Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

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

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.

What If? Whiteboard Scenarios in Science Education

Monday, December 7th, 2015

AUTHOR: Shawna Wiebusch, Secondary Science Education Specialist

One of our tasks as science teachers is to teach students about inquiry, patterns, and causality. The TEKS, across many grade levels, call for students to analyze, evaluate, make inferences, predict trends, and to critique scientific explanations. They also expect students to communicate scientific findings and explore the strengths and weaknesses of models.1 These skills do not happen by accident. We must explicitly teach students to argue and to care about their arguments in academia.

What If? Scenarios, which are a twist on a classic thought experiment, are particularly well suited to helping our students apply their scientific understanding to new situations. According to Dr. Stephens and Dr. Clement, a thought experiment is “ the act of considering an untested, concrete system designed to help evaluate a scientific concept, model, or theory — and attempting to predict aspects of the system’s behavior.”2 In creating What If? Scenarios, we start with the world as it is, then we change something about that model and ask students to predict how it will affect the many interconnecting parts of the system. In this process, students justify their understanding of the world and give teachers insight into their mental models.

In a recent workshop over 8th grade science, I presented the following What If? Scenario:

You wake up one day to find that there are no longer 24 hours in a day. Instead there are 30 hours in a day.

  • Describe the change in Earth’s motion that would have to happen to account for the longer day.
  • Draw a picture that shows this change.
  • Predict the effect of a longer day on seasons, tides, moon phases, and our calendar.

This simple prompt, projected on the wall, led to conversations beyond the expectations listed. Teachers discussed the potential effects on biodiversity and the gravitational pull of the Moon and Earth upon each other. They argued about whether a slower rotation would change the length of seasons or the intensity of temperature extremes, and about how those temperature changes would affect weather and climate. Each group thought of something slightly different than the others and all contributed to a complex, analytical discussion of how the Earth moves in relationship to the Sun and the Moon.

The power of the What If? Scenario is not just in asking the questions, but also in providing students with practice in argumentation and scientific communication. Each group of three students gets a large whiteboard and a different colored marker for each team member. The basic rule in creating their board is that all students must contribute to the conversation and to the board. As students complete their board, the teacher walks around the room and helps provide just-in-time support. After all boards are complete, teams leave one representative at their board to act as docent, who is charged with explaining the group’s response to the What If? Scenario and asking for input and advice. All other students circulate around the room, listening to mini-presentations and asking questions. The goal here is to get students to help each other improve their predictions based on the science learned so far. Sentence stems such as “Can you explain why you believe_______________?” and “I disagree with _______________ and would change it because____________________.” may help guide students with limited experience in scientific discourse. Once three or four other teams have visited each board, the authors of the board regroup and revise their boards based on all of the information they learned from the gallery walk.

What If? Whiteboard Scenarios also meet the needs of many learners. Students are listening, writing, speaking, and reading about science throughout the process. Differentiation is built in because GT students will likely push beyond the scope of the prompt. There are also supports in place to help struggling learners. Through the whiteboarding process and the gallery walk, students have many opportunities to test their ideas out on each other in small, low risk environments prior to speaking out in whole group or being formally assessed over the content.

The Framework for K-12 Science Education states, “The argumentation and analysis that relate evidence and theory are also essential features of science; scientists need to be able to examine, review, and evaluate their own knowledge and ideas and critique those of others.”3 What If? Scenarios require students to use all of the science they know to respond. They also require students to think critically because we are no longer just telling them what we, as teachers, know will happen. We are asking students to tell us what they think and we are asking them to back it up with scientific principles, laws, and theories. I encourage you to play “What If?”with your students. You may find yourself surprised by how far they can take it and how much they can learn from each other.

References

1 “Texas Education Agency – 19 TAC Chapter 112.” 2006. 11 Nov. 2015 <http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter112/>.

2 Stephens, A. (2015). The Role of Thought Experiments in Science and … – CiteSeer. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.507.5735&rep=rep1&type=pdf..

