Saturday, November 28, 2009

Planned Visit to Jay M.s. on December 4, 2009

   This Friday, December 4, 2009, I will spend the morning at Jay M. S., meeting with teachers and brainstorming possibilities for teaching traits. We will be focusing on Organization. Here are some thoughts for our upcoming meetings.

   Organization presents a major challenge for teachers because curriculums usually present various writing genres in a set sequence. Unfortunately, hot topics do not always coincide with the scheduled sequence or lend themselves to the predetermined topic.
   Meshing the organization with the idea in a meaningful manner is key and challenging because: "The organization enhances and showcases the central idea or theme. The order, structure, or presentation of information is compelling and moves the reader through the text." 6 + 1 Scoring Guide.

   Comments to address organization when conferencing might be:

Strong: "The way you laid out all the information so logically, with a strong beginning, middle, and ending made this piece a pleasure to read."
Developing:" You have a beginning, a middle, and ending -- that's a great start. Now, let's work on your organization and make it even stronger."
Not Yet: "I'm not sure how all these details fit together. Let's work on putting them in an order that makes sense on your next draft."

   I will be posting comments and lesson demonstrations as they happen over the next week. Stay tuned! Some great ideas are on the way:)

Writing with 6+1 Traits at Mt. Blue High School

During an early release day at Mt. Blue High School, December 2, staff will be looking at how to formulate effective, meaningful R.A.F.T.S. for students across the content areas.  R.A.F.T.S. stands for:
Strong Verb
6 + 1 Traits has added the Strong Verb piece because so many writing assignments using this format lack specificity and have become a fancy way of asking a student to regurgitate the facts.  The strong verb component demands the students use their word choice and voice to create a more specific outcome.  If used well by the teacher, it demands students develop a strategic way of writing to address the various social registers they will confront in real life.  Below is a condensed list of strong verbs I think middle and high school teachers would find useful.  I have tried to make them realistic and higher level.  This is just a starting point.

The trick, is pairing the best verb with the best format.  Following is a shortened list of formats for middle and upper grades.  It is not comprehensive but I have found the items on this list effective.  In my opinion, it keeps the format "real" and easier for most kids to access.

So what does this look like when combined?

Here is an example, 
Adapted from: Writing Prompts in the Trait-Based Classrooms: Content Areas by Scholastic Teaching Resources.
You are a research scientist (Role) who is working on an important project to discover cures for communicable diseases.  Your work requires special equipment that is very expensive.  Write a fundraising letter (Format) to send to prospective donors (Audience), persuading (Strong Verb) them to contribute money for equipment (Topic).

I hope this has been helpful.  I will try to post some of the RAFTS created next week during the high school work shop.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Writing - Some Observations from China

   I have not posted anything for a while because I have been traveling in China - serving as a U.S. representative on a delegation for the International Reading Association.  The purpose of the delegation was to foster goodwill and the exchange of ideas between the Chinese educators and our own – 22 educators from all over the U.S.  This was planned to fall several weeks prior to Obama’s visit.
   The tour began in Beijing, moved to X’ian, and ended in Shanghai.  The delegation visited schools, met with educators in various roles, and exchanged ideas with teachers.
   As we visited educators, everyone of them asked us how to teach English.  Their biggest concern was their students' inability to listen and comprehend, write and reflect, and/or speak the language.  Their strengths were: writing using the correct format and reading/translating.
   The Chinese schools we visited, began teaching English in kindergarten - to children who are 3 years old. The standard format for teaching English in all of these schools is basically rote with a heavy dose of grammar.  Many of the students spent long hours reciting and completing workbook pages.

   At one of the schools we visited - a high school for students gifted with the ability to learn languages - the director explained to us that a controversy regarding how to teach language, was raging among teachers in China. There were two camps.  1.  Language should be taught through memorization and grammar.  2.  Students should understand the culture that produced the language and immerse themselves in it - exploring all of its issues, modes of communication, registers of language.
   This resonated with me.  As progressive as I like to think our education is, I feel we are still debating this issue in our own country - only it is a debate that involves teaching our native tongue.  I still walk into many classrooms where teachers consider teaching English as synonymous with teaching grammar.  Interestingly enough, most of the teaching still comes out of the Warner handbook.  This was originally written back in the early 30's when we had many immigrants entering our country and the publishers were looking for a way to educate second language students. This raises many questions for us. 

The most crucial question :

   Is language an extension of ourselves and as such should it be meaning based?
I think China's experience has a great many implications for us.  What do you think?  Please comment.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Update on Jay M.S.

Like our students, the Jay teachers and I review our process at the end of each one of our sessions.  After our last coaching day, we reflected on the teachers' needs, and decided to adjust our format.  I will now be meeting with individual teachers to review lessons and brainstorm instructional strategies pertinent to 6+1 traits.  This will be helpful for us, since all writing lessons can be used to teach a variety of the traits - the teacher choosing the focus based on students' needs. This will be followed by coaching visits.

Please stay tuned!

We will continue to share our ideas with you.