Saturday, May 11, 2013

Metacognitive Journals and Paragraph Frames - May 10 Crumble

Well, it took about twenty-four hours for our extreme reluctant readers and writers to become disenchanted with the blogging we had started last week.  Once we started pushing the idea that our kiddos needed to shelve the text-speak and try to write academically - a few went right back to irritation and frustration - even with the technology.  What a disappointment this was for us, but I have to keep reminding myself that there is a large group who seem to be getting better and better.  The technology and the blogging are really motivating.

"Why are we doing this?" came from one of our loudest in the back.  I cringed.  We knew if one was asking that there were more wondering.  And yet as soon as we began reading the next chapter of Unwind, most of their eyes were glued onto the page and their ears were perked up, waiting to hear whether Connor, Risa, and Lev were going to be caught and unwound.

How could we get them to stop and process, comprehend, and write?  It was Monday when I woke up thinking about Metacognitive journals.  For years I've been asking my students to read and write, read and write.  I usually give students a list of prompts and ask them to choose:
  • This reminds me of . . .
  • Summarize the selection read in twenty words or less.
  • I disagree with . . .
  • I was surprised by . . .
  • Predict what will happen next . . .
  • Describe one character.
For each of the above prompts, students were always required to write a paragraph.  Some of them did; many of them didn't, and it took a lot of training to get them to add details and evidence to support their thoughts.  With our current group of readers, things are no different.  We gave them some ideas for blogging, and they answered the questions.  And that is all.  What was worse was the lack of care in spelling and punctuation, making some blog posts almost unreadable.  Our kiddos are so used to their word processors, phones, and tablets correcting spelling, punctuation, and (sometimes) grammar that the use of these skills is not even close to automatic to them. 

But Monday's brain-child came with a flash-back of a Project CRISS strategy that I use sparingly and only with struggling and resistant writers: the paragraph frame.  I had completely forgotten about this useful tool until last week, and I immediately went to work putting together a list for blogs.  Some examples are:
  • ________ wanted __________, but ____________.  So, __________________.  Then _____________. 

  • When ______________________ happened, it reminded me of __________________.  The situations are alike in that _______________________.  I also think that _______________________.

  • I disagree with ____________________'s choice to ____________.  I thought it was wrong because ______________________.  I also think ______________________.

The idea of each of the above "frames" is that the student will pull it up on a Word document from the shared folder and fill in the blanks, taking care not to erase any punctuation but erasing all blank lines.  Once it is filled in, the student can copy and paste it directly into his/her blog. 

Interestingly, we ended up having some students who preferred to fill in the frame on paper.  I actually leaned more toward this technique, myself, because once the students filled in their frames, they had to go in and type the entire thing into the blog - including correct capitalization and punctuation.  This gave the students the experience of correctly typing into their blog, and then they were able to see how nicely it looked once they published!  The blogs were much easier to read, and when we asked the kids about how they liked the frames, most of them said they thought it was much easier.  They also completed the frames in a much shorter time than the other blogs. 

My thought about why the students preferred the frames is because these particular students struggle so much with writing that they cannot focus on the skill of writing AND the content in any reasonable amount of time.  Giving them the outline of what the paragraph should look like and starting out their sentences gave them direction and focus so that the technical stuff was done, and they could focus on the content - all the while still giving them the experience of creating a coherent paragraph.

The idea of the frames is to start out the year giving your struggling and resistant writers a clearly written frame where students supply only the ideas necessary.  As the year moves forward, you can expect more and more to come from the student and provide less and less of the frame.  Paragraph frames can't be used once a quarter if we want to see our students write independently, however.  Using them once a week and across the curriculum will give our struggling and resistant writers consistent experience in writing that will only make them stronger in the end.

Have caution, however.  Proficient writers may resist the use of these frames.  If you want to use the frames for your strugglers, consider making a sheet with whatever frame(s) you want to use and distributing it to specific students or giving the entire class the "choice" to use them.  Then you can stop by individual desks or tables and ask or require specific students to give the assignment a shot using the frames. 

I was thrilled with the end results of our first blog using the paragraph frames this last week, and many of the students seemed almost relieved to use them.  I'd like to see this type of writing used more across the curriculum as we increase the rigor and expectations for reading and writing for all of our students - including our strugglers. 

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