Posts Tagged ‘Instruction’

Poetry Please

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

AUTHOR: Laura Lee Stroud, Elementary ELAR Specialist

An Abandoned Tool

Past U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins says “High school is where poetry goes to die” because it is there that many students inadvertently learn that poetry isn’t relevant to their lives. Oftentimes in working with these teachers we find that poetry remains buried and absent from their instruction, until, that is STAAR is over and we pick up poetry as a fun filler. But poetry is a powerful, emotionally clad, succinct genre teachers can use to helps students express themselves, make their words come alive and synthesize their thinking.

Building Community Through Poetry

Nowadays, in order for our students to care enough to invest in writing and reading, we must take the time to create spaces of trust. Writers thrive in spaces they can take risks, feel valued, receive feedback and learn how to write from models and mentors. Writers need to understand that an investment in learning to write well will yield lifelong returns. Creating a writing community inside of a classroom means that as teachers we must let go of some control in order to empower our student writers to make decisions about their writing.

Cultivating a writing community doesn’t happen with a week or two of “getting to know you” activities but thoughtful planning and commitment. Taking time to read and discuss thought provoking ideas, problem solving together and planned inquiry of ourselves and families, all work to build spaces our students can thrive in as writers. Students must know that their thinking, their words, their perspectives matter and without it, our goal of meaningful learning remains unaccomplished. Weaving poetry through instruction works to create this communal space. Finding poetry models your students will love and allowing them to experience reading and rereading it together, can serve as a tunnel to bonding. Repeated readings promote fluency, boost vocabulary and engage students.

Give this a try:

  1. Show a spoken word poem. Button Poetry is a great place to begin mining for poetry. Just like any other text you would select for your students, it is critical that you preview the videos for instructional objectives that align with your purpose and that you are sure the content is appropriate for your students.
  2. Pass out the words. Joshua Bennett’s Tamara’s Opus is a poem eighth grade students’ love.
  3. Play the poem again.
  4. Allow students to discuss what they liked about the poem in small groups. The purpose of letting students identify what they like about the poem is that they are able to highlight the language that appealed to them without having to identify the academic labels in the beginning stages. Remember, our goal is building community with poetry. As you give your students the opportunity to discuss poetry in this way, academic language will emerge.
  5. Have students highlight their favorite lines.[4]  Read the poem aloud to students and when their highlighted line appears, they read that line aloud along with you (and the others that have selected this line). A chorus of voices will rise to the occasion.
  6. Invite students to bring in poems they love for community viewing/reading.

Poetry in Tiny Packages

Lucy Calkins speaks of poetry as powerful thoughts in “tiny packages.”   Tiny packages allow even struggling writers the ability to write powerful poems. Jeff Anderson agrees and teaches us that even a sentence can serve as a mentor text. We can focus on what is beautiful or empowering in one sentence.  If students can feel successful writing one beautiful sentence or phrase, they can become poets. By starting out the

year with these tiny packages, all will feel successful.

Creating Community to Boost Reading and Writing Performance

As Kelly Gallagher says, “Writing instruction should be a non-negotiable core value” (2015).  If we are looking to raise our performance and learning outcomes, we must ask if sound writing instruction and time spent writing are “core values” in our schools?

Sound writing instruction is not the same as test preparation. In fact, when test preparation replaces writing instruction, test scores are not likely to improve as evidenced by researchers like Judith Langer (2000).

Research Base

Remember that the power of poetry to teach reading and writing skills is well documented in the literature. The authors of Inside Out, (Kirby and Liner, 2004) teach us how the writing of poetry contributes to good writing:

In poetry, as in all writing, the technical aspects of the poem are really of secondary importance; good writing is honest writing. The writer risks feelings with us, and we respond to the words because they touch our feelings through shared human experiences. (p.74)

Such honesty and confidence can come into play through many different writing tasks. For example, if students are able to tap into their everyday experiences, they will be able to write short stories, personal narratives and, of course, write the deep development demanded on the expository essay.

Through poetry we can teach students not only come to understand the written word more deeply, but also make more meaningful connections to text. Therefore, if we are going to teach writing, we must include poetry. Poetry has been called “the great equalizer for both the reading and writing workshop” (Dorfman and Cappelli).

Revisiting Poetry for Different Purposes

The rich language and ability to engage readers make poems the perfect choice for teaching students to deepen comprehension through analyzing and comparing texts, citing evidence, offering opinions, drawing conclusions, and talking about main ideas and themes (Dorfman and Cappelli).  When we teach poetry, we offer multiple opportunities for practicing reading comprehension that will prove beneficial to reading in other genres.  Through the  analysis of different types of literature, we  promote cognitive development and give students an opportunity to apply such skills and strategies, as identifying themes discussed in one genre–fiction, for example–to other genres like poetry, reports, descriptive pieces, and plays (Smith, 1991). And last but not least, poetry is an often-tested genre on STAAR.  As responsible writing teachers, we cannot omit poetry!

