Saturday, August 30, 2014

FREE for One Hour: Step-by-Step Reading Group Guides for Volunteers, Tutors, etc. Gr. 2-6

Just for fun: For the other teachers at their computers planning on a Saturday night. I just published something really special. I'll put it up for FREE for 1 hour! But, please, if you download and haven't already: like my Facebook page and follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers. I'd love for you to leave a comment about the product, too! Enjoy!

You will love this!  (More like it to come!)

Facebook pg:

Now go do something else that's fun and doesn't pertain to school!!!

Five Ways to Kill The Love of Writing


Just read Mark Barnes' '6 Ways Teachers Kill A Love of Reading.'

My first reaction is:  I can't believe in this day and age, with all we know, these kinds of things still go on in.  But, they do.  Look on any news feed and you'll find countless classroom stories written by teachers, parents, students, administrators.  The same is true for writing.  I could write my own:  'Six Ways Teachers Kill The Love of Writing.'  I'll give a quick list a try:

1) Assign without giving choice.  This is a real worry with the Common Core.  In our zeal to teach the required text types (narrative, informative/explanatory, opinion/argumentation), we forget all humans are motivated by choice.  Can we include choice in our assignments even within the requirements?  Of course we can.  Let the students come up with their own twist on a topic, and/or have a Running Topics List where the class records issues that may be explored within these genres.  These genres can and should be part of students' lives (and, hence, relevant).  They shouldn't only experience them for school-ish assignments wherein all the parameters are dictated.

2) Have students write in a vacuum.  No sharing. No talking.  No feedback (until they get their graded paper back from the teacher.)  Writing is just speech written down.  Even when a writer works in isolation (as I'm currently doing inside my office), there is a monologue going on in her head as she hashes out thoughts and how they might be recorded.  Writers need talk--before, during and after they compose.  They need to hear their words read aloud and get reaction, feedback, encouragement...  The talk feeds the process.  One revision technique we've found effective is to "Just Ask It."  As we listen to a writer read his piece, if a question pops into our minds, we "Just Ask It."  The writer then decides if he'd like to make a revision.  "Just Ask It" is a simple way to teach students to respond to the writing of their peers in a simple conversational way.  Again, it's just talk.  Talk right smack dab in the middle of writing.  Kelly Gallagher wrote about a similar technique he calls "Question Flooding."  This is just one example of how talk helps writers hone their craft.  Most importantly, writers need to feel their voices are being heard.  Which brings me to number 3:

3) Only attend to grammar, usage and conventions.  When we look at a student's paper and the first thing that comes out of our mouths is, "You forgot to capitalize this proper noun," the student is deflated.  He's thinking, "Who cares?"  He wants to know we actually care about the content of his writing.  One of my favorite sayings is:  "Their hearts and minds are on those pages!"  We must hear the writer and let him know he has been heard by the comments we make before we ever, ever look at the mechanics.  When we do look at mechanics, can we work on small portions of the whole piece or focus on a few target areas rather than red-penning the entire work?  Unless a piece is going to publication (which should happen only occasionally), there's no reason to humiliate writers with an overabundance of corrections that overwhelm and are often ignored.  Turn some of the responsibility over to students, and you'll achieve a much better outcome.  If you need a few tips, here's a link to a post I wrote on the subject:

4) Keep the writing static.  When students write for the sole purpose of completing classroom assignments, they don't experience the power of the pen and writing is not a very motivating endeavor.  I love to design opportunities (or invite students to develop their own) that take the writing OUTSIDE OUR CLASSROOM WALLS!  When our writing has a larger purpose, we feel larger ourselves.  Can our opinions be shared with the powers that be: the company that made the product, the principal, the author of the book?  Can our informational writing be shared with target audiences; people who may have a real interest/stake in what we've learned or discovered?  Might our narratives be enjoyed beyond the scope of our classroom community?

