Thursday, August 29, 2013

August 30 Crumble - Daily writing ideas for ALL contents

Writing is tricky to weave into some content areas, but it can and should be done as often as possible.  While my previous blog on Reaching Social Students discussed why we should allow students to discuss to process content, another of Project CRISS's Principles and Philosophies is writing for the use of processing content.  Both target different learning styles but are beneficial for all learners.  What writing does that discussion does not is allows an individual to reflect upon himself without the distraction of others' thoughts in the middle of a reflection.  "If we can write about content and explain what we are learning, we can claim knowledge as our own" (Santa, et. al, 2012).

And any teacher can use it.  Our job is to decide how and how often.  Just like with reading, sports, or music - daily practice makes writing a habitual activity.  Throwing it in on a weekly basis is definitely a good start, but what if you required writing daily?  So instead of boring you with theory and pedagogy, I've decided to give you some ideas and choices so you can decide how writing would work best for you:
  • Daily writing prompts (could be used as bellringers).  For science, life skills, PE, woodshop, computers, math, and other classes where physical action is required at times, consider having students write out their best idea of how they think they will accomplish a task, how they accomplished a task, or how they think they did on the accomplishment on the task.  Ask students to use a few of the Tier 3 words (content area words) that you've been introducing as a bonus!
  • Free writes.  During a lab, lesson, lecture, video, reading assignment, or other academic activity, stop about every six to eight minutes (1 minute per grade level) and ask students to write down anything that comes to mind about what they're doing (a question, prediction, inference, idea, connection, etc.).  They can use their class notebook, a sheet of paper to turn in, sticky notes, or desk white boards (these are always fun).  Change it up each time so they don't get bored with it, but the activity is the same.  Give students a 2-3 minute pause to write.  Decide whether you'll let them share with a partner or just move on.  This acts as a reset button for those who are starting to zone off, and it also allows for some processing time for those who need to catch up or who have questions.  Demonstrate this for your students as you're doing it so they understand that you truly are leaving it up to them!
  • Writing templates.  For your struggling writers who can barely get words out of their mouths, let alone produce anything in the form of a complete sentence in writing - use a writing template or paragraph frame for any writing activity!  I used a previous blog to discuss paragraph frames, and wowza!  What a difference it made in the writing of some of our students!  You don't want to give them a template forever, but you do want them to get into the habit of writing in a comprehensible way, so start out with a few templates.  An example of a writing template would be, "I don't understand why . . . because . . . "  or "I can really relate to . . . because . . . "  Giving students four to five templates from which to choose keeps their options open but also takes the stress out of forming understandable thoughts.  These work really nicely as exit slips.  And, again, after a PE activity, math lesson, art lesson, literature lesson - there is no limit here, friends!
  • Double entry reflective journals. Although not meant to necessarily be a daily activity, I believe this is one of my favorite of all of the CRISS strategies. To build some background on the topic or unit you're about to introduce, start your students off with a set of questions, quotations, thoughts, problems, etc.  Have them write their thoughts about each one.  Students can write questions, answers, inferences, predictions, reflections, or discuss anxieties about the content.  Then you teach the lesson or unit.  In a third column, have students go back to the same sheet and write their new thoughts about the information they were given before learning took place.  To expand on this even further, have them compare their thoughts before and after learning and write why they think their thoughts changed!  Here is an example of a double entry reflective journal.  If you click on it, it should enlarge well enough for you to see that the student reflected upon who he thought Edgar Allan Poe was after hearing about some of his writing and then who Poe really was after watching a documentary on Poe's life.
  • Dialogue journals.  These work similarly to the free-write above but with the added component of having a written discussion with a partner.  As a teacher I can use this as part of the free-write process if I choose.  Once students write their free-write, they can switch papers, read what their partner has written, and then respond.  Some care should be taken to teach students how to respond.  You might consider giving students some options such as: "I agree because . . . " "I understand what you mean when . . . " "I see what you're saying, but in my opinion . . . "
  • Observation entries.  These are so much fun and can be used anywhere!  Have students observe anything and write about it.  Period.  What you did to find a research topic, how you play an F on a clarinet, how you work together in groups, how to properly use hand tools . . . anything!  When I went to the IRC Conference back in March, observation was such a key tool in so many of the ideas presented.  Friends, we are the models for our students - have them watch you do what you do best and then have them write about it!
  • Perspective entries.  Have students write about what they're learning, but have them write from a perspective other than a student sitting in your class. 
You can't tell me that there isn't one writing idea above that you'd can't use in your classroom this week.  Writing (as you can see) is a bit of a passion for me, and the thought that our students could potentially be doing it eight periods a day makes me giddy!  It would be like a basketball coach watching students practice basketball drills for ten minutes every period while reviewing math concepts before getting down and dirty with a new lesson in algebra!  Can you imagine how much better writers our students would be if we had them writing more often?  Just consider it this week.  Your content areas are so important, and adding a writing component would be like plugging in another tangible way for you to assess how well your students are internalizing what you consider to be important.

Stay cool!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

August 23 CRISS Crumble - Choose Your Words Carefully

Welcome back, friends! This week has been one of adjustment for both students and staff as we move into another year of change, but I have already begun to see glimpses of normalcy throughout the day. By the end of next week, this place will be radiating with the routine hum of learning, and things will settle down.

