Tag Archives: writing

Descriptive Writing: Building a Setting for Fiction Writing

My students have embarked on a creative writing unit, specifically murder mystery creative fiction. Last week’s blog post I wrote about the quest and the three laps students partake in to flex their creative writing muscles. This blog post dives deep in the first lap, descriptive writing and narrative of a place.

The setting is extremely important to a story. It can have immense effects on the plot and the characters. It can also establish the atmosphere, or mood, of a story or a specific scene. The setting establishing this mood allows the reader to relate to the characters within a story.

Let’s look at an example in literature. 

Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him. With his inky fingers and his bitten nails, his manner cynical and nervous, anybody could tell he didn’t belong – belong to the early summer sun, the cool Whitsun wind off the sea, the holiday crowd. They came in by train from Victoria every five minutes, rocked down Queen’s Road standing on the tops of the little local trams, stepped off in bewildered multitudes into fresh and glittering air: the new silver paint sparkled on the piers, the cream houses ran away into the west like a pale Victorian water-colour; a race in miniature motors, a band playing, flower gardens in bloom below the front, an aeroplane advertising something for the health in pale vanishing clouds across the sky.

Brighton Rock (Graham Greene)

Note the vivid imagery used to describe the setting. How does the author encompass all of our senses to bring us into the place this novel is set? 

In my classroom I would give my students this excerpt and ask them to mark up the text noticing how place, time, landscape, weather, and atmosphere are described to establish the setting. Then, students would sketch out a visual of the setting described in the passage.

We look at examples for models in descriptive writing about setting for our own writing to stretch our writing, take risks, and try something new. In mystery writing setting helps to propel the mystery and can be the best place to leave clues for readers.

Setting is important in any fictional story. Setting doesn’t just concern nice descriptive passages about houses, woodlands, mountains, roads and so on. Setting doesn’t mean merely ‘scenery’. Careful choice of setting:

  • Directs the reader’s attention to significant details of character or action. Setting can be used almost symbolically. It can stand for a mood, a state of mind, an emotion.
  • Plays off character against the environments in which they live and act. Characters (and their motivations, desires, hopes) may be juxtaposed against the settings in which they appear. They may occupy the setting comfortably, or be uncomfortable in the settings in which they’re placed.
  • Enhances the suspense and mystery (establishing mood and tone) in a piece of writing.

To help students build the setting in their own murder mystery, we looked at examples in film. Think about the opening scenes of your favorite movies and the opening shots that establish the setting. On one creative writing website, it states “Careful control of setting can be somewhat equivalent to directing a film camera. Many films begin with a long shot (distance), then a middle shot, then a close up. This threefold use of the camera is called the ‘establishing shot’ and is a commonplace of screenwriting. Beginning with a distance/wide angle ‘shot’ and then moving in to ever-closer details is also widely used as an orientation technique in fiction writing.”

To help my students write with depth and lots of description about their setting, they storyboarded the setting. This involved drawing out the setting and writing additional details to help stretch the setting details and give readers a clear sense of place.  

Setting Storyboard

 

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Murder Mystery Quest

This month I have dusted off classroom copies of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and added Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious to this reading and creative writing unit sending my students into this dark and chilly subsection where everyone is a suspect, red herrings are all around us, and reading is a game of “who done it.”

The Murder Mystery

I thought why not bring some creative fiction writing into the mix in lieu of an essay based on our reading. Hence, students are writing their own murder mystery short stories. I set up three “laps” around this genre to support my student learners.

#1 – Description of a Place

Show the setting of your creative murder mystery fiction through the effective use of sensory details (see, taste, smell, hear, feel) to help readers imagine and live inside this setting.

Write a minimum ONE page (double spaced, 12 point Alegreya Font) description of the place and setting of your murder mystery. Use word choice to create a believable, consistent narrator’s voice. Choose a tone for your story that matches your intent; use literary devices such as metaphor and simile to expertly craft words and sentences. Emphasize words or phrases that are most important; how do you want us to feel about this place?

