Archive for the ‘*SY 2013-2014’ Category

Time to Dive into the 21st Century

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Author: Jennifer Woollven, Instructional Technology Specialist

Digital matters. There really is no getting around this.  Fears about connectivity and Internet safety are no longer excuses that we, as educators, can hide behind. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing that these issues are not real or that they are minor and should be ignored, but as educators it is time to face the facts — we live in a digital society. This is not going to change. While this digital world is certainly ever-evolving, it is only becoming a more integral part of our students’ lives. If our role as educators is to prepare children for the future, is it not our duty to do so within the framework that they live, play, and eventually will work? Continuing to opt out of the 21st century is a reckless and irresponsible position for schools to take.

 

We must push ourselves to meet technology and bandwidth demands. Administrators must support innovation in the classroom. Teachers must be given the tools and strategies to facilitate dynamic, connected learning environments so that students are able to become responsible, productive digital citizens. Collegial discourse and student collaboration must flourish and learning must extend far beyond the schoolhouse walls.

 

When the obstacles and fears of technology integration are planned for and addressed the possibilities for transformative learning are endless. The combination of access and student voice and choice leads to deeper learning, critical thinking, problem solving, and self-advocacy. Imagine the impact on learning when students are able to take research to the next level by reaching out to experts via Skype or Google Hangout, or debate ideas online with students from anywhere in the world, or create dynamic products with online multi-media tools, or design graphics that analyze data that they have been collecting, or write for a real audience on a blog. This is just a glimpse of the education that all students deserve to experience.

 

So, how will you spark change in your classroom, school, district or community? How will you help students access, analyze and assess the vast array of resources available via the web? How will you encourage effective online collaboration and communication among your students? How will you urge students to tap their creative potential with digital tools?

 

Resources for getting started:

Digital Literacy and Citizenship

Edutopia

Innovative teaching, PBL style

Graphite

Edudemic

jennifer.woollven@esc13.txed.net and lesliebarrett@esc13.txed.net

In This Issue (11)

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

In This Issue (11)

Curating Social Studies Content on Pinterest

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Author: Rachel Hernandez-Eckert, Education Specialist:  Social Studies

Have you ever torn pages out of a magazine and put them on a bulletin board or in a folder labeled Great Ideas? Although that is still a practical way to collect ideas from a tangible item in your hand, how do you save digital content in the same way?  I have taken to saving digital content through Pinterest, the free online pinning board.  Although most people use Pinterest for style, food and craft ideas, I recommend using it as an educational resource for finding Social Studies specific content, obtaining ideas for instructional practices and curating your own content.

With Pinterest, you have the flexibility to:

  • Create boards based on what you teach or even establish boards by unit or theme.
  • Connect with others in the Social Studies world, like me, and see what content your peers haveon their boards.  (You can follow my Social Studies boards at: http://www.pinterest.com/rhernandez002/.)
  • Connect to institutions like the Smithsonian Museum or PBS and pin digital archive pieces, videos and lessons ideas posted by these groups.
  • Search for content based on the Social Studies TEKS.  For example, type Galveston Hurricane, 1900, (Texas History 7.10B) in the search box to find pictures of the hurricane destruction in Galveston.  Or search for a specific historical figure such as Nelson Mandela (World History 22E), to see a mélange of quotes, images and video clips about his life.
  • Cruise elementary boards and secondary boards for ideas and vice versa. I found elementary anchor charts for building literacy in the classroom that would work to enhance secondary Social Studies instruction…love it!
  • Curate your work or student work.  Here’s an example of a picture that I pinned from a workshop I led a few months back.  I wanted to record examples of an Observe, Reflect and Question analysis activity using a primary source print from the Library of Congress.   I took a picture of the completed posters from the workshop and posted them a Pinterest board with an explanation of the activity.  Now when I am working with other teachers, I can pull up the picture so they can see an example of what the activity looks like.

The great thing about Pinterest is that you can still keep it personal and retain the boards you may have already established or even create “secret boards” so others will not see the boards dedicated to your secret love of cats or the board entitled, Lotto Funded…Keep Dreaming. A word of caution: you can get sucked in to Pinterest, ignore your family and your grading responsibilities.  Kidding aside, consider limiting your perusal time each day or utilizing other free moments of time for pinning.  Lastly, make a concerted effort to go back to your pins and consider real application of these ideas in your classroom instruction…because what is the point of all of this if you don’t actually use it?

