Tag Archives: teaching writing

#ILA15 Reprise


My final post about #ILA15.  A clever way to make the first International Literacy Association Conference last – start blogging before I arrive . . .with eager anticipation and continue blogging after I return home . . .reluctant to “end” the experience (This is my 9th post about ILA!).

Hmm. . . just like commencement.

Is it

Definition 1: a beginning? or

2: a ceremony in which degrees or diplomas are conferred on graduating students?

It all depends upon your perspective or point of view.

If you attended #ILA15, you have probably also returned home by now.  You have more bags of “stuff” than when you left.  Probably also a new book or two to read.  You check the calendar.  Time is fleeting. Depending on your location, the end of summer could be near.

You decide . . .

How will you put your learning to use?

learn

Will I be able to “name” your learning by your actions?

1. Do your students have voice and choice . . . and are they both inspired and empowered every day to be lifelong learners (the will and the skill)?

2. Do you look into the eyes of students, listen to their voices, and watch their actions (and not just on standardized tests) in your quest to find out what they know and what they need next?

3.  Do you model what you “preach” as in, do you REALLY lead a readerly and writerly life?  Do you communicate how reading and writing have transformed your own personal life with evidence of its authenticity?

4.  Do you truly provide the necessary supports so that ALL children in your care THRIVE every day at school? (No inadvertent shame?)

5.  Do you still have a list of things you MUST learn YET this summer in order to be the best possible teacher, coach or leader next year?  Have you asked anyone for help so that you don’t have to take your learning journey alone?

If you answered “YES” to all five of those questions, then you can choose one fun book and then one professional book to alternately read until your TBR (To Be Read) stack is depleted.

If you answered “YES” to four out of five of those questions, then you need to prioritize your learnings YET for this summer and get busy “learning” about 30 hours each week.

If you were in neither of the two categories above, you need to think seriously about Why you teach? Who you serve? and Your beliefs about education?  Only the brave at heart can truly teach ALL students. It’s not an EASY job.  Continue at your own risk because the students do not get “Do overs”! Their lives are forever in YOUR hands!

High Expectations!

Choose your adventure! It’s all up to YOU!

Which path are you on?

How will you know if your students are successful?

How will you know if you are successful?

What’s the next step on your learning journey?

(Didn’t attend ILA?  Would you like a quick summary?  Here’s the ILA view!)

#TCRWP: Summary and Day 5 Writing Institute 2015


summary

For a lovely recap of the June 2015 TCRWP Writing Institute, please read Tara Smith’s post here because she explains why the images and tweets matter.  That intentionality grounded in the question “WHY?” has been a theme reiterated through all the sections, closing workshops and keynotes this week at Teachers College.  In other words, if you don’t know “why” you are doing this or “why” you are asking the students to do “x” in workshop, you may need to consider the need for additional reading and / or writing on your own part.

Another source of information about the writing institute is always to follow @TCRWP and #TCRWP.  You can review the thread for additional charts, photos, and tweets that share out learning from all the masters at TCRWP.

In Summary:

WHAT a week!

We began the week with wise words from Lucy Calkins at Riverside Church and we ended with a celebration that included both wisdom and humor from Sarah Weeks, powerful reading of personal writing from our peers, and closing comments again from Lucy Calkins.  As educators, we must continue to be the voice for and of our students.  We must also be the readers and writers that we expect our students to be.  We must also be the public vision for literacy.

It will NOT be easy.

But when has life or teaching been about taking the “easy” route?

08 May 2001 --- Exploding head --- Image by © John Lund/CORBIS

08 May 2001 — Exploding head — Image by © John Lund/CORBIS

 Day 5

Celena Larkey – Toolkit for Narrative Writing K-2

Possible statements for a checklist for Fairy Tales:

  • I tried to bring my character to life by using names, details, talking, actions, and inner thinking.
  • I used show not tell to add details.
  • I gave my character a quest or adventure.
  • i gave my character a problem to solve or overcome.
  • i used elements of magic in my story.
  • I chose strong words that would help the reader picture my sotry.
  • I have elements of three in my story.

And then we worked with Exemplar Texts.  We created our own for our toolkit and we talked about the perameters of student Exemplar texts that may not be error-free but would also be great additions to our toolkit.

