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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Blog Series: Using Student Writing as Mentor Texts to Teach and Inspire


Blog Series on how to use the student writing at your fingertips as mentor texts to teach and inspire other writers.  The first post in the series details the benefits of using student writing as models and shares the use of one writer's sample to teach writing process (particularly revision).
Why Use Student Writing As Mentor Texts?

As writing teachers, we want our students to be confident in their abilities to write for a variety of tasks, audiences, and purposes.  We want to create positive writing climates where writers feel valued and secure.  We want students to truly view themselves as writers and be moved with a sincere desire to write. 
 
There are many paths to achieving these goals.
  One method I routinely employ to build such abilities and dispositions is using students’ own writing as mentor texts for teaching.  It’s a grand thing to say to students, “We’re all writers and writing is a messy business.  We’ll tease out our thinking, what we’re crafting, and the hows and whys together.  As we do this, we’ll use your writing as a primary tool to help us all grow.”

 
I’ve been using students’ writing as peer mentor texts for years.  Watching students’ engagement, seeing their reactions to one another, and noting how this method affects what and how they write has convinced me of the power we have right at our fingertips in our students’ own pieces.   How does first grader, Michael, feel when he comes forward to help me teach the class using his own informative writing about black jaguars?  How might his classmates feel watching Michael’s writing be celebrated and used as a model?  Might this model feel much more within reach since it was written by a peer?  (Tune in to my next post to learn more details about Michael and his writing.)  The answers to these questions have far-reaching implications. 


I’m not suggesting we throw out other methods that work.  We know using trade texts as mentors, modeling writing, engaging students in shared, interactive and guided writing, and creating and using shared anchor charts are all effective in impacting students’ abilities to write.  I’m suggesting we add using peer mentor texts to our go-to, best-strategy toolbelts. 
If we can celebrate and value our students, boost their confidence and build their identities as writers, all while teaching with a high-impact, accessible model, we’re doing much to move toward our goals.  We shouldn’t leave this one out, folks.  There are simply too many benefits.

Reflect on how we teach writing process.  We model process in front of students when we work on our own writing while thinking aloud, then debrief with them about what they saw and how it is useful.  We engage in process with students: brainstorming, drafting, rereading, tweaking… adding, rereading, revising…talking-it-out again, rethinking, adding…* as we work together to compose during shared, interactive, and guided writing.  Yet, we have another tool:  the messy, less-than-perfect, working about of students on their own papers.  *(See this post for more on the recursive nature of writing)


How might it work to use second grader, Caden’s piece, to examine writing process and the impact peer interaction had on his story?  


Blog Series on how to use the student writing at your fingertips as mentor texts to teach and inspire other writers.  The first post in the series details the benefits of using student writing as models and shares the use of one writer's sample to teach writing process (particularly revision).
Blog Series on how to use the student writing at your fingertips as mentor texts to teach and inspire other writers.  The first post in the series details the benefits of using student writing as models and shares the use of one writer's sample to teach writing process (particularly revision).

In order to make the revisions he did, Caden will tell you he reread his piece several times as he was developing it.  For example, he talked-out his first sentence more than once, settling on adding two detail phrases, 'when I woke up' and 'with my friends.'  He also shared his piece with peers and with me (more rereading!) as he moved along.  When questions popped up for us listeners, we asked them (these were simple who, what, why, when, where and how questions), and Caden decided whether to make changes accordingly.  Look closely at all the specific instances of revision and editing in this two page story.  It’s rich with opportunity for highly impactful teaching and learning.  Is it perfect?  No.  Can we learn a great deal about process from examining and naming what we see and giving the author opportunities to explain his thinking?  Absolutely!  Research shows accessible peer models, rather than exemplary ones, have a positive impact (Rogers and Feller, 2016).  All this and we’re meeting standards, too!

Consider for just a minute what it might feel like to be Caden, having your work used as a model.  What might it feel like to be one of Caden’s peers?  How might it feel to be part of a writing community that truly values the ongoing work of its members in this way?  Aside from all the learning benefits, students experience affective benefits when we rally around their work.  


