Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jay M.S., Ocotober 27, 2009 Visits

Teacher:  Diane M.

Content:  Language Arts

Grade: 5th

Literature Source: All the Places to Love by Patricia Maclachlan and Michael Wimmer

Activity:  Diane began the period by asking each student to close their eyes and visualize their favorite place.  Students then reported out and Diane compiled a list on a large post it on the front board.  Next Diane introduced the book, All the Places to Love (Awesome Book), and asked them to predict the content of the story from the pictures on the cover.  This was followed by asking students to listen to the story and think about characters, description of places, and the story.  Following the read aloud, students were asked how the story made the students feel.  This was one of the most powerful sections of the lesson.  As students explained how they felt, Diane asked clarifying questions and probed to establish the type of connections they made: test to test, test to self, or text to world.  Students made all three types.

This was followed by a pair/share format where students were asked to describe activities at their special places - similar to the format used in the book. During this activity, the students were: timed, given a heads up at the half way point so they could switch partners, and then asked to report out what their partner said.  The students transferred the descriptive format of the book to their conversations and remained highly engaged, reporting out their partner's conversation.

Diane brought this all together when she presented a web format for her students to use, tying together their thoughts and new structure from the book - providing them with a place to start.

AHA: seamless transitions between real reader response (audience) and writers crafting their thoughts is powerful and embeds the new information into students' schema.

Jay M. S., October 27, 2009 Visits

Teacher: Lynn Ouelette
Content: Language Arts

Grade: 8th

Focus: 5 Paragraph Essay

Activity:  The lesson I observed today was part of a unit.  Lynn's students are taught a 5 paragraph essay as part of the district curriculum.  As part of the brainstorming, students created, shared, and then e-mailed them to Lynn.  Lynn entered them into Wordle.

Wordle - Beautiful Word Clouds

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the ...
After examining the word clouds, Lynn modeled how to generate statements from the topics.  Next, students each generated 8 statements and e-mailed them to the teacher who compiled a list of statements for the students.  

 Today, Lynn opened the period by reviewing the process and the 5 paragraph essay graphic organizer in a keynote presentation.  Each student has a copy of the graphic organizer on their individual laptop.  Students are asked to choose a thesis statement and search online for information relevant to their statement.  Before beginning their searches, Lynn puts up a slide and explains:
  • use of stickies for note taking,
  • citations from the web
  • appropriate note taking format - no paraphrasing
As the class continues, Lynn moves around the room supporting students with their searches, asking clarifying questions.  As I moved around the room, I am impressed by the individual approach each student uses to locate information.

The lesson ends with the students exporting the stickies to a text document and e-mailing to the teacher along with any information on difficulties with the process today.

Purposeful Language:
  • so what are you thinking?
  • are you thinking positive or negative?
  • that's kind of broad
  • how can you narrow it?
  • prior knowledge
Aha! Technology and literacy are a powerful combination when they are combined and supported with meta-cognitive strategies modeled by the teacher and others.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jay M.S., Ocotober 27, 2009 Visits

Teacher: Nancy G.

Content: Language Arts

Grade: 7th

Focus: writing showing sentences

Literature Source: teacher made materials   

Activity:  Nancy began the lesson with a review of a discussion that took place on Friday where students found sentences that showed, not told.  They were asked to write down two ways that they could show with their sentences.  Next, students moved to pair where each person was asked to tell the other one way to write showing sentences.  Students then shared what their partner taught them about writing showing sentences as Nancy created a list on the board and asked clarifying questions, generalizing and providing examples for students to think about.  Then, students wrote showing sentences on the board for other students to respond to and make suggestions.  Writers had to be able to defend their sentences as showing sentences.  Nancy followed this by a paragraph about a haunted mansion (Mrs. G.'s House).  As students put their heads on their desks with eyes closed visualizing, Nancy continued the narrative, building a air of expectancy as she described students approaching the mansion. This was followed with students writing descriptive sentences on sentence strips - silently and independently. Once the students had completed writing, they shared their sentences and identified the technique they had used for writing descriptive sentences.  What engagement and enthusiasm - creating a real audience for real writers! 
Unknown to students, tomorrow they will play writing musical chairs.  Students move to designated desks and when the music stops, they write the next sentence.  On Friday, the teacher dressed as a Halloween "creature" will share the stories with the class.

Students responded well to this format - not being overwhelmed by the length of the project.

Purposeful Language:
  • what happens when you use too many adjectives?
  • can you give me an examples?
  • what happens when we change the word to...?
  • what do you see?
  • how can you do that?
Aha!  Regardless of the age, we love to hear stories and as authors we love to have our creations appreciated.  Every chance we create as educators help our students grow and engage!