3 “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices …” 2014. 11 Nov. 2015 <http://www.nap.edu/catalog/13165/a-framework-for-k-12-science-education-practices-crosscutting-concepts>

Increasing Science Literacy through Weekly Article Abstracts

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Authors: Grant Kessler, Ph.D. Education Specialist: STEM, Transformation Central Texas STEM Center

Anna Wydeven, Science Specialist, Leander ISD

Stephen Marble, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education, Southwestern University

 

Abstract:

Content area literacy is a hurdle to student attainment of science content knowledge and their ability to demonstrate learning. This article describes a pilot of a classroom-based intervention to help students overcome this obstacle. We call the approach “weekly article abstracts.” We describe the results of the pilot and share the approach, along with implementation tips, resources and references, for teachers who wish to implement weekly article abstracts in their science classrooms.

 

Introduction

A colleague described her frustration to us: “No matter how much I do to make science content interesting and relevant, my students are failing accountability assessments!” With this concern as the catalyst for a discussion group, we heard a consistent theme from science teachers: “Students don’t seem to be ‘getting’ the literacy and expositive experiences that act as a speed bump to their science learning.” This anecdotal consensus resonates with our observations from classrooms across Texas. Analysis of assessment data frequently prescribes content-area literacy, not science content, as the most appropriate intervention for students to improve their science assessment outcomes. Students must be science literate–i.e., able to read and understand science writings and related diagrams, intelligently discuss complex contemporary issues, locate and synthesize valid information to inform decision-making, and utilize language to convey information—all of this as a foundation to build content-area knowledge and demonstrate learning (Texas Education Agency, 2009).

We probed science teachers about their experiences with literacy within the science class and found that the struggle can be attributed to the lack of adequate resources and training to help students tackle expository texts. For example, elementary language arts instruction is heavily grounded in fiction, which allows struggling readers to take advantage of plot direction as a guide. In contrast, these students often find themselves challenged to follow the expository nature of science texts.

 

Piloting an intervention

We wondered if there was a practical remedy to this situation. We imagined a high-impact, personalized, engaging process for teachers to use with students to develop science literacy. Consequently, we developed and implemented a strategy for 6th-8th grade students with the hypothesis that an increase in exposure to student-selected, science-related expository texts correlates with student growth in content-area literacy and science assessment outcomes (Martinez, 2008). We refer to this approach as “weekly article abstracts.”

Classrooms participating in the article abstract pilot were assigned to one of two conditions: weekly article abstracts or no article abstracts.  The backgrounds and performance levels of students within the conditions were comparable based on socio-economic status and prior benchmark performance.  At the conclusion of the pilot, the students from each condition were given a science reading passage and asked to take notes in the columns and answer assessment questions at the end of the reading. Student responses were coded to minimize bias, then assessed and analyzed by reading and science specialists.

The results of the pilot indicated that students exposed to the weekly article abstracts condition (N=138) showed statistically significant increases in content-area literacy and science assessment outcomes (p=0.001) as compared with students in the no abstracts condition (N=230).  Furthermore, teachers reported that the article abstracts provided a means for students to find relevant connections and engage with the science coursework.  Based on our positive experience with this process, we encourage its widespread adoption. The remainder of this article describes how to implement a weekly abstracts program in your classroom.

 

Science Abstracts 101

Overview

An article abstract is a weekly assignment that requires students to select, read and write a critique of a science-related article. Students bring their abstracts to class each Friday (or last day of instruction), where time is structured into the class period for students to dialogue about their learning and receive feedback about their work from peers. It is important to facilitate a learning-focused atmosphere for this weekly event and, as such, we highly recommend that abstracts be a required and ungraded learning opportunity. We have found it possible to structure these assignments so as to provide value without adding onerous incremental workload to the educator. It is useful to consider what science abstracts “are” and “are not” prior to adopting the process (Table 1).

 

Increasing1

Table 1. Abstracts “are” and “are not”

 

Implementing Science Abstracts

Introduce science abstracts by having students discuss the Dr. Suess quote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  Facilitate the discussion to explore factors that drive academic success, including the quantity of personally selected free reading and levels of exposure to academic language through a variety of sources (Cullinan, 2000).

Next, in a manner that is consistent with Simon Sinek’s (2009) work on how great leaders inspire action, introduce article abstracts with students by sharing and developing “The Why” for science abstracts. We believe that weekly article abstracts provide a mechanism through which each student will grow in his or her ability to find relevance and ownership in classroom learning, critically consume information, intelligently discuss current events, utilize data to drive decision-making, and demonstrate learning on assessments.