Kindergarten:   3-4 page story with 3-4 lines of print on each page.

First Grade:      5-6 page story with 8-10 lines of print on each page.

Second Grade: 5-6 page story with 10-12 lines of print on each page.

Which takes me full circle back to questions from Monday:

Are our students writing enough?  What does the daily writing volume look like?

Shana FrazinUsing the Best, New Children’s Literature as Mentor Texts:  Support Sky High Writing (3-8)

I continue to go back to this picture.

architecture of a small group

Many folks are adept at small group work and already understand the connection, teach, coach, and link process.  But if one returns to the title, the word “ARCHITECTURE” is a deliberate choice.  We, in Iowa, love it as we are most known, movie-wise, for “Build it and they will come” in reference to “Field of Dreams”.  But architecture conveys that deliberate, planned work that sustains and even lifts up students so they can do the neccessary work.  I love that this framework does not say the number of minutes that should be spent; yet I fear the number of minutes spent in group work is not the best use of time for students.

Any ten minutes of group work could be ruled productive if students leave writing or better yet, have even already begun the writing demonstrated in the group work.  Group work is not all about the teacher talking during the entire session either.  Group work is not about the scheculed 30 minutes time on the lesson plan.

Why does it matter?

The time that a teacher uses for “talking” takes away from student writing time.

The time that a teacher uses for “management” takes aways from student writing time.

The time that a teacher does not use for “writing” takes away from student writing time.

Small group time could be a waste of time if it does not lead to additional writing volume by the students.

Students will not achieve “sky-high” writing without writing TONS!

I believe that “writerly” teachers know and understand this.  I believe that “writerly’ teachers need to continue to model the many iterations that could show how group work is a short, focused work time for students!

After a week of narrative K-2 toolkits and 3-8 Mentor Texts for “Sky-High” Writing, what are your big Ahas?  And your continuing questions?

#TCRWP and A Teacher’s Toolkit for Teaching Writing


How many notebooks can a person have?  Readers notebook .  .  .  writers notebook .  .  .  conferring notebook  . . .  toolkit?  The name is not the most important thing . . . but in the interest of full disclosure, this blog is about the “toolkit” that the teacher would consider using during writing conferences with students OR in small group instruction.

If you want to learn more about toolkits, check out Anna’s post this week – “A Writing Teacher’s Summer Project Building a Teaching Toolkit” or Stacey’s “A Master’s Writing Notebook in Evernote” for some great ideas about “Why?” and “Should I plan to use tech?”

I began a teacher’s toolkit last year and have many of my favorite charts from #tcrwp and #chartchums drawn on the pages.   It has four sections:  the writing process, argument/opinion, informational/explanatory, and narrative.   The toolkit garnered some “oohs and aahs” from teachers and was a great first draft but it is now ready for an upgrade.  I’m mulling over my process (paper as in artist sketchbook or 3-ring binder or to bravely and boldly go electronic) as well as purpose (demonstrations for teachers in PD as well as classrooms) and I am at a crossroads.

And then I attended Katie Clements’ (@clemenkat) session at #tcrwp entitled, “Don’t Teach Empty Handed:  Toolkits that Can Help You Teach Explicitly, to Scaffold, and To Keep Track” and I knew that I would have even more questions before I could begin to assemble my toolkit.

Katie said . . .  “we can create a writing toolkit to take into our classrooms that has one replicable process that will LIVE in our writing.”  She quoted Brian Cambourne and how we need to make sure that learning from our demonstrations sticks.  That means that we need to check for high levels of engagement.  We often demonstrate writing as well as revision.  But sometimes the demonstrations seem to live only in the mini-lesson of our workshop.  Many writers would benefit from demonstrations on their own level so the purpose of a toolkit is to help students and provide additional demonstrations at their level.  (Clements, 06.24.14, Teachers College Writing Instittute)

So how do we do this?  Here was the process that Katie demonstrated.

Four Steps to Creating a Writing Toolkit

Step 1:  Study Student Writing and Determine Predictable Needs
Step 2  Create a Demonstration Text by Mirroring Student Writing
Step 3: Name the strategy that will move the writer and design the page
Step 4:  Use the toolkit to teach

Three predictable needs for narrative writing are:

  • Draft is swamped with dialogue
  • No tension (nothing changes between events)
  • Telling instead of showing (reporting)

Where would this list of predictable needs come from?  Conversation with your teaching peers, reviewing your conferencing data, and considering the needs of your students in previous years.  And then the key is to develop the resources in your toolkit for these predictable needs.  Consider setting up multiple demonstrations at different levels so that you have the just right example to move the student forward with the appropriate amount of scaffolding!

