Tag Archives: writing

Integrated Thematic Hyperdocs

Integrated Thematic Instruction offers students a chance to learn in an environment where lessons in all subjects are woven around compelling themes that are expanded and explored throughout the year. This method of learning helps students connect lessons to real-life experiences. For students to be fully engaged, the content must have an application and be meaningful to their world. The standards are presented in theme-based units that allow for frequent connections.

I am currently teaching a college course titled Literacy in the Content Areas with pre-service teachers and current teachers from all different content areas. ALL content area teachers must play an active role in teaching students disciplinary literacy skills. The purpose of this course is to help teachers and teaching candidates learn how to integrate literacy (reading, writing, viewing, and communication) into content area classrooms so students can construct meaning in discipline-specific ways. Emphasis is on helping candidates acquire an integrated and balanced approach using literacy as a discipline-specific tool –  for supporting reading, writing, speaking and doing – as defined by the New York State Next Generation Learning Standards. 

Helping students to think about supporting students as writers, add history and bring in aspects of sports, I created this hyperdoc to help students learn about the segregated history of baseball and then make connections to athletes as social activists today. Below you can see the different aspects of the hyperdoc to allow for cognitive skills such as reading, thinking and writing in the context of real life connections that also allows for creative exploration.

Integrated thematic units can result in a lot of thoughtful conversations about the interconnectedness of the disciplines we teach.  There are so many reasons why using integrated thematic units can benefit your learners.

  • Helps students engage with the content being taught
  • Allows students to apply content throughout curricula
  • Learners are able to make connections
  • Draws from past experiences and prior knowledge
  • Develops vocabulary and comprehension skills

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Multigenre Projects

In my book New Realms for Writing (ISTE, 2019) I introduce a multi genre project my students create based on a World War II topic, research, and historical fiction.

As stated in the book, “Why just box students into writing one genre per unit? There are limitations to teaching narrative, informative, argumentative writing in isolation. Each genre has its strengths and drawbacks. In fact, when we read essays and articles these genres are often blended together.  If teachers allow students to show their understanding and knowledge of a topic with a variety of genres there is choice and creativity. This goes beyond just allowing students to choose the genre or format to showcase their understanding, what if students could blend genres in one assignment to produce a multi-genre piece.  In this chapter I introduce  the concept of multi genre writing: the ability to write in more than one genre to present understanding and build new knowledge.”

Multigenre Projects are not new, educator and author, Tom Romano describes in, Blending Genres Blending Styles (2000),  “In short, multigenre projects entail a series of generic documents that are linked by a central premise, theme, or goal. They may forward an argument, trace a history, or offer multiple interpretations of a text or event. They are rigorous forms of writing, involving all of the elements of a traditional research paper: research and citation, coherence and organization, purpose and aim of discourse, audience awareness, and conventional appropriateness.”

As an end of the year project I wanted to create a multi genre project where my students were at the forefront. Since we just finished reading books and discussing themes of identity, I adapted a project I found online that focuses on our stories and identities. Students were to create multigenre project as a means of reflecting upon middle school and how that has shaped us into who we are today.

Here are the specifics: 

  • A title page with a creative title.
  • An introduction serving as a guide to readers.  This will introduce the event you’re reflecting upon and help us understand why this topic is important to you.  Likewise, it gives you an opportunity to explain how we should read your documents.  This should be ½ to 1 page long.
  • Three (3) separate documents from three (3) different genre categories:
    • The  Narrative Writing Category
    • The Persuasive Writing Category
    • The  Informational Writing Category
    • The Poetry Category
    • Visual Artistic Category

*You can add a fourth category and document for extra credit

  • An artist statement paragraph for each document at the end of your project answering the following questions in complete sentences:
    • What is the message of this document? 
    • Why did you pick this genre for this specific part of the story? 
    • How does this document show the larger theme of your story? 

At the end the year it is inspiring to see students write with gusto about topics related to friends, sports, uncertainty, grades, losing a loved one and procrastinating. One student even said to me that this was the best project they have worked on so far — that is something you do not hear often when it comes to a writing assignments.

As for the different writing examples within the genre categories, students had lots of choices.

As these final projects are turned in, I cannot wait to share some of the highlights.

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Totally 10 Revision Choice Assignment

Photo by Dan Counsell on Unsplash

No draft is ever perfect. It was Kelly Gallagher who said writing is never done, it is just due. Right before midwinter recess my students turned in an essay based on their reading of a dystopian novel and I read through all the essay over the break (yes, I know teachers shouldn’t be working over break). Reading through the essays I was able to give quality feedback in the form of “I like, I think, and I wonder.” Additionally, I used feedback as data to develop mini lessons and scaffolds for the places where students could use more support and direction.

