Sunday, April 20, 2014

Here's a great article on the impact of the CCSS in one school. Courtesy of ASCD SmartBrief

How common core is changing writing in one La. school

Educators at a school in Louisiana say the implementation of the Common Core State Standards has enhanced their school's focus on writing -- not only in English, but across the curriculum, with a focus on narrative, opinion and informational writing. For example, younger students are learning to cite more evidence in their writing. "It's so much more in depth," teacher Denise Cooper said. "Now we are training them at (age) nine to write a claim and back it up with evidence."
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Hechinger Report, The
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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Here is the Harrisons' latest writing lesson of the month with some ideas for the end of school. Enjoy!

Hello, teaching and writing friends,
Our district's new "balanced calendar" has me enjoying Spring Break today instead of nearer to Easter, but I'm okay with that.  I have had time today to finalize last month's writing lesson, which I never posted due to some crazy life stuff that merged into my lane of life traffic.  I am almost finished with April's writing lesson too; it'll be another week before I'm ready to send out that one though.  Almost back to cruising speed here!  Thanks to all for the well wishes.
  • Writing Lesson of the Month: Primary Source Picture Books:  Between research essays for my class and National History Projects in social studies, my kids didn't need another formal assignment of writing, and so we tied our reading of excerpts from Undaunted Courage with this enjoyable project that challenges students to summarize like Stephen Ambrose did in his recounting of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.  Here is the direct link to the lesson:
  • Need a new Reading Workshop idea for the last few months of your school year?  I was so caught up in working out some of the kinks in my Common Core & Vocabulary Lessons ( that I didn't have a chance to use the Reading Notebook Bingo cards that my wife (Dena) published this last summer at our website until this January.  Dena uses them to inspire weekly entries in a special section of her students' notebooks; I chose to have my students select five of the twenty-five ideas to create a portfolio about their journey through the book they were reading.  After revision, the writing turned out really cool, and I have been posting sixth grade samples of it at a special Pinterest Board:  We do sell these Bingo Cards as a way to keep our website up & running and advertisement-free, and the price is really reasonable, especially since I am now doing the same project with my seventh graders and really don't have to change a thing.  
Keep teaching with both your heads and your hearts.  Write on!
--Corbett & Dena Harrison (
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Monday, March 24, 2014

Our writing gurus, Corbett and Dena Harriosn, are back and here is the latest lesson. Enjoy.

Hello, my teaching and writing colleagues,
I won't go into detail, but the last few months have been a bit over-whelming here in Northern Nevada. With health issues, in our family when it rains, it pours, and I have been faithfully writing my monthly lessons just not having time to format them for the webpage...and send them out.  I am behind, but I am now officially catching up.
Officially, this post is the lesson link that should have come out in February!  Next weekend, I will finally post the one that should have come out March 1st, and then I'll be on Spring Break to put everything back on schedule.  Thanks for your patience...if you even noticed!  :-)
  • February's Writer's Notebook Lesson: "Am I Normal or Nuts?" is a new writer's notebook task that my 8th graders love.  Enjoy their notebook pages and their weird sense of humors when you look at their examples.
  • February's Writing Lesson of the Month:  "Reader's Notebook Bingo Summaries"  I finally made time to make use of Dena's Reading Notebook Bingo Cards--which she finished way back in August--and I had a great first experience with my sixth graders last month.  Instead of posting their work and the lesson write-up at my website in the usual way, I chose to post my explanation and samples at Pinterest so that I could continue to add more samples as they come in.  Access that Pinterest board here:
And speaking of Pinterest, if you want a sneak preview of March's lesson--"Primary Source Picture Books"--which I will officially put on my website for next weekend, you can check out all my images and explanations at the Pinterest board I set up for this lesson:
I hope springtime is lifting your spirits; it's doing us wonders here in Nevada today.
--Corbett & Dena Harrison (
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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

It is that time of year again when teachers are preparing students for open response. Following are some guidelines from Writing Fix. Enjoy!


6 steps for drafting a constructed response:
  1. Re-read the passage at least once, then re-read the question carefully to decide all the parts it is asking for. Mark the key words in the question. The key words are the verb or verbs, any character names, and key literary terms.
  2. Rewrite the question in your own words to make sure that you know exactly what is being asked. Then, turn that question into a topic sentence for your answer.
  3. Go back to the passage and collect the needed information. Make sure you get the relevant details (if the question asks for 3 details, make sure you find 3 details).
  4. Organize the details into a logical order. Use a graphic organizer if that helps.
  5. Write your answer neatly.
  6. Re-read your answer to make sure you answered all
    the parts of the question.
    This resource was found on-line at the WritingFix website ( Visit WritingFix’s Reading in the Content Areas (RICA) section to find even more free teaching resources! 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Here is some great information on writing argumenttive/opinions - right in line with the common core! Enjoy! Courtesy of Choice Literacy!