So what do you do with those predictable problems?  Here are examples of Katie’s toolkit pages.

Image

This page includes demonstration text, chart, and place to practice strategies to move from repetitious ping – pong dialogue!

Image

 

Paragraphing – always someone who needs a bit more practice.

 

Image

Again, demonstration text, chart, and paper for immediate repeated practice,

Are you considering a toolkit for teaching writing?  How are you planning to use it?

(PS. Information writing predictable patterns were included in Monday’s post here. )

 

August 8, 2014  – A great new blog about teacher toolkits by Ericka Perry is available here.  Check it out!

Public Perceptions of Writing


How are YOUR students doing in writing?  How do you know?

A few years ago the National Writing Project commissioned a public opinion survey entitled “The 2007 Survey on Teaching Writing.” The results are reported here and one quote is also included directly below.

“Americans believe that good writing skills are more important than ever, but they fear that our schools and our children are falling behind. Two-thirds of the public would like to see more resources invested in helping teachers teach writing. And 74 percent think writing should be taught in all subjects and at all grade levels.”

The good news is that the Common Core State Standards do include writing standards that cover ALL subjects and ALL grade levels.  Those College and Career Ready Writing Anchor standards are:

Text Types and Purposes

  • CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
  • CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing

  • CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
  • CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

  • CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
  • CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing

  • CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Last year #TeacherWeek reported that “80% of the U.S. population surveyed think that writing well is more important than 20 yrs ago; 75% think schools should put more emphasis on writing.”  Both of these percentages continue to climb steadily upward.

Do you know the answers to these questions?

  • Are ALL teachers teaching writing in their content areas?
  • Do teachers use the same common language when teaching writing?
  • Do students know what the writing learning targets are?
  • Do parents and community members know what the student writing learning targets are?
  • Are the same rubrics used across multiple content areas and multiple grades?
  • Do students write for a variety of purposes, across content areas, throughout the day?
  • Are students making progress in meeting the writing anchor standards?

Who have you shared those answers with?

What would your community say about the progress that the students in your school are making in writing?  How would they know?

“Do I HAVE to teach writing?”


“Teachers Don’t Have Time to Teach Writing” was a provocative post that caught my eye yesterday (01.26.14) on Twitter.  I urge you to read the post in its entirety.  The author, Ashley Hurley, claims to have heard teachers say that they just don’t have time to teach writing more times than she can count.  (It is shocking but I have also heard that statement. Her impassioned post includes numerous quotes from the National Commission on Writing, National Writing Project Newsletter, and Writing Next. However, beyond those quotes is a universal need for students to become literate citizens who can fully participate in a democratic society.  Evidence of this would be found in letters to the editor for a local paper, blog posts, or even conversations in the local coffee shop.

The College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing define what students should understand and be able to do by the end of every grade in each of the ten writing standards.  Further support for writing is found in the sidebar:

  ” . . . students need to use writing as a tool for learning and communicating to offer and support opinions, demonstrate understanding of the subjects they are studying, and convey real and imagined experiences and events.” . . . “To meet these goals, students must devote significant time and effort to writing, producing numerous pieces over short and extended time frames throughout the year.” (p. 16, CCSS, English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects)

Is teaching writing optional?  

No!  Beyond the Iowa Core/Common Core, consider your own state’s definition of “language arts” as it relates to state code and educational requirements.  A quick google search combining “state name” “educational code” and “writing” will provide a look at current and previous expectations for writing. I quickly searched Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri to collect information for four states that border Iowa.  I was intrigued by the fact that Nebraska does have a state writing test (I wonder what kind of orchestration is necessary for a state-wide writing test?) and that all five states (including Iowa) have long had writing expectations in state educational code.  What may be new for teachers and students is the fact that writing is important in all content areas K-12.

What does writing instruction look like?

