Tag Archives: 21C skills

#3TTWorkshop–Teaching Vocabulary Through Independent Exploration

FullSizeRender

Students in Jackie’s classroom write vocabulary words on the board.

Three educators. Three states. Three demographics. All practicing Readers and Writers Workshop here.

We are the Modern PLC, and every Wednesday, we share our behind-the-scenes collaboration as we talk about the most urgent moving parts of our classroom pedagogy.  This week’s conversation between Jackie and Shana explores the value of shifting away from the more traditional modes of rote memorization and more toward wordplay.

1. Why do you integrate vocabulary study into your classroom, and how do you approach it?

Jackie:  This is my first year integrating vocabulary into my freshman classes.  Previously I had taken a traditional approach, relying on the Oxford-Sadler books in my junior/senior Advanced Composition classes.  The problem was that by the end of the year, many of my students would forget the twenty or so words we had memorized every other week.  I knew something had to change, so I returned to the words of my mentors, Penny Kittle and Linda Rief, to gain a better understanding of how they approached vocabulary.  Now instead of having my students memorize lists of prescribed vocabulary, they find four words per week and store them in the dictionary section of their writer’s notebooks.

Shana: I love the study of words, so one of the things I always find myself noticing about an author is the type of vocabulary he or she employs.  Diction makes up a great deal of a writer’s style, so I think it’s important to study it.  I am fortunately not required to adhere to a certain program or set list of words, so I tend to approach the study of vocabulary more along the lines of noticing words that are in our reading and writing.  I don’t have a formula or routine for vocabulary study, although as a general rule I try to set aside mini-lesson or quick-write time about every two weeks.

IMG_1333

Ryan’s words for this week include “nebulous,” “jettison,” “inchoate,” “unnerving”, and “aphorism,” all of which he found from his independent reading book Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.

2. What is the inherent value of vocabulary study?

Shana: Something I’ve been thinking a lot about is the inherent value of vocabulary study.  Vocabulary acquisition is just one little piece of the puzzle that makes up literacy, but it seems to get so much attention from the powers that be.  For example, last year our school had two schoolwide goals–one of them was “vocabulary.”  What does that even mean?  Do we want our teachers teaching more “vocabulary words?”  Do we want our students memorizing more “vocabulary words?”  What is the difference between academic and non-”academic vocabulary?”  I’m just not sure that vocabulary acquisition is as big a piece of the literacy puzzle as our testing/curriculum planners believe.

Jackie: I agree wholeheartedly with you, Shana.  I am not required to teach vocabulary, but every year I tell my students that reading helps build one’s vocabulary.  The more I thought about it though, the more I wondered how these skills translated, how my students would develop their own lexicons if they never actually stopped to think about the words they were reading.

Unlike your school, though, my school’s major initiative has been towards Common Core-based instruction.  Fortunately, part of the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language requires students to “also have extensive vocabularies, built through reading and study, enabling them to comprehend complex texts and engage in purposeful writing about and conversations around content.”  I believe vocabulary study shouldn’t be about isolated memorization; instead, it should allow students the freedom for wordplay.  When students are given the freedom to not only pick their own vocabulary words but also share them with their peers, they are more likely to explore definitions, find connections, and play with usage.  I receive more questions about context clues, Latin roots, and parts of speech during bi-weekly vocab lessons than I have at any other point in my career.

Advertisements

Wrapping up with book trailers

After a slew of snow days and an extended year that pushed the end of school into the second-to-last week of June, my students’ motivation lagged as we approached our final month together. They needed an engaging project that still proved to be challenging and fun. Inspired by Amy’s work, my students and I celebrated the end of the reader’s workshop with a final book trailer project.

The process was organic; students latched onto the idea of watching mentor texts and dissecting the craft to gain a firmer understanding of the writing genre. Over the course of a few days, we analyzed and discussed the differences between the book and movie trailers for John Green’s upcoming film Paper Towns, a class favorite. We combed through countless examples of professional book trailers, dissecting the craft of the films and looking at the cinematography, hook, pacing, script, music, and scene choices. Finally, after brainstorming and storyboarding, students used Stupeflix, WeVideo, Puppet Edu, or iMovie to generate stunning book trailers. The results blew me away.  Here is a small sample of some of the trailers I’ll be using to supplement my book talks next year.