5) Only write narratives, informational/explanatory and opinion/argumentative pieces.  Ignore all other genres.  Who needs 'em?  They're not on the test!  I've often begun my year exploring poetry with students--not just reading poems as part of literary analysis but the actual composition of POETRY!  My second graders found they could write a few lines about a simple observation, play with the words on the page, and turn out something surprising.  We'd post our poems.  We'd read and reread our poems.  We'd celebrate our poems and, along the way, we became better poetry writers.  I can't tell you how many parents I've run into that tell me their child still writes poetry years later.  It brings joy to my heart to hear!  We all know writers write for many purposes.  Who knows what type of writing may really turn a student on?  We have to make time to explore varied genres and write for the purpose of FUN and simple exploration.  This point ties into point number 1:  and I'd like to conclude this post with one last pertinent observation:

Real writers in the real world often come up with their own topics and decide which genre (out of many) best suits their purpose and intended audience.  Thus, in school, if we want to produce real writers--writers who are empowered to write outside of school--we can't just make assignments, limit the genres students are exposed to, and limit choice.  If we do, we are not helping our students develop the habits of mind writers need to be successful.

Well, that was only five ways to kill the love of writing.  But, I must stop now so I can work on other...wait for it...writing!!! :)

Best to you and your writers!  Have a wonderful school year!  -Janiel
P.S. As always, I'd love to hear your comments.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Purposeful Writing and Clapping for Kids

I'm thinking of starting 'three minute' blog posts. I know, crazy, right?  But, I often spend too much time mulling over posts and with my other projects (including my son...see his hair from this morning at the bottom of this post), I thus limit myself to few postings.  So, here goes...three minutes:

At the Gulf Coast Conference on the Teaching of Writing this summer, teachers spontaneously clapped in the middle of my keynote.  Why?  I was presenting about purposeful writing and how it can lead to kids making a difference in the world outside of school.  One of our wonderful teachers, Libby Jacobsen, had her sixth graders so interested in Malala Yousafzai; reading about her, writing about her, talking about what had happened to her and her amazing courage and voice, that they decided to host a 5K run to earn money for the Malala Fund.  They created a Facebook page, fliers, buttons, and Tshirts.  The students even appeared on the local news to let people know what they were up to and how to support the cause.  They raised $2200!  There you go:  speaking, listening, viewing, incorporating media/technology, reading, writing, collaborative conversations, thinking, problem solving all rolled into FUN!  These kids were so empowered.  We hope they take that empowerment with them as they journey onward.

How might you push something your class is reading and writing about outside your classroom walls?  Just something to think about as we begin a new year of empowering learners!

And, now, for something totally unrelated (and I think I've been writing for about seven minutes):
Max's hair.  Talk about a challenge.  I have to smile, but I'm not clapping.

Have a great day! -Janiel

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Video: Pushing Reading, Writing & Thinking Beyond our Classroom Walls

Hello!  Below you’ll find a two minute video interview with a student showcasing a project done in our sixth grade.  I’m particularly interested in classroom writing that has real world purpose and how this influences motivation.  You’ll hear our sixth grade friend talk about reading informative texts that address a compelling issue, composing texts, and using this information to explore iMovie as a means of sharing important learning with a wide audience. As I watched students at work, I sensed an amazing commitment to the project given the plan to spread the word about a topic they came to care deeply about.  Note how many Common Core reading, writing, speaking and listening standards are addressed by engaging students in this manner.  More importantly, note how this student describes his experience with depth and maturity.  

(A side note:  I knew students weren’t given a lot of direction for using the technology involved in the project, so I deliberately asked about this.  Sometimes we adults are a bit hesitant about diving into programs or apps given our own lack of experience, yet if we let the students lead, they’ll often surprise us with the outcomes (and we, too, learn along the way!).

(A side, side note:  In my zeal to keep the video interview short, I interrupted the student.  This is frustrating to hear since I believe he had more to say on some of the questions.  Videoing and reviewing our own work is the ultimate way to self-reflect and grow.  Keep growing!)



P.S. What catches your attention in this video interview?  I’d love to hear your comments.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Spreading the Love-Of-Reading Virus IRA Talk

“To create a community of engaged readers, peers, not teachers, are more influential.”  (Tweet from #IRA14)

      I’ll be sharing a quick talk today at IRA in New Orleans on promoting a love of reading in students.  As teachers, we naturally do a ton of things every day to achieve this goal:  we give book talks, we read aloud with expression and passion several times a day (and cry every year at the end of Stone Fox), we carefully create libraries that draw readers in and are the heart of our classrooms.  But, today, I’ve chosen to focus on how the students themselves can inspire one another to read with passion and vibrancy.  They are one another's most powerful force—students are drawn into each other's reading lives if we give them time to talk while honoring their voices, preferences, noticings, and wonderings.  If we highlight their thinking, if we promote their sharing, a love-of-reading-virus will spread from student to student and, believe me, once the talking starts and the excitement around reading wells up, the virus can’t be stopped!