So what is on the plate for our first Crumble, you ask?  Vocabulary is my focus for our students this year. Every year at the end of the year when we take a look at scores, we shake our heads and say, "I wish there was something more we can do for these kids to help build their vocabularies." But then we leave, hoping something will miraculously come to us (perhaps in a vision induced by overexposure to the sun) over the summer, and by the time we are back into the routine of things here at school in the fall, that wish is forgotten, only to be dredged up again in May. Please tell me that I'm not the only nerd who has this wish every year AND who thinks about it periodically over the summer!

A large percentage of our student population lacks basic academic vocabulary – plain and simple. A few years back I had an eighth grade student (formerly bilingual, but transitioned in fourth grade) whose social studies teacher reported that he "just didn't care" and refused to do the work. After meeting with this student a few times and just listening to him speak, it dawned on me how often I had to either repeat what I said to him or reword entire sentences until he understood what I had said or asked. If I had to do this with him one-on-one, imagine how he felt in a class filled with thirty students and a teacher who couldn't monitor his comprehension every second! So I asked the teacher to reflect upon her presentation style. How did she speak to the students? Her response was, "As adults." But my real question is - what kind of adults? Did she speak to them as if they were all adults who had a rich literate background like she did as a child? Or did she speak to them as if she herself had a rich literate background, but with an understanding that her students may need clarification on basic academic conversations due to lack of vocabulary? Her response was simply raised eyebrows and an, "Ohhhhhhh! Aha!"

To break it down for you, there are three tiers of vocabulary (and many definitions of these tiers, depending on who you ask):
  • Tier 1 – basic vocabulary and acquired through every day speech
  • Tier 2 – high frequency, academic / multiple-meaning words that appear across all types of text
  • Tier 3 – low frequency, domain-specific / content-specific words often termed “vocabulary words” in content areas
Most of our kiddos have a good handle on how to speak to each other using Tier 1 vocabulary (some a little too much!). And we are doing a pretty decent job of exposing them to Tier 3 - but we assume that they can absorb what we are saying in front of our classroom using our Tier 2 words. This is not always the case. Words that we take for granted are being thrown out at our students without even realizing the damage we could be doing by not supporting our own rich use of vocabulary. In this paragraph alone there are probably a dozen or more words that have multiple meanings and would confuse even some of our hardest working strugglers. Words like handle, decent, exposing, assume, absorb, granted, and rich all have double meanings and make the heads of our English language learners spin like tops! And heaven forbid you use an idiomatic phrase (such as make your head spin) with them! They'd go off the deep end for sure. I really need to stop.

The point is, friends, that we need to choose our words carefully. Am I saying that we need to simplify how we say things for our students and stay away from using words that may challenge our kiddos? Heavens, no! In fact, I encourage the use of fancy words! But know that the more you use them, the more you will need to rephrase, check for understanding, illustrate, model, and allow for processing before you move on.

So, create a quiz with words in parenthesis near tough Tier 2 words where you think a student might trip up. Know that your text books are not only full of your content-area vocabulary, but they are also very heavily loaded with Tier 2 words that may confuse your students as well. Teaching Tier 2 words as vocabulary doesn't necessarily make sense in a science or social studies class, but don't assume that your kiddos are going to be able to understand the text book without a lot of support. Know that part of the job that I do at school is to help you service these students, not just in their language arts classes, but across the curriculum, and I am certainly willing to do so. And enjoy reflecting on your own vocabularies over the next week, because I know you will.

Have a fabulous first weekend of the school year.  You deserve it!

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Apothecary - book chat

Now that I am done with my graduate work, I am going to get back to filling out book chat forms so that I have a stash of books I can share with students.  I just finished a book this morning, so here goes!

Download my book chat on The Apothecary by Maile Maloy.

Book Title

The Apothecary

Book Author

Maile Meloy

Illustrations?  Illustrator

Ian Schoenherr


Fantasy / historical fiction

If you read a narrative (story)
Book Summary:
Janie    wanted   to help Benjamin save his father , but she was way over her head when she realized that he was involved in an international, magical scheme to stop the Soviets from testing a nuclear bomb north of Norway.  So she went ahead and helped him, discovering secrets about the world that she thought were only fantasy (things like humans turning into birds and paint that paints walls on its own).   Then she is captured, but she manages to escape – almost losing her life in the process.  In the end Benjamin’s dad gives her a potion that erases her memory, and the only recollection she has of the entire three weeks is a diary that she kept while on the adventure.
One quotation that meant something to you.  Why?

p. 25 starting with “Mr. Burrows”.  I chose this passage because it was the single act of defiance on Benjamin’s part that showed the reader immediately what kind of kid he was.  Although it almost gives the reader an inadequate impression.  Benjamin felt so passionate about NOT participating in the bomb drill because he knew from experience that a table would not save them from destruction if a real bomb hit.

If you read an expository book (informational)
What was the main subject of the book?

Click here to enter text.

What were some of the main ideas (categories) of the book?

Click here to enter text.

All books
Why did you choose to read this book?

It was a part of the Battle of the Books.

I would recommend this book to students
who like . . .

I would recommend this book to kids or adults who like fantasy and adventure.  It wasn’t completely over the top, and yet it had a good hint of science and fantasy along with some great historical stuff.  I thought it was a great balance.  I DO think, however, that a little background knowledge on the whole Soviet Union situation might be helpful, however.