Saturday, June 21, 2014

Here's some more good ideas for writing at the 6-8 grades from Corbett Harrison. Enjoy!

Once again, the simple-to-use "Mr. Stick" proves his worth to me as both a writing teacher and as a keeper of my own writer's notebook.  Check out these newly-posted notebook pages from my 6th-8th graders:
Each May, I sponsor a "Mr. Stick of the Year" notebook challenge.  Only students who've earned a "Mr. Stick of the Week" award from me can enter; all year long, I give out three or four weekly "awards" to students who self-nominate a special page they've been working on in their notebooks.  If they take the time to add a Mr. Stick to enhance their notebook's writing (, then they can self-nominate themselves with a Post-it note and by placing it in my special basket at the front of the room.  This inspires them to make their writer's notebooks more visual, and all it costs me is some dime-store prizes from my extra credit prize bucket.  Each  May, those students who've practiced being visual and won one time in the school year are invited to go "all out" and create a one- or two-page spread that uses Mr. Stick alongside a short, new piece of writing they're proud of.
Each year, the quantity and quality of the entries I receive just keep getting bigger and better.  I give out nine total prizes (I have about 160 total students) and one GRAND prize.  When we start up with notebooks again in the Fall, I show these pages off, and my students' eyes light up.  "We can make our notebooks look like that?" they ask.
It was hard to narrow it down to just ten victors this year, but it's been done, and they are posted at Pinterest:
If you've never used the "Mr. Stick" ideas I freely share (and constantly add to) at my website, I hope these images will inspire you to consider adding it next year.  It's truly the simplest technique I've ever used to help my students LIKE maintaining their writer's notebooks for me.
This is the last week of school for us!  If it is for you too, I hope it runs smoothly.
I'll be posting new ideas throughout the summer.  Keep in touch about them, as I always enjoy hearing from you.
--Corbett Harrison (
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Monday, June 16, 2014

Here is a great article by Corbett and Dena Harrison, authors of the Writing Fix. It deals with a way to teach vocabulary using CCSS friendly writing skills. Enjoy!

My fellow teachers/writers,
What a nutty end of the school year here!  I learned that I will be switching school sites this upcoming Fall, and saying good-bye is always hard--both to my current students and my current team of teachers.  Physically packing up and moving is always hard too, and I realize that I am a quite behind in posting my monthly lessons here at the ning, but that will all be rectified as soon as I have safely and completely moved my materials from the old site to my new one. Over the summer, I will be posting numerous lessons that I hope will inspire you to consider trying something new during your next school year.  My best school years in the past have always been those years when I returned in the Fall determined to try new things and to do them well.  I have been collecting/developing/revising some great new lesson ideas this past spring, and I am excited to share them with you slowly throughout the summer.  Look out for my occasional e-mails that will catch me up so we can get the promised "first of the month" lessons back on track.  Thanks again for your patience during this transition for me.
THE BEST WORK I DID THIS PAST SCHOOL YEAR?  Without a doubt, without any hesitation, I will say my continued work in developing writing skills while teaching my students to simply stop and appreciate vocabulary words they don't recognize in their reading has been the new teaching skill I continue to do my best work with.  Last year, Dena and I published the first eight of ten lessons that promoted Common Core-friendly writing skills through vocabulary-based exercises.  Early this year, we finalized all ten writing lessons, and my students' Vocabulary Final Projects just proved to me how significant this work has been to developing them further as skilled writers.  I am sharing with you some images from their final exam projects which, I believe, showcase what powerful writing/thinking skills they have developed over this past year with me.  If you're interested in seeing some powerful student writing, please visit the next paragraph!
Today, I posted a pretty detailed explanation of my "Vocabulary Final Exam Project" here at the ning at this blog post:  Please note there are photos below the post that showcase some of my students' best "overall vocabulary collections."  Right in the middle of the lengthy post (sorry if it's wordy!), there is a download link to a 15-slide PowerPoint (or a PDF file, if you don't have PowerPoint) that showcases my "top writers" (as nominated by their classroom peers) who used the ten unique vocabulary-inspired writing activities I have been requiring of my students the whole year.  I am really proud of the differentiated nature these ten writing activities attempt to appeal to, and I can confidently say that I will never teach vocabulary words in the future without first integrating several (if not all) of these ten writing activities we have been designing.  
If for no other reason than to celebrate some smart kids' thinking that uses hard vocabulary words, I hope you will visit the blog post in the last paragraph and celebrate my students' writing along with me.  It's pretty impressive; it truly is.
Teachers, look forward to some fresh and interesting, Common Core-friendly ideas involving writing assignments over the summer from me through this blog to you.  If you have the summer off though, make sure you take plenty of extra time to simply be away from school and its rigid expectations.  We all need to deflate a bit over the deflate!  Deflate!
Have a great June!
--Corbett & Dena Harrison (
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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Recently while working in a school in Tennessee, I observed a high school teacher share her writing with students and then conference with them using her piece. It was powerful!! Enjoy! Courtesy of ASCD SmartBrief

Tips to help teach writing to students
Effective modeling helps develop better writers, asserts high-school teacher David Cutler. He shares in this blog post several ways teachers can improve their writing instruction with modeling in mind. Cutler advises, among other things, that educators share their written work, write for their students and create workshop environments. Cutler's blog (6/2)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Here is a great article written by a middle school teacher on how to keep students engaged during the summer. The ideas are doable and effective. Enjoy! Courtesy of ASCD SmartBrief!