**Make sure to unmute the video. In some cases, the sound doesn’t automatically play.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown–Created by Matt

http://https://www.wevideo.com/hub#media/ci/410328553

Perfect by Ellen Hopkins–Created by Emily

Missing Pieces by Meredith Tate–Created by Alyssa

Looking for Alaska by John Green–Created by Tristan

Students Need Real-Life Writing

suit-and-tieWe live in a technical world. People rarely see one another face-to-face anymore, which is why writing has become our hypothetical suit-and-tie. To get a job, one uploads and sends a cover letter and resume. To apply to college, one submits a college essay. To correspond with a colleague, one sends an e-mail. To be engage in online discussions or to communicate on social media, one must post or blog or tweet or comment. More than ever before, we are our words. We live in an age where we can look and act like slobs behind the screen while our words tell a different story. It’s empowering and liberating but also terrifying. Terrifying because too often our students don’t understand the value of formality in writing.

This has become even more apparent as I, a 26-year-old, am both exposed to and part of a generation of socially illiterate people. We, as well as our students, understand text language, chatting, posting, and tweeting, but our colloquial language seeps into our every day interactions, handicapping us in other ways.

While students can effectively communicate with their peers, they have not received the training to engage in formal written conversations—the types of conversations that drive the academic and business world. In turn, students arrive in college lazily piecing together informal e-mails to their professors that poorly represent their abilities and knowledge. We assume that because they have grown up as Internet babies and that because they are constantly on their phones, they understand the unwritten rules of Internet writing, but they don’t. This year I have made it a point to inject the discussion of voice, formality, and audience into my reading and writing units in an attempt to widen my students’ understanding of and comfort with writing.

In all of my classes I have sought to push my students outside of their comfort zones by exposing them to diverse mentor texts and assignments that force them to play with words. For many students, voice is a challenging concept. They struggle with finding a voice in their own writing, which makes it even more imperative students be exposed to comedic, sardonic, opinionated, and academic pieces. The only way to develop voice is to study it. Not all of the pieces I show my students are high brow; I pull from a variety of sources ranging from blog posts to articles from The Atlantic. But the pieces I choose are intended to show that a wide range of writers and voices exists. The more students understand that there is no one-size-fits-all structure, the sooner they will be willing to dabble in their sarcastic or silly side.

In learning about voice, students must also understand the value in formality and audience in their writing. Too often the e-mails I receive from students look like a long rambling text message. We’ve all received them—the ones riddled with grammatical errors, making us cringe and wonder if they’ve learned anything this year! Teens quickly become comfortable with the fact that teachers are the only people reading their writing. Students become overly comfortable with teachers reading their writing at times. We’re seemingly safe and familiar; we know their quality of work. Exposing their writing to new eyes and ears increases the stakes and makes their work more relevant.

This year, I was determined to push my lower level freshmen beyond the classroom and get them engaging with mentors. I could tell my students to work hard, which I did many times over, but in the general scheme of things, I was their teacher (akin to their mom). So I recruited a Navy Seal, an elementary school teacher, a forensic anthropologist, a photojournalist and others to do the job for me. Students were required to research a career. While they completed their research, I sat down with each student and helped him or her to draft an e-mail that they would send to a professional with which I paired them. Oftentimes I would return to find my students’ e-mails plagued with the same grammatical errors I’d seen so many times before,Depositphotos_7626816_m only this time, I was with them on the sending end.

My mini-conferences turned into minilessons on the importance of editing and the impression it had on the e-mail recipient. Students struggled with how to start their e-mails, how to address the recipient, and how to sign their name at the end. We practiced online manners, thanking the professionals for their time and answers while also noting something the student found to be interesting or appealing from the professional’s answers. In the end, their attention to detail paid off. A forensic science professor who teaches college students included the following in his e-mail:

“I was taken aback when I saw that he is only in ninth grade; I have students much older who do not bother to write properly and it disappoints me.  I am not your friend on FB nor are you texting me so no need for brevity at the expense of complete and correctly written sentences.  Salutations?  Maybe next year.

I have a 12 year old son so I think I will have him peer over my shoulder as I write to Carter so he can see how polished someone so young can be.  Thanks!”

Our students are going to college arguably without knowing or understanding the importance of voice, formality, and audience. To prepare them for life beyond high school, we must strive to incorporate real-life writing assignments into our classrooms. While some of my students may never write a research paper after they graduate from high school, I know that nearly all of them will use e-mail, apply for jobs, and engage on social media.

