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Helping Students Become Better Writers–A Team Priority!

“Why do I have to revise and edit my lab report?  This is science class, not Language Arts!”

“Why do you give essay tests?” This isn’t an English class!”

“Journaling in Math?  We do those in Language Arts; why are we doing them here?”

“You want me to write about an artist’s style? Why can’t I just show you with images?”

Most of us have experienced student complaints when writing-based tasks are assigned.  Students often compartmentalize skills by subject area, and in their minds writing belongs in Language Arts class. However, writing is a skill that crosses all disciplines and is a requirement for most professional jobs.  In fact, salaries often increase in proportion to one’s ability to write well.  Look at the infographic below.  It details the results of a study conducted by the folks at Grammarly.com, a popular web-based grammar checking service.

Grammarly.com Infographic

Grammarly.com Infographic

Over the next couple of blog posts, I will share several ideas for making the teaching of writing a team-based enterprise. Step 1 might be that the language arts teacher shares this infographic with his teammates and begins a conversation during common planning time by asking, “I wonder if it might not be worth our time to review how we reinforce good writing skills across our team classes, and then explore one or two additional ways to support our students as they work on becoming better writers?”

Next time: How Grammarly.com could be useful to students in all classes.

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3 Team Actions to Address Common Core Literacy Standards

Take advantage of common planning time  to support one another as you address Common Core or state literacy standards in all of your classrooms.

Teachers planning in Sierra Leone

Teachers planning in Sierra Leone

Three actions you can take as a team to better help your students become proficient readers and writers in the middle grades:

1. Compile a list of what your students actually read and write in your various classes. Categorize them:

  • Reading (materials your students actually read, not what you read to them)
  1. Literary
  2. Informational
  • Writing
  1. Argument
  2. Narrative (Convey an Experience)
  3. Informative/Explanatory
  4. Other (i.e. poetry)

Look at the entire mix and determine if your students’ reading and writing assignments fall within the Common Core guidelines.

Reading

Common Core Reading45 % Literary                    55% Informational

Remember, you should be considering all of the reading your students do, not just those texts in language arts class!

Writing

Common Core writing35% Argument

35% Narrative

30% Informative/Explanatory

Remember to think about all classes, not just language arts.  Writing is everyone’s responsibility.

With this information at your fingertips, the team will be better prepared to have conversations with administrators and parents about the ways you are addressing the Common Core. Also, knowing what each other is teaching lends itself to collaboration. Provide students with multiple practices in different contexts to build their proficiency levels in literacy.

2. Talk about inferences–don’t assume everyone on the team has the same knowledge. Make sure everyone on the team understands what they are and how they apply to each subject area’s reading assignments.

Good readers readily make inferences. Others need explicit instruction and practice to apply this skill in their reading.

Good readers readily make inferences. Others need explicit instruction and practice to apply this skill in their reading.

 

Some useful links:

 

3. Have students practice citing textual evidence in all classes. The lesson may or may not to end up as a piece of writing. Small group work, class discussions, 4 Corners, and other oral strategies provide opportunities for students to practice this skill.   Remember to ask, “Would you please show me the details in the text that support what you just said.”

Here’s a video of a direct teaching lesson focused on citing text. https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/teaching-about-textual-evidence

 

laptops4Students explain their project to a visitor.

Collaborating as a team to coordinate and reinforce learning benefits all students.

 

Research Skills Are Part of the Common Core!

Students must become efficient, effective, and ethical researchers

~school, college, career, life~

Common Core Literacy Anchor Standards

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Address these standards (informational literacy) systematically–don’t allow your students to leave your team with a hodge-podge of strategies for locating accurate information quickly:

  • Identify the specific skills students need in order to meet standards.
  • Create a team folder on the school server or a team wiki where all of the materials can be located in a central location so everyone has access.
  • Adapt and add to lessons as needed.  The librarian/media specialist should be the team’s number one resource–bring him or her lots of freshly baked cookies and other goodies.
  • Design a team plan of action for teaching and reinforcing information literacy skills across the curriculum. Set up a calendar and hold one another accountable.

teachers working together1. Identify places in the curriculum that are a natural fit for these skills.

2. Divide these skills up and teach them in the context of units across the curriculum.
3. Remember! Every assignment does not have to include the entire research process.  Some assignments may only include locating resources and evaluating them for reliability, and others may focus on taking notes, paraphrasing, and summarizing.
4. Chunk up research assignments into segments with checkpoints in order to monitor student progress.

Check resources on the web for ideas, lessons, and resources:

Big 6The Big 6: Information and Technology Skills for Student Achievement (http://www.big6.com/ and http://www.big6.com/kids/). These sites are multi-faceted and include some free lessons, descriptions of units where teachers have integrated the Big 6 components, and free resources such as graphic organizers and note taking templates.  This is also a commercial site and offers products and staff development.  They take advantage of social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook, and also have a RSS feed. This approach has six components in the process:

  • Task Definition
  • Information Seeking Strategies
  • Location and access
  • Use of information
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation

Noodle Tools (http://www.noodletools.com/) is a subscription site that also offers free tools that are extremely useful. Their free tools include “Choose the Best Search,” a tool to help identify how to use search engines and their features for efficient searching and several resources for becoming an expert in the tricky world of citations.  There are also some interesting resources for teachers including one very valuable one on being an ethical researcher.

