Monday, March 29, 2010

Special Education and 6 + 1 Traits - Cherie P.

Cherie has continued to work with her special education students through a combination of group writing and individual practice.  Diary of the Whimpie Kid, her read aloud, continues to engage her students and provide personal connections.  Here is an example of her student's writing.
One afternoon, I trotted up a steep hill, dragging my purple snow tube right behind me.  As soon as I landed on top of the hill I set my snow tube down.  I let it go and it flew down the hill so I raced down the hill as fast as light.  I caught it, ran up the hill again, and set it down.  Then I sat down and my snow tube and I flew down the hill together.  Whoooooshh.
As you can see, the students are making steady progress. Writing about real situations helps them tap into a source of information they know.

Students are also using spelling words and working on transition words.  In reading journals, students pass them in and Cherie writes a response.  They are continuing to use 4 square writing and are beginning to focus on transition words.  Here is an example of one of her students who struggle with writing, but can compose in his head.
Haunted houses make me feel very spastic.  I feel disturbed when the loud music and strobe lights are on.  I see bizarre things as scary figures pop out at me.

Great job!  Whatever it takes!  These students are real authors!
Bookmark and Share

Monday, March 22, 2010

Word Choice at Jay Middle School - Susan S.

Susan is a poet as well as a teacher, so it was not surprising when she turned to other authors as a source of information for her students - author to author.

Over the last two months, the young authors in her classroom have been working on word choice and revision.  Like all writers - at times - they do not look forward to  revising because they often assume it is due to their inability to write - equating revision with error.  However, being an author herself, Susan shared with them what the process is like for published authors - quoting from many of them.  The students concluded all authors say the same thing:  "I like my scissors a lot, they sometimes get more use than my pencil." - circa 1924 when cut and paste was the vogue pre-technology!  Moving past this point, students have begun to revise instantaneously - similar to readers who correct miscues as they make them.

Susan has supported her students' awareness of word choice in the following ways:
  1. creating a word wall with possible word choices for over used words, i.e. said, and, etc.
  2. teaching her students to use reference tools to find better choices
  3. reading mentor texts and discussing them (great authors of today read great authors of yesterday and get inspiration)
  4. sharing sections of student writing well done
  5. encouraging students to read stories out loud to themselves and then to their partner
  6. writing sentences with spelling sentences
  7. continuing to write because the more you write
Student has been monitoring student growth and observes first drafts have better word choice:)

BRAVO!  How exciting!

Bookmark and Share

Sentence Fluency Coming Up at Jay Middle School!

We will be meeting on April 6 at Jay Middle School to explore sentence fluency.  It will be an exciting day as always.  Here are some of the areas we will be exploring.

" The term “sentence fluency” refers to the way individual words and phrases sound together within a sentence, and how groups of sentences sound when read one after the other..." taken from  Teaching that Makes Sense

How to identify sentence fluency instruction in your classroom activities...
Does this activity encourage …
• Thinking about what a sentence is?
• Listening to literature that has rhythm?
• Reading Aloud? Choral reading?
• Comparing two kinds of sentences? Choppy vs Fluent?
• Comparing sentences to fragments?
• Combining sentences?

What you’re going for:
• A ear for language
• A love of rhythm                                        
• Sentence sense

Activities that work:
• Share rhythmic language – poetry is a good choice
• Share two versions – edit together

• Play the sentence building game: select a topic and come up with a beginning – students
finish the sentence

• Sentence fragment game – similar to a spelling bee, but students must answer fragment or

Tips for writers:
• Listen for rhythm in sentences.• Share rhythmic language – poetry is a good choice
• Share two versions – edit together

• Play the sentence building game: select a topic and come up with a beginning – students

• Look for different size and structure of sentence.
• Find sentences that build on each other and make reading them aloud fun.
• Notice how the sentences add to the overall enjoyment of the text.

Level 5- Sentence Fluency
• Sentences flow with a beat – they have rhythm and grace.

• Lots of variety in sentences from beginning to end.
• Each sentence builds on the next.
• Smooth as a ski run in December.                                              
Bookmark and Share

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Colleen - Authentic Tasks at Jay Middle School

Colleen and her fellow teachers have been providing increased writing opportunities in their classrooms regularly over the last two months.  Their students are blossoming as young authors.  One of the issues they are rethinking is the report card.  Right now spelling plays a major role in determining language arts grades.  However, they are finding students who shine as writers are not always the best spellers.  Here is an example.

The Circus

            The sound of the ring master's voice bellowing over the crowd will always get my heart pounding.  The lights slowly fade as darkness creeps over you like a unfamiliar friend. Colored lights start to pop up like bubbles in a pot of boiling water. The crowd starts to scream as the first act comes on a black and white tiger and a sandy African lion steps on a podium.  The ferocious tiger makes a low growl.  The crowd is hushed only to come to in cheering as the tiger magnificently jumps through a flaming hoop the lion is holding. The lion and tiger jump through the hoop until the show ended for now. Later a man came on as slowly as a tank of fish appears out of nowhere the man says “ This is it this is this is my last show “ the man walks up a cracking ladder. Leaned against a tank of vicious fish. And jumped as he jumped everything went black and I woke up sweating. Just a dream I said just a dream.  OR WAS IT?

By Sam M.
Jay Middle School

Always invested in students and what is best for them, Colleen and her team are rethinking their report card format and continue to explore the 6+1 traits.
Recently, she visited the writing fix site and had a great deal of fun with her class writing books based on the lesson: 

 Using, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, each student created a version of a story based on a catch phrase.  They had great fun and shared with one another.