Check out this example from one of my students:

Ronnie had heard stories about the mansion before, not good ones, but it was honestly much more chilling in person. The gate at the entrance was made of black matte barbed wire, shaped and crafted with jagged swirls and it went up about 12 feet. The mansion itself was something out of a horror story. The window were cracked, the bricks a faded mauve, and the front entrance had two large knockers, gargoyles, with huge black empty eyes.

#2 – Story Map

Utilizing a graphic organizer created by the teacher or designing your own story map, plot out the key elements of your murder mystery short story. Be sure to include: detective, the crime, the victim(s), the suspects, rising action, clues, climax, capture, solution, and resolution.

#3 – Murder Mystery Short Story

Create your own short story based around a crime or a mystery. Your story must be AT LEAST one page, but NO MORE THAN four pages. You MUST be sure to include all the parts of the story we have discussed (characters, setting, clues, red herrings, clues).
Possible Story Starters
1. It was a strange night, there seemed to be a chill in the air…
2. As soon as I arrived, I could sense that something was out of place…
3. One night, as I looked out the window, I saw the neighbor…
4. I was watching TV when I looked up. There in the window I saw…
5. I decided to go for an evening stroll.  I walked about three blocks when I felt it…
6. They would have been fine if they hadn’t stopped for the stranger…
7. Everyone avoided the big old mansion. It was believed to have…
8. They said she was able to utter a few words before she died…
9. Something is drastically wrong! Every time I pick up the telephone…
10. Sometimes I think my friend has strange powers. Every time he’s around…
11. All of a sudden I was trapped!
12. “DID YOU HEAR THAT?” I screamed…
13. As I walked through the door, all I could focus on was the blood that covered the floor…
Since we have started the unit students are immersed in murder mystery and crime fiction. I introduced my students to some addition books and podcasts to help them learn as much as they can about this genre as models, mentors, and writing seed ideas. Here are a few of my favorites:
A six-part scripted podcast series. Teen detective Tig Torres investigates the twisted mystery of the infamous Lit Killer murders. But as she gets closer to the truth, the killings, each based on murder scenes from classic literature, begin all over again…with her as the final target.
It’s Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Yes, this is the Cormoran Strike series that J.K. Rowling writes under a pen name.

One of Us is LyingOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus by Karen M. McManus

This book is basically The Breakfast Club meets Gossip Girl. Five students walk into detention, but only four walk out alive. The murder victim is Simon, the creator of Bayview High’s very own gossip app, and all four suspects have a motive.
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All these Wonders: Teaching Storytelling with The Moth

Today I had the privilege of attending a storytelling workshop presented by NCTE and The Moth, at Penguin Random House Books in New York City. The Moth Radio Hour, produced by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media and presented by PRX, highlights personal narratives and storytelling of ordinary people. In addition to listening to the Moth Radio Hour, there is a Podcast and published collections of the stories told.

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Today’s workshop, lead by The Moth Education Program, provides a framework for eliciting stories and personal narrative with students. There was a lot of talking and interacting before we even started to write. The first hour was spent meeting people and developing possible seed ideas where stories might be hiding. The first introduction required participants to complete the sentence, “I’m the kind of person who . . .”

There was lots of oral drafting before we ever put pen to paper, and this might be a great entry way for the reluctant writer/student who is more willing to try adding to or subtracting from their stories than when they physically write a draft. As teacher Tara Zinger and moth curriculum partner states, “Hearing a laugh or a gasp from a peer can be just what a student needs to know they are on the right track, and that just doesn’t happen as easily with a more traditional writing process.”

Presenter and The Moth Storyteller, Micaela Blei shares five techniques of storytelling and what makes a story compelling?

Change – Change is what separated a story from an anecdote. From the beginning to the end of the story, you’re somehow a different person, even if in a small way.