Let’s encourage our professional learning communities to take up this often abandoned genre and find new ways to teach reading and writing this summer. One way to begin a new exploration of poetry, is to register and join us for Linda Christensen’s workshop on May 18.  She will discuss her journey into poetry as a powerful genre that changes not only students’ reading and writing skills, but their lives as well.  We would love to be a part of your continued journey with poetry!

Works Cited:

Smith, C. B. (1994). Helping Children Understand Literary Genres. Retrieved April 18, 2016, from http://www.ericdigests.org/1994/genres.htm

Langer, J. A. (2000, May). Guidelines for Teaching Middle and High School Students to Read and Write Well Six Features of Effective Instruction. Retrieved April 18, 2016, from http://www.albany.edu/cela/publication/brochure/guidelines.pdf

Worsham, S. (2001). Essential ingredients: Recipes for teaching writing. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Gallagher, K. (2015). In the best interest of students: Staying true to what works in the ELA classroom.

Kirby, D. L., Crovitz, D., & Kirby, D. (2013). Inside out: Strategies for teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

Ways to Instantly Use Primary Sources

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

AUTHOR: Courtney Webster, Social Studies Specialist

Primary resources prove the details of our existence. Without them, historians would not be able to research the past.  Primary documents are used by those who want to understand the person, the place or the event to verify or determine what happened.  History if taught with fidelity can be considered a social science, where students look at various sources whether primary or secondary to research, discuss and validate historic events as accurate or not. As teachers, we would love to use resources in our classrooms but some barriers can make it difficult, including: reading difficulties of students, challenging vocabulary, traditional cursive writing and access to sources that are relevant to students.  From records, interviews, images, articles and maps, all primary documents can be useful to social studies courses.  According to Wineburg and Martin, “[h]istory in sourceless classrooms becomes limited to the textbook, effectively silencing the rich chorus of voices that could speak to contemporary readers.”[1] And although new textbooks have incorporated more primary sources into their covers, oftentimes it is more important for students to examine, inquire and analyze the value and importance of such sources through touch and observation. This allows for them to both connect the student understandings, as well as, the context of the event. Whether you are teaching elementary, middle, high school or college, your students should be learning the skills it takes to comprehend historical content through original documentation.  Here are three ways to make the use of primary sources happen in your class today.

  • Create anchor text with major documents.  The United States Constitution is mentioned significantly in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for courses 5, 8, 11 and Government. Naturally, we do not expect students of various grade levels or reading abilities to approach the document the same. However, they should all have access to the writing and language of the original and an opportunity for understanding the basis and evolution of its interpretation. Even more helpful would be if students had a modified version of the Constitution along with the text of the original Constitution. This would support students in seeing how text is summarized and reworded for simplicity. This foundational document should grow in meaning with students each passing year. Using the United States Constitution as an anchor text.  An anchor can be used in multiple ways but the basis of creating an anchor text is for students to revisit the text for deepening their knowledge. A teacher could place the constitution as a working anchor chart on the wall or by including the text in student’s interactive notebook.  The Constitution with its principles and changes are approached in every era of American History.  However, we as teachers allow students to see the document typically during their civics unit only.  Instead, this foundational document should be revisited as much as possible and treated as a mentor text (even though mentor text implies that the text is chosen by the student to help them explore the information further).  Regardless to how the anchor text is viewed, with a close reading strategy and multiple points of reference, the acquisition of this document would be helpful to students, providing them with an opportunity to revisit topics, inquire about meaning and apply context to content with their current unit.  Informational text along with other sources and books can remind students of their civil liberties back to our Democratic Republic playbook with all of the rules, changes and challenges of our great country.

Identify, yet tamper with the evidence.

The word tampering can have a negative connotation, however, both Dr. Wineburg and Dr. Martin use the word tampering to really mean adapt. By adapting, the authors are really saying, accommodate the language of the article.  In fact, “[they] urge teachers to physically alter sources: to change their syntax and vocabulary; to conventionalize their spelling, capitalization and punctuation- even rearranging sentence sequences if necessary…”[2] This particular piece can be time consuming however there are resources that can get you started.  When looking for how to teach primary documents, as well as, for documents that are already modified, go to Teaching History.org[3] Documents and tools are segmented into elementary, middle and high school categories.  Also, there is TexQuest[4]  which has several databases to teachers to use and find sources. Inside many of the databases, you can receive access to modified documents and there is a reading link for students use to listen to the documents as well. To determine whether or not your district has access to TexQuest contact your campus librarian for more details.