Revision is an opportunity to revisit our writing and make it stronger, clearer, more concise. The writer Ernest Hemingway “rewrote the first part of his novel A Farewell to Arms at least 50 times and rewrote the ending of the novel 39 times;” “Hemingway revised so much not because he was a bad writer but because he was a good writer.” I want my students to understand that writing is an on going process and revision is a tool that can help us to to re-vision—or re-see—our work from a new perspective and revise so it can work more effectively. Revision goes beyond just editing for spelling and grammatical errors, it zooms in on the organization of your ideas, your argument and supporting evidence, and the clarity of your ideas and analysis.

I have created this Totally 10 Revision activity to help students try out two or more revision strategies to make their writing stronger. In conjunction with the revision choice board, creating How-To sheets, flipped videos, and graphic organizers helps provide instructional scaffolds that help to break down the essay assignment in smaller bites and helps aid in the mastery of the task.

You can get a copy of this revision choice board here: Essay Revision Totally Ten

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Poet of the Day Playlist

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

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

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

Poetry Playlist

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

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

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

Poetry Response

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

 

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3 Creative Ways to Ditch that Essay

* The following was written as a guest blog post for Ditch that Textbook published on 9/3/2019. To read the post on the website click here

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Why should essay writing be the majority of student writing in school? There are lots of other options. Here are three good alternatives to consider.

What are your most memorable experiences throughout your middle school and high school career?

I know, you are thinking about all the exciting and engaging essays you wrote. That five-paragraph essay where you explained the theme of a text. Each paragraph was informative and persuasive, providing robust evidence and analysis to support your claim.

Probably not.

And what about in your classroom today, how often are students writing essays similar to your youth?

Words do not exist only on a page in a two-dimensional space any longer. Today, words are multisensory experiences that are seen, heard, and experienced through podcasting, filmmaking, storytelling, gaming, and virtual reality. Writing has evolved in genre, medium, and dimensions.

Teachers have been called upon to empower learners and to bring creativity into educational spaces to promote critical thinking, problem-solving, and design thinking while at the same time bolster communication skills. Writing is a key communication skill necessary in school and out to articulate thinking and clarify ideas. In the classroom, students write to learn and also write to showcase their learning.

Why relegate essay writing as the majority of student writing in school? We can give lots of other options.

Here are three alternatives to traditional essays

Podcasting

Podcasts are an effective medium to share knowledge and experiences, and students can easily create their own. Podcasting with students improves literacy skills and creates an authentic audience for writing. When podcasting, students are not just reading aloud their writing but purposefully and carefully choosing their words, narration, and dialogue to communicate their ideas.img_0819

After listening to Sean Carroll’s podcast “What Would Stephen Hawking Do” on Story Collider, I thought why not switch the theme to “What Would Our Founding Fathers Do?” regarding current political issues of contention. For example, a group of students research, write and podcast what Abraham Lincoln would do about gun laws, while another group addresses how Alexander Hamilton would handle the illegal immigration debate.

There are many different styles of podcasts. How you want students to present their podcasts is a decision that you and your students have to make. By offering students choices there will be a diversity of products, students will have agency, and their voices will be at the forefront of their finished products.

More resources:

Script Writing and Movie Making

img_5525Writing a script for a film has its own specific format and requirements. Like writing any good story, when creating a movie, students need a beginning, middle, and end. Most importantly the story needs conflict to drive it. Students have to create authentic characters that viewers will empathize with.

Have students write their own fictional stories then storyboard their ideas to convey the plot, conflict, and characterization before going into movie-making mode. When students are creating films, writing their own scripts, and making choices about lighting, sound, and editing, they are demonstrating critical analysis, creative collaboration, and multimedia communication skills.

Documentary films are another format. Check out the Op-Docs series on The New York Times. This series highlights short documentary films about aspects of life that are often hidden or unspoken like incarceration, living with a disability, and facing obstacles. These documentaries highlight real people and true events. Creating documentaries allows students to research and investigate topics relevant to their own lives, make insightful arguments, and illuminate different perspectives.

More resources:

Multigenre Writing

Why just box students into writing one genre per unit? If teachers allow students to show their understanding and knowledge of a topic with a variety of types of writing, there is an opportunity for choice and creativity. This goes beyond just allowing students to choose one genre or format. What if students could blend genres across one writing assignment to produce a multigenre piece that includes poetry, narrative, images, and songs to reveal information about their topic? In a multigenre project, each piece might work independently to make a point, but together they create a symphony of perspectives and depth on a subject. Check out this student example!

