The Write Approach

You may disagree with me, but I do think this is worth saying: You are wasting your time in the classroom and your personal time grading at home by assigning writing without explicitly teaching the writing process. And by process I do not simply mean a graphic organizer.

This, officially called by education researchers, “Writing Process Approach,” is defined as teaching each step of planning, organizing, drafting, revising, and reflecting. It not only has statistically proven to improve writing but it has also proven to relieve the inevitable anxiety. A study in 2014 concluded that since most of the anxiety stems from being graded, students were less fearful of the grade because the focus was spent on the process and not the final product. And, the students’ final product have less mistakes, so students grades tend to be higher. (Bayat, p.1139) 

For me, I find that the process approach yields stronger writing. My high expectations each year are consistently met because of the incremental steps I take with my students.

Here is a compilation of research-based strategies mixed with strategies I have picked up over the years from various colleagues and conferences for teaching formal writing. They might not all work for you, but if you are interested in adopting a process-approach, there are hopefully a couple nuggets for you.

Planning

This would be the step following or coinciding with the preliminary research where students gather information and textual evidence to use when they write. A study done in 2002 had kids memorize and use pneumonic devices,  like PLAN, so that they could do this on their own.   According to this research, students who were taught how to use and to memorize these pneumonic devices wrote “essays that were longer, contained more mature vocabulary and were qualitatively better.” (De La Paz and Graham 2002, p. 687) I find this alone to be a bit elementary. I talk about how to expand this a little later.

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Here is the next pneumonic device in the conclusive study that the process approach works:

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Writing a thesis statement can be intimidating for students.  I use the DBQ Project’s chicken foot method for the standard five paragraph essay, but the most important part of the puzzle is that first part: topic + opinion (without saying, “I think,” or “I believe.”)

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How valuable would it be for kids to realize that thesis statements should really be in all forms of writing (well, except for creative writing). History, response to literature, science, and even math writing can utilize the common vocabulary. For more complex thesis statements, for 8th graders, Jill requires them to add a phrase in the beginning acknowledging that the statement about to be said can be refuted. Phrases start with “although” or “while.”

When organizing complex essays that expand to numerous topics and body paragraphs, students can break down their main ideas from the PLAN and WRITE phase to body paragraph topics. Each body paragraph topic could be listed on a separate page. And students can organize and number their supporting ideas based on the paragraph topic. This really helps in the preliminary research as well.

During this phase, a graphic organizer can be useful. Read Write Think has a good one! Essay Map

Drafting

While many believe students should have the freedom to choose where in the introduction to place their thesis statements, the best way to teach it is as the last sentence of the introduction. This is because  it is the most logical for students to understand when first learning to write in this way, students need to understand the rules before they can break them and this is what is expected of them in high school. (Did you see how I modeled a complex thesis statement there? ) 🙂

So, obviously this is what I teach to my students. Below is a diagram that I learned from Jill many years ago that helps give students the general outline of writing a research paper or a persuasive essay. She coined him Essay Man: the ultimate writing teacher’s boyfriend…..and for you male teachers out there, Essay Woman works great too. 😉

Essay Man

TIDE is a pneumonic device that breaks down the body paragraphs or paragraphs that stand alone. Students color code as they write.  It is important to specify how many pieces of important evidence they need. For every piece of evidence, they need a detail.  Ann has a ton of resources for TIDE, so see her for help!

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Revising: 

There are many ways to skin the cat on this one: self-assessment, peer evaluation, conferencing one-on-one with students, etc. But, it should always include you, the teacher, giving them feedback at some point in the process. We have all given students copious notes for improvement after giving a grade. But, they never read them. All they care about is the grade. And, we can’t fault them for that because the grade is all that matters. (see grading blog post)

The absolute best time for feedback is during this phase of writing. I make it a rule to never sit down when they are writing. There should be regular coaching. My biggest struggle is helping the kids that don’t advocate for themselves and ask for help. So, I brought in the big guns. Kimmy and Ann are amazing assets and I encourage you to reach out to them and invite them into your classroom to help kids revise their writing. Having another teacher in the room who is an expert in helping struggling kids, especially with reading and writing, is pretty much life-changing.  The amount of time your name is called goes down exponentially!

