Wednesday, March 30, 2016

March post!

For this writing PDU, I feel like I’ve been a bit all over the place in terms of my goals for this – but hey, that is part of the first year of teaching…right? J A few weeks ago, I had a coaching session with Michelle – she came in to see a lesson, and then provided feedback to me regarding the lesson. I think one of the biggest things I have learned through this is something we talked about in the debrief.

To provide some background information, the lesson focused on a PARCC practice writing assignment. The day prior, they read a passage, answered an essay question, answered multiple-choice questions, etc. For the lesson that Michelle observed, I partnered students together and gave them a well-written piece from a student and a not-so-well written piece. In groups, they had to give both “grows” and “glows”, and determine why the one piece did not provide accurate information. After, we discussed this as a whole group, and then together, we looked at a narrative writing rubric and thoroughly went through it, and translated it into kid language. Together, we scored both of the writing pieces – so that they could clearly see where some of the gaps appeared in the rubric so that they know to then revise to fill in the gaps.

I then gave them a copy of the rubric and sent them back to their seats to self-assess their writing piece. I conferred with students throughout this process, and asked them questions to ensure that they knew where they had to go next, and to help them grow. During this time, some students decided to give themselves grows/glows, confer with partners, edit/revise their work, work around the room, etc. During this time, I noticed that they were getting loud every so often (Michelle later told me that it was about every 7 minutes). Even though I was conferring with students throughout this whole process, I assumed that they were off topic due to the noise level and the task at hand.

Once the students left for specials, she asked how I thought the lesson went, and I expressed my disappointment in the end of the lesson. This brings me to my biggest insight/aha moment during this whole PDU. She said to let’s look around to see their work around the room to see if they were indeed off topic. As we meandered around, we noticed that every single kiddo was on task, albeit in their different and glorious ways. Obviously, I was very happy with this J Although this seems like a very simple thing (and it is!), I sometimes become too narrow focused and need to sometimes take a step back and look at the task from a broader lenses. Are they actually off task or do they just need a break? As adults we surely need breaks – and in our debrief, Val B. pointed out that in PLC, us teachers need many breaks and we all work differently! It is important to remind me that kids are definitely the same way – and they need more breaks! I have tried to do this in more of my teaching – not just writing. I inherently know that noise doesn’t necessarily mean they are off topic, and a strategy I can use going forward is to ask them about the noise. Is it positive, good-working noise? If so, great!

I’m very thankful for my time with this J Sorry the post is so late!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Writing Checklist and Peer Review

In my coaching with Michelle, I have focused on math writing.  Earlier in the year, I was focusing on conferring. Now, I feel like I have taken a step back to talk to her to decide on the purpose for my math writing.  I think about my next door neighbor, Ms. Schoneman, when I think about trying to figure out what the purpose is for math writing. If I can't figure that out for myself, how can I expect students to understand?  

A couple of weeks ago, my students and I came up with a list of elements that had to be in place in great math writing.  We realized that we had two lists: one about process, the other about the writing product.  We created an anchor chart and I transferred the list to a worksheet where students would be able to do all of their work on a story problem and have the checklist to refer to.  We worked with this worksheet as a guide for our writing and the students did pretty well with it, but at some point we lost steam, partly because I wasn't sure what the next logical step was.

Part of the routine we set in place includes time for peer review.  Students trade their papers and check off all the elements they see that are in place.  They give this feedback to their partner, then they have the chance to "call them out" to the whole group.  Then that person has the option to show us their work on the doc cam so we can identify everything they did well. The work then lives on the wall in the hall to display great math writing.

So, what's next?

--Communicate to students that this is something that we will do consistently every Tuesday and Thursday.  We can't spend this much time and energy on it and do it five days a week.  I think the predictability will help my students engage in this this process more quickly and meaningfully.
--Peer review routine.  Right now we do it in our meeting space with a partner, and it quickly became stale and lost its purpose.  Moving forward, I am going to come up with creative ways for them to find a new partner to share with eveyr time they write.  Without being purposeful about his part, students were pairing up with the same person day after day.
--Increase engagement.  I need to find opportunities to really highlight the great thinking that goes on.  In the past, they have given each other stickers, this sometimes devolved to students reviewing only the work of their friends.  Besides displaying the work in the hall, what else could I do?
--Integrate movement.  This group of kids need routine, but need to move!  I will integrate opportunities to get them off of the floor and moving while they review.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Determining Importance and Synthesizing Information

At the end of my last post, I was thinking that "it's been an interesting journey to obtain primary source information. Throughout the research process, students learned the value of perseverance, working collaboratively, and dealing with setbacks and frustration. It will be fascinating to see how students interpret and "fit" the data as evidence to support their arguments." As a reminder, the inquiry question on the table is: Should more than six people be allowed at a lunch table?

