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.

#3

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.

Learning How to Learn

I never thought I’d need my small collection of timers – especially the tomato.

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I have just completed an intriguing, well planned short MOOC on  Learning How to Learn.   Dr Oakley and Prof. Sejnowsky give clear explanations on how our brain functions while ‘chunking’ information  or tips on preparing for tests.   The course is really worth taking since there is so much basic, practical information we can teach our students about test preparation, completing assignments, memory and procrastination.

Not only are the study techniques helpful to our students, but also to ourselves.  I especially connected to the sections on how to reduce procrastination,  and I was thrilled when I realized that I possessed the low tech tool to help: the veritable pomodoro.

Several big ideas were reiterated:

the necessity for focused and diffused thinking, practice, repetition, sleep, exercise, time, study buddies and using the pen or pencil.

Oakley and Sejnowsky stress the importance of teaching others as one of the best learning strategies.  I now have some concrete, research based answers for one of the big questions students ask: How do we efficiently prepare for tests?

I will be redesigning certain units for my Skills9 course.

 

Final Review – Incredible Shrinking Notes

I don’t know where I first read about the shrinking notes strategy for summarizing.  It was our final lesson and my ELLs just wanted  finals to be over and for school to be out.  I needed an engaging activity to review the themes of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and remembered the shrinking notes.  In groups, students wrote the big ideas of the novel on a large sticky note, narrowed them down to a medium sized notes and finally chose the three most significant ideas on a small post it.  We then had a short discussion on each group’s choices, supporting ideas with textual evidence, of course.

Inspired

We tend to use this word lightly – an inspirational talk, video, book.  However, today I want to thank Dave Stuart Jr., whose teacher friendly blog I have been following for some time. I want to thank Dave for introducing me to Barrett Brooks.  His compelling post expresses so succinctly what education is all about.

Brooks’ 6 principals surely make up the profile of our learners.

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Our responsibility is to teach our youngsters

literacy

research

exposure to a variety of topics

leadership

design thinking

sustainability.

These principals are challenging and energizing.

Who or what inspired you this weekend?

 

 

Talk Show #3 Break a Leg

The Talk Show role playing  test came together on the day.

I was so impressed by the performances of the two groups.  One group emphasized their originality in the props and staging,  offering a backdrop of slides.  The other group demonstrated insight into the characters though their detailed scripts.

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creative ‘live’ unit test

At the end of their performances, I asked my ELLs to complete a Venn Diagram comparing the Talk Show Test and a Written Test.

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They enjoyed “being creative, connecting with students, generating ideas, going into detail, giving their opinion, teaching how to explain their point of view not only to the teacher but to everybody, being able to fix something if it’s not good and having fun.”

The written test, on the other hand, means you are “by yourself, more nervous, bored, stressed, not showing everything you know.”

The ELLs concluded that there should be a balance between ‘action’ and written tests.

But they all opted for a written test as their final exam.

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The Talk Show test required so much more than demonstrating a deep understanding of the novel.  It involved learning how to assign roles, work collaboratively and listen.  Like working in the real world.

However, for us teachers  it is all about balance, isn’t it?

I look forward to more ‘live’ assessments.

Let The I-search Writing Begin

The Argumentative Writing unit is well worth the purchase.  To begin their writing journey, the students completed an enlarged version of the essay organizer.

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I conferenced with each one as they filled in the required sections of their research paper: thesis question, background information, evidence and analysis.   This is one of the best ways to clear up confusions and think more deeply about their topic of inquiry.