 Self-assessment has also been proven to successfully improve writing.  According to Kristen Nielsen (2012) in her article, “Self Assessment Methods in Writing Instruction: A Conceptual Framework, Successful Practices and Essential Strategies,” “Self-assessment in writing signifies any teaching method that prompts writers to think about, evaluate and/or respond to their own writing.” (p. 1)  Nielson compiled list of  include: “Teach students the criteria for rating their own work,…use writing models to demonstrate specific writing skills and to give students opportunity to practice assessment,…[and] students should participate in the development of the marking criteria.”  (Nielson 2012, p.10-11) 

For my last essay, I gave students a simple check list for them to go through as they read the paper. One part asked them to color code their typed document: blue for the thesis statement, red for transition statements, green for quotes. This helped me grade too, because I could quickly see whether they can identify these vocabulary words and if they know what to do with them!

Peer evaluation can be valuable when done correctly. Often, kids are paired up in mixed-ability groups. Which is so useful for the struggling student. But what about the high kid? Where is he or she getting feedback from? You also have to be very clear about the criteria they are looking for. They are not looking for grammar or punctuation mistakes, or, heaven help us, penmanship critique. They are looking at the specific writing goals (i.e. checklist) and see if there is room for coaching. It is also important that you teach them how to give feedback. Good sentence starters are “I like” for strengths and “I wonder” for improvements.

Here is a video of a silent critique activity I have done with my students that works really well.  I learned this from the Deeper Learning Conference at High Tech High. (Forgive me: I did this for grad school and it is very raw!)

Reflection:

For almost every assignment I use rubrics. Not only does this tell the student why he or she lost points, but it also makes it easy for me to provide comments at the end of the semester. I can clearly see strengths and weaknesses. But, how many kids really look at the rubrics? For my persuasive essay I just did with the 6th graders, I was pretty confident none of them did.  What is the point of grading, if not to teach them how they can improve? I told all of my students that they could improve their score if they met with me during office hours and resubmitted their writing based on my recommendations. Here was the rubric I used:

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 I had all of them do a reflection which forced them to look at the rubric and I made it worth almost the same amount of points as the essay itself. Here are the questions I asked.

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I know what you are thinking: wow, it is a lot of work to teach writing! And, that is a completely fair assessment! 🙂 I plan to follow this up with more ideas learned from other teachers. Please let me know strategies that have worked for you so I can share them!

Resources:

  1. 2. BAYAT, N. (2014). The Effect of the Process Writing Approach on Writing Success and Anxiety. Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice, 14(3), 1133-1141. doi:10.12738/estp.2014.3.1

  2. De La Paz, S., & Graham, S. (2002). Explicitly Teaching Strategies, Skills, and Knowledge: Writing Instruction in Middle School Classrooms. Journal Of Educational Psychology, 94(4), 687.

  3. DBQ Project
  4. Nielsen, K. (2014). Self-assessment methods in writing instruction: a conceptualframework, successful practices and essential strategies. Journal Of Research InReading, 37(1), 1-16. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9817.2012.01533.x

Curating Student Work

I display work for probably the same reasons that you do. I hope that hanging each student’s work makes them feel a part of my classroom community…. and it makes my walls look nice. 🙂 But, my new goal for displaying student work is to use student work as a motivation for students to create quality work.  I want to move from ‘hanging up’ student work to curating a student gallery. This may mean not having every student represented in each ‘exhibit.’ As long as the student is represented in one exhibit in my room throughout the year, then I think am ok.

The question I can then ask myself is, how can I create more opportunities for students to create beautiful work. This term, beautiful work, was first introduced by Ron Berger, the founder of Expeditionary Learning schools. It is defined as high-quality work that has been through the process of many drafts and critique.  Let’s be clear though. Beautiful work does not have to be art. It can be any work, from persuasive essays to science fair projects, that have been through this process.

If you haven’t seen Austin’s Butterfly in a while, I highly recommend it to see the example of beautiful work.

 

For people truly interested in crafting assignments that lend itself to beautiful work, I highly recommend watching this section of the Deeper Learning MOOC  (Massive Open Online Course) from a few years ago. It shows a panel of experts who are truly passionate about this topic as they discuss strategies and questions from people watching.

Faculty Highlight: Singing with Jaime

We all say things and do things with our students that we might never do in front of a group of adults. For instance, yesterday, I had a spontaneous dance party with the kids because they needed a brain break. Let’s just say there was a lot of ‘shootin’ the moon’. It’s the only dance move I have down.

Jaime, our amazing first grade teacher, wanted to bring one of her passions, singing, into her classroom. So, she decided to turn every lesson possible into memory songs. From classroom management and organization, to grammar and math skills,  Jaime and her kids sing  what they are learning all day long. Here is an exclusive interview with Jaime about how she comes up with her silly songs. She also shared some videos of these songs in action!  #getyourcuteon

Why do you sing with your students?

” I love singing and it makes things easier to remember. I really want to get things stuck in their heads.”

How do you use the songs you teach?

“I start each year in song with classroom rules, and then I use them throughout the year for grammar rules and things that are important to remember about reading. Memorizing might not be as meaningful without a tune!

While they are working, I might sing the song about the rule they are practicing and then they sing along with me. This reminds them of the rule as they work through the activity. I even use songs for classroom rules to remind them about things like putting your name and date on the page.”

How do you come up with your songs?

“I use tunes that I already know and enjoy and then I steal them and change the words. Sometimes, the class comes up with tunes together. First, we decide if the song would work and then I come up with the words for the tune. Giving kids a chance to pick the song means more buy in from the beginning. For instance, the kids really wanted to make up a song to the tune of Star Wars, which worked perfectly with the rule for adjectives. ”

Adjectives: (Star Wars Theme)
An adjective 
is a describing word
is a describing word
is a describing word
for a noun
Two Vowels Together (Happy Birthday Song)
“When two vowels are together
you will only hear the first one
the first vowel will be long
and the second one will be silent
Make It Plural: (One of Jaime’s favorite country songs)
“Make it plural
add an S
sometimes add an es
everybody knows 
an S makes more than one of those”
 If you want to sing with your students, talk to Jaime! She has a ton of strategies. My favorite part is you can really turn any song with a clear melody and chorus into a memory song. If you feel like jammin’ to tunes from the 80’s with your kids, go for it!

 

Lunchtime Chats: An MJS Pilot

Cult of Pedagogy, an education blog written by experienced middle school English teacher Jennifer Gonzalez, should be followed by every educator. Her content is very concrete and can be easily adapted in all K-12 classrooms. You can follow her on Facebook and Pinterest or just follow her blog and get emails when new articles are posted. Recently, she posted a very interesting article about Piloting. This is the new wave in PD. It is a teacher-led, grassroots approach to solving a problem or fulfilling a need in our classrooms and school.  Click here to read the article! 

So, when Lisa approached me about an important need she found: that teachers have little time to really discuss curriculum across a grade level, at least in middle school, I thought maybe Piloting could work. This is where the ‘Lunch time Chat’ idea was born.  Our first Lunch Time Chat will be focused on 6th grade. Lisa will be meeting any 6th grade teacher who would like to participate in P-3 to problem solve how 6th grade can become more cohesive in what we teach. We will open this up to different grade levels next month.

If you see a problem or need you would like to solve, see me and I would be happy to schedule a Keep Calm time for interested people to come together!

#teachingisbetterwithfriends #keepcalmandlearnsomethingnew #mjspilot

 

 

Two Common Misconceptions Teachers Have About Coding

The ability to code is a critical core competency for the jobs of the future.We know that kids need to code.  We have heard it a million times. However, teachers have certain reservations about utilizing coding in their curriculum because of two common misconceptions I’ve noticed and hope to dispel.

Misconception #1: “I can’t ask my kids to code when I don’t know how to code myself.”