Stakes – We like to define stakes as what you have to win or lose in the story. Or, alternatively, what MATTERED to you?

Themes – Choosing a theme can help a storyteller decide how to shape this particular story. Deciding what thread or theme you want to draw out for this particular 5-minute version can help you make critical choices of details that pertain.

Show Us vs. Tell – A story is most effective when you have at least one really vivid scene: with sensory details, action, dialogue, and inter thoughts/feelings.

Be Honest/Be Real – There’s no one right way to tell a story. Be yourself.

The Moth stories online and in the published books are great for studying author’s craft and the craft of storytelling. This helps to meet the standards for Craft and Structure:

CCSS ELA Literacy. RL. 11-12.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

CCSS ELA Literacy.RL.11-12.5 – Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

After analyzing the stories, students can use these same stories as models and mentors for their own personal narrative writing and storytelling. To get started, try out one of these Moth-style story prompts:

A time you did something you never thought you would do.

A time your relationship with someone your love changed – a little or a lot.

A time that you took a risk – or decided NOT to take the risk.

A time you tried to be something your weren’t.

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Superhero Weapons, Narrative NonFiction, & Citizen Journalism Adventure Quest

I have turned an investigative journalism reading and writing unit with my eighth grade students into a unique citizen journalism adventure quest. Below are the elements of the quest broken down into ten journeys. Each journey/activity is based off a superhero weapon for students to build a toolbox of needed superpowers in deciphering truth and fiction.

Breaking News – In an age where the truth has been attacked, news is unreliable, and journalists are considered deceptive, WE NEED YOUR HELP. We are living in a “POST TRUTH” apocalypse and you must navigate the landscape to overcome the threat of fake news and apathy of knowledge. We must bring information to the forefront and STOP the desemination of disinformation. This map will guide you towards a truth, but you will choose the path that will get us back to a reliable and trustworthy free press and free society.  Here are some tools, lent by many Superheros to help you on this mission.

1 – Thor’s Mjoinir – Providing you with a tool to seek truth, what are the elements of Nonfiction that we must pay attention to? This lesson will provide you with background information to help you on your journey where landmines of information and disinformation look too much alike.  At basecamp we will spend today working together in basic training.

2 – Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth – How do you know if what you read online is true? At basecamp for basic training, we will concentrate on Good Thinking. Learn three modes of persuasion that date back to ancient times – Ethos, Pathos, Logos. Like Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth, these three rhetorical devices are your greatest weapons in our Post Truth Apocalypse to investigate truth.

3 – Green Lantern’s Power Ring – The Green Lantern’s ring isn’t just a snazzy accessory; it’s a weapon that can create more weapons! You will choose your own Narrative Nonfiction independent reading book to serve as a communication device and a force field of protection. Consider it a gift that keeps on giving, this will be a wealth of information as well as bring attention to the craft moves and modes of persuasion that our predecessors have embodied.

NonFiction Mentor Text: Booksnaps

You must send me artifacts of your thinking, observations and learning. It is not just what you read but how you critically consume the information. The information and craft moves in this book will guide you. Send me your weekly Booknaps of the Notice and Note Signposts and other key findings weekly so I can see your perspective.

OR

NonFiction Mentor Text: Thought Journal

You must send me artifacts of your thinking, observations and learning. It is not just what you read but how you critically consume the information. The information and craft moves in this book will guide you. Prepare a Thought Journal highlighting the Notice and Note Signposts and other key findings in your text weekly so I can see your perspective.

4 – Silver Surfer’s Board – The Silver Surfer’s board is one of the most unassuming weapons in the universe. It’s nearly indestructible, it can absorb energy or people (if needed), it can travel through time faster than the speed of light, and it’s mentally linked to the Surfer. Similarly, research is an unassuming weapon for your research, writing, and understanding of “truth.” As you embark on this part of the Journey – Metroid’s Open World – you will need gather Ethos, Pathos, and Logos for your nonfiction narrative topic. Then, choose which is the best path for you to display your knowledge and skill: Annotated Bibliography OR Infographic.