 

Foundations for Fractions in the Primary Grades

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Author: Fredric Noriega, Secondary Mathematics Specialist

Tags: Math, fractions, STAAR

One math concept that is often feared by both students and teachers is fractions. Everything about fractions seems to be difficult: how to write a fraction, reduce a fraction, compare fractions and perform operations with fractions.  These are just a few of the skills that students will need to learn and demonstrate mastery of on the STAAR assessment from Grades 3-8 and Algebra 1.

With the implementation of the revised standards in mathematics, beginning with the 2014-2015 academic year, students across Texas will begin to work with fractions earlier and at a more rigorous level than with our current standards. In order to set up students for success, instructors in the early grades need to ensure that they use concrete and visual models to teach this very abstract concept.  Teachers need to create a bridge for their students. This will help students move from concrete models of fractions to visual models, and in the later grades, students will be able to work with more abstract fraction concepts.

At times educators might be resistant to the idea of having students use manipulatives in the classroom; “They can’t use manipulatives on the test” is a common statement. This is true, but if teachers can build a foundation of fractions using concrete objects they can then transition students into visual representations of fractions. Students are able to create and draw their own visual models on assessments. To better support students, teachers can expose them to a variety of concrete and pictorial models; this way a student can select and use the model(s) that they understand.

Below are examples of linear models that can be used to model fractions. Students can begin by using Cuisenaire® Rods (concrete model); with these students can easily see that a whole is being partitioned into equal parts. Students can also use a strip diagram and a number line to model fractions.

 

Below are 3 examples of using the area model to represent fractions. The circle model is a very popular visual to use when teaching students fractions. In addition to the circle model, students should also be able to model a fraction using the grid model and paper folding.

 

 

Teachers should also expose their students to set models. Set models are different from length and area models. A set model contains a set of objects, and the whole is the total number of objects in the set. When working with students, it is important to emphasize that the set of counters is considered 1 whole and not 8, as in the example below.

 

 

By using models and visuals to create a strong foundation of mathematics, students will be more prepared to build on their knowledge of fractions and be able to compare fractions, generate equivalent fractions, and perform operations with fractions.

These diagrams were taken from “Click on TEKS: A simple approach to understanding the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills- Third Grade”. The resource can be found by visiting http://store.esc13.net/index.php/click-on-grouped-elem.html

The Genius of Genius Hour

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Author:  Leslie Barrett, Specialist:  Technology & Library Media Services

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

 

Genius Hour is an education trend that is getting a considerable amount of buzz lately.  It is a concept inspired by Google’s 20 percent time, a policy that affords Google engineers 20 percent of their work time (one day per week) to pursue “passion projects” related to their official job duties.  This encouragement of choice and innovation has resulted in the development of many of Google’s products, including Gmail and Google News.

Translated to a classroom setting, Genius Hour is a small chunk of time – the hour part is arbitrary – where students are allowed to investigate any topic of their choice.  While the topic does not have to be related to any specific content area, there are guidelines and checkpoints that teachers and students should adhere to in order to maximize the educational benefit of the experience.

While student choice is key, topics must be presented to and approved by the teacher.  This helps provide structure for students in crafting a topic that will result in deep exploration, and not just questions that can be answered by a quick Google search.  It also sets the tone that although this project will be fun, there are still expectations around topic acceptability and student learning.

Students are expected to present their investigation findings at the conclusion of their research.  This accountability piece communicates that Genius Hour projects are not just goof-off free time, but a project to be taken seriously.  Additionally, presentations give students experience communicating to an audience and designing a presentation with an authentic audience in mind.  It also creates a platform to inspire new ideas and thinking about future projects among classmates.

Genius Hour project timeframes can vary based on individual teachers’ schedules.  Some teachers choose to do projects with prescribed timeframes (i.e., a 6 week cycle), while other teachers find it better to allow each individual project to conclude naturally.  Even the “hour” designation of Genius Hour is just a suggestion.  Some teachers, particularly secondary teachers who are subject to finite class periods, allow one class period a week to be devoted to Genius Hour projects.  Some teachers incorporate Genius Hour time as part of daily activity options when students are finished with their assigned class work.  Other teachers, particularly at the elementary level, may choose to implement Genius Hour in lieu of Fun Friday activities that have little academic value.  The key is to mold the idea to what works in individual classrooms.