It was difficult to use the information garnered from searches to get a clear picture of writing instruction from the five states I was reviewing.  Due to the state writing assessment, Nebraska had more information than the other four. Current beliefs and pedagogy would certainly predict that instruction might include some measure of gradual release or “I Do, We Do, You Do” that is prevalent in the literature and widely supported by the likes of Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, Kelly Gallagher and Jim Burke.

Many teachers, at a variety of grade levels and content areas, provide free-writing or “journaling” writing time where students are permitted to write on a topic of their own to show what they know.  George Hillocks, Jr. reported on the results of six types of writing instruction in 1987.  He summarized the free writing research as:

“Free writing.  This approach asks students to write freely about whatever concerns them.  As a major instructional technique, free writing is more effective than teaching grammar in raising the quality of student writing. (Effect size = .16) However, it is less effective than focuses of other instruction examined.”

If free writing is an opportunity for students to write while the teacher does “other work” and is not connected to writing instruction, modeling or practice, then it may not be the best use of the available instructional time.  Furthermore, if “free writing” is the ONLY writing time allocated daily, students will probably not make much growth in writing because of the low effect size.

What  writing instruction is needed?

Writing instruction must include clear models of the criteria and expectations for writing.  Sources for student writing include #tcrwp, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, National Writing Project and Appendix C of the Common Core.  Writing also needs to include choices for students.  Students should NOT always be handed a topic to write about; nor would students necessarily be allowed to ALWAYS write on a topic of their own choice.  Sometimes, especially with an on-demand prompt, the student may be required to write on a topic that the teacher has specified.  Students who have not had a lot of writing practice or who do perceive themselves as successful writers will struggle with choosing topics and staying with a topic when writing.  Teachers will need to explicitly teach the steps of the writing process as students engage in drafting, conferencing, revising, and editing their work.

But one constant for writing instruction is that there will be INSTRUCTION!  Merely writing “more” will not help create better, stronger and longer writers!  In fact, it may be possible that students could write “more” without ever improving the “quality” of their own work!  Improvement would result from writing that incorporated the thinking from a demonstration or mini-lesson coupled with collaborative “we try it” work that provides students with a safety net as they practice new learning / skills!

How do we provide enough writing opportunities for writing across the day?

First, we begin with writing in all content areas every day.  We add writing to reading as a measure of student understanding, not as a worksheet to be filled out.  “Two Writing Teachers” is hosting “Writing About Reading Blog Series” this week.  A new blog will be posted every day with possible options for writing about thinking while reading.  Today’s blog (linked above) by Dana Murphy features three different approaches:  

  1. Lifting a Line
  2. Character Web
  3. Visual Note Taking

Check them out.  All three approaches include a picture of student work as another model. A twitter chat is planned for Monday, February 3rd using the hashtag #TWTBlog and more information is available in the link in this sentence.  While you are reading about those approaches, consider whether some of them would be appropriate across a wide range of content reading across the day. (Summarizing is not the only skill that students need to work on!).

Second, there must be common language about writing in all content areas (K-12).  A focus on common language is present in the Common Core and it may be a unifying factor for students, parents, and teachers. Teachers need to work collaboratively across all content areas and grades to increase their comfort level and knowledge through the use of peer to peer conversations focused on improving the quality of student writing and writing instruction.

Third, there must be models of the expected level of writing at the end of the grade level.   Annotated models with specific feedback about the use of writing techniques is very beneficial to students and writing models are on the list of research-based practices in Writing Next. Also plan to include scaffolds where needed to connect speaking and listening, reading, and writing skills.  Some students may need more auditory models prior to working to accelerate their writing skills.  Begin collecting student examples to use as models. Garner permission from the student authors to use them in demonstrations.  These models need to be collected across all content areas as writing expectations should not be different by content areas.

Fourth, teachers must write as well.  Teachers need to know and understand the struggle embraced by our students on a regular basis.  That knowledge and understanding comes from writing alongside the students.  Teachers cannot continue to “tell” students to write or to write like “Author X.”  Teachers must also provide models of high-quality writing.  Students need to see quality science writing from the science teachers and historically accurate writing from the social sciences teachers as just a few examples.

What is one thing that you can change about your writing instruction TOMORROW?  How can you provide the instruction that will help students meet the demands of the Common Core and prepare them to be reading, writing, thinking citizens?  Where will you start?
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