Now that we have all of the evidence and data, how do we format and fit it so we can use it to support our claims? Students spent a week creating bar and circle graphs detailing the results of their student surveys to use as supporting evidence in persuasive essays. As the saying goes, we are data rich, but how do I dig through it to find the evidence? This is a high-level skill, sifting through graphs or through complex text to find the evidence to support a person's thinking. That's why politicians have hundreds of people on their staff who do nothing but find just the right evidence then use it to support a claim. Fifth graders only have themselves and a teacher to guide them. 

One clear example is a student's use of a circle graph from our student survey. He initially wrote: "As you can see from the graphs, some people don't get to sit with their friends if they get hot lunch." This was an awesome teachable moment, so I stopped and demonstrated how to make a stronger statement. Instead, what if we say it this way? "As you can see from the graph, 68% of people who get hot lunch get to sit with their friends. That means that 32% of hot-lunch students get excluded from their friends' table." Students were able to clearly see and hear the difference, and we were dealing with the same evidence. It's not necessarily the evidence; it's how you interpret and use it that counts.

The skill of using text evidence is now being taught in all grades. However, the analysis piece is difficult for most kids and may take years to master. Students may argue that they used evidence from the text, but for what purpose? Most students think that just adding a graph to their writing is using evidence. I stress to them that they need to be doing the thinking, not their reader. We need to continue to model the analysis piece of the evidence, not the mere quoting of information. 

As with all writing instruction, it's about seizing teachable moments and modeling, modeling, modeling. During the analysis of evidence, word choice becomes increasingly important. In the above example, I then modeled how to use word choice to the writer's advantage. Adding just a few words can bump the persuasive impact significantly. "As you can see from the graph below, only 68% of people who get hot lunch get to sit with their friends. That means that a whopping 32% or almost one third of hot-lunch students get excluded from their friends' table!" 

Example of a whole-class teachable moment after conferencing with a student. Notice the original sentence edited out and the revised sentence after the impromptu mini-lesson..

With the six to a table rule people with hot lunch can’t sit with their friends because they have to wait in line to get their food. and Wwhen they get to the table where their friends are sitting there are already six to a table so you have to sit by yourself. As you see in the first graph only 68% people with hot lunch get to sit with their friends that means 38% of people don’t get to sit with their friends that is A LOT. In the second graph 48% of people want the rule  graphs some people don't get to sit with their friends when they have hot lunch. In the second graph Most people in 6th grade don’t like the rule.

Persuasive writing continues to be a challenge for adults and kids alike. Academic persuasive writing must be viewed as a unique genre and very unlike op-ed writing. Organizing a compelling piece of academic persuasive writing must include "weaving and thinking" the evidence into the argument. The most effective way to help children hone their persuasive writing skills is to demonstrate this weaving of and thinking about the evidence.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Bringing Purpose to "Writing in Math"

My coaching sessions with Michelle, as well as my work on a math newspaper with my inquiry group this year, have been eye opening.  In the past, when we have focused on "writing in math" as a vertical team or staff, I always ended up working with kids on explaining their thinking about a particular math problem.  Lame.  And boring. And lacking real purpose...

Our PD sessions with Michelle inspired our inquiry into what "writing in math" could really look like.  We came up with the idea for a math newspaper, which on it's own wasn't what changed the way I thought about writing in math, but definitely provided some content with which to play around with.

My first go at writing feature articles consisted of telling the kids we needed articles about math and setting them off.  Can you tell I haven't taught writing in a few years?  What they came back with was fine, I suppose.  I didn't have a clear picture of what I wanted, so of course my kids writing didn't reflect anything.

Cue Michelle and her PD on writing inquiry- specifically using mentor texts to help guide students and teach them about specific genres of writing.  I began gathering math comics (my next newspaper assignment) to use as mentor texts in our mini-inquiry with the end goal of writing our own math comics.  Comics are hard to write well (and even harder to actually make funny), but with the help of the mentor comics, my kids came up with some pretty good comics of their own.