A key component of Genius Hour projects is regular teacher-student check in conferences.  This is how teachers help students stay on track, and how they can address misconceptions or guide learning.  Teachers can offer mini workshops during Genius Hour time to help groups of students who are struggling with similar issues.

Through the course of Genius Hour topic exploration, students are developing a myriad of skills in an authentic, student-directed learning environment.  The most obvious is information fluency.  Students are driven by a need to locate accurate and reliable information about a topic that is meaningful to them.  Students will need to organize and summarize the information they are locating, and it’s a perfect platform to reinforce the digital citizenship skills of avoiding plagiarism, fair use, giving attribution and citing sources.  While investigating information students are naturally applying the reading and writing skills being taught in the content areas.  As they learn more about specific topics of interest they are expanding and internalizing content knowledge in various areas.  In preparation for their final product students are synthesizing the information they have uncovered and reassembling it in a new and creative way to showcase new understanding.

With so many educational advantages, it’s easy to see why many teachers are making room for students to explore their passions through Genius Hour activities.  To learn more please access the following links:

http://www.geniushour.com/

Eight Pillars of Innovation by Susan Wojcicki, Google Think Insights

The Google Way:  Give Engineers Room by Bharat Mediratta, NY Times Job Market

Integration is Essential

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Author: Jennifer Jordan-Kaszuba, Secondary Science Specialist

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Integration of science process skills within the teaching of science concepts is essential for students to truly grasp the nature of science.  Teaching skills or concepts in isolation is no longer a viable option.  Including a beginning of school year unit on science skills in a scope and sequence is no longer a viable option.  Districts need to develop curricula that emphasize true integration of skills and concepts and include inquiry-based investigations.

In the course of visiting schools, I have seen many teachers who structure their year to include a 3-6 week unit at the beginning of the year designed to teach students the nature of science and science process skills.  Teachers will spend days going over how to use equipment and “the scientific method.”  Investigations, when included, are either loosely or not connected to the science content standards for the grade/course.  For example, a biology teacher might have students investigate how mass affects the speed of a cart down a ramp in order to teach them about variables – clearly not a concept taught in biology.

The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), our state adopted standards, require at least 40% of all secondary science courses be devoted to conducting investigations.  When and how these investigations are included in the curriculum are up to the individual district/teacher.  Teachers should strive to include investigations in 40% of each unit rather than front load them or wait until after State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) testing is completed.  Ideally students would be involved in investigations two days out of every five-day week.

Teaching skills in isolation is ineffective, wastes valuable class time, and does not correctly represent the way science is conducted.  Students should be asking questions, investigating, manipulating data, and drawing conclusions, which lead them to the big, concept ideas in science.  For example, students in biology should be investigating antibiotic resistance in bacteria rather than their teachers simply tell them about it.

Teachers who use non-essential concepts to integrate science process skills waste valuable instructional time.  Teachers should instead integrate skills, in a logical progression, throughout the course of the year.  This requires a well-planned scope and sequence for the year where the topics of investigations have been predetermined and aligned to appropriate science skills.

Teaching skills in isolation also fails to correctly represent the way science is done.  Science involves observations, asking questions, designing an investigation, conducting the investigation to collect data, analyzing data, and engaging in scientific argument to reach a conclusion.  Students need to be involved in these same practices so they can appreciate and learn the ways of science.  This will hopefully lead to a greater degree of engagement by students and more students entering scientific disciplines.  And for those who do choose a career in science, they will be better prepared to act as researchers.

Not all students will pursue a career in science, but all students need to learn the skills of persistence and problem solving.  Engaging in inquiry-based investigations with no predetermined, correct outcome will help develop these skills.  Districts need to develop curricula integrating investigations, some of which should be inquiry-based, within the teaching of science concepts.

Making the Most of Pre-K Team Meetings

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Authors: Cathy Doggett and Leslie Gaar de Ostrovich, School Ready Specialists

Pre-K teachers often use team meetings to share activity ideas for upcoming themes and to plan field trips and special events.  As the demands for school readiness increase, it’s necessary to shift the focus on team meetings to improving lesson quality and linking data to instruction.