5 – The Helm of Nabu – On the surface, this helmet may look silly, but it’s much more. The helm embodied the spirit and powers of Nabu, a sorcerer and Lord of Order who had some serious control issues. With the helmet, the wearer gains enhanced intelligence, awareness, flight, dimensional manipulation, teleportation, telekinesis, the ability to see the past and future. Before we go any further, we must stop back at base camp to try out the Helm of Nabu to understand Nonfiction Text Structures and consider how one might structure their own Narrative NonFiction Essay.

6 – The Mother Box – This mystical supercomputer can transfer the energy of a being, work as a telepathic device, open boom tubes (teleportation portals), and sustain life.

You will write your own narrative nonfiction essay on a topic that is of interest to you. Include ethos, pathos, and logos to help bring to the forefront a truth that others have yet to see about your specific topic. Use your WitchBlade, Board, and Eye of Agamotto to make yourself and others more informed.

7 – Witchblade – This is another example of an accessory that’s more than meets the eye. The Witchblade looks like a simple piece of women’s jewelry, but it’s deadly. If you’re deemed as unworthy to wear it, it will dismember you. Yes, it has an attitude. If chosen, it bonds to its owner, giving her state-of-the-art armor, swords, daggers, shields and chains. Plus it has healing powers and can reanimate the dead. The opening Lede of your essay needs attitude and should be powerful to engage and inform your reader with valid and reliable ethos, pathos, and logos.

8 – Dr. Strange’s Eye of AgamottoThis artifact has a built in B.S. filter, which releases a light that sees through all lies, disguises and illusions. It can weaken the physical state of any evil being mystical or human, it can open portals, and most importantly it can explore an opponent’s mind to see their deepest and darkest thoughts. To defeat the boss of disinformation you must use the Eye of Agamotto to spread truth and accuracy. Like your Lede, the closing of your essay is a call to action, leaving your readers with a dearth of knowledge and understanding. 

9 – Blade’s Double Edge Sword – Like a double edged sword, peers editing and revision can have multiple benefits when used correctly. Blade’s  sword’s edge is covered in acid, and the handle is rigged with a security device (multiple spikes), which can shatter the hand of anyone who tries to steal it. Only Blade himself and a choice few are aware of the hidden button that can prevent the gruesome reaction. Find a peer in class who will give you feedback to help you make your essay one that stands out and quickly gets you to the last level.

10 – Batarangs Additional Sidequest – Batman is a gadget and weapon master, and one item he never leaves home without is his batarang. It’s a bat-shaped combination of a boomerang and a shuriken that he uses to fight crime. There are also different types of batarangs, including sonic, electrical and explosive versions. As a SIDEQUEST you will record your Mother Box for a creative informative podcast. Check out sample podcasts to hear the elements of this interactive and audio based essay.
Congratulations, you are now part of S.H.E.I.L.D. – Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division within Marvel Universe. You obviously have superpowers, so what is going to be your superhero name and powers you will use to continue to protect the world? Your next adventure quest awaits.

 

For Further Resources:

New York Times Learning Network “Evaluating Sources in a Post Truth World

Descriptions of Superhero Weapons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Action Plan for Building a Culture of Readers

I teach college courses on literacy and the one course that all preservice teachers are required to take is Literacy in the Content Areas. You can be working on a Masters in Teaching Physical Education, Art, TESOL, maybe science or math and you are required to take this course. For many of these teachers, the idea of teaching literacy is not at the forefront of their thinking about teaching. In fact, many question if I am asking them to teaching reading in their classes. My answer is always, YES!

Reading is an essential skill necessary across ALL content areas for learning. It is the foundation of all that we do.