Having set a purpose that article abstracts are a crucial opportunity for students, show students the InfoGraphic Poster (Figure 1) to help them understand how abstracts are implemented and what success looks like.

 

Infographic - Figure 1
Figure1Infographic

 

Procedures

Students select, cite and read a science-related article.

It is critical for students to search for and select their own articles because student choice is a key motivator to assignment completion and it drives ownership and engagement in the learning process (Thompson, 2009). Students, especially struggling readers, will need explicit instruction for how to locate and assess the quality of science sources. We successfully used the Planey & Hug (2012) “Source Quality Pyramid” activity with students, which is detailed in The Science Teacher, and can be accessed from: http://learningcenter.nsta.org/product_detail.aspx?id=10.2505/4/tst12_079_01_37

We have found that some students–including those without consistent resources at home–will benefit from your support to schedule access to the library or use campus technology to access science sources.  Share the suggested source list (Figure 2) with students as a foundation for students to locate articles.

 

 SourceList - Figure 2
Figure2SourceList

 

Also, while students choose their own articles, they may need periodic reminders to select articles from a variety of sources so that they can most efficiently increase their level of knowledge.  We quickly learned that students don’t already know how to cite sources, so it will be a good idea to explicitly teach students how to use tools such as “EasyBib.com.”

 

Article Summary

The next step in this procedure is to go over the abstract details from the InfoGraphic (Figure 1) and provide students with the “How to write an abstract” handout (Figure 3).

 

HowTo - Figure 3 
Figure3HowToWrite

 

During the pilot, a number of students were initially apprehensive about reading and writing the abstracts summary because they didn’t have experience with academic science texts. To get over this initial hurdle, you might tell the students, “It is okay to pick a short article at first–just pick something that you understand.” Students were more comfortable reading and writing about articles they understood; their hesitance was really fear of not fully understanding the academic content. We found it particularly effective when students chose articles that mapped to their individual interests. For example, some students raise livestock, others were passionate about automobiles, quilting, and even dinosaurs. In each case, encouraging the student to select articles within their own interests helped to establish the relevance of science to their daily lives, and their enthusiasm soared. Work with the Language Arts department on your campus to align strategies and approaches to reading and writing reflectively.

 

Students may need coaching on how to write the summary. Frequently, students simply rearrange words to paraphrase the article directly rather than truly summarizing the article.  You can scaffold teaching this process based on student need, building from the following mini-lesson:

  1. Provide each student with a brief, low difficulty science article. Have students read the article, making notes in the margins. You might provide students with sample questions to support metacognition while reading, such as, “How does this compare with what I already know? How does this connect with me?” When students are finished reading, they put the articles away and take turns to explain what the article was about with a partner.
  2. Have students write a paragraph in summary of the article, based on the discussions.
  3. Explain to students that this learning experience represents the process for writing abstract summaries. Tell the students to “Read the article, put the article away, and then pretend you are talking to a friend as you write what it was about.”

 

Article Critique

The summary describes what the article is about; the critique is where students think critically about what they read and learned, reflecting on its impact to their lives. Here, we ask the students to consider the article’s strengths and weaknesses and to use evidence to support claims. The critique is an opportunity for students to develop and demonstrate their critical thinking skills.

 

While we have found that this portion of their product does not need much additional coaching, some students may need additional support. In order to differentiate for ability levels, you can provide students with an organizer as an accommodation for the process (Figure 4).

 

Accomodations - Figure 4 
Figure4Accomodations

 

Students share learning and receive peer feedback

An audience plays an important role in the abstract literacy process and gets students excited about sharing with (teaching) each other as experts each week. As you structure time into your class each week for students to share, remember to take a facilitator role. Assign students into groups of two and organize the time for each student to have time to assess the abstracts together with the InfoGraphic representation of the rubric (Figure 1).  Some teachers create a bulletin board to highlight the abstract of the week, with a QR code to the selected article.

 

Final Thoughts

Science content literacy has become an increasingly important part of how teachers support students to learn science. Weekly article abstracts are an unobtrusive and value-added way to integrate literacy into science classrooms. While students struggle with this process initially, they quickly improve with practice. In our article abstract pilot of 368 students, those who experienced weekly article abstracts showed significant gains in their abilities to read reflectively and apply metacognitive strategies, find relevance for science content, and intelligently discuss current events, demonstrating significant growth in content-area literacy overall.