Conduct historical inquiry based on a single document

Dr. Wineburg states, “…history reminds us to start with basic questions.”[5]  Students are inquisitive about the people, places and events of the world, however, they are not keen on answering questions because that often times requires the right answer. Students, in our information age, must learn how to form questions to better understand new information beyond the facts.  One can encourage students to build questions by using the PBL “Needs to Know” method. This can happen by allowing students to look at a primary document and simply asking the question, what do we need to know to understand this text or image?  Once students have developed a list of ideas, encourage them to categorize their statements and ask questions based on their list. Another method used to build inquiry is the Question Formulation Technique (QFT).  This is a way of building inquiry was developed by the Right Question Institute[6] founders Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana. Their book Make Just One Change deals with the complexity getting students to think by generating questions. By introducing the QFT technique, teachers are molding students to think about concepts instead of recite facts.

Regardless to whether you are stepping into the classroom for the first time or meeting a new group of students for the twenty fifth time, take a new approach to primary documents and have fun watching your students explore social studies with more depth through authentic instruction and text.

[1] Wineburg, S., & Martin, D. (2009, September). Tampering with History: Adapting Primary Sources for Struggling Readers. Social Education, 73(5), 212-216.

[2] Wineburg, S., & Martin, D. (2009, September). Tampering with History: Adapting Primary Sources for Struggling Readers. Social Education, 73(5), 212-216.

[3] Teaching History.org, home of the National History Education Clearinghouse. (n.d.). Retrieved May 01, 2016, from http://teachinghistory.org/

[4] TexQuest  . (n.d.). Retrieved May 05, 2016, from http://texquest.net/welcome

[5] Wineburg, S., D. Martin and C. Monte-Sano. Reading Like a Historian: Teaching Literacy in Middle & High School History Classrooms. 2013.

[6] The Right Question Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved May 01, 2016, from http://rightquestion.org/

Intentional Teaching in Pre-K

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

AUTHOR: Erika Pozo, Early Childhood Education Specialist

Research on best teaching practices is very clear and consistent. Teachers who are thoughtful about what they teach and how they teach it are better able to help children acquire skills needed to succeed in school and in life. Intentional teaching requires teachers to be purposeful and effective in their instructional strategies at all times. This means that teachers take an active role in the learning process and facilitate children’s learning based on skill development, individual needs, and goals of students in the class. Intentional teachers recognize and respond to every opportunity to engage in, and extend, children’s learning, whether that learning is child-initiated, teacher-initiated, routine, planned, or unexpected (Epstein, 2007).

A key element of intentional teaching is listening; listening to what children say to the teacher, to their peers, and in their self-talk. Equally important is the response (or lack of response) teachers give to children when they do talk. Children identify a teacher as a good listener when the teacher:

∙ makes eye contact appropriately;

∙ is patient and does not interrupt;

∙ asks questions in a nonthreatening tone;

∙ is responsive both verbally and nonverbally; and,

∙ prepares for listening by removing other distractions (Jalongo, 2008).

Intentional teaching requires teachers to understand the needs of each child as an individual, unique learner. Likewise, teachers must have a strong sense of how and when to support child-guided learning experiences verses teacher-guided (or directed) learning experiences. To teach with intention, teachers must:

∙ Create a learning environment rich in materials, experiences, and interactions;

∙ Encourage children to explore materials, experiences, relationships, and ideas;

∙ Speak respectfully, reciprocally, and frequently with children;

∙ Consciously promote all areas of learning and development;

∙ Match content with children’s developmental levels and emerging abilities; and,

∙ Carefully observe children to determine their interests and level of understanding.

Intentional teaching does not happen by chance; it is planful, thoughtful, and purposeful.

To learn more about intentional teaching in the early childhood classroom, check out Ann S. Epstein’s book titled The Intentional Teacher: Choosing the Best Strategies for Young Children’s Learning. An excerpt from the book is available here.

References

Epstein, A. S. (2007). The intentional teacher: Choosing the best strategies for young children’s learning. Washington, DC: NAYEC

Jalongo, M. (2008). Learning to listen, listening to learn: Building essential skills in young children. Washington. DC: NAEYC

The Need for Bilingual Education in Texas Today

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

AUTHOR: Trish Flores, Coordinator, Curriculum and Instruction

Bilingual education is a high needs area felt by many school districts across the country.  In particular, it is a high needs area for Texas due to the increase of second language learners migrating to this area of the country. Many people may ask themselves, why do we need to provide bilingual education for these students?  What do students gain from participating in this “type” of instruction?  And how does it really support students in meeting today’s high stake assessments?  To answer these questions and many more, it is necessary to start by investigating what bilingual education is and why we need to make it accessible to students.

