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Let's hear it for active reading, thinking, dialogue, and quick bursts of informal writing using Thinking Boxes!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Endless Possibilities with Educreations!

Hello!  I’m working on a keynote presentation I’ll be doing at the Gulf Coast Writing Conference this summer titled, “Why Am I Writing This?  Capitalizing on Purpose in the Writing Classroom.”  Planning to infuse some technology ideas, I came across a great example of using Educreations (a free ipad app) for sharing and celebrating writing.  Here a kindergarten student* shares his intentions in his writing by simply taking a picture, recording audio, then using tools to highlight specific aspects of the piece by circling them as he discusses each one.  Not only is this a unique way to celebrate student writing, but it adds purpose since students can teach others all kinds of writing lessons.  Just think of students contemplating how their writing might influence the writing of others! There’s a powerful motivator for them to engage with their writing at  higher levels.  Educreations can be posted on the internet and shared, increasing students’ potential audience.    
*This also happens to be my son, Max :)

Here is another: This is just me modeling another use of the app.  (It's a very basic example, using simple text from Students can take a photo of an excerpt from text then use the tools to highlight how they are using and elaborating on text evidence to support their opinions/arguments, while talking out how a speech or piece of writing might develop.  Obviously, a splash of fun is added by using the app, but more importantly, especially for students who are struggling, the app may support them in learning to use text evidence for a variety of purposes.  Additionally, students might photo excerpts of texts, then highlight, create annotations, and discuss portions to prepare for sharing in book clubs or for other purposes.  Excitement galore!

Educreations is more than simple to use! Students (and even non-techie adults like me) can figure it out in minutes.  There are endless ways the tool might be used and countless examples you can browse at  Get an account and share it with students. They’ll undoubtedly invent new and surprising ways to use the application.

Enjoy!  I’d love to hear how you use Educreations!  Have a wonderful reading/writing/thinking week!


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Got Grammar? Conventions and Grammar in Real Writing Contexts (Extended Blog Post)

Hello!  A shorter version of this post appeared on Scholastic's Frizzle blog last week.  The extended version found here includes a few more details and an upper elementary student's writing sample.  As always, I welcome and invite your comments! 

     Cheryl’s eyes bugged out a bit as she perused her students’ writing.  “Why do their pieces look like this?  Where are the capitals, the punctuation?  I teach mechanics and grammar daily, but they don’t apply the lessons when they write.  And, when I ask them to edit, they seldom do.” 
     This is a common issue, one that is a source of frustration for many teachers.  Yes, we must help students produce loads of writing with joy and purpose every day.  But we also want our writers to master conventions and grammar.  (Refer to the Common Core Language Anchor Standards:  (1) Students will demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing and speaking; (2) Students will demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.) 
     Here are some practical tips that may work for you or the teachers you work with: 