Teachers who use team meeting time effectively work at least 45 minutes per week together on clear, measurable goals to increase student learning.  Team members come prepared to reflect on and plan lessons, discuss assessment data, and discover new strategies to support student learning.  Each team member reviews the Teacher’s Edition (TE) and/or scope and sequence of the curriculum ahead of time and is prepared to assume a role in planning process.

 

 

Team members begin the meeting by discussing what went well during the week.  One teacher serves as a facilitator, leading the team through a pre-determined agenda.  Teachers share lesson details that will help each other.  For example, Teacher A explains changes/improvements that she will make to the math lessons from the TE and additional math lessons she will teach.  She also shares materials she created for these lessons, ideas for extending math lessons into centers, and strategies for gathering data to assess math competencies on the Pre-K report card.

Teachers B and C discuss details for read-aloud lessons and centers related to the new theme.  As the recorder, Teacher C uses an action plan list for each task, listing who is responsible and by when they will complete it.  For example, Teacher A may need to e-mail shape cards to her team members by Thursday.

 

 

Teachers take time to identify opportunities to collect data to assess student understanding by using checklists, work samples, etc. They plan time to teach key Pre-K guidelines/competencies.  Occasionally they use team meetings to analyze assessment data and consider how they’ll need to alter RtI Tier I and Tier II instruction for struggling students.

Please use these School Ready website resources to help your Pre-K team maximize meeting time to improve school readiness:

  • Pre-K Team Meeting Frequently Asked Questions
  • Pre-K Team Meeting Outline
  • Pre-K Team Meeting Norms
  • Key Components of Collaborative Team Meetings

Professional collaboration requires a sophisticated skill set for open communication and conflict resolution. Without administrative support for teachers to develop and use these skills, collaboration is unlikely to be effective or sustained.

Questions to Consider:

  • What is really happening during your Pre-K Team Meetings?  How much meeting time is spent on deep reflective discussion about improving lessons and tying lessons to student data?
  •  What is one small step you can take to support your teachers to use meeting time to make more data-driven planning choices?

 

Phonics Instruction for Middle and High School ELLs

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Author: Ivonne Santiago, Bilingual/ESL Specialist

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

 

Learning to read is a little bit like learning to ride a bike while you are balancing a person on the handle-bars, holding a pole, spinning plates, and focusing on the destination at the same time! (Robertson, 2009).

Reading is a complicated process and yet a critical skill. Many children struggle to become strong readers and it can be particularly challenging for English Language Learners (ELL’s). Reading at an appropriate rate with adequate comprehension is necessary. So what role does phonics play in this goal to acquire fluency and comprehension? In this article, we will explore the challenges ELL’s face with phonemic awareness and phonics instruction, why this has a place in middle and high school classrooms and highlight research-based best practices.

Phonemic awareness is the ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds in words – to manipulate them. This is particularly difficult for ELL’s because they may not yet have enough experience with English to be able to distinguish sounds that differ from those of their native language. Also, they may not be able to “hear” or produce a new sound in a second language. If they cannot hear and work with the phonemes of spoken words, they will have difficulties learning how to relate these phonemes to letters when they see them in written words.

Phonics instruction teaches students to understand and learn the relationship between letters of written language (graphemes) and the individual sounds of spoken language (phonemes). It teaches children how to use these relationships to read and write words accurately. Systemic phonics instruction can be very effective in helping newcomer ELL’s, even those at fairly low levels of language proficiency, to learn to decode words. Most ELL’s will need additional time and practice to learn to hear and produce the sounds of English, to learn the meanings of words used in phonics instruction, to learn combinations of letters that make the same sound, and to learn many more sight words than native English speakers. Additional time for phonics instruction should be built into reading programs for ELL’s.

Many educators believe that students only need to learn to read once. Once the concept of matching a symbol with a sound has been learned, it can be applied to new languages. Students who have learned to read in their native language have a distinct advantage because they were able to learn this concept with familiar sounds and words. Because some students enter the U.S. schools with limited or even no history of schooling, they may lack understanding of basic concepts, content knowledge, and critical thinking skills. They may not even read or write in their home language. These students will struggle to put together the sound/symbol correspondence concept, new words, and new sounds all at once. Nevertheless, they will be expected to develop higher-order thinking skills in English and prepare for high stakes tests while mastering basic literacy in a language other than their own.