As I tackle this month's newspaper assignment, feature articles, I plan to employ this writing inquiry again by gathering mentor texts, analyzing them with kids, and then attempting our own in the style of the mentor texts.  Hopefully these will end up more successful than those we wrote just a few months ago.

What I have Learned Through Mini Inquiries

Well....we have concluded two mini inquiries in writing around the topics of "Early Residents of Colorado" and "Trappers and Traders".  What have I learned?????   Resources, Resources, Resources,   Conferring, Conferring, Conferring and Modeling, Modeling, Modeling!!!!

These inquiry projects focused in on our Colorado History units.  I began by front loading enough information to "hook the kids" and provide them background knowledge to launch their "wonderings".  This front loading looked different with each unit.  With Early Residents we read three articles about Mesa Verde, the Anasazis, and the Utes.  Small groups read the articles and made posters highlighting what they had learned.  They presented these posters to the class, thus teaching (synthesizing) the class their learnings.  They then fielded questions.  From there, students were introduced to a Padlet created specifically around these three topics.  This took A LOT of time to compile as student readability was a huge factor for students to access the information.  Students were set loose to peruse the padlet and record their questions.  They wrote down questions which we then used to narrow down the focus of their inquiries.  I modeled how to research a question I had and how to go about it using provided resources.  As students worked I conferred along the way...Our end project was a piece of non fiction writing answering their question.

Our second inquiry was on Trappers and Traders.  This time, we jigsawed a piece about this period of time in our history.  The focus was to be able to identify the main idea of each section of the text and identify supporting details.  We then literally "jigsawed" the information together into a giant puzzle.  Then they were let loose on a new Padlet specifically built around Trappers and Traders.  The inquiry questions this time were deeper.  Student focus in writing was to identify main ideas and provide supporting details.  These questions and answers were recorded into a Monopoly like game board where students landed on "Main Ideas" and learned about a section of Colorado History as written by a classmate.  These ended up being pretty cool and students had a lot of buy in in the process.

The padlets have proven to be an invaluable resource.  Starting small and building up resources has worked really well rather than just setting the kids free.  Interestingly enough the kids that struggled the most were my GT learners who are used to being able to find an answer to their questions quickly.  This time, they had to sort through a lot of different information and needed to use their inferring skills to make meaning.

Not sure where we are headed with the next inquiry...but with testing next week, and Spring Break after that....I have plenty of time to figure it out.

Another Approach to Mentor Text

As you know, this year I'm attempting to be really thoughtful about the use of mentor texts in Writer's Workshop, and our class is just finishing our first unit 'writing under the influence' of those texts. For this unit I chose to use numerous mentor texts, creating a text set of feature articles.

Overall, I feel like the use of mentor texts were helpful for many reasons. Students specifically benefitted from seeing the titles, text features, leads, introductions and conclusions in our mentor texts. I can see the impact in their writing.

  • My writing wasn't the 'mentor'. Published 'real' writing could serve as our guide.
  • Mentor texts made the task more authentic.
  • Analyzing mentor texts allowed the inquiry cycle to live in writing.
  • Mentor texts were tools throughout the entire writing process, not just during immersion.

Next Steps:
  • I want students to independently use mentor text for assistance.
  • I want to specifically use a few, well written mentor texts as guides, instead of a text set.
So, with our next unit around opinion/persuasive writing I've found two text that will serve as our mentors. Storyworks is a great Scholastic publication, and I was able to find a few essays in their Debate section.  I specifically was looking for texts where the claim was shared at different times (beginning, end, etc.). I also narrowed the texts by looking for those that state both sides of the issue. The two texts I've found so far are full of voice and interesting to read. I'm positive that the use of these texts will better my teaching and student's understanding of opinion/persuasive writing.