Background:  How language programs became a law

Before 1968, bilingual education was not required to be implemented in schools but instead was a voluntary program.  This all changed in 1981 when a lawsuit was brought against the state of Texas resulting  in the requirement of bilingual education programs in the elementary grades, English as a second language (ESL) or bilingual programs at post-elementary grades through eighth grade, and ESL programs in high school.  The new legislation also outlined specific procedures for the identification and exiting of students.

What is Bilingual education?

Bilingual education is teaching academic content through two languages, the native language and a secondary language, with varying degrees of support that are commensurate with the student’s proficiency levels in both languages.  Instructing students through the use of their native language enables them to access new content and build upon what they already know.  Students will be successful in “bridging” ideas and information from one language to the next when the content and processes are first mastered in the native language.  Throughout these interactions, students are learning English in a non-stressful environment leading to individuals who are able to meet the academic rigor of today’s standards and assessments.

Benefits of Bilingual Education

There are many benefits that student’s gain from participating in bilingual programs.  They include:

  • Cognitive Ability: Students are able to enhance brain flexibility in the areas of mathematics, logic, reasoning and problem solving.
  • Social/Emotional:  Students who participate in bilingual programs have a higher level of self-esteem than students who do not because Spanish if valued.
  • Educational Advancement:  Studies have shown that it takes 5-7 years to acquire academic English. If a student is not in a bilingual program they are more likely to miss critical instruction due to their inability to process content presented in English.
  • Family:  Students who retain their native language are able to communicate with family members thus resulting positive relationships.
  • Health:  Increased brain activity has been shown to decrease the onset of dementia and other debilitating brain diseases.  Students who are bilingual have increased brain activity as they navigate between two languages.

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Bilingual education is required by the state of Texas as means to educate students whose first language is not English.  Countless studies have shown the effectiveness of language programs for students.  It is imperative that the educators and communities in Texas see these benefits as gains not only for the students and their families, but for the future of Texas as a whole.

Originally published on VOXXI as Bilingual education: Why gutting it hurts us all

©2008, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. –

The 5E Model: Does it still relate to cognitive principles for the current classroom?

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Cynthia Holcomb, Education Specialist: Elementary Science

The 5E Model, originally designed for science instruction, describes a teaching sequence for specific units and individual lessons. The Biological Science Curriculum Study, a team led by Principal Investigator Roger Bybee, developed an instructional model for constructivism using the terms Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate in 1987.

How can we assure that a model developed almost 30 years ago will be effective for the students we teach today? A recently released report, The Science of Learning summarizes the cognitive science related to how students learn. Let’s look at the principles from that report applied to the components of the 5E Model.

Engage

The first E, Engage, is what we use to “hook” students, to capture their attention, to get them interested in the topic. This is a quick activity and may include an anecdote, a cartoon, a short video clip, a demonstration, or a thought-provoking question. Without citing research, I think we can all agree that getting students interested in learning is a valuable classroom practice.

Explore

But what about Explore? This stage provides students with an chance to build their own understanding. The students have the opportunity to get directly involved with phenomena and materials. They work together in teams, build a set of common experiences which prompts sharing and communicating, and start building background for new content. The teacher acts as a facilitator rather than an instructor at this stage, since the purpose is for STUDENTS to find new connections.

The Science of Learning Report states that “a well-sequenced curriculum is important to ensure that students have the prior knowledge they need to master new ideas.” This means that teachers should provide students with opportunities to build background knowledge needed for understanding new content. In essence, the Explore stage is still a valid and valuable part of instructional sequence.

Explain

Explain is the stage at which learners begin to communicate what they have learned. Communication occurs between peers, with the teacher, and through the reflective process. The teacher now takes on a more active role by helping students make connections and clarifying misconceptions.

The Science of Learning Report explains that, in order to help students focus on the meaning of content, we need to assign tasks that require explanations, determine causes and effects, and require students to meaningfully organize material. In a nutshell, this step reinforces the Explain stage through specific examples of student tasks.

Elaborate

The purpose for the Elaborate stage is to allow students to use their new knowledge and continue to explore its implications. At this stage students expand on the concepts they have learned, make connections to other related concepts, and apply their understandings to the world around them in new ways.