Phonics has a place in the classroom for older learners and these skills fit into the “big picture” of learning to read. (Heidi Hyte, 2012) One reason why phonics belongs in middle school and high school classrooms is because fluency is compromised when students get “stuck” on a word. When students come across difficult words, what happens? Their eyes stop on the word. They reread it again and again. They may even reread the sentence to see if they could pick up context clues. If this scenario occurs frequently in a student’s reading, is that fluent reading? No.

Second, if students are using too much “brain power” to decode words, there isn’t enough left to grasp the meaning of the text. They need to learn strategies to decode difficult words they come across in their reading. These strategies need to become automatic so that students are able to decode words quickly and effortlessly. Their lack of fluency will impede their comprehension.

Third, phonics is important to help students pronounce words correctly. How many times have you heard “Teacher, what is this word?” Once you read it to them and they hear the word pronounced, they say, “Oh yeah, I know that word!” Pronouncing words correctly contributes to better fluency and comprehension. At first, the word may look unfamiliar, but once it’s pronounced correctly, they can connect the sound of the word to its meaning.

Lastly, spelling is improved when students learn phonics. As students better understand letter relationships and phonics rules, they can start to recognize and correct their spelling errors. In turn, the development of these skills will help them become more independent learners because they are not dependent on a dictionary or a teacher to tell them how to decode words that are unfamiliar in their reading.

Teaching phonics poses quite a few challenges to middle and high school ELL’s. Phonics becomes a minimal part of the Language Arts curriculum for students in intermediate grades and above. Unfortunately, it is assumed that students have learned the sound/symbol correspondence necessary to read by the upper elementary grades. For those ELL’s who start their education in the U.S. after 4th grade, this can be very problematic because the intensive phonics instruction they need is unlikely to be a part of their daily schedule.

You may ask “What about those students that have limited literacy skills in their native language?” Students who have not learned to read in their native language or whose language does not use a phonetic alphabet may struggle to grasp the concept of phonetic relationships between sounds and letters. Also, these students must master the concept while applying it to a new language.

Phonics instruction may also be tied to vocabulary words that are unfamiliar to ELL’s. Basic worksheets with CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words are not always effective with older learners because of the lack of context and meaning. They may not recognize all the words in the these basic drills and will not necessarily apply these sounds when they encounter new words in their reading text if they don’t see a connection from one exercise to the other.

Because phonics instruction primarily occurs prior to the 4th grade, instructional materials are often targeted towards much younger children. This poses a problem for our older students because most materials are unlikely to be engaging or appealing to them. They may feel embarrassed at using “childish” materials, and they will quickly get bored by the drill and repetition. Our older students want to engage in activities that will require them to use higher-order thinking skills, which early literacy materials don’t usually have.

Despite these challenges, there are a number of strategies which can be effective for older ELL’s. Begin by building a foundation. Older ELL’s that need further instruction will be most assisted by intensive intervention, so enlist extra support. Ideally students should receive special support to continue phonics instruction from a specialist, preferably an ESL specialist.

Use hands-on activities to help teach letter-sound relationships. This can include using manipulatives such as counters, sound boxes, and magnetic letters or Scrabble tiles. Students may even be interested in making their own materials on the computer, which can then be incorporated into an art project. Students will feel more like they are taking ownership of their learning.

Students literate in their native language will already have background knowledge of how reading works. For those students whose native language is non-alphabetic, targeted support will be needed in directionality and letter-sound recognition. They may not be accustomed to reading from left to right or they are used to a system of characters that symbolize words rather than sounds, such as Japanese and Chinese.

If older students need to review their alphabetic skills, look for jazz or hip-hop alphabet chants that students will find entertaining and engaging. There are quite a few free apps such as AutoRap, Rap to Beats and Rap-A-Long that can be downloaded on mobile devices as well as iPads. Such apps can be used to create these chants; they are very user friendly and students will thoroughly enjoy using them.

Students can also write for sound. The teacher can dictate a sentence that includes one or more words that include the target phonics feature and have them write what they hear. This activity trains students to listen for the individual sounds in words and represent them phonetically in their writing.