 

References

Cullinan, B. (2000). Independent reading and school achievement. School Library

Media Research, vol. 3.

Kearton V & McGregor D. (2010) What do researchers say about scientific literacy in schools? Education in Science. 240 22-23

Martinez, P. (2008) Impact of an integrated science and reading intervention (INSCIREAD) on bilingual students’ misconceptions, reading comprehension and transferability of strategies. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, George Mason University.

Planey, J. & Hug, B. (January 2012). Climbing the pyramid: Helping students evaluate science news sources. The Science Teacher, 79(1): 37-40.

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: how great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York: Portfolio.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) (2009). Texas college and career readiness standards (CCRS). Retrieved from: http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/files/dmfile/CCRS081009FINALUTRevisions.pdf.

Thomson, A. (2009). Reading: The Future – final report of the 2008 National Year of Reading. London, UK: The National Literacy Trust.

Reuse, Recycle: Word Clouds in the Classroom

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Author: Dana Ellis, Educational Specialist: Instructional Coach

Teachers are naturally resourceful. With limited budgets, they have to be. A search engine query for educational projects using recycled materials will produce an abundance of links and images from preschool art projects to high school physics contraptions. Teacher ingenuity is not restricted to paper towel rolls and plastic water bottles. In the face of tightened technology budgets, teachers are wrestling with ways to repurpose free technology-based applications in order to maximize hands-on learning while reducing district expenditures and time spent learning implementation.  It is no surprise, therefore, that talented, imaginative educators have transformed digital word cloud generators into tools for use in highly engaging content lessons. What is astonishing, however, is just how diverse educational applications of this simple tool can be. Below are just a few of the ways educators are using this easy-to-learn technology in cross content classrooms.

  1. Revising Student Essays. Students copy and paste their essays into one of the word cloud generators, turning off the common words feature. Since the word cloud will enlarge words based on frequency, students can then analyze the larger words against their essays. Students revise essays to include more precision and variety in word usage, and to reduce undesirable redundancy. As a follow-up assessment, students repeat the exercise and compare the revised essay word clouds with the originals.
  1. Content Main Ideas. The teacher groups students and assigns a textbook section or content based mentor text for reading. Within the groups, students jigsaw the material into smaller portions of text. For each sub-section, individual students read and decide on the 5 most important words or concepts of that section. When the individual students come back together to discuss the entire text, student groups pare down the individual lists created to one compiled set of 3 main idea words that represent the entire text selection. After class discussion of the text, students select one final word from the list of three to represent the main idea of the material. Student groups enter all the words from each round into a word cloud generator. As culmination for a unit, students can use the word clouds to review unit themes and ideas or write a unit reflection of main ideas.
  1. Self-Assessment. As an anticipation guide, the teacher creates a word cloud of major lesson or unit concepts. At the conclusion of a lesson or unit, students write an explanation of the concepts covered in a paragraph or two. This writing is then copied and pasted into a word cloud generator, excluding common words in the advanced features. Students examine the resulting images while comparing and contrasting their word clouds to the anticipation visual.
  1. Plot Prediction. The teacher copies and pastes a literary text (or synopsis for longer works) into a word cloud generator to create a story cloud. Either prior to reading the piece or at a strategic point in the reading, students analyze the story cloud and make predictions about the story plot and/or characters. The teacher has students discuss their ideas in small groups, providing justification based on the visual provided.
  1. Vocabulary Review. In partners, students take turns reviewing content based vocabulary from a list of academic words or flashcards. If a student knows the word and can provide a correct definition, the student types the word into a word cloud generator once and sets the card aside (or places a checkmark beside it on a list). If the student is unable to provide correct information, the word is typed twice and the card is left in the pile (or word left unchecked). Students continue through the list back and forth until all words have been addressed for both students. Students may either generate the word cloud at this point, or continue in a second round, using the same format. The larger words in the word cloud will remind students which words or concepts require more review.
  1. Utilize Shapes to Reinforce Learning. Using one of the word cloud generators which allows the user to select the shape of the resulting image, create geometric anchor charts. The teacher assigns each group a geometric shape. Students create word lists explaining the characteristics of their assigned shape, associated formulas, and real-life examples of the shape. After the lists are complete, students select the corresponding shape for the image. The teacher can then print large versions of student work for the classroom and/or smaller versions for student notebooks.