My role as an educator is to help mold and train productive and intelligent citizens and while giving them lifelong skills that translate beyond the classroom. Part of this is continuing to develop and adapt my classroom to better fit the needs of 21st century students. So regardless of what my students do in their free time whether they enjoy lounging in sweatpants with a tub of Doritos or taking selfies in a bathroom mirror, I want them to sound like poised, intelligent, and confident individuals. I want the world to be open to them—both online and in real-life.

Finding A Teaching Family Outside of School

“It’s funny how my closest friends live states away,” Amy said to me as we crossed the convention center’s atrium during NCTE. I agreed; our group of four, Amy, Shana, Erika, and I, might live in different parts of the US, but we share a unique bond, one that has carried me through both the highs and lows of teaching.

Teaching is an anomaly: for being such a social career, it is also quite isolating. I learned this my first Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 9.37.08 AMyear when I went from sharing a classroom during my yearlong internship to suddenly being by myself at the end of the hall. I found that while my colleagues and I would sit down for lunch everyday, we struggled to find common times to chat about our work or pedagogy outside of professional development days or staff meetings. Despite being within the same building, we’d oftentimes take to the Internet to discuss our plans and work with one another. Over the summer I would receive messages from Jenn about a fantastic new book we could incorporate into our academic English curriculum or recently I received a Pinterest pin from Kristina pointing out a fun way to teach sentence diversification.

Social media has changed the face of my professional learning network. While many of my teacher-friends are at my school, my core group doesn’t just involve those within my state anymore. I have discussed pedagogy with teachers in Canada, talked shop with friends in Washington D.C., and connected with educators across the country. Teaching is no longer the isolated occupation it once was. Over the past two years, these discussions have had a profound effect on my development as a teacher. Many teachers have helped to shape the workshop model within my classroom by being honest about their successes and struggles. My PLN has given me a place to geek out over reading, writing, and discussing literature. And ultimately, this passion online translates into my enthusiasm within the classroom.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I cannot be more thankful to my online peers as well as to Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 9.33.43 AMthose teachers who I have met at conventions and in classes. I am grateful for the relationships I have garnered via social media and e-mail. No teacher should feel alone in this occupation—there are countless resources to uplift and inspire even the most isolated. After all, teaching is an occupation composed of charismatic, committed, and loving individuals who not only see the best in their students but also search for the best in each other.

Rethinking: Real World Learning

life

I can’t say that I’ve ever posted an assignment to readers of my blog before, but I do promise this is not an exercise in futility. It will be worth your time.

After reading this article:

These Are the 30 People Under 30 Changing the World

Ask yourself:

  • What are you doing in your classroom with teenagers that is really pretty trivial in the scheme of life?
  • Is dissecting Silas Mairner for the 83rd time really necessary when kids in your classroom are quite literally curing cancer & making millions in real life?
  • How might you bring real life into your classroom and make learning relevant for kids?

I know when most educators say, “I’m trying to prepare these kids for the real world,” they are referring to the “real world” as the time when students have graduated high school or college and are living on their own, but let’s be real with ourselves. The world that our learners are currently living in is the real world. Why do they have to wait until they are 18 years old, or older, before what they are learning in school becomes relevant?

Personally, I was blown away to think about all the things that young people are currently doing to change the world in which they live, and I immediately began to think about how we could be doing school differently to support the ingenuity and innovation of our learners. Hopefully you will take a minute to think about that too.

 

Photo credit: Werner Kunz / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

5 Ways Students Can Learn as They Blog

American writer, editor, and teacher William Zinsser taught that “writing, and learning, and thinking are the same process.” If this is true, then the not-so-easy task of the teacher is to get students to effectively put their thoughts into words on a page. One relatively simple way to get students engaged in the process is to help them take ownership of online writing; specifically, get students to create and maintain a blog, which will allow for what Zinsser calls the four basic premises of writing: “clarity, brevity, simplicity, and humanity.”

5 Ways Students Can Learn as They Blog

    1. Write about topics that interest them.

      Allowing students to choose topics that have personal and meaningful applications to their lives provides opportunities for better writing. Still, some students will be stumped and say, “I can’t think of anything to write about.” Consider encouraging them to scan the front page of Yahoo, Google, or any other online news source. Read some headlines, which might lead to reading some articles. Respond to news they find interesting, shocking, or outrageous. (Look, you may have students reading AND writing!)

    1. Write in response to current events or videos that make them think.

      Posting links on a teacher or class blog and asking students to read and then respond on their own blogs allows teachers more control over the selection of topics that students write about than complete self-selection. Consider linking news articles like Kelly Gallagher’sArticle of the Week” and asking students to post their reflections, or post YouTube videos that have thematic ties to the literature being discussed in class. Students can write commentary or reflections as a way to show they are learning about life outside the classroom.

