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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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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.

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.

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

The Power of Collaboration

Teams ought to take time to read Peg Tyre’s article, “The Writing Revolution” in the October 2012 Atlantic Magazine (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/10/the-writing-revolution/309090/2/). She focuses on the journey of a high school that seemed destined for closure, yet found its way to success.  Although the article is about an entire school, the lessons learned could certainly be applied to a middle grades team.

Here’s the story in bullets:

  • New Dorp High School was one of the 2,000 lowest performing high schools in the country.
  • Led by a determined principal, the staff identified poor writing as one of the reasons students were doing so poorly.
  • The staff was reluctant to look at their own practice.  The answer, they thought, was that the students were just lazy.
  • With the help of a persistent consultant-coach the staff dug deeper into what was holding students back.
  • They learned students couldn’t put together sophisticated sentences or coherent paragraphs.
  • Teachers began to reflect on their own practice.
  • Writing skills began to be emphasized in every class. Here is an example of how writing skills were approached: “By fall 2009, nearly every instructional hour except for math class was dedicated to teaching essay writing along with a particular subject. So in chemistry class in the winter of 2010, Monica DiBella’s {student} lesson on the properties of hydrogen and oxygen was followed by a worksheet that required her to describe the elements with subordinating clauses—for instance, she had to begin one sentence with the word although.”
  • Achievement and graduation rates have climbed.

This article details what happens when a staff focused on a common goal, collaborates.  They also were willing, eventually, to explore and change their own teaching practices. The result–students with a long history of mediocre skills and motivation began to perform at much higher levels proving they were neither dumb nor lazy.

Certainly a team could use some of the strategies described in this article as a starting point for addressing writing across the curriculum.  The bigger lesson, however,  is that when educators work together in a reflective manner toward a common goal, good things happen for kids.

For ideas on specific ways teams can collaborate to improve learning, check out Teaming Rocks! Collaborate in Powerful Ways to Ensure Student Success.

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