Self-Monitoring Illustrations

One of my groups of second graders were publishing a personal narrative recently.  The biggest struggle in the final part of the process seemed to be illustrating the work.  Their teacher had done quite a bit of work with them around what makes a good illustration, but for a few of our friends, keeping a critical eye on their own work was a challenge.

So, for those children, Gianna and I tried out a quick self-monitoring checklist:

The students used the quick little checklist to become more independent and monitor their own illustrating work.  The improvement in illustrations after the checklist was remarkable — and the level of independence was impressive.

Partner Sentences in Second Grade

Usually, partner sentences is a strategy that I teach in kindergarten or early first grade to get our students to produce more volume in their writing.  But today, Jen and I used it with her second graders in their biography unit.

The students has done quite extensive research on a person of interest.  They had read multiple biographies both online via PebbleGo and from our Media Center.  Along the way, they had done some rudimentary note-taking using a graphic organizer that Jen had provided for them.  Then the students had completed a poster for display in the classroom Biography Museum.  As a final culminating project, the students were preparing for a multi-media presentation using their choice of Educreations or Touchcast.  They needed to write a brief script for themselves for that presentation.  Again, Jen provided them with a bare-bones graphic organizer for how that script might be structured using the structure for information writing that they’ve been using this year.

As students began working, it became clear that they had internalized a great deal of information about the person they had studied.  And so, I urged the small group working with me to consider a partner sentence strategy — one from my head, and one from my notes.  The children started by writing one sentence “from their heads”, in other words, one fact that they could easily remember.  Then, they scoured their notes for a related fact that contained a specific detail that wouldn’t be easily recalled.  That statement with the specific detail became the partner sentence “from the notes”.  With this quick strategy, the children got an opportunity to practice organizing facts into related categories and to expand on their writing by adding a more specific detail.  And, they had an opportunity to experience the process of checking back into their notes for information.

Ipad Video to Support Kindergarten Writers

Our kindergarteners are very Ipad proficient and our kindergarten teachers are pretty savvy too.  They tried this strategy to increase independence in the writing workshop.

The student had a planning conference with the teacher.  During that conference, the child either planned the story across their fingers or planned the story by pointing to the spot on the page where each word would go.  The teacher used the child’s ipad to video that plan.  The child then returned to their writing spot with the paper and the Ipad.  Anytime the child became “stuck” or needed some extra support to keep writing, the play button provided them with an instant record of their plan.

Students were able to write longer and stronger without teacher intervention.  Most of the students were able to complete a 4-5 page story independently.  This freed up the teacher to provide more and more conferences and small group support for writing.

The second go-round, the students deleted the previous video (after all, that book was already written) and with a partner, made the next plan and took a video of it.  Some of our students still needed the teacher’s intervention to create the plan, but the video continued to support them in being independent writers of their own books.

Shark Tank Video: Craft in Opinion Writing

Jayne’s students were working on opinion writing and needed to develop that persuasive voice.  She decided to do a close reading of a Shark Tank pitch with the students.

Students watched the video several times with her, using a transcript of the pitch and noticed the following;

  • phrases that speakers used to engage the audience
  • transitional phrases the speakers used to bring the audience along with them
  • ways in which the speaker counters arguments before they even arise
  • the strong language that the speaker uses to make the argument more persuasive
  • craft strategies such as exaggeration, repeating the claim, and providing examples

Then they went back to the writing workshop and did some heavy revision of their own pieces, attempting to make use of the strategies that they had seen in the Shark Tank video.

Some of the students even reported that they had watched and analyzed additional episodes at home with their parents and friends.  What was truly encouraging, was a few weeks later, when the students did an on-demand piece of opinion writing.  Jayne and I were thrilled to see her students employing some of these same strong strategies, even in that on-the-run piece!!

Google Forms: Exit Slips for Writing Workshop

Our third graders are pretty proficient users of technology.  They’re accustomed to submitting work in Google Docs and receiving feedback via comments.  So, Kathleen and I decided to try moving them up a tiny bit as techies.

Kathleen was doing a lesson with the students around Keep It or Cut It — revising informational text.  The students were working with pieces that had been drafted in Google Docs.  Her mini-lesson included a demo of the strategy and some ideas about places to use it.  Because this lesson was for her formal observation with an administrator, she was requiring each student to employ the strategy at least once during the workshop that day — ready or not.

We set up an exit ticket for the students in Google Forms.  Students had already cut something from their document as a part of the “cut it” strategy.  Since the computer or Ipad already puts that cut portion of text onto the virtual clipboard, we decided that it would be easy for students to “show us” what they had cut and tell why they had cut it.  They could paste the cut text right into the box on the Google Form.  Students would have a quick end of workshop check in.  Kathleen would have a spreadsheet with all of the students’ performance with this strategy right at her fingertips (And the administrator could be impressed by her incorporation of technology!!).