    1. Write in response to questions about literature.

      Asking questions that make students think and/or justify their thinking about the books they are reading creates instant “prompts” for student blogging. Open-ended questions like “How does this story relate to _____?” or “How would you deal with _______?” or “Describe another story that deals with the same conflict” lead students to make connections with the text that may help with their reading comprehension. Of course, by adding the “use text evidence to support your answer” component, students learn how to justify their responses and maybe embed quotes and all that good stuff.

    1. Write to show technology integration by using hyperlinks, tags, digital images, videos, etc.

      Encouraging students to add links, tags, images, etc. in their posts ensures that they are exploring what it means to embrace 21C writing skills. When students model authors’ blogs that effectively lead readers to more information, they show that they understand how knowledge is linked and perhaps they will come to understand that seeking knowledge takes effort.

    1. Write in response to peer posts and comments.

      Requiring students to interact with their peers’ online writing promotes a spirit of collaboration and community beyond the classroom. Teach respect in terms of language, but also allow for disagreement, as debate is what often makes for deeper learning.

Still need to learn the basics of blogging?

 

Check out Edublogs Help and Support

How are you teaching online writing? If you’ve got kids blogging, any success stories?

“Blog, blog, blog…that is all I ever hear.”

'student_ipad_school - 025' photo (c) 2012, Brad Flickinger - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

An Open Letter to Parents:

I have heard you have some questions about our student blogs and writing in my class. I hope this letter answers them.

Did you know that our classroom blog is each student’s portfolio of work, which includes all types of writing? It is a combination of digital journal and portfolio. So far this year, students have been given opportunities to write in many modes: expository, narrative, literary response, and personal reflection. In addition to the assigned writing tasks, I encourage students to write about topics that interest them. The growth I have seen in my student writers has been easy to measure, since so many of them have taken ownership of their blogs and write to their personal world-wide audiences.

This summer I attended a conference where Alan November, an international leader in educational technology, described the urgency teachers must take in changing practices that limit learning to one-year increments. Teachers must expand learning practices so students retain and build upon the knowledge they gain each year. This idea of expanding learning practices resonated within me because I have often found it frustrating that a student’s body of work is essentially not available to him for reflection, or continued study, after a given school year.

For my students, their blogs are a collection of their work. For some, this blog will become a place where they can explore and express complex ideas about our society, even after they leave my classroom. Research shows that bloggers are more prolific writers than their teenage counterparts who do not blog. Additionally, blogging allows for an authentic voice in student writing.

When a student writes for the teacher, as grader and sole audience, the writing is often contrived and trite. However, when we give students the opportunity to find an audience outside the walls of the classroom, they find their voices and their writing dramatically improves. In addition, the feedback students receive on their writing is not just from me, the teacher. The feedback may come from anyone who reads their posts, which makes the opportunity for connections to the real-world exciting for student writers. Just last month, a student elatedly read a comment on her blog from a pastor who said that her post gave him a refreshing view of heroism–a thought he would love to share with his congregation.

I received another bit of positive feedback recently. An author contacted me saying he was interested in publishing for his readers a visual literacy piece one of my students created about that author’s book. My student had posted this original piece on his blog. Again, feedback from our beyond-the-classroom audience.

In my classroom we do not “do blogging;” blogging is the medium students use to publish their work.

Many people, some personal friends of mine, have received book publication contracts simply from the body of work they have posted to their blogs. Why would I not encourage blogs as a place for students to publish their authentic work?

Still not convinced? Consider this: Blogging can be a great equalizer in a Digital Classroom.

The author is not struggling to physically form letters, and the reader is not struggling to read cramped handwriting. When students type, they are no longer judged by their penmanship. In addition, technology supports the author’s spelling. Without these limitations, students are judged by the depth of their ideas and the connections they make to their world and our society. Isn’t that the kind of thinking and learning we want?

Parents, please, I encourage you to frequently read your student’s blog. Share the link to your son or daughter’s blog with grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and all the important people in your child’s life. Imagine the kind of writing we can develop in our student writers if we show them we care about what they have to say. And, believe me, my students have a lot of good things to say.

Help me expand the Learning Community and comment on your child’s blog posts. The opportunities for growth are endless!

Respectfully,

Mrs. Cato

%d bloggers like this: