Tag Archives: writing

What’s With TEXAS Paragraphs

It wasn’t until I arrived at my current school that writing was streamlined across the middle school with a specific format for introductory paragraphs, body paragraphs, and conclusions. We follow a TEXAS format for the body paragraphs of argumentative and literary essays. TEXAS stands for:

Topic Sentence

contExt

textual eXample

Analysis

So What?

The body paragraphs are the meat of an essay. Body paragraphs must include specific textual evidence to support a claim and provide analysis of the textual evidence describing how it supports the claim. Stating “This quote proves . . . “ is not enough. Analysis needs to hold the reader’s hand and walk them through the connection between the textual evidence and the claim. At the eighth grade level, students are required to include three or more examples (2 direct quotes and one indirect example) per paragraph to really prove a claim is valid.

The hardest part for my students is the analysis after finding the strongest evidence to support one’s claim. What is good analysis? And how do students know what to say in the ANALYSIS? I tell my students to get rid of the word “proves” and begin with the words “This shows that” following the quote. This will forces students to EXPLAIN and elaborate on their thinking without summarizing the connection between the evidence and the claim.

Let’s look at a student exemplar.

texas-exemplar

So to help students write off of a quote and practice analysis, I created this graphic organizer

It is not enough to find valid evidence, because evidence itself doesn’t support an argument. What supports an argument is the way students UNPACK or EXPLAIN evidence. Students need lots of opportunities to help articulate their understanding of a text. Explaining and elaborating is a skill students build throughout schooling to help unpack the layers of a text.

How do you help students analyze and articulate their understanding of a text? Share your ideas in the comment section of this blog. I am always interested to know what is working for other teachers and students.

 

 

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Is All Evidence Equal: Weighing Textual Evidence

This week I gave my students a short response prompt based on the propaganda presented in their dystopian texts. Students are reading Animal Farm, The Giver and Unwind. The prompt was as follows:

A variety of propaganda techniques are used throughout the fable in small and incremental measures to confuse, influence, and keep the other animals on the farm under control, as well as to make outsiders think that Animal Farm was successful.

There are six types of propaganda that are commonly recognized: 1) Bandwagon, 2) Scapegoating, 3) Unapproved Assertions, 4) Slogans, and 5) Fear.

Which type of propaganda did those in control use to their advantage most effectively?

Why did that type of propaganda work so well on the members of the community?

In your short response be sure to identify the type of propaganda used effectively with two or more examples textual support. Also include why this type of propaganda worked so well on the others.

Whereas my students know to include direct textual evidence in their writing, the question remains: Is the evidence students are selecting the strongest evidence to support their claim? 

This year I am requiring students to organize textual evidence using graphic organizers I create to use in tandem with the foldables that go in their Interactive English Notebooks. But is not just about students mastering the ability to pull any evidence from the text, it is necessary  students also weigh and debate the evidence selected so that it is the strongest in supporting their claims.

Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen address this same topic in their book Teaching Interpretation Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning (Heinemann, 2014).

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Based on the ideas presented in their text, I have created a foldable for my students to remember that not all evidence is equal. To reiterate this idea about evidence, I have taken various quotes about fear from each of the three dystopian texts for students to work in small groups and rank the evidence for use in the short response prompt above: Which is the strongest evidence? Why? Which is the weakest evidence? Why? What makes the strongest evidence the strongest? What makes the weakest evidence the weakest? Which evidence tells? Which evidence shows?

 

 

 

 

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Metaphors and Analogies for Teaching Writing

Writing is an abstract idea for many students in middle school. Particularly, essay writing. In an attempt to make writing more accessible to my students, I have been using metaphors and analogies to help my students understand the elements of writing an essay.

Lindsey Richland, professor at University of Chicago, has written many research articles on the use of analogies in mathematics classroom. She lists six cognitive supports for the use of analogies in the mathematics classroom. These supports include:

  1. The teacher uses a familiar source analog to compare to the target analog being taught
  2. The teacher presents the source analog visually
  3. The teacher keeps the source visible to learners during comparison with the target.
  4. The teacher uses spatial cues to highlight the alignment between corresponding elements of the source and target (e.g., diagramming)
  5. The teacher uses hand or arm gestures that signaled an intended comparison (e.g., pointing back and forth between a scale and an equation)
  6. The teacher uses mental imagery or visualizations

Richland’s work is also relevant across content areas. I have found that using metaphors and analogies with my students helps them to visualize and make connections with the content being taught. For example, while working on revising our summer reading essays, I made the following analogies:

Introductory Paragraphs are like Birthday Invitations – The first paragraph of your essay is extremely important.  You will need to get the reader’s attention, build interest, preview the topic and offer necessary background information, and most importantly state your claim clearly and concisely. Similarly, when you send out a birthday invitation to your friends you need to get your friend’s attention, build interest, preview what is going to happen at the party and include any necessary background information, and most importantly, state where and when the party is is going to happen clearly and concisely.