     First consider, how are grammar and writing conventions taught?  Students are successful applying skills when they are taught in the actual context of writing.  One context I like to use is the “Morning Message.”  Each day (or class period), I write a message to my students in the form of a letter.  When they arrive, they look for it since it serves a real purpose: to communicate about our scheduled activities or other important matters.  We read it together, discuss the content, then take just a few minutes to observe how the author (me) correctly used language conventions.  Over the course of several messages, we’ll circle capitals, end marks, quotations, contractions, verbs, pronouns, homonyms, etc. and discuss their proper usage in the context.  It’s also effective to make intentional mistakes in the message, especially those that mirror errors you see in students’ writing (run-on sentences are a favorite).  Guide students to find errors, discuss how they affect the writing, and work out solutions.  For example, we might take a run-on and jot or talk about multiple ways to break the ideas into independent, punctuated sentences.   
     Once a skill or convention has appeared in the message numerous times, it is added to a running list on a poster titled “Skills Writers Use,” accompanied by an example of its proper usage (students help me pick a reference they’ll remember and understand).  Older students might keep the list in a language arts notebook.  Highlighted conventions can then be noted in reading contexts, too. 
     What types of conventions and grammatical issues should be addressed in your messages?  Grade level standards are a guide.  But, for even more relevance, browse your students’ writing and adjust your message to reflect the skills and conventions they struggle with most.  You’ll see patterns.  Don’t be discouraged if the same errors pop-up again and again.  Continue to review them in the “Morning Message,” note them while reading, and with time and opportunity for reflection in their own writing (explained below), students will improve dramatically.  Just be sure not to overload them with too many new issues before they’re showing real proof of understanding in their everyday writing of those already covered.  As we all know, it’s hard to make progress as learners when we’re overwhelmed.  Instead, focus on what’s most important, those errors that are most egregious in students’ writing, and address these first over time.   
     Now here’s a golden ticket.  After about six weeks of school have passed, as students complete drafts they’d like to (or are assigned to) publish in written form, ask them to go back and circle things they know, just like they do in the “Morning Message.”  Encourage them to refer to the list of “Skills Writers Use” as a scaffold.  This becomes a backdoor way into editing that truly works.  It’s motivating to writers to look for what they’ve done well rather than what they have done wrong.  Instead, students hum along, positively reinforcing themselves by circling what they did right and they often find mistakes and fix them.  Viola…editing without pain! 
Note how second grader C.J. crossed out the capital M in the middle of the third sentence, fixed it with a lower case m, and circled it.  Plus, notice how proficient he is in self-monitoring the many skills he’s used correctly!  True mastery has occurred when skills are shown automatically in everyday writing.

      Nurture your writers even more by celebrating their findings on the document camera.  This is another golden ticket that doesn’t take much time and really pays off!  By sharing student writing on a document camera, the child is able to briefly discuss his or her findings or problem solving (editing), while mechanics and usage are reviewed, once again in context, for all writers.  A sense of confidence and capability emerges in the classroom community, and students become helpful sources of support for one another.  
     How frequently might you ask students to circle things they know in their writing?  Anytime a draft is going through to written publication, editing is appropriate.  But remember, we don’t want to just wait and tack editing on at the end of formal writing.  It must be part of a routine focus for learning to really stick.  Students should be producing all kinds of writing informally across the curriculum throughout the day, along with all types of process writing, the majority of which won’t be taken through to formal publishing.  So, two or three times each week, cash in another golden ticket by asking students to grab any piece and spend three minutes circling things they know, then two minutes sharing with a partner.  Celebrate one example with the class.  Such techniques keep conventions and grammar in proper focus.  The issues are grappled with routinely, within real contexts; but the majority of time is safe-guarded for composing and growing writers’ craft (these will be topics of future posts!). 

Sixth grader Shandra found several conventions she used correctly and made some corrections along the way.  While sharing with a partner, she reworked fragments into complete sentences and fixed many (though not all) verb tenses!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Got Grammar? My Scholastic Frizzle Blog Post

If you'd like to read my post on teaching and reinforcing grammar, mechanics and conventions in real writing contexts, visit the Scholastic Frizzle Blog:

I'll post a longer version with a sixth grade student sample on this page soon  (just got home from school and my young son is calling).  It demonstrates the same idea but with a grammar focus.

Thanks for the support Scholastic!

Happy writing to everyone!  And, Happy World Read Aloud Day!  What did you read?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Why Does He Write So Much? A Photographic Celebration

Easy question to answer!  My five year old--oops!--six year old (as of last week) writes so much because writing for multiple purposes is modeled in our home (I'm always jotting, listing or writing about something), he's encouraged and empowered, he has open access to materials (in the car, too), he has permission to publish/post, and his efforts are celebrated!  There's no real magic to it, just a writing mindset that's always in operation.  Well, there is magic; magic in watching his little mind work and how happy he is while creating!
Access and encouragement:  Handed him a little spiral notebook on the train. (He was four years old here)
Modeled and real purpose: The classic love note (Never get tired of these!)
Empowered:  Go ahead, label your cubby in the family desk. Access to materials: Augment with cool stickers!
Publish/Permission to Post:  Yeah, it's a bit overboard, but a writer's got to do what a writer's got to do!  (Must admit, my office looks a bit like this most of the time.)
Real purpose:  He made place holders for his birthday party table last week (Note:  the first is his place holder, the second, my mom's...yeah, 'Millie,' otherwise known as 'grandma,' but I guess not on such formal occasions!)
More purpose:  Thank yous to friends for birthday gifts.  This one:  'Dear Jesse, Thank you for the marker airbrush present.  I liked it!  I already used it like 20 times!' (His first time trying out a cursive letter 'l!'  Where did that come from?)

