Friday, April 24, 2015

Assignment Four: Written Reflection- Section Two

ASSIGNMENT FOUR: WRITTEN REFLECTION-Section Two- Teaching Essentials Chapters 4-6

Read Writing Essentials, Chapters 4-6 and BRIEFLY reflect on the following thoughts written below and any additional comments that you have after reading these chapters. Post your reflection to the course blog.

Chapter 4: Raise Your Expectations
• Why we need to raise expectations – ESPECIALLY for our minority and lower socio-economic students
• How to raise expectations in your classrooms as well as in your grade level and throughout your entire building
• What about handwriting, spelling and editing expectations?
• How to use the Optimal Learning Model to support your students’ needs

“Raising expectations” for our students is a big push in all of our districts. Under “No Child Left Behind” many schools have been identified as “in need of improvement” and have been working furiously yet unsuccessfully for over ten years to “close the gap” for our minority children. But more important than improving performance on high stakes tests is remembering that if we raise our expectations and teach explicitly, then our students will rise to the occasion and astonish us with the high quality work that each of them is capable of.

Regie has some great insight into the need to raise expectations of our students and feeling comfortable and confident with the decision to set high standards for all learners. She raises the question, What are our clearly articulated, rigorous yet reasonable expectations? This is a question that we should reflect on as individual teachers, and one that should be the starting point for a conversation within our grade levels, buildings and across entire districts.

We’d like to know what you think of one of our favorite quotes from the book: “Worksheets aren’t good enough. The students who can do them don’t need them, and the ones who struggle with them feel defeated by the red marks, which only reinforce their feelings of inadequacy. WORKSHEETS FOSTER MEDIOCRITY!” (We personally wanted to shout out when we read that!) Please include your thoughts in your Section Two Reaction.

In this chapter, Regie also sheds some light on several topics that teachers often ask about. “What about handwriting expectations?” and “Conventions, Editing and Publishing?” It’s always helpful to get another professional’s point of view on these pressing issues! Enjoy the chapter!

Chapter 5: Do More Shared Writing• Where does Shared Writing fit within the Optimal Learning Model?
• For which learners is Shared Writing appropriate?
• How can we link Shared Writing with Shared Reading?
• How can Shared Writing be used to support word work?
• What are some “Tried and True” ideas for Shared Writing?

Regie's idea of Shared Writing is very different than that of many other professionals in the field. So often we use Shared Writing only with the primary grades. As Regie states, “What a great way to teach and engage all students in all aspects of oral and written language.” If we are to consider teaching through all phases of the Optimal Learning Model, we can begin to see how important Shared Writing is for our students. We think that the idea of using Shared Writing in both upper elementary and the middle schools is a new way of thinking for many of us.

One of the reasons Regie encourages teachers to use chart paper and an easel, instead of projecting to a screen with an overhead or document camera, is that the children are seated right with you on the floor, which usually holds the children’s attention a little better. Another idea that has worked great for me is to move the overhead machine to the group area and place it on the floor in the middle of the group in front of the easel. I then project the machine onto the white space of the easel. It’s great because you’re able to be right there in the middle of the group and have the benefit of writing more quickly onto a transparency rather that chart paper. You’ll need to consider which of your Shared Writing activities you’ll want students to be rereading (don’t forget that you can hole punch transparencies and put them in a binder for future reference) and which you may want posted to your walls on charts.

Regie’s list of “Tried and True Ideas for Shared Writing” (page 112) is very extensive. It would be helpful to take a look at Regie’s list as you create your curriculum map for the year. Where would some of her suggestions fit within your science, social studies, math, reading and writing units across the year?

Chapter 6: Capitalize on the Reading-Writing Connection
• How can we become more effective integrating our reading and writing instruction?
• Are we as efficient as possible with our responses to reading?
• The benefit and necessity to integrate our content area teaching with both reading and writing
• The importance of writing (and reading) more nonfiction

We know research shows that reading achievement affects writing achievement and vice-versa, and we also know that it continually gets harder to fit “it all” into our day. Effectively using reading and writing connections throughout the day in all areas of language arts, math, science, social studies, and even specials such as art, music and library, is our only option.

Regie’s suggestion of taking a closer look at how we use written response to reading is a very important one. Careful consideration is needed to decide if what we’re asking the students to do is “worth their time.” For example, if the response we’re looking for will “deepen comprehension, cause the writer to reflect on the content, and/or foster appreciation for the text” then it’s worth it. We whole-heartedly agree with her statement that many of the overly structured assignments such as book reports can alienate our readers! While response journals do have their benefits for us professionally Regie states, “they also take up a lot of our time!” It’s a very organized teacher who can effectively keep up with their responses without feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Don’t forget the bottom line – “Be sure that students spend more time reading than writing about reading!” (Page 126)

We are so glad that Regie addressed how to effectively teach summary writing. We know that many teachers have a difficult time differentiating between a summary and retelling – I (Jackie) was one of them until several years ago. The snapshots and procedures that Regie shares on how to teach summarizing are invaluable and should be a reference that we all refer back to throughout our teaching year.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Assignment Three: Share Your Writing Life

Chapter 3: Share Your Writing Life
• Write together as a staff
• Note your writing practices
• Tell students why you write

Chapter Two of Regie’s book segues right into her third chapter, “Share Your Writing Life.” In this chapter Regie drives home the importance of teachers sharing their writing process with their students. She encourages teachers to become writers in front of their students, on their own and with their staff, and also to share their daily writing practices with their students. The purpose of the assignment below (Assignment #3) is to get you writing.