When teaching the claim, I borrowed an analogy from author,  Katherine Bomer, “Essays, like a music composition,  circle around a central idea, riffing on it with stories, questions, and observations, but ultimately cohering around the CORE IDEA.”

I also talked about writer’s having to navigate their thinking on a page the way Google Maps and Waze helps to navigate us home. Unfortunately, there is no app to help teachers and students navigate through an essay. Thus, writers need to always be explaining or clarifying the relationship they are creating between evidence and ideas. Writers need to be sure and clarify or explain each piece of evidence from the text so that readers don’t get lost, confused, or the wrong idea.

What are the metaphors and analogies that you use to teach writing with your students to help them visualize the task at hand? Share your ideas in the Comments below.

 

 

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What did you Read this summer? A Back-to-School Summer Reading Assessment

Summer reading is a political topic these days. Should students be assigned a required summer reading book or should summer be about reading what ever one likes? Should students be allowed to have choice in what they read? How many texts should students be required or expected to read over the summer?

This year, my colleagues and I decided that instead of a required summer reading text, students could read any book of their choice. Incoming students were given a suggested book list created by students that included many contemporary titles both fiction and nonfiction.

With a wide range of summer reading books, how does one assess students? Rather than a creative book reflection and project, I have turned to the traditional essay to assess student reading. This assessment is not one that is graded, but used as a gauge of reading tastes and gain data of students’ reading and writing strengths and weaknesses. I use these assessments to help guide my teaching of reading and writing at the start of the school year.

My summer reading assessment prompt stems from the poignant essay What we Hunger For written by Roxanne Gay.

This essay is honest, harrowing, reflective, and offers a personal response to the Hunger Games trilogy.  The author begins by highlighting the representations of strength in women like Katniss and then brings in her own personal experiences that shaped her reading and admiration of strength in the “flawed” protagonist of Suzanne Collin’s books. Gay addresses the negative response to the violence in the trilogy and through her personal confession offers a counter claim against telling young people what they can and should read. She brings in supportive arguments from contemporary YA authors like Sherman Alexie to support her claims.  Gay concludes with her analysis of Katniss as a strong and relatable character by highlighting imperfection in and all around us. This essay is powerful and inspiring. I knew it was something I wanted to share with my students.

For my 8th graders, I have edited the essay to use as a mentor text. I want students to think about the central ideas in their summer reading books and how it shapes their thinking. How do the books we read over summer time support us and sustain us?

summer reading essay 2016

I look forward to what my students share with me. What are the books they read over summer vacation, and the lessons they share with me.

Do you have a unique or thoughtful summer reading assessment? Feel free to share in the Comments section on this blog.

 

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#ILA16 Take Aways

In her essay “Beyond Bread and Cheese: The Artisanal Approach to Teaching and Learning” (2016, Moffly Media) author and Head of School at The Ethel Walker School in Connecticut, Meera Viswanathan describes a trend in education away from “industrialized learning” towards something that more personalized, relational, and authentic.

Good teaching is not mass produced and neither are best practices. Engaged learning is artisinally-produced. Viswanathan writes, “Rather than following dicta set by others without reconsideration, the craftsman aspires to something more ideal, a transcendent possibility in both small and large ways.” Hence, good teachers are personal, relational, embrace possibility, and are always perfecting their craft – “that each endeavor is not a replica of what came before, but rather creative experimentation within a limited framework towards some new possibility, something better, something approaching the ideal.”

Attending the International Literacy Association Annual Conference this past weekend encouraged introspection, self-reflection, and critique of artisanal teaching practices and intentions.