These are just a few of hundreds of classroom applications for this tool. To see more, check the resources in the  reference section of this article. To experiment with some of the more popular generators and discover even more educational uses, visit the following websites:

WORDLE: www.wordle.net

WORD SIFT: www.wordsift.com

TAGUL: https://tagul.com/

TAGXEDO: www.tagxedo.com

WORD MOSAIC: http://www.imagechef.com/ic/word_mosaic/

 

Happy recycling!

 

References

Dunn, Jeff. “45 Interesting Ways To Use Wordle In The Classroom.” 45 Interesting Ways To Use Wordle In The Classroom. N.p., 15 July 2010. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Gorman, Michael. “Word Clouds: 125 Ways… And Counting… To Use Wordle In The Classroom.” 21 St Century Educational Technology and Learning. N.p., 06 Mar. 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Lepi, Katie. “5 Ways To Use Word Cloud Generators In The Classroom.” 5 Ways To Use Word Cloud Generators In The Classroom. Edudemic, 25 June 2014. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Tafazoli, Dara. “Wordling: Using Word Clouds in Teaching English Language.” Wordling: Using Word Clouds in Teaching English Language. Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, Aug. 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2015. p 53-58.

Increasing Written Literacy 

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Joseph Kanke, Instructional Coach

Education, as a system, is constantly undergoing changes and adapting to the needs of students.  One such need is to improve writing.  The response has been a campus-based push for increased writing opportunities referred to as Write to Learn, Writing Across the Curriculum or Writing in the Discipline.  While each term may not be used completely interchangeably, there is significant overlap.  For the purpose of this article, I will refer to this process of written literacy as Write to Learn.  Basically, Write to Learn means writing is occurring across disciplines and subjects.

Recent data shows students are not graduating high school with writing tools they need to be successful.  According to the Writing Next Report, 70% of students in grades 4-12 are considered low achieving writers and college instructors estimate that only 50% of high school graduates are prepared for college-level writing.

Everyone agrees that the more you read, the better reader you will become.  The results for writing are the same.  When students are given consistent and frequent writing practice, they will begin to see themselves as writers.  As they become better writers, they will have a platform to authentically engage with content and critical thinking skills will increase.  All of these skills will ensure that students are ready for academic and work related writing.

If you are on a campus that is considering the implementation of Write to Learn, there are two essential components you will want to address to make the program effective.  The first is that some teachers will feel unsure of their own writing abilities and thus—understandably—feel apprehensive about writing instruction.  They need to be assured that while providing immediate and specific feedback will be essential to writing growth, it does not necessarily need to focus on grammar.  The second key element is providing teachers with ample professional development.  Just as students need to develop a writer’s toolkit, teachers need access to a variety of authentic writing activities so they can choose what works best with their content.

Students need to be engaged in writing frequently and across subjects, content, and format to ensure adequate practice and exposure so that they are ready for college, careers, and life.

Here are two examples of writing strategies that could be implemented under the Write to Learn model.

 

Activity Implementation When to Use Grouping
Magnet Summaries
  1. After reading an article or finishing class notes, help students pick out the key word (concept being taught).  This will be their magnet word.
  2. Ask students to copy the magnet word in the center of a note card or page of their notebook.
  3. Tell students the magnet word acts like a magnet and pulls other key information that is important to the topic.
  4. Students should then pull key words from the article or notes and arrange them around the magnet word.
  5. Tell students to write a summary which includes the magnet word and some/all of the keywords.
  6. Since students will be so focused on including the keywords, their first summary may not flow smoothly.  Encourage students to edit a minimum of one time.

After reading an article.

 

After finishing class notes on a topic.

 

 

Individual to Pairs

Write 3, Draw 2
  1. Place no less than 8 papers with headings of your choice around the room. *
  2. Explain to students that you have posted key (vocabulary, dates, historical figures, equations, etc.) around the room that they should be familiar with.
  3. Tell them to move around the room and choose 3 of the pages and write, using complete sentences, something they know about that concept.
  4. Tell them to choose two additional concepts and draw a visual representation of something they know about it.