Jay M. S. October 27, 2009 Visit

Teacher: Susan S.
Content: Language Arts
Grade: 5th

Focus: Ideas from an integrated unit

Literature Source: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatblls, weather unit in science and movie

Activity: This lesson is the culmination of an integrated unit combining fiction and nonfiction.  Susan began by comparing the movie and the book.  Susan shared her thinking about why she chose this assignment - to find two verbs that were alike as a name for a town, Chew and Swallow, and follow the theme of the town's name.  Next the teacher modeled how to come up with a pair of related action words and asked for examples from the students.  Students gave good examples, i.e. open and close, see and do, hit and run, sing and dance, etc. Susan then moved to explain to students how to use the title and create a problem for the story.  Lists of related verbs were displayed for students to choose from.  Graphic organizers for mapping a plan were passed out to students.  Susan moved around the room providing support where needed.

In about 20 minutes, I began to move around the room observing the students' work.  Susan had passed out a blank page with Brainstorm on the top and directions for writing down all related ideas followed by a simple example. What I saw was impressive.  The variety spoke volumes.  Some students drew pictures, some made lists, others drew charts with columns and labels, while others had partial sentences.  By the time 30 minutes had elapsed, everyone was writing - including Susan.

Purposeful Language:
  • my thinking was
  • here is the connection I made
  • what was the title?  why?
  • what do you think?
  • can you think of any? 
Aha!  When engaging students with information in a variety of ways, they make connections that are rich - text to text (weather unit, book) - text to world (movie) - and text to self (their "take" on all of this) and can easily be accessed for writing.  What better way to integrate all of this information in a meaningful way?

Jay M.S., Ocotober 27, 2009 Visits

Teacher: Judi R.
Content: Language Arts
Grade: 7th, Special Education

Focus: writing a news article with appropriate voice to be used as a keynote presentation to be broadcast in the classroom

Literature Source: Paranoid Park by Blake Nelson, examples of newspaper articles

Activity:  Judi and student reviewed the book and by using a graphic organizer to identify the story line and  key details.  Next, they reviewed newspaper articles and talked about what the audience wanted and what information was included in the article.  Then she discussed his reader response to the book as compared to the article. Finally, they returned to his writing (a retelling of the story) and began the revision.  Working through the text, Judi supported his thinking with questions - Do we know this?  - Do we need to add this?   This is an ongoing process done on the computer.  The student remains highly engaged.

Purposeful Language:
  • what is the purpose of the headline?
  • how does it make you feel?
  • what is the mystery involved?
  • hook the reader
  • how much information do they need?
  • infer the feelings of the main character
AHA!  As teachers and students move into drafting a piece, it is increasingly difficult to separate ideas and organization.  Moving between the two, is the most effective for developing writers- but sometimes challenging for teachers, especially those of us with large classrooms.

Jay MS Visits, October 26, 2009

Teacher: Colleen S.
Content: Language Arts
Grade: 6th
Focus: Selecting a method of generating ideas for writing.

Idea Source: Halloween (personal connections)

Activity: This is a culmination of several lessons.  Students are being presented with several methods of probing ideas to write.  The class has looked at brainstorming and free writing.  Today they will look at clustering.   The teacher modeled a cluster using the five senses - Halloween night. 
The class shared the activity and offered suggestions.  Teacher asked why?  Looking for connections as a rationale.  Colleen cautioned not to be too descriptive! YEAH! Keep it real:)

The students were very involved, enthusiastic, and shared equally.  Student/teacher reaction to phrases produced provided a real, instant audience.  Students responded well to this.

After exploring the 5 senses, Colleen clarified a sotry needs an idea or a problem - briefly.  She accepted several ideas, i.e. creepy house with old man. 

Next, as the class reviewed each strategy for ideas, Colleen recorded terms and guidelines on a chart Pre-Writing Ideas.  Class generated definitions. 

Students then tried out clustering and were asked to choose what strategy worked best for them.

To bring the lesson to closure, Colleen modeled her thinking around using a cluster for writing a story - her favorite - urging them to always write for meaning and use this just to get their thoughts flowing.
She explained to the class that topic might determine the strategy.  Students will be expected to choose one strategy to start on their writing later this week.

Students ended the lesson by sharing webs at their tables.  They were very excited about the process and gave positive feedback.  Colleen followed up by assuring students this is one way good writers get ideas.
Purposeful Language:  
  • perspective
  • okay to ... so you might find me trying out some language I might use later
  • audience - who are you writing for?  what do they need to know?
  • might write more out so don't loose in mind- monitoring
  • for a good story, I need something to happen
  • excellent conversation around what we need to provide for readers in order to engage them
  • students responded with connections as readers

AHA!  - The reading-writing connection supports writers when developing what Graves calls, "the other self."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

October 26 and 27 at Jay Middle School

Donald Murray wrote:

 " The writer should not follow rules, but follow language towards meaning, 
always seek to understand what is appearing on the page,
to see it clearly,
to evaluate it clearly, 
for clear thinking will produce clear writing."