  1. The classroom is a place to introduce students to new worlds, worlds that we could not have imagined and imagine for the better. Key note speakers, Adora Svitak and Kwame Alexander emphasized the need for teachers and students to work on understanding suffering that is going on in our communities as well as the suffering happening around the world in order to help imagine a better world. Literature is a catalyst to transform the world. Teachers need to teach diverse books and tackle tough topics. We gain so much when we read and write.IMG_6720
  2. The classroom should introduce students to the possibility of deep sustained engagement and wonder with ideas, the world, and life around us. Students are more invested when they are engaged. The theme of the conference was “Transforming Lives Through Literacy 2.0” – Students have the power of technology to search and seek what they want to know. Learning in the classroom is not about the acquisition of information anymore. Our classrooms need to be places where students have VOICE and CHOICE to discover, explore, wonder about the world and their own interests. Reading and Writing Workshop, Genius Hour, and Passion Projects are all teaching practices that allow students to personalize learning and transcend what is. Technology has the power to expand the walls of our classrooms around the world and across the universe.IMG_6718
  3. Teachers and students must learn to question their own assumptions and recognize the limitations of their thoughts, thereby expanding horizons. Critique and self reflection are for the cultivation of alternative viewpoints and perspectives. Compassion and empathy are based on opening oneself up to others, ideas, and experiences. Students need to hear, read, and see diverse texts, genres, to learn about the world and what is possible. Engaging in conversations about the world and the recent events in our community can help empower young people. This can also help transform our classrooms into authentic, active, and relevant learning spaces all students want to participate and be a part of.
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Literacy 2.0 – Genius Hour Digital Inspirations

My friend and colleague, Carol Varsalona, author of the blog Beyond Literacy Link has collected numerous photographs and poems from published writers and teachers which she calls “digital inspirations.” These digital inspirations are artistic expressions and short poems that showcase both images and words. All of the inspirations written by Varsalona herself, and an expanding community of writers, are cataloged online in thematic galleries on her blog.

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For a Genius Hour assignment, I asked my students to create a digital inspiration highlighting their Genius Hour project this spring. These digital inspirations became an advertisement of sorts to inform and inspire others of their work this semester. Below is a slideshow of their work. The inspirations highlight the array of passion projects and the creativity among my students.


As technology continues to expand the ways students and teachers engage in literacy, teachers need to embrace the role of digital media in the classroom to foster a culture of creativity and innovation.  Literacy 2.0 brings to the forefront digital tech tools that enhance learning and literacy in the digital age where students are content creators and critical thinkers.

Passion is a powerful agent of change (Lucy Calkin) in a student-centered classroom. As Fisher and Frey have noted in their article, “Collaborative Conversations,” instructional leaders should focus attention on the Common Core Learning Standard Anchor Standard 1 for Speaking and Listening that asks that we prepare for and participate in collaborations with diverse partners, building on each others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. Adherence to the ELA Anchor Standard 1 for Listening and Speaking is essential to move educators from the sage on the stage to a more reflective practitioner, facilitator, and instructional coach who aims to create engaged, risk-taking classroom environments where passion exists and writers thrive.

The ideas presented above stem from a workshop Carol Varsalona, poet extraordinaire,  Laura Purdie Salas, and myself will be presenting at ILA 2016 in Boston, MA this upcoming July titled Transforming Lives Through Literacy 2.0.

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I Feel For You: Rock History Matters

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On the cusp of the news that the amazing, all original, binary blurring rock artist, Prince’s death, I wanted to write this post as an ode to the late, great musician.

Henry Haynes states, “To define Rock n’ Roll music as black blues and rhythm-and-blues music mixed together with gospel music and white country music is far too simplistic. There was a cross-fertilization of the Southern music forms long before rock came along, and a different definition is necessary. He goes on to say that rock music is beat-oriented music that in its origins embraced the newly-created electric guitar as its primary instrument for melody. Rock music usually has youth-oriented lyrics dealing with romance, the pangs of young love, cars, surfing, and school problems to name a few.”

Prince was influencer, an originator, he blended rock, blues, jazz, soul, and more through his lyrics and instrumentals. He challenged the norms and expanded the definition of rock and roll music. His fingerprints have been left on so many musicians that we listen to today and will continue to hear in the future. His death is a tremendous loss.

As a teacher of Rock History, I wanted to share different activities that teachers can have their students complete to learn more about the power of rock and roll music and its influence on history, socio economics, and pop culture.