March Post

This year I have been working with Michele to bring a sense of excitement and authenticity to my students writing.  In the past and at the beginning of the year, I would have students write first and then draw their picture with crayons at the top of the page.  We would always have a focus lesson but I was very strict about writing with pencils on the lines, etc.  Writing became very boring for myself and the students, so I began grappling with what I could do to bring some excitement to writing.  I really wanted the kids to love writing time and they were definitely dreading it.  During my coaching time with Michele we came up with a new plan.  I created author boxes (smelly markers, markers, gel pen, glitter pens, colored pencils, etc.) with any kind of writing tool you can think.  They each got a journal and we used Amelia's Notebook as our mentor text and we really went to town.  Now the kids can't wait for writing time.  In fact, in the morning they have a choice to just write in their journals and the majority of students are choosing this option (that means they are using this journal twice a day).  We are moving into fiction writing and we will continue to write in these journals in the morning.  We also will use them for ideas for our fiction stories.  This little shift of me letting go of words being written with pencils has really resonated for us during writing.  The kids cheer when we transition to writing.  Students don't want to miss school because they don't want to miss the author I believe I have successfully met my goal that I had at the beginning of the year.  It is funny, every year I find myself saying as soon as I let go of control it turned out GREAT!!!!!

Persuasive Writing Through Book Reviews

I was trying to wrap my mind around how I could get my kinder students to write persuasively every day in an authentic way.  We started out by writing why we like different things and then giving a reason for that opinion.  We practiced this skill for a while.  From there, I created a book review form for the students to fill out.  Now every time they read a book that they think other students should read, they can fill out a book review form.  The books in our room will have a piece of paper sticking out of them if they have been given a review.  They students must rate the book.  They then write if they liked the book and the reasons why in the book review.  It has been a very fun and authentic way to get the students to write persuasively a couple of times a week.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Marching along!

 Our inquiry group is delving into the topic of closing the achievement gap.  As we all know, this is a huge issue that can only be achieved through ending poverty.  I recently read an article by Paul C. Gorski titled: Building a Pedagogy of Engagement for Students in Poverty in which he reiterated that idea when he said, "The only surefire way to eliminate the achievement gap is to eradicate poverty.  Since that's not going to happen anytime soon, educators can still take many research-proven steps to foster equality of opportunity in education."

Paul Gorski outlined the following research based steps that we as teachers and staff can follow to nurture equality in education.

  • express high expectations through higher order, engaging pedagogies
  • enhance family involvement
  • incorporate arts into instruction
  • incorporate movement into instruction
  • focus intently on student and family strengths
  • analyze materials for class bias
  • promote literacy enjoyment
  • reach out to families early and often
As I reflect on these steps, I'm wondering:
  • Am I doing a good job at these?
  • Is our school doing a good job at these?
  • What can we do as teachers and a staff to grow?
  • How can we (myself and our community) do a better job?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

March Post

The year just keeps Marching along!  Another month of school is in the past and I am here again to remind you that your next post is due.

Here are some choices for you this month:

  • Michelle was here on Friday to talk about argumentative writing and building a claim with evidence.  React to that PD.  What resonated with you and why? How has that changed your instruction or your approach to writing?
  • You should have had an opportunity at this point to receive some coaching from Michelle.  How has that helped you refine your writing instruction?  What has been your goal?  Where are you in meeting that goal?
  • Our inquiry groups are in full swing and working on a question around writing, perhaps preparing to go public.  What successes have you had with that work?  Has there been one thing in particular that has really worked for you?
  • Something else?  You could also look back on your posts from February and January and update the reader on your progress.  You could also react to any comments that you received from another participant.  
This is our last post for the year. In April, you will receive directions on pulling all of your thinking together for our final peer review on April 26th. 

Thanks so much!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

T'was the night before Shark Tank....

Wow!  I forgot how multi-faceted teaching writing is.  Through my struggles the past two weeks, I have really had a lot of fun as a teacher.  My kids have been really engaged in this project, which is making learning how to write persuasively a little less painful for most of them.

I ended up finding three mentor texts after what seemed like hours of searching the web.  We read the three texts (I read, they followed along for the sake of time) with the question "How do writers convince their readers to agree with them?" in mind.  Through a series of turn and talks, as well as small group discussions, we came up with this anchor chart to guide our thinking.

The other chart we made from these mentor texts was what we noticed about author's craft in the three pieces.  This process was much harder for them.  They struggled "reading like a writer" as opposed to reading the content of the pieces.  After much conferring, collaborating and guidance we came up with this chart.

With these two charts as our checklists of sorts, we set out to create our own persuasive writing pieces to support their various problem solving magnet creations.  If you are super interested in how they turned out, you can read them (after March 3rd that is!)  on our blog here.