This past weekend I read Many Ellis’ Lead with Literacy: A Pirate Leader’s Guide to Developing a Culture of Readers (2018) and Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney’s Sparks in the Dark: Lessons, Ideas and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us (2018). Both books are published by Dave Burgess Consulting, the famed PIRATE educator and presenter. Ellis’ book showcases how she went about promoting the love of reading in her elementary school by transforming the school culture and building enthusiasm among teachers, students, and parents. Crowder and Nesloney highlight student work and activities that showcase the necessity of reading and writing in all classrooms to promote student voice and critical thinking. Both books are filled with practical, actionable ideas and strategies to embed books, literacy, and the reading into your school.

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Here are a few treasures to promote a love of reading in your own school and or classroom:

  1. Be a Reading Role Model – Take ownership and accountability for embedding literacy in all facets of the school and learning environment by being a lead reader. If you expect to create a culture of readers, talk about books, let teachers and students talk about books, share your love of reading, invest time in allowing students to read in school books of their own choice, celebrate books and readers, and promote a love of reading among teachers, parents, and students.
  2. Share Your Love of Reading – When students walk into your classroom or office the environment should showcase your love of reading. Display what you are currently reading, maintain a reading log, use social media to share your reading life, build a library, and share great books.
  3. Books for All – In addition to time and choice, students have to have access to books. In Mindy’s school there are reading emergency shelves throughout the school for students to pick up a book to read at anytime, even on the way to the bathroom. In her school is a clawfoot tub that is painted in school colors and filled with books for students to dive into what books to read next. Classroom libraries should be robust for students to choose books that capture their interests, questions, and curiosities.
  4. Your Physical Environment Should Mirror Your Mission – Set up a #BookSelfie station for students to snap a picture with the book they are currently reading. Comfy chairs, carpets, and reading nooks allow students to read in a comfortable place. Organize for a service dog to come to school for students to read to on a regular occasion, and set up little free libraries outside of the school by the playground if a student wants to just sit outside and read. Create book backpacks for students to take home over the weekend and share with their families. It is your responsibility to motivate students to read and see reflections of themselves and the diversity of our world in the libraries that are established. There are so many ways to bring that love of reading into your space and school.
  5. Have Fun with Reading – Reading should not be a punishment but a pleasure. Whether that means hosting a doughnuts and pajamas story time or a reading camp out for students, create events that celebrate books and reading. Gifting students birthday books on their birthday or having students share their favorite book on the morning announcements allows students to showcase their own love and fun with books.
  6. Cultivate a Love of Reading Among Teachers and Staff – Mindy shared two activities for PD that I am going to adapt for my students. The first was a Speed Dating PD where teachers had eight questions to discuss in three minute rounds. Questions like: As an educator, what book character are you most like and why? What is one book that has impacted your life? The second activity, Strangers in the Ball Pit is another fun way for staff members to interact with both light hearted and heavy hitting questions. Gallery Walks, flip a book study, and gifting great books to your teachers shows that reading is something that you value. When every teacher is on the same page, the school mission is attainable.

Crowder and Nesloney write, “If our goal is to build our students’ capacity as readers and writers, it is imperative that we participate in the process of reading and writing as well, in everything we do, in every subject we teach . . . the poetry of math, the metaphor of science, the humanity of history, and the literature of language arts combine to create a beautiful experience, all united by literacy.” (pg. 2) It is all of our responsibility to provide our students the educational experiences that empower them. Reading and writing are so important today in all of our classrooms as facts are being altered, silenced, and negated. Students need to be able to read critically and communicate effectively in order to amplify their stories, challenge, question, and inspire the words and information around them.

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#ISTE18 EdTech Start Ups: The Ones to Watch

One of the gems of the ISTE Annual Conference is the EdTech Start Up Pavilion. This year many of the companies in this group were literacy based with free tools teachers can access now. Here are five of my favorites:

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Go Go Brain is an interactive online platform that strengthens seven critical meta-cognition skills: 1. Listening, 2. Following Directions, 3. Self-Control, 4. Focus and Attention, 6. Working Memory, and 7. Visual-Spatial Reasoning. The website offers games for young people to play to build these skills and flex their brain muscles. As I was playing the games, I thought that this might be great for adults too. For the 2018-2019 school year, GoGo Brain is offering complimentary memberships where parents and teachers can enroll for free by visiting the website and use the code: GoGo2018.

