Monday, September 26, 2016

Here are some great resources on making formative assessments work for you. The article Treasures or Trash speaks specifically to time management in writing. Great information. Courtesy of Choice Literacy!

The Big Fresh Newsletter from Choice Literacy
t September 17, 2016 - Issue #519
If you are having trouble reading this newsletter, click here for a Web-based version.
Treasures or Trash

You can either be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure. It all depends on how you view your life.

                                                                       Paulo Coelho

I could almost hear the whispers coming from my school bag:
“Formative assessments should drive instruction.”
“If we took time to write, you should take time to read.”
“What’s tomorrow’s minilesson? Which students will you meet with in small group…and why? Who needs the first conference?”
I glanced at the clock. 8:00 pm. If I set the timer for 30 minutes, I could still catch half of Antiques Roadshow. “Okay, let’s do this,” I answered the whispers from my school bag.
As usual, just getting started was the worst part of the work. Once I began reading through my students’ opinion quick-writes, one glaringly obvious pattern emerged. Although most every student clearly expressed their opinion in the lead, hardly any of them were using a hook to grab their reader’s attention before they stated their opinion. Obviously, they needed more practice. When I thought back on the opinion articles I’d shared as our mentor texts, I identified five different kinds of hooks:
Ask a question to get the reader thinking.
Write the opinion in a creative way.
Believe me because I’m an expert/have experience.
Give information about the topic.
Tell both sides before you tell your opinion.
When I got to school the next morning, I could quickly make a mini anchor chart for each type to hang around the room. I would sort the students into mixed-ability small groups, and we would make our practice more like a game. I would give them an opinion and a short amount of time to work together, and we’d see if we could come up with each of the different types of hooks for each opinion.
When the timer went off at 8:30, I had silenced all of the voices coming from my school bag, and I had a plan of action for writing workshop the next day.
I hate to break it to you, but this isn’t really about teaching opinion writing. This is about time balance and management, the importance of using formative assessments to drive instruction, and trusting ourselves as professionals to create effective lessons and activities on the fly – lessons and activities that meet the specific needs of our own unique learners.
My students had spent more than half an hour completing an opinion quick-write to show me what they were doing well and what they needed more work on. I owed it to them to spend at least a half hour looking over that work and designing instructional moves around it.
I set a timer, forcing myself to be focused and efficient in my work. I didn’t spend my entire evening on schoolwork, and I made sure I had a reward waiting at the end of the 30 minutes.
I gave myself permission to save some of the preparation for this activity for the next morning when I got to school. The posters, the groups, and the list of opinions I would use as prompts could all wait.
Once I found a pattern of need in their work, I wasted no time wondering why they couldn’t do something I’d already taught repeatedly. I also didn’t spend any time assigning blame to myself for not having taught this skill better in the first place. I found the need and went right to work.
In less than 15 minutes, I designed a fun activity that would provide repeated supported practice of a weak skill. Fun is a key word to me – repeated practice should feel more like play than work. Supported is also a key word. I made mixed-ability groups so that my strongest writers could help me in supporting the writers who needed the most practice in this skill.
You can imagine the sigh of satisfaction I gave as I sank back into my pillow and waited to find out if the object on Antiques Roadshow would be trash or treasure. And I didn’t use a single minute of my precious half hour searching on Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers for a cute activity that might or might not work.
This week we look at smart and efficient assessments to use in the midst of teaching. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Mary Lee Hahn
Contributor, Choice Literacy

Mary Lee Hahn has been teaching 4th or 5th graders for more than 20 years. She is the author of Reconsidering Read-Aloud (Stenhouse Publishers). Mary Lee and her colleague in the Dublin City Schools, Franki Sibberson, blog about their reading lives at A Year of Reading.
Free for All
[For sneak peeks at our upcoming features, quotes and extra links,  follow Choice Literacy on Twitter: @ChoiceLiteracy or Facebook: or Pinterest:]    

Katharine Hale has moved much of her reading response to digital boards, which are also useful tools for formative assessment:

Michelle Kelly has a unique problem: what to do with readers who already exceed the standard. She considers alternative assessments for her gifted students:

Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan share how a pre-assessment question to young readers can shape observations, conversations, and reflection for the entire workshop:

Cathy Mere tackles a crucial issue: How soon is too soon to assess? She provides a series of  questions teachers can ask themselves as they get to know students to gauge incoming skills:


Sunday, September 18, 2016

This may seem like an odd place for this. However, it deals with students' acquisition of language. Although it is focused on ELLs and SELs, I am finding in my visits, many "English Speaking" students are coming to school with delayed language. This is a free webinar. It is on October 3, 2016. Enjoy. Courtesy of ASCD SmartBrief.

FREE Webinar on cracking the code of academic language
How can we expect our ELLs and SELs to deliver adequate growth without first understanding the "language of school"? Join this all-star panel discussion of the very best practices for cultivating academic language mastery: Jeff Zwiers on conversational discourse, David & Yvonne Freeman on grammar, Margarita Calderón on vocabulary, Ivannia Soto on culture. Learn more!Bookmark and Share

Monday, September 12, 2016

Here is another update from the Corbetts, as well as a link to their home page. Enjoy!