Using peer mentor texts to teach and inspire is a passion of mine,
so much so that I wrote a book, We Can Do This! Student Mentor Texts That Teach and Inspire.  It provides teachers with ready-to-use models written by kindergarten, first and second grade students, the majority of whom are from my Title I school.  Click on the Crystal Springs Books Link to read about the book, access a pdf sample, and view several other examples at the bottom of the page.  Click the Amazon link and “Look Inside” for another view of how the volume is put together.  

Blog Series on how to use the student writing at your fingertips as mentor texts to teach and inspire other writers.  The first post in the series details the benefits of using student writing as models and shares the use of one writer's sample to teach writing process (particularly revision).
Just published in June!
Stay tuned for more in this blog series on Using Student Writing as Mentor Texts to Teach and Inspire!  Next post: specifics on how to use student writing as mentors.  As always, I welcome your comments and am happy to answer questions.
#happywriting
-Janiel

Friday, August 5, 2016

Three Literacy Tips for Word Sorts: Gearing Up for a Great Year!


Make the Most of Word Sorts!  This blog post has 3 Best Tips for making word sorting more productive:  Make sure students actually read the words before sorting, hold them accountable for their work, and differentiate one page word sorts to meet the needs of different groups!
Many of us elementary teachers know well the power of using word sorts...
So, why a post on "three tips" when gearing up for a great new school year?  Well, we also know the importance of putting routines in place early.  If you use word sorts for decoding and spelling instruction and get this practice started early in the school year, these three tips could be just what you need to make the work more successful than ever.

First, for new teachers or those working with new teachers, what are word sorts and why should we use them?     
Word sorts are sets of words with a common feature (the vowel or rime pattern, for example).  Students read the words and sort them according to this feature.  Word sorts have been identified as one of the top tools for helping students see, hear, master, and understand how spelling patterns work in words.*  When we look at the work of renowned spelling and phonics researchers (Bear et al, 2015; Blevins, 2006, 2017; among others), sorts are always cited as one of the best ways to help children process and practice letter-sound patterns. 
Make the Most of Word Sorts!  This blog post has 3 Best Tips for making word sorting more productive:  Make sure students actually read the words before sorting, hold them accountable for their work, and differentiate one page word sorts to meet the needs of different groups!
This is a basic, easy-level 'short u' word sort.
*There are other types of word sorts beyond those focused on phonics patterns, like sorts for Greek and Latin roots, for example

In my experience, I've seen how using word sorts as a consistent routine, in combination with systematic, direct instruction on phonological awareness and phonics patterns,  helps learners become automatic at recognizing these patterns while reading and using them while writing.  After all, improving students' overall proficiency with reading and spelling are the ultimate goals of word sorting.  However, I've also seen some of the problems that typically play out while having students work on sorts independently once you've done the shared work necessary to set up routines.  First, I'll focus on two tips that address two of these issues, then I'll share a final tip for differentiation.

Tip #1:  Establish clear, hard-fast rules for sorting the words 
We all have students in our classrooms who, instead of actually reading the words to sort them, rely on visual patterns to place the words.  For example, in the picture above, a student could rely on just matching the ending letters in the header cards with the words below rather than hearing or understanding that all of these words have a short u chunk.  Is this what we want students to do?  Certainly not!  We do want them to see how the words match (they are made up of the same letters), but we also want them to hear how the words match and understand why this is so, all while building their familiarity/automaticity with the patternsEven if we first support students by reading the words together before they are sorted, those who have difficulty may resort to this visual method rather than doing the work of decoding the words.  

Thus, the hard-fast rules:
"Before sorting a word in its proper column, you MUST read it out loud.  No exceptions!  If you get stuck, read the other words you've already sorted in the column with the same letter pattern and/or go back and reread the header card for help.  If you are still stuck, ask a peer for help, then reread the word three times before placing it."  (I've made a poster for you outlining these steps (below).  It is included in the free sample download.)