* Students are required to interact with 5 concepts, and by providing a minimum of 8, students will be given the element of choice.

  • Vocabulary
  • Equations
  • Historical Figures
  • Dates
  • Places
  • Parts of Whole (cells, plot, triangles)

 

Grouping:Individual

 

References

Daniels, Harvey, Zemelman,S., & Steineke. N. (2007). Content-area writing:  Every teacher’s guide.  Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann.

Graham, Steven & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next:  Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools.  New York, NY:  Carnegie.

Keifer, K., Lecourt, D., Reid, S., & Wyric, J. (2014, November 25). What is Writing to Learn? Retrieved February 4, 2015, from http://wac.colostate.edu/

English Language Learners as Writers

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Author: Dana Ellis, Write for Texas Instructional Coach

According to school accountability data tables, students who are limited English proficient typically struggle in mastering writing skills behind their native English speaking peers. In some ways, this reality is not wholly unpredictable. After all, it takes both knowledge of a language and time experimenting with it to be able to skillfully arrange words into precise lines of reason capable of moving a reader. Though certainly not lacking in reason or passion, English Language Learners do not have the arsenal of English words at their disposal nor knowledge of American style to use on state writing assessments. To top it off, they are still students learning about life while being asked to massage meaning out of it.  Therefore, to ensure academic success in writing, special attention must be given to ELLs.

From the onset, before students memorialize their words on paper, a culture of safe writing must be established. Writing is a personal and intimate act, potentially full of the risk of social acceptance or rejection. Teachers should not skimp on time spent discussing behavioral expectations for writing workshop. Students should be thoroughly convinced that writing efforts will be met with respect and acceptance. Teachers should model their own writing for the class as well. Watching the teacher write messy drafts underscores the idea that all writers make mistakes. If all writers make mistakes, then ELLs are released from the self-imposed mandate to deliver print-ready manuscripts from the outset. All these actions work toward producing a safe, productive place in which to write.

Research from a wide variety of sources consistently supports the effectiveness of explicit writing instruction. However, classroom visits often reveal that teachers favor writing practice over writing instruction. For ELLs especially, writing must be broken down into individual goals, procedures, and features.

For example, ELLs may not realize that standard American academic writing is linear in nature. This type of writing identifies a topic directly and then consistently follows that topic through, without deviation, to a conclusion. However, the ELL may be more familiar with another culture’s academic approach. For instance, Semitic languages like Arabic favor colorful language and repetition or backtracking. Eastern languages such as Japanese explore a topic without stating a writer’s thesis. The reader is meant to mentally engage with the ideas written and draw his own conclusions. Students who transfer from a culture with a different academic writing style will be unfamiliar with the structure of an American essay. Therefore, teachers should point out text features such as a thesis, transitions, conclusions, persuasive arguments and so forth in model essays to help students conceptualize American writing styles.

A major goal for teachers of ELLs is to uncloak the thinking tools used by experienced writers as they compose texts. This means that writing processes are systematically taught through extensive modeling and metacognition while stimulating purposeful writing experiences. This cognitive approach to writing encourages students to construct meaning within a clear, easily duplicated framework. Specifically, students should build a writer’s tool kit so that they are able to approach a writing task declaratively, procedurally, and conditionally. They can determine what the writing task is, how to approach the writing, and when they have achieved the writing goal.

Following this thinking, a teacher might approach an expository essay assignment by leading the class through activities designed to build background knowledge on the topic about which students will write. Academic words used to describe the topic would be identified, explained, and verbally used by the students. The activities would be translated into concrete, language-rich classroom references (anchor charts, word banks, or desk tools). Next, the teacher would introduce a model essay on the topic, analyzing and color coding the model while using spoken thoughts to guide students through the discovery process. Emphasis would be placed on identifying audience and author’s purpose in the piece. Parts of the essay which demonstrate the focus skill would then be labeled clearly. Next, the teacher would provide some type of writing recipe, a graphic organizer, set of index cards, flipbook, or similar device that divides up the writing task into components that imitate the mentor text. Alternately, drawn boxes on notebook paper could indicate an introduction, body, and conclusion. Finally, students would be asked to focus their thoughts into a specific writing task while the teacher circulates and provides feedback. Immersion into the topic in this manner would pave the way for writing success.