  1. Rock and Roll Musical Tree of Influence – We have all created at one time a family tree to trace our ancestors. What if we selected a popular musician today and traced their musical influences as far back as the birth of rock and roll? Who would Beyonce and Justin Bieber have as musical influencers from the 80s, 70s, and 60s?  After researching their favorite musician, students create a semantic map using Bubbl.us illustrating the musical influences of popular artists today. Bonus points are given for students who are able to trace musical influences as far back as the roots of rock and roll: Gospel, Country, Rhythm & Blues, African Music, Boogie Woogie & Swing, and Jazz.
  2. The Economics of the Music IndustryNPR’s Planet Money describe the economics of producing a Katy Perry Album. Who is getting paid in addition to the artist? How much money does it cost to make a hit album and how much do music companies profit from hit records?
  3. Themes in Music – Just as we read literature and discuss theme, what are some of the themes in music today? Students can research and create a wiki page or presentation that addresses one particular theme in music today (For example, the role of women as singers and songwriters, shock rock, teenage idols, country pop cross-overs, boy band resurgence, etc.) Students should offer direct evidence from song lyrics and artists who fall into this theme. Students are essentially writing an analysis and interpretation of this theme using music as a text to support their claim.
  4. Rap Masters Anthology of Rap – The Yale Anthology of Rap (2010) edited by Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois, highlights some of the greatest rappers of the past thirty years. It is not necessarily an encyclopedia of rap artists, but rather covers the great poetic traditions of the written word of rap music from the beginning (think Grand Master Flash) to highlight the golden era of rap music in the 1980s to include present day word artists. If you were one of the advisory board members for this anthology’s second edition who would you nominate to be included and why?

    Students write a proposal nominating a rap artist to be included in the revised edition of The Yale Anthology of Rap. The proposal includes:
    (1) The artist that you are nominating (please note that it should be a different artists then in the first edition) – be sure to include pictures and a brief bio about the artist.
    (2) Choose three or more songs that they sing – Remember you are focusing on these artists as masters of the word, poets, and great rappers. Include the lyrics of each of the songs you are choosing.
    (3) Write an analysis of each of the songs. Your analysis should include what the song is about , what about the lyrics makes it a great, the poetic forms the rapper uses, how this rap is different than other artists, and a reflection on the depth and power of the words.
    (4) Works Cited – You need to reference everything that you get on the internet. This includes pictures, music lyrics, videos, and any other ideas that you take from another website.

  5. Musical Influencers Across the Decades Digital Storytelling Project – Who are the trailblazers, the perpetuators, and the ones who have and will leave a lasting legacy on music history. It is their creative impact that matters rather than popularity. Therefore, the main focus will be channeled on the artists and genres that have made the greatest creative impact in their respective periods. For this project students choose either an artist or music group  who were trailblazers OR  focus on a particular music genre that has made a lasting legacy. Students research and create a digital story highlighting and artist or genre  that has left an imprint on rock and roll history.

To see more projects that address rock and roll history and see samples of student work you can visit my wiki page http://rockwritelisten.wikispaces.com

Image from https://media.gq.com/photos/5719149cbf3a8ba177b0f08f/3:2/w_800/prince-obit-01b.jpg

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Where film and writing merge: Match on Action

This weekend I attended ACME: Action Coalition for Media Education 5th Annual summit hosted by Sacred Heart University’s Media Literacy & Digital Culture graduate program and co sponsored with Project Censored. ACME identifies itself as “an emerging SmartMedia Education Network, a global coalition run by and for media educators.” ACME’s mission is threefold:

  1. Teaching media education knowledge and skills – through keynotes, trainings, and conferences – in classrooms and communities to foster more critical media consumption and more active participation in our democracy.
  2. Supporting media reform — few multinational corporations (Big Media) own much of the media that shapes our 21st century culture.– Media reform is crucial since only those who are media educated support media reform, media education must be a top priority for all citizens and activists.
  3. Democratizing our media system through education and activism.

Topics throughout the day addressed pedagogy, citizenship, digital production, journalism, and representations of race, class, and gender.  I was invited to present with colleagues from Jacob Burns Film Center on their curriculum Image, Sound, and Story. Currently, in its third year of fruition, Image Sound and Story is a “series of ten hands-on lessons/projects that emphasize process, challenge-based learning, collaboration, and reflection to build students’ visual and aural communication skills.”

Our presentation was hands on and allowed participants to experience a piece of JBFC curriculum. We focused on structure and I shared how I use Image, Sound, and Story in my media literacy elective, Media Savvy Kids, and how it also influences my English classroom.