The Big Fresh Newsletter from Choice Literacy
February 22, 2014 - Issue #371
Making Opinions Matter

Our opinions do not really blossom into fruition until we have expressed them to someone else.
                                                                 Mark Twain

On a recent Saturday I spent the afternoon with some teachers who constantly push my thinking and make me laugh: the perfect combination. After enjoying some ice cream in near zero degree weather, we headed to one of our favorite spots, the Cover to Cover Bookstore. We sort of take over the bookstore when we arrive, meandering into section after section of picture books to discover new treasures.
There was much talk about opinion writing. "Does anyone have a good picture book for teaching opinion writing?" was asked in one of the aisles. A long discussion ensued. What does opinion writing look like in young writers? When do we use it? What's the goal of an opinion piece? Are there strong mentors available for young writers? 
It wasn't long until I sat down to try to whittle my stack of seven picture books to three. I had assured myself I would only purchase three titles, but it wasn't going well. About that time, one of my friends asked, "What do you love about this one?" as she looked at the newest book by Jacqueline Woodson, This is a Rope. I looked at the book which had caught my attention because of its bright yellow cover, the idea that a rope might be significant enough to create a story, and the author. I glanced from the book to her and replied, "It's a great story." 
You really can't give an answer like that to a teacher, so I knew it wasn't enough. She was still looking at me and waiting. "Why?  What do you really like about it?" she persisted. I had picked it up and loved it, but I was having difficulty being specific enough. I knew she wanted to know more. She wanted me to reach deeper for a better, stronger response. Mostly, she wanted to know if I had seen something that she hadn't when I read it. 
Later that evening and still into the next day, her question stayed with me, "What do you really like about it?" The sincere interest made me move beyond my superficial response. I knew I loved Woodson's book as soon as I opened it and read the line, "This is the rope my grandmother skipped under the shade of a sweet-smelling pine."  Additionally, I was fascinated by the way the rope pulled story after story of her family into one narrative cord, tying generations together.  Despite all of these things, at the moment she asked I hadn't been able to sufficiently respond. 
It took me back to the opinion conversation we'd had in the stacks of our favorite bookstore. I wondered if kids sometimes felt like this when we were asking them to write their opinions. I realized mentor texts and examples of writing matter, but what matters most is writing about something that is genuinely important to us, to someone who genuinely cares about our opinion. The question was simple, but the expectation for response was not. These are the conversations I hope to have each day with the learners in my first-grade classroom. 
This week we look at opinion and argument writing. Plus more as always -- enjoy!
Cathy Mere
Contributor, Choice Literacy

Cathy Mere is currently teaching first grade in Hilliard (Ohio) City Schools. She is the author of  More Than Guided Reading. A trained literacy coach and former Reading Recovery teacher, Cathy leads professional development workshops and presents at state and national conferences. She blogs at Refine and Reflect.

Free for All

[For sneak peeks at our upcoming features, quotes and extra links,  follow Choice Literacy on Twitter: @ChoiceLiteracy or Facebook:
Shari Frost describes how shared writing can build argument skills, especially for students who are struggling:
The previous essay is a excerpt from Shari's new book, Rethinking Intervention: Supporting Struggling Readers and Writers in Grades 3-6:
Heather Rader writes about the power of Touchy Topics for Opinion/Argumentative Writing:
We share some of our favorite texts for teaching opinion writing on this Pinterest board:
A unit on opinion writing is one of the topics covered in Katie DiCesare's online course Designing Primary Writing Units with the Common Core in Mind which begins on March 1. The ten-day course includes three webcasts, personal response from Katie, a DVD, and many print and video resources. For details on registering, click on the link below:
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Thursday, February 13, 2014

As we transition into the CCSS genres, the use of mentor texts is crucial. Here are some great ideas from Choice Literacy. Enjoy!!

The Big Fresh Newsletter from Choice Literacy
February 8, 2014 - Issue #369
Keeping It Short

The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.
                                                                 Vince Lombardi

Last week I visited a sixth-grade class led by Justin Stygles in Norway, Maine. There was lots of marvelous teaching and learning going on, but what caught my eye was a short article about a football controversy. It was the week before the Super Bowl, and the New England Patriots wouldn't be in it because of their loss to the Denver Broncos. The hot topic from the New England loss a week earlier was a statement by their coach Bill Belichick, criticizing a Denver player and accusing him of an illegal hit.
I asked Justin about the article on the wall, as well as an argument anchor chart linked to the article. Justin said, "Oh, that was a fun one. I brought in three short texts the Monday after the game - one from the Boston newspaper, one from the Denver Post, and one from an impartial sports site." He went on to explain how he had the class read all three articles to weigh in on what the correct call should be. Was the play illegal? Was the call justified? The class reviewed video of the play and studied the NFL rulebook, and students brought in other articles to support or refute claims by classmates.
"It was especially fun hearing from students who weren't football fans," said Justin. "At first, they said they wouldn't be able to make a judgment call because they didn't know the game. I told them that put them in the best position to decide, since they would be truly impartial when they read the articles, the rule, and viewed the video." They found their status was elevated because their passion for football or prejudice for a specific team wouldn't get in the way. Students argued their cases in writing, publishing them to the class blog, and Justin tweeted them out to the feeds of Boston and Denver sports sites. It was a week after the assignment, and everyone was still buzzing about it.
Justin's creativity reminded me again of the power of short texts, and the talent teachers have for tapping into student interests to make literacy come alive. Short texts are a hot topic now, because they lend themselves to close reading and strategy work across the curriculum. They are our focus this week - enjoy!
Brenda Power
Founder, Choice Literacy

Free for All

[For sneak peeks at our upcoming features, quotes and extra links,  follow Choice Literacy on Twitter: @ChoiceLiteracy or Facebook:
Here are three features from the archives with strategies for keeping it short.
Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan share their Favorite Short Mentor Texts for Demonstration Lessons:
Who says units of study have to be long? Franki Sibberson has ideas for short units that impart big lessons to students:
In this video quick take, Katie Doherty explains why she finds a timer helpful in her middle school writing workshop for keeping students focused and productive:

The latest book flight from the LitforKids blog is on best friends, with suggestions for texts from preschool through adult readers on the topic:

Katie DiCesare's online course Designing Primary Writing Units with the Common Core in Mind begins early next month. The ten-day course includes three webcasts, personal response from Katie, a DVD, and many print and video resources. For details on registering, click on the link below:

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