Remember the Reader: a note to our student writers

Many years ago, I heard a talk given by Heidi Jacobs at a NESA Conference in Bangkok.  Before she began, Heidi introduced us to 2 empty cream colored padded dining room chairs behind her on the stage.  Heidi went on to explain that those chairs were there to remind us that our target audience is always our students.  (Today I’d put out a row of them.)

I was reminded of Heidi when I viewed  Daniel Pink’s Pinkast on the empty chair.  He explains that the empty chair represents the “most important person in the room who is not in the room.”  In Heidi’s case it was the student, of course.  Pink then goes on to explain that an empty chair can be useful in our work, especially when we write.

I was intrigued.

So I went online and ordered a  box of plastic miniature chairs.

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The next writing class, I viewed the video with my ELLs but paused it after Pink talks about the empty chair in meetings.  It did not take long for my ELls to understand  that the empty chair represented their reader.

Next, they eagerly and energetically chose a chair and got back to work.

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So now, when conferencing, all I need to do is point to a chair if I am confused or need clarification.

By the way, pease notice one student’s reader, rubber duck , strategically perched on his chair.

World Read Aloud Day

Our librarian, Ms Ilana, helped us celebrate World Read Aloud Day.  As we are reading A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, Ilana chose to read us Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah.  My high school ELLs often think they are too cool for a story.  However, they sat quietly and heard the uplifting story of a young boy from Ghana who overcomes his deformity, realizes his dream  and  fights for the rights of the disabled in his country.

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I had begun our lesson by showing the moving Nike ad: ‘RE2SPECT’, in celebration of Derek Jeter’s career.

I wonder if my students got the connection?

 

Homework Poster Presentations

A lot is being written about the value of assigning homework.

I explain the assignment (usually a first draft reading), and make sure my ELLs have everything they need in order to successfully complete it.  I often tell them how much time they should set aside in order to compete the task.  Next lesson, the students deepen their understanding by sharing their ideas in the form of chat stations, guided discussions or answer an open question using a backchannel such as TodaysMeet.

We are going to read A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah;  and  in order to give the students background knowledge, I assigned an Upfront article on child soldiers.  The goal of the reading was to notice big ideas and confusions.

This time I tried one of Larry Ferlazzo’s TOK homework presentations.  In class I grouped the students, and each group had to clarify one section of the text by designing a thought-provoking poster using each other’s notes.

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Then each student in the group was responsible for deepening their peers’ understanding by presenting her/his poster.  The goal of the presenter was to infer, question, and add to their “first draft” knowledge.

The students collaborated well, produced interesting posters and some insight.  The audience, for their part, had to generate high level questions.

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Needless to say, this was a great way for me to check their understanding as well as their ability to go beyond the text. However, we need to continue practicing crafting high level questions.

I will be using more of Ferlazzo’s homework presentations and hope they will engage my students as much as this one.

Using Art to Teach Theme

I was always very proud of my hanging files of laminated images of clothing, climate, and food which I used when I taught French as a foreign language.  Back in the day.    I never thought twice about showing a print of a Matisse painting to practice creating dialogues on hobbies.

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However, although I decorate my class room with various prints, postcards and original student art and photographs; I hardly ever use them as a springboard to discussion in my intermediate to advanced ELL courses.

Until I read the following:

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By the way, over the years Jeff Wilhelm’s ideas have greatly inspired my teaching which, of course, benefit my students’ learning.

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We are currently reading American Born Chinese by G.L.Yang,  and Wilhelm’s lesson plan on visuals and identity seemed taylor-made for our discussions on growing up.  The  students completed a see, think, wonder chart,  and I was surprised at how much guidance they needed in ‘close’ reading of an image even though we’d already practiced noticing detail in photographs.

My takeaway was obvious.  There is a need for more analysis of visuals.  I have chosen several images to promote thinking and writing on how culture shapes who we are.  I am looking forward to a lively discussion. My students from countries such as France, Spain, Angola, Russia and South Korea are well aware of the small changes they have had to make in order to fit in to an American international school.

Thanksgiving: a celebration of gratitude

Thanksgiving is full of rich learning experiences. This year my high school ELL class sat in the cozy, colorful elementary school section of the library.  Some even dared to relax on the carpet.

“Are you sitting comfortably”? asked Ms Ilana as she showed us the cover of The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper.  I , meanwhile, experienced a flashback to the welcoming, warm opening of the BBC’s ‘Listen With Mother’…

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The students settled into a quiet, listening mode as our narrator told of the grandfather who explained to his grandson the universal meaning of kindness.  We did not discuss the message, but held on to our thoughts as we completed thanksgiving cutouts on what we are thankful for.

On our way out, we stapled our gratitude to the thankful  tree.

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The idea for the next part of the lesson  came from McGill’s timely post ‘An Open Mind’

I asked each student where she or he is from and as  I teach in an international school the replies were diverse.  While viewing  ‘The DNA Journey’, the students jotted down ideas on an index card to help them articulate ideas for the discussion and written response.

My ELLs were shocked and intrigued; pointing out that we are so quick to define our differences rather than our similarities.

As one student responded:

“Just by spiting in a tube you can know where you are REALLY from.”

 

Ready, Steady, Write: 4 assignments to begin the year.

Very often, some of my students are in ELL Reading and Writing  for 3 semesters.  This means that I must build a repertoire of engaging texts as well as writing assignments.

This year I have added a few exciting resources to help me upgrade my Writing Workshop: Texts and Lessons for Content-Area Writing by Nancy Steineke and Harvey Smokey Daniels, the latest edition of Nancy Atwell’s In The Middle and Linda Rief’s Read Write Teach. In addition, I am following a great new blog: Two Writing Teachers.  There is one more resource on the way.  But more of that when it arrives.

#1

We always break open our new composition books with lists of topics the students are interested in exploring and writing about – Atwell’s writing territories.  However, this year they wrote their first list on a territory map – a place that has become their own, personal space: bedroom, basketball court, beach and book shelves

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For the first couple of assignments, to get the ideas flowing and build confidence, the students chose topics from their territories.  I now call these assignments A Slice of Life which is a delightful idea I read about in Two Writing Teachers’ blog.  We even display an anchor chart so the students can easily refer to the expectations of this assignment.

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I then looked to Steineke and Daniels for ideas on first writing assignments.

#2

A getting to know you interview (p.26).  This was a timely assignment since we had just discussed how asking high level questions deepens thinking, discussion and understanding complex texts.  This was a perfect assignment to begin generating interesting, high level questions.

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Students charted their own identity maps (p.32) and even managed to surprise each other with some of their personality traits.

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#4

Finally, they  wrote a random autobiography.

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How do you awaken the writing muse?

Chat Stations

This is a gallery walk of chat; a great activity to deepen understanding of a text, or as Kelly Gallagher would say, ‘2nd draft reading’.  In addition, this task promotes group discussions

I got the idea from Jennifer Gonzalez from the Cult of Pegadogy, a direct approach to student engagement.

My ELLs are in the midst of our ‘text tour’ of a unit on survival.  One of the texts is on the survival skills of the cockroach (an idea I got from Jeff Wilhelm).  To deepen their understanding of this complex article, I generated a few questions. By the way, I copied several questions from this excellent blog post.

We then reviewed the protocols for respectful group discussions.  (I have written about this in more detail in a previous post).

I then simply followed Gonzalez’ clear directions.

Next time, after learning about generating high level questions, the students will come up with their own questions.