Sunday, January 31, 2010

Livermore Falls Special Education and Writing - January 21, 2010

Thursday, January 21, I spent the day in Livermore Falls working with some of the special education staff.  (Our meeting on the 20th had been canceled due to snow.) We had a great day - high involvement, lots of energy and lots of fun.

We began by reviewing our student data.  All special education teachers have been asked to keep running records on a bi-weekly basis as well as records for words their way.  At each meeting, we review the data and discuss how we can tweak the instruction to improve student growth.  We spent a fair amount of time on this because the reciprocity between reading and writing is powerful for our students and we try to maximize the learnings between the two.  This is often a challenge in special education because students may have an IEP for one, but not the other.

Product DetailsDuring this session, I introduced the new Jan Richardson book,Next Steps in Guided Reading.  This is a personal favorite of mine.  Jan is a consultant I teamed with when I worked in Loudon County and Fairfax County in Northern Virginia.  Her greatest strength is her ability to look at all of the research and combine best practices - new and tried and true -  adding to our understandings of literacy overtime.  She is also a great organizer because she understands where each "piece" fits.  This book is her newest publication and demonstrates all of these qualities.  It is ideal for special education staffs - ed techs and teachers alike. 

The book presents appropriate formats - including prompts and strategies - for each level of guided reading presented in a balanced literacy format including word work and writing.  Higher level thinking is incorporated throughout the lessons.  Jan has also created assessment tools and management tools for teachers.  We reviewed them and chose several that would work for specific teachers and students.

After much discussion, we decided to focus on the questioning format for constructed responses and the 6+1 traits rubric for that particular format.  Many of the teachers have begun using a reading response journal for their students and we decided we would create RAFTS for journal response once a week and use the rubrics - the writing rubric as well as the revision rubric.

If you decide to adopt this method with your students special education or classroom - please keep in mind when working with any writing assignment, choose those traits that best address the purpose of the assignment.  For example, the constructed response rubric incorporates: idea development, organization, and conventions.

Of course, I have not stated the obvious.  We are also hoping this format will help not only with comprehension, but also will provide a concrete bridge that ill allow our students to respond to constructed response questions on the NECAP.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

January 20 and 21 - at Livermore Falls!

      I hope you are all busy enjoying this wonderful weekend.  I can't believe the relative warmth and sun.  What great weather for a 3 day weekend. 
     I am writing to let you know I will be working with the Livermore Falls special education staff, 6-12, next week.  We will be looking at 6+1 traits and matching the instructional framework to diverse levels and students with challenges. 
 Here are some sites I will be using for the staff development.  They are definitely worth a look.

Education World

This site has an excellent article,  Journals Focus Students and Build Skills by D. Boweman who states, "There's a funny thing about journal writing, though -- even when teachers don't check students' responses for spelling and grammar. "I have seen major growth in these children!" said Bowerman. "Many are now restating the questions and using complete sentences and punctuation. Those skills were definitely missing in September!" 

This site has 4 articles on how the process of writing needs to be adjusted for the learning disabled students.  Some good thoughts here.


 This site has ideas used and submitted by special education teachers to teach writing.  There are some good ideas here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

January 5th, Visit to Jay Middle School

On the 5th of January, I visited the Middle School in Jay.  As always, it was a learning experience for all of us.  I spent the day meeting with teachers one on one and then we had class at the end of the day.  The teachers were enthusiastic, insightful, and reflective about their teaching and students. 

We have all been using the internet to find further information and we shared our resources.  We also shared books and lesson plans.  Lynn modeled her lesson for us.  All of us felt the sharing/planning time was an invaluable part of our day.

During our conversations we had 3 ahhhas!

  1. Students' voices become stronger through the use of their journals.  Is this because:
  • they are not restricted by conventions?
  • their audience is themselves and they know it well?
    2.  Students produce voice in reading response journals when they are assigned RAFTS dealing 
        with  characters.  Naturally this improves comprehension as well.  AND kids often love it!

    3.  We are looking for a little more direct instruction than many of the sites present.  We love the
         6+1 traits, but we do not believe establishing fluency is enough.  The Northern Nevada Writing 
         Site provides us with that structure  (Thank you Nancy).  A spin off of this - is the varying
         descriptors found on the different sites.   We will be working on this in January/February.

We are now ready as a group to provide a place for everyone to share. 

We extend an invitation to all of you to join us on our NING.

WE hope to see you there:)

January 5th, Visit to Jay Middle School, Grades 7/8

Lynn and I met in the morning yesterday.  We reviewed a lesson on voice she had planned.  It was great!!!  Following is a very shortened version. 

Lynn selected several quotes from literature as well as her students' writing that had strong voice.  For each one of these, she wrote a voiceless piece, covering the same topic. 

Next she created a T-Chart labeled YES and NO.  She read the first piece (with strong voice) and said, this goes in the YES column.  Next she read its voiceless counter part and put it in the NO column.

After several examples, she asked students to make the choice as she read the examples.   Finally, she asked students to take a few minutes and write down (by themselves) a list of 3-4 "traits" or "characteristics" a piece had to have in order to qualify for the YES column. 