The Science of Learning Report explains that a carefully sequenced curriculum can build student knowledge over the course of a school career, enabling students to solve increasingly complex problems. When students have the opportunity to transfer a set of learned skills or content to a new situation instead of keeping the learned information in isolation, they are able to take on more challenging problems. This building of connections is at the heart of the Elaborate stage, and reinforces the power of giving students opportunities to apply what they have learned rather than just memorize and recall information.

Evaluate

The Evaluate stage is designed for both students and teachers to determine how much learning and understanding has taken place. Evaluation and assessment can occur at all points along the continuum of the instructional process. Some of the tools that assist in this diagnostic process are rubrics, teacher observation, student interviews, portfolios, and project and problem-based learning products.

In Texas, we often think of STAAR as the high-stakes evaluation piece. But in The Science of Learning Report, findings encourage teachers to also use low- or no-stakes quizzes in class to evaluate the learning process. Effective feedback is often essential to acquiring new knowledge and skills, and a low-stakes evaluation can help students see in which areas they need assistance without the pressure of a major exam.

So there you have it — a model from the 1980s reviewed under the lens of a 2015 study. While the 5E Model was developed during the era of shoulder pads, big hair, and New Wave music, its sequence is still a powerful approach for instructional delivery of cognitive principles in the current classroom.

References:

Deans for Impact (2015). The Science of Learning. Austin, TX: Deans for Impact.

 

How to Create an Anchor Activity Using a Tic/Tac/Toe Board

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Virginia Keasler and Mary Headley, Math Specialists

How do we teach math to the wide range of diverse learners in today’s classroom? It is often difficult to match the readiness levels of every student and knowing where to start can be a challenge. Consider starting simple and celebrating successes along the way. Anchor activities can help you reach the diverse population in your classroom.

What are anchor activities? These activities are used for students to extend learning at their level. Student choice within these activities allows for students to apply and experience the learning in a variety of ways.These ongoing assignments are considered independent work and can be something students are working on for the next two weeks or something due in a few days. While some students are working on anchor activities, the teacher can utilize small group instruction to work with students who need more help.

Tic/Tac/Toe Boards: The content for this anchor activity can be modified to meet the needs of students at varied levels. Teachers may use Tic/Tac/Toe boards for extension, assessment, or as homework choices for the week. On a Tic/Tac/Toe board, the teacher can strategically place activities to enable students to get a Tic/Tac/Toe that demonstrates their learning.

Helpful Hints for creating a Tic/Tac/Toe board:

  1. Determine the content/topic for the board.
  2. Brainstorm activities, assignments, and products for the content/unit you have chosen.
  3. Check TEKS alignment.
  4. Write ideas on post-it notes.
  5. Sort activities based on learning styles (verbal, auditory, kinesthetic, etc…)
  6. Place post-it notes on the Tic/Tac/Toe grid.
  7. Check the configuration for variety to achieve a Tic/Tac/Toe. Move as needed.
  8. Type idea onto the Tic/Tac/Toe grid.

The following table gives an example of a Tic/Tac/Toe board for reviewing a math unit:

Explain the math steps that you would use to solve a problem from this unit Solve two of the problems in the “extensions” station Using the “beat” of a popular song create your own math song. See the choice board station for rules
Create two word problems that go with the concepts in this unit Student Choice Activity (with teacher approval) Define the unit’s vocabulary words with your own form of graffiti
Complete one mini-project from the project board Develop a game using skills you have learned in this unit Research and write how these concepts might be used in the real world

Variations:

  • Allow student to complete any three tasks–even if it does not make a Tic/Tac/Toe
  • Assigns students task based on readiness
  • Create different choice boards based on readiness (Struggling students work with options on one choice board while more advanced students have different options.)
  • Create choice board options based on learning styles or learning preferences. For example a choice board could include three kinesthetic tasks, three auditory tasks, three visual tasks.

Author Rick Wormeli offers the following Tic/Tac/Toe board based on Gardner’s (1991) multiple intelligences.

Interpersonal Task Kinesthetic Task Naturalist Task
Logical Task Student Choice Intrapersonal Task
Interpersonal Verbal Task Musical Task Verbal Task

To access a blank choice board to use in your classroom click on the following link: Blank Choice Board

Reference:

Wormeli, Rick. Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing & Grading in the Differentiated Classroom. Portland, ME: Stenhourse 2006, pages 65-66

Preparing for the Reading and Writing STAAR the Smart Way

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Janet Hester, Secondary ELAR Specialist

Begin at the Beginning: The STAAR-Prep Dilemma

What do we do when students enter our classrooms lacking confidence and fluency in writing? For many schools and districts in Texas, the attempted answer to this skills deficit has been to drill students on writing the STAAR tasks over and over again. Twenty-six lines, over and over. And in the same manner, practice multiple choice reading and writing packets over and over again. Test-prep passage and multiple choice bubbles, over and over.

We know that such practice does not raise confidence and fluency in writing and reading. Students might improve in jumping through a very specific hoops when they are challenged to write 26 lines of expository text repeatedly, but their versatility as writers and their confidence and joy in writing will have be the price they pay for this act. In the same manner, when we curtail our engaging reading instruction for packet work, we may stunt our students’ growth. Traditional STAAR prep has led to slightly more prepared, but very burnt-out students.

We all know this. But, without these traditional practices, we are sometimes stuck on how to create a transference of skills on test day.

Transitioning to STAAR: The Test as Genre Unit

When we begin to prepare students for STAAR reading and writing tasks, we should not throw out all the good work that has come before in instruction, much of which has been presented through a reading and writing workshop model for many Region 13 teachers.

3The Test as Genre Unit is a tried-and-true method of preparing students for standardized tests while building on what has already transpired in classrooms. It is a riff played on the Genre Study Unit through which many schools deliver ELAR instruction. If your curriculum is grouped in units by genre, instruction was delivered as a genre study. Students read and wrote fiction pieces in one unit of study. Students read and wrote persuasive pieces in another unit of study. Most definitely, students read and wrote expository texts in the expository unit. 

Katie Wood Ray in Study Driven details a Genre Study Unit cycle:

Stage Description
Gather Texts The teacher, sometimes along with students, gathers examples of the kind of writing students will do.
Setting the Stage Students are told they will be expected to finish a piece(s) of writing that shows the influence of the study.
Immersion The teacher and students spend time reading and getting to know the texts they’ll study. They make notes of things they notice and about how the texts are written. They think about the process writers use to craft texts like the ones they are studying.
Close Study The class revisits the texts and frames their talk with the question, “What did we notice about how these texts are written?” The teacher and students work together to use specific language to say what they know about writing from this close study, developing curriculum as they go. The teacher, through modeling, takes a strong lead in helping students envision using what they are learning in their own writing.
Writing Under the Influence Students (and often the teacher) finish pieces of writing that show (in specific ways) the influence of the study.

(Wood Ray, 2006, p. 111)

4In our schools, this cycle might look a little different. Teachers might weave the different stages of the cycle together so they take place simultaneously. Due to scheduling in some middle school classes, students might also experience the different stages in separate reading and writing classes. However, most students will have experienced this sequence of reading in a genre and then emulating craft moves they learned to write in that genre.

When students have been immersed in reading and writing in different genres throughout the year and the STAAR test is drawing near, they are ready to begin a Test as Genre unit. A Test as Genre unit follows the same methodology as other genre units. Students immerse themselves in the genre of the test, reading passages from released tests as well as reading and discussing the types of multiple–choice questions they will have to answer. Students explore the writing tests’ tasks and prompts. As a result, they slowly begin to build a rapport with the standardized test. In this case, familiarity breeds confidence. Randy Bomer, the director of the Heart of Texas Writing Project, describes his process:

“I like to throw a huge pile of tests onto a table and invite students to browse through them and see what they notice in them. I want them to see tests not as something fearsome that controls their fate but as a dime a dozen, common as can be, which they are. I want to position the students as powerful, intelligent analyzers of these kinds of texts.” (Bomer, 2011, p. 285)

After this close study, students write passages and questions that imitate the released tests they studied following the Katie Wood Ray cycle from above. Students study writing prompts and write their own. When students have been reading like writers all year in other genre inquiry units, the Test as Genre is a logical next move in preparation for the test. They have been reading like writers all year in other genre inquiry units, reading like poets, reading like op–ed journalists, reading like short-story writers. Now, in the Test as Genre unit, they read like test makers, practicing the reader and writer moves they have been honing all year (Atwell, 2002; Bomer, 2004; Bomer, 2011; Fletcher & Portalupi, 2001; Serafini; Taylor, 2008). Region 13 will hold a full-day, just-in-time workshop on implementing this type of unit on February 29, 2016.

Using the Region 13 Elementary and Secondary Playbooks as Part of the Test as Genre Unit

In the weeks leading up the tests, not only are students analyzing passages and multiple choice questions from both the reading and writing tests; they should also be honing in on the specific expository writing craft they will need to write a satisfactory essay on the day of the test.