Click here to access the free sample

Naturally, I model this procedure for the class and have volunteers come forward and model the 'right' and 'wrong' way to sort words.  I also set in place the routine of doing random teacher-checks as students sort, so they know they need to read the words aloud to be prepared.  Students should understand this is important because if they just use the visual features to sort, they are not giving their brains the practice they need to develop their reading skills.  Using this 'cheat' will not advance their phonological awareness or their decoding abilities.


Tip #2:  When students are sorting words independently (or in pairs), how do we hold them accountable for their work?
Ah, yes, accountability.  Without it, some students may spend their time just moving words around in columns without truly engaging in the thinking we're after.  I address this with another simple routine.  When children finish sorting their words, they ask a buddy to do a "quick check" (if they've worked in pairs, they find another pair to do their check).  The buddy randomly points to any word in the sort (five random words is sufficient).  The child reads these words aloud.  If she gets stuck, she refers back to the header card for help figuring out the word.  (For example, using the sample below, "If I know uck (looking at the header card) this must be 'cl--uck--ing, clucking!') If a word is sorted incorrectly, the buddy assists and the word must be read three times before being placed correctly.   I do the quick check with students who are struggling the most so I can better support them.  I might also work with them in a small group to assist as needed.
Make the Most of Word Sorts!  This blog post has 3 Best Tips for making word sorting more productive:  Make sure students actually read the words before sorting, hold them accountable for their work, and differentiate one page word sorts to meet the needs of different groups!
Buddy checking a more advanced version of the short u sort.
Another way to hold students accountable is to have them store the words and sort them again the following day with a different buddy doing the checking.  On the first day, when we finish, students collect their word cards and put them in an envelope.  They write the headers on the front.  On the second day, they get out their sorts again and re-sort, this time in one minute!*  (Thanks, Wiley Blevins, for this great idea!)  Now, a different buddy does a 'quick check.'  Students count the number of words they were able to sort in that minute, then remix the words and complete another timed sort, challenging themselves to get just a little bit faster. Students love the game-like feel of this activity and it builds automaticity.  Finally, have students take their envelopes home and invite them to re-sort the words one more time with a parent or sibling (more accountability).  This person can sign the envelope so it can be returned to school for "extra credit."
*If one minute is too fast for your students, adjust the timed sort accordingly.
 

Tip #3:  How do we differentiate word sorts?  
 One way to differentiate is to use word sorts in small groups, picking sorts that address the skill needs of the students in the group.  Another way is to create sorts wherein you arrange the words on the page by level of complexity so you can simply cut the page apart to give students words that are just right for the practice they need.  Here's an example: Say you are working on the silent e pattern with the class.  Place your header words or word parts at the top, then start by listing single syllable words with the silent e pattern, moving to single syllable words with more complex onsets (like blends or digraphs), then simple two syllable words with simple affixes, followed by multisyllabic words and more advanced vocabulary.
https://shop.scholastic.com/shop/en/tso/85-Differentiated-Word-Sorts

Now, all you need do is make strategic cuts on the page to differentiate.  Below is an illustration of how this might occur (using a sort focused on short e).
https://shop.scholastic.com/shop/en/tso/85-Differentiated-Word-Sorts

I've created a blank template you can use to create sorts like this (it is also included in the free sample download).  And, with that, I'd like to introduce you to my latest book from Scholastic: 
Make the Most of Word Sorts!  This blog post has 3 Best Tips for making word sorting more productive:  Make sure students actually read the words before sorting, hold them accountable for their work, and differentiate one page word sorts to meet the needs of different groups!   


Since differentiation is a goal we all have, I took the time to put this resource together.  It covers short vowels, long vowels, r-controlled vowels, diphthongs and variant vowels, consonant digraphs, beginning blends, ending blends, and affixes, including and emphasizing all of the highest frequency chunks as identified by research. There are also review sorts with mixed practiceAll are one page sorts, ready for you to use to reinforce the concept you're teaching while easily differentiating for student-needs by making just a few quick snips.  