Building on the students' enthusiasm Colleen once again created an authentic task - simply - when students shared their writing.  Having a real, appreciative audience, is one of the hidden strengths of 6+1 traits teaching.  Bravo, Colleen
Bookmark and Share

Monday, March 8, 2010

Word Choice - Jay Middle School

Saying it Just Right - from Creating Writers Through 6-Trait Writing by Vicki Spandel

  • Word Choice - A knack of selecting the just right word or phrase that makes everything come clear for the reader.
  • In creative writing, when we think of word choice, we often think of imagery or sensory appeal.  Informational writers also paint pictures for readers - but to make those pictures technically correct, they need a good grasp of terminology essential to the message, along with ability to make terms and concepts so clear a reader feels as much at home with them as the writer does.
Teachers often find it difficult to teach students how to use word choice in conjunction with voice.  Improving word choice may negate the child's personal voice.  The key - I think - is to immerse students in mentor texts that illustrate a variety of voices, followed by RAFTS to allow students practice.

Bookmark and Share

For further specifics on word choice go to the Writing Fix.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mac Speech Offers Students Opportunities to Develop Writing Strategies!

Early morning, March 2nd, I met a delightful young author.  The student has muscular dystrophy and prior to this year, has been limited by this physical handicap - laborious letter formation, resulting in forgotten story lines and exhausted physical energy.

 After 4 years of public school, parents and teachers are concerned by the limitations his disability imposes on his writing.  The school system has assigned him a full time ed tech who assists him, scribing his stories.  

This morning, while waiting for him to arrive, I interview the teacher and ed tech.  What touches me deeply is the commitment they both have to this child.  The teacher has worked in this small district for a long time and is friends - related to some - with parents (sometimes second generation) and faculty.  There is a level of trust and respect that exists between parent and teacher and they work as a team.  Sadly, the ed tech, has lost a child with multiple handicaps and has returned to the school system to turn the experience to good use, working with other children who have similar learning challenges.  The "team" reminds me of a SWAT team - dedicated to helping this child and willing to do whatever it takes for him to become an independent, self directed learner -  unlocking the latent talent trapped by his physical ability. 

Beginning in the fall, the student has been using Mac Speech.  This program prints out what the speaker says - verbatim.  At this point in the year, our young author has been setting up his program and using it independently for sometime - starting in a separate room, but quickly moving into the regular classroom.  The computer has now learned to block out background noise and recognize his voice.  

So how does it work?  His teacher explains he can write small phrases without slowing down his thinking process or tiring him too much.  She shares the following four square he is completing in class.

Next, I want to know how this works with longer pieces.  She explains he dictates and writes, prints it out, and then revises and edits by hand - dictating the final piece.  Pulling his writing folder, she shares the pieces he has worked on.  The folder is like any other child's in the classroom, containing pre-writing pieces, graphic organizers, rough drafts, final drafts, and 6+1 rubrics.  If I did not know this child's handicap, I would not know it from his writing folder.  Following is a final copy - he dictated, revised and edited by hand, and then dictated.

National Squirrel Day, 2/22I

I, ____, proclaim a new national holiday today!  It shall be celebrated on August 16th of every year.  On this holiday if you like walnuts and peanut butter cookies, we're going to combine them to make walnut peanut butter cookies, (but you can have a regular cookie, too).  There will also be scrumptious buttered berry muffins for all to enjoy with their friends and family!  The beverage will be water, fresh from the spring (also comes in delicious fruit flavors), and for dessert, there will be chocolate covered insect larva. We also have made some activities to remember what we're celebrating that day. Some activities shall be "find the nut buried underground" and tree climbing.  There will also be a cute pose contest.  The prize is a trophy with a golden peanut on the top.  Predator tag is yet another activity.  Squirrels hate red peppers because they're so hot, so there will be a red pepper toss game.  We also want to let our other rodent friends have fun, too.  The National Hamster Ball Bump Competition will be held here.  Everybody hates it when squirrels eat all the birdseed and scare the lovely songbirds away.  To remember that, there will be a game called "steal the bird feeder".  So come and party with us on August 16th!  (This is made possible by all of our generous sponsors).

Our young author arrives - in a wheel chair.   He is intelligent and thoughtful, pausing before he speaks, then answering with adult sentences and higher level vocabulary - used correctly!   

When asked if he would recommend the use of  Mac Speak he replies yes and continues to explain it helps his process because once he sees the text on his computer screen, he sometimes revises on the spot - either word or phrase.  This is a big plus for him, (he tells me ) because when he has someone scribe for him or tries to write on his own, he often looses the thought due to the lag  between his thinking and writing - detailing his frustration in the earlier grades when he could not get his thoughts down on paper.

However, he patiently explains the system still has some bugs and makes mistakes as he dictates due to the similarity of words he uses to others.  He is explicit as he delves into the computer glitch.  I am impressed with his depth of understanding of such a complex process.

Always an avid reader, a short conversation hints at the stories he has to tell.  He loves Stephen King and has just finished Eyes of the Dragon, a book King wrote for his own daughter when she was younger.  He enjoyed the book (one of my favorites to teach at the middle school level) and we discuss it together.  This kid really gets it and looks at it as an author as well!

At the end of the interview, I ask him what plans he has for the future.  He nonchalantly responds, he is working on a quartet of books, similar to King's Gun Slinger, but more kid friendly - less gory details.  His main character is going to be a "reasonably normal fellow" with black hair, blue eyes, about 16-17.  He has already located a publisher and promises to e-mail me a copy!

My only comment?  Stephen King, thank you - and - look out!  He is on his way!
Bookmark and Share