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Predictable Categories for Organizing Information Writing

Kathleen’s third grade class was beginning to work on chapter books for a Transdisciplinary Unit on animal adaptations.  They did research and were beginning to organize their thinking to create the chapters they would need to draft the books.

We talked with the students about how authors make use of “predictable categories” to organize their work.  We make some lists of predictable categories that might work for this writing.  And then the students set about organizing the notes they had into those categories.

Having the predictable categories also made the extended research easier for the students.  They could see which categories needed more information in order to become a full-fledged chapter in the book.

Look at the gorgeous (messy) organizers that they used to begin drafting.

Google Forms: Reading Log in the Upper Grades

Kim is a fifth grade teacher in a tech initiative school.  Her students are as tech savvy as she is.  She (and they) decided to try using google forms as a way to gather the student information that we typically gather in a reading log.  The students would be able to log their information from home on computers, tablets or smartphones.  Kim would be able to check a spreadsheet and quickly form groups, determine who needed a quick conference etc.  It saves her a ton of time during class — time that she can now spend on things like extra conferences or small group instruction with students.

Here’s a screenshot of the spreadsheet (before we let the students add information) that Kim sees each day:

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The Many Moments Story

I’ve been watching some of our second graders recently in Writing Workshop.  They’re fairly proficient at writing small moments and they desperately want to start writing “chapter books” for themselves.  The problem is: when they start trying to write longer narratives, they inevitably lapse into bed-to-bed stories.  All of that good small moment writing seems to fly right out the window.

So we decided to try using a mentor text to support the transition.  Surprisingly, the text that did the trick was not a chapter book at all — it was a picture book.  Thanks to TC Staff Developer, Christine Holley, I tried out My Best Friend, by Mary Ann Rodman.61qk36FPwfL._AA160_

This lovely story about friendship takes place on a series of Wednesday dates at the community pool.  Each new section begins with the phrase “the next Wednesday”.  We flagged each of those Wednesdays as a potential chapter in Mary Ann Rodman’s book.  Then we analyzed each of the Wednesday pool dates.  Lo and behold, each of the dates is written as a superbly well-developed small moment.  (The kids were amazed.  The teachers were not.)

We then challenged our students to think of stories in their lives that could be told as a series of small moments — many moments stories.  We browsed with them in their writing folders, hunting for small moments where it had been really hard to zoom in and choose something small and focused.  We made timelines of big stories in their lives — wondering aloud with them, “Could each dot on the timeline be its own small moment in a many moments story?”.

And then we sat back and watched the writing grow — and grow — and grow.

Wordle: Previewing Importance in Informational Reading

I love thin slicing skills so that students can focus their energies on the part of the skill that I really want them to learn.  Our tech consultant, Mike Gorman, gave me a beautiful idea for thin slicing the skill of summarizing.

What seems to get in the way of most students when they’re trying to approximate summaries, is the skill of determining importance.  Determining importance is inherent in creating a good summary.  But its hard to separate out the skills of determining importance and creating the summary itself.

Mike’s suggestion was to copy and paste the text of an informational article into Wordle and let Wordle do it’s thing.  Wordle uses the low-level strategy of repetition of words to determine which words are important.  It’s not a bad strategy.  It’s not a great one, but it works a lot of the time.  Wordle then makes the most frequent words HUGE and the lesser words very small.  (You can set the parameters, so that Wordle will ignore small words such as “the” and “and”.)  This quick tech trick gave students a strong sense of what words or concepts are most important.  Those are the ideas to include in the summary.  The words that Wordle made smaller can be omitted from the summaScreen Shot 2015-02-24 at 3.01.01 PMry (in all likelihood).

Using the Wordle, students could begin drafting a pretty good attempt at a summary right away.  The task of determining importance had been stripped away, leaving just the task of constructing the summary itself.  Students could focus on how the summary hangs together, how the transitions from one idea to the next are managed, and how the word choice impacts the length of the summary.  All of this is the work that I wanted them to grapple with.  Now, with Wordle handling the determining importance, they could.

Would I want them using the Wordle strategy forever?  No!  Of course not.  But it sure did the job of thin slicing for them.

Accumulating Text

I was working with one of our Special Ed teachers this week to support some of our students who need extra help in keeping track of what’s happening in a story.  We came up with a mini-unit of study for them and a tool that they could carry forward into other books.

First, we decided to teach some strategies for recognizing when a scene changes.

One way readers know a scene change is happening is by noticing a change in the setting.

One way readers know a scene change is happening is by noticing when a new character enters.

One way readers know a scene change is happening is by noticing when a character leaves.

 

Then we created a tracker for the students.

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Our teaching was that each time the scene changes, use one of the post it notes to record what happened in that scene.  Then keep reading until the next scene change and do it again.

When the tracker is full, pull the post its out and store them in your Reader’s Notebook so that you have them to use for tasks your teacher might ask of you.