Here is a short, 3 minute, informal video where I explain the differentiation process and features of the book.  At the end, I also share some ideas for having students work with the more complex vocabulary included at the bottom of the sorts.
Make the Most of Word Sorts!  This blog post has 3 Best Tips for making word sorting more productive:  Make sure students actually read the words before sorting, hold them accountable for their work, and differentiate one page word sorts to meet the needs of different groups!
                                 Click here to view.

I've included the following items in the free sample I created to correspond with this post:
-Classroom Poster "Before Sorting A Word..." (hard-fast rules--as seen above)
-A blank template to create your own differentiated sorts
-A few sample pages from the new Scholastic book (one each for short i, long a (with silent e--the one pictured above), mixed variant vowels, and the affixes un-, re-, and dis-).
 So, you're off to prepare for a new school year!  I hope these tips help make word sorting a more productive part of your word work routines!  Also, be sure to enjoy the other literacy tips offered by the amazing teacher-bloggers who have linked up below and enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!

As always, I welcome your comments.  Have a fantastic reading/writing/thinking day and here's to a GRAND school year!
-Janiel  


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Why I Don't Post a Step-By-Step Writing Process Chart: Writing is a Recursive Process


Why I DON'T post a step-by-step writing process chart in my classroom!  This blog post describes in detail the recursive nature of the writing process.  We don't get students' best thinking when we force them through a lock-step process.  Rethink the nature of how writers write!
Hello again!
     Always happy to write about writing.  As I've been trying to pin more on Pinterest and post more on Instagram and Facebook to extend the reach of my blog, I keep noticing posts and pictures about the charts teachers make that show the "Steps of the Writing Process."  You know the ones.  They have something like "Brainstorm" or "Prewrite" at the top, followed by "Draft," then "Revise," "Edit," and "Publish."  Heck, twenty-seven years ago I did something similar, but not quite as fancy as what's out there today.  Within my second year of teaching writing though, and as I became more of a writer myself, I learned this step-by-step characterization was a sham.  It's simply not how writers write.   Sure, we can force students to move through the steps one at a time artificially, but that's not how we get their best thinking and writing.  Writing, instead, is a recursive process.  It's a back and forth, back and forth endeavor.  A writer might get an idea then immediately begin drafting to see where the idea goes.  After a few sentences she stops, rereads what she's written, and decides if it's working.  If not, she may change a few things here and there or change the direction of the writing entirely.  Wait!  She's already revising--she's reseeing her piece, however short it is at the moment, reenvisioning where it may go (or, on a smaller scale, where a sentence or phrase may go).  Let's say she changes just a few phrases, playing with her word choice to create desired effects or clarify meaning.   Then, she writes on.  She's drafting again.  Let's say today the writing seems to be flowing so she writes a paragraph or two.  What now?  You guessed it.  She'll go back and reread it.  Again, she's relistening to her words, rethinking her thoughts, testing the meaning, testing the effect, even thinking new thoughts generated through this process.  She may make more changes--more revisions.  It's very likely she comes across a mechanical error (or two or three) and fixes, or edits, those.  This back and forth drafting, rereading and rethinking, revising/editing, continues throughout the piece.  Revision and editing are not just tacked on at the end of drafting.  Teaching that these processes only occur after drafting may be the reason some students don't want to revise and edit; they think they are already done.

     Additionally, if our writer is part of a class or group, she may seek response along way, looking for help to troubleshoot problem areas or just seeking connection and audience.  Most writers engage in some form of sharing or response-seeking along the way, again, not necessarily waiting to be 'done' with a piece before doing so.  In my classroom, we are constantly sharing, seeking response and trouble shooting as we write (I'll address the "how to" of this in another post or maybe a Periscope broadcast!). 

