wide assessments.

The email states, “In English Language Arts, these shifts will be characterized by an intense focus on complex, grade-appropriate nonfiction and fiction texts that require rigorous textual analysis, the application of academic language, and other key college- and career-readiness skills.”

There are six key shifts which teachers should expect to focus their instruction in English Language Arts & Literacy.

Shift 1 – Balancing Informational & Literacy Text: Students read a true balance of information and literary texts.

Shift 2  – Knowledge in the Disciplines: Students build knowledge about the world (domains/content areas) primarily through text rather than through the teacher or other activities.

Shift 3 – Staircase of Complexity: Students read the central, grade-appropriate text around which instruction is centered.  Teachers are patient, and create more time, space, and support in the curriculum for close reading.

Shift 4 – Text-based Answers: Students engage in rich and rigorous evidence-based conversations about text.

Shift 5 – Writing from Sources: Writing emphasizes use of evidence from sources to inform or make an argument.

Shift 6 – Academic Vocabulary: Students continuously build the transferable vocabulary they need to access grade-level complex texts. This can be done effectively by spiraling like content in increasingly complex texts.

A more detailed description of these shifts can be found at http://engageny.org/resource/common-core-shifts/.

 

What does all this mean for teachers and learning?

1. Lots of Reading and incorporating more non-fiction texts into the curriculum.

2. Persuasive Writing where students assert and defend claims.

3. Strategic Technology for creating, collaborating and refining writing.

4. Build Extensive Vocabularies for reading, writing, and understanding.

5. Opportunities for Speaking and the ability to listen attentively.

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