Mind Right offers personalized, live coaching over text message for teens who want to talk, judgment free. The company was started by two women who met at Stanford’s joint MBA/MA in Education program. Inspired by personal and familial histories with trauma, Ashley Edwards and Alina Liao have been working to reduce the stigma around mental health in communities of color and ensure every child has access to mental health support.  With the growing amount of mental health and anxiety that young people may be feeling today and maybe unable or afraid to talk, Mind Right offers young people guidance from a team of coaches that can help navigate the challenges we face every day – both positive and negative.

826 Digital is a new website for educators with writing curriculum tools including activities, lesson, and student writing. This is a creative writing platforms with Sparks, or flexible and focused skill building activities, as well as ready to use, topic based lesson plans and mini units to help teach process and revision. Some examples include Rewriting the Zombie Apocalypse and Teach a pirate how to eat a peanut and butter jelly sandwich. All of the lessons and projects are Common Core aligned. There are resources to teach persuasive, expository, narrative, poetry, and STEM writing. I cannot wait to use some of these writing prompts with my middle school students.

For media literacy, Weird Enough Productions is launching their own comic based media literacy curriculum. With an eye on representation, their mission is to “combat media misrepresentation through original content and media literacy education.” Subscribe on their website now to get early access to their media literacy curriculum.

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I am so excited for Words Liive, a 21st Century education technology that has developed the Culturally Responsive Pedagogy needed to meet the instructional demands for today’s classrooms. Today’s youth needs to see themselves in their education to aspire to perform in school. They’ve created a patented platform that integrates song lyrics into students’ reading assignments. Founded in 2013 by artist and educator, Sage Salvo, Words Liive is a music-based literacy program that helps teachers and students connect classic canon with contemporary popular music today. Words Liive integrates song lyrics into students’ reading assignments via “Real-Time” and On-demand Culturally Responsive digital platform. Currently in Beta form, you can preview the texts, find lesson plans, and utilize the available assessments. Check it out!

 

 

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180 Days Book Review

Many moons ago I had the opportunity to take a workshop with Kelly Gallagher, the author of countless books on teaching reading and writing like Write Like Us (Stenhouse, 2011) and Readicide (Stenhouse, 2009). He is a mentor to me and all of his books are filled with teaching ideas that help build students’ reading and writing skills. Penny Kittle is another trustworthy teacher author with strategies for student success teaching. Together, these two publishing dynamos have written 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents (Heinemann, 2018).

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As the school year winds down, many teachers – including myself – are reflecting and reimagining what next school year will look like: What might we do differently? What should stay the same? Where do the students need to dive more deeply in order to help build on their literacy and critical thinking skills? Gallagher and Kittle’s book effectively takes readers on a journey into their classrooms and experience the planning and execution of a school year in a way that helps match students with the right books while at the same time, “creating a classroom conducive to raising engaged readers writers, listeners, speakers, and thinkers” (pg. xvii). Throughout the book they expose the process that goes into planning and doing, as well as what they wish they got to but ran out of time.

Teaching in different schools across the country provides parallels as well as distentions that arose throughout the year based on the personal needs of their particular students and school community. The focus was always on their students with the intention of “crafting engaging and relevant learning experiences” because instruction should be designed around people – not the standards or state requirements. Additionally, Kittle and Gallagher’s objectives include “developing reading and writing habits needed for success outside of school: in college, work, and in their personal lives.” Whether students are going to attend post secondary schooling or not, If students are considering college, this infographic in the beginning of the introduction is telling.