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Avoiding the Summer Slide in Reading and Writing

Photo credit: Thinkstock 
As an eighth-grade teacher, I constantly hear from high school teachers how "we" don't teach certain topics in middle school. The students, they claim, don't know how to write a thesis statement or don't know how to use proper grammar, and this is clearly because we don't teach it. News flash: We're not just twiddling our thumbs down here in 'tween-land. It's taught. Retaught. Revised. Reworked. All those gaps you might see as deficiencies in the middle school teaching are misguided. What you are seeing, however, is the curse of the summer slide.

Perhaps high school teachers don't realize that this summer slide can happen to the best of students in the shortest of time periods. That's why scheduling finals after winter break is a bad idea. Perhaps, however, there is greater slide between middle and high school because these young humans are constantly morphing in so many ways anyway. Their retention of material, despite our most innovative or rigorous of efforts, can be overshadowed by the changes that these kids are going through physically and chemically.

Regardless, I'm here to report that while some of it might be unavoidable, there are steps to at least help lessen the gap of knowledge leakage.

Some Language Arts Activities to Lessen "Summer Slide"

Below I've focused on some activities to help students continue to interact with words and reading throughout the summer.

#1. Introduce students to what's out there in the media. Research the based-on-books movies that are coming out during the summer months. Show trailers the last day of school (like when the kids from your first period are trapped in your classroom for three hours while promotion is going on elsewhere). Show these trailers and hand out a list of books that correspond to each. Challenge students to read the books before seeing the movies.

#2. Have students develop a way to recommend books before summer begins. Before the end of the year, have students look back over their book logs from the school year. Then, have them write a review (in other words, a form of literary analysis) for 10 of their choices. Have them develop icons that represent their opinions of the literature (thumbs up, stars, books, whatever). Post these reviews on a website that students can click through for recommendations all summer long.

#3. Develop a way for students to contribute the titles of what they are reading all summer long. If you know the students you might have the following year (as I do with my speech elective or my honors classes but not with my mainstream classes) set up a Google Drive document for kids to add to throughout the summer about what they've read. Create a Google Form that they fill out with each book, or they can directly enter them into a public spreadsheet.

#4. Model reading and discussing all summer long by sending out a newsletter or email blast with every book read or literature-based movie that you enjoyed. You can even share thoughts on ones you didn't enjoy. Design a newsletter via MailChimp and make your reports a monthly newsletter (two or three times over the course of the summer). You will find a good percentage of students respond in one way or the other, but even if they just open the newsletter, any interaction over the summer about the love of reading is a valuable interaction.

#5. Work with your local library to develop student-run volunteer programs. Create a program for your students to help run the sign-ups in your classroom so the public library doesn't have to do the legwork of registering volunteers. Provide peer helpers from your own pool of readers. I know my local library has middle schoolers come in during the summer as guides for the kids to learn how to use the library. 'Tweens also run the monthly crafts table. Create the outlet to continue being surrounded by books. So many students don't interact with books once the summer bell rings. Change their summer environment.

#6. Inform parents about their local Youth Writing Project. Much like a summer institute for teachers to hone their writing skills, the Youth Writing Project is a summer program with WP teachers at the helm to guide kids of all ages through innovative writing activities. It's writing camp! Check local college or university campuses for information on whether they are hosting a youth program this summer.

But is a Little "Slide" Really so Bad?

I think it's important to note here that while we would all clearly love to see kids retain every fact and skill ever taught from year to year, this is simply not a realistic expectation. Heck, I have to relearn the darn grading program every year as if I've never seen it before, and this sends our office manager into fits of eye rolling. Given that "slide happens" (perhaps that should be a bumper sticker), I'd like to make a case here for the necessity of a little slide and the need for summer break for those students.

For one thing, summer is important to get a different kind of education. It's the time for soccer camps, theater camps, debate camps, cooking camps. It's the time for building forts made out of branches between the hours of nine and three, for meeting other kids down the block, for reading the books you want to read, and for vacations in far off lands or in campgrounds in your own backyard. As a Facebook post I saw the other day claims, "A child only educated at school is an uneducated child."
Transference is a skill with which K-12 struggles overall. How do students transfer skills from one level to the next, even from one classroom to the next?

The answer comes with making school applicable to the outside world. But that will come, not with more time in a formal school setting; it will come when we all philosophically decide to articulate the skills that students must know in a way that they recognize as applicable to the real world.
Perhaps that's not happening and that's why kids go to their brain's computer and "empty trash" at the start of each summer. Or perhaps it's more about what we all do: take a break from learning one way and instead learn in another.

Perhaps the real goal here is to recognize and exploit the different lessons that have been learned over the summer months rather than condemning students or teachers for lessons seemingly lost. Incidentally, I don't think they've been lost, just packed away in a trunk somewhere for the new teacher to help unfold.
What are your thoughts and ideas on this post? Please share in the comments section below.
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