Most importantly, incorporate strategies that make learning phonics relevant and fun! Help students make a connection between their first language and English. For students with stronger native language literacy skills (especially in languages related to English, like Spanish), help them understand that the process of sounding out words is the same across languages. Explain that some letters may make the same or similar sounds in both languages. Knowing this can help Spanish-dominant students especially if they are aware of the Spanish-English cognates.

Use authentic text and/or vocabulary words that are known to the ELL’s. You can introduce and reinforce letter recognition, beginning and ending sounds, blends, rhyming words, silent letters and homonyms using relevant literature and content materials. When possible, collaborate with the content area teachers to integrate phonics instruction into the classrooms lessons, as well as academic vocabulary instruction.

Create games like a short game of Scrabble to reinforce word building skills. An online board game from Lanternfish, an ESL website, can be used to review beginning, middle and end. Have the students play a Time Game in which they use a stopwatch to answer as many questions as possible. These are quick and easy activities that can effectively reinforce the targeted phonetic concept.

Look for high-low reading material. These texts are written on a first to third grade level but treat themes and topics that are of interest to students of middle school or high school age. These readers are available in the following genres: traditional literature, realistic fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, biography and informational texts.

Integrate phonics instruction with word study. Teach students how to identify word parts, break words down into syllables and use word families. Use content area words as much as possible for this exercise because students are more likely to encounter them in their academic work.

In conclusion, phonics does indeed have a role in the older students’ classroom. Even older students need to be taken back to the basics. Some teachers are concerned that taking these learners back to the sounds and letters of the alphabet and teaching decoding strategies will cause the students to feel that the instruction is too “elementary.” I disagree. If the instruction is delivered in non-condescending way, older students are appreciative of the fact that someone took the time to cover the foundational skills that no one else dared to.

 

 

 

Sources

“All About Adolescent Literacy.” Phonics Instruction for Middle and High School ELLs. N.p., n.d. Web.

“Effective Programs for English Language Learners (ELL) with Interrupted Formal Education.” Office of English Language Learning and Migrant Education-Indiana Department of Education, n.d. Web.

“English Language Learners: Literacy and Language Development.” Education.com. Indiana Department of Education, 13 Mar. 2010. Web.

Hyte, Heidi. ESL Trail: Phonics for Middle School and High School Classrooms. N.p., 12 Feb. 2012. Web.

Hyte, Heidi. Four Reasons Phonics Has a Place in Middle School and High School Classrooms – Reading Horizons. N.p., 20 Sept. 2012. Web.

Robertson, Kristina. “All About Adolescent Literacy.” Phonics Instruction for Middle and High School ELLs. Colorin Colorado, 2009. Web.

Why Did the Poet Do That?—The Case for Teaching Author’s Craft

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Authors: Janet Hester and Lenicia Gordon, Literacy Specialists

We know that we are growing beyond the old classroom paradigm of drilling printed lists of terminology and moving toward providing authentic reading and writing experiences for our students.  Contemporary research affirms the need for students to be interested in their reading and writing tasks. Student choice of reading text is critical for engagement. An authentic purpose for reading is paramount. An onus to write and a responsibility to communicate will promote true participation in learning the skills of writing.  Students are no longer interested in jumping through hoops. But they will create their own diversions—if we could only harness their individual interests.

Yes, we all agree on the need for authenticity and student ownership of knowledge. But then it seems TEKS and STAAR mandates box us in—how can we teach the power and art of language when we are beholden to the State of Texas?

 

TEA Agrees with Best Practices

It turns out that our mandates and best practice are not far apart at all. In fact, if we only looked closely at our state curriculum and assessments, took a deep breath, believed in our students’ ability, took another deep breath, and trusted that daily reading and writing would improve their language skills, the kids might just be all right.

 

TEKS Ask Students to Read Like Writers

 

 

 

The TEKS reveal that students should be reading like writers and writing like—well—true writers.

For example, the student expectations in poetry ask students to “analyze how poets use sound effect to reinforce meaning” and “analyze the importance of graphical elements on the meaning of a poem” in the 5th and 7th grade, respectively. Now, harkening to those old classrooms, it would be tempting as a teacher to get caught up in the technical definitions of “sound effects” or “graphical elements”: to create a vocabulary list of these terms, drill our students, and arrest student learning at a Depth of Knowledge Level 1 or a Bloom’s Category of Remembering.