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Gallagher and Kittle are upfront about their own teaching values and how these values shape their planning and teaching:

Each academic year is a unique, living mosaic. Curriculum is rewritten yearly based on the changing students and changing world. As they state, “we teach students, not curriculum.”

There is beauty in our content. Reading and writing is essential and the authors state, “we personalize reading and writing, seeking the deep connections that happen when you trust students to choose what they read and write and then teaching into their developing understanding.”

Models. The teacher is a model and as models we must be active readers and writers, modeling for our students the same expectations we have for them.

Choice drives engagement. “Students should have choice in what they read 75% of the time.” And writing is not different. Students should have choices what to write throughout the school year.

Reading Identity Matters. Time for reading is dedicated in every class so that “students can increase the volume of their reading, the complexity of their reading, and students will develop allegiances to authors and genres.”

Writing Identity Matters. “Writing is for life, not just for school.” – I love this quote because it centers around our students thinking and lives. Teachers need to honor students as writers in order to discover and seek answers to bigger questions (than those posed in a 5 paragraph essay).

Talk deepens thinking and learning. Verbal, as well as written communication is essential for learning. Listening and speaking are just as important as reading and writing. This includes small group, large class, conferences with peers as well as the teacher. Talk allows students to connect with one another and articulate thinking and understanding.

Be fearless. If we expect students to take risks, we must also take risks as teachers and writers. By taking risks, we are talking about willingness to try things that are new and challenging,

Grade Less and Assess More. Not everything that students complete needs to be graded. Assessment is on-going and should drive feedback and coaching – not one and done.

Collaboration is Essential for Professional Growth. Teaching shouldn’t be an island and when we work with others, we grow professionally in order to teach and respond to students effectively.

The book maps out the year with the different units of study that both Kittle and Gallagher teach. The tone of their classroom is set the first day and students are reading and writing daily. Each day also begins with a book talk to help generate interest in reading and help students make plans for reading. Prompts for conferences and mini lessons are throughout the book with additional considerations to help teachers map out their own year of reading and writing. Both have a balance of free choice/independent reading along with two core texts and three book clubs units. Students maintain Thought Logs or Writing Notebooks. Writing is a balance between tasks, assignments, and free writing. There are ten writing units that include traditional writing assignments/essays to digital storytelling and portfolios. Students read a variety of texts from To Kill a Mockingbird to infographics, and Ted Talks.

This book is filled with engaging teaching ideas and lessons, thoughtful reflections and considerations necessary to personalize learning ALL students. Together, our mission is to help students succeed as readers and writers inside and outside of school. Gallagher and Kittle show their readers a balanced a approach.

 

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Mash Up March: App Smashing for Effective Feedback

When students are writing, Google Docs is a great tool to help brainstorm, draft, edit, and revise their work. I have been thinking about the most effective ways that I can offer effective feedback on their writing throughout the writing process beyond the Comments feature on Google Docs. Here are a few apps to utilize when giving feedback on student writing.

Flipped Lessons with Exemplar Writing – I often share an exemplar essay from a student from the previous year as a model and mentor for student writing. Using the SMARTBoard or Document Camera I am able to show the writing model and talk through the craft moves the student made that make it an exemplar paper. But, I can also make a recording of this and provide students with easy accessibility to the model essay, annotations highlighting the key writing moves, and explanation why the essay an exemplar. Using Google Slides, Google Drawing, and Screencast-O-Matic, I am able to record this lesson and have it available for students to view any time. Additionally, students can respond to the elements of the exemplar they notice, like, and want to model in their own writing with Padlet. Padlet is a collaborative platform or “board” for students to share feedback, answer questions, respond to a prompt, or brainstorm together.

MultiModal Feedback – Google Comments allow teachers to add comments on Google Docs. This is helpful to address specific concerns and highlights on a student’s essay. Additionally, the extension Checkmarks is an easy commenting tool that has popular pre-made or custom comments. Another possibility is to add vocal feedback with extensions like Read & Write or Talk & Comment. Teachers or peer editors can record their comments on these apps and the writer is able to listen to helpful suggestions to make their essay clear and concise.