To summarize, helping ELLs to be effective writers in the classroom involves being aware of cultural differences; building a safe writing climate for risk taking; giving students the tools, words, and models needed for achievement; and then allowing them time to practice writing. With these practices in place, students and teachers can change history!

 

Sources

Barkaoui, Khaled. “Teaching Writing to Second Language Learners: Insights from Theory and Research.” TESL Reporter 40.1 (2007): 35-48. Web.

Booth, Carol O., and Robert Landa. “A Cognitive Strategies Approach to Reading and Writing Instruction for English Language Learners in Secondary School.” Research in the Teaching of English 41 (2007): 269-303. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

“NCTE Position Paper on the Role of English Teachers in Educating English Language Learners (ELLs).” NCTE Comprehensive News. ELL Taskforce, Apr. 2006. Web.

Radford, Colin. “The Power of Words.” Philosophy 68.265 (1993): 325-42. Scholastic. Web.

Samway, Katharine Davies. When English Language Learners Write: Connecting Research to Practice, K-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2006. Print.

Three Easy Steps to Teaching Your Students Through the CER Writing Process

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Author: Shawna Wiebusch, Education Specialist, Secondary Science

What can you learn from a ShamWow commercial? As it turns out, a lot!

Image from http://tophouseholditems.com/does-shamwow-work

The ShamWow Commercial is the perfect “hook” to introduce your students to evidence based argumentation using the C-E-R Method: Claims – Evidence – Reasoning.

Many of our students, especially in middle school, come to us with a mindset that “Science is hard.”  Using a fun, lighthearted, science-lite infomercial to introduce a systematic way of scientific writing eases students into the process.

How does it work? (Not the ShamWow – CER!)  Here’s how I introduced it to my students:

1.  Show this infomercial to your students and have them answer the question “What does Vince want to convince you is true?”

After the infomercial, solicit and record your students’ answers.  Then introduce the term “Claim.” Make the connection that what the announcer wants us to believe about the ShamWow is his claim.

2.  Ask students: “What data does the announcer give to convince you that the ShamWow is as cool as he claims?”

For Example:

  • “Sham wow holds 20 times its weight in liquid”
  • Lasts 10 years and will be cheaper than paper towels over time
  • Will soak up 50%  of wine, coffee, cola out of carpet without pressure

Introduce the term “Evidence” – the facts that are used to convince you that the claim is true.

3.  The final part is to connect the Evidence back to the Claim.

Ask your students “WHY does the Sham wow hold up to 20 times its weight in liquid?”  Tell them about microfibers and ask why something made with microfibers would absorb liquids better.

Ask your students WHY the ShamWow would be a better deal than paper towels over time.

Introduce the term “Reasoning” – the principle behind the evidence.  HOW does the evidence support the claim?   In our science classes, the students need to be able to explain the scientific principle behind the labs and activities they are doing.  This is the reasoning!

These are the basic steps to writing a C-E-R.  Go ahead and try it with your students!  Teach them to argue effectively and with science!  Want to know more and find other good ideas?  Check out our Science Blog and the Region 13 Science page for updates!

Maintaining Metaphase Momentum in the Expository Writing Process

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Author: Cortney Esquitin, Instructional Coach 

To teach well, we do not need more techniques and strategies as much as we need a vision of what is essential.  It is not the number of good ideas that turns our work into art but the selection, balance and design of those ideas.       ~Lucy Calkins

 

The “new” buzz word in education these days is metacognition, and it is the loaded language of every workshop blurb or professional book. John Flavell’s distilled definition, released in 1976, of thinking about thinking is nothing new. So what’s the big deal with metacognition now?  Figure 19.

Since teachers are given the developmental norms for metacognition at each grade level for reading, there is an urgency to push kids in a sequenced, linear manner of thinking at different levels. Teachers implement student strategies during reading to generate questions, recognize when they have lost the meaning and summarize throughout. All of which are metacognitive strategies.  Students are more likely to remember what they have read and interpret meaning correctly when practicing this process.  (Beck and McGowen 2006)

Unfortunately, there is not a Figure 19 for the metacognitive stages of writing.  Teachers only have the writing process itself to rely upon.  This has caused many students to come to us like the Tin Man—they have rusty skills, stiff dialogue and, for the most part, are writing without heart.  As the demands of STAAR writing increase, teachers are now feeling the pressure to understand what they can do to better support students.  Somehow the writing process has become just another assignment instead of an instructional pattern.