ISTE Standards (http://tiny.cc/ISTE144) are published by the International Society for Technology in Education.  These standards are related to the entire world of the integration of technology into education and are worth a close look. The third standard relates directly to research and information fluency:

Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.

Students:

  • Plan strategies to guide inquiry.
  • Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media.
  • Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.
  • Process data and report results.

21st Century Information Fluency (http://21cif.com/) This is a commercial site that was originally connected to the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. There are free tutorials and wizards that help both the budding and accomplished searcher become even more proficient with information fluency skills.  Many students often feel because they use the internet so much that there is nothing new to learn.  The search challenges on this site will test the skills of each and every student.

University of Maryland University College (http://tiny.cc/Research574) Although this site is designed for older students, it has resources that are useful to teachers.  It is divided into seven modules: Doing Research, Copyright, Using the Library, Call Numbers, Finding Books, Finding Articles, Finding Websites.

One last note…if you really want to your students to internalize the research process so that they can apply it to situations beyond the classroom, allow them to research topics that interest them!

This posting is adapted from Chapter 8 of Teaming Rocks! Collaborate in Powerful Ways to Ensure Student Success — available from AMLE (AMLE.org).

teamingrocks

Team Action Plan for Students Who Struggle

Jack Berckemeyer, Ruler of Education, has a new book out! Taming of the Team: How Great Teams Work Together  

BerckemeyerJack

Jack offers a lot of practical ideas for teams, and one of my favorites is the 3-5-3 Action Plan.  Too often teams revisit the same student and his or her problems over and over again during Common Planning Time.  10% of the students consume 80% of the team’s time.  That’s pretty inefficient.  Unfortunately many teams never get beyond retelling all of the child’s misdemeanors during planning time and then having parent conferences where the same stories are retold. Nothing changes and frustration on everyone’s part grows.  Jack has a great strategy for breaking this unproductive cycle–his 3-5-3 Action Plan.  Here’s a quick summary:

1. As a team prepare a list of issues facing the student.

  •  Create the list before talking with parents or the student so everyone on the team is in agreement about the issues.
  • Divide the list into 2 parts: academic issues & behavior issues

2. Choose 3 academic or 3 behavior issues from the list.  Here’s your first 3!

  • It’s very important to keep the two categories separate.
  • Decide as a team which set you want to deal with first.

3. Once you have decided on which issue to focus on with the student, brainstorm as many actions as you can think of that will help the student move forward.

  • Categorize the ideas into teacher-initiated interventions, student services involvement, and parental involvement.
  • Make sure these strategies or actions are realistic.
  • Choose 5 of these strategies for the plan.  Here’s your 5 in the 3-5-3 Action Plan.

4. Designate 3 ways the team will follow up and coach the student.   This is your final 3!

I think the final step of follow-up and coaching is critical, and it’s a step teams often leave out.  The coaching, in my mind, must be intentional and someone’s responsibility.  We know just telling a young adolescent or anyone for that matter that they need to do 1, 2, 3, etc. rarely changes behavior.  Instead, think Jillian Michaels on The Biggest Loser–well maybe not that extreme.  Kids, however, need encouragement and cheerleaders as well as someone to help them reflect on their choices and decisions.  Jack’s 3-5-3 Action Plan provides teams with a concrete strategy to use with their students who struggle academically or behaviorally.

D310

Meet and Greet Jack at the MAMLE Annual Conference

October 17-18, 2013

Point Lookout Resort and Conference Center

Northport, Maine

Team Spring Tune-Up! Part 2

More snow here in the Northeast today so it is difficult to think about spring being just around the corner.  However, the clock leaps ahead this weekend so green grass and tulips must be on the way.  In my last post I suggested teams assess how well you are connecting with each and every child as a first step in a spring tune-up.  A good second step is to think about skills that students need to be successful in all of your classes:

  • Identifying the main idea and supporting details
  • Writing an open ended response
  • Making inferences
  • Crafting an argument with sufficient evidence and logical reasoning
  • Taking notes
  • Searching the Internet effectively, efficiently, and ethically
  • Keeping track of assignments and managing time

The list could go on and on, however the team needs to choose one on which to focus.  If you could send your students on to the next grade having truly mastered just one academic skill, what would it be?  Which one would be the most beneficial to them? (Of course there are many, but you have to start somewhere!)   Once you have identified that skill, devise a cross-curricular approach to teaching and reinforcing it:

  • Who is going to introduce or reteach the skill?  When and in what context?
  • What order are the other teachers going to reinforce the skill and provide additional practices within the context of their curriculum?  How will they do it? Share ideas.
  • How will you assess student progress and then reteach if necessary?

Actually plan it out on calendar.