The writing your students create for their multigenre project can be powerful and inspiring. With the help of digital tools like Adobe Spark or Book Creator students can amplify their projects for digital storytelling.

More resources:

Writing is a vehicle for communication. Today our students are bloggers, filmmakers, gamers, authors, innovators, and influencers. How amazing would it be to sharpen their strengths and abilities in our classrooms to create something that surpasses the traditional school essay?

 

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Makey Makey Literacy Mashup

In my newest book, New Realms for Writing (ISTE, 2019) I have a chapter on poetry, video production, and hacking poetry with Makey Makey. Makey Makey are invention kits for people of all ages. The circuit boards in the kit mimic a key board and allow users to create circuits and turn anything into a touchpad. Check out the original Kickstarter video by inventors Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum.

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When I saw Colleen Graves, librarian, author, blogger, and maker extraordinaire describes her hacking poetry project with high school students on Twitter the possibilities of using this tool in my English classroom were endless.

Hacking Poetry means that students create interactive poetry experiences using different apps and makerspace materials. Colleen first had her students select a poem that intrigued them. They read and analyzed the poem by drawing the key images associated with poem. Having students create visual representations of the poem and the imagery in the poem requires them to think critically about the poem’s meaning and symbolism. Then, using the coding program Scratch, students recorded audio reading aloud the poem to convey meaning,  mood, and tone. Lastly, students programed the drawings to play the poems with Scratch and attached the Makey Makey alligator clips to the computer or a conductive item so the poems could be seen in words and images as well as heard and read back to the students.  

I wanted to do something similar with my 8th graders. Using poems and songs, students would first create found poems about themselves based on the self selected poems and songs. Then, students would illustrate their found poems before including the audio component.

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Graphite is a conductive ink that you can use to attach the Makey Makey alligator clips  right to the student illustrations and it works as a conductor passing electricity. The Makey Makey Booster pack comes with special pencils but I went on Amazon and purchased two boxes of Graphite 6B pencils, softer artist pencils for my students to use for their projects. 

Students created small booklets with their poems and illustrated the booklets. Later using Scratch we added music and audio to play back the poems. There are endless possibilities with the Makey Makey to combine making and writing. For example, I have seen students create interactive poster boards and display boards for research projects. Students can invent something to contribute to the world in a positive way in a design challenge. These projects require critical and design thinking, two important life skills. On the Makey Makey website you can find a gallery of projects inspired by educators across all content areas for more ideas.

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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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5 WRITING STRATEGIES AND TOOLS TO REACH EVERY LEARNER: Podcast with Vicki Davis

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to talk with Cool Cat Teacher, Vicki Davis for her 10-Minute Teacher Show.

Vicki Davis is a classroom teacher with 15 years of experience teaching high school and 20 years of experience teaching teachers how to use technology in the classroom. She started her blog in 2005 to learn how to blog and then teach my students how to blog too. Davis has been podcasting since 2013. She is also the author of two technology guidebooks for teachers: Reinventing Writing and Flattening Classrooms Engaging Minds.

michele-haiken-full-size-1-1-1024x576Listen to Vicki and I talk about engaging students in writing:

 

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April is National Poetry Month

I was recently going through all my teaching notebooks and I came across the poetry unit I taught my first year of teaching in New York City. On the first page of the unit was ee cummings’ A Poet’s Advice to Students. His sage advice can be applied to any genre of writing.

A Poet’s Advice To Students

e. e. cummings

A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through words.

This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does this sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

Looking through my notes and lesson I also came across the poem collection I wrote along with my students. It was called “Poem Advertisement” because that is how I started to write my poems, I searched through the magazines I had in my apartment and ripped out the funky advertisement logos I found a liking to. Yet, when I looked through and read all the poems, there is a distinct theme about escaping and not holding on to what people tell you. I wrote in the introduction that I “wrote these poems behind your back, I sat up one night and just wrote and wrote and continues to play with words trying to create poems. You keep pushing me and asking me to write and so I did, and this is what was born. It is difficult for me to pick a favorite poem because it is hard to play favorites with your feelings.”

Untitled

I.

Fire is the passion

of anger I feel for

my friends

II.

Tomorrow I will swim in

tears I cry over

many beautiful memories

III.

Doors open towards the

light gleaming off

the snow

IV.

Green grass stands

together unlike

my own solitude

which hammers

at my lonely self

 

Untitled 2

Trying

to capture

a poem

full of vivid color

and vivaciousness

I am not

going

to let it get away today

I stand

still

silently

absorbed

in this search

for

a time thought

be quiet

so it will

come to me

your noise

only scares it away

 

 

 

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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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