Taken from A Writer Teaches Writing

Tomorrow and Tuesday I will be visiting teachers' classrooms at Jay Middle School as they model trait 1 - Ideas.  As I reflect on what we will talk about, I keep running Murray's quote through my head. 

6+1 does offer us the opportunity as teachers to share the writer's craft with our students always moving towards clarity of thought for our readers.

I know that our conversations tomorrow will be rich and the teachers and students will teach me a great deal.

Stay tuned.  We will be posting lesson summaries right here for everyone to share and comment about.

See you soon - Darlene

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reflections on October 8 Meeting at Jay M.S.

We had a great meeting on the 8th. As I reflected on our discussion, several points became clear for me.

  1. When we are thinking about ideas and/or content as the foundational trait, it requires a different approach at the middle school than at the the primary school level.  Beginning writers - I think even intermediate - focus on coming up with ideas they are familiar enough with in order to write about them.  While this applies to the middle school student, their role is extended by the length of the writing - they have now reached fluency and should be proficient - as well as the varied topics - many assigned through content areas - and genres.  Younger students more often than not deal with narrative accounts of every day happenings.  Whereas middle school students are entering the world of nonfiction and the variety of genres that presents - i.e. here in Maine, persuasive.  While we discussed the challenges students at this level are faced with, we also covered the challenges the teacher is presented with frontloading the topic with enough background information for students to form cohesive ideas/content - and at the same time teaching students a new genre. From this point of view, it is obvious that genre and content are tied together tightly throughout a piece at this level, consequently, giving attention to content throughout the writing process piece. 
  2.  As our discussion moved out from this point, we thought about the cognitive strategies required for this type of writing/composing.  Some of them are higher level and need to be taught directly.  This is time consuming and requires an explicit approach from the teacher using - modeling, scaffolding small group practice, and then individual practice (Vygotzky's ZPD).  For this group of teachers (and students), this will be an easy transition.  Their district has participated in literacy work for 5 years now, first focusing on reading comprehension.  Colleen Shink, one of our 5/6 language arts teachers, made this link for us.  We were all excited about this since, for us, it was an extension of the reading/writing link we had witnessed at the lower grades and could build on up through the grades.
  3. Next, we examined our own processing when writing.  As always, many of us were hesitant to share.  The conversation was fascinating.  Every person present discussed a different approach - some more comfortable with writing than others.  The conclusion we came to, was kids need the same variety as well - BUT - how do we provide structure, sharing, and accountablitity for all.  We revisited our discussion about the Vygotzky and talked about how we could use pair share, pair square, etc.  to allow each person to share their method of composing.  This seemed workable.  We re-emphasized the importance of having a structure for the discussions to take place as well as a format for them to follow when reporting out - accountability in other words.  One way we decided to do this was with timing sharing sessions - each partner has so much time to talk to the other partner - and then having each partner summarize the other partner's explanation.  
We will be exploring these ideas and more during the first coaching visits on October  26 and 27.

Please stay tuned.  We will be posting lessons and learnings from the classrooms.

See you then, Darlene

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Meeting on October 8, at Jay Middle School - Topic: Ideas

We will be meeting on Thursday at Jay Middle School to begin to explore the ideas trait.  The importance of ideas is addressed by Vicki Spandel in Creating Writers Through 6 Trait Writing,  when she writes,

"Ideas: The Heart of it All -- Getting a Mindset
 Ideas are the heart of the writer's message--which may take any of    
 several forms: story, argumenet, informational summary and so on.     All other traits take their cue from this foundational trait and work in harmony to esnure that the message from writer to reader is clear  and intriguing."

As we can see from the quote, this trait encompasses more than just coming up with ideas and helps teachers refocus on all that is involved with what Spandel calls a "foundational trait."  On Thursday, we will begin a discussion about where this trait is taught in the writing process as well as how much time should be delegated to this trait.

We will  have a great discussion as always and we will keep you posted.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Free Resource from One of Our Readers


Recently one of our readers, David, posted this comment.

Hi, we are really keen to get students using Zazew http://www.zazew.com for collaborative writing projects. Students can write and propose a project, invite others to join who can apply for project parts and feedback and critique each others work. Finished projects can be published as ebooks and saved on your own computer as well as distributed/shared on the site. Zazew is FREE to use.

Thanks for the tip  David.

I went to the website and it looks teacher and student friendly.  It would be useful in upper middle and high school classrooms.  Teachers need to take some time to preview the site and I suggest beginning with a project restricted to viewing within the classroom - especially for those schools where there are guidelines limiting exposure on the internet.

David, how about telling us where you teach and what grade levels.  More specifics on how you use this in your classroom would be helpful to us all.