Here’s a quick list of some of the strategies I’ll cover today. 
1. Buzz Groups (Steven Layne talks about this in his book Igniting a Passion for Reading):  Several times a week, students meet for ten minutes to share what’s catching their attention in the books they are currently reading.  You can form groups or allow students to create their own.  They can share annotations to let other readers in on their thinking (they love using sticky notes to interact with the texts).  I like to keep the talk in these groups open-ended, and listen in to see what’s ‘trending’ around their self-selected reading at any given time.  As I listen, I come across thinking I want to highlight in class lessons and I discover areas where I might push thinking forward.  I sometimes also assign a ‘focus’ for their sharing depending on what aspect of reading we’re studying.

2. “The Golden Easel:” Students can nominate books to be featured on the golden easel—a special place of honor for books. 
Readers who nominate books can add sticky notes to the covers, briefly sharing why they want to inspire other readers to read them.  Then, those who are interested can write their names on sticky tabs and put them on the books.  Viola!  A list of readers waiting for a title!...A bunch of readers making plans for their reading!  (Hint, place the ‘golden easel’ in high traffic areas, by the sink, for example.  Students are washing and find themselves cleverly drawn into a book commercial!)

3. Plastic Document Holders:  Love this strategy!  Again, place these strategically around the classroom (I like to have several by our door, so as students are waiting, they are once again drawn into reading one another's thoughts about notable books). Since they are clear, the COVERS of books are easily visible. Readers can add their thoughts on sticky notes along the bottom of the holders, and peers can comment on the sides.  I found the plastic holders at OfficeMax (they also come in sets of 3 attached holders, but I prefer the single ones so book covers have more visibility).

4. Glorious Plastic Frames:  “Pllllllllleeeeeeaaaaase, Ms. Wag., can I create something about this book and put it in a plastic frame?”  Students love this! Like the ‘golden easel,’ the plastic frames are special forums for sharing one’s excitement about particular titles.  Since they are free-standing, they can be placed anywhere (hint, hint, again, clever placement in high traffic ‘wait’ areas guarantees more exposure and potentially more infectious virus-spreading).  We also like to place these in the library (with the book standing alongside) to spread the infection school-wide.

5. “I Just HAVE TO Share” Parking Lot:  This is a poster where students can place sticky notes about things they simply MUST share with classmates.  When there are a few seconds here and there in a day, I have the student retrieve the note and share what must be said!  If I find we’re getting flooded with notes, I allow students a minute or two to come up, grab their note, find a buddy or group and share OR I simply tell them to take their note to lunch and share it with other readers!

6. “Reading Graffiti:” Donalyn Miller talks about this in her most recent book.  In my classroom, I like to give students a spot for their graffiti, but instead of writing right on the bulletin board, they post sticky notes so they can keep their notations fresh.  They keep ‘old’ graffiti in a spiral notebook. (It’s interesting to see how their thoughts about books develop over time—great stuff to spark thoughtful conversations about how we’re growing as readers!)

7. “Hello!  My book is…” labels:  You know these labels, the ones you get when you go to a meeting, “Hello my name is…” (or use the blank versions).  These can be used in a myriad of ways.  One of my favorites is this: after a student has given a book talk, s/he will wear the label on their shirt for the day (cross out 'my name is,' replace with 'my book is') to inspire readers outside our classroom to ask about the book!  Another idea: have the student put a favorite quote on the label to inspire questions about what s/he's reading.

   8. Televised book talks:  Many teachers record their students giving books talks.  Take it one step further:  televise them!  A TV strategically placed near the lunch line, where book talks are broadcast, can go a long way toward creating a culture of reading in a school.  Plus, students feel so empowered:  their reading lives are potentially affecting the reading lives of countless peers!

There are many other ideas we could note.  Think about the amount of talk that might happen, the number of books students are exposed to, and the positive energy these ideas generate around the act of reading.  When visitors walk into a classroom that is flooded with books and genuine talk about books, they know reading isn’t just a priority, it’s a passion.  Who knows, maybe they’ll stay awhile and get infected, too!  

Happy reading/writing/thinking and Happy Mother’s Day!