Thank you, writing teachers, for establishing a writer's notebook routine this September!  We love that we're hearing from so many of you about your immediate successes!
Let's keep the festivities going this September!
Happy rest of the weekend!
--Corbett (& Dena) Harrison
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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Here is a post from Corbett and Dena Harrison on starting a writer's notebook routine. It is great!! Enjoy!

Join me, Dena, and thousands of other educators this year in establishing a writer's notebook routine with your student writers this year.  The beginning of each school year is the most appropriate time to do this, so we designate September as Writer's Notebook Month every year now.
New to Writer's Notebooks?
  • Read our philosophy and enjoy our complimentary Writer's Notebook Resources at Always Write!
  • Build a Sacred Writing Time Routine -- five, ten, or fifteen minutes a day can completely change your students' attitudes about the act of writing--especially if you participate too!

Seasoned Writer's Notebook Teachers?
  • Have your students create original writer's notebook metaphors and share your best with us!
  • Celebrate words while teaching your students interesting new written structures to add to their notebooks.
  • Assign students the responsibility of creating SWT slides for the rest of the class.  (Hint: they love to create the slide of the day for their own birthdays!)
Why do this?  Every year, most of us come back with great ideas to make things different this year for our students, but the beginning of the year chaos often stifles those changes.  This year...let September be your month to do something different and/or brand new with your writing routine, and if you commit to the idea for ten minutes every day for a month, you will see a different attitude about writing from your scholars.
Have a great and safe Labor Day Holiday!
--Corbett (& Dena) Harrison -- Always Write
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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Here is an update from Corbett Harrison. It contains some great information for teachers on teaching writing...especially the resources he used during a recent workshops in Texas. Thank you, Corbitt. Readers - Enjoy!

Summer is coming to a close...sigh...
I am officially home after speaking and facilitating workshops at two Texas literacy workshops.  Thank you to both Regions 9 and 15 for bringing me in to speak to your wonderful, eager teachers.  The handouts for all four days' worth of sessions are still at my website's homepage (, and they will be there until the end of this month.  I designed them to be--more or less--self-navigating as you explore the topics we covered and the resources I shared to complement those topics.  Every link in the online documents will take you to a website where additional support/ideas/sample work can be explored.  And in case you're in a hurry, I'll share with you the five most popular topics/lessons we explored in Texas:
NEWS!  Coming the first week of August!
A brand new lesson of the month, AS WELL AS complimentary access to the introductory materials for our two new products for this summer:
  • Love your Language! PowerPoint slides: 50 interactive slides that'll get your students laughing and wanting to pay more attention to the words that surround them and the authors they might explore as readers.
  • Sophisticated Sentences mini-lessons: a series of small-group language challenges that will teach your students skills of both SENTENCE FLUENCY and CONVENTIONS! 
  • If you're a member of the Lucky 7, these two resources will be sent to you automatically!

NEWS! Coming in mid-September!
Those of you who already own our 10 Vocabulary & Writing Lessons will receive two bonus lessons in PPT format:  
  • Vocabulary-inspired "Fake Phone Apps"
  • Vocabulary-inspired "Fake Movie Posters"
  • If you're a member of the Lucky 7, these two lesson updates will be sent to you automatically!  
--Corbett Harrison
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Saturday, January 2, 2016

Sunday Shout Out (on a snowy Monday in Nevada) from Corbett & Dina Harrison...some great resources.

Nevada isn't just the desert around Las Vegas; here on the northern end of the state, we sometimes get snow days, and today was one of those days!  I meant to post a Sunday Shout Out yesterday, but I ran out of time, so perhaps it's fate that I got the morning off to prepare for that.
Three Vocabulary Shout-outs! This Sunday shout out is for three teachers who are using our website's VOCABULARY COLLECTING RESOURCES to inspire meaningful short pieces of clever writing centered around good tier-2 vocabulary your students find in their own reading.  We have created 10 different writing lessons, which can be freely previewed HERE at our new Teachers Pay Teachers store.  Gone are the days (I hope) that we simply say, "Put your vocabulary words into original sentences" without giving more context or a higher expectation of those sentences; our 10 vocabulary & writing activities encourage poetic concepts, contextual thinking, grammatical knowledge, and etymology.
A Sacred Writing Time Reminder:  Our 366 Sacred Writing Time Slides have taken the lead as our best-selling product this past year.  Thanks to all of you who use them and see their value.  If you have not ever tried Sacred Writing Time, we offer the entire January Set of SWT Slides to freely download at our new Teachers Pay Teachers store.  Try them for a month with your students.  We think you'll be impressed with the way your students react to them!
Thanks and have a great final week before Winter Holidays!
--Corbett (& Dena Harrison),  Always Write Website
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