And, just for fun, for those of you who like to shop, Max has many items on clearance at his store this week!

I'm pretty proud of the little bugger.
Oh, and we read a whole lot, too!

There are many lessons here for the classroom, in fact, that's where I first put them into play.  I'll never forget the time our day was cut short by an assembly and one student stomped up to me, put her hands on her hips and sternly admonished, "Well, so much for Writing Workshop, Ms. Wag.  That just wasn't enough time."  I loved it!  Such motivation, such dedication!  It seems there never is enough time, but when we put writing in its proper perspective, we find time because it is just that important.   Writing is serious, joyful work!

I appreciate your comments!  Have a fabulous reading/writing/thinking day!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gather Your Writers... (Slice of Life Challenge)

“Can we even write comics?” grinned Cameron who, while in first grade, helped his cousin burn down the house. My response, of course, was a spirited, “Yes, you can! I’ll be thrilled to have you with us!”

What event is so great as to draw out arsonists turned cartoonists (now in fourth grade)? It was our “Gathering of Writers,” held today after school to celebrate the upcoming National Day on Writing For an hour, I enjoyed the company of forty-five second through sixth graders who call themselves writers! What a tremendous turn-out. With only a day’s notice, this group made their way to the library once the bell rang, hauling writers’ notebooks, paper, pencils and ideas. I began our time together with a brief inspirational power point about writing, then showed them around to stations I’d set up, not really knowing how all this was going to go; just me and... so many of them.  It was easy, really, off they went...writing. I always say, "If you treat students like real writers, they'll behave like real writers." This certainly was the case this afternoon.

Most happily got right to work at library tables composing pieces of their own choosing, some of which had been started previously, some new. 

 Others wanted response to pieces they’d brought…

While still others took me up on some prompts for writing…
Looking at an art print, Hailie wrote:

Here are a few of our favorite moments from our gathering:

Tanner shared his personal narrative about a trip to his grandmother's house on Bear Lake (here's a paragraph we particularly liked):

"One day I found this wicked orange and black wooly caterpillar!  It was so cool (as a five year old)! My oldest cousin snatched the caterpillar and whizzed it off the balcony.  Ahhhh!  Where did he land?  Before I could ask, he chucked a huge rock after it.  I ran after the caterpillar and searched all day, but couldn't find it.  I mourned over it because I adored it."

Libby, who was reading in a designated area from books I'd selected:
(I created stations by clipping instructions to free standing foam boards.)
shared a hilarious poem with me, then giggled off to enjoy it with another writer...

("Mr. Beefy" from Once I Ate a Pie: Dogs Tell All by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest)
A bit later, she wrote a poem of her own, not on the same topic, but like MacLachlan's, it didn't rhyme!

Malinka shared, “I was looking around for a little inspiration and noticed the cover of this book with the pumpkins on it.  So, I wrote:

It is autumn.
The leaves are falling
Pumpkins are carved
The weather is changing
It is cold
Birds are flying south
There are pumpkin patches
It is fall."

And what about Cameron?  He worked on his comic with much enthusiasm, especially after I showed him these little ditties I picked up for him (and, naturally, other interested writers) :

(Speech bubble sticky notes! 97 cents at Walmart)

When I presented them to him I said, "I had you and your comics in mind." 

He replied, "I like your idea.  Let me get to work." 

At the end of the hour, he added, "I don't want you to see this yet.  I'll share it when I'm all done.  It will be sixty pages."  A bit grandiose, for sure, but remember, this little guy burned down a whole house.  I'm looking forward to reading all sixty pages.