Believe it or not, you don’t really need to know how to code to give your kids opportunities to do the work. It certainly will help to try the challenges yourself before assigning them, but surprisingly, it is not necessary. Coding is an activity that can easily be added to your day-to-day lesson plans with little prior knowledge on your part. And, it works great as an  INDEPENDENT activity.

For example, this week, with the help and guidance of Adrienne, I have been using coding challenges for early finishers. When kids finish the part of the essay we are working on, they can continue where they left off on their coding challenge. This is an easy way for me to focus on the kids that need extra help on their writing. Likewise, coding is an excellent activity for center rotations, which gives another opportunity for you to meet with small groups and feel confident that the rest of the class is on-task. The coding challenges out there are designed to be relevant and high-interest. For instance, one of the challenges I gave them last week was to design a Snapchat filter.

A side benefit of including coding in the lessons is that it gives kids opportunities to practice following explicit directions. We all know how much kids love to rush and skip directions. But, with coding, they simply can’t skip the directions. They must follow the directions in order, which is a skill that needs regular practice and reinforcement, and one that I like to employ in the classroom. Code.org is a good resource for similar coding challenges organized by grade level. Another resource that has short coding challenges, Scratch, is great for all ages because it utilizes the drag and drop method of coding. This makes it easy for all ages but still gives opportunities for more advanced and intricate animation. Here are the short Scratch challenges. My 6th graders loved them!

Misconception #2: “Coding is meant for technology class, not my class!”

What’s the point of learning a skill in technology class if students don’t get to practice it in a real and relevant way? Coding can be an easy way to have kids show proof of knowledge in your curriculum.  Any of the coding challenges that already exist can be altered to meet the needs of your lesson plans. For instance, next week, my students will code a stop-motion animation video about traveling the Silk Road that will integrate the coding process with applying knowledge from the curriculum.

Here are some ideas for you that you can adjust to connect with a novel study, a concept, required vocabulary, or even a time and place in history:

Don’t worry! Adrienne would be happy to help you choose the best coding challenge for your curriculum and grade level. She is an amazing resource!

And then you can leave at the end of the day knowing you provided your students with exposure to critical skills and enhanced their growth mindset without very heavy lifting on your part!

**A geofilter alerts the people you share the picture with on Snapchat of your location by inserting an overlay that represents the location! This would be an amazing assignment for a history class: What would the geotag be for a particular place in a particular time period?

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The Case for Doodling In the Classroom

Have you ever been teaching something you find very important and you look down at one of your students and they are deep into a very detailed doodle? You think to yourself: “How could this student not be paying attention? How rude of them!” But, did you know that there is probably a higher chance that the doodlers in your class are actually retaining more information than the student who is obediently staring at you as you speak? Yep, that’s right. As much as we might hate to admit it, doodling can and should be allowed in our classrooms. I fought it for a long time, but I am a fervent believer in doodling today.

According to many studies, doodling effectively aids in executive functioning and multi-tasking. One study concluded that people doodling during a lecture could recall 29% of the the information given while the non-doodlers averaged 5.8%. In fact, they attribute this retention to the fact that doodling does not allow the brain to day dream, which takes a lot of the brain’s energy away from the task at hand. Doodling requires way less energy and keeps the brain focused on the speaker.

So, what if we started class one day by saying, “Students, I am going to share this information. I want you to listen and engage in class discussions at times. But, while you are listening, I encourage you to doodle.” We know that every student will be so excited for this. And, all of us with those fancy white board tables will rejoice at the fact that doodling is actually aiding in their learning!

Now, what if we then said, “Students, not only are you allowed to doodle, today I am going to teach you strategies for how to improve your doodles. Maybe you can even draw what you hear or see in the text.”   Taking notes with doodling even has a name: sketchnoting! It is the new spatial note-taking device that is hitting the education world by storm.

In fact, here is a sketchnote sharing different ways you can use doodling in your classroom!

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Source for this picture

EdWeek: The Power of Visual Note-taking

If sketchnoting interests you, I encourage you to do a simple search for it on Google and you will be so surprised at how much is out there!  Give students who learn spatially a chance to learn their way. Outlining is not for everybody!

Tips for beginners and doodling and the link to my cover picture