Yet, we are charged with teaching more than the terms, and we must extend student learning to include analyzing the effect of the terms. We should be teaching students the power of words and asking our students to analyze all the trouble a writer goes through to communicate.

 

STAAR Asks Students to Read Like Writers

Beyond the language of the TEKS themselves, released STAAR reading items from 2011 and 2013 elucidate this responsibility.

See an example of a 2013 English I released question:

 

A student answering this question correctly needn’t recite all the technical information she knows about analogies in poems; she must instead be familiar with interpreting poetic meaning. This item is dual-coded as 3/Fig.19(B), or as the overarching Knowledge and Skills statement of poetry (3) and the reading comprehension skill Figure 19(B). The skills assessed, according to the dual-coding, are to “make inferences . . . about the . . . elements of poetry” and “make complex inferences about text,” from the poetry Knowledge and Skills statement and  Figure 19(B) comprehension standard. For this question in particular, making inferences about the elements of poetry means interpreting what the analogy means in the context of the poem—reading the poem as a poet and determining the author’s intent of the analogy (not the technical terminology of “analogy”).

 

 

 

Here’s another example from the Grade 7 2013 Released items:

 

 

Again, the question does not assess the level of understanding of the term, imagery, but of the term’s use. It assumes understanding of the term itself. This question is dual-coded as well, as 8/Fig. 19 (D), or the overarching Knowledge and Skills statement of Sensory Language (8) and the reading comprehension skill, Figure 19(D). The skills assessed, according to the dual-coding, are to “make inferences . . . about how an author’s sensory language creates imagery in literary text” and “make complex inferences about text.”   Essentially, to answer this question, students must read poetic language and determine the intended purpose of the imagery used.  Students should be reading poems and learning how to ask themselves this question, again and again, “Why did the writer do that?”  Students should be reading like poets. In other words, in order to understand why poets and authors do what they do, students must be charged with making these same types of deliberate decisions in their own writing…..

 

The Learning Model—Reading and Writing Like Writers

So, how does a student get comfortable with reading poetry like a poet? Not by memorizing terms. We’ve written about this process before, and we will do so again. Jeff Anderson has written extensively in 10 Things Every Writer Should Know about flooding students with text so that they might inductively learn author’s craft and strategies.

  1. Teachers should flood students with text by exposing them to massive classroom libraries.  Newspapers.  Magazines and blogs. Students should be reading text of their choice. There should be so much text, kids have no option but to find that book about bulldogs—their own personal passion—and settle down to read.
  2. After reading independently, teachers should pull powerful mentor texts and engage the class in reading and discover for themselves the characteristics of the genre. There should be a controlled groundswell of Noticing these characteristics. The teacher should scribe these noticings on class anchor charts for easy reference throughout the year.
  3. Then, the teacher should divert the groundswell by creating opportunities for partner, small group and class discussion. By Interacting, students should discover the text features of expository text, and realize that they serve a function for the reader. The writer placed them there on purpose.
  4. The students should then Name those characteristics as the academic term and as their own definition.
  5. Teachers should provide students with opportunities to Experiment using those characteristics in their own writing and revision processes.
  6. Reflecting and metacognition—students should reflect upon the knowledge they learned and how it fits into their own schema. Allowing time for reflection allows students to make the learning about reading and writing their own.

This method may be used over and over again, so that students develop a habit of reading and noticing, become experts at interacting with the text, develop an intuition for naming strategies they encounter, and, finally, become proficient in employing these strategies as a writer of the genre.  See the diagram below.

 

 

 

To understand author’s craft in any genre, students must see examples of the genre, discover their own examples, and ask the question over and over, “Why did the writer do that?”  Ultimately, writing their own arguments, explanations, and poetry worthy of interpretation will extend the learning.

As it turns out, the TEKS and STAAR’s interpretations of the TEKS call for students to be able to interpret the effect of writers using their tools. And STAAR assesses this zealously, with the help of the dual-coding of Knowledge and Skills statements and Figure 19.  This is a good thing. It means we do not have to teach static lists of terms. The state charges us with teaching authentic reading and writing. How fortunate, because this is precisely what is best for students.