Understanding that the writing process itself is metacognition in action and a source of student support is our first step.  Many times the writing process is treated as a sprint to the finish line of the final draft without a process really taking place. The writing process should be treated as conditioning for the marathon. “Writing is an act of meaning production” that involves use of metacognitive monitoring strategies through “reading, re-reading, reflecting, and reviewing” and the use of metacognitive control strategies through “editing, drafting, idea generation, word production, translation and revision.”  Hacker, Keener, and Kircher (2009) argue that the explicit and implicit use of these strategies is a metacognitive process and what translates one’s thoughts into writing— hence, writing is applied metacognition. Teaching writing needs to be linked to the metacognition done during reading. This is a necessary scaffolding piece of learning to write well.

Educators ask what will get students to push through the intricate stages of the writing process? They must recognize the breakdown of student learning during the process.  Research shows that students are most comfortable in the pre-writing and planning stages. Teachers are excellent at engaging students in activities that include connections and organizers.  Thinking comes with ease at this stage.  When teachers turn students loose to draft and re-draft the essay, they are on their own to translate ideas and formulate words into meaning. This is when momentum stalls and sometimes dies because students do not have the metacognitive strategies to keep them going. As they begin editing, momentum picks back up because they are in a comfort zone of skills practiced since elementary. (Graham and Perin 2007)

The sequence for “launching” a writing strategy is most efficient when infused with lessons for reading.  Since reading and writing work in tandem, educators are now charged with taking writing to the metacognitive depths to which we generally take reading.  This sequence includes the following: mental models, questioning, think-alouds and verbalization that keep students engaged and pushes them through the gap of isolation. If students feel as though they are alone and not empowered by their teacher and peers, then educators are missing the opportunity to foster success.

In the past, standardized tests required students to produce writing devoid of social and cultural interaction and emphasized the lower level skills of mechanics and language. New standards are the opposite and as a result, the metacognition needed to push through the writing process is more demanding. Building a toolbox of thinking will allow students to scaffold writing strategies and prepare them for high stakes testing.

 

Resources

Anderson, Jeff. 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2011. Print.

Beck, I. L., & McKeown, M. G. (2006).  Improving Comprehension with Questioning the Author.  New York, NY: Scholastic.

Bernabei, Gretchen S., Jayne Hover, and Cynthia Candler. Crunchtime: Lessons to Help Students Blow the Roof off Writing Tests–and Become Better Writers in the Process. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2009. Print.

Bernabei, Gretchen S., and Dorothy P. Hall. The Story of My Thinking: Expository Writing Activities for 13 Teaching Situations. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2012. Print.

Calkins, Lucy. The Art of Teaching Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994.

Carroll, Joyce Armstrong and Edward E.Wilson. Acts of Teaching: How to Teach Writing. Teacher Ideas Press, 1993.

Carroll, Joyce Armstrong and Edward E.Wilson. Acts of Teaching: How to Teach Writing Second Edition. Teacher Ideas Press, 2008.

Carroll, Joyce Armstrong. "Teaching the Thesis." School Library Monthly. : November 2012. (pp. 18-20) Print.

Cole, Joni.  Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive.  University Press of New England, 2006.

Daniels, Harvey, and Nancy Steineke. Texts and Lessons for Content-area Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2011. Print.

Folkman, Joseph R. The Power of Feedback. John Wiley & Sons, 2006.

Fountas, Irene C., and Gay Su. Pinnell. Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System 2 Grades 3-8, Levels L-Z. Portsmouth, N. H.: Heinemann, 2007. Print.

Francescani, Chris. “Friends Mourn Teenager Killed in New Jersey Party Bus Accident.” Chicago Tribune [Chicago] 01 Sept. 2012: n. pag. Print.

Geye, Susan. Mini Lessons for Revision: How to Teach Writing Skills, Language Usage, Grammar, and Mechanics in the Writing Process. Spring, TX: Absey &, 1997. Print.