The unit on Structure (Moment to Moment) focuses on how to connect ideas through editing and match cuts when creating a film. When teaching writing, writer’s need to offer a road map for their readers in order to understand the sequence of ideas. Writers use specific transitions to guide and emphasize their intentions. These transitions are similar to the types of cuts film directors and editors have to think about to create a coherent film. Below are the slides from the presentation and at the end I include samples of student work to highlight the intentions of my student writers.

 

To learn more about Media Literacy professional development opportunities click on the links below:

Jacob Burns Film Center summer professional development for teachers 

Media Literacy Education for a Digital Generator Summer Institute for Educators at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont

Summer Media Institute at Wedlock College in Boston, Massachusetts

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Where Science and Literacy Meet: Investigative Journalism

English and social studies lend themselves too conveniently to reading and writing with historical fiction and writing with document based questioning. In fact, half of my ELA curriculum is driven by the humanities.

But what about science? Yes, there is reading and writing involved in science classes but how do we bring to the forefront the interconnectedness between these two disciplines?

This past month I wanted to bring science into my 8th grade English class through an investigative journalism unit. Students read and wrote an investigative journalism feature article with a science focus.

Guiding Question: How do the choices we make impact the world?

First, I immersed my students in science based nonfiction texts. We examined author’s purpose, text structure, and craft moves like Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.

The Society for Environmental Journalism recognizes and awards the top written journalism about the planet and I utilized their nominations and recognitions as mentor texts for my students.

I wanted my students to live like journalists. Students wrote down possible topics of interest and choose two or three to research more about.  Students began gathering the 5 Ws about these topics: Who, What, Where, When, and Why?

After a few days of research student selected one topic to commit to. Before we did any writing, I required students dig deeper in their research and compile an annotated bibliography with four or five sources to help them write their feature piece. The idea being, all good writing is based on solid research.

After students wrote their annotated bibliography they started their own articles. Paying close attention to the lead or lede, the author’s point of view, voice, and blending the qualities of narrative and argumentative writing. Our class became a writing workshop and the articles that my students created were informative, engaging, and inspiring. Topics addressed endangered animals, depression, obesity, pollution entwined with personal stories and connections.  I created an eFlipbook of their writing using FlipsnackEDU to share their work.

 

Because FlipsnackEDU is a closed sight, I cannot share the ebook with you, but below I have included a pdf version of one class’s writing. I have also listed resources used to develop the unit.

Resources:

Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Units of Study: Grade 8 Investigative Journalism 

Gallager, Kelly (2015) In the Best Interest of Students. Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

I’m Lovin’ Lit: Interactive Reading Literature Notebooks 2 (for Point of View Foldable)

Period9InvestigativeJournalismArticlesSpring2016-3

 

 

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Using Social Justice to Teach Reading/Writing in the ELA/SS Classroom #Engsschat 2/29 7 PM EST

This upcoming Monday 2/29/2016 7 PM EST I will be guest moderating #engsschat. The topic is one that I am passionate about and a theme that drives my teaching and curriculum. Our twitter conversation will address social justice as a catalyst to teach reading and writing in English and social studies classrooms. My objective is to engage in a dialogue with other educators about literacy and social responsibility.

Below are the questions for the chat

Here are a few excellent resources for teaching and learning more about social justice and social responsibility.

Facing History and Ourselves

On their website, Facing History states, “the lifeblood of democracy is the ability of every rising generation to be active, responsible decision-makers. And we believe that inspired teachers and innovative methods are the key.” Facing History words with educators around the world throughout to improve their effectiveness in the classroom, as well as their students’ academic performance, historical understanding, and civic learning. Facing History has a number of incredible curricula and resources for teachers and students to critically examine history and the moral choices we confront everyday.

Teaching Tolerance and the Southern Poverty Law Center

Teaching Tolerance offers a magazine, curriculum materials and lesson plans, webinars, and professional development on topics committed to diversity and inclusion of  all people.

Zinn Education Project

The Zinn Education Project promotes and supports the teaching of people’s history in middle and high school classrooms across the country based on the lens of history highlighted in Howard Zinn’s best-selling book A People’s History of the United States The website offers free, downloadable lessons and articles. The Zinn Education Project is coordinated by two non-profit organizations, Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.

Two excellent resources about teaching social responsibility include:

caring-hearts-and-critical-minds                           9780325053592

 

Here is a middle school book list with titles that address social justice:

 

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