Screen Shot 2013-03-10 at 10.20.38 AM

Hold yourselves responsible.  Take time to reflect on this strategy–did you get the desired results?  If so, what’s the the next skill you are going to address?  If not, figure out what you might try differently next time!   Collaborating to build student skills is a powerful strategy for learning.

Spring Tune-Up! Part 1

It’s early March and in some parts of the country the daffodils are starting to bloom, creating waves of bobbing yellow heads that stand out sharply against the greening grass.  However, it’s all white in my neck of the woods with snow still piled up two feet high.

snow

No matter the scenery, early spring is a great time for your team to pause and reflect on your progress so far.

There are still at least two or three solid months left before the end of the year rituals and festivities commence.  Take time to review what the team has accomplished so far and to prioritize your collaborative efforts for the rest of the year so you can make the best use of this block of instructional time.  Focus on those activities that will help your students the most and make sure the team “cylinders” fire in a coordinated and efficient manner.

One aspect of a team spring tune-up ought to include an assessment of how well the teachers are connecting with each of the students.  Here are a couple of questions to ask yourselves:

  • Does each of our students have an adult advocate on the team—someone who knows the student well and with whom the student feels comfortable talking?
  • Do we incorporate student interests in our instruction?
  • Does each of our students feel valued?

Here’s an activity for Common Planning Time to help you assess how well you are connecting with your students:

  • Write every student’s name on an index card.
  • Spread the cards out on a table, name side up.
  • Individually, note on the card the interests of the student.  For example: Johnny—snowmobiling and water skiing, Maria—singing and composing
  • When each teacher has finished noting what s/he knows about individual student interests, step back and look at the array of cards.
    • Are there some students everyone seems to know?
    • Who are the students with blank cards?
    • Do the students with blank cards share any characteristics?  What do these shared characteristics tell us about our team?  Are there some things we need to address?
      • Low grades?
      • Behavior issues?
      • Special ed?
      • Very quiet?
      • Eat lunch alone?
  • Create a plan.  How will you connect with each of those students whose cards are blank?
    • Informal conversations?
    • Advisory, homeroom or class activity?
    • Eat lunch with them?
    • Conversations with parents?
    • How might we use student interests to connect with our curricula?
  • Set a date to review your progress in making personal connections with these students.

We know that relationships are a key element is a student’s motivation and achievement in school.  Sometimes connections naturally occur among students and staff, but there are always those students left out.  It is imperative that middle grades team teachers be intentional in building relationships:

  • Student to student
  • Staff to student
  • Staff to families

Taking time to check on the status of the connections between you and your students is a first step in a Team Spring Tune Up .  Do not let any of your students leave the team at the end of the year without feeling they were known, appreciated, and valued by their teachers.

Use It or Lose It! Writing Across the Curriculum

I decided to take the summer off and not post here.  Out of habit, out of sight, out of mind!  Result: it has been very difficult to get back into writing regularly. Not only has my habit of posting been disrupted, but my ease with the writing process has been adversely affected.  Words don’t flow as easily, and my new idea generator seems stuck in neutral.  It occurs to me that the same thing happens to our students when we don’t expect them to write on a regular basis!

The ability to communicate is a life skill.  It’s one of the 4 C’s in the 21st century skills set  and encompasses several standards in the Common Core. Furthermore, developing students’ abilities to communicate effectively is just common sense–it’s an every century skill!

Teams need to work together to build their students’ ability to communicate in a variety of ways, including writing.  Here’s a terrific article about one very low performing high school that tackled writing together and found improvement in students’ skill levels in other areas: “The Writing Revolution” in The Atlantic.

Everything students write does not need to be corrected and graded. Sometimes the assignments are just practices–like shooting hoops on the school playground.  Providing students opportunities to try out new words, sentence structures, and genres  will have dividends as students become more comfortable with the written word.
A few ideas to get started as a team…

  • An idea from the article above–have students summarize in writing the big ideas from the lesson of the day (in any class) using sentence structures they have studied in Language Arts class.  Write a compound sentence summarizing ratios.  Write a sentence beginning with “although” that explains the process photosynthesis.
  • Use journals or writing logs in every class.
  1. Summarizers
  2. Discussion starter prompts
  3. Practices for citing evidence in an argument piece
  4. Creative writing (The creative economy generates personal income & revenue for state and federal governments–we shouldn’t ignore this aspect of our students’ education)
  5. Write sentences using words from Word Wall
  • Keep a team blog that informs parents and the community about what is happening on your team.  Have students write the different posts.
  • Plan interdisciplinary units where students synthesize information from several disciplines–have you looked at the Webquest site recently for ideas?
  • Teach students to access online writing resources in all classes (OWL. Grammar Girl, thesaurus)
  • Browse ReadWriteThink together to identify ideas for working as a team on literacy skills.

Our students will not improve as writers unless they write.  Working as a team to provide daily opportunities for students to experiment with words, sentence structures, and different genres is an important educational goal.

Additional sources on writing across the curriculum in middle school:

Middle School Journal

Previous post on The Atlantic article mentioned above

RAFT strategy

West Virginia DOE–specific strategies

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