App Smashing the Entire Writing Process – Using a semantic map tool like Popplet or Bubbl.us can help students in the beginning stages of writing to jot down ideas what they will write about and gather necessary textual evidence. Then, to help students build an outline, they might demonstrate their thinking using Explain Everything or using a voice recording app like Audacity. When students are writing Google Docs is a trustworthy tool. Then, reading aloud their essay to get peer feedback and check for correct grammar and usage, students can read and respond to each other’s writing on Flipgrid. Students can compile all their work on Thinglink posting links to showcase their writing process.

 

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Are the Common Core Standards Dead? Advanced Literacy & Lifelong Learning

At the start of the semester, one of my graduate students told me, “Education Secretary Betsy DeVos declares the Common Core is dead, so why do I need to to include the standards in all of my lesson planning?”

Well, I didn’t expect that question the first day.

And I wanted to be positive and not political.

So, here is how I did respond.

Forty-two states have adopted the Common Core Standards to define literacy and academic success. The Common Core does not tell teachers how to teach or what to teach. Rather the standards were created to be learning targets to prepare students for life long learning. New York State, the state which we live in and teach in, the state which this pre-service teacher is obtaining certification, follow the Common Core Standards and since its adoption in 2011 have revised, added, deleted, and clarified the standards with the goal of developing students to “participate in academic, civic, and professional communities, where knowledge is shared and generated.”

How does one measure student success?

How do we develop literate students who are able to communication and navigate the world?

What are the most important practices that teachers can employ to support their students as literacy learners?

Now there are benefits and limitations to the standards, any standards. I choose to see them as a guide to help support our students as life long readers and writers. Do not allow standardized tests to define what the Common Core is and is not. “The New York Education Department remains committed to encouraging teachers and schools to choose the literature and informational texts they use as they detail their ELA curriculum or programs.” What are the lifelong practices of reading and writing that you hope to offer in your classroom? How do the CCSS support these practices and develop a love of reading, help develop strong and effective writers, and build effective speaking and communication skills? Tell me what you uncover.

After this discussion with the graduate student I attended a workshop on the revised New York State Next Generation English Language Arts Learning Standards and the integration of Advanced Literacy.

“Advanced literacies denote a set of skills and competencies that enable communication, spoken and written, in increasingly diverse ways and with increasingly diverse audiences. This requires writing with precision, reading with understanding, and speaking in ways that communicate thinking clearly. Advanced literacies also promote the understanding and use of texts for a variety of purposes” (2017).

So, before we “throw out the baby with the bathwater,” let’s examine what is working with Common Core, 21st Century realities, and guiding principles, continue to revise where there are limitations and gaps in order to support each student in this changing educational landscape.

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Working Your Way Towards Argumentative Writing with Gameboards

Last spring I came across an amazing Revision Gameboard created by Lisa Guardino, a middle school teacher and blogger in California. I was immediately inspired and in awe. 

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My students are currently writing an argumentative investigative journalism piece and they started their research and have just finished creating an Annotated Bibliography for the evidence they collected. But how do I help them get from their Annotated Bibliography, to write their Lede, to expanding their writing into an entire essay? That is when Lisa’s game board popped into my mind.

Her game board focuses on revision and is has a Monopoly layout. I imagined more of a Snakes and Ladder’s template to help students move across and around the board to write, elaborate, incubate, and revise their work. Based on Lisa’s work here is what I came up with. Click on the image to link to the actual document.

Revision Gameboards

My intentions are to help my students think through their writing and build their ideas into a well developed investigative journalism article that utilizes ethos, pathos, and logos. I have used Lisa’s Revision Game Board for steps 6-11 when students are revising and editing their work before submission. Hopefully, this will help my students put together an essay that is packed with evidence, elaboration, and utilizes elements of rhetoric.

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