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Team Writing Instruction Tool # 2: Grammarly

Let’s face it—many people are reluctant writers. Memories of school essays all marked up in red still send shudders up and down their spines. And…many non-Language Arts/English teachers resist holding students accountable for proper English usage in their class assignments because they do not feel comfortable correcting grammar. In fact, many do not assign writing tasks at all because they dread reading poorly written pieces. However, literacy standards are now everyone’s responsibility, not just the Language Arts teacher’s.

A middle level team must stand together and insist that students use their best writing skills in all classes and be willing to return work to students to revise and edit when the work is sloppy. My previous post suggests that team teachers identify and address the most egregious grammar mistakes their students are making.

Here is a second strategy teams can use to help your students become better writers.  Another “tool” so to speak. It is Grammarly, a web-based grammar checking site.  Now, for the most part, the whys and hows of proper grammar use are taught in the language arts classroom. However, there needs to be a reinforcement of proper usage across the curriculum.  Grammarly can help in 3 ways:

1. Students can upload their work to the site and have it checked.  Grammarly tends to catch more spelling, usage, and style errors than Word. In addition, it checks for plagiarism. Students can double check their work in science, social studies, math, art, or any other class.  They receive digital feedback on what they need to correct before passing in the assignment. The teachers can then concentrate on reviewing the accuracy of the content rather than being totally distracted by misspellings, double negatives, or incorrect verb forms.

Identifies errors missed in rereading of written text

Identifies errors missed in rereading of written text

2. Using the extension on Google Chrome, students can get immediate feedback when they are working on online writing assignments. Think what a boon this feature would be for your English language learners and students with writing and processing issues!

Misspelling!

Misspelling!

3. The Grammarly Facebook page has an endless supply of clever and funny images related to literacy. Use them in your instruction.  Humor helps us remember!

Not a famous literary cat, but she helps me write my blog posts.

Not a famous literary cat, but she helps me write my blog posts.

4. Here’s a bonus for the teachers on the team who just love to talk grammar.  Grammarly has a great blog where they can read about such topics as animal idioms, words that get confused, email etiquette and cats in literature.

 

As a team research Grammarly and see how this site might be useful to you.  Obviously the students need easy access to digital devices.  Check out these web pages:

1. grammarly.com/grammar-check

2. An article from Forbes Magazine: http://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2012/10/21/i-dont-tolerate-poor-grammar/

3. A quick overview of Grammarly video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=No0IPf98UaQ

Next, you will need to talk to your tech folks and probably your administration.  Grammarly is free, however, students do have to have accounts. Secondly, if you use the Google Chrome extension, it does need to be installed on the school’s computers.  At the very least you can demonstrate how the website works so students can use it at home.

As a team, you need to use Grammarly for a bit to feel comfortable with its functionality. When you are ready to share it with your students, build in time to show them how to use it. Point out that it will explain what the mistake is so that they can learn from their own errors.

Identifying the error

Identifying the error

Showing the solution

Showing the solution

What I like about Grammarly is that it is tool that students can use in many situations—in and out of school. And no, tools like Grammarly do not make us lazy about being aware of usage and spelling.  They help us fine-tune our skills. Probably 95% of  us make grammatical errors in our everyday speaking and writing. I have reliable writing skills, but when I use Grammarly (like right now), it always picks up errors that I miss during my revising and editing process. It’s not perfect, but teaching students to use it effectively will help them become better writers—in all of their classes. Also, it is a great tool for teachers to use to double check communications they send home to parents.  Check it out:  grammarly.com/grammar-check.

 

 

 

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Fill a Team Toolbox With Shared Writing Strategies

Toolbox full of tools

The right tools help get a job done well.

A toolbox is a well-used metaphor because it denotes a set of tools or skills that help get a task done well. Helping students become better writers is an everyday responsibility for each member of the team, and a shared set of effective strategies benefits both the teachers and their students.

Tool # 1: Knowledge of the grammatical errors most likely to doom speakers and writers to be viewed unfavorably.

There are specific grammatical mistakes that grate on people’s nerves and often lead to a diminished respect for the person committing the error. When a team collaborates to help their students eliminate these blunders from their conversations and writing, they move their students toward meeting standards and being able to present themselves in a favorable light in any situation.

The image below lists the most egregious grammar errors.

Most egregious grammar errors

Most egregious grammar errors

This image lists grammar mistakes that many people consider very serious.

Grammar mistakes to avoid.

Grammar mistakes to avoid.

 

Here are three ideas of how a team might make use of this knowledge:

  1. Identify which of these serious grammar mistakes are most prevalent in your students’ speaking and writing. Then, create a plan for helping students eliminate these errors.  Helping kids with their grammar can be very delicate work because they may interpret any corrections as an insult to themselves or their families.  It is important, I think, to set a context by talking about audience and purpose.  For example, the way any of us speaks in a job interview is different from the way we chat with our friends. Taking the time to have conversations about the different ways we communicate with family and friends, in the neighborhood, at a religious service, for an assignment in school, or applying for a job is important.  The topic of informal and formal speaking would make a great advisory unit.  Students could role play, make posters, create public service announcements for younger children, or draw cartoons that illustrate proper grammar usage.
  2. As a team focus on one particular error for a week or two — The week of eradicating the double negative or Stamp out sentence fragments month. 
  3. Use common rubrics that include specific grammar usage issues.  If the team agrees that they are going to look for three specific errors in all of its students’ writing, students will have proper usage reinforced in multiple contexts.  They will also see that all of their teachers value correct grammar.  And… for non-language arts teachers it may relieve some stress related to correcting for proper grammar in their assignments.  As students’ work improves, add additional grammar usage issues to the mix. It is critical to continue talking about student writing in team meetings and building everyone’s expertise and confidence in addressing writing in their curriculum area.

***Of course, correct grammar is just one aspect of teaching writing across the curriculum. We’ll look at some additional ideas in later posts.

 

 

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

Celebrate World Book Day!

World Book Day is March 6.  Initiated by UNESCO, World Book Day celebrates the joys and the transformational experiences of reading.

Larry Ferlazzo, a prolific educational blogger, suggests some of the best sites related to World Book Day. Here are just a couple:

  • Larry’s list of best sites for intermediate readers– a lot of his suggestions include informational text resources.
  • The World Book Day official site from the UK

World BookDay

Infusing the joy of reading into our curriculum and instruction is a worthy goal for middle grades teams.  Here are some cool quotes to have on your wall…

  • “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” George R. R. Martin A Dance With Dragons
  • “Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”
    Lemony Snicket, Horseradish
  • “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
    Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
  • “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
    Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

There has been a lot of debate recently about what students should be reading in school.  If you believe in the power of student choice, grab a copy of Smith and Wilhelm’s new book from Scholastic, Reading Unbound.

Reading Unbound

Celebrating World Book Day as a Team:

  • Take time during class (all teachers) to share an excerpt from your favorite book and a short explanation why it is cherished.
  • Invite students to dress as their favorite character (teachers too) and take time for students to share their thoughts.
  • Invite the librarian in to do book talks about the latest books in the library (print or digital).
  • Have a reading fest where students bring in their favorite children’s books and read aloud from them.  (Good activity to practice fluency)
  • Write a book together as a class or team.
  1. Use a web tool like SlideShare.net where students or sets of partners create a slide on a topic and then compile those slides into a slideshow and publish.  Topic should be something of high interest to students.
  2. Create an eBook using iBook Author or other web tool.  Here’s a link to a book on critters in Florida written by a middle school science class.  It includes images, videos, and text. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/creatures-plants-and-more!/id521854684?mt=11
  3. Invite a local author to visit or participate via Skype or Google Hangout.
  4. Have students research authors across time and then have them role play in a scenario:  Dinner at the White House, Panel discussion on a hot topic, Interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman, Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah, or Arsenio Hall, etc.

If you have to link everything you do to a standard–think about the speaking and listening ones, close reading, writing informational text, etc.  Never let the standards keep you from doing something beneficial with your students!

In the spirit of the day, here are some of my favorites:

What are some of  your and your students’ favorites?  Happy World Book Day!

Citing Evidence–A Strategy Everyone Can Use

Common Core literacy standards include:

  • Reading — Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • Writing — Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

By coordinating their efforts, a team can provide a variety of contexts for students to practice the skill of citing evidence in both discussions and writing.  Finding strategies that work across the disciplines is the first step.  Here’s one that Abby Svenson, fifth grade teacher at Harpswell Community School in Maine, uses with her students.

  • Students respond to a prompt.
  • The teacher chooses 3 responses —   good, better, and excellent.
  • Students identify the positive aspects of each response.
  • Then students make concrete suggestions to make the responses even stronger.
  • The teacher creates a visual summarizing the ideas for students to reference when revising their own work.

The image below shows the visual that Abby constructed.

Abby Svenson Post-It

Notice…

  1. 3 columns
  2. The responses are in the center.
  3. Response #1 is the weakest and #3 is the strongest.
  4. Identified positives are in the left column.
  5. Suggestions for making responses stronger by citing additional evidence are on the right.

This particular example is a literature lesson.  Imagine the social studies teacher following up with a similar exercise based on a video, and the science teacher adapting the process to fit his needs.  As students become familiar and confident with the process, they can focus more and more on the content. Multiple practices and varied contexts builds competence and confidence.

This strategy could become digital by using a wiki or Google Drive. The advantage of using a digital tool is, of course, that the examples are available 24/7 to students working on assignments.

Learning to cite evidence to support a stance or make an important point is not beyond any student. Modeling, multiple practices, and having students work together will provide the scaffolding necessary to build these skills. When teachers collaborate to plan a systematic approach across the curriculum, students benefit.

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.

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