ASSIGNMENT THREE: Sharing Your Writing Life!
For many of us, writing is not enjoyable and/or is very difficult. Perhaps it is because we ourselves were never celebrated as writers. Or perhaps we only remember the “skills” based comments written in various colored pens on our papers…that always sliced deep (and turned many of us into “non-writers.”) These comments never really helped our writing become any better. As a requirement of a summer writing institute (which I was conned into attending “so that I could become a better teacher of writing”) I (Jackie) bit the bullet and wrote extensively throughout the course. What they say is true: the more I wrote, the more I enjoyed it, and I believe I grew as a writer. The goal of this two-part assignment is to get you writing.

Part One:
For the first part of this assignment you need to think about topics for your own writing (ideas/stories that you can share to excite your students) and then actually write a short piece (ideally in front of your students.) If you do not presently have the opportunity to write in front of your students then please complete the activity on your own.

1. Use the topic idea list from Regie’s “Try It and Apply It” on page 26. Choose several topics, and then create a list of sub-topics for each.

2. Choose the sub-topic that most interests you and write a short piece that you can use to model writing in front of your students.

Part Two:
1. On pages 45-46, Regie gives suggestions for writing exercises for the start of school (or really anytime you need to get writing started.) Follow her criteria for “Capturing A Moment” (from the summer or any other time ) and draft a short piece. Follow the directions in the chart on page 46.

2. After completing the draft, which should take no more than 10 minutes, take a moment to write down some of your observations of your writing process. Again, use the suggestions from the chart or the bullets below:

o What are you thinking about as you are composing?
o What exactly did you do to plan, to get started writing, when you got stuck, or when you completed your piece?
o What does your process look like? Do you write straight through? Stop to re-read? Revise as you go? Look up information? Edit?

The goal of this activity is to get you to write - which will hopefully get you more comfortable writing in front of your children! Complete this activity and let us know how it went by sharing your answers to some of the bulleted questions above.

Please post your comments to the course blog. (We don’t need to see your writing piece. We are more interested in your thought process as you completed the exercise.)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Assignment Two: Written Reflection

ASSIGNMENT TWO: WRITTEN REFLECTION–Section One- The Essential Writing Life Chapters 1-3
BRIEFLY reflect on the following comments written below from Chapters 1-3 and any additional thoughts that you have after reading these chapters.

Chapter 1: Simplify the Teaching of Writing• Simplify our teaching
• Becoming more knowledgeable about teaching writing
• Examine your beliefs

Regie gets to the heart of her book Writing Essentials with this quote on the final page of Chapter One: “By reducing the clutter in our teaching lives-the over-planning, the unnecessary activities, the paper load, all the ‘stuff’ that takes our time and energy and does little to improve teaching and learning-we bring joy back into our work and the world of our students.” Many of us work very hard and spend many hours complicating our teaching lives. In this book Regie will help you simplify your teaching life for your benefit and that of your students.

One of the frustrations that teachers encounter regularly is the ever changing “latest and best” writing programs that districts or states force on them and their students. With this revolving cycle of programs, teachers are spending too much time learning how to use the program rather than becoming better writing teachers. Regie explains that in the districts where students are the best writers, they are writing for real purposes and audiences and publishing their writing; teachers are not using prescribed writing programs.

Look at Appendix A (page A-2.) Examine your beliefs about writing by reading the statements about the writing process and marking true or false in your book. (Go ahead and write in your book, it’s OK! You can even use a pencil and mark very lightly if you want to.) We found this activity very enlightening. Let us know what you think after you complete the activity.

In your reflection for Section One, please include your thoughts about the following questions or statements:

• Regie demonstrates how to use the Optimal Learning Model (shown on the front cover and page 11) throughout the book. Consider how the Optimal Learning Model fits into your own instruction.
• As you think about how to teach writing so that all students can become successful, effective and joyful writers, reflect on how you presently teach the “12 Writing Essentials” (as described on pages 13-14 in the text) during your daily writing instruction. As we continue to read through Regie’s book, hopefully you will begin to see how you might make changes in your instruction to better incorporate these “12 Writing Essentials.”

Chapter 2: Start With Celebration
• Make sure writing is meaningful not just correct
• Use stories as springboards and ensure that ALL students hear stories
• Write in front of your students and connect home and school

The title of Chapter Two simply states, “Start with Celebration,” and that’s exactly what we need to do for our students. The celebration of all students’ writing needs to be put into the forefront and be made our first teaching goal. Celebrations should happen school-wide, within our classrooms and with students individually. As children begin to see themselves as successful writers, they will take more risks in their writing and in turn will become better writers who enjoy the writing process.
Another key point that Regie highlights in this chapter is to “make sure writing is meaningful, not just correct!” Students need to understand that writing is “enjoyable and for a real purpose and audience.” She also reminds us “that teaching skills in isolation does not make student writers; neither does teaching to the test. And breaking writing into bits and pieces robs children of the joy of writing.”

Regie suggests using stories as a springboard for teaching and learning. Hearing and telling stories builds our students’ oral language skills and these stories are “an entryway into reading and writing.” Only when students are reading and writing real stories can they connect the “skills” based learning to their reading and writing!

Please include your thoughts about the following questions or statements in your written reflection of Section One:

• Regie explains how important celebrating student writing is. How do you celebrate student writing in your classroom? How might you add more celebration of student writing to your day/year?
• Consider what changes you could make in your writing instruction to make writing more meaningful and purposeful for your students.