     Putting "publishing" as the last step in the process is misleading, as well.  We don't formally publish everything we write, in fact, that is a rare event and occurs only when we have a real purpose for doing so.  We write much more than we could ever formally publish, for if we didn't, we wouldn't be writing nearly enough.  We write across the curriculum, too, to build, clarify and solidify our thinking.  This type of writing is informal--it serves the purpose of augmenting learning.

    When researching a topic we plan to write about, we often do spend more time prewriting, identifying specific questions we'd like to answer, studying resources and taking organized notes (often on a graphic organizer).  We next rely heavily on oral language, talking out the information we've gleaned, testing to see if we understand it well enough or if more questions have surfaced that require us to, once again, loop back, and revisit sources.  As we begin to draft, we return to the recursive process again, and as we reread, we discover holes in our thinking or arguments that require rethinking, re-researching, and rewriting.  Forward and back, forward and back...tweaking all along the way.

     I guess if you post one of those step-by-step charts, you could add arrows going back and forth to better illustrate the process.  The best way to teach the recursiveness of writing, though, is to model it.  As I think aloud, students watch and hear me brainstorm, draft, reread, question, rethink and redo continually. It's part of my modeling every day.  In fact, when I'm done modeling, I'll often ask students what they just saw me do, encouraging them to put the strategies they've just seen into their own words.  This debriefing goes a long way to ensuring students are getting the most from the modeling.    
    
     Of course,  the more teachers write themselves, the more they understand the nature of the writing process.  It changes from piece to piece, depending on many factors.  But, it's always messy and rarely, if ever, lock-steppy.  

     I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Why is it important for students to deeply understand this process?  What would you add to this characterization of the writing process?  How does this understanding affect the way you teach writing and the set-up and day-to-day running of your Writing Workshop?


 


  

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Stella: A Peer Writing Mentor Your Students Don't Want to Miss! Part I in a Series: Stella Writes An Opinion


    
Meet Stella: A Peer Writing Mentor Your Students Don't Want to Miss (and neither do you!).  This blog post highlights some of the kid-relatable features of this opinion mentor text including illustrations and Stella's endearing language.  It also links to a Periscope broadcast about the book as well as other related posts.. 

“What do you love?  What do you not-so-love?  What bugs you at school or at home?  What would you change if you were in charge of the world, or your class, or your bedroom?”  Here are the words of Stella, the peer writing mentor your students don’t want to miss.  Why?  Because she is real.  Because she is just like your K-4 writers.  And, because she works through writing by explaining, reflecting, problem solving, and celebrating while sharing her thinking all along the wayThe quote above is her way of explaining what an opinion is to her second grade classmates.  She continues, “I mean everybody has opinions—everybody!  And what could be more fun than to write what you think about an important topic?  Now that’s power!”
Meet Stella: A Peer Writing Mentor Your Students Don't Want to Miss (and neither do you!).  This blog post highlights some of the kid-relatable features of this opinion mentor text including illustrations and Stella's endearing language.  It also links to a Periscope broadcast about the book as well as other related posts..

     These quotes are from the picture book Stella Writes An Opinion published by SDE (Staff Development for Educators).  It is just one in a series of four engaging picture books designed to delight, inspire and mentor young writers.  In this book, as in the others, Stella, with the help of her teacher and classmates, walks her way through the entire process of writing in the genre.  After defining opinion, she brainstorms topics, picks one, and explains her thinking:  “See, I’m in second grade.  In kindergarten and first grade we got to bring a morning snack if we wanted, you know, to keep us going ‘till lunchtime.  Now, we can’t bring one anymore.  We’re too old.  That bugs me, and if I was in charge it’s something I would change.”  Now, what kid can’t relate to that?  The best part about the #Stellawrites series is just this: each book makes the genre and process accessible to writers—the scenarios are completely kid-relatable.   

     Stella learns from her teacher, Ms. Merkley, she needs reasons to support her opinion, "You can't just say what you want, or what bugs you, or what you'd like to change.  To write a good opinion, you have to have reasons to support it.  Reasons!"  She ponders aloud and comes up with two reasons for her opinion, one of which is:  "I get grumpy when I'm hungry.  I mean grumpy like snappy at my friends or classmates.  "Don't touch that!"  "I know! I know!"  "Stop making that noise!"  They call this low blood sugar.  Does that ever happen to you?"

     Naturally, like so many of our writers do, Stella prematurely thinks she's done at this point.  But, then Ms. Merkely instructs the class on closings.  Now, Stella gets really stuck.  She can't think of a closing that fits and sounds like her.  She tries multiple endings (all of which are shown), thinks and rethinks, even on the school bus and at home that night.  
Meet Stella: A Peer Writing Mentor Your Students Don't Want to Miss (and neither do you!).  This blog post highlights some of the kid-relatable features of this opinion mentor text including illustrations and Stella's endearing language.  It also links to a Periscope broadcast about the book as well as other related posts..
     Finally, she perseveres and comes up with something she likes, "To conclude, morning snacks are important!  We should bring them back for second graders.  When our stomachs are happy, we're happy kids who can learn better because we can concentrate.  And, that's what school is all about."  "Yes!  I like that one!  It sounds like me, and it reminds everyone why my opinion deserves attention.  I'm glad I tried writing a few different endings, or I never would have come up with that one."

     Stella decides to "do what good writers do" and reread her writing to "make sure it says what I want it to say and sounds like I want it to sound."  Her draft and revisions/edits are shown in the book and she challenges readers to find some of her changes.
Meet Stella: A Peer Writing Mentor Your Students Don't Want to Miss (and neither do you!).  This blog post highlights some of the kid-relatable features of this opinion mentor text including illustrations and Stella's endearing language.  It also links to a Periscope broadcast about the book as well as other related posts..

    Lastly, and this is something I ADORE about these books, the writing concludes with purpose.  (When students' reading, writing, and conversations have real purpose, engagement and learning outcomes increase exponentially.)  Stella's opinion is shared with the principal who agrees the policy on student snacks should be changed:  "Once he read it, he agreed!  We get to start bringing morning snack next week!  See, I told you opinions are powerful. Who knows what we opinion writers might change?  The world needs us!" 
Meet Stella: A Peer Writing Mentor Your Students Don't Want to Miss (and neither do you!).  This blog post highlights some of the kid-relatable features of this opinion mentor text including illustrations and Stella's endearing language.  It also links to a Periscope broadcast about the book as well as other related posts..

Now, that's empowerment!  When our writers are empowered, they put forth more effort, see the reasons behind what they're doing, get the "bigger picture" and are more likely to engage in reading and writing for their own purposes outside of class.  
   
   This week, I shared a Periscope broadcast to highlight the #Stellawrites series.  You can view the broadcast here
Meet Stella: A Peer Writing Mentor Your Students Don't Want to Miss (and neither do you!).  This blog post highlights some of the kid-relatable features of this opinion mentor text including illustrations and Stella's endearing language.  It also links to a Periscope broadcast about the book as well as other related posts..


Stella Writes An Opinion is featured during the first ten minutesStella and Class: Information Experts, the book about informative writing, is featured in the second half of the broadcast.

     If you'd like to learn more about Stella, here are some related posts:
How the Stella Writes series came to be 
The Stella Writes Website with a host of instructional ideas for using the books 
Model and Celebrate the Writing Struggle with Stella 
Stella Writes Poster Set (Note now a 5th poster is available) 

Thanks for visiting!  Stay tuned for more great things from Stella!  
-Janiel 

P.S. Here's a little recent praise for Stella.  The books were featured on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  You can view the post here. 
-"Really liking Stella's "can do" attitude!  That's what I try to instill into all my students." 
-"A heroine who inspires other kids to write...Stella sounds like someone I want to introduce to teachers and students alike.  Excited to see the books!"
-"What an amazing idea!  I can't believe we haven't seen anything like this before.  I love using mentor texts as a model with students, but this offers a new way."