Once that was completed, Lynn had the students share and score other examples accoring to voice.

Lynn has developed this well beyond what I have shared here.  If you would like to know more, you can contact her at:

Thank you Lynn.  We learned a great deal.  Excellent as always.

January 5th, Visit to Jay Middle School, Grades 7/8

Nancy and I met later in the day.  She came in quite excited about the site she had discovered, writing fix

She had spent a great deal of time searching the net, trying to find lessons that would work for her students.  This site was particularly helpful because it had a large section on adolescent literature and the 6+1 writing traits.  

Like most of us, Nancy had pulled several ideas to use with her students, but her thoughts kept returning to all of the great information and in the end she felt overwhelmed.  This is often a side effect of the huge amount of information on the net - and there is little we can do, but let it gel.  When I experience this type of overload, for me, it signals a re-organization of thoughts or concepts in my head.  This is often uncomfortable because of the feeling of dissonance - sooo- I work on relaxing by engaging  in some meaningless task, i.e. housework.  I often wonder what our students do in the same situation.

Nancy shared her site with us at class last night and we all took time to team with colleagues and explore it.  This worked very well - sharing our perspectives and discussing possible lessons in our classrooms.  You and a colleague might like to take a look and do the same thing.  Remember, the site has all levels and is sponsored by the Northern Nevada Writing Project. 

Nancy also shared a book by David Macauly, Black and White, available on  This book has an unusual lay out.  It has 4 stories going on at the same time, each one represented by a fourth of the two pages the reader is observing.  We discussed this during our class time and considered voice lessons - focusing  on points of view - that we might use in the classroom.  I have a copy coming.  It is quite reasonable.  You might enjoy one as well.

Thanks, Nancy.  We learned a great deal:)

January 5th, Visit to Jay Middle School, Grades 5/6

Diane and I met in the morning and she shared the Christmas project students enjoyed.  She crafted a RAFTS (remember 6+1 specifies a strong verb giving the writing a tone and adding to voice) for her students as follows:
Role: Santa's Elf
Audience: Santa
Format: Letter
Topic:  raise
Strong Verb: Convince

Diane's students also develop voice by writing in their reading journals.   The book she is using is Loser by Jerry Spinnelli (can find it on great book to discuss bullying and social skills.  Students love this book!  Diane assigns students writing assignments in a RAFTS format, requiring them to take on the voice of a character in the book.  

She also has students identify characters based on quotes she reads them.  Students describe what let them know who the character was - focusing on word choice, tone, sentence fluency, etc.  This activity is crucial because it provides a link between reading and writing.

Thanks Diane!  Great job:)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

January 5th, Visit to Jay Middle School, Grades 5/6

Colleen and I met this morning to discuss her plans for teaching voice. She is using her students' reading journals to develop the traits.  Colleen has organized this by writing assignments based on the RAFTS format.  The audience, the intent of the writing, reinforced by the choice of a strong verb helps the writer create the necessary voice in the piece.  Colleen has been seeing positive results in her students as she has read them, Zack's Lie, by Roland Smith.

The other piece she shared with me, was her use of the site, rubistar.
They have 6+1 traits rubrics under the writing section.  This is a fast, accurate way to create a rubric for the particular type of writing the student is using, focusing on specific traits.  For example, for a report on Roman gods and goddesses Colleen chose organization, amount of information, quality of information, mechanics, and graphic organizer.  The specific, consistent trait descriptors drop down automatically in the correct category, 4-1.  Take a look.  Thank you, Colleen:)

January 5th, Visit to Jay Middle School, Special Education

Cherie and I met this morning to discuss her students' progress.  If you will recall, we had decided to focus on fluency and organization.  Cherie has been using the 4 square graphic organizer for her students and is beginning to write a group essay on each person's favorite part of Christmas Break. 

When Cherie arrived, we caught up and had our usual "idea-fest" based on student observations and teaching ideas.  She is pleased with her students' progress.  They are beginning to develop a level of comfort with the 4 square procedure.  We discussed how to help them move to writing a conclusive statement for a paragraph and considered the possibility of using a pocket chart instead of the 4 square graphic to move them into the idea of concluding sentence, rather than a sentence combining all of the items previously lifted.  We persued the possibility of using the pocket chart with group compositions (each sentence written on a sentence strip) for students to rearrange is the correct order - keying in on transition words and opening and closing sentences.  From experience, I know this works well with students at this writing level.

Cherie then shared with me the folders she has been using to help her students organize their writing.  She found these on:

The folders include: 4 pockets, a list for student ideas, a list of possible topics, a copy of the printed and written alphabet, a first draft checklist, editing marks, a final checklist, and a list of 100 challenging words.

Checklists combine editing and revising. 

Pockets are labeled: ideas, 1st draft, final draft, and publish. 

Item number is: #302760

If you take the time to go to this site, you will also find 6+1 trait folders (#157111) as well as stamps with the traits.

Take a look and enjoy.  Thanks, Cherie:)