5With respect to the STAAR expository writing tasks, the Region 13 Product Store now sells two products that will help the accomplished and the novice teacher alike. The Elementary and Secondary Expository Playbooks offer immediate tools and strategies for a Grade 4 and English I teacher.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The Elementary Expository Playbook breaks down the five components of STAAR expository writing: Focus, Organization, Idea Development, Progression, and Language and Conventions.

For each component, the playbook provides a chapter outlining

  • the fundamentals of what each component means in the context of the STAAR expository task;
  • two published mentor informational texts that powerfully demonstrate the chapter’s component (for example, a mentor text that employs a strong problem/solution organizational structure in the Organization chapter);
  • four STAAR expository students essays to demonstrate strong and developing examples of that writing component; and
  • several plays, or instructional strategies, to use to improve that writing component in student writing. All plays begin with the writer in mind and inspire confidence and transfer of skills on test day.

Often, teachers do not have the time to find specific mentor texts to demonstrate the skills they wish their students to emulate. The Playbook saves so much time, in that published mentor texts, strong student examples, and weaker student examples are already there, organized under specific instructional targets with helpful teacher commentary.

6The Secondary Playbook follows the same pattern of including content, mentor texts, and student essays that align to the English I expository task. Grade 7 writing teachers will definitely find support for the Test as Genre unit in either playbook.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            When preparing students for STAAR, we must instill a cheerful attitude that builds upon the skills students certainly have. Asset-based instruction reminds students of all their world knowledge and invites the students to bring this knowledge into the standardized writing and reading tasks.

For more information about the Playbooks and implementing a Test as Genre Unit, contact:

Janet Hester
Secondary ELAR Specialist
janet.hester@esc13.txed.net

Laura Lee Stroud
Elementary ELAR Specialist
lauralee.stroud@esc13.txed.net

Sources:

Atwell, N. (2002). Lessons that change writers. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Bomer, R. (2004). Strong enough for tests and life. College Board Review, 41-43.
Bomer, R. (2011). Building adolescent literacy in today’s English classrooms. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Fletcher, R., & Portalupi, J. (2001). Writing workshop: The essential guide. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Serafini, F. (n.d.). Standardized tests as a genre. Retrieved from www.frankserafini.com: http://www.frankserafini.com/classroom-resources/standardized-tests-as-a.pdf
Taylor, M. M. (2008, Spring/Summer). Changing the culture of “test prep”: Reclaiming writing workshop. Language Arts Journal of Michigan, 23-34.
Wood Ray, K. (2006). Study driven: A framework for planning units of study in the writing workshop. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Content in this article addresses T-TESS Planning dimension 1.3 – Knowledge of Students and Instruction dimension 2.2 – Content Knowledge and Expertise.

Teaching Science in the Early Childhood Classroom

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Aliza Rivera, Early Childhood Specialist

I can remember when the idea of teaching science to a room full of 4 year-olds terrified me. My fear often led to science activities that were either “safe,” not messy, or often underdeveloped. Students tended to overlook my science center and it was not utilized enough by my young students. I can even recall a memory where I encouraged my students to look, but not touch. Sound familiar? You are not the only one.

Leo F. Buscaglia states, “It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.” For the longest time I was in denial of the idea that young children already come to school with an innate sense of natural curiosity about the world and how it works. I had to work on my ability to understand the different ways that young children play. I often had to stop what I was doing, listen to what my students were saying and reflect on their subsequent actions through the different play opportunities planned throughout the day. By doing this, I came to understand and conquer my fear of teaching science. I found that my fear was based on a personal struggle of not understanding how play activities connected with content knowledge and how they could come to support young children’s learning of science naturally through play.

Realizing that science is everywhere and that it can be integrated into the curriculum in a variety of ways, I began to develop a deeper understanding of essential scientific ideas rather than a superficial acquaintance of isolated facts. I embraced the opportunity in allowing my young students with sufficient time to develop a deeper understanding for the world around them.  When I began to allow more time for my students to explore, it provided me with the opportunity to observe the capacity to which the play became more complex.  When I engaged in play with my students, I began to understand the opportunities in which to question the understanding of my student’s thinking patterns and to acknowledge the different content areas they were experiencing.  When my students demonstrated to me a variety of skills that could be seen universally across content areas, then I introduced additional materials that supported my student’s’ natural sense of inquiry.

These observable skills included:

  • exploring objects, materials, and events
  • asking questions
  • making observations
  • engaging in simple investigations
  • describing (including shape, size, number), comparing, sorting, classifying and ordering
  • recording observations by using words, pictures, charts and graphs
  • working collaboratively with others
  • sharing and discussing ideas
  • listening to new perspectives (Hamlin & Wisneski, 2012)

Teachers, just like myself, who utilized inquiry and science in the early childhood classroom came to the realization that it built a natural pathway that allowed them to understand and value the thinking processes of the young learner. In doing so, they used their students’ thinking processes as learning experiences in helping guide their students to uncover explanations that were closer to a scientific idea than simply learning through isolated facts (Hamlin & Wisneski, 2012)  Developing inquiry in an early childhood classroom can transform a class from a collection of individuals into a community of learners that openly share their interpretations of the natural world around them (Worth & Grollman, 2003). Research has shown that such learning experiences can help children reform and refine their theories and explanations—to learn how to think through their ideas, to take risks and ask additional questions, and to reconsider their ideas on the basis of others’ views (Vygotsky, 1962).

Science is part of our everyday lives. How can teachers use play as opportunities to engage young learners in scientific inquiry? The key is in the types of experiences teachers create for young learners and how well they support children during play. Fostering a young child’s natural sense of inquiry is essentially building a strong foundation for the ongoing development of many cognitive skills across content areas (Worth & Grollman, 2003).

Sources:

Hamlin, M., & Wisneski, D. B. (2012, May). Supporting the Scientific Thinking and Inquiry of Toddlers and Preschoolers through Play. Young Children, 67(3), 82-88.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1986). Thought and Language. Cambridge, M.A.: The MIT Press.

Worth, Karen & Grollman, Sharon. (2003). Worms, shadows, and whirlpools: Science in the early childhood classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Anchor Charts: Let the Walls Teach

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Esmeralda Alday, Bilingual

One of the first things I notice when I walk into a classroom is a teacher’s use of wall space. Having always taught multiple grade levels – in some of the smallest classrooms on campus – in one school year, I had to learn how to maximize the little wall space I had available. I learned a few weeks into my first year teaching that as glossy and sleek as the content-area and motivational posters (think that ubiquitous “Hang in There” kitten) I purchased for my classroom were, or how well-decorated my classroom was the week before school was even back in session, very little of what was on my walls was actually useful for my students in reinforcing the concepts, skills, and academic vocabulary I was working so hard to teach them. Sadly, it took a few more years for me to discover the magic of anchor charts.

What I’ve learned over a decade in this profession is that when used correctly, anchor charts are one of the most effective, engaging, and student-friendly ways to support instruction through reinforcing key concepts, skills, and vocabulary. One good anchor chart can not only replace an entire word wall, it can make the connections between concepts and terms visibly come to life for students. A great anchor chart can truly be like having another teacher in the classroom. Students can review the steps of a skill, strategy, or process during guided or independent practice using cues from an anchor chart (Harmon & Marzano, 2015).

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So what exactly is an anchor chart and what constitutes a quality anchor chart design? If an anchor is “a source of stability and security, used to hold something in place”, then an anchor chart is a sort of classroom artifact or record that provides a visual reference or cues to support students as they progress in their learning throughout the course of a unit or topic (Seger, 2009). Simply stated, anchor charts make the teacher’s instruction “clearly visible to students” (Newman, 2010). They are visual reminders of current learning for all students and are indispensable for English Language Learners who benefit immensely from visual cues for academic concepts and vocabulary.

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Above: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/559 1  

The following are some helpful tips for creating and maximizing the quality and effectiveness of your anchor charts. A quality anchor chart is:

  • Relevant – Include only the most relevant/key information to keep from confusing students.
  • Clear – Make the chart as clear, neat, and organized as possible.
  • Focused – Stick to one focus per chart to avoid overwhelming students.
  • Evolving – Allow the chart to evolve throughout the course of a unit by adding information learned as the unit progresses.
  • Integral/Useful – Refer to the anchor chart frequently to model its use for students.
  • Prominent – Display the chart where in a prominent place in the classroom where all students can see it.
  • Current – Focus on  only displaying charts that deal with what is currently being learned in order to eliminate clutter.
  • Vibrant – Make the anchor chart colorful and easily visible using dark colors.

Sources:

Newman, L. (2010, October). Anchor Charts: Making Thinking Visible. Retrieved from Expeditionary Learning: https://www.engageny.org/sites/default/files/resource/attachments/anchor_charts.pdf

Seger, W. (2009). Anchor Charts: The Environment as the Third Teacher. Retrieved from Cornerstone Literacy: http://www.palmbeachschools.org/ec/ElementaryCurriculum/documents/Reading_Elementary_AnchorCharts_Sept42009.doc

Harmon, K., Marzano, R.J., (2015). Practicing skills, strategies, & processes: Classroom techniques to help students develop proficiency